Book Review – Empty Cauldrons: Navigating Depression Through Magic and Ritual by Terence P. Ward

Book Review
Empty Cauldrons:
Navigating Depression Through Magic and Ritual
by Terence P. Ward
Publisher: Llewellyn Publications
288 Pages
Publication Date: January 8, 2022



It is very difficult for many people who suffer from depression to talk about it. Some can discuss it with friends and family, some reach out to professionals, and the rare few share their journey on social media and other public forums. There is still a lot of stigma attached to depression and many choose to keep their depression a secret out of fear of being stigmatized or to prevent feelings of being further ostracized. Empty Cauldrons is a pagan perspective that takes a bold step forward to share the experiences that one might have when experiencing depression. It explores not only the physical and mental, but the spiritual side of depression and the effects it can have on a person. The author openly shares his story and the challenges he has had over the course of his life. He, along with 13 other pagans he interviewed for the book, share their perspectives on the many aspects of depression and their effects on them and their lives, how they manage, cope, and find the connections that depression so wishes to keep severed. Ward also offers journaling exercises throughout the book to make the experience more than reading stories, so the reader doesn’t feel alone in their experiences with depression, but so they have some tools available to help move and transmute the energy in the physical body and the mind and to help those who wish to maintain a spiritual practice while going through episodes of depression.

I was a little bit skeptical of this book at first. I am a white, gender nonconforming femme with depression, general anxiety, a recent ADHD diagnosis, and C-PTSD. As someone who has experienced depression since childhood and has consequently read a ton of self-help books, I have learned a lot about my depression and have determined that it is more than just a chemical imbalance in my brain but also my reaction to my environment and all the of the systems that I am in and must interact with daily to survive. So, while my brain doesn’t hold onto all the dopamine it needs to function optimally, capitalism, patriarchy, and other forms of kyriarchy also largely contribute to my mood. On my quest to read every perspective to have ever existed on this topic, I have largely felt those from white cisgender men to be the most unrelatable. However, early in the book, the author calls out his privilege as a white cisgender male polytheist and the bias he carries with it. Most of the people he interviews are white passing, as well. I say all this so BIPOC people and those who don’t identify as a man can make an informed decision if they wish to read the perspectives offered in this book and not because I think there is anything inherently wrong with these perspectives (because there isn’t). While the author does hold a lot of privilege with many of the suggestions he offers, I feel I am able to relate to many of the thoughts and experiences written about and I have some new inspiration for my spiritual practice after reading this book. Ward never comes off as seeming like he knows best, but honestly delivers examples of everything that has worked for him in the hopes that it can help anyone else out there, too. Take what works for you and leave the rest.

Ward offers two discussions in the book that I especially appreciated reading the most. The first is the idea of depression as a spirit along with being a symptom of dysregulation brought on by physical, emotional, and environmental factors. To me, I see this as a way to name my depression and empirically observe its interaction with my psyche. Ward outlines the different relationships depression may have with a person and looking at it as a spirit helps us see that this relationship is actually dynamic, which is important because so many times we feel stagnant and stuck when in the thick of it.

The second is his story about his journey and relationship with suicide. This is a tough topic for even some people who feel comfortable talking about depression, but he discusses it very openly and honestly without it feeling too heavy. Not everyone who experiences depression has suicidal ideation, but for those who do it can be something scary to openly admit and discuss. Again, this is another way for people to read some new perspectives in the hopes that they can see that they aren’t alone in this world having this experience themselves.

Everyone who enjoys a self-help book with exercises will find over 40 of them inside. There are journal prompts, practical activities, meditations, prayers, rituals, and more. Some of the practical advice is the standard “get sleep, eat well, and exercise” anyone who has experienced mental illness has already heard. But despite my long history of trying to understand my depression through explorative journaling, I still found many new ideas and fresh perspectives that remind myself that I’m not alone in my journey; none of us are.

Terence P. Ward has been a journalist and practicing Pagan for more than thirty years, who has been bound to a Wiccan coven and communed with the earth as a backpacking Pagan, or Gaiaped. A member of the order of the occult hand, Ward is also a hiereus — temple priest — of Poseidon through Temenos Oikidios in Rhode Island, and holds ministerial credentials from the Vermont-based Church of the Sacred Earth: a Union of Pagan Congregations.


Empty Cauldrons: Navigating Depression Through Magic and Ritual on Amazon


About the Author:

Montine is an astrologer, tarot reader, and occultist living on unceded Duwamish land that some call Seattle. A forever student, journalist, and queer gender-nonconforming femme, she spends her time listening to the stories people tell with the hope of understanding many more perspectives than her own. Recently diagnosed with ADHD and self-diagnosed as autistic, she is rediscovering the world through a neurodivergent lens and transforming her life to work smarter and not harder. She writes an annual called Book of My Shadows which explores different ways to use the energy of New and Full Moons for personal growth and exploration and one of her current hyperfixations is studying the Greek Magical Papyri.