Altar Freshening with New Deity Representations


Maxine Miller’s Cernunnos and Danu statuettes.

I once read in a book–I believe it was one of Deborah Lipp’s–that it was a good idea to move your deity representations around your house every so often.  The idea is that by mixing things up of occasion, the representations don’t have a chance to fade into the background and become part of the random flotsam and jetsam we become blind to in our homes.  In other words, we stay aware of them and the powerful beings they represent.

I still do not have a full home to decorate as I wish (life goals!), but I do have my room and my altar, and what I have taken to doing is changing up every couple of months the representations of deity that I display on my altar.  My true favorites remain Neil Sims’ Cernunnos and Oberon Zell’s Millennial Gaia, but I also adore Paul Borda’s seated God and Goddess, which fondly remind me of some friends who love them, too, as well as of Doreen Valiente’s famous figures.  I have a few other statuary representations that I mix into things, and sometimes I’ve printed off color images I find on the Internet and pop them into 5×7 frames.


Maxine Miller’s Danu.  I love how regally she stands, and I can’t get enough of the detailing on the back of her robe.

Recently, though, when I close my eyes and try to envision the Goddess, the figure that swims in my mind’s eye looks less like Gaia and more like Robin Wood’s High Priestess card: a lady with watery robes and long, cascading hair.  As it happens, I was flicking through various pagan blogs last year and came across an image that stopped me in my tracks.  It was an image John Beckett had on his post on Danu–Maxine Miller’s statue.  I had seen this statue before at Celtic Jackalope’s booth at Pantheacon, and a local pagan store in Olympia, Druid’s Nook, had carried it, but it had never really jumped out at me before.  But now, it seemed like I was looking at the Goddess in the way I’ve been seeing her more and more these days.  I did a bit of Googling to find other images, and eventually found one that showed the back of the statue–and the gorgeous oak tree under a triple moon with a dragonfly buzzing within its branches and a frog and a salmon leaping at its base.  I thought it was stunning, and all those symbols mean a great deal to me, personally.  A quick pop onto Celtic Jackalope revealed another bonus, at least to my mind:  they were discontinuing her original green finish and were introducing her in cold-cast bronze, which I vastly prefer.

Now, I originally ordered the statue in April.  Soon thereafter, Deborah at Celtic Jackalope contacted me to let me know the stock was out and wouldn’t be replenished until June.  Well, June turned into late August, and the statue that first arrived had some major problems with the finish.  Deborah was really great about working with me, though, and this week my replacement finally arrived.  I couldn’t be more pleased, and am enjoying how my morning devotionals have changed when I use her as a focal point.


Maxine Miller’s Cernunnos.  This particular representation really makes me ponder who the God is.  It has proved very illuminating to sit and meditate upon some of the symbols Miller wove into his sculpture.

During the long wait for Danu, Miller also expanded her “Celtic Goddesses” line by adding her first God to it:  Cernunnos.  Of course, as soon as I saw it, I placed an order.  It is so hard to find an image of Cernunnos that I feel like I can relate to.  To me, he is an incredibly dynamic, powerful figure–one that I am simultaneously attracted to and repelled by.  The representations that show him to be a benign, bearded man with horns–almost like a Wiccan Jesus–or sleepily seated as on the Gundestrup cauldron as a Buddha don’t really do anything for me, and they feel like they misrepresent his energy.

I really like Miller’s take on him.  He’s a bit different here than on her previously released plaque, which is also amazing.  There’s so much iconography here that captures my imagination, from his elfin features to his hair circling out behind him to create a sun, to the bear claw on his chest, to the oak laves vining out from his groin.  At his feet are scattered coins imprinted with pentacles and a fox. Upon his back is a gorgeous relief of three horned beasts–a ram, a bull, and a stag–crowned by the sun.  He stands in a modified magician’s pose, one hand upraised, the other lowered.  The wicked looking horned serpent he holds upraised in his left arm is not under control as it is in Sims’s representation–it is ready to strike.  This is a representation that makes me think, and–if I’m to be honest–makes me shudder a little.

