Reviews & Interviews

Book Review – Slavic Witchcraft: Old World Conjuring Spells & Folklore by Natasha Helvin

Book Review

Slavic Witchcraft

Old World Conjuring Spells & Folklore

by Natasha Helvin

224 Pages

 

 

I was asked by the Editor of PaganPagesOrg if I would be interested in reviewing this book because my background/experience does involve some Slavic practices and traditions, and she wanted to see if I would mind giving an honest opinion based on what I’ve learned already. I most certainly agreed to it as I was curious how it might compare to what I learned while living in Croatia and what I’ve studied in the USA.

Let me explain briefly a little about my perspective and experiences: My father’s family is originally from today’s Ukraine and have been only been in the US for a couple of generations. This has always given me a deep curiosity to Slavic traditions and culture and I do what I can to study what I can find in English. I lived in the Balkans for about 5 years (Serbia, Croatia, and Slovenia), learning everything I could get my grabby little hands on that discussed their Native Faith, referred to among all Slavic nations as Rodnovery, as well as what I could in comparison to what I consider Old World Orthodoxy and Catholicism. The Christian practices in much of Eastern and Southern Europe are different than what I’ve experienced or known to be here in the USA.

But back to my thoughts about Ms Helvin’s writings…

First, let me say I tried to be as unbiased as possible and take what she wrote for what it is – an account of practices based on her upbringing and the life she has lived. No one can say whether that is true or not – for anyone and their path. In so doing, you must understand this book is not really Slavic Paganism in the sense of knowing, understanding, and honoring the Old Slavic deities like Veles, Mokosh, Perun, and the rest of the Slavic pantheon. Natasha was raised in Soviet Russia with what I personally coined folk faith – the faith of the villages and towns. This is stereotypically a blend of old pre-Christian practices while observing much of the Christian doctrine. Natasha seems to fall into this category as you’ll see her mention God (in the Christian perception) and Christian scripture more than any pre-Christian deity.

Many people in the modern thought consider “witchcraft” to be synonymous with pagan thus referring to the observation of pagan deities. However, that’s not the case in many non-Western influenced areas. But even a prime example of this blend would be voodoo, which would explain maybe why Natasha has chosen to follow the Voodoo tradition since moving to the USA. It’s probably the closest thing she can find similar to her Russian witchcraft-filled upbringing.

I will say that around 90% of the book is spells. I’m not a spell book person. I don’t really cast either. The few I’ve done over my 20 years of on and off practicing and studying have been what I felt was needed and didn’t use a pre-written spell. That’s just my personal choice. The other thing is, I feel the majority of the spells focus on matters that go against someone’s free will like love spells. This, too, isn’t my way. I understand protection in a defensive and offensive manner. I, however, have no interest in doing spells to make someone love me, separate couples or love interests, or anything of the sort. I personally felt that too many of the spells involved this mentality – almost in a repetitive state just worded slightly different to give a supposed different result. I doubt that was the intention but it was just how it seemed while reading all the spells provided.

I wish there would have been more details and explanations like how she put in the section on death and cemetery rites, rituals, and traditions. There aren’t many books in English that give these practices from Slavic lands. The subtitle mentions ‘folklore’ and I definitely would have preferred there to be more of it in the book.

Overall, the book was good. Don’t take my personal preferences of spell books as a reason not to read her book. I was always raised to realize – every – book, story, and experience offers something to learn but it’s our place to realize it and appreciate the opportunity. Even if the knowledge gained is simply “this isn’t for me” – it’s still another stone on your path laid.

As I read, I would use sticky notes to capture my first reactions. Here are a few that I thought I would share with you.

On page 3:

First thought about the introduction so far – if you say “magic is everywhere and in everything” then why don’t/can’t you still practice daily as you did in ex-Soviet Russia? Why can’t you practice outside of Russia? And if you can’t, how do you expect the readers to do so?” And this came from some remarks she made about how she missed practicing because she couldn’t anymore now that she lived in the USA. There was never any kind of clarification or reason behind her viewpoint on this that I found, sadly.

On page 13:

I have a question poised “So does a Slavic witch call on Zeus/Jupiter?” Natasha mentions non-Slavic deities just as much, if not more, than Slavic deities. This just seems odd to me – especially since there are many with similar attributes and I know that many of the beliefs and traditions are still very much alive with the Old Slavic deities based on friends I have that live throughout Eastern Europe and practice various forms of Slavic paganism.

On page 66:

There is a section called “Spells to move on from a former lover.” All I could think about when I read this title was how this *might* be beneficial for yourself but the spells that might go against the lover moving on could go against a person’s free will and with that also rob them of their experience and learning opportunity of the situation.

One page 123:

I found another note of mine – “She gives information about removing curses and putting curses on people and things, but never once mentions how an individual might go about figuring out if they have been cursed.”

 

 

***

About the Author:

My name is Christina, 34, mom of soon to be 2 kiddos (2nd born arriving around Imbolc 2020), and an off and on practicing pagan since I was about 12. My fields of interest along the path are ancestral based along with herbalism, folklore, shamanism, and nature’s cycles.  I’m not really a caster of any kind but focus on honoring the circle of life and the wheel of the year. I dabble with tarot and oracle cards but definitely not proficient in them.  My focus is on herbs.  This is part of the reason my husband and I own an herbal company that focuses on educating and supplying people about the herbs around them.  We focus on the mundane instead of the magickal among our subscription boxes and our general view of the business.  We’re trying to expand into a few different directions in 2020 but our main focus is always herbal education.  I’ve always felt that even for your magickal uses to work properly and safely you must understand the mundane properties and uses of herbs to get the full spectrum of their capabilities in your workings. 

When it comes to the ancestral side of things – I focus primarily on Slavic and Scottish-Celtic studies. I dabble with a Native American path because I was raised around Natives and now married to a man who’s half Native.  I might not use their path in my own 100% but I love to be educated about things so I can pass the information onto our children later.

www.persephonesherbal.com

My name is Christina, 34, mom of soon to be 2 kiddos (2nd born arriving around Imbolc 2020), and an off and on practicing pagan since I was about 12. My fields of interest along the path are ancestral based along with herbalism, folklore, shamanism, and nature's cycles.  I'm not really a caster of any kind but focus on honoring the circle of life and the wheel of the year. I dabble with tarot and oracle cards but definitely not proficient in them.  My focus is on herbs.  This is part of the reason my husband and I own an herbal company that focuses on educating and supplying people about the herbs around them.  We focus on the mundane instead of the magickal among our subscription boxes and our general view of the business.  We're trying to expand into a few different directions in 2020 but our main focus is always herbal education.  I've always felt that even for your magickal uses to work properly and safely you must understand the mundane properties and uses of herbs to get the full spectrum of their capabilities in your workings.  When it comes to the ancestral side of things - I focus primarily on Slavic and Scottish-Celtic studies. I dabble with a Native American path because I was raised around Natives and now married to a man who's half Native.  I might not use their path in my own 100% but I love to be educated about things so I can pass the information onto our children later.