Book Review: Outside the Charmed Circle: Exploring Gender & Sexuality in Magical Practice by Misha Magdalene
I had high hopes for Misha Magdalene’s Outside the Charmed Circle, and I am pleased to say that I was not at all disappointed. This book is a wealth of information about some of the subjects that I enjoy best: embodiment, gender, sexuality, and magic. More importantly, this book calls our attention to the fact that all of these things have an intimate connection.
This book truly is a must-read for any magical practitioner, regardless of their gender or sexuality. Whether someone is queer, straight, cis, trans, and/or nonbinary, they will get something out of this text. That said, this text is about how magic, gender, sexuality, and the body all interact with one another, and that is something particularly meaningful to those who are outside of the “charmed circle” — those whose sexuality or gender or body does not fit in with the majority of magical traditions, which favor cisgender, heterosexual, able-bodied persons. In their dedication, Magdalene says that they wrote Outside the Charmed Circle for “Queer and trans folks, newbie Pagans, fledgling polytheists, baby witches, and neophyte magicians.”
The term “charmed circle” — from which this book gets its name — is modeled off Gayle Rubin’s 1984 essay “Thinking Sex” and discussed briefly in chapter two and at length in chapter five.
Outside the Charmed Circle is arranged quite elegantly in an easily digestible format that has each chapter build upon the one before it, until the reader ultimately reaches the end finding that they have completed something like a circle — excepting of course that having gone through the text and surveyed each topic they have enriched themselves with knowledge and hopefully a level of personal and spiritual growth that they can take with them. One of the ways that this personal and spiritual growth happens throughout the text is that interspersed throughout the chapters are different exercises that the reader can perform themself, some of them seemingly simple, but all of them deeply meaningful once they have been engaged with. I haven’t performed every exercise myself, but the ones that I have each yielded meaningful introspection and changed my perception in ways big and small. The best thing about the exercises is that they build upon one another, and the skills learnt from one leads to success in another.
Another benefit to Outside the Charmed Circle is that not only does the text have thorough citations and an excellent bibliography, but there are two appendices, one that includes several books, sorted by subject, that are recommended further reading by the author, and another that lists several queer magical groups and events that may be of interest to a reader.
One of the things that I appreciated best about this text was that throughout the book Misha Magdalene not only acknowledged but called to attention where their privilege impacted the reality of what they were discussing at that point, and even as they brought to light issues of appropriation and ways in which different people are affected disproportionately by certain actions and environments, they stayed in their lane and took no liberties in every instance that I noted.
Note: In a perfect world, this note wouldn’t be needed, but, for the record & to satisfy those who wonder about my background, this review was written by a mixed race nonbinary neurodivergent polytheistic pansexual polyamorous witch. Oh and I also have a certificate from LinkedIn that says I’m really good at Excel. Not that that’s relevant.