Oh, and for what it’s worth, I had both Sims’ and Miller’s Cernunnos figures on my altar for a few weeks, and meditating on both of them at the same time was highly illuminating.  And, as you see below, Danu looks very nice with Sims’ representation, too.


A decided bonus for me:  Danu looks especially nice with Sims’ Cernunnos.  They are scaled identically, and look very nearly like a matched pair.

Potions in Action: Bone Broth


“When shall we three meet again?” croaked chicken feet, bone, and veg.  The veg is not pictured.  And I actually took this photo.

A few people in my acquaintance have jokingly called me a kitchen witch on occasion, and I’ve laughed right along with the joke.  I am a great cook and a passable witch, don’t get me wrong, but nearly all of my magic gets done in circle, not the kitchen.  I mean, when you work skyclad, it’s usually not a great idea to get too near bubbling pots.

That being said, I never feel more like a witch than when I’m tinkering away at something in the kitchen, particularly if that something needs a little boost from nature–like scalding milk for yogurt or cheese, steeping tea for kombucha, punching down risen bread dough, or fermenting mead.  Or if I am making a decadent bone broth.  Because, come on, I’m literally using toe of chicken.

I’ve been whipping out bone broths on the regular for a few years now, and I am really surprised at how good I’ve gotten at them.  These days, especially once October hits, I drink at least a mug of it a day.  If I feel a cold settling in, I add lime juice, Sriracha, fish sauce, and a dollop of sesame seed oil.  I have a theory that the extra vitamin C from the lime helps prevent and can lessen the severity of a cold, and the Sriracha is an effective decongestant.  The other ingredients just make things taste great, though I suppose the fish sauce imparts some marine minerals to the brew.  To be honest, I drink this even when I’m not coming down with a cold–it’s my favorite soup, especially when I boil potstickers in it and add cilantro, beansprouts, and other odds and ends.

If I want a good Western-style chicken bone broth, I basically just take a couple chicken carcasses that I’ve picked clean of most of the meat and throw them into a 12-quart pot with enough vegetables to fill the pot about 3/4 full.  I always use at least two carcasses, typically from rotisserie chickens these days because a) my work hours are insane and b) Costco is literally around the corner from my house.  I also always use at least two large onions, which I typically French with their skins on (all the better to get more surface area for the water to get into), and a lot of celery, which I typically roughly chop.  Usually the celery is saved hearts from 3-4 bunches that I freeze, but sometimes I buy a fresh bunch and use that.  I also use a ton of carrots.  Typically these are older baby carrots from a half-forgotten bag.  I’ve never really measured, I just use what I have.  I also usually put a whole head of garlic in–sometimes two.  If I just have cloves frozen, I throw in a handful of those.  If I have fresh heads, I remove a fair bit of the papery skin, then slice them in half across the middle to expose all the cloves and give a surface that water doesn’t have to fight to permeate.  I also invariably throw in a handful of peppercorns.


Most of my bone broths have looked like this.  You definitely can’t see through them–a consommé this is not!  I stole this image from loveurbelly.

I’ve also thrown in parsnips, apples, and handfuls of parsley and sometimes other fresh herbs like thyme.  The apples are quite lovely; I just make sure to quarter them first.  If I want things super gelatinous, I also add chicken feet, which I pick up at a local Asian grocery here in Indianapolis.  I’ve also just thrown in some unflavored gelatin just before finishing, which is nice though sometimes makes things a little sticker than I would like.

Whatever I throw in the pot, I make sure to cover it with water and let it simmer on the stove all day long, taking care that it doesn’t ever turn into a boil.  After six hours, I taste test here and there, adding a pinch of salt to the bit that I taste–I find the salt helps me gauge when it’s done as I may be likely to misjudge it as too bland without when it is, in fact, perfectly fine.  When I think it’s done, I cut the heat and let it stand for a couple hours to chill off enough to pour safely, then pour it through a couple of strainers into another pot or a Cambro bucket, which then gets popped in the fridge overnight.  The next morning, I pick off whatever fat has accumulated on the surface and ladle into smaller containers for freezing.  I season with salt whenever I finally drink it, as I’m apt to use it in other recipes too and frequently like to monitor the salt in the final dish.


