Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Book Review: Way of the Hedge Witch

Book: The Way of the Hedge Witch
Author: Arin Murphy-Hiscock
Subject: Home- or Hearth-Based Spirituality, or "Hearth Craft"
Publisher: Provenance Press
ISBN: 9781 598699746
Score:  7 out of 10


(Once again, a review challenging the book itself as far as length goes. I really ought to cut these things down.)

This isn't a big book. It's a fairly typical thickness of around 250 pages long, and around a B-paperback size. It's also quite square, which feels a bit strange. The paper quality is pretty standard. Things are presented in an easy to read, easy to understand manner with a minimum of attempts at special, unnecessary boxes and so on. Each chapter begins with a vaguely "witchy" border to one side of the page, but that's the limit of that sort of silliness.

Just glancing at the contents page gives one the impression of a spiritual craft, centred in the home, but not one that is inherently religious. There is a chapter on gods - more on that later - but nothing on sabbats or holidays. A check in the index shows nothing on the same. This is incredibly refreshing; too often one picks up a book on witchcraft and discovers it's more religion than craft. A book that is about a solid, grounded tradition of witchcraft, a spiritual path that bends to each practitioner, is a rare thing.

Now, the interesting thing about this woman is that she's a member of Ravenwolf's disaster of religious witchcraft. Happily, very little of Ravenwolf's bullshit appears to have seeped into this book. So that only goes to show: being a member of the Black Forest Clan doesn't automatically make everything you do complete trash. However, that doesn't mean I'd necessarily trust anything Murphy-Hiscock wrote regarding Wicca.


Murphy-Hiscock provides two definitions of "Hedgewitch", only one of which I agree with. The first is the one we are familiar with: traditional witch who Walks the Hedge. The second definition really means "Hearth witch" more than Hedgewitch; it's about witchcraft in the home. Her second definition also relies on the concept of the hedge as a protective boundary... but stays within it rather than crossing it. It's a very ironic definition for her to provide. So I personally would have preferred had she titled the book "Way of the Hearth Witch" as that's really what it's about, and it does a good job of being about that subject. There is a lot of cross-over in the crafts of a Hedgewitch and a Hearth Witch... one might even venture that Hedgecraft is almost a subset of Hearth craft. It's at this point that definitions become a little pedantic and silly. Nevertheless, I'm the certain person for whom the actual "Walking the Hedge" part is essential for one to be a Hedgewitch, while the author seems to equate the term more with the way I would use the term "traditional witchcraft". She doesn't use the word "hedgewitch" often in the text; "hearth", on the other hand, is a word used constantly. So I'm left wondering why she (or her editors) chose the title she did.

It's irritating that she says historical wise women or cunning men "were sometimes called green witches or hedge witches"(pg vii) . When? Last year? Three hundred years ago? "Witch" did not mean anything good back then. It was not a term used for those one valued in one's community, nor was it a term one adopted oneself.

Murphy-Hiscock sets out her aims for the book here, and she does it in a commendably rational way. (No waffle or unicorns from this woman, one is glad to see!) Her aim is to provide a base upon which new or prospective witches can build their own traditions of Hearth craft - the home is, she notes, an area lacking in most books for new witches, which tend to be focused on nature, the outside. She saw a large gap, and chose to fill it. It's strange to note it appears in so few books, the home and hearth. My Heathen practices have moulded me over the past few years to have a great reverence for the hearth, which has fed back into my Hedgecraft. I now consider it the spiritual centre of the home and my practice; even if I'm at my altar, I'll speak of the hearth. It is the centre of the home, the touchstone of the family unit. (For some witches, this might be the kitchen instead; to others, the garden. It's a personal thing.) So this is a book that I look forward to reading.

The author mentions that the book is aimed at the "Pagan or Pagan-friendly reader seeking a free-form practise". It's brilliant to come across a book that, while it retains a Pagan slant, does not assume witchcraft is automatically Pagan or that every witch reading will be a Pagan. 

Does Ms. Murphy-Hiscock achieve her goals? Let's read on...

Chapter One: Practising Spirituality in the Home

She starts off by defining the terms she will use throughout the book, which I appreciate. This is our first exposure to the term "hearthcraft" in the book, which she defines as "the home-based portion of the spirituality associated with the path of the hedge witch" (pg 2). Great. But that's the entire content of the book, so why bother with the "hedge witch" part? Oh well.

She claims to have invented the term "hearthcraft" on page 3. If it's the case that she's the first to coin the term, I salute her; the word is spreading fast and I hope it becomes a popular term to describe a home-based traditional witchcraft spirituality. It's a great term. Unfortunately, it's not the case: "Hearth Witch" was a term in use back in 2004 in a book of that name by Anna Franklin. (As an aside, I went to have a brief look through said book, and it looks pretty awful. Don't buy it.)

