Pergamum Unfurled: Review – Magic for Troubled Times

Pergamum Unfurled: Review – Magic for Troubled Times January 9, 2024

I wrote a blurb that’s in Magic for Troubled Times, which starts out like this:

There is a hunger for books about mental health and resilience that are written from a pagan perspective, and we should all be grateful that Deborah Castellano is adding to this body of knowledge. Castellano’s raw and unvarnished “suck-it-up-buttercup” approach may be shocking to some readers—and shocked is precisely what we all need from time to time!

Writing a blurb presumes saying nice things; writing a review does not necessarily mean being nice. Honestly, though, I put in the “quibbles” section of my reviews because I don’t want to gloss over something because I’m nice. I want to take a hard look, not only to bring out the strengths, but also to acknowledge something that fell short—even if only by a tiny bit. Otherwise, my reviews would tend toward saccharine positivity, and not very helpful. Honest reviews help sell books as much as blurbs do, but they are not the same. I have every intention of using some of the same prose for both, but they still are not the same.

As someone who finished writing a book mental health and pagans during the depths of the pandemic, this book really resonated with me. much of it is a diary of resilience during the months after the 2020 pandemic reached New York. “I worry as I write that I talk too much about myself, that I’m talking too much about this moment in time. But I also think about how important it is to have some voices of our people on the record about this. The witches, the occultists, the heathens, the druids, the dabblers.” Rather than limit the relevance, it makes this book all the stronger. For one, it will resonate with people who experienced this particular pandemic for the rest of their lives. More importantly, hooking into this worldwide event makes every example specific, which means that the human brain can more easily adapt the information to different circumstances. I imagine that a century hence, collectors of old occult books will find sage advice in Magic for Troubled Times that can be applied to the struggles of the day.

Castellano alternates between coaching readers on the sheer mental fortitude needed to begin to recover when the world implodes, and taking a deep dive into a particular esoteric approach to crisis. From hoodoo to ceremonial magic, this book covers everything from aligning oneself with a higher purpose to dealing with people whose gossip is keeping you down. Some of the exercises might be too complex for how overwhelmed you feel right now, or too dark for your personal ethics, or too Christian for your stripe of paganism, and that’s all fine: keep reading, and a few pages later there’s something else that might speak to your condition. This is an author who understands that not every tool will fit in every hand.

Here’s the kind of approach the reader should expect:

The critical first step of grounding is recognizing that you need to. This is harder than it sounds when part of your brain is chanting at high speed, everything is fine, everything is okay, this is no big deal and the other part of your brain can’t see how you’re going to make it through this moment without someone’s blood on your hands.

We can weep, wail, and gnash our teeth, or we can do something (like magic) to actively make change in our lives. Yes, obviously, you should also look at your budget, look at your investing, look at your bad financial habits, look at your current career, look at financial experts’ advice so you can improve your finances practically. Of course. I can also tell you from personal experience in money magic that one of the hardest parts is asking for what you actually want financially. Because I didn’t. I used to do some kind of crazy witchy math where you try to figure out how good of a person you actually are, how many favors you’ve asked, what bad deeds you’ve done and do you actually need this? I was never going to step forward into bigger and better things with that intention. It’s really . . . scary to ask for what you want. It’s even more scary to get it.

Taking control of your skin takes control of your own body. You don’t have control over all the circumstances of your hardship but . . . you have agency over your body.

Public domain image by nattanan23 via Pixabay.

Castellano roams all over the witch life, in service to a central theme of resilience. It needed to be written in 2020 for it to be written at all. There’s blunt advice, a variety of spell styles, and a bit more blunt advice for those of us who can’t take a hint.

This is a book that is felt as much as it is read. It can feel like a punch in the gut, or the first breath after breaking the surface. What it feels like on the first look says everything about the reader, which is a testament to the power of the writer. If you know, you know.

Quirks: This book has salty language, which I’ve glossed over with ellipses in the quotes I selected. There is more where that came from. It may be a selling point or a turnoff, but it’s a fact.

Quibbles: I am pickier about sentence fragments than most. Castellano’s writing has fragments as a feature, not a bug. It’s just not my style.

Title: Magic for Troubled Times
Author: Deborah Castellano
Publisher: Llewellyn Worldwide
ISBN: 978-0-7387-6989-9

Interested in having your book given an unbiased review? Let me know!

About Terence P Ward
Terence P Ward is a moneyworker, journalist, Hellenic polytheist and Quaker who lives in the bucolic Hudson Valley with his wife and five cats. He is a hiereus (temple priest) of Poseidon with Temenos Oikidios, based in Rhode Island. You can read more about the author here.
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