Chicken pho, or pho ga.  I brazenly stole this image from the Splendid Table.

If I want to make a more pho-like broth, I use a smaller pot because there is significantly less veg involved.  For this, I think the chicken feet are a must–I really want this broth to be really gelatinous.  I still use two chicken carcasses.  I also use two large onions, though I roast them up in the oven after I slice them until they are wilted and a little charred.  I also roast a whole hand of ginger with them, which I slice in half long-wise.  To the pot, I add about a tablespoon of whole coriander, a teaspoon of fennel seeds, 3-4 heads of star anise (I typically use broken pods, so I guesstimate what it would be for whole heads), a cinnamon stick (at least 3 inches long), four whole cloves, two tablespoons sugar (I use palm or light brown sugar), and about 1/4 cup fish sauce.  I again cover everything with water and simmer at least 6 hours.

I really do love the alchemical workings of a simmering bone broth, and prefer to cook it in this way whenever possible…but sometimes I need to not be in my house all day, or sometimes it’s just too hot to have something simmering for hours, or any other of a million reasons I give myself.  When this happens, I break out the pressure cooker.  I have an Instant-Pot, which is a total game changer for me.  I find that 90 minutes at high pressure gives an excellent broth, no matter what.  If I can, I like to let the pot come back to normal pressure naturally, but I’ve also done quick release and it’s been just fine.


Potion bottles from a far more talented artist than me.

So how do I get off calling bone broth a potion?  Well, the basic definition of a potion is a liquid with healing, magical, or poisonous properties…what else could a bone broth be?  And, frankly, you can tinker with the veg and herbs ad infinitum in order to fine tune what you’d like your potion to do.  Want to amplify the healing?  Thrown in more onion and garlic and add some apple and fennel.  Need some protection?  Add clove, anise, and parsley to the mix.

Amusingly, I looked up most of the ingredients I mentioned in Cunningham’s Magical Herbs and found that the basic ingredients of a classic western chicken stock–onion, garlic, carrot, celery, and parsley–only share one correspondence between them: lust.  I gotta say, if a nice man came up to me with a bowl of homemade chicken soup when I was feeling down, I probably would jump his bones…so maybe there’s something to that.

The 19th Annual Indianapolis Pagan Pride Day


My photography skills are not nearly good enough to capture how huge Indianapolis’s PPD is.  It’s hard to tell, but there are booths all the way across this panorama.

I’m constantly astounded at how big Indianapolis’s Pagan Pride Day is.  I believe it’s something like the third largest in the country?  Absolutely crazy.  I think part of why I’m always amazed at this festival has to do with the infrequency with which I run into other pagans around these parts.  It seems like in the Pacific Northwest, every third person you ran into was Pagan or Pagan-ish.  Here?  I ran into one the other day and we both raved at each other like we were water in the desert.

As always, one of the bigger features of Indy’s PPD is the amount of vendors and local organizations that come to represent.  While I didn’t do that much shopping (seriously, I just bout a small gift for someone), I was impressed by several of the vendors.  My favorite was one I’d never seen before:  New Moon Oils.  The owner, Austin Brewer, hand blends essential oils into sweet almond oil within a day of shipping.  I was rather impressed with his blends and would have loved to buy his Oud (Agarwood) oil, but it had sadly sold like hotcakes.  Luckily for me, I can order online and follow him on Facebook.


Some incense up for vending.  I believe the vendor was Cherry Bones Arts.  I rather thought this looked especially witchy.

Unlike in previous years, the 19th annual PPD did a pretty great job at announcing rituals and workshops.  Every ritual or workshop area had a big chalkboard proclaiming the schedule for the space, and the offerings looked pretty great.  There were workshops on Vocal Magick, Chaos Magick, Mead Making, Leadership, the history of contemporary paganism, rune magick, and being a better LGBTQ Ally.  I went to the mead making one…and if I didn’t live alone in a small 3rd-floor walk up apartment with zero pantry space, I’d be headed to the brewshop this afternoon.

