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A Spell in the Wild: A Year (and Six Centuries) of Magic

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Witches occupy a clear place in contemporary imagination. We can see them, emerging shadowy, from the corners of the past: mad, glamorous, difficult, strange. They haunt the footnotes of history - from medieval witches burning at the stake to the lurid glamour of the 1970s witchcraft revival. But they are moving out of history, too. Witches are back. They’re feminist, indep Witches occupy a clear place in contemporary imagination. We can see them, emerging shadowy, from the corners of the past: mad, glamorous, difficult, strange. They haunt the footnotes of history - from medieval witches burning at the stake to the lurid glamour of the 1970s witchcraft revival. But they are moving out of history, too. Witches are back. They’re feminist, independent, invested in self-care and care for the world. They are here, because they must be needed…‘In A Spell in the Wild, Alice Tarbuck explores what it means to be a witch today. Where ‘witch’ was once a dangerous - and often deadly - accusation, it is now a proud self-definition. And as the world becomes ever more complicated and we face ecological, political, social and global health crises, witchcraft is experiencing a resurgence. Magic is back. Alice describes what she practises as ‘intersectional, accessible’ witchcraft - it’s about the magic you can find in an overgrown snicket or a sixth floor stairwell; whatever your gender; whether you’re able to climb a mountain or can’t leave the house. Month by month, Alice walks us through everyday magic for extraordinary times.


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Witches occupy a clear place in contemporary imagination. We can see them, emerging shadowy, from the corners of the past: mad, glamorous, difficult, strange. They haunt the footnotes of history - from medieval witches burning at the stake to the lurid glamour of the 1970s witchcraft revival. But they are moving out of history, too. Witches are back. They’re feminist, indep Witches occupy a clear place in contemporary imagination. We can see them, emerging shadowy, from the corners of the past: mad, glamorous, difficult, strange. They haunt the footnotes of history - from medieval witches burning at the stake to the lurid glamour of the 1970s witchcraft revival. But they are moving out of history, too. Witches are back. They’re feminist, independent, invested in self-care and care for the world. They are here, because they must be needed…‘In A Spell in the Wild, Alice Tarbuck explores what it means to be a witch today. Where ‘witch’ was once a dangerous - and often deadly - accusation, it is now a proud self-definition. And as the world becomes ever more complicated and we face ecological, political, social and global health crises, witchcraft is experiencing a resurgence. Magic is back. Alice describes what she practises as ‘intersectional, accessible’ witchcraft - it’s about the magic you can find in an overgrown snicket or a sixth floor stairwell; whatever your gender; whether you’re able to climb a mountain or can’t leave the house. Month by month, Alice walks us through everyday magic for extraordinary times.

