Review: The Big Little Book of Magick by DJ Conway

I was sent a free copy of this book, unsolicited, from the publisher in the hopes that I would read and review it on my blog.

When I first got this book in the mail and started flipping through it my first thought was that the book seemed disorganized. The way the book was split into different sections, and then the way the information was organized in them, seemed strange and disordered. For instance the first section contains lots of associations. But then there are also associations in the second, third, and fourth sections, sometimes covering the same subject matter. I had a suspicion about what was going on with the organization, which I confirmed on the Internet (and that was a waste of time apparently since what I found out is clearly printed on the back cover of the book). This book actually combines four different books by the same author which were written in a similar way. I would’ve liked this book better if the information had been compiled into a single edition, but instead what we have are four different books put together in a low cost collection, so I’m going to review each of these books separately and then come to a conclusion about the value of this edition as a whole.

A Little Book of Altar Magick

This is the book they decided to lead with, which surprises me because in every way this is the weakest of the four books. It’s a subject that I don’t think very many people are interested in, and even if they were it’s not something that needs to have an entire book written about it. An altar is simply a space you dedicate to something. If you want an altar, get a flat surface and put something representing what it’s dedicated to on top of it, or alternatively hang a picture on a wall. That’s really everything you need to know about altars. I guess you could talk about activating them, but half the time they activate themselves, and instructions on how to manually activate an altar shouldn’t take more than a paragraph, unless you’re an adept of the original Golden Dawn in which case you can probably stretch that paragraph to five pages.

Conway doesn’t really change my opinion either. The first dozen pages of the book deal with constructing an altar, and its all mostly filler. At one point Conway discusses dust accumulating on your altar and the need to clean it (this needed to be written down in a book?). At another point she discusses the steps you need to take to create an altar. To her this should be approached like any major life decision and involves four steps: thinking out your reasons, planning your project, acknowledging your reasons, and building the altar. I’ll reiterate my case: Flat-surface. Representation. Done. This isn’t a major life decision. It takes all of a few minutes of your time to make an altar, and if you don’t like it you can just as easily tear it down or change it. In my eyes all of this is just filler material so that the author could write at least a few pages on building alters, something that I’ve managed to break down to three one word sentences.

The second section of this book, and the bulk of it (coming in at about 75 pages) are lists of correspondences. There’s nothing wrong with that. I actually like books that are made up of lists of correspondences. Sooner or later I’m going to have to figure this stuff out, and the more sources I have to reference the better. However how good this book is really comes down to the value of the correspondences.

First of all I’d like to commend this author for realizing that the Greek and Roman pantheons are separate pantheons with different gods and not treating them as one single pantheon. Eventually the Roman empire did incorporate into itself large amounts of Greek culture which led to some gods being combined together, but prior to that these pantheons were separate, and the Greek gods were added into the Roman pantheon over a long period of time and they were not initially associated with their Roman counterparts but thought of as separate gods.

Secondly though I have to criticize this author for her beliefs that Dionysus and Bacchus are different gods. Bacchus was not the Roman god of wine, that was Liber. Bakchos was a second name given to the Greek god Dionysus, which eventually became more common than his original name. When the Romans incorporated Dionysus into their pantheon they took the name Bakchos because it was more common at the time and transliterated that name into Bacchus, which is what he was called in Rome. Oddly Conway even acknowledges Liber, but seems to have the impression that this is the same god as Bacchus. It’s a mistake regarding Bacchus I’ve seen all over the community, but when an author does it I can only attribute it to a poorly researched book.

As for the associations, I have three problems with them. The first deals with the organization. For instance there is a section dealing with herbs, with trees, with oils, and with flowers. A lot of these things appear on more than one list. For instance lavender is an oil, a flower, and an herb, and as one would assume the associations are the same. Other associations just become difficult to find. For instance if you want to know the associations for cinnamon and dragon’s blood the only place to find them is under oils. Everything would be a lot easier to find if these four lists were condensed into a single list, there wouldn’t be so many duplicate entries, and Conway would have more room to expand on each entry.

My second problem with the entries are that they’re short. Many of the sections just have a few one word associations. A few sections, such as trees and flowers, give some history, but still the associations are only a few words long with very little explanation. These one word associations are also the same one word associations given on most websites and found in most books, which makes me wonder if the author even understands these associations or if she just copied them from a source. The other issue with these short entries is that they’re too general and don’t adequately explain anything. For instance Rose, Jasmine, Lavender, and Ginger all have the association love. It’s true that all four of these herbs are used in love spells, but they’re all used for different purposes in love spells. These aren’t interchangeable herbs, they all have different love associations that do different things in spells. You’ll never be able to figure that out based solely on the one word associations given though.

