Book Review of Shadows: Orishas, Goddesses, and Voodoo Queens by Lilith Dorsey


An inspiring exploration of the goddesses of the West African spiritual traditions and their role in shaping Yoruba (Ifa), Santeria, Haitian Vodoun, and New Orleans Voodoo.

Throughout Africa and beyond in the diaspora caused by the slave trade, the divine feminine was revered in the forms of goddesses like the ancient Nana Buluku, water spirits like Yemaya, Oshun, and Mami Wata, and the warrior Oya. The power of these goddesses and spirit beings has taken root in the West. New Orleans, for example, is the home of Marie Laveau, who used her magical powers to become the “Voodoo Queen” of New Orleans.

Orishas, Goddesses, and Voodoo Queens shows you how to celebrate and cultivate the traits of these goddesses, drawing upon their strengths to empower your own life. In addition to offering a guided tour of the key goddesses of the African religious traditions, the book offers magical spells, rituals, potions, astrological correspondences, sacred offerings, and much more to help guide you on your own transformational journey. –

I was so excited to see this title when it was first announced, and I was not disappointed! We read it in the Witch n’ Bitch and not only was it great to learn something totally new, it fostered conversations about race and cultural appropriation that are so important for white witches to have. Every chapter delivers beautiful stories of strong women alongside through Lilith’s incredibly interesting voice. Much like Love Magic, this book is filled with food and music and feels more like an experience than just a good read!

I’ve always been interested in learning more about African Traditional Religions and the spirits and deities, but often struggled to find sources I felt I could trust and that grabbed my attention. Lilith is not only extremely qualified as a practitioner, but as a scholar as well.

🔮 – The biggest draw is, of course, the stories. Every chapter features an orisha, loa, goddess, or spirit (sometimes two) and tells you some of their most important stories, along with their colours and foods and ritual items, ways to make a shrine or altar to them, and just a bunch of different ways of getting to know these incredibly interesting spirits. It includes figures many of outside of these religions may be a little familiar with like Oshun, Erzulie, Marie Laveau, and even Santa Muerte. Not only does she tell you how this figure came to be so important to people, but their mythical and magical stories that, throughout the book, give this incredible picture of the creation of the world at the hands of very strong women.

🔮 – This book specifically talks about the divine feminine and it’s many faces in african traditional religions, and so every chapter is not just about the strength of these figures, but of the women who work with and worship them as well. This is one area where you can really see the difference between european goddesses and their traits and powers and the African-based figures. The women are strong warriors, some use their sexuality as a power and some do not, some command incredible forces like the seas and winds, and some change their gender and sex at will. This book is about women, but not just about (or for) cis-women. If you’ve ever been interested in how gender and sex work in different pantheons and religious systems, I highly recommend giving this book a read. It was so badass and really shows you why black women get shit DONE – whether they be human or divine.

🔮 – One of the hallmarks of Lilith’s writing for me is the music. She is a musician and dancer and even if you didn’t know it I’m pretty sure you could tell. her books sound like music to me. I hear it in the words, the sentences, the jokes and personal stories – even when she doesn’t explicitly mention music. In this book she takes the time in almost every chapter to talk about how music and dance play a part in the worship of these orishas and loas, but also recommends specific tracks and artists! She gave enough for me to create a whole playlist I could listen to whenever I was reading (see the link below!) and I was completely blown away. It gave me a way of connecting to and really FEELING the energy of these figures. Likewise, she’s a foodie and gives recipes in every chapter than include the goddess’s favourite foods and drinks and flavours. Again, this gives you a way to tangibly experience the chapter. I loved the Red Beans and Rice from the OYA chapter, and the Maroon Magick Lemonade from Marie Laveau’s chapter.

🔮 – Another way Lilith gives you to explore the energies and stories of the orishas and goddesses is through the building of altars and shrines, an setting a table. I love building altars and shrines! It’s creative and meditative and again, a really memorable way to learn about these figures in a way that’s respectful. Something interesting I learned is that certain orishas and loas don’t want to interact! So while you could have both Oshun and Yemaya on your altar, Oya does