Bookshelf Review: Folk Witchcraft by Roger Horne

Folk Witchcraft: A Guide to Lore, Land, and the Familiar Spirit for the Solitary Practitioner by Roger J. Horne

This is not a book I would put into the hands of a young witch. And by ‘young’, I mean a few different sets of people. 1) Actual witchlets, pre-teens, and teens. 2) Witches of any age that are immature or reckless in their judgment. A nice way I usually say this is ‘young and impulsive’. And 3) those who are new to the path.

I put this warning of sorts here because depending on the reader’s culture, spiritual background, and other contextual factors, some of the suggestions and workings offered here could get some people into trouble. A little bit of knowledge can be dangerous.

For the record, I come from a Christian religious family, but have had folk Catholicism, Santeria, Hoodoo, Voodoo, and similar practices around me for much of my childhood and they have shaped my personal practice. Witchy Floridians – and I would even venture to say Spiritually Aware Floridians – have not only a very interesting relationship with the magick and spiritual systems from a variety of cultures, but we also have a way of reconciling them with the heavy Southern Christian roots that grow deep around us.

An example of what I mean when I say that some of the information might be dangerous to a reader who doesn’t have a strong foundation in dealing with spirits involves the idea that: “Those who pass beyond our world are, in the lore, transformed into something that [is] still sentient, but no longer quite human.” (Pg. 92). In my Spiritual and magickal knowledge, when something presents itself as a spirit of say – a deceased relative – and it’s not responsive, or whole, or fully “there” – then it’s not them. It’s a trick of sorts. Danger Will Robinson. It’s a creation from someone else. Or worse, something masquerading as someone you know.

There are many instances where the reference term of “in lore” or “lore says” or some variation is included, but I feel like it’s in such a generic way that you have no idea who is saying these things or whose beliefs these are. That makes me uncomfortable. There are people, figureheads if you will, in the magickal community that I, personally, have no desire at all to ever do one of their workings or rituals. I have no issue with reading about them and learning a different perspective or history of magick. But because of their actions, I have no desire to step anywhere near that spiritual and karmic morass.

Personally, I don’t subscribe to the three-fold rule (a bit of a deal breaker for me and Wicca) because I believe in balance. I also believe that if someone is doing a work against me or a family member trying to bring harm or sickness or financial hardship or whatever, I absolutely have the right and room spiritually to defend myself. Obviously, depending on the severity of the situation I would prefer to start with a binding spell. However, the threat may be such that I would need to take a far more pro-active approach like a mirrored box. I put this qualifier up so that I can now go a step further and say that I don’t believe there is good magick and bad magick. I think magick is a tool and how the witch decides to employ it is entirely up to the witch. The karma (for lack of a better term) that attaches is to the practitioner, not the ritual or work.

There are workings, rites, and rituals that involve what is described as dark workings or magick. On page 42 where the author enumerates a list of “spiritual figures who are identified as the patrons of witches” in the lore, there’s a discussion about who the ‘Devil’ is in the context of Witch Lore presented in this book. To me, this gets sticky really quick. The recitation of the Lord’s Prayer backward (which is also included in the back half of the book) and signing in the black book and certain other references smacks of a certain type of witchcraft. No judgement. I just feel like it’s a bit of bait and switch, this book. There are times when I think this really hits the mark of what I expected it to be: a book that helps solitary witches explore the history of folk witchcraft and magick in general to piece together their own system. Other times, I feel like this sways back and forth between questionable almost tropey lore and a subtly skewed introductory text to a certain path of magick.

In my opinion, there’s some quite strong stuff in here. While there are very detailed descriptions of how to be safe and establish boundaries and all that, I can still see how easy it is for someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing to inadvertently introduce themselves to something unpleasant. When there are workings and rituals that evoke the name of certain beings – one’s whose lore are fraught with conflicting history or (mis)appropriation or any number of other spiritual and philosophical complications – included in a how-to book, I think there needs to be a little bit more information given about who you’re actually trying to conjure up for a chat.

That being said, I’d like to talk about the positives and there absolutely is really great stuff in here as well. The approach the author takes of encouraging the reader to be inspired by the books and information they research rather than just repeating exactly what another practitioner does is awesome. This book really aims to open a readers mind to thinking and reading like a witch. That is to say, evaluating your environment, the land, the resources, the cultural ties, and feeling your way through until you can feel and grab onto what resonates. He encourages witches to be like tuning forks. Don’t be locked in to everything. Personalizing things leads to much great authenticity.

There are three sections on nearly the very last pages of the book that I want to quote here because they are phenomenal. If I could only ever share with a baby witch one page of information, I would print this out and tape it to their forehead. These sections are from Pg. 193:

In seeking authentic spiritual practices, some modern pagans have veered into unfortunate patterns. Some modern groups have sought to glorify ethnic lineage, as if genetics has anything to do with one’s ability to access the spirit world. In the United States, some traditions with mostly white members have appropriated African American and Latin American magical practices and rebranded them as a kind of “rootsy” witchcraft in a spiritual form of white-washing. Others have ritualized sex acts to such a degree that new initiates feel pressured to participate in unsavory rituals in order to grow in the craft. A vast majority of modern witchcraft groups are influenced by gender essentialist assumptions about “maleness” and “femaleness,” worshipping simplistic gender roles as a kind of “divine polarity” that leaves queer folks (and, indeed, anyone who doesn’t fit the heteronormative mold) outside of the circle.

Roger J. Horne

In fact, because the bodies of lore we have inherited come from many individuals working in many cultures, there is often paradox. In one culture, the serpent may hold very different connotations than another. It is part of the folk witch’s journey to identify and refine the focus of her craft over time and interpret it through a modern lens. This discernment, conducted under the guidance of familiar spirits, includes thinking carefully about the modern implications of the racist, sexist, and homophobic baggage we have inherited.

Roger J. Horne

I believe that the spirit of witchcraft, at its heart, speaks to a kind of freedom that some of us are called to, even if we try to shirk off the pull towards strange, dark paths.

Roger J. Horne

A-men! I actually wish this section was put to the front of the book.

In closing, I would like to say that I think I see where the author was trying to lead the reader to and that’s a place of doing their own research, looking into what catches their eye or draws them, assembling the knowledge and pieces to build their own practice. Anybody can buy a book of spells or a manual of different rituals. But like the author points out in different examples throughout the book, it’s hollow. Make it your own. Breathe into it.

I do recommend Folk Witchcraft: A Guide to Lore, Land, and the Familiar Spirit for the Solitary Practitioner By Roger Horne to more well-read or lore-familiar witches looking for inspiration to step out and explore in different directions. It’s currently in Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited catalogue for free reading.

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