Book Review of Shadows: The Spiritual Feminist by Amythyst Raine

🔮/5

spiritualfeminist

“The Spiritual Feminist empowers today’s modern woman through the Goddess, connecting her to ancient matriarchal divinity and spiritual practices which invoke this energy. It embraces the essence of womanhood in its entirety, through mental, physical, and spiritual affirmations, connecting personal energy and lives through the four elements―Earth, Air, Water, & Fire, with affirmations and invocations.”

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~ I received the book for free from the publisher, but I have not otherwise been paid for this review.~

I didn’t even read the description of this book before requesting it from Moon, I read the title and was so excited I just couldn’t wait. When I got it, the book wasn’t what I expected and I put it aside for a while. This book has an incredibly interesting format. The first part lists different goddesses, talks about who they are and what they’re about and how/when to honour them in your practice. Unfortunately I already am very knowledgeable about goddesses, and also do not honour deities in my practice so I lost a small amount of interest. This format became my favourite part of the book, though. That first section of the books full of goddesses is well written and interesting. The other parts include affirmations and goals, information about elements, the triple goddess, the sabbats and even goes through oils and candles and tarot and other legitimate witchcraft practices. The writing is good and compelling, and the books includes the opinions and perspectives of other women. I loved that. I loved how comprehensive this book was, how much use it had. The sections about the sabbats and the oils was amazing and included full recipes.

Unfortunately this book made a few horrendous mistakes that are, unfortunately, totally commonplace in paganism and wicca. My first issue was during the list of goddesses, many of which are from closed cultures and religions around the world. Many religious pagans select a pantheon to work with (or the pantheon picks them, depending on the account) and this leads to people without celtic ancestry working with celtic deities, for example. This also, unfortunately, leads to many witches working with deities from religions which are CLOSED to people outside the culture or religion. This includes pieces of Native American, Hindu, Chinese, Japanese, Azteca, Mayan, Hawaiian, etc culture that are frequently folded into wiccan practices without permission from anyone inside the culture or religion. This has lead to a lot of these deities having their religious aspect completely removed from them, and damages the integrity and meaning of that deity. Not only does this book include MULTIPLE deities from closed religions, in it’s entry on Kuan Yin – a chinese deity from Chinese Folk Religion which is specific to China and closed to outsiders – it says “Quan Yin is a chinese goddess of mercy, but has become so popular she transcends cultural and religious boundaries.” At best, this is totally irresponsible. At worst this is outright racism. This is literally removing the specific religious and cultural ties that Quan Yin has to her home culture. I’m not saying that white people can only worship white deities, but paying homage to, drawing energy from, and becoming an expert on deities from a culture you’re not a part of without permission is totally appropriative. The simple answer is to ask. If you feel drawn to Aztec spirituality and deities, find a person or group inside that culture and learn from them with permission to work with that deity. Honestly, it’s not that hard. Unfortunately this book never once says that. The book does what many wiccan and neo-pagan texts do – they just tell you everything is up for grabs. “Be a solitary! No restrictions! Cherry pick other religions without responsibility!” I find this totally unacceptable and to add insult to injury, this specific type of cultural appropriation is often found to do more damage to the WOMEN inside this culture by almost turning them into mystical archetypes, rather than real people. The irony of a book called “The Spiritual Feminist” contributing to this cultural  erasure of women is not lost on me.

My second problem applies directly to me, and is one I deal with in pagan and wiccan circles CONSTANTLY. This problem deals specifically with the triple goddess, and with the idea that womanhood ALWAYS includes sex and motherhood. The triple goddess idea/archetype presented as the spiritual path every woman travels throughout her life. A woman begins as a maiden, when she experience puberty and her education and enters the world with fresh eyes. At a certain point she moves into motherhood and really enters into what is often presented as her prime – a time when she nurtures not only others but herself to gain the wisdom she will use during the crone stage. This stage often begins at menopause. The obvious problem with this is that not all women will have children. Further more, we no longer live in an age where all women have the same genitalia or reproductive organs. Not all women menstruate. Not all women have a uterus. Not all women go through menopause. Not all women have children or become a mother. I am one of these women who will never have children. At 30 years old I struggle to think of myself as a maiden, but know I have a long way to go before becoming a crone. Outside of the triple goddess archetype, the book constantly makes references to women bonding over their physical body. In the section about “milestones” the only milestone that applies to (almost) all women is birthdays, with the others to do with menstruation, menopause, birth, and marriage. Not only are women like me who are celibate and have decided not to have children left out, but trans women are not represented here. In fact the only mention of trans woman is on page 38 in the entry on the goddess Cybele who is called “the patron goddess of transsexuals and transgendered individuals, particularly males.” Again, I don’t see anything for trans women here and the language is terribly problematic. This is a REAL problem in Wicca and Paganism, especially specific sects of Dianic Wicca which EXCLUDE trans women entirely and don’t consider them women. They often market their spaces as ” havens for REAL women” which is totally disgusting. This book never outright says it’s not for trans women, but more than one time red flags went up while reading.

I cannot, in good conscience, recommend this book to anyone. The trans exclusionary language alone is enough for me not to pass this one on. Add in the cultural appropriation and the fact that I consistently felt that I was not welcome in this conversation because of my decision to not have children, and I came out of this book legitimately offended and sad.

The writing is good, the book of shadows type info in the back of the book is cool, but it’s not worth it.

If you want to do a little bit of reading about cultural appropriation in Wicca and Neo-Paganism and how it affects the cultures in question, check out this Tumblr post and the attached articles and posts. If you’re interesting in learning more about ANY culture, there’s no harm in asking. Go to college, find friends, find an online group, go into metaphysical stores and ask. The worst thing they can do is say no. The worst thing you can do is disrespect that.

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3 thoughts on “Book Review of Shadows: The Spiritual Feminist by Amythyst Raine

  1. THANK YOU!!! I rarely read Pagan books anymore because these same issues, the racist cultural appropriation and the biology-is-destiny transmisogyny, come up over and over again. Ugh

    Like

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