I was also pleased to see rituals promoted and attended.  There hadn’t been an opening ritual scheduled until a couple weeks ago, but some members of Novices of the Old Ways stepped up and pulled together a simple energy raising.  I really do love the meditations they use to cast a group circle–it’s very colorful! (Literally!).  I was right after the leader of the spiral dance…and let me tell you, I was thoroughly winded after that.  I think I need to step up my cardio game.  The Anabasis Camp, the local O.T.O. chapter, led a ritual for Pan, which looked wonderful, but I did not attend.  Then Novices of the Old Ways did a sort of Oracular Seidh where one of their priestesses invoked Hecate.  Attendants could go up and ask the goddess a question.  The White River Protogrove, part of the A.D.F., was also scheduled to do a ritual, but I left before that.  I’ve got to run up north for my own coven’s Harvest Home ritual tonight and needed to get ready.


Novices of the Old Ways invoking Hecate into a priestess.  Normally I would not have snapped photos with people in them, but I realized that no one could be identified in this one, and NOW did such a lovely job with their visuals.  Sorry for the heavy-handed editing of the photo…the original was super washed out and grainy.

My favorite part of the whole day was Novices of the Old Way’s oracular seidh.  I did have to leave the ritual pretty early.  Truth be told, I’m not doing so well with self-care at the moment despite a slightly easier work schedule.  I had forgotten to eat dinner last night as well as breakfast this morning, and found myself very lightheaded after the goddess was invoked…so I left to bolt down some shawarma and the best dang baklava I’ve ever had.  While I don’t have any idea on how the ritual ended, I was really impressed by the start.  Members proceeded in, marching to a drumbeat and dressed in white togas and carrying staves and a stuffed snake they had made.  As they marched, they chanted “Hekate, Keeper of the Crossroads. Hecate, Holder of the Flame. Hecate, Wisdom in the Darkness.  Guide our way, guide our way!”

It was darn impressive.

Unlike other public rituals I’ve taken part in, NOW does a great job explaining what they will do and how everyone can participate before the ritual begins, so it seemed to me like everyone was pretty on point.  They also use simple quarter calls with lots of real-life visuals which makes things plenty engaging and really hard to screw up.


A couple sitting in the yab yum pose in the middle of some market square in Copenhagen, of all places.

I, however, was most impressed by their invocation of Hecate.  One of their priestesses and priests did a really visually-compelling “Chalice-and-Blade” joining.  They sat together in a yab yum tantric pose (pictured above).  Attendants handed them the cup and blade, which they joined.  The priestess then drank, and they kissed before rising.  He also did such a loving five-fold kiss on her–I have to admit, I got a bit teary-eyed.  And man, did they ever go all out creating that whole red tent and platform set-up for the goddess?  You really can’t fault NOW for making something really cool to watch.

I wonder what next year will bring?

Quick Life Updates

Good lord, has it really been months since I last posted?  When I started this whole high school teaching gig, I thought that finishing teaching at 3:30 in the afternoon would afford me some time to write, to enjoy things that enrich my soul, and maybe to piece together a draft of my dissertation.

Well, that’s a joke.  I often say that I’m incredibly thankful that I do not have a husband or children right now, for they would be severely neglected.  Things are a little better this year, but even now I have little energy for anything more than eating a dinner and falling asleep to Netflix when I get home from work…which certainly isn’t anywhere close to 3:30.  Last April, May, and June I was regularly working 20 hour days, often putting 15 hours in at the school building itself (getting there at 6 am and leaving at 9 pm).  If that makes me sound like an amazing teacher…it shouldn’t.  No one can be effective with that much overload…but that was what I had to do in order to do all the things the school wanted me to do.