30 review for A Spell in the Wild: A Year (and Six Centuries) of Magic

  1. 5 out of 5

    Claire

    I randomly came across this book in a newsletter I read by Tramp Press, who published two nonfiction books I recently read and loved, Doireann Ni Ghriofa's A Ghost In The Throat and Sara Baume's Handiwork. Laura Waddell talked of hibernation season approaching and the desire to curl up and zone out, which she'd been doing with A Spell in the Wild, describing it as " a witch’s year broken down month by month, full of foraging, feminism, magic, and making meaning" and expounds further in this colu I randomly came across this book in a newsletter I read by Tramp Press, who published two nonfiction books I recently read and loved, Doireann Ni Ghriofa's A Ghost In The Throat and Sara Baume's Handiwork. Laura Waddell talked of hibernation season approaching and the desire to curl up and zone out, which she'd been doing with A Spell in the Wild, describing it as " a witch’s year broken down month by month, full of foraging, feminism, magic, and making meaning" and expounds further in this column she wrote for The Scotsman. At the time I was reading two novels about a woman accused of being a witch, Ann Petry's Tituba of Salem Village and I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem and I thought it would be interesting to follow those up with a contemporary view of witchcraft. I really knew/know nothing of the subject, except that I suspect that virtually anything that involves the use of a woman's intuition, is often tarnished or in some way diminished by referring to it as witchy, it is rarely embraced. Alice Tarbuck is a woman at the intersection of many interests and influences, a poet, an academic, a keen forager with a practical and intellectual interest in 'witch-story'. It is such a loaded word that this book is refreshing in its celebration of contemporary ritual and magic as well as a demystification of things historically considered witch-related, from someone who loves the natural world, words and literature, pulling her various practices together into her personal version of 'witchcraft', a blend of the practical, spiritual, academic, magical and intuitive. Magic happens in all those moments when the world and you aren't separated any longer by any sort of barrier; be it the brain or the body. It is a stepping into awareness of connection, a tuning into that feeling. Witchcraft is, among other things, a good container for trying to communicate these difficult-to-talk about experiences. We aren't sure how else to articulate them, so we use metaphor, metaphysics, magic. She thus attempts to record a year, living in accordance with this way of being in the world, sharing it from both a practical perspective and through the vast canon of literature that has gone before. The book is structured into twelve chapters, or months of the year, mapping seasonal occurrences, being open to the magic in the ordinary, a spell or two, sharing rituals, making suggestions and backing up much of her pondering on the subject with a wealth of literature, which is indexed at the back. Reigning in the academic somewhat, makes it a far more accessible and compelling read, blending in personal experience, musing on and striking back at the snobbery, judgement and the often patronising behaviours of those who diminish the occult as some dark, fanciful indulgence. An urban dweller, she also seeks to demonstrate and share the possibilities inherent in a city, the sacred spaces, the possibility of urban foraging, making use of what is around, rather than dwelling of what it is not. Debunking the myths, she makes a case for creating one's own practices, and takes us along as she enters what might be a sacred space, a forest and sits and waits. And gauges everything with a sense of humour and realism. As I read this in December, this month entitled Midwinter and Magic in the Dark holds particular resonance. We are informed that solstice means 'sun-stop' and that in Neolithic times, sacrifices were made to entreat the sun to return. It is the month when we light candles, hang lights and create a warm ambiance indoors, a time of introspection. Most of our winter traditions boil down to ways of calling to the sun to get it going again: the spiritual equivalent of defribrillation. We all become sorcerers of light. The history and reference to the North Berwick witch trials, King James Daeomonologie text, Isobel Gowdie's confession and Latin treaties on witchcraft make for mesmerising reading. Totally down to earth, yet open to the magic of being the silent observer, Alice Tarbuck introduces an enchanting perspective on connecting with nature, creating one's own simple remedies from urban foraging, keeping and displaying little things one collects on nature walks, inventing spell-poems, (which could as easily be affirmations or prayers) and a little bit of ritual and divination to see one through various difficulties. Witchcraft is, I believe, the practice of entering into relation with the world, of exerting your will in it and among it, and learning how to work with it in ways that are fruitful for yourself and the world.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Dave

    I'm commander shepard and this is my favourite book on the citadel. Seriously though, Tarbuck is the best guide through witch matters I could imagine, toeing the line beautifully through the spiritual, historical and practical aspects of contemporary magic, both accessible to newcomers like myself, and full of expertise for folks more advanced in their journeys. Unambiguously recommended. I'm commander shepard and this is my favourite book on the citadel. Seriously though, Tarbuck is the best guide through witch matters I could imagine, toeing the line beautifully through the spiritual, historical and practical aspects of contemporary magic, both accessible to newcomers like myself, and full of expertise for folks more advanced in their journeys. Unambiguously recommended.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Nicky Adkins

    Of all my reading, this book fits most closely with my sense of what magic is and where we can find it in the world. It felt like finding a friend.