The author discusses spirituality as a concept in this chapter, and how to relate one's spirituality both to the home generally and to specific everyday activities. She does, however, mention that the book isn't particularly focused on magic. Curious in a book so witchcraft focused... though she has already made clear that this is a spiritual path (albeit one that can be adapted to different religions). Nevertheless, to me witchcraft is absolutely always a magical practice; it is a craft. A spiritual craft, but still, take out the magic, and it is no longer witchcraft. It is a home-based spirituality. I will be curious as we read on to see whether witchcraft proves a large or small part of the spirituality she is discussing.

A fair chunk of this chapter is devoted to ascertaining the morals and values of those in your home, and upholding those as an aspect of honouring the hearth. This is straying quite a ways from my personal interpretation of "hearthcraft", and has more to do with forming a family-connected home spiritual base. That might be just what some people are looking for, and I think it ties in with the spiritual path the author is attempting to form, but it feels a bit out of place to me. To Murphy-Hiscock, being a hearth-witch has a lot to do not just with the family unit, but with the community of people one surrounds oneself with - and about "nurturing and nourishing" (her terms, pg 16) that community.

Chapter Two: Hearth and Home as Sacred Space

The chapter begins with a few pages about the concept of sacredness, of sacred spaces or areas, and about recognising that. There's a page or two dedicated also to respect for the home as a sacred space of one's own or one's family, and about respecting the homes of others when you are invited inside one, such as the removal of hats or shoes in particular cultures.

She makes an interesting comment on page 26 that I very much like and that reflects in some ways my own spirituality. In Murphy-Hiscock's spiritual hearth-craft, sacred space is a thing that already exists, and is recognised, rather than being a thing that is created by intent or by a spiritual or magical act. "The hearth is considered sacred as a matter of custom", she says. I agree.

Spiritual aspects of fire are discussed, with a mention of lamps and candles in various religions. Bonfires and hearth-fires get specific mentions.

Bonfire is used as a synonym of "need-fire", a fire created for a specific spiritual purpose. The author gives instructions on how to build a small one in a cauldron from Epsom salts, alcohol, and whatever herbs or resins the witch chooses to add. There are good fire-safety instructions. I like the idea presented here, of burning herbs and resins along with an alcohol-fuelled fire as an offering or for a spiritual or practical purpose; the fire will be a brief one and requires particular purpose-built set-up, which aids focus.

She ends the chapter with a section on "smooring", or banking a fire, as a spiritual practise. I have mixed feelings on this section. On the one hand, I agree that banking a fire can be a very spiritual act, and I like both that she mentioned it and that she gives instructions on how to do it. Her discussion here is practical and appealing. On the other hand, she goes into "banking the fire" as a sort of metaphor to rounding off one's day and taking stock of oneself, which, while it's a simple exercise I can appreciate, seems fairly distant from and irrelevant to the physical and spiritual act of banking the fire. Finally she adds an example prayer one may wish to say while ending the exercise (or indeed banking the fire). It's a Christian prayer, to Mary and St Bride, which I like, although she refers to them as "deities", which they are not. I do like that she makes no assumptions as to the religion of the reader (she does mention changing the prayer to suit oneself), or even assumptions as to whether they would like to use the prayer or to pray at all.

Chapter Three: Working with the Spiritual Hearth

This chapter revolves around the use of the hearth as a spiritual centre and place of rejuvenation, and as a well of power from which one can draw.

Murphy-Hiscock begins by explaining how to locate the "spiritual hearth" of the home. This seems a little at odds with the slant of the book so far, my understanding of which was of the hearth as quite a physical thing, so I found this concept a bit irritating. The author's "spiritual hearth" is the place people gather or gravitate to in the home, be it the kitchen (which she seems, to me, to stress over a possible physical hearth), the living or dining room, or a place in the home where people just pause for a moment. She goes on to explain how to make a physical representation thereof - again, totally bizarre concept to me, as thus far the hearth had been discussed as a literal thing, that already has a physical representation. I'd have preferred something along the lines of "make a stand-in for your hearth if you do not already have one", but I think that's rather beside the point.

Having said that, her simple ideas for recognising the space are good, solid ideas (such as an oil lamp on a wall shelf) and she leaves this up to the reader. She also leaves it to the reader to decide what they might do in that place, and whether they want to perform a blessing or a ritual to recognise the place's sanctity, for which she provides a very nice example. She does mention at the beginning of the ritual that performing it is a personal choice - the space, of course, is already considered sacred. The ritual itself is very home-oriented, simple and commendably different from many Neo-Pagan based rituals you find in most books.

