By L. D. Taylor
The Shamanic Witch, by Gail Wood
Red Wheel/Weiser, 978-1-57863-430-9, 244 pp. (incl. Glossary, Notes, and Bibliography), 2008
The Shamanic Witch is targeted at introducing practicing witches to neo-Shamanism. As such, the first two thirds of the book introduce and instruct one in beginning a neo-Shamanic practice, and the last third is directed at incorporating Shamanic elements into a pre-existing Witchcraft practice. Even if one is not a witch, the introduction to neo-Shamanism is well written, accessible, and assumes no prior knowledge. It would be unwise to pick up this book with the intention of beginning witchcraft, although a reading list is provided at the end of the book.
The first two chapters introduce the concept and context of Shamanism and provide the reader with some expectations as to what the experience of journeying will be like. Wood includes a number of exercises to prepare the reader: becoming comfortable with their own style of visualization, connecting with drumming and non-ordinary states of consciousness. The third chapter is dedicated to introductory journeys, following what seems to have become standard practice for neo-Shamanism: journeying to the lower world to meet a power animal and then journeying to the upper world to meet a guide or teacher. Wood writing is casual and approachable. She draws directly from her own experiences both as teacher and student, presenting components of her own personal journeys but also alerting the reader that their own may take very different forms.
As this is an introductory text it covers only these basics, but provides hints and jumping off points for where the individual may want to go with their subsequent journeying. This is especially sensible with the internal portion of Shamanic practice, as the course of that practice will not typically follow a set course, but instead depend highly on the individual and the work they need to do. It does not cover advanced practices such as soul retrieval, nor really anything in terms of doing work for or directed at others: the Shamanism described in this book is primarily a method of self-development.
The chapter on incorporating shamanic elements into a Witch practice spans pages 115-228, and despite comprising fully half of the book pages it feels much lighter in content than the preceding chapters. The transfer from shamanism to witchcraft is twofold: Wood guides the reader through using journeying to further one’s witchcraft for example, finding one personal Goddess figures well as connecting to shamanic forces that can be integrated directly into rites, e.g., finding totem animals for each of the directions. This component of the chapter is excellent, with Wood continuing to use her personal experiences as examples for the reader. Later in the chapter, she discusses using a full ritual circle to provide a different journeying experience.
She also presents full rituals for a number of tasks: Drawing Down the Goddess, protecting a home or space, consecrating tools. Despite acknowledging that she assumes the reader is already familiar with Witchcraft or Wicca, she still writes out each ritual in its entirety rather than developing each of the components and then referencing them. The benefit of this approach is that the reader could take any given ritual and read it directly from the book, without having to skip from section to section. The downsides are that the repetition bulks up the book needlessly and inclines one to sloppy reading, skipping over sections to find the small portion of the rite that differs. The invariant portion of the ritual takes up six pages and is repeated for each of the six rituals which means that roughly thirty surplus pages could easily have been omitted.
That being said, the fact that my greatest complaint is some needless repetition should be telling. Witches and Wiccans curious about neo-Shamanism would be well advised to give The Shamanic Witch a read. I don’t know if a better introduction to neo-Shamanism is available, but the first half of this book could also serve very well in that regard.