“The witches weave their webs day after day and night after
night, and once something is within reach of their webs—a would-be lover,
a stroke of good luck, a spirit ally, an omen of good fortune, a vision of the
future—the witches feel it like spiders feel the fine vibration of something
that has fallen into their web, and then they catch it silently and walk toward
it with all elegance and without making much noise. That’s how witches are:
they are like powerful weaver spiders.”
At its best, this book is poetic and evocative and so readers may find sections that inspire them in their quest to work magic through dreams. Dream Witchery explores magic for dreaming with an emphasis on South American customs. The book is primarily a guide to dream magic. Do not read this for dream interpretation but rather for an exploration of the mystical and psychic power of dreams. Interspersed between this main narrative are short sections on tribes in South America and various guest writers' featured spells. My feelings on this book are really mixed. On the one hand we have a Latin American author bringing more information on South American magical practices into the English language. Some of it is lovely. The workings in the book are understandable and easy to perform. The guest authors also add interest and depth to the breadth of spiritual practices. On the other hand, some information is inaccurate.
The heart of the book is the series of spells and commentary on methods to use for magic dreaming. Whether readers are starting with remembering dreams through journaling exercises, exploring dream walking, prophetic dreams or just plain hoping to get a good night's sleep, this book has something to offer different skill levels. Additional topics covered include psychic protection, shape shifting, the effect of the moon cycles on dreams, dream altars, dream pillows, tea and incense recipes and charm bag spells to aid in dream magic and gems. I bought a few ingredients and made some of the incense recipes with my child which was fun. The incense to avoid nightmares has proved popular in my house. I'm not personally a big fan of incense but the recipes smell nice if you don't overdo the smelly magical herbs. Regarding the dream exercises, I think that they could prove effective for those willing to put in the work. I appreciated the moments like the lullaby where the author gave both the Spanish original and the translation.
Although this a book of brujeria, don't be surprised by the inclusion of Christian metaphysical ideas such as those of Conny Mendez, and spells that incorporate Christianity. Examples include the guest writer, Oncle Ben, in his The Art of Dream Astral Travel of the Masques from France or the Ritual de San Jose Dormido, a Mexican ritual to help with sleep calling on Saint Joseph the carpenter. The guest writers' spells add to the perspectives in this book and are well done. Parents should be aware that one of topics is a sex magic ritual. The guest writers are from a host of different spiritual paths exemplifying the variety of spiritual practices.
The author is Venezuelan and his writing on dreams is influenced by spiritists. Venezuela is a place with a multitude of spiritual traditions, stemming from Indigenous, Afro-Caribbean, Spanish and Catholic beliefs. Besides traditional spiritual paths there's also a distinctly Venezuelan religion called the Cult of Maria Lionza which is mentioned several times and embodies a mix of the spiritual cultures that made Venezuela. The author Leafar is also familiar with Wicca and influenced by witchcraft and brujeria. Brujeria,while it translates as witchcraft, is not the same. Brujeria is the Spanish word referring to the style of folkloric magic commonly practiced in Latin America. When Leafar discusses Western metaphysics and witchcraft, I found him to be accurate. While African diaspora traditions are common in Venezuela, they are not a big part of this book. I found some problems with his sections on indigenous beliefs. While these sections are short, the issues I found were concerning.
In chapter two, Leafar discusses an initiation rite for an Amazonian tribe. I went to look them up and found information in Spanish that indicated the tribe in question is under a kind of protectorship in Colombia. See https://www.onic.org.co/pueblos/1169-yuri and https://www.amazonteam.org/pueblos-indigenas-en-aislamiento-o-estado-natural-en-colombia-una-historia-reciente-de-los-retos-para-su-proteccion/. They live in a reserve because they live traditionally and do not wish to interact with outsiders. There was contact made with them in the mid 1800s and some words were recorded and these have been studied by linguists. Enough so that a different incident in the 1960s where the Colombian military briefly held some members captive could later be determined by word comparison to have been this tribe. I mention this because the Colombian government absolutely wants to prevent outsiders from making contact and has told the Baptist Church that they are not allowed to search for this tribe. The contact thus far has consisted of these two instances, and yet the author claims to know their initiation rite. Modern “contact” has been planes flying over and seeing their villages. Due to the historical effect of isolated tribes being destroyed by contact with the outside world and the presence online of indigenous organizations discussing this problem with this and other Amazonian tribes, even if the author does know this highly unlikely information, it strikes me as unethical to put a spotlight on them. All the evidence indicates continuing isolation yet in chapter 2 the author says:
One of these rituals in which the outsiders are invited to participate,
especially if they come from the local tribes, is the Araje Ujann Ujae (the
dream of the deceased who returns). It is an initiation rite in which all the
priests of the people or the tribe are destined to participate.
Another issue I found is that there is a dictionary at the end of the book with words but it is a hodgepodge of different languages and the language the words come from is not usually attributed. I spent a couple of hours trying to confirm words and their meanings which is a frustrating exercise. The sections on indigenous tribes use various words that are said to be from their languages but for the most part these languages are not online. Sometimes I found a dictionary that did not include the words in the book. It was a null set. In one case I found a phrase but the meaning wasn't what the book said. Possibly this was an error of note-taking. Wikipedia had an article where an entire sentence in Spanish was the same when translated as the sentence in English found in the book and it was too complex to be accidental. Maybe the author also edits Wikipedia, but nowhere is this cited.
A word of caution is due then, if you want to know about any of these tribes, find other sources. These are just a couple of examples and I found a string of things that I found questionable and that would cause problems if presented in any college class ranging from lacking source citations to lacking any clear source. Despite a rather extensive bibliography and this word glossary, cross-referencing reveals some sloppy scholarship. I would not base any academic research on this book. If you were expecting something that dives deeply into the indigenous cultures, this book only gives about two pages to each tribe and includes details that may be impossible to prove or are just inaccurate. This is a shame because for me it marred what would otherwise be a good concept. I wonder if the author was pushed to expand the book into areas he knew less about in order to include all points from tip to toe of South America.
While many people would say that spiritual movements are invented, to the practitioners, authenticity and veracity matter. It matters whether or not the people of the faith are portrayed honestly and without exaggeration. It isn't entirely uncommon though in Latin America for a bit of magic realism and legend to seep in especially when talking about spirituality. And it's not exactly uncommon in the English speaking occult world either. An English only speaker I know read this book and loved it. In my case being able to read more about things in Spanish proved detrimental to my overall enjoyment of the book. I became interested in the truth which is time consuming and unrewarding, bringing more questions than answers. Do we judge this book on academic principals, human rights issues, entertainment value, our own religion's lens, the beliefs of the culture of the people described or by what is popular practice?
If you're strictly looking for a book on dream magic, if you weigh the problematic sections mentioned here with a cup of salt, you'll be fine. Dream Witchery is better when it is discussing the general tendencies of Latin American spirituality than when talking about specific indigenous groups.
~review by Larissa Carlson
Author: Elhoim Leafar
Llewellyn Worldwide, 2023
368 pages, $22.99