There is a brief section on creating a mental representation of your hearth, be it as it is in reality or how one would wish it to be, so that one can "tap into" the energies of the hearth when away from it. This is followed by a discussion on replenishing one's energies, with a mention and brief explanation of grounding. Tapping into the hearth is compared to grounding as an alternative, and she gives a fairly detailed explanation on how to use the same basic method to draw on the hearth's energy. Now, I mentioned near the beginning of this review that I was a little disconcerted that she was discussing hearth-craft as, well, not a craft, but this is certainly an act of magic, which is reassuring to see. She follows up with an alternative visualisation of drawing energy from a cauldron of cool water upon the hearth. I am in two minds about this. On the one hand, fire is clearly the basis of the hearth; if there's a cauldron on it, it's there to be heated by the fire. It seems a little off. But on the other hand, there will be witches who find water much easier to work with as a concept than fire, more attuned to it, and for an exercise of this type it is thoughtful of her to include an alternative.

The chapter ends with a section on ancestor worship. It may seem a bit odd, but it follows on fairly well from the rest of the chapter regarding the hearth as centre of the family and spiritual home, and does not seem out of place. It's a brief section that some may wish was a bit longer, but she manages to cover building a shrine (if desired), the import of our ancestors, family tradition, and ideas of how to honour them. This section is phrased conscious of the variations of belief in her readers, (including those who may not feel comfortable with the concept of ancestor "worship",) which I appreciate.

Chapter Four: The Cauldron as a Symbol of Life and Hearth

Murphy-Hiscock names the cauldron as a symbol of her hearthcraft, and gives a basic introduction to the item. My regular readers will know by now how I value words and etymology, and I am pleased to say I can confirm the etymology for "cauldron" presented by the author. (Yay!) To Murphy-Hiscock, cauldrons are a symbol of abundance (as they are used for cooking), of transformation, of hidden knowledge, and of the Otherworld. This latter symbolism is a bit alien for me, possibly because of the areas I have focused in my studies thus far.

This could be related to the fact that most cauldrons in mythology - which Murphy-Hiscock describes in the next section - are Celtic. I know very little about the mythologies or religions of Celtic cultures, which may go some way to explaining why the concept is, while not totally new, at least not one with which I'm very familiar. Those of you more versed in Celtic studies may find the concept a familiar one.

The section on mythological cauldrons is pretty good. I appreciate that she discusses the Celtic nations as distinct.

Cauldrons as tools for the hearthwitch are discussed. Though hearthcraft is mostly practical and come-as-you-are, using everyday items as spiritual tools, Murphy-Hiscock recommends buying two cauldrons: a good, cast-iron Dutch oven for cooking and other practical use, and a smaller cauldron for symbolic work. THis is purely because a large Dutch oven can be heavy and unwieldy, and may be too big for whatever . A good Dutch oven of cast iron - as I have just discovered with the power of Google - can be expensive. Personally I would prefer the "trustworthiness" of cast iron and the practical use of a good Dutch oven to the bitsy little "cauldrons" you can buy from metaphysical stores, but they are pricey. (Additionally, those who work with the Fair Folk may not want to use something made of iron!)

Murphy-Hiscock has already detailed one use for a large, good cauldron in her Needfire mentioned above. In this section she goes into possible uses for a small cauldron, of the sort one might place on one's shrine and use as a symbol or for spiritual work rather than more practical purposes. I've already expressed which type of cauldron I would personally prefer, but some of her ideas for a small cauldron-esque container are good ones. Even a small cauldron inappropriate for cooking or even for placing next to a fire can still have a variety of uses, it seems, from candle holder to salt caddy (for cooking or spiritual purposes, or both!) to incense burner to offering plate. I particularly like the idea of putting herbs or salt in your mini-cauldron and tossing some into the fire or hearth at the end of the day as an offering to the house wights, and of course most will be familiar with a cauldron as a scrying dish or focus for meditation.

This last she goes into in some considerable detail, providing a number of prayers one can say while (or before or after) meditating on an issue. While these are examples, it is mildly concerning that each prayer involves a different deity: for wisdom, Cerridwen; for renewal, Bran; for inspiration, Odhinn. (Although bonus points for spelling Odhinn with an H.) It appears to be a prayer to one's own cauldron to invoke the particular "talents" of a mythological cauldron - "I invoke through thee the cauldron of _____" - which may be interpreted as metaphorical. It's still a little iffy from my end, and not really something I would personally recommend, but it may depend on how and to whom one directs one's prayer.

She devotes two pages to discussing how to care for a cast iron cauldron. She's not belabouring the point: this information is important to many of us whose parents have never cooked with cast iron cookware and down to whom the details of how to care for them have not been passed. I am grateful therefore that she describes how to season them, how to clean them, what should be avoided.. I'm also very much pleased that the cauldron is being discussed as an item that will be practically used. So many books on witchcraft mention the cauldron in passing, or as a symbol for water, and leave it at that.

