Book Review: Personal Magic: A Modern-Day Book of Shadows for Positive Witches by Marion Weinstein

Review by Martha Kirby Capo | Instagram | Twitter | Facebook

About the Author

Marion Weinstein (1939 – 2009) was an author, teacher, media personality, and proud New York City witch. Known as The Ethics Witch, she is one of the founders of the modern witchcraft movement. She was the first to coin the phrase and define Positive Magic and clearly delineate its use. Marion was long-time supporter and member of Circle Sanctuary. Shortly after her death, tokens of remembrance were interred at Circle Cemetery. Marion’s memorial is marked by a granite pentacle, which was placed and dedicated by Selena Fox and other Circle Sanctuary clergy during her memorial service.

About Personal Magic: A Modern-Day Book of Shadows for Positive Witches by Marion Weinstein

When we honor our forebearers – whether by renewing our long acquaintance with them or by bringing them forward once more into the light so that new witches may learn from them for the very first time – we strengthen the Craft both in ourselves and in the wide world of witchery. That which is remembered lives.

Previously published in 2003 as Earth Magic by New Page Books, this 2021 edition by Weiser Books is a gem of a publication that offers both new readers and those familiar with Marion’s work fresh access to her extensive and timeless wisdom. In her Introduction, Marion shares that she wrote her first Book of Shadows in 1979, intending to share her personal Witchcraft only with other witches. As a result, there is a compelling intimacy to her prose; the reader feels like they’ve been invited to a cozy and lingering chat about all things witchy while sipping their favorite brew with Marion on her back porch.

I’ll get to the book contents in a moment, but I do want to give appreciation to cover artist Kassandra Cook. One of the qualities that makes a book sing is a recognizable thematic consistency across each of its components. From the pen-and-ink and watercolor images of plants to the stylistic choice of lowercasing all letters of the title, the cover visually embodies the intimacy of the writing; just looking at this book you know that what you’ll read will be approachable and practical.

Weinstein has organized her book into three sections: Primary Work, Advanced Work, and an Afterword in which she covers topics surrounding ethics, serving the community, and morphogenetic fields—and let me just say right here about the latter: any witchery book that touches on quantum physics (one of my own True Loves) is a winner-winner-chicken-dinner for me.

“Welcome to my religion,” she writes as the first sentence of the first chapter, and then she gets into doing just that: welcoming you to her religion, Wicca. Whether or not you identify as Wiccan, your Practice has very likely been influenced at least in part by Wicca and I think that’s one of the bonuses of reading this foundational work at this time. As I read Personal Magic I was transported through the decades to when I was very new to the Craft; a time when walking into my local metaphysical store — which happened to have an enormous, ancient oak tree festooned with fairy lights and surrounded by a massive wooden deck perfect for large gatherings out back — elicited literal shivers of magical energy from me. And even though I no longer identify as Wiccan, Marion’s ability to send me back to my magical “home” rekindled in me that intense wash of joy I felt when I first knew myself to be a Witch.

One of my favorite quotes from the book is this:

[p]erception creates reality. Reality is infinitely flexible and can be directed, controlled, and created by us.”

Personal Magic is chock-full of these wisdom-nuggets, including another favorite of mine, “magic transforms the magician”. Weinstein defines magic as transformation, and goes further to say that “the specific kind of transformation used primarily by the Witch is manifestation”. While she shares several examples of rituals and spells, she’s always very clear that the reader should feel empowered to create rituals and spells that are authentic expressions of who they are as Witches.

Of Particular Note…

In her chapter on Moon Work, Marion describes the practice of keeping a Full Moon List. Every third Full Moon is a List Moon, during which the Practitioner writes a list of all that they have in their lives for which they want to give thanks, and a list of all in life that they want to attain. Lists are kept in your Book of Shadows or in a journal, and reviewed each subsequent List Moon. She notes, “[a]ll that is on your list may not manifest specifically during each three-month segment in linear time, but over the years of your life, you will note the progression of wishes that come true”. I love the idea of keeping track of the evolution of your witchery in such a tangible way.

She also includes a chapter on Aspects of Self, which loosely correlates to Aspect Theory in quantum physics. She explores an understanding of time as being non-linear and co-existing simultaneously. It’s a fresh way of looking at what we perceive as reality that I found both intriguing and engaging.

Any Concerns?

I had a minor concern that the text, which we could rightly consider to be canonical to Witchcraft, would be somewhat dated in parts of its worldview. By and large, this is not the case in the least. There are, however, a couple of spots that — speaking for myself only — veered toward some potentially problematic stances regarding possible cultural appropriation.

For instance, when discussing the process of choosing a Deity/Deities to work with, she writes, “please remember that when you choose your Deities, personal feelings of affinity and resonance are more important than your ancestral roots in this lifetime. The reasons being, who knows what nationality you might have been, in alternate or former lives? Or want to be in future lives?”

I get what she’s saying here but, as a White woman whose ancestors include slave holders, I can’t help but feel that this could easily turn into a slippery slope toward cultural appropriation. Certainly, no one “owns” a Deity, but still … mindfulness and due diligence (both of which Weinstein repeatedly advocates) should be part of the process here.

The only other phrasing that I found jarring also has to do with a cultural perception that has shifted in the years since Personal Magic was first written. Otherwise, this text remains fresh, relevant, and abundant with insight.

Witches, we should know our roots and tend them well, for our roots are what support our new growth individually and as a community.  Personal Magic: A Modern-Day Book of Shadows for Positive Witches belongs on every thinking Witch’s bookshelf.

Personal Magic: A Modern-Day Book of Shadows for Positive Witches can be purchased here.

About Martha Kirby Capo is a Hekatean Witch, currently working most closely with the epithets Medusa (Guardian), Enodia (Guide), and Rixipyle (She who breaks down the Gates).  She is an Intuitive and Holistic Tarot reader and is the editor of Patheos Pagan’s shared blog The Agora, where she writes as The Corner Crone. She also serves as a Witch Mentor through 3 Pagans and a Cat. Martha’s Moments for Meditation can be heard on KPPR Pure Pagan Radio and on her YouTube channel. She has been extensively anthologized through Skinner House books, and is currently under contract with Llewellyn Publishing.

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