The Spiral Dance
The book The Spiral Dance is considered a classic in modern witchcraft literature. The author Starhawk put this book out at a time when there was little to no information published publicly on Witchcraft and people were starving for information. In the 35 years since the original release of The Spiral Dance many more books have been put on the market, but the Spiral Dance remains on the top of many recommended reading lists.
The one down side to this book is that it does focus heavily on the feminist movement and feminism. At the time the book was written the author was heavily involved in the feminist movement and feminist spirituality, so it makes sense that this book would reflect those interests and activities. This book is one of the reasons that religious witchcraft is considered to be “women’s religion”. The theme and focus throughout the book is the use of witchcraft and Goddess spirituality to reclaim women’s rights and women’s power.
The subtext to the title “The Spiral Dance” reads :”A rebirth of the ancient religion of the Great Goddess”. The text is a very apt description for the information that you find within the book. When you combine the focus on the Great Goddess with the feminist movement at the time you have a book that covers feminist witchcraft and feminist spirituality and why its important for the world we live in.
Now Starhawk does talk about why feminist spirituality like the Goddess movement is important to men and what Men can get out of the practice of witchcraft. So while the book is geared towards women and feminist spirituality, there are benefits described for Men and practices of Male witches discussed. The overall tone though is geared towards women and women’s mysteries.
This book is 13 chapters long. Each chapter has a specific lesson that expands on the information in the previous chapter. Within several of the chapters are easy to do exercises and meditations. These meditations and exercises are provided so that a solitary witch or someone seeking witchcraft can learn practices that will allow them to become witches in their own right.
Each chapter starts out with a ritual or a description of the practices found within the chapter to illustrate the lessons and information found within the chapter. Some of these stories are fictional and some of them are from experiences within the authors own coven settings. These personal experience illustrations form some of the most powerful aspects of the book allowing the reader to see what sort of experiences they may have in their own work while not telling them explicitly that these will be your experiences as well.
The first chapter completely discusses witchcraft as a Goddess focused religion. Here is where we first learn the concept of a Great Goddess and of feminist spirituality. The author also goes into the history of witchcraft and what exactly witchcraft is as a religion and a practice. Its a basic starting point illustrating the misconceptions and issues many people have with witchcraft.
The second chapter goes into the worldview of witchcraft. Every religion has a way of viewing the world. Here we re provided with a creation myth for the birth of the God and Goddess within this version of witchcraft as well as the essence of the Great Goddess. Here we are given the concept of the soul/spirit as well as the concepts of energy working and the view on the cosmos.
The third chapter talks about covens. Here we learn about the common structure of religious witchcraft and the way that this structure functions. The author illustrates both same sex covens as well as mixed gender covens and why coven structures work. The comparisson between covens and traditional religious structures provide ways for seekers and students to understand the functional differences between a church and a coven.
The fourth chapter discusses sacred space. One key component in witchcraft rituals is the creation of sacred space. This chapter provides several different ways of working this ritual as well as reasons behind the creation of sacred space.
The fifth chapter is all about the Goddess. This religious witchcraft tradition is Duotheistic meaning it focuses on the worship of a Goddess and a God. In this chapter we are introduced to the Goddess and her roles within the religion. We learn how to call her and how both men and women can relate to her.
The sixth chapter is all about the God. While the Goddess is the focus in the feminist version of witchcraft that the Spiral Dance teaches, the God is still important. This chapter illustrates the relationship between the Goddess and God and how they need each other and work together to be one.
The seventh chapter is all about the use of symbols within magic. Magic works through the use of symbols and directing energy related to those symbols. This chapter in the book has several different spells to try as well as exercises to develop your own understanding of symbols and your own association with symbols.
The eighth chapter is all about the Cone of power. This particular chapter focuses on Coven based workings, but the concepts of raising and directing energy in the shape of a cone is applicable to the solitary student. Here we understand what it means in witchcraft when the concept of energy direction and manipulation is discussed.
The ninth chapter is about trance work. The basic definition of magic given early in the book is the idea and the ability to change ones concious state at will. This chapter explores the use of trance and the reason why trance work is part of witchcraft. Basic meditation and trance concepts are addressed here and there are several different exercises within the chapter for trance work and meditation work.