  4. 4 out of 5

    rosamund

    Atmospheric yet scholarly, A Spell in the Wild is an account of witchcraft, both as it is practiced in modern times, and its history over six centuries. Tarbuck describes the Medieval witch trials, those horrific tortures experienced by women accused of witchcraft, as well as visiting sites of ancient worship in Scotland and England, and describing the gods and goddesses that may be associated with them. She talks about the revival of magic in the late 19th and early 21st century, including Alei Atmospheric yet scholarly, A Spell in the Wild is an account of witchcraft, both as it is practiced in modern times, and its history over six centuries. Tarbuck describes the Medieval witch trials, those horrific tortures experienced by women accused of witchcraft, as well as visiting sites of ancient worship in Scotland and England, and describing the gods and goddesses that may be associated with them. She talks about the revival of magic in the late 19th and early 21st century, including Aleister Crowley, the early occultist, and his imperialist and misogynist interpretation of magic. Tarbuck is a witch herself, and also explains what it means to be a witch in the 21st century: how she understands herself in relation to nature, when nature is constantly under attack, how to be conscious of the environment around her and how she works in dialogue with its needs. Set over the course of a year, Tarbuck gives us insights into how magic might be practiced in each month, as well as using this as a jumping off point to describe different aspects of the history of witchcraft and of our understanding of the natural world. While this book is very easy and enjoyable to read as a whole, it could also be used more like an almanac: to be picked up each month, and to give the reader a sense of what to forage, think about, or what aspects of the landscape might be particularly noticeable during that period. Tarbuck also includes monthly spells or rituals that ground the modern witch in time and place. One aspect that particularly fascinated me was Tarbuck's chapter on animal transformation, and the accounts women gave at their trials about their experiences with transforming into animals such as hares, and what a modern interpretation of their experiences might be. I wondered if reading this would inspire me to start learning how to be a witch, but that doesn't quite fit with how I understand the world. However, this is a fascinating book, whether or not you are a witch: I especially enjoyed Tarbuck's studies of the history of witchcraft in Europe, and of the history of Celtic dieties. It gives the reader a richer understanding of the landscape, and her carefully reasoned and diligently researched histories offer a wealth of insight into the witch, whether she is a woman scapegoated by society or a powerful figure in her own right.

  5. 5 out of 5

    ☼ Sarah ☼

    "The magic is in the wild, and it is also inside us. We are the wilds, and we are the hearth. Come along, won't you? All the world is waiting, and you are waiting too, and there is so much joy, and power, and there is so much work to be done. Let's get to work." A Spell in the Wild is a brilliant and beautifully written account of one woman's journey through the year as a witch. Tarbuck takes a different topic each month (foraging for September, fortune-telling for July, fairies for February) and "The magic is in the wild, and it is also inside us. We are the wilds, and we are the hearth. Come along, won't you? All the world is waiting, and you are waiting too, and there is so much joy, and power, and there is so much work to be done. Let's get to work." A Spell in the Wild is a brilliant and beautifully written account of one woman's journey through the year as a witch. Tarbuck takes a different topic each month (foraging for September, fortune-telling for July, fairies for February) and tenderly spins a story of her experiences, analysing them and what they might mean all the while. Her version of witchcraft is not, as so many depictions insist, restricted to those outfitted with an array of tools, those able to access historical sacred spaces, or those who are not living with a disability. It is one that can be practised in a car park, in an apartment, or in one's garden as legitimately as it can in the woods; it tells us that the wild and magical is all around us, and all we need to do is open our eyes to see it. It is sensitive to the world we live in, and asks nothing of us other than that we bear witness and try to do some good.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Vera

    Roughly the first half of this book is absolutely wonderful - intriguing, informative, exciting, everything I'd expect from a modern witchy book :) unfortunately I think the second half could have done with a thorough edit. There's a lot of repetition and deviation from the original intent of the book, diving into the murky depths of the history of witchcraft - not that there's anything wrong with that, mind you! It's just that that's a different book. Alice is clearly very knowledgeable, sweet Roughly the first half of this book is absolutely wonderful - intriguing, informative, exciting, everything I'd expect from a modern witchy book :) unfortunately I think the second half could have done with a thorough edit. There's a lot of repetition and deviation from the original intent of the book, diving into the murky depths of the history of witchcraft - not that there's anything wrong with that, mind you! It's just that that's a different book. Alice is clearly very knowledgeable, sweet and honest, and comes across extremely loveable in this. It just felt like, towards the end, there was a word count quota to fulfil. Anyway, I still loved a lot of this book and would recommend it to anyone intrigued by modern day witchcraft and a bit of everyday magic. Much needed.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Liz Treacher