My third problem is one I have with a lot of Wiccan authors who do association lists. Conway does not give the associations that would likely be used in negative spellwork, or spellwork that breaks the Wiccan Rede. I have huge issues with trying to enforce spiritual morality through ignorance, and trying to force a person to be what is perceived as good by limiting their potential to be evil. I also think anything can be used for good or evil, and it doesn’t matter what a thing does, what matters is the situation and the intention of the user. It’s a huge ethical and moral debate, one that I’m not going to fully expand upon in the scope of a book review.

More importantly though it’s irresponsible not to print this information, especially since most of these things have other harmless associations too. For instance cinnamon is associated with energy amplification. It amplifies or raises energy in a spell. It actually amplifies emotions too, which isn’t usually mentioned but is implied by the fact it amplifies energy. Because of this cinnamon is often times used as an addition to every spell in order to make them more successful and powerful. Unfortunately though many authors don’t mention the fact that cinnamon is also used to incite lust. In fact it’s really good at inciting lust and desires of the flesh. A problem arises when you add cinnamon to a love spell to strengthen it. The cinnamon amplifies all of the emotions being manipulated by the spell, not just love but also lust and carnal desires. The end result is usually a recipient that is overly obsessive and far more horny and wanton than usual. Yes it’s immoral to use cinnamon in this way, but if a person doesn’t know this association a perfectly innocent and moral love spell can turn into a very messy situation.

The last short section of this book deals with the different uses of altars, some of which are almost spells in their own right. Some of the ideas expressed in this area are interesting, and it’s definitely the best part of the book. Unfortunately it’s short, and not enough to carry the rest of the book, which consists of a bit of filler and so-so associations.

The Little Book of Candle Magic

This is probably the book they should have led with. Out of the four books, subject-wise this is probably the one that most people are going to be interested in, and for good reason too. Candle magic is not only practical magic, but its very effective and useful, and not very difficult to do either. The only problem with candle magic is that there are already a lot of really good books on the market dealing with it, and so to stand out a book has to be something exceptional.

The book opens with quite a bit of the theory surrounding candle magic, along with explanations of the different types of candles and how they’re usually used. Keeping in mind that everything discussed here is fairly basic, there is a lot of good information in this section. My big gripe about this information is that a lot of it is buried in the text and not easily accessible, which again comes back to a problem of poor organization. The text also contains quite a bit of Rede morality, and time and again the author goes back to preaching about how we must never use magic for this or that, or she discusses ways to use magic without technically, at least in her view, breaking the Rede.

Not being Wiccan, the morality aspects of this book are like someone telling me I should or shouldn’t do things because the bible says so and if I don’t listen I’m going to burn in hell. I could sit here and argue the validity of the Rede, or I could talk about how Conway’s technical loopholes are actually breaking the Rede, but I won’t because arguing Wiccan dogma is really outside the scope of a book review. To a non-Wiccan though it is at its best filler material, and at its worse a minor annoyance.

The book also again and again comes back to fire safety. To me, at least as I’m reading it, it seems like filler material that was thrown in to pad out the book a little. Unfortunately though I know first hand that Pagans, and really the entire magical community, has a very poor track record with fire safety and it’s probably necessary for a book on candle magic to state these common sense tips for not burning down your house, and Conway probably saved a few homes and apartment buildings by doing so.

The book then has some associations. Unlike the previous book though, many of these are done backwards. For instance under incense, a single word association is listed and then all of the incenses associated with that word are listed. I don’t like this for a few different reasons. First off many things have multiple associations, which means you have to read every association to make sure that what you’re using isn’t going to counter what you’re trying to do. It also uses one word associations, which are too general to fully and specifically explain what something does and what it is used for. Conway also refrains from listing any negative associations that would be against the Rede, for instance there are no associations for death, harm, or manipulation. Oddly enough though there is an association for binding, but I’m not going to start that argument here.

The book also contains a section about planetary days and hours which is poorly done. There isn’t any new information on the days and hours, and the author doesn’t explain the concept and theory behind it very well either. Normally I’d say this was a so-so explanation, but Conway makes a huge omission, she never explains how to determine the hours of the day. It’s a simple procedure that would’ve taken all of a paragraph to explain, but Conway never does. Not knowing anything about the days and hours, by her explanation I would assume that I’m just supposed to use a clock to determine what hour it is.

The final part of the book is the best part, and those are the actual spells. First off, there are a lot of spells, which is good. The spells are also sound and they should work, at least when done by a magician who is experienced enough to make spells work. I really only have two minor issues with this section.

My first issue is that I wish more time would have been spent explaining each spell and not just how it works, but why. The magic involved is fairly simple, and it’s very easy for me to figure these spells out, but as a beginner’s book I think it would have benefited a lot by having more theory about how and why these spells work.