The tenth chapter of the book focuses on initiation. Solitary witches who read this book will not get as much out of this chapter as a witch who is working for initiation within a coven or specific tradition. This chapter describes what it means to be initiated and provides a coven based initiation ritual as a sample.
The eleventh chapter in the book focuses on esbats or moon based rituals. Within witchcraft the moon is sacred and is revered as a symbol of the Goddess. Moon rituals are typically in many cases working rituals while sabbat rituals are more worship based. Moon rituals can be based on the full or new moons or other moon phases, though full and new are the most common.
The twelfth chapter in the book focuses on the wheel of the year or the sabbats and holiday celebrations of this tradition of witchcraft. Here the author provides sample rituals for ideas as to how to honor the sabbats as well as providing information on the lore and meanings behind the sabbats.
The final chapter of this book is focused on developing religion. Here the author explains the issues that can arrive when religions become based on dogma and established practices and don’t change. The author explains what exactly witchcraft as a religion is and how it has to continue to change and evolve in this modern world. Here we learn the dangers of thinking in strict absolute terms as well as in dualistic terms.
Despite the age, this book is useful. Its a good book for establishing witchcraft as a religion and explaining why religious witchcraft is so different than traditional religions. The book covers the basics and provides enough information that a solitary seeker man or women can start their own practice and create their own relationship with the God, Goddess, and the Great Goddess.
The Wiccan Way (Published in the UK as The Hedge Witches Way) is a very good book for beginners. This book covers a very simple way to practice magic and witchcraft without the requirement for long formal rituals. This book covers an important topic that most books on witchcraft don’t talk about, even those which come at witchcraft from the perspective of a religious practice. This book covers the concept, practice, and creation of witchcraft prayers.
For many people the practice of magic and prayer are intricately connected. Many books teach that spell casting is a witches way of saying a prayer. While some spells are prayers, this book examines exactly what a witches prayer is. This book covers what makes a prayer a magical act and what makes a prayer an act of devotion, as a witch uses prayers both for magic and for forms of worship.
The US title of the book is a bit more accurate than the UK title of Hedge Witches Way. The reason behind this is that Hedge witchcraft is a very specific form of witchcraft dealing heavily with trance work and spirit companions. While the author does include prayers for traveling and working with the spirit realms, the focus of the style of witchcraft in this book is not shamanic or trance based, and as such this book is not about Hedge witchcraft but a different form of modern Wicca or Wiccan styled witchcraft.
The author calls the witchcraft and magic described in this book as Wildwood Mysticism. The author teaches that this particular form of witchcraft does not need intense structured and formal rituals. The author mentions here that maintaining an altar and saying a simple prayer to the God and Goddess is all that you need to do to practice this style and form of witchcraft.
The first chapter in the book is all about prayer and enchantment. This first introduction chapter basically covers the nature of witchcraft. Here the author mentions a sense of nature being sacred, a connection with spirits and spirit forces, and why prayers can be effective ways of connecting with the various forces in life and that are responsible for life. The author even mentions just how easy it is for the distinction of the difference between a prayer and a spell to fade for witches, as witches who follow this path work their spells and magic through the use of prayer.
The second chapter is a chapter about the Gods that are worshiped and prayed to in this particular tradition or style of witchcraft. The author starts the chapter by mentioning how the Gods of witches were demonized in the past and how we need to bring their truth back. The author then gives a basic idea about the God and Goddess of this tradition including an introduction to the cosmology or worldview of this practice explaining the three realms or worlds and how their God and Goddess manifests in each of them.
The third chapter of this book is about mysteries. In religious witchcraft the experience of the mysteries is the goal of the rituals. In this specific tradition the experience of the mysteries is related to the prayers. This chapter explains why prayers help us access those mysteries and experiences. The chapter also explains why some prayers should be kept private and why some are meant to be shared. This chapter is key in understanding the importance of prayer in this style of witchcraft, as the mysteries are the experiences of the God and Goddess as well as magic and the flow of the universe.
The fourth chapter in the book is about the theories and practices of magic. Here is where the author describes and defines clearly what wildwood mysticism means and is as a practice. The author here defines what it means to be a witch. The author ends the chapter with a list of the practices that makes one a wildwood mystic and a witch in this practice pointing out prayer being the central component to all of them.