Even with all of that, I’d intended to return to that school for a second year.  It seemed easier in the long run than finding a new job.  Luckily, Someone was looking out for me. A similar teaching position opened up at a different school…and I got it.  I get to teach two college courses in addition to a senior high school English class, and one of those college courses is literature.  FINALLY.  These changes certainly feel like they were Meant.

The school where I am this year is a very tough school with some pretty major problems, but this year, I’m a much better teacher, and the insanity that the kids do doesn’t throw me like it would have had I been there last year.  And I’m a little better armored when it comes to helping my kids deal with their awful situations.  (Seriously, most of my kids work a 40 hour work week in addition to going to school–and an alarming number of them are their family’s only source of income.  Their conditions are Not. Good.)  And while my work load is not light (I am preparing for three classes and have double the number of students I had last year), I have less active teaching hours per day (7 as opposed to 10 last year) and can use the ‘extra’ time to grade and plan.  Better yet, the administration at this school is much, much more reasonable.  My department head in particular is a dream.

I’m still working a ton, don’t get me wrong.  And I will be a probably be hot mess this year, too.  In addition to teaching all new classes, I also have to write a thesis to earn my M.A.T. But I’m oddly hopeful.

Craft stuff is also going pretty well.  I’ve not had much opportunity to continue my individual studies, but I’m loving my coven and the activities we do.  I’m also helping to teach a 101 class with them, and that’s been lovely.  The seekers are fantastic people, and I’ve very much enjoyed getting to know them.

Hopefully things will level out soon, and I can again be more than just my job.  Fingers crossed!

Lemon Pie for Beltane

Bright and sunny--and sinfully easy--lemon pie

Bright and sunny–and sinfully easy–lemon pie. Image Credit: Cook’s Country

I don’t know about anyone else, but I had a positively smashing Beltane full of flower crowns and maypoles and lots of fun with covenmates.  I can’t get over how green the world has become over the past week.  The grass in the field behind my home is positively verdant and so thick that the Canadian geese that alight in it are practically swallowed whole.  The trees that stand just beyond now have full-fledged leaves rather than the wan green mist that had been deepening throughout April.  There’s a new hope and optimism in it, and it’s infectious.

For a while, my go-to dessert for a Beltane Feast has been Key Lime Pie–an absolute favorite of mine.  It tastes like the start of summer, and gives me the same pleasant feeling as watching the greening of the earth.  But my standard recipe for that is straight off the back of a “Nellie and Joe’s Key Lime Juice” bottle, and I typically use a store bought crust for it–and frankly, I wanted to do something a bit more special for a holiday.

Recently, Katie Workman’s 2013 write up of Bill Smith’s Atlantic Beach Pie has made the rounds on my social media, and I’ve given it a try.  It’s a lovely pie–very much like my favorite Key Lime–and the saltiness of the crust is a nice touch.  But I thought Workman’s description of “Oh My God” pie was a bit of a stretch.  The crust crumbled if you looked at it wonky, and I thought the filling was too acidic and competed too much with the crust.  Last year Cook’s Country came out with a similar recipe, North Carolina Lemon Pie, and that was what I chose to use for my Beltane dessert.  The extra pinch of salt, extra butter, and addition of corn syrup to the crust makes it far more manageable and delicious.  Adding lemon zest to the filling gives nice textural contrast and more lemon flavor, and adding 1/4 cup of heavy cream cuts down the acidity and makes the filling even more luscious.  I did, however, omit the vanilla extract in the whipped cream topping–there’s nothing better than barely sweetened whipped cream!


It doesn’t get much better than this. Image Credit:

North Carolina Lemon Pie

For the Crust:
6 ounces Saltine crackers (about 1-1 1/2 sleeves)
1/8 teaspoon salt
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup light corn syrup
For the Filling:
1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
4 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
1/2 cup juice (about 3 lemons)
1/4 cup heavy cream
For the Topping:
1/2 cup heavy cream, chilled
2 teaspoons sugar

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Add the saltines and salt to the bowl of a food processor and pulse until you have coarse crumbs (about 15 pulses). Add the melted butter and corn syrup and pulse until the crumbs are about the size of oatmeal (another 15 pulses).

