Light Magic for Dark Times: More than 100 Spells, Rituals, and Practices for Coping in a Crisis, by Lisa Marie Basile
Fair Winds Press, 1592338534, 176 pp., 2018

There’s a trend in witch lit toward books that treat witchcraft as a form of self-care. Light Magic for Dark Times: More than 100 Spells, Rituals, and Practices for Coping in a Crisis by Lisa Marie Basile is my idea of the zenith of that trend. Furthermore, I’m not mad about it! But I’m also not exactly here for it either, as I’ll explain.

Lisa Marie Bastille has created a lovely, well-conceived and well-written book that provides for the witch identified occultist a little antidote to the current political and sociocultural moment. As she observes, we are collectively going through some dark times: the global rise of fascism and re-emergence of white supremacy, the effects of climate change, political threats to women’s reproductive autonomy and anti-vaxxers reviving measles — to name a few things that might have us feeling a little down and hopeless! 

I often think about the similarities between New Thought (I’m referring to the early 20th century phenomenon of essentially positive thinking — see my previous review of the excellent Mitch Horowitz book The Miracle Club), or programs of self-improvement, and many witchcraft 101 type books. The emphasis on doing no harm, focusing on oneself, meditation and other means of training the mind, creating goals and manifesting your dreams — there’s a lot of crossover. This personal development is foundational to my own journey on the occult path and my own witchcraft practice. Light Magic for Dark Times takes that perspective a necessary step further to help readers not only grow but also replenish when dark times are taking a toll on our life energy and ability to deal with our day to day. I maintain that personal growth and self-care are foundational to occult practice and witchcraft. 

I do worry that narratives of self-care can perpetuate a focus inward, and reify individualism at a time when collective action and collective caregiving are so necessary. Taking that idea a little further, I wonder at times about the emergence of self-care as a phenomenon that has emerged over the past 10 years or so (culturally and also within activist circles) simultaneously with neoliberal agendas that are systemically eroding our shared public resources such as lost funding to public education, cuts to public health care, a lack of universal accessible childcare, erosion of promises by government to create social housing. I recognize this is quite a digression in a book review — it’s certainly not a criticism of a book I like quite a lot. Yet, I question why activists and leftists aren’t more critical of self-care narratives. 

That critique aside, there’s a lot to love in Basile’s book! It’s a witchcraft book of spells, rituals and practices for coping in a crises but I’d also add it’s much more than that. It’s also a deeply intersectional feminist guide to witchy self-care. My thoughts about self-care as a concept co-exist with a belief that it’s important, and that self-care is a muscle that we can develop and developing it mindfully using witchy consciousness, is probably my favourite way to approach it.

Basile is the creator of Luna Luna, an online magazine. It’s an excellent resource for articles and essays on everything from witchcraft and “living ritually” to body positivity, and is expressly intersectional in focus. With Light Magic for Dark Times, Basile has distilled a lot of wonderful information that I think any witch would enjoy. It’s sort of deceptively simple in that it includes the basics like FAQs (is witchcraft a religion?) and covers ritual basics, and also includes a very simple and accessible list of required materials that would enable to reader to do all the spells (100+!) she includes (with the caveat that substitutions are fine). I think the overarching message here is more complex though: witchcraft is serious business that we engage with for serious purpose, and furthermore that magick is a real tool that we can use to turn the tides against the trend towards darkness that we are experiencing in the world. This is a really profoundly empowering message for any reader. 

The spells included are also not those you’ll find in many other places. You might expect to see “A Serenity Ritual for Powerlessness,”1 but perhaps not “A Practice for Honoring Your Truth After Experiencing Gaslighting” on the facing page. There are spells for confidence, making new friends and connecting with ancestors, but also a ritual to recharge after a protest or social justice work and a spell for disposing of psychic garbage. I like that she includes the basics and the unexpected. You can go as deep as you want with this book, which makes it such a valuable resource. Just reading it feels nourishing to the witch spirit!

In similar fashion to Luna Luna, this book includes the darkness, in the form of shadow work. Basile encourages readers to honour our own shadow side, including and addressing ideas of fear of aging, finding a shadow archetype, disposing of our own psychic garbage, confronting cognitive dissonance, and where appropriate illuminating the darkness. 

Did I mention how nice Light Magic for Dark Times is? It’s beautiful, with a marbled light pink cover, stitched binding, thick pages and a beautiful, spare design including clean lines, unfussy readable font and beautiful watercolour style illustrations. It’s a small hardcover, and I can imagine it will find a place of honour in many witches’ working libraries.

  1. p. 66 []