This book is part memoir and travelogue, part ritual handbook, part metaphysical ethnography of the many types of elemental spirit beings Salicrow meets in the hidden realms. As the subtitle says, it really is a personal Book of Shadows. Salicrowreally is a wyrd woman– in the best possible way. Salicrow is the author of a previous book, Jump Girl: The Initiation and Art of a Spirit Speaker—a Memoir (2018) about her life as a natural psychic medium. The new book, The Path of Elemental Witchcraft is a 562-page tome. She suggests reading it first from start to finish as the exercises for each chapter build on each other, and to then use it as a reference book. She wants readers to leave it dog-eared and coffee-stained.
The book is organized by element, beginning with water and then earth, air and fire, with sections for each part devoted to Communication, Divination and Healing, and then with some of the elements, she also covers Protection and other topics. She takes the reader along as she greets, honors and communes with a multitude of beings in the unseen worlds, at her home and on her many travels to sacred places. There are water undines and earth devas, plant, tree and rock spirits, fairies, air sylphs, crows (her namesake and power animal), fire elementals called salamanders, other fire elementals called Djinn, and lots more. For each element, there are instructions on how make an altar, complex or simple, outdoors or in. She covers various divination tools, how to use vocal toning and different kinds of visual techniques, and different biodegradable gift offerings to invite spirits to make their presences known.
Salicrow begin with the story of how she became a “water witch.” She was on a retreat near her home vase in Vermont as part of her study to become a Druid. Sitting, secluded, by a pool of flowing water, she was drawn into a liminal state while watching a swirling pattern of water moving in a different direction, becoming gelatinous. She recognized that she was in the presence of undines, and she felt compelled to submerge herself in water with them. Then suddenly she realized that she’d be unable to breathe underwater, and she declined their invitation. She tells this story by way of emphasizing that opening oneself up to nature spirits requires “rules of engagement” as these elemental spirts have a totally different kind of consciousness.
On another occasion, Salicrow was visiting a state park in Florida. She was photographing a marshy area when she noticed through her phone camera an aquamarine-colored light moving through the trees. She filmed it and later saw that that in each video clip, there was a center orb constructed of three white lights looking like vertebrae, surrounded by a dimmer aquamarine light, then a circle of golden light and a magenta-colored outline. This was a sylph. It presented itself to her again a few nights later, telling her it meant no harm and conveying to her that real estate development around the park was reducing the amount of space left for nature spirits and animas. As a humanoid form of shimmering air, the sylph, Salicrow writes, surrounded her “like an article of clothing to be worn…enveloping me in its energetic aura that was approximately four inches thick.” These are just a couple of the tales that make The Path of Elemental Witchcraft riveting. She acknowledges that her stories may seem, frankly, fantastical. But she says in her introduction that her stories “are meant to aid the expansion of your awareness, triggering your personal memories of the unseen world. “
That’s where this book strikes me as a generous gift, like a gigantic buffet table onto which Salicrow has piled as many of her observations and insights as the table will hold.
In her work as a healer, Salicrow’s clients are mostly ordinary people with this-world type problems, more so than the already mystically inclined folks she might draw to her classes. People come to her with mundane dilemmas, and she gives them practical magic, like how to do sacred bathing, how to use running water, mirrors and affirmations to enhance an awareness of one’s own beauty, or how to cut cords with difficult people.
There’s some good folklore in this book, too, like the story of the Irish Piss Pot and why it’s called that. (The term piss pot comes from the pot poor families all pissed into to then sell urine to tanneries.) A client came to Salicrow for a psychic reading to help with her boundary-crossing mother-in-law. Salicrow gave this client a “needed items list” which included a pee sample and a mason jar, had her bury the jar near the front steps of their shared house. Before long, the mother-in-law’s nitpicking subsided.
This book is a subtle form of advocacy for how to keep notes on one’s own inner journey. For each of the rituals, Salicrow says: Bring your pen and book of shadows. She wants to teach her readers and clients how to notice.
While I had my nose in this book, at one point, I looked out a window onto my front yard. It’s dotted with drought-resistant grasses that blow gently in the wind, creating a frequent display of movement in front of my house, like silent chimes. I’d never thought of this before: Maybe I’ve created a good home for air elementals, or maybe I could. This book demonstrates how to weave magic into one’s daily routines and inner travels, and how to keep it close by writing it all down.
Reading The Path of Elemental Witchcraft feels like it might feel sitting with Salicrow over a cup of tea or a bowl of soup – and, by the way, she includes instructions on how to make broth, plus her own recipe for chicken curry soup. The ritual instructions range from elaborate treks in the wilderness to simple things like lighting a daily fire or candle and affirming: “I am becoming [fill in the blank].”
This book is a magnum opus. It is a trip around the worlds.
~review by Sara R. Diamond
Destiny Books, 2022
pp. 562, $24.99