Add the cracker mixture to a greased 9-inch pie plate. Use the bottom of a dry measuring cup or glass and press the crumbs into an even layer on the bottom and up the sides of the dish.  Place the pie plate on a baking sheet and bake until light golden brown, 17 to 19 minutes.

To make the filling, whisk the sweetened condensed milk, egg yolks, cream (if using), and lemon zest together in a bowl, add the lemon juice and whisk until well combined.

With the pie plate on the baking sheet still, remove it from the oven and pour in the filling (the crust does not need to be cooled) and place it back in the hot oven. Bake until the edges of the pie are set but the center still jiggles, 15 to 17 minutes. Place the pie on a wire rack and let it cool completely. Refrigerate the pie until completely chilled.

For the topping, use a stand mixer fitted with a whisk and whip the cream, sugar, and vanilla on medium low until foamy (about a minute). Increase the mixer speed to high and whip until stiff peaks form, 1 to 3 minutes. Spread the whipped cream over the top of the pie and serve cold.

What Kind of Witch Snaps a Broomstick?

It’s been only a million years since I last updated.  Life has me so busy!  I knew transitioning to teaching school would be a lot of work, but I was vastly unprepared for the hours I’m putting into this job.  Twelve hour days at the school alone are now a norm, and most of my weekend hours are devoted to grading and planning.  I’m in an exceptionally demanding period of the year right now, both with teaching and with my graduate classes, and I’ve only been getting 3-4 hours of sleep a night since Spring Break let out.  Long story short…if you have kids, let their teachers know you appreciate them.

I don’t anticipate updating much here until the end of May, when things will start to lighten up with work and school.  At the moment, I plan to start plodding through the second Roderick book around then, but I’m still on the fence about that decision.  Frankly, I’d rather put my energies into finessing coven things, and I feel that needs to be a priority now.  There’s also other book things that I’m a bit more interested in at the moment…so I guess we will see what the summer holds when summer rolls around.


Well don’t I feel a fool.

In other news…I did a bone-head thing in circle last night.  I’m battling a cold, which always makes me a foggy delight.  There was a moment in circle where I was cracking a joke, but started to cough.  The cough knocked my balance out a bit, so I took a half-step backward to correct it…and promptly trod on the coven broomstick and snapped it in half!

I felt awful about it, and of course will replace it.  In fact, I just placed the order with Broomcorn Johnny’s in southern Indiana.  My coven leaders are pretty much the most kind and gracious people you’ll ever meet, so I probably could have waited a bit.  However, since “a broom bought in May sweeps the family away” and we’re now in the second half of April…I sure didn’t want to wait too long!

Recalling that bit of superstition made me wonder if there was any lore pertaining to breaking a broomstick.  I searched the Internet from top to bottom, though, and the only thing I found was a snippet from Henry M. Hyatt’s Folklore of Adams County, Illinois saying that “whoever breaks a broom handle will soon break someone’s heart.”  I guess I better tend to my relationships!

I was certainly quite surprised at how much broom lore I found, though.  Perhaps someday soon I’ll study it as a magical tool a bit more and see what else I find.

Guest Post: Niki Whiting Reviews Witches of America

A friend of mine, former Patheos blogger Niki Whiting, recently wrote a review of Alex Mar’s book Witches in America, and posted it to her Facebook account.  The book has been fairly popular among the general population, but received poorly among most Pagans.  Several reviews have already been written, notably from  John Beckett, Segomâros Widugeni, David Salisbury, Jason Mankey, and perhaps most famously by Rhyd Wildermuth, who rocked his ten ways to Sunday.

Witches is a book that I’ve been struggling to finish myself ever since it was published.  For me, Mar’s hypocrisy makes it almost impossible for me to engage with the book.  It is a similar phenomenon I feel when watching the antics of Steve Carell’s Michael Scott on The Office:  that character makes me feel so embarrassed for him that the embarrassment carries over into how I actually feel.  Like Scott, Mar’s antics are so over the top, the embarrassment I feel for her ends up making me feel embarrassed to be a Pagan seeker.  Especially one who writes of the journeys on my own path for all to see.