There is a cauldron blessing and example prayer that I do not much like - the blessing is presented as something you say, which is fine, but the concept isn't really expanded upon. She may as well have said "You can say a blessing for your new cauldron if you want" and left it at that.

She lists a few of the metals used for cauldrons, and the correspondences associated with them. She mentions too that this is expanded upon in chapter eight - which is the sort of thing she's mentioned elsewhere also. "See further rituals in chapter seven" and so forth. Flicking forward to chapter eight, as we will later see, the expanded correspondences do make more sense where she later put them, and there's no harm in mentioning them here briefly also, it just feels a bit unnecessary.

She ends the chapter with a recipe for cookies that look vaguely like cauldrons. I am not a kitchen witch or a baking type, so perhaps I simply am not appreciative of the concept, but I don't really see what biscuits have to do with matters. To me it seems very out of place. Perhaps she simply wanted to end the chapter on something a bit frivolous.

Chapter Five - Hearth Deities and Spirits

This sort of chapter can go terribly wrong. Many a Pagan author has been undone in my eyes by poor deity knowledge. However, it begins well and sets my mind somewhat at ease with a disclaimer of sorts. Murphy-Hiscock reminds the reader that the list of deities and entities is not exhaustive, nor are the entries complete views of these entities. She also begins with a sense of the anthropological: "Here are deities from many cultures and traditions that are associated with the hearth", without assuming that the author believes in these entities.

As for the deities themselves! I am very pleased that Hestia and Vesta have separate entries. She seems to have done her homework here; I am impressed particularly with her Hestia entry and her quotation from the Homeric Hymn to that goddess. The section on Frigga, too, is solid. Many of the other deities mentioned I confess I have little knowledge of, so the accuracy of her reporting I cannot judge, but one hopes that her good work with some is indicative of good work with others.

I am also rather pleased that there is no encouragement for the reader to worship these deities. Information is given because it is relevant to the concept of the hearth and its importance throughout history. The reader is even encouraged to research further into the Eastern traditions of tending the hearth and the gods thereof, but no suggestion is made that this research would be in order to practise these traditions themselves. I like this; too often books will list a deity and then assume the reader will want to honour that deity, and give them example offerings to make or prayers to say. That sort of thing encourages laziness, by suggesting this half-page is all one needs to know about a deity before making overtures. Listing information simply for the sake of knowing it, and its relevance to the topic at hand, is different, and I approve.

The section on spirits starts out quite interesting, with a couple of pages on the Roman Lares and one on the Kamidogami of Shinto. She spends much more time and space on particular Northern or Western European critters, and I'm not sure of the validity of her information here. She seems to associate some of these entities with much more happy-fuzzy concepts than the ones I have come across for them. For example, the boggart, which she insists "can be either helpful or malevolent spirits" (p87). Err... no. They are invariably unpleasant, ruining your food or hurting your pets. And the little bastards will follow you if you move. Traditionally they are kept away from the house by things such as horseshoes (remember, the fae hate iron) but Murphy-Hiscock doesn't mention this. A bit of a disturbing oversight.

It concerns me... not only is her information in this entire section thrown into disrepute, but she is associating such unpleasant bogeys as the boggart with Roman Lares.

Chapter Six - Domestic Activity as Sacred

This chapter starts of as a dirge to a time when the kitchen was considered a great place to be as a woman. This is a bit disturbing to me... Murphy-Hiscock might like cooking but not everyone does, and frankly if I had to spend an hour cooking dinner every night I might end up slaughtering my family and fleeing to South America. Pers'nally I won't cook something that takes longer to make than it does to eat. It's a colossal waste of time. If you like cooking more power to you. I do not. At any rate, I find the slight disparaging of feminism in these first few pages of chapter six to be upsetting and troubling.

Murphy-Hiscock says of the kitchen, "so much of domestic activity is based there" (p93). Perhaps true - but it really leads me to wonder just how she's defining "domestic activity". Does it only count if you're making the house spic-and-span? Is reading a novel or playing with the dog not domestic activity? I feel like in this chapter she is losing touch of the significance of the hearth, what it means and what it has meant. It's not just about cooking. It used to be, and to an extent still is, about physical warmth, light, drying wet things and so forth. She acknowledges these things, but doesn't click that all things that will happen in the living room now, not the kitchen. The kitchen is still a busy place, but so much of hearth-based activity has now migrated, something I think the author has lost sight of.

And in some ways I'm not sure she's aware of what a big, bustling kitchen of centuries past would have been like. Time spent watching documentaries such as "Worst Jobs in History" has taught me that kitchens were dirty, hot and unpleasant, and you worked in them because you had no other choice. Where big kitchens were concerned, the family would never venture into them. Meanwhile, for the poor, often it was your only room anyway. Meals could take hours to produce, so even if you had other rooms, you were stuck in the kitchen, like it or not. I do think her glasses are somewhat rose-tinted here; the kitchen of the mid-20th century is the only one she seems to be acknowledging.