My second issue is that Conway uses a lot of candles in her spell work. There are only a few spells that need only two candles, most need at least three, and some require as many as fifteen candles. That is a lot of candles. I really wish Conway would have taken the time to rework these spells so they use less candles, or at least so they could be done with cheap tealights. It’s not that huge of an issue, since the spells are still solid, but having to use that many candles for every spell can get expensive, and it also creates an additional fire hazard.

All in all I’m rating this as an okay candle magic book, and that’s due largely to some good beginner information and a large selection of spells at the end. Unfortunately it has some very serious flaws, and doesn’t fare well when compared to other, better, candle magic books on the market.

The Little Book of Pendulum Magick

I was cautiously excited about this book. I was excited because there are very few books available on pendulum magick, so there was a good chance this book would contain some useful and new information. On the other hand, despite what the book claims, pendulum magic is not a popular and growing form of magic. Personally I rarely use a pendulum. For the longest time I didn’t have one, and after my first pendulum broke I was in no rush to replace it, and only did so after a friend made one especially for me. I think most magicians feel the same way. It’s a neat toy for a few weeks, but most of us quickly become bored and never play with it again.

The book opens with a history lesson on pendulum magic, which normally I would like since I don’t really know much about pendulum magic history, but unfortunately the author’s Wicca shows through out. The early sections are as much about the history of pendulum magic as it is about the Catholic church persecuting and burning witches, witches who used pendulums. The more modern history isn’t much better. Part of it deals with different scientific studies and uses of the pendulum through out the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries. I have an open mind and I was really interested in the scientific work Conway talked about, but unfortunately Conway is a bit too biased and open minded to accurately present the information. In Conway’s retelling there were some great scientists who did some great work with pendulums, but they were ridiculed and dismissed by their peers. Common sense tells me this is a biased view of what happened and not nearly the full story. I can probably figure out the full story of these experiments and why they were dismissed on Wikipedia, but I would like to have that information in the book I’m reading and not have to do research on the Internet to figure things out.

Pretty soon though Conway expresses her theory of pendulum magic, that it taps into your subconscious in order to get information. At this point I sort of lost interest. It became clear to me that this wasn’t going to be a book that dealt with things like pendulum mediumship or energy sensing. I figured the book wouldn’t work with divination either, at least true divination, but Conway does deal with divination under the theory that it’s possible because of a collective subconscious.

Surprisingly the book also deals with dowsing, but unfortunately this information is muddied by Conway’s belief that the pendulum taps into ones subconscious. Dowsing is actually based on the belief that energy can be physically measured with rods or a pendulum when conducted through the human body, and that certain things like bodies of water create abnormal energy conditions which can be sensed with these tools. Conway though believes that this is all a product of divination via tapping into the collective subconscious, and as such she sees no difference between actual dowsing, which is energy sensing, and dowsing on a map with a pendulum, which is divination. At one point she even talks about dowsing for energy and even how to find a nexus point with a pendulum, but she never manages to make the connection between dowsing and energy. Conway also points out that dowsing with rods is easier in many situations than with a pendulum, however she never really talks about how to use rods and instead talks about the extra effort you have to go through to make the pendulum work in the same situation. That is one of the major flaws I see in the style of all four of the books, that she focuses on techniques which are far more complicated and difficult than they need to be in order to stay on-topic.

The book also deals with divination, and a lot of other subjects which are connected to the pendulum. The problem though is that all of these other subjects are really just divination. For instance healing with a pendulum comes down to passing the pendulum over a person’s body and looking for a yes or no answer in order to diagnose the area where the person is having problems, and that’s really the most complicated of the techniques. Reading auras is similar. Instead of using the pendulum to react to the energy, Conway suggests asking questions about the aura. Finding out about your past lives involves asking questions about your past lives, when they were, and when you were born. All of this just seems like filler to me, because it is all divination. I can sum up all of these sections with the instructions: ask the pendulum what you want to know, and get an answer. The last section is the weirdest by far. At this point Conway has us asking what kind of planetary energy we need the most right now and what kind of totem animals we should concentrate on to aid us in our goals.

On the plus side, the book does have some solid exercises for learning how to use a pendulum. That’s really the best part of the book, but unfortunately it makes up less than half the book. I actually would recommend this book to someone looking to learn the pendulum just based on the exercises, and in fairness even though most of the sections are about divination, sometimes Conway does have an interesting idea.

The Little Book of Healing Magic

This is the book that I was thinking might be the book that makes this whole collection worthwhile. There are not many introductory books on healing magic on the market, and of what is available, very few approach the subject from the perspective of a ritual magician. Unfortunately though I found this book lacking.

