When I was young and first interested in learning about metaphysical things, of course I looked for books. I read quite a few on topics of folklore, but very few which were specifically written for modern pagans and witches. I had a terribly difficult time finding any which suited my tastes and needs.
I wasn’t interested in books of spells, as for me paganism and witchcraft were mostly about my spiritual journey, and I was just fine intuiting how to do the few spells I felt inclined to work. Fancy tools and ingredients were lovely, but with limited funds and space, I didn’t have most of the things these books insisted you needed. Plus, I’m a bit of a contrarian, and tended to balk any time someone said I needed to do things in a certain way with certain components and tools. I felt that respect and intent were far more important than following rigid steps.
I was disinclined to formality, so any books which advocated for elaborate ritual or very specific practices were inapplicable to me.
I would groan when encountering elitism, proscribing ideas and methods which clearly relied upon the practitioner being from a certain economic class, gender, ethnicity, or other privileged group.
I couldn’t help but roll my eyes at books advocating practices using culturally appropriative terms like “shamanism”, and shoehorning them into traditions and ideas and folklore which clearly had nothing to do with actual shamans.
I would sigh and put down the book if it made lofty claims of centuries-old traditions which were immutable and unbroken. They were inevitably referring to cultural and religious traditions which had undeniably been broken and scattered, usually through deliberate oppression and attempts at genocide. Plus, no tradition remains unchanged over the course of centuries, even big religions like Catholicism and Buddhism.
I would get uncomfortable and angry if the book exalted the binary gender or heterosexuality to the exclusion of all else.
I didn’t want a book that excluded me and my lived experience. I wanted a book that either spoke directly to my lived experience, or, preferably, was written such that it excluded no one. I wanted a book that described principles and explored the foundations of human existence and esoteric experience so I could build my own practice, not a book which presented someone else’s practice as though it was the only kind of practice anyone could need.
Outside the Charmed Circle: Exploring Gender and Sexuality in Magical Practice is exactly that sort of a book, and I’m delighted to have now.
It isn’t a book of spells (although it does have exercises and other work described within). It makes no assumptions about being (or not being) in a privileged group. It does not appropriate other cultures or overinflate itself with the latest buzzwords. It doesn’t beat you over the head with a set tradition (although it mentions many different traditions throughout its pages) or make lofty unverifiable claims to historic enlightenment or lineage. Given its specific subject, it definitely does not exalt the gender binary or heterosexuality to the exclusion of all else.
The topics this book addresses are so complex and loaded that it is incredibly difficult to summarize in any fashion. It starts with the premise that all magical work and paganism are queer, because they are outside the established norms of Western society. From there it moves into explorations of queerness within magical and pagan frameworks.
You do not need to ascribe to any particular tradition or cosmology to find value in this book. It speaks to the human experience, in all its diversity. It is an exploration of that diversity, and how that diversity is reflected in you and your truest self and your truest practice, whether you yourself are queer, genderqueer, cis gendered, or heterosexual.
The vocabulary and structure of Outside the Charmed Circle speaks to Misha’s background in academia, but they take care to explain the vocabulary they use. They acknowledge that although we may use the same words, we do not always assume the same meanings, and in doing so they make the text accessible to anyone, no matter your education level.
Misha acknowledges that these subjects are hard for many people, even those who identify as queer in some fashion. The exercises described in each chapter are designed to aid with deepening your understanding of the topics, and how they specifically relate to your personal experience, whatever that may be. Best of all, they are all doable even if you don’t have a single magical or consecrated tool at your disposal. For the vast majority of them, all you need is your person, a notebook, a pen, and a willingness to truly look at yourself.
Whether Misha is talking about the experience of being queer, the politics of sex and gender, sex magic, queer deities, consent, inclusion, queering your practice, or what they mean when they say “the charmed circle”, they make no assumptions about the gender or sexuality of the reader. They write about experiences and principles, about sociology and psychology, about history and current events. They write about what it is to be human and involved in a magical path. They gently peel back the layers of societal norms, so we can unpack our baggage and better understand what it is that makes us who we are, both inside and outside our magical practices.
For those of you who, like me, experience this life in a queer fashion, this book is likely to be a breath of fresh air. It is a rare validation of the lived experiences of those who are not straight or cis, and how those experiences inevitably affect the magical paths we walk.
For those of you who do not experience this life in a queer fashion, this book can provide a clear view into what it means to be queer, how queerness factors into magical experiences and frameworks, and how we can all be more aware and inclusive of the diversity which is a part of life.
Outside the Charmed Circle is also a magnifying glass to the world and our own souls, beautifully encouraging healthy self-exploration and loving self-acceptance. No matter how you identify, that is always a wonderful thing.