I like the kitchen, I just feel that her sell of the kitchen as the heart of the home is off. If you don't like to cook, you're not going to be spending much time in there.

She details kitchen shrines, how to make and dedicate them, making figurines for them and so on. The concept of multiple shrines, as a polytheist, is one that appeals; I know people who keep shrines to hearth or home deities in their kitchen - such as Frigga, Hestia or even Hera - who are not hearth-witches, or even witches at all. However, I'm not comfortable with the author's implication, at the top of page 98, that the kitchen must be a spiritual environment. To me it's only one aspect of a hearth, and if you don't like the kitchen, you don't like the kitchen; why push it?

She follows this with a section entitled "Being in the Moment: Acting Mindfully" and that's what she discusses; really there's very little for me to comment on here. It's your standard "acting mindfully" section. Of course acting mindfully is very important in spirituality to any entry-level book - or even intermediate books, because let's face it, we all need reminding sometimes - so it makes sense to include it. It's a bit strange to include it specifically in a chapter on the kitchen, but it follows on fairly well and the kitchen is quite a busy place, so if it is to be holy also there must be mindfulness when one acts therein. So it makes sense, though personally I might have put it elsewhere.

"Domestic activities that are ceremonial" - the next subsection - is an interesting idea and one that makes me personally think of a pre-Christian devotee of Hestia keeping house each day. Parts of it will be familiar to many witches: sweeping away unwelcome energies, for example. Others - making offerings, lighting candles, meditation - will be a part of life for many spiritual and religious people. I do wish she'd gone into more detail in this section regarding incorporating these things into your domestic life, or provided some new ideas, but perhaps someone newer to their religious path will find this section more useful.

Oil lamps aren't often featured in books of this type and it's nice to see them mentioned. She details a couple of different types and includes some basic instructions on how to make your own (although personally, wary of fire as I am, I would not feel comfortable making one myself with the little information she gave. Others may well feel happier doing so). I am very much concerned, however, that she mentions one might object to using olive oil because of the carbon cost of importing it, and that one might substitute palm oil. Palm oil, the production of which is destroying the rainforest and pushing towards extinction such animals as the Sumatran tiger and the orang utan. I am aghast.

Chapter Seven - Protecting House and Home

This is a chapter about defence, but also about keeping a good atmosphere in your home. She starts off the chapter with an interesting exercise about understanding your home and the rooms within it. For someone who shares their home with other people, it may be a bit difficult, as not every room is open for you to walk around in and understand the energies of, particularly if you are performing this exercise a few times a year. But it's a good exercise, particularly if you have a home of your own.

She then presents the reader with a Threshold Protection Ritual. I have several problems with this ritual. The first is that she gives the witch a list of ingredients and things to say, but does not tell you why you are using these things or what to actually do. Any witch should know how to write her own spell before she performs one and will prefer her own spells to that of someone else - so few people are likely to use this spell anyway. The fact that she tells the reader what motions to go through without telling her what to do, magically and spiritually, disappoints me greatly because it perpetuates the falsehood that a spell is about what you say or what movements you make, rather than about the energies and your will and your skill in visualisation. This ritual is worse than useless because she failed to provide instruction to that end, and because she did not explain why she used the ingredients and words she did. Second, she got runes involved. Runes, as great, powerful sacred energies, should NOT be toyed with by people who are unfamiliar with them, as they can do great damage. Not only that, but the runes she provided are exceedingly odd for the purpose - Gebo? To protect a threshold? Really? - and she doesn't really understand what they mean. "Exchange of energies" isn't really representative of what Gebo means and is used for. It's related to it, but in a way she's missed the point.

This ritual alone plummets this book in my estimation.

She continues this poor method of ritual examples in her wards. I always prefer to see, as earlier in this very book, an author giving an example and explaining the hows and whys of each thing done. Murphy-Hiscock has left off this practice here, and has started giving examples without explaining them, or even stating that they are examples. It's only when she gets into "Other Protective Techniques" that she remembers herself and comes back to her previous practice of giving various ideas and options from a variety of traditions.

These are much more general, which is nice. She includes some ideas I would not have thought of, such as changing an energy of a room by soaking herbs in water and then using a spray-bottle to disperse the water about the room. (Not something I would choose to do, but interesting all the same.) All four elements get a mention as methods of cleansing, although I'm not sure she intended it that way. All the better for that, I think. I like also the idea of changing or transforming the energy of a room rather than "banishing" it, and she is right to say that not all positive atmospheres will be appropriate for every room; as she rightly mentions, the atmosphere conducive to sleep would not be appropriate in a study and vice versa.

