Book Review: 'Magic of the North Gate' by Josephine McCarthy
Think of the North Gate as being all around you. Think of a gate that folds around the entire ambit of your magical life, a gate that folds around yourself. Think of a hidden, yet plain visible gate that opens into all directions at once. Think of a door that is so close to you that you constantly run risk of not seeing it, like your very own skin. Think of a gate you cannot hide, turn away or run from for as long as you live in the physical realm. A gate you are constantly bound to.
The only way not to walk over its threshold is not to walk at all. Opening ‘The Magic of the North Gate’ means opening this gate that is all around you. Once you have crossed through it, there is no going back.
The 'North Gate’ is a book as daring in its approach, dense in its content and demanding in its techniques as a line of metal hooks in a steep rock face. Simply reading it will amaze you about what real everyday, practical magic can do to yourself as well as the world around you. Just like a steep rock when faced from down below this book will also scare you - about the sheer amount of work that lies ahead of you and about how insufficient your own foundations suddenly might seem.
The ‘North Gate’, however, needs you to climb, it needs you to just start out. It really is written as a companion book for your own explorative practice. While it lays out a specific line of hooks to tackle this mountain of work - reflected in the flow of its chapters - it will hint at many alternative routes, allow you to divert from it wherever you wish to and return to it as you like. The book is meant to be a guiding voice of reason while you are doing the actual work. Just like Josephine McCarthy's Magical Knowledge series, it is not meant to be a solid read cover to cover before you put on your wellies and walk out into the open...
In working this way the ‘North Gate’ treats you like an adult - an adult who wants to see the world through the magician’s child eyes again, yet aims to handle it with the care and capabilities of a grown up who takes responsibility for each action they take.
Two wonderful reviews of the book have already been shared. They provide great and detailed perspective on content and structure of the book. As I strongly recommend them if you want to learn more about the details of the book let me link them here directly:
On Amazon.com you can find the review of Paolo Sammut which closes with the following remark:
"This book is destined to become an important classic and will launch a new generation of magicians out into the world. (...) Absolutely a brilliant read and a book I'll be keeping close to since I'll have a lot to learn and practice from it for many years to come. I cannot recommend this book highly enough."
And here you can find the personal reflections on the book from Justin Patrick Moore on sothismedias.com. A great review that gives insights into how powerful this book can be once put into practice by the reader (rather than on the bookshelf after reading):
"Here is a book to keep you busy and put you to work for years ahead. It has layers and layers of meaning and learning to be extracted from it as you begin the process of working with the material. Have you heard the call of the Land? Mother Earth is in need of some folks who are willing to get their hands into the dirt and start working."
So instead of repeating what has been said already, let me add another thought if I may. In the Foreword of the book Josephine gave me the opportunity to raise the essential question of ‘Why magic?’. Similarly I want to raise the question here ‘Why another book on magic?’
Josephine McCarthy has given us five essential books on magic so far. Each one of them is completely unique. Each of them is filled to the brim with decades of genuine first-hand experience as well as occult ritual and visionary techniques that haven’t been shared in public before. Together they lay out a path of magical work and growth that will take most of us several lifetimes to integrate into our own personalities and accomplish as adepts of the Art. When you have achieved so much as a writer, when you have opened so many doors, what else can you give?
Well, surprisingly the answer is A LOT. The essential difference of the 'North Gate' lies in the fact that it is not dealing with visionary aspects of magic as its topic of focus. While it makes use of the same core techniques introduced earlier in her work, the subject they are applied to is hugely different. Where her previous work teaches us how to construct whole temples in the inner realms, how to revive ancient tombs, work with the Abyss, the stars and explore the vast desert that is the Tree of Life, this current book focusses on Malkuth, the earthly realm, the ‘North Gate‘ exclusively.
Now, why is that important or of any significance these days? It is incredibly significant in my humble opinion - as most other magical currents, orders, books and pamphlets these days are obsessed with magic as a means to either escape or manipulate the forces of Malkuth - but not to honor and work with them.
What Josephine McCarthy is offering us is a living bridge that reaches from days long gone, from days of wise women, cunning folk, herbalists and plant-doctors into our modern world. This bridge from our ancestors into todays' realm of Malkuth has not been shown in any of her previous works - and it is not shown in any other books I know of.
The names given to our ancestors in the past, however, are all slightly misleading as we learn while reading the book. They denote the outer actions only, they describe the contributions our ancestors made to their communities rather than their own focus of practice. What people remembered about them and called them after was the fact that they were able to heal, to speak to the plants, to work with the weather, to protect the crop, to divine for important journeys or critical decisions to be made... But all these names fail - or consciously avoid? - to describe the actual centre of their work: the balancing of the land tides, the working with the dead, the weaving of the fate, the daily communion with the forces and beings that form, nourish, sustain and destroy the patterns of power our world is made of. Being able to give back something meaningful to their communities was the harvest from this much harder life-long work they needed to do in the first place.
You can see now how few of these ancestors we probably had at any point in time of our past? People who were not only gifted enough to do this type of work but also persistent and humble enough to get through it were incredibly rare. So much rarer of course than the bourgeois who met in wonderfully decorated temple halls after working hours to rub some magic dust on their otherwise quite ordinary identities... What these common, simple people truly were is so much more than just healers. While they never wrote Grimoires or bothered to invent new angelic languages, while they worked free-style and free-flowing with the forces of natures most of their lives, they were the actual Priestesses of the West. What ‘The Magic of the North Gate‘ offers us is a very steep and radical course in relearning such craft long lost.
So here you have a book that is empowering us to work in union with the forces of Malkuth - not to exploit or escape from them. It is offering us a practical path to earn the privilege again of growing our own magical roots into the physical matter we are made of. A book that is the ultimate antagonism to any magical escapism you might have come across - be it in the form of romanticising the Craft, rebelling against our Christian upbringing or society’s power structures, or be it in glorifying indigenous systems of magic that are foreign to most practitioners in the West.
Here is to happy reading and hard work.