The Big Book of Practical Spells: Everyday Magic That Works, by Judika Illes
Weiser Books, 978-1-5786-3597-9, 304 pp. (incl. glossary and bibliography), 2016
I’ve been a fan of Judika Illes for a few years, having purchased and obsessed over her wonderful Element Encyclopedia of 5000 Spells a few years ago. That book bills itself as “the ultimate reference for the magical arts,” and is an exhaustive book of spells as well as an impressively large tome. So I was excited at the prospect of something a bit more portable, concise and, well, every day! In contrast to the Element Encyclopedia, which is 1,120 pages long and weighs over 2 kilograms, The Big Book of Practical Spells: Everyday Magic That Works seems pocket-size, and yet packs in so much, almost like the little sister to the encyclopedia.
Ille’s books are all lovely in their design, and The Big Book of Practical Spells: Everyday Magic That Works is no different, featuring a beautiful botanical print on the cover. Ille’s prose style is accessible and practical with a touch of whimsy that suggests to me she has a great sense of humour. She confesses a love of Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Samantha from Bewitched, and the Harry Potter series before grounding the text in the ideas of earth magick accomplished through communication with nature and all living creatures.
Her earth-based magical approach is clearly expressed, and evidenced in her focus on herbs, botanicals, animals, and communicating with nature. Interestingly, her background both in the book and on her website describe her only as an author, scholar, teacher and certified aromatherapist. I think her approach would be most appropriate to practitioners interested in reclaiming earth magick and kitchen witch traditions.
The book is divided into three parts. The first is a magical primer of sorts, introducing the ideas of earth magick. She positions magick as being something different cultures have different types of access to often depending on cultural relationships to the land and to spirits. She stresses that magick can be accessible to anyone who chooses to learn about it; and also notes that in North America, our limited vocabulary for matters relating to spirituality makes magick seem beyond our understanding. In other parts of the world “there is no one blanket word to distinguish magick from life, because in these cultures, magick is incorporated into real life. It isn’t supernatural but a part of the way natural works.”1
She discusses the “do no harm” principle briefly, specifying that any magick directed at another person may have unintended effects and is therefore to be avoided. A magick glossary is provided, which is interesting, but not at all exhaustive, and probably familiar to readers of her work.
Part one goes on to discuss the four elements, use of colour, and supplies that are helpful to a magical pantry – tools and useful “groceries” (salt, herbs and the like), and ways and means to employ these tools. There are also sidebars with interesting notes about related topics, for example in describing the use of paper, Illes outlines the Chinese practice of “spirit mail” whereby special paper is written on and set alight to send messages to the spirit realm.
Part two covers magical allies, which include animal familiars, totems and teachers. She mentions that you can pay tribute to an animal or species that has special significance to you by volunteering with them or contributing money to a charity. This made my own feral cat feeding volunteer work seem more spiritual! The section also discusses botanicals including oils, essences, indoor plants and gardens that can be tied to magical practice by associations.
Finally, she discusses how dream work can complement magick practice and how you can train yourself to have the dreams you desire through meditation and journalling. The dream notes which she devotes a full seven pages to, are wonderful; she suggests how to make an herbal pillow that will enhance your dreams, and provides a lengthy list of herbs that can facilitate this.
Illes also incorporates the use of henna into a ritual to create sigils or symbols that will last on the skin for a period of time, and there is a section on creating a magical garden. I was pleasantly surprised that for a fairly concise volume (again, it’s 282 pages, but as compared to her Element Encyclopedia!), she incorporates a great deal of innovative ideas to expand ones magical practice including techniques that I hadn’t seen elsewhere.
Part three is probably the reason most people buy the volume – the spells section! It fills the entire second half of the book. Illes clarifies once more that the spells she provides serve two functions: to maximize the practitioner’s psychic potential and magick power; and those to further your goals and attain your desires. Here, she’s created wonderful, thoughtful spells for many purposes, aligning intention with herbs, location, time, and incantation (for example); but she clarifies that you must use the spells that “call” to you; that is, whichever you find most intriguing or compelling.
This section of the book is subdivided by purpose, and includes the relevant associations such as colour, candles, crystals, god and goddesses that might be helpful, and botanicals and animals. Among the spells she includes are those for aura-cleansing, protection, psychic enhancement, luck, and even beauty.
My only criticism of this volume is the number of pages devoted to love, marriage, fertility, anti-fertility, pregnancy and for protection of babies. There are no less than 39 pages allotted to these concerns! This amounts to dozens of spells for the purpose of finding a lover, keeping love, reigniting love, securing a marriage proposal, ensuring a happy union, getting pregnant, not getting pregnant, and on and on. I counted one spell for “self love.” For me, this limits the utility of the spells. Honestly, there are more spells than I am likely to perform, but I wouldn’t bother with any of the love, aphrodisiac, marriage or fertility spells, mainly because I prefer spell work and ritual work that focuses on my goals and actualizing my potential; and try to avoid those that involve other parties. Perhaps other readers would have a different perspective on these types of spells.
I’m sure you can employ love spells for facilitating self-actualization alone or in a romantic partnership, it’s just not where I focus my attention in spell work. I am a fan of spells for luck, and like to use them with sigils to maximize my intentions, sort of like magically hedging my bets. I also love the inclusion of many water rituals for the bath. The spells are wonderfully diverse, from using eggs to combat argumentative energy to a range of psychic enhancement spells. Her spells are very DIY, so practitioners can expect to simply make a trip to the herb shop, reach into the pantry or do some gardening.
Towards the end of The Big Book of Practical Spells, she includes money and wealth spells, which I always like, and the last section of spells concerns healing. There is a great bibliography at the end and a very thorough index. Overall, I am very pleased with this book and will treasure it as a reference.
- p. 2, emphasis in original. [↩]