She does fall into the trap here of associating anti-clockwise motion with undoing or banishing (p. 144). This is not the case; it is widdershins movement, or movement counter to the movement of the sun, that is related to undoing or banishing. In the southern hemisphere widdershins is clockwise, not anti-clockwise, and it's one of my pet peeves that so many witches are either totally unaware of this or choose to ignore half of the planet.

She goes on to discuss cleaning and organizing as spiritual activities and a way of keeping in "spiritual contact" with your home's energies - which is something she touched on earlier and it doesn't really seem necessary to repeat it. Some of her cleaning ideas could have been incorporated into the previous chapter.

Chapter Eight - Magic in the Kitchen

She starts off the chapter with a couple of fairly good definitions of magic as applies in hearthcraft. She mentions that energy is in all things and recommends two books (both by herself, and one of which - "Way of the Green Witch" - which I might look at myself in the future) for some additional exercises and techniques for sensing and working with these energies. Is this a space issue? More about keeping this book focused on practical things? I'm not sure.

She mentions the importance of a spiritual journal here. Not everyone will be into that and that's fine, and on the other side of things she makes a fairly good case for keeping one. Why is it in the kitchen section? No idea. It could well have gone way back at the beginning of the book and been just as useful there. She does try to make it a bit on-topic by mentioning one could record dinner-party information - who was invited, what was the menu, how did it go etc. A bit odd from my perspective! But if that's your thing, why not, I guess.
There are apparently "seven metals known to the ancients". I'm making the assumption that she meant the Greeks and/or Romans, but she doesn't go into who these "ancients" were. At any rate each metal is discussed, along with glass and china, as common materials and how their associated energies reflect on our homes. Interesting stuff, but I'm still not sure why it's here in the kitchen section. Maybe Murphy-Hiscock just focuses so much on the kitchen in her own home that this sort of thing would naturally fall into a section about the kitchen. She does mention that these materials are "found in the kitchen" but they could be found in many places around the home. In any case, I appreciate the discussion on the subject, as it's not a common one, and it is interesting to think about what one's practical tools are made from when it comes to making and storing food.

Here follows a discussion on the "ethically sticky issue", as she words it, of cooking for others with magic. Gratifying to see! I would have liked more of an in-depth dig-through of all the different perspectives here, but instead Murphy-Hiscock mentions in passing that Wiccans would probably think it was bad (not sure about that...), other witches might be all for it, but in her particular brand of spiritual whatever that she is presenting in this book, it is OK "to pass along wishes for peace, health and happiness" (pg 155). All very well but I feel like there was a missed opportunity here. I disagree with the author that infusing something with love isn't a form of manipulation; making someone feel love, even non-specified love, is still making them feel. However, I can agree with her that making the best cake possible and using magic to try to ensure it is the best cake possible is fine. For her the important part is that you're not seeking to manipulate someone. It's a grey area, and we'll leave it at that.

Kitchen folklore! Again the mistake of thinking deosil = clockwise, something that would be less of an issue if "going clockwise for good luck" wasn't an aspect of about half of these elements of folklore. A few of these seem... modern. Like she invented them herself for this book. Fine, but I don't think that could in any way be considered "folklore" and I feel a bit cheated. I'm a big fan of folklore, and this is a disappointment.

I begin to get the impression that Ms Murphy-Hiscock spends her life chained to her stove. The kitchen, she says, may need more frequent purification than other rooms because it is used so often. My kitchen is certainly not more frequently used than my living room or my bedroom... how about yours?

Here follows a small section on "traditional tools" and modern equivalents. I took this to mean she was going to discuss pot-belly stoves vs. microwaves, and it took me a couple of re-reads over the first couple of paragraphs to realise she was talking about traditional tools of ceremonial magic. Bizarre. I don't know what those have to do with a more traditional craft, so why bother giving cognates of them? On top of that - where did she get the idea that they weren't fairly modern? I don't like the idea here of taking, say, the wand and saying "well we work in the kitchen and we're practical, so our wand is the wooden spoon". You're not using the wooden spoon in anything like the way ceremonialists use the wand. It's insane.

She does go into appliances vs older variations in the next section. The food processor is an example given, as an alternative to a mortar and pestle. After all, stresses the author, though she's not a big fan of appliances, her craft is about practicality. I do have one issue with this myself, although I approve of the practical stance: there is a sacred and spiritual aspect to working with one's hands. Energy flows from the self into what one is producing. So while some things would take a long time by hand and are better done using an appliance, others would require that hands-on attention. I am a bit put out that this was not mentioned as one of the drawbacks - although she does go into it a few pages later when discussing the breadmaker. At any rate this is followed by a few pages on the appliances in the kitchen and working with them spiritually, a discussion that has its moments of interest.