The fifth chapter is a chapter on initiation to wildwood mysticism. To the author the witchcraft is the action and practice of the magical aspects while the wildwood mysticism is the actual spiritual practice and components. Before one can be a witch in this practice they need to become attuned and accustomed to the forces of nature through a wildwood mystic initiation. This chapter provides the ritual and prayer outline for this practice. The chapter ends with ideas and areas of study to increase ones awareness of the tides of nature and the feelings of wildwood mysticsim.
The sixth chapter in this book is about the maintenance and creation of an altar to the Gods and to the practice of wildwood mysticism. Here the author provides a very basic and simple idea of what an altar can be. There are no fancy elemental tools and associations on this altar set, rather a bowl of water, a twig or plant for the world tree and something for the God and Goddess. The key point here in this chapter is the practice of saying prayers at an altar as an act of devotion and worship. Its the idea that you can worship with prayers at an altar without elaborate rituals and ceremonial tools that you see in so many other books on witchcraft.
The seventh chapter in the book covers initiation into the practice of witchcraft and the practice of gaining the powers of the witch. As shown earlier the practice of the mysticism and the witchcraft are separate yet connected. This chapter explores and explains how one can use prayers in ritual to gain the powers of a witch and to become a witch yourself providing several different prayers and ritual actions to naming oneself a witch with the powers of a witch.
The next three chapters are very practical chapters. These chapters focus on the practice of need based prayers and magic. These chapters provide insight into the different types of spell work that wildwood mystic witches can and may perform.
The eighth chapter gets into spells for healing. Here the author provides several different types of healing prayers and spell actions for different situations. The author explains how different types of prayers and a different world aspect should be used for different types of healing work. The prayers provided here serve as an excellent base for healing prayer and spell work.
The ninth chapter in this book is again a chapter focused on spells and prayers for a specific need. This chapter focuses on money and wealth. Like everyone else witches have issues with money and they have bills to pay. This chapter provides several different unique prayers and spell actions for different types of wealth and money.
The tenth chapter in this book focuses on good luck and good fortune. Like the other two chapters the prayers and spell actions in this chapter address the three worlds and the aspects of the God and Goddess in each realm that are important to those prayers. The author also examines the different types of good luck and good fortune out there and why you may want to work and pray for them.
The eleventh chapter in this book is probably the most useful chapter in the book. It is in this chapter that the author finally teaches the reader how to write their own prayers. The nine previous chapters provided several different examples of prayers in different situations. By looking at those prayers a reader can have an idea of how prayers may be constructed. The author provides a three step process for writing prayers and provides blanks in them for you to insert your own concepts and addresses. There are also two prayers for example set up as being written.
The twelfth chapter in the book focuses on writing prayers with the assistance of a familiar spirit. Familiar spirits and spirit guides are common themes and concepts in witchcraft traditions. Here the author explains and provides rituals to get and meet your own familiar spirit, but also explains how and why they are useful in prayer writing.
The thirteenth chapter of the book focuses on another traditional practice of witches. That practice is the ability to travel in spirit body to the different realms and worlds. This is the one hedge witch and shamanic aspect of the book. While the other realms and worlds had been addressed through prayers and had spiritual associations given to the other realms, it is only in this chapter that the reader learns to navigate those realms themselves to gain spiritual insight and prayers of their own.
The fourteenth chapter of this book focuses on steps on the path. Here the author provides different tasks and steps that one can take to making wildwood mysticism and witchcraft their path and part of their daily lives. The author begins the chapter by showing through a symbol that the path of a witch is not straight and that it curves and spirals. The author provides examples of ways we look to the other worlds for guidance and nine different actions we can take to make our spirituality and life whole. This chapter is really about the work it takes to bring this spiritual path to daily life, providing ways to make it a part of your daily life.
The final chapter in this book is about the wheel of the year. This chapter focuses on the typical 8 sabbats of religious witchcraft and ways to celebrate the wheel of the year. There are three different spell actions given for each sabbat (one for each of the worlds and realms) as well as a prayer that focuses on the energetic forces and theme of the sabbat.
By the end of the book the reader has an understanding of a cohesive style and tradition of witchcraft that works with minimal tools, nature energies, and prayer. The book teaches witches not only the importance of prayer work, but how effective prayers can be as a magical and spiritual practice and focus all on their own.