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Witches of America

3.26  ·  Rating details ·  1,935 ratings  ·  320 reviews
"Witches are gathering."

Although a self-proclaimed skeptic, Alex Mar has secretly longed for revelation, envying people with unshakable beliefs. And so when she set out to direct the documentary American Mystic, she was drawn deep into the world of present-day witchcraft. Most people hear "witches" and think of horror films and Halloween, but to the one million Americans w
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published October 20th 2015 by Sarah Crichton Books
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Average rating 3.26  · 
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 ·  1,935 ratings  ·  320 reviews

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Rhyd Wildermuth
Oct 23, 2015 rated it did not like it
This book could quite easily be renamed "Eat, Prey, Learn Magic."

Alex Mar writes the sort of exploitative, voyeuristic narrative usually seen in 1950's era anthropological works. Particularly telling are her multiple admissions that she refuses vulnerability with the communities she later exploits, denigrates the living situations of some characters, reduces many of the women in the book to mere symbol.

Her description of a woman dancing shirtless is quite informative: “One very obese woman has
Dec 21, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: memoirs
I've just started reading this today, but I've read a lot of one-star reviews on Amazon, most of which complain about the book being either exploitative, insensitive, inaccurate, voyeuristic, or otherwise culturally insensitive or culturally innappropriate.

An "exploitative, insensitive, inaccurate, voyeuristic, and otherwise culturally-insensitive and culturally innappropriate" depiction of an overwhelmingly white, North-American nouveau-religion pieced together from a mishmash of religious and
Nov 04, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2015-reads, audio
I came to this thinking it could be an update to Margot Adler's pivotal Drawing Down the Moon. I wasn't aware of the pagan community's strongly negative responses while reading, but it turns out that Mar is reviled by many pagans. I just didn't think the book was that bad. It's not Adler, and it's kind of silly in parts, but the subject matter and many of these contemporary witches easily tip into silliness (no, I mean they're deadly serious, but ...).

When I was an undergraduate religious studi
Oct 27, 2015 rated it really liked it
There are some people who are upset by this book. I can understand and respect that. Here's what I think.

For the most part, I enjoyed the book. It wasn't what I thought it would be, and that is a look into the practices and beliefs of modern witches, without interference from the author. Instead, the author, Alex, takes center stage. She's on a journey, despite being an admitted skeptic. What Alex misses along the way is how many times she says she feels embarrassed by the expressions of faith
Renee Alberts
Dec 07, 2015 rated it it was ok
The most interesting parts of this book are the explanations of various sects of witchcraft and occult beliefs and the descriptions of their practices. The least interesting parts are the author sharing her own half-hearted attempts to follow a few of these paths. It seems like the book isn't sure whether it wants to be straight nonfiction or personal memoir,  so it falls short of both.

At one point, Mar  says she's not writing from an anthropological perspective. That surprised me, because she
Book Riot Community
Tis the season! This is a wonderful, no-nonsense account of, well, witches in America. But not the silly pointy hat witches - the actual, practicing Pagans. Mar spent five years researching the practice of this very real religion, which has over one million practitioners today. This is an account of the history of Paganism, its rituals, and practitioners, told without condescension or historical bias and rumor. This is a great book to go with the new Stacy Schiff book out next week about the Sal ...more
Mar 12, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Full Disclaimer: I am a born and raised New Orleanian. That's the first thing you need to know. The second thing is this: I wanted to love this book; I truly did. Instead I ended up hating it. I enjoyed the chapters and times spent with Morpheus and Karina, and their respective practices. However I suffered through the chapters with the New Orleans branch of the OTO. Why? The risk of reading non-fiction is that you may stumble upon a story where you've actually met the characters in real life. T ...more
Oct 19, 2016 rated it liked it
I really enjoyed this book, but I can see why others didn't like it. This is a very honest perspective on modern white American neopagans, and at times it's so honest it's not very flattering. As a former neopagan and woman of color, from a culture often appropriated by white neopagans, I felt that was a refreshing and badly needed perspective.

I also really liked how personalized this story was, I struggle with how people pretend that absolute impartiality is possible when a human person is inv
I feel super conflicted about this book. From an anthropological and sociological standpoint, this is a fascinating read. From a moral standpoint, this feels like an abuse of trust and just exploitative. I feel like sometimes she is looking down her nose at some of the people she has spoken to. In one instance, she talks about how some things are oathbound, then proceeds to talk about them, violating the trust placed in her by the oaths she swore to.

