An enchanting and addictive report shedding much-needed light on a spiritualistic community obfuscated by historical...

WITCHES OF AMERICA

A self-avowed skeptic investigates the shadowy world of modern witchcraft.

In this literary companion to the 2010 documentary American Mystic, which she directed, former Rolling Stone editor Mar dynamically illustrates her adventures journeying across America in search of witches, mystics, and polytheistic pagans. A cynical native New Yorker drawn to fringe communities “whose esoteric beliefs cut them off from the mainstream but also bond them closer together,” the author first traveled to Northern California’s Santa Clara County, where a “Feri priestess” named Morpheus has constructed the Stone City, a sanctuary for congregating covens to perform ritualistic ceremonies. While Mar outlines witchcraft’s history as a movement through the celebrated work of Englishman Gerald Gardner, the “godfather of Wicca,” the core of her book comprises profiles of the many witches she encountered. None of them are as fascinating as Morpheus, whom the author befriended deeply and honestly and who becomes an increasingly formidable influence. Though frequently overwhelmed, Mar’s fascination with the occult suffuses the narrative via in-depth explorations of intensive Feri witch rituals, a weeklong Spirit Gathering in a forest clearing in rural Illinois, participation in the annual pagan PantheaCon conventions, trial-and-error Feri training, and witchcraft circles hosted in a New England castle. The author initially approached craft rituals involving “circling, trancing, banishing personal demons, and bumping up against the dead” with dubiety and great hesitancy, yet once familiarized with her surroundings, she was enveloped in the wonder and the enlightenment each group imparted. A wide-eyed observer governed by an unshakable curiosity, Mar’s immersion in the multifaceted world of witchcraft (including a particularly chilling encounter with a necromancer) collectively broadened and enhanced her perspective about the craft itself—and will surely do the same for her readership.

An enchanting and addictive report shedding much-needed light on a spiritualistic community obfuscated by historical misinterpretation and pop-culture derision.

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-374-29137-2

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Sarah Crichton/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: July 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2015

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The author’s sincere sermon—at times analytical, at times hortatory—remains a hopeful one.

THE ROAD TO CHARACTER

New York Times columnist Brooks (The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character and Achievement, 2011, etc.) returns with another volume that walks the thin line between self-help and cultural criticism.

Sandwiched between his introduction and conclusion are eight chapters that profile exemplars (Samuel Johnson and Michel de Montaigne are textual roommates) whose lives can, in Brooks’ view, show us the light. Given the author’s conservative bent in his column, readers may be surprised to discover that his cast includes some notable leftists, including Frances Perkins, Dorothy Day, and A. Philip Randolph. (Also included are Gens. Eisenhower and Marshall, Augustine, and George Eliot.) Throughout the book, Brooks’ pattern is fairly consistent: he sketches each individual’s life, highlighting struggles won and weaknesses overcome (or not), and extracts lessons for the rest of us. In general, he celebrates hard work, humility, self-effacement, and devotion to a true vocation. Early in his text, he adapts the “Adam I and Adam II” construction from the work of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, Adam I being the more external, career-driven human, Adam II the one who “wants to have a serene inner character.” At times, this veers near the Devil Bugs Bunny and Angel Bugs that sit on the cartoon character’s shoulders at critical moments. Brooks liberally seasons the narrative with many allusions to history, philosophy, and literature. Viktor Frankl, Edgar Allan Poe, Paul Tillich, William and Henry James, Matthew Arnold, Virginia Woolf—these are but a few who pop up. Although Brooks goes after the selfie generation, he does so in a fairly nuanced way, noting that it was really the World War II Greatest Generation who started the ball rolling. He is careful to emphasize that no one—even those he profiles—is anywhere near flawless.

The author’s sincere sermon—at times analytical, at times hortatory—remains a hopeful one.

Pub Date: April 21, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9325-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2015

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THE WEIGHT OF GLORY

The name of C.S. Lewis will no doubt attract many readers to this volume, for he has won a splendid reputation by his brilliant writing. These sermons, however, are so abstruse, so involved and so dull that few of those who pick up the volume will finish it. There is none of the satire of the Screw Tape Letters, none of the practicality of some of his later radio addresses, none of the directness of some of his earlier theological books.

Pub Date: June 15, 1949

ISBN: 0060653205

Page Count: 212

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 17, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1949

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