Niki’s review is one of the cleanest, most succinct accounts I’ve read of the hypocrisy that I react to most strongly and so, with her permission, I have re-posted it here.


9780374291372_custom-999258ada9215870892413b0928b340bd9ff75a1-s400-c85So, I finished Alex Mar’s Witches of America. For those not in the loop, this is a mainstream book about a woman’s spiritual “journey,” involving traditions I am involved with and people I know personally. It has been favorably reviewed in mainstream publications, including NPR, and reviled among those in the actual Pagan world.

I don’t need to rehash the questionable ethics Mar displayed to the communities involved, but for those unfamiliar with this kerfuffle, please note that she did not change any names or details, including those of minors, with the exception of one person, who the wider community suspects scammed her.

I admit I expected much more from this book, seeing as how it is published by Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, a quality publisher. What we get is a series of undergraduate reports from a college level “Intro to 20th Century Paganism” mashed together with what could be her LiveJournal. Except…. Mar is an accomplished writer in her 30s.

(I should say I skimmed a few sections: I refused to read about anyone’s initiatory experiences, especially as conveyed in Mar’s artless writing.)

Some wondered if Pagans and witches were so upset with this book because of what she says about the groups she’s in. This is not it. No one else has said it, but I will: many of her feelings about her experiences and her opinions of certain groups and people I shared at one point! I’ve been in ritual and wondered what the hell was going on, feeling out of place, and so on. To trot out my favorite quote: “You’re not *wrong*, Walter; you’re just an asshole.”

Two examples, if I may. Two examples that I have not seen addressed in any reviews, but to me are the shining examples of what a failure this book is.

Throughout the book Mar describes her yearning for Secrets, for the je ne sais quoi that a certain priestess has in spades. Yet, again and again the Mysteries are laid out before her and she swots them away because they do not fit her preconceived notions, nor do they get her what she wants.

Early on in the book she describes living with the Jesus Movement, a tiny Christian sect in California, hoping to convince them to be filmed for her documentary. She mentions how exhausting it was to smile just right all the time. Instead of *being* a trustworthy person, she tries to convince them she’s trustworthy.

Finally, the group lets her know that they decline the offer to be filmed. Instead, they tell her “What we would really like is for you to become our sister.” They offer her a place in their community. Rather than reflect with humility on the gift being offered her, Mar is “disturbed, nauseous…. I’d been emotionally sideswiped.” Sure, there is disappointment in having the project “derailed,” but she views the relationships built over the months together as a waste.

This section, not 50 pages in, let me know right away what kind of person was narrating this story. She could be handed the keys to the kingdom and she would throw them away assuming the shed was of no worth.

The second example comes 50 pages later. Mar has found a teacher to study with. She is filling out the extensive vetting questionnaire. Mar writes “the cynic in me realizes that this would be a neat document for someone to have her in back pocket if we were ever to part ways unhappily. So while remaining pretty candid in my responses, I double-check for any comments I’d hate to have get out. After all, Karina is literally compiling a file on me.”

The stark irony of this stopped me cold. There is no reflection here about the fact that Mar herself is compiling a file and she *will* give away information. She shares intimate stories and deeply personal details of people she claims to be friends with. This is a place where I would hope an editor stopped and said, “Is this all you want to say about this?”

And that is crux of this book’s deepest flaws: for all of her angst, Mar is incapable of self-reflection in any meaningful way. The books seems to want to be a hip, darker version of Eat, Pray, Love – a flawed book that I quite liked. Sadly, Eat, Pray, Love may as well be a Pulitzer prize winning book of deep insight in comparison.

In the end, the people portrayed in Witches of America come across as complex and very human people. Mar, however, reveals herself as shallow, deeply insecure, and riddled with status-anxiety.

This book is a failure of a memoir and/or a sociological book. It is an embarrassment and should not have been published.

Avoid it all costs.