Coven Reads is a monthly recommendation of witchy/magical books, written by our resident book witch and literary interviewer, Sara Blackthorne. Sara writes with fervor, edits with empathy, and manages people and projects in her daily life. She loves good coffee, a hammock in the shade, and spending countless hours in the kitchen conjuring delicious food for dinner parties. You can find her online most places @sarablackthorne.
Standing Up and Settling In
Mabon Greetings to you!
I am so excited to begin my time here with Wyrd and Wyse, sharing book recommendations for changing our world. I want to start by sharing a little about me, so you have a sense of my lens as I’m bringing you titles to consider for your shelves.
I have over 15 years of writing and editing experience, from technical manuals to creative non-fiction and poetry. From the time I was wee, I could be found with my nose in a book. It’s often cliché, but when I say books saved my life I truly mean it – books gave me power through knowledge, and that power gave me my voice and my freedom.
As such, I have a high standard for books. I want toothy fiction that sinks into the fleshy part of my heart and doesn’t let go. I want non-fiction that peels back my inhibitions and false beliefs, and just like an onion makes me feel things. I want poetry that lingers in my hair like smoke. I demand that a book take me on a journey, short or long, and I want to be changed when I finish it.
When I thought about the first recommendation to offer you, I could only think of one series that would best introduce us. I’ve been a reader and “armchair student” of Thorn Coyle’s (she/they) since the publication of Evolutionary Witchcraft in 2005. I’ve gone through three physical copies of the book, wearing through the spine and even losing a few pages. In this book I found the language for so many of my personal beliefs around witchcraft and magic that I didn’t know others experience.
I’ve followed Thorn’s publishing history and now own several of their books. Recently they moved from the Bay Area to the Pacific Northwest, and with that move announced the release of their new series of fiction books, The Witches of Portland . I might be biased because I live in Portland, Oregon. But what shows up in these books is a roadmap for using our magical tools to combat the bigotry and racism burning through America (and the Western world) these days.
The series begins with By Earth, the story of Cassiel and the ghosts who speak to and through her. Using her gifts, she and her coven Arrow and Crescent take down some major developers who are cutting corners and negatively impacting the housing market. With shoddy materials and ever-rising rents, this is not an issue unique to Portland. What is truly universal about this story (and this group of powerful, passionate witches) is the way we need our communities to heal our communities.
In the second (non-consecutive) novel By Flame, we learn more about the members of Arrow and Crescent Coven and the issues being faced by the community: poverty, houselessness, racism, police violence against vulnerable communities. We also witness the challenges the coven itself faces from other community groups – namely an “interfaith” religious organization that chooses to exclude the coven from certain activities. In looking at these issues through the microcosm of Portland, Thorn offers wisdom and suggestions from over 20 years of magic and activism on the West Coast and around the world.
At this time, there are five books published in the series: By Earth, By Flame, By Wind, By Sea, and By Moon. Each novel builds on the others, but they don’t need to be read in a certain order to be enjoyed. At the center of each novel is one of the nine members of the Arrow and Crescent Coven: Cassiel, Tobias, Brenda, Raquel, Selene, Lucy, Moss, Alejandro, and Tempest. Through this interconnected series we learn more about each member of the coven, the world around them, and about ourselves.
The Witches of Portland is not Thorn’s first fiction series. The Panther Chronicles is a four-book alt-history series that reimagines the late 1960s in American history, and what might have happened had things gone different. It combines the Black Panthers, J. Edgar Hoover, community-building, and magic into a series that gives us a glimpse of what might have happened – and hope for what could be.
Because the core of Thorn’s work is community and connection. It shows up in their fiction, in their non-fiction, and in their activism. They’ve been arrested “at least four times,” and they are regularly visible on social media and on the front lines standing up for causes they champion. They recently spent several days in the #AbolishICE encampment in Portland, Oregon fighting for the closure of the private building being used by ICE to question and potentially detain individuals seeking asylum. They don’t just write about activism and community – they live it. Between cups of tea and writing sessions they teach magical practice around the world.
So pick up a cuppa, curl up under a blanket, and let yourself recover from this heady eclipse season by sinking into Autumn with an good book!
Note from the Editrix: We are working on paying our contributors for The Archive, but in the meantime, if you love Sara’s work, please consider buying her a cup of tea to say thanks.