    I recommend this book if you want to explore nature, magic and childhood memories, because they are all entwined in Tarbuck's enchanting writing. I loved her descriptions of nature - beautiful and vivid. A dive into the natural world and our place within it. I recommend this book if you want to explore nature, magic and childhood memories, because they are all entwined in Tarbuck's enchanting writing. I loved her descriptions of nature - beautiful and vivid. A dive into the natural world and our place within it.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Matthew

    A beautiful, captivating, deeply personal exploration of witchcraft and what it means to inhabit the world. Tarbuck takes us on a journey through the wheel of year, blending autobiographical experience with rigorous research in such a way that one cannot help but be captivated. A real strength of this book is the narrative voice which, each chapter, entices the reader in with poetic, evocative images, inviting us to share Tarbuck‘s journey. From the very first line of the introduction, I was entr A beautiful, captivating, deeply personal exploration of witchcraft and what it means to inhabit the world. Tarbuck takes us on a journey through the wheel of year, blending autobiographical experience with rigorous research in such a way that one cannot help but be captivated. A real strength of this book is the narrative voice which, each chapter, entices the reader in with poetic, evocative images, inviting us to share Tarbuck‘s journey. From the very first line of the introduction, I was entranced; a gentle, quiet tale of an urban fox following the narrator home. It was a lovely tale, giving me that moment of insight into Tarbuck’s life and experience. It felt like the start a conversation: “This is who I am, and I how I came to follow this path. We all have our own stories and I would also love to hear yours.” Each chapter, each month, is similar in that regard; we step into her life, joining her in her experiencing of that season and the thoughts and reflections it brings and, then, almost without realising, we are taken on a journey spanning centuries, leading us down all manner of fascinating, often unexpected, paths. She discusses the history of witchcraft and magic and of ecology and tradition, and all the while maintaining that deeply personal feel. Each chapter covers a different topic, rigorously researched and full of intrigue: even on topics I considered I knew well I found myself learning things I had never known before, and I ended each chapter eager to read the next. And always, she brings us back, ties up the ends and we find ourselves back with the narrator in the world she inhabits. This book is deeply reflective. Always we find Tarbuck taking the topic and scrutinising it in detail, questioning the assumptions of those who’ve come before her and drawing her own conclusions. There is a strong morality contained in the narrative; not one that necessarily condemns, but one that always asks the reader to consider the implications of a practice or a tradition, and promotes a philosophy of inclusivity and acceptance. In witchcraft, where there have historically been all manner of authoritative voices proclaiming how things should be done, this is refreshing and highly welcome. This acceptance is no accident or token gesture, but seems in fact to be core to the beliefs and philosophies Tarbuck takes pains to describe. She invites the reader to join her, to be included as part of her journey, and her journey is one of discovering how much a part of the world she is. Importantly, the “World” of a Spell in the Wild is not some remote region, inaccessible to all but the privileged few, and neither is it contained in some long past region of nostalgic time, but is here and now, wherever and whenever that is. Tarbuck invites the reader to discover that the wild exists everywhere and in everyone, be it in a remote island far from civilisation or in the depths of an urban jungle. This is the heart of the book: the idea that we can all reconnect with the wild and weave our magics regardless of who we are or where, and the path of the witch is precisely that art of discovering anew the world that is in everything. As Tarbuck herself acknowledges, this is something that can be achieved perhaps without even a belief in what might be termed the supernatural - instead, we are simply asked to open our eyes to very real, natural world before us and work in all the ways we can towards making it thrive. This is a book for anyone with in an interest not just in witchcraft and occult, but in reconnecting with nature in our increasingly urban lives. It makes the reader look again at the world immediately around then and rediscover it anew.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Helen