I was really disappointed. I expected more, be
Sep 21, 2016 rated it really liked it
Before I read this, I'd heard that some Pagans took offense to it because it portrayed their religion in a bad light. This didn't end up being as ruthless as I was imagining; Mar is just very skeptical most of the time, as—frankly—most people are. I appreciate her gently pointing out how ~interesting~ it is that an ancient Celtic goddess of war would show up at a DoubleTree in San Jose, California.

Still, I didn't like how much Mar waffled on everything and how uncomfortable she always felt. I g
Oct 25, 2015 rated it did not like it
I will not be finishing this. I haven't even made it through chapter 6 and it was a chore to get this far. The way the author has portrayed the very people whose trust she has sorely abused is angering. I rarely refuse to finish a book, let alone harbor a fantasy of flinging it across the room, but this one had my ire up within the first two chapters and it only built from there. I came across it at my library quite by accident and having not heard of it thought I would learn a bit of history an ...more
Grace W
Dec 14, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: nonfiction
I saw a review already on here that compared this book, correctly, to Eat Pray Love. My issues with this book are numerous. Some of them are simple issues I have with the questionable way she reveals knowledge from a mystery religion (which, honestly, who the fuck thinks that's ok?) and the way in which she seems to be perfectly content with exploiting real believers for the sake of her writing. Maybe that's all petty and perhaps I'm completely misreading Ms Mar's work. However, I also just thin ...more
Nov 29, 2015 rated it did not like it
Shelves: non-fiction
Even though I listed this as non-fiction, I have issues listing it as such. It would be better listed as a memoir because it is not an informational book instead it is a look into one woman's muddled mind and her failure to do any type of extensive homework into her subject matter. She fails to understand there is a difference between observing an Earth-based religion (Paganism), Wiccan, and being a practicing witch. While a person can be all three simultaneously, they seldom are. The title was ...more
Jan 18, 2016 rated it really liked it
Hmm. Actually, thank you Alex Mar for writing this book. I wanted to know about this stuff.
And I probably wanted an 'objective' report, on the front side. I wanted to know what are these people up to and is it real? I couldn't find anything like this anywhere else.
I got the 'what', beautifully described. And I got a lot of dithering and doubt about how 'real' it is.
I had the feeling that if Mar had been able to commit herself wholeheartedly she would have had a much deeper experience to report.
April Jade Burgener
Oct 21, 2015 rated it it was ok
I feel so conflicted about this book. I can't help but feel my review is tainted by reading other reviews of people who were participants in the book but never gave consent to the author to publish their innermost experiences and sacred rituals. I can appreciate the author's search for spiritual meaning in her life but it felt so contrived and judgemental and now really icky knowing she didn't get consent. Why didn't she change the names of people at the very least? It was a fascinating read in ...more
Mar embeds in the modern American pagan community--in several of them, actually, since there's no such thing as a single monolithic pagan religion or body. Mainly she trains in the Feri tradition, a highly theatrical, Gaelic-infused version of paganism complete with SCA battles, hotel cons, and godly possessions. Feri seem like fairly groovy people, if a little off the beaten path of mainstream American values. Mar's adventures with OTO (Aleister Crowley's brand of Satan-worshipping witchcraft) ...more
Douglas Lord
Sep 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Mar, documentarian behind 2010’s American Mystic, presents an erudite, stirring chronicle of her highly personal journey of learning about unconventional religions. While she believes in something “transcendent,” though not necessarily the labels behind it, the somewhat agnostic Mar is drawn to the clarity, structure, and meaning that marks the faith of believers of all stripes, especially small religions like witchcraft and Wicca, etc. “I want,” she writes, “to grasp the moment that confidence ...more
Apr 06, 2016 rated it really liked it
Haters gonna hate. Oops she didn't include every variety of every obscure tradition a person could possibly attach their ego to in her personal memoir. And double oops because she didn't find ultimate truth and wisdom in the one you chose. Once you're done looking to an outsider for validation of your spiritual choices go write your own book.
So she's making money telling her story. That's why they publish books, kiddo.
Did she betray the trust of some of her subjects? None of my business, and non
Robert Vaughan
Dec 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
I found this book fascinating for its up-close and rather remarkable reveal on the current position of Witches and witchcraft in America. At times, the inclusion of the author inserted into the story line was a little squirmy for me. But other than that, it fosters the sort of conversations about an outlier belief system that I think belongs in more of a mainstream conversation. This is not new, folks! And the simple question, "who am I and what do I believe" seem to be at the core of the book. ...more
Jun 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I applaud Mar for allowing herself into her narrative - and a narrative it most certainly is. There's, of course, something interesting about the idea of a book that looks dispassionately at witches in America today... but this story is far more interesting because there is a story. It's a story of belief and self-discovery, one that the author maybe didn't even know she was writing when she started - and that makes it all the better. Don't get me wrong, there's still plenty of facts and researc ...more
Sep 28, 2015 rated it it was amazing
What a wonderfully readable and gloriously unclassifiable book this is! At once a probing, empathetic, and insightful look at religious subcultures (witches, Pagans, even a touch of voodoo), it doubles as a personal narrative exploring what it is to search for meaning. Mar writes with deep intelligence, humor, sympathy, and curiosity—using her own journey into oft-ignored corners of the world (physical and spiritual) to provide readers with an indelible trip of their own. Impossible to put down, ...more
Sep 12, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This book is an excellent slice of pagan practice in America. I know it's controversial in certain circles but I hope that doesn't deter the author from writing essays updating her spiritual progress. You do you, Alex! ...more
Jun 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I had put off reading this book for a long time based on some bad reviews that I had seen in Pagan Newsgroups. Many of the people who dismissed this book painted the author as a dabbler or dilettante and now that I have read the book I find that to me this was an unfair assessment.
The author Alex Mar begins the work by meeting a major pagan and becoming introduced to paganism by going to Pagan Conventions and joining in some rituals. She later gets training in Wicca from a priestess and also joi
Jun 13, 2017 rated it liked it
This is sometimes entertaining, more rarely informative, and ultimately just kinda whatever: is it snarky? is it not? is it confessional? is it condescending? is it funny? I feel bad because the more the author shares about her life and her garden variety personal problems (sorry girl) the harder it is to like this book b/c she's the main protagonist & frankly, she's not freaky enough. Also she can't help but mention when the ritual food is from Costco which feels really classist to me, although ...more
Rebecca Robinson
Jul 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
I feel this is one of the more important books I have read in a long time, maybe just for me, maybe for others. Basically, I picked up the book trying to better understand nouveau witchcraft and how it is practiced today. As thought, there are many layers and thought leaders from the last 200 years (approximately) that have formed the basis for modern beliefs.