To start, a lot of the information is just plain confusing, and this is because Conway confuses things by not adhering to established theories and vocabulary. For instance she talks about her theory of aura layers, which is fine. However she labels these auras things like the astral body, the mental body, and the emotional body. At least in terms of the astral body she seems to be talking about a person’s actual astral body (although I’d say her knowledge of astral theory is limited). Unfortunately though when she talks about a mental body or emotional body she is not talking about what most authors mean when they talk about a mental body or emotional body. She is talking about a person’s mental state and emotional state and not the actual bodies which exist seperately and independently of the physical body and usually do not occupy the same space as it. This is a problem that could have easily been fixed by Conway using new terms in presenting her personal theory on aura layers. It’s possible Conway is actually confused and doesn’t understand what the terms mental body and emotional body mean, but that doesn’t speak well for her book either.

As for the actual information, and I’m intentionally keeping the rest of this review short, there are some interesting parts and some interesting ideas. There are sections on using tuning forks, energy healing, mantras and affirmations, poppets, and talismans. Certain popular Eastern practices though, like acupuncture and reflexology, are never talked about, and this is probably because they are too complex to get into. Conway also, unfortunately, comes back to beliefs about magic being about working with a person’s subconscious and affecting it through the collective subconscious, and she even goes so far as to redefine what sympathetic magic to include the fact that it works through the collective subconscious.

My main issue with this book though is you’re not going to be able to learn a complex system of magical healing through a short book like this, regardless of how phenomenal the author may be. In order to become good at systems like reiki and reflexology, not to mention near impossible stuff like psychic surgery, a person not only needs to study a lot of material, but they also have to have a lot of hands on experience. Like medicine, healing magic is a very complicated subject, and like medicine you have to have practical experience doing it for a while before you’re able to do it well. Masters of healing magic spend years, sometimes decades, training themselves to be able to heal others with the power of their hands. Even a good reiki massage therapist is going to have several years of training in massage therapy and reiki before they ever do their first real massage. Becoming a magical healer is not something you’re going to learn how to do from a short book like this, especially one that covers so many different subjects.

As an introduction to healing magic or concepts of healing magic this book also fails. As I mentioned the book is incomplete and doesn’t cover a lot of popular forms of magical healing. It also doesn’t explain what it does cover very well and is often times confusing and incorrect.

Conclusions

On their own I don’t think any of these books are all that great. As a collection there might be just enough material to make this book worthwhile to some people. There are a few good ideas here and there, and the main selling points of this book, in my eyes, are the pendulum exercises and the collection of candle magic spells, but even the candle magic spells seem like they could be a lot better. Unfortunately I cannot recommend this book. After having read it, there’s no way I would spend money on this book. There are too many flaws through out the book and the few good parts aren’t all that great. It also constantly preaches Wiccan morality and the author is pretty much married to the belief that a lot of magic comes down to affecting the subconscious, which unfortunately makes her ability to understand and explain magical theory limited. It’s probably the only book I know of with good basic exercises for learning how to use the pendulum, but I don’t think very many people will be interested in that, and due to the flawed theories surrounding pendulum magic, and the fact that it never deals with mediumship, one of the most common uses of pendulums, it’s hard for me to recommend it even for that purpose.

4 Responses to Review: The Big Little Book of Magick by DJ Conway

  1. janett says:

    Hi,I like your book reviews,they are precise and it is obvious you know your stuff.Would you post an article with your favourite books on magic?(it may be 2 part article if it happens to be too long) something like top 10 books which have meat in them and are not just fluff.thank you

    • Rob says:

      Thank you.

      I put together a list of ten introductory books I recommended as part of Gordon’s book game a while a back. I’d also suggest looking up the original posts on Gordon’s website, since not only did people play in his comment sections, but he also linked to a large number of blogs that participated, and found a lot of really good suggestions of books to read from around the blogosphere.

      Common suggestions I give all the time are Bach’s Illusions, Pennick’s Practical Magic in the Northern Tradition, Fortune’s Psychic Self-Defense, Crowley’s Book Four and Book of Thoth, Simon’s Necronomicon, and any of the old grimoires translated by Peternson, but especially the Lemegaton and the 6th and 7th Books of Moses, and of course good translations of any major religious work. I also like Cunningham’s herbalism books, but they are limited and incomplete and I don’t suggest using them without other references.

      If I know what subject someone is looking into I can usually suggest some of the best books I’ve seen on the subject, or if I can review a book if I have it to read, however with so many different subjects within magic it’s too overwhelming and difficult for me to put together a general top ten.

  2. felix says:

    hi may i know with book is good information about grid to bring business success

  3. rita says:

    I think the little book of candle magic is best book I ever seen and it is complete on spells.

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