    I absolutely loved this book. The writing is beautiful, and draws you into the author's world, opening your eyes to the magic in everyday things all around us, seeing beauty where others only see ugliness. It's an honour to be on this journey alongside the author during this insight to her year, to read her thoughts and learn about witchcraft, nature, and so much more. There is a spell at the end of each chapter, but I feel that the real magic is in the author's words and thoughts, which are tra I absolutely loved this book. The writing is beautiful, and draws you into the author's world, opening your eyes to the magic in everyday things all around us, seeing beauty where others only see ugliness. It's an honour to be on this journey alongside the author during this insight to her year, to read her thoughts and learn about witchcraft, nature, and so much more. There is a spell at the end of each chapter, but I feel that the real magic is in the author's words and thoughts, which are transmitted to the reader and leave you feeling somehow different afterwards. I highly recommend this book for its gentle wisdom and enchanting prose, it's one of my favourite books of the year.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Abi Nottingham

    I loved the balance this book struck between the personal and the historical. There were also lots of wonderful ideas on how witchcraft can evolve with our changing world. Each chapter ends with a spell, some of which I’ve done and have helped me a lot.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Holly Cox

    One of the most interesting and thought provoking witchy books I've read in quite a while! One of the most interesting and thought provoking witchy books I've read in quite a while!

  12. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    soft, kind, fascinating.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Sue

    wonderful poetic and informative. I will reread this it is fabulous

  14. 4 out of 5

    Charlotte Burns

    I loved this book so much. It's the perfect magical, witchy hug in a book. I loved this book so much. It's the perfect magical, witchy hug in a book.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Susan Laws

    This book is an absolute treasure, no matter what your outlook on magic and witchcraft may be. Strange, beautiful and very interesting. It’s structured around the Wheel of the Year and Alice discusses each month with relation to seasonal practices and historical tradition. The best part of this is the level of poetry and beauty she brings to each month and the variety she injects with her vast subject matter which you can tell has been meticulously researched and very well referenced. Throughout This book is an absolute treasure, no matter what your outlook on magic and witchcraft may be. Strange, beautiful and very interesting. It’s structured around the Wheel of the Year and Alice discusses each month with relation to seasonal practices and historical tradition. The best part of this is the level of poetry and beauty she brings to each month and the variety she injects with her vast subject matter which you can tell has been meticulously researched and very well referenced. Throughout there is also discourse on the history, politics and social aspects of witchcraft (and other magical concepts) which is carried off mindfully and with intersectional focus, as are any suggestions Alice makes throughout the book. She is also very mindful of some of the binary imagery inherent in witchcraft practices which she acknowledges and offers the reader alternative suggestions and ideas for better inclusivity. Alice is also mindful of accessibility in her discussion and has dedicated a lot of time to how to access the concepts and ideas she mentions in urban spaces or on a budget. It is an absolutely mesmerising read, at times it actually reads like nature writing. I particularly loved her message about fostering a better relationship with nature (of all kinds; landscape, plant and animal) and how this could be beneficial for humankind as a whole. Again, for a reader who may feel sceptical or hesitant about magic, it’s worth noting there are spells included in this book but they do not ask to be engaged with. I also think it’s worth noting that those who have no affinity or belief in magical ideas would still be able to enjoy this book for it’s richness. I’d say whatever your outlook, the best way to enjoy this book is to enter it open-minded and lovingly because it almost feels as though the book becomes a friend. Alice is honest, kind and thoughtful and this is evident with each turn of the page.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Emma Morton

  17. 5 out of 5

    Sophie

  18. 5 out of 5

    Amelia

  19. 4 out of 5

    Emily

  20. 4 out of 5

    Anniken

  21. 4 out of 5

    Katie Shaw

  22. 5 out of 5

    Toni Tweddle

  23. 5 out of 5

    Caroline

  24. 5 out of 5

    Lorna

  25. 4 out of 5

    Nicole

  26. 4 out of 5

    Kay Mckeirnon

  27. 5 out of 5

    Hannah PS

  28. 4 out of 5

    Caro

  29. 5 out of 5

    Eleanor Murrell

  30. 4 out of 5

    Lisa Richardson

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