The appliance blessing made me giggle. It just seems so silly. I mean I get the point of it and everything, but "Refrigerator, thank you for keeping our things cold".... I mean.... I couldn't help but giggle.

She ends this section with a list of examples of common kitchen tools and associations that could be made from them. I like both that this is a set of examples, rather than "this is what this should symbolise for you", as well as some of the associations she makes. The knife sharpener's association with focus, for example, and the coffee-grinder's association with energy - I rather appreciate these. It's a light-hearted sort of exercise with a point to it.

The chapter is rounded out by something I really think she should have mentioned more at the beginning of this chapter, or even earlier in the book: that non-kitchen activities such as handicrafts or homework could be undertaken in the kitchen to "tie them into the energy that surrounds the home". I can understand why this would be, rather than in the living room: the kitchen theoretically is "below stairs"; it's a part of the house mainly for family and less for visitors, and so has a bit more domesticity associated with it.

Chapter Nine - The Spiritual Aspect of Food

This chapter is given over to food as a spiritual vehicle, something to be respected, appreciated and made with care - and that the eating is as important as the making. Sounds good. All things I can agree with - I'm not much of a cook myself as I've mentioned earlier, but the consumption of food is something I have always associated with the hearth and something I've always considered to have an element of spirituality to it, particularly when food is consumed mindfully. I'm always drawn to baking at Lammas, for example, even though Lammas is unbearably hot. Strange really. At any rate, I feel that this chapter speaks to the heart of hearth-craft, regardless of the form it takes in your life and regardless whether you personally cook. Food is to be enjoyed.

As the turning of the seasons is a part of my personal spiritual practice, the aspect of eating what is in season appeals to me, and it is discussed here. Murphy-Hiscock recommends shopping at a farmer's market; I do too, because locally-grown produce is often more environmentally conscious than buying something the origin of which is not clear, and because it is often grown organically and with care. Too, the pork and eggs you buy there are more likely to be free-range farmed. Not everyone can afford to shop at a farmer's market, or is able to get to one, but they're awesome. Support them if you can.

I am not a particular fan of spells in witchcraft books, as with spells you're better off doing things your own way. Recipes aren't really the same sort of thing, so I don't have that same issue with the recipes the author includes as I might with spells. Do a spell differently and you can achieve the same end with more effect; do a recipe differently and you could ruin the pies. Non-cookers will want to skip over that section, which is fine, and others might prefer their own recipes which is fine also. In truth it could be a bit of an irrelevant section, but there we are. She does include the title of a book dedicated to cooking on an open hearth-fire, which sounds interesting and may be something hearth-witches would be inclined to pick up.

She includes quite a few different breads. Overkill? I don't think so; more than anything else I personally associate bread with the hearth, with the oven, and with spiritual cooking, so I very much appreciate the time spent on different breads. I may even try making one of them (!). Her other recipes are all stews and casseroles. Strangely, though I don't much care for casseroles, I find this appropriate also.

Chapter Ten - Crafts, Activities and Techniques

This chapter is more an appendix than a chapter and the same applies to the chapter that follows. This one is mostly just a collection of crafts - both homecrafts and witchcrafts - that one might like to employ oneself. It's comprised mostly of recipes and how-tos. There's home-made play-dough, a section on herbal teas, different types and uses of potpourri, incenses... it's pretty good stuff for those interested in witchcraft, though it's also pretty basic and more sources will be needed in particular areas such as for working with herbs - something she does take care to point out.

I don't much care for her "spell bottle", though. Spell bottles traditionally are forms of protection for the home, and very appropriate for this type of book - however, Murphy-Hiscock, like so many others, steers far clear of the traditional contents of the spell bottle and the reasons for including them. Spell bottles include things to mark ownership, such as hair, nail-clippings, blood and urine, and things to warn away intruders such as bent iron nails and broken glass. All very practical. Murphy-Hiscock's spell bottles have herbs, stones, coins and drawn symbols. Ehhh... no. Sorry. A proper spell bottle would have been perfect here, I'm quite annoyed that she avoided the opportunity to discuss some down-and-dirty witchcraft. 

Chapter Eleven - Spells, Rituals and Recipes

Same basic idea as the previous chapter, only concentrated less on making physical objects and more on prayer and the spiritual. Her examples are all very basic and I don't think many people would have a use for, say, her prayer to say while lighting an oil lamp, as they could write their own with no trouble and the author's prayer is not particularly pretty or interesting. 

Like I mentioned in the chapter on food, I don't have much time for spells in books. If you're not using them as an example and explaining why you used this here or that there, they can be next to useless for your readers. The rituals (and it's hard really to work out which she intends as spells and which as rituals) aren't bad - the personal purification, for example, is a lot more appropriate to include than her "cauldron harmony spell". 