Mar does an excellent job of layering in history and cultural details with her own journey into occult practices. She details her persona
Nov 17, 2015 rated it it was amazing
After a visit to Salem, MA, I wanted to learn more about the culture of modern witchcraft, Wicca, and paganism -- this book totally satisfied my curiosity and piqued new interests as well. It's written from a journalistic standpoint, but with an open, sincere desire to connect and even believe. Very interesting. ...more
Jun 05, 2017 rated it it was ok
This book wasn't about witches in America and their practices, but a woman's slow journey into a cult. ...more
Julie Mickens
This was an interesting introduction to a few strains of paganism in America, via the author's personal spiritual/intellectual/social journey.

Some of the groups described here include nature-loving eclectic pagans, Gardnerian Wiccans, 2nd-Wave-Feminist Pagans, and a youthful, semi-hipster New Orleans-based outpost of Aleister Crowley's quasi-Masonic cult. The author also spent time with practitioners of a fourth style of witchery, one I found rather interesting: a mystery cult called Feri, orig
Oct 19, 2018 added it
Shelves: nonfiction
In between the autumnal equinox and the full moon, I started Alex Mar’s Witches of America. Mar is a journalist and documentarian who researches and profiles communities of believers. She is drawn to believers of all kinds, people sure enough of anything, spiritual or otherwise, to throw themselves into an unusual life with certainty and abandon. Witches of America details her five-year journey into different strains of contemporary paganism, from Feri Samhain celebrations to Gnostic Masses to P ...more
Jan 20, 2018 rated it liked it
Mar starts off Witches of America as, at best, a skeptical observer of Pagan culture and magical practices in America. At worst, she comes across as judgmental, not of the religious claims made by the groups she observes, but of the people and their passion, seriousness, and even bodies (ugh). She brings us with her as she first immerses herself with Morpheus, a Feri priestess in California, while making a documentary film. However, Mar's interest quickly moves beyond journalistic as she feels d ...more
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Alex Mar is a writer based in her hometown of New York City. Her work has recently appeared or is forthcoming in The Believer, The New York Times Book Review, Elle, Epic, The Virginia Quarterly Review, Tin House, Atlas Obscura, The Oxford American (where she is a contributing editor), and The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2015. She is also the director of the feature-length documentary “Americ ...more

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