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“Basic Witches” Teaches Us to Hex the Patriarchy and Heal Ourselves

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According to Jaya Saxena and Jess Zimmerman‘s new book Basic Witches, if you’re reading this, you’re probably a witch.

This book hit the shelves in late August, and as of this writing, it’s the #1 “Women’s Personal Spiritual Growth” book on Amazon. Amazing as that accomplishment may be, it doesn’t do justice to what’s between the covers. A dry and dusty tome this ain’t. The authors are funny, knowledgeable, and easy to read, and the book is peppered with gorgeous modern illustrations by Camille Chew, who also designed the cover.

basic witches

Illustration and photo by Camille Chew.

Each chapter focuses on a different issue, like body image, self-care, love, sex, or protection. An empowering message of “You can do anything. You’re a badass witch,” runs throughout, leaving you feeling like you’re a part of a very kind and very diverse coven. Much of the advice is solid, logical, and far from the woo-woo that the book’s genre might lead you to expect. For example, the authors encourage you to wear flat shoes if you need to feel grounded and stable. Is that witchcraft? Sure. Sometimes witchcraft is just common sense.

It’s this idea that sets Basic Witches apart from many books on modern witchcraft. Rather than drown in a cauldron full of complicated recipes and lengthy rituals, the authors approach witchcraft as a way of life that can be separate from your spirituality. After acknowledging that for many throughout the world, witchcraft is a sacred religious tradition, they state their use of the term:

“For our purposes, witchcraft means the kind of mundane pursuits that might once have resulted in accusation: enjoying sex, controlling reproductive health, hanging out with other women, not caring what men think, disagreeing, and just knowing stuff.”

What’s another word for that? Oh, yeah: Feminism.

Camille Chew illustration.

Illustration and photo by Camille Chew.

The feminist-as-witch isn’t a new idea. “Self-empowerment circles” of the 60s saw caftan-clad women collaborating to bring about change, both in the outside world and within themselves. Basic Witches artfully hefts this movement into the internet age, complete with spells that mesh the traditional with the modern. Want to crush herbs and light candles? They’ve got you covered. Really into adding emoji to your texts? There’s a spell for that.

Illustration and photo by Camille Chew.

From a spell to “Feel Comfortable Seeing a Doctor” to one built to help you “Feel Sexually Powerful,” the rituals contained in Basic Witches are perfectly suited to the modern witch. Many of them involve finding the patriarchal societal programming you’ve absorbed and giving it the finger before going off and doing whatever the fuck you please. The authors spread out the expectations put upon modern women, such as “Don’t be pushy!” or “You’re supposed to compete with other women!” and then outline instructions to table-flip them right onto the floor.

The spells are simple and easy to complete; in fact, Saxena and Zimmerman state that the spells are just a framework for you to tweak as you like. Don’t have an ingredient? Substitute it with something that feels right. Feel weird muttering an incantation? Say it in your head instead of aloud. And for those disinterested in spells altogether, take heart: you don’t need to believe in magic for this stuff to work.

Illustration by Camille Chew.

Illustration and photo by Camille Chew.

Much in the way that meditation can be used to comfort those with anxiety, or how a hot bath can help you unwind and renew your energy, the spells in Basic Witches are ways to turn intention into action. You needn’t tie it to any spirituality to reap the benefits– hell, one of the authors is an atheist. But by slowing down, looking around, and taking stock of where you might be getting in your own way, you’re able to make decisions with full awareness, rather than be flung to and fro by the tides of life. “Our version of modern magic is a means for navigating any mental obstacles that crop up– essentially, magic is a set of tricks to outwit yourself outwitting yourself.”

Illustration and photo by Camille Chew.

Whether or not you’re into the rituals, Basic Witches is an amazing read for women (or men, or non-binary folk, as the authors are keen to point out) who are interested in reclaiming their power. Crucial topics like consent and reproductive health are discussed, and the authors don’t shy from being blatantly sex-positive. There’s even a whole section on choosing the perfect sex toy.

Historical sidenotes are scattered throughout, adding a solid foundation to understanding women’s roles and restrictions in our world. Read about W.I.T.C.H., a group that hexed the New York Stock Exchange, or learn about that time the Catholic church decided that women who controlled their reproductive organs were hanging out with demons for sure.

Camille Chew illustration.

Illustration and photo by Camille Chew.

This book is clever, funny, loving, and full of things we wish our moms had told us. Their definition of witchcraft hits us right in our hearts:

“If you speak when you’re told to be quiet, take pride when you’re told to feel shame, love what and who you love whether or not others approve, you’re practicing witchcraft.”

See? Told you you’re a witch.

Basic Witches is available in both hardcover and digital formats, and can be purchased here.

Featured image and all illustration by Camille Chew. Follow her on Instagram.

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About The Author

Editor-in-chief Alex Moehagen is a crafty and queer artist and writer who lives with her miniature pet Yetis in the frozen Northern Wastes. She's also the owner of Little and Grim Soap Company, the manager of The Poisoners Guild, and thinks boredom is the only sin. You can stalk her over on Instagram.

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