The "recipes" part of this chapter could easily have been included in the previous chapter. I don't really know why it ended up here instead; perhaps spells and rituals weren't "practical" enough for a chapter all to themselves? Or perhaps these recipes are a bit more ritual-oriented. At any rate, she details some oil blends, some floor purifying powder, and a couple more incense blends. (The ancestor incense looks interesting.)

Post-Script and Appendix

The author bids adieu to her reader with her good wishes, while the appendix is just a couple of basic correspondence lists, that she could well have included within the text itself but apparently did not find an appropriate place for. Very basic stuff, probably not of much use to many people. The end!

And So...

Would I recommend it. Well, she makes some common errors, falls into a few traps of ignorance, but overall it's refreshing to have a book on witchcraft that doesn't try to impose a particular religion or technique on the reader. Her ideas can be pretty good, and there's practical information here. There were also areas where she could have taken an idea further and provided a fascinating discussion, but didn't, which is a shame. It is aimed at the beginner, but a more advanced practitioner might find some interesting stuff here too, although the language is clearly beginner-focused and a bit dumbed down. Murphy-Hiscock doesn't speak to the reader as an intellectual equal! But a good book all the same, and I would recommend it to witches - as well as religious people who aren't really inclined towards witchcraft - who are interested in putting a spiritual or magical focus on their home, or looking for more ideas on how to integrate their spiritual practice into their day-to-day lives.

Purchase The Way of the Hedge Witch here or at your local independent bookstore.


  1. I've actually flipped through this book before. Decided I might get it at some point. I came to the conclusion that, "Okay. Well, most of this I think I have a handle on with my own spin on things of course." but, again, still might be something I'd pick up if I have the extra cash at some point just to compare or see if it inspires anything new to me.

    I did find your review very helpful though. It solidified my decision on purchasing it perhaps at some point but not something I'll make sure to set aside some funds for.

    Did she mention any other lore or things of like for other areas of the house aside from her own wards you mentioned? I've seen a bit here and there on things say, to put in baby's cribs for protection (which still falls under protection and defense). Or even just other tidbits for making the bedroom a sanctuary of well rest; things as simple as suggestions of treating it such and not doing anything aside from sleeping [adult activities excluded] in ones bed, to recipes for scented soaps to use on your sheets to promote good sleep as well as pouches of herbs and what not to keep under your pillow or under your bed to chase bad dreams away or if you're one to do dream work, assist you in that as well. Things one might do to specifically enhance the desired energies in specific rooms be they old lore or modern notions. These are just things I like to read about and try to experiment with or come up with new ideas for all rooms in the home so I was wondering if there was mention of similar notions in the book aside from wards and cleaning.

    Also, I know you can't just include anything and everything related to the home and hearth in one book, but again just curious; Was there mention of any superstitions or wives tails surrounding the home? Whether they hold any merit, I always find such things interesting to read about and it seems there are a lot when it comes to the home; the placement of mirrors, finding a cricket in the house, assigning certain doors to only be entered or exited through or seeing to exit the same door you entered in, things of that nature. Not something all readers might be curious or concerned with I was just wondering IF perhaps any such things were mentioned.

    I think the whole section on traditional tools and modern equivalents would probably personally irritate me. Although I have to say, on one hand I can somewhat actually see how say a wooden spoon could be somewhat of a wand. If they're channeling energy and focus and intent through it to whatever they're cooking, seems like it could be considered a wand to me. However,(and of course just my own personal opinions here for conversation sake) if I'm getting my kitchen witch on, I've always felt the desired energies come largely from your ingredients. That's the purpose of making whatever it is you're making most of the time. Using the properties of those ingredients for the desired effect. There would still perhaps be a need for manipulation and tying it all together and what not, so, I suppose the need for the 'spoon wand' could be used for that. Which, is an interesting concept. I don't use many tools myself and have never used a wand so it just seems unnecessary to me, but of course, everyone works differently. Although, like I said, I could possibly see how one could incorporate it like that.

    Well, at any rate. I did find this interesting. It did seem like something that might be nice to have and read just for the sake of seeing what someone else has to say on such things so if I ever have the extra when I'm out and about and see it again, I'll probably get it at some point.

  2. Jesus Christ, Dal, take a breath! XD

    She focused mostly on the kitchen as far as particular rooms go, though she did say the "spiritual hearth" could be almost anywhere in the house. Not much on general home-based lore like the cricket thing - a couple of bits here and there but nothing specifically I remember. I think it was a little off-topic, though personally I'd find it really interesting.

    I'm not sure it's something I'll refer to much, but I did like the read and there were ideas I would certainly carry out myself, like her need-fire.

  3. Yes, I liked that too actually. Would have mentioned that before but... I had to take a breath. Blogger told me so. :-P