As the roughly twelve of you that actively follow my book reviews know, first person from me on this site is rare. Often I resort to the distant, third person “let me give you a vague impression of objectivity” voice that a surprising number of publishers find useful for the book cover pull quotes that have never influenced anyone to buy a book, ever, except maybe that one guy that one time we’re not too sure how long ago.  That’s because I do try to be objective, or if not objective, at least of a good-natured open mind.  So at this tenth anniversary of Facing North’s existence, it seems like a good time to let you see a little more of the real Diana Rajchel beyond the sideways glimpses and small wisecracks slipped in between reasons whether to buy a book or not.
When you look at my involvement with Facing North itself, beyond the endless piles of books sent to Lisa that she in turns sends out to us reviewers, my relationship is incontrovertibly personal. Not only is Lisa a close friend with a relationship going back twenty years, but when you search my name I am all over this site. As of today, I have contributed 100 book reviews (100 at year 10!) including one event review and two tarot deck reviews, I have posted one interview and in the past three years I have published three books with a book in progress as I write this.  I have here and there surfaced in mentions by other reviewers:  a Llewellyn annual review here, a book I wrote there, an anthology I contributed to over there.
Why do I contribute so much work to this site? Because Facing North gives me a way to spend time on the one topic that has captivated my interest in a way nothing else has: magic. The magic of belief, the magic of healing, the magic of science – this is what lies at the center of my heart. Reviewing for Facing North feeds this part of myself like nothing else. In my years picking up reviews for this site, with books ranging from the envied to untouchable, I have read about subjects ranging to the dangers and benefits of ayahuasca to 19th century rites of autoerotic asphyxiation to new methods of neuropsychology.  The magical way of thinking, so far outside the box that it has neither box nor universe, is ultimately my way of thinking. Facing North has given me an unparalleled opportunity to revel in this world and to expand my own.
While I don’t have time to highlight my favorite books – too busy writing! – I do want to say that I have also learned a lot as a writer. Criticizing the finished works of others when you yourself still produce original work takes a delicate balance of detachment and vulnerability. Writing seeming endless reviews has helped me understand magical books as a market, as a genre, and as an art form. In some ways I think it makes me, even at my most critical, softer and kinder than many a passionate amateur on the subject.
Pagan and magical readers are a tough crowd. Some want all writing to be rigorously academic and don’t understand a book constructed for easy consumption; others have rigid ideas of ethical models and especially early on come in with the belief that there is such a thing as a universal Pagan moral model, making deeper exploration of ethics a challenge at best. Others secretly or not-secretly think that their approach to magic really is a one true way – and God/s help you if you figure out something in your private practice that is a little too close to a hoarded secret. When these books cross my reading chair, I see all of this play out whether in autobiographies or controversies about a book I happen to be reading.
There are people, even in the happiest communities, that will crush the daylights out of any idea that isn’t theirs – or they will if you let them. If writing for Facing North has taught me anything, it is first that these people are the loudest because they are a minority – and that neither I nor anyone else needs anyone’s permission to explore an idea no matter how ridiculous it seems.  While we are still fully culpable for the results of that work, it is our mistake to make and embrace and change our minds about and break and do over until we figure out what works. That is the entire point of spending a lifetime in study of these books, especially those on witchcraft and magic. There is an eternal dance between tradition and innovation that is expressed in magic more than any other field of study. You have both – and that heretic in good company T-shirt looks pretty good on you.
Fortunately, Facing North has never subscribed to a one-way philosophy. Ideas get explored here. Diverse viewpoints are solicited. While we don’t give authors too much room to argue back – getting fixated on reviews is terrible for the next book – we do listen when they can substantiate their arguments, or when we just plain get something wrong. This has happened to me more than once.
I am looking forward to another decade reading and reviewing magical books, and another decade of helping create them. Happy anniversary, to Facing North, Lisa, and my fellow reviewers! Thank you to every writer involved for making me a better, more thoughtful writer and critic. I have always learned by reading, first for the information alone, but now because I understand what reading and reviewing can really mean when it comes to critical thought with an eye towards refining personal magical practice. Whether sublime or ridiculous, I will continue to learn something from every single item that comes my way Facing North.

written by Diana Rajchel
Author of Divorcing a Real Witch: for Pagans and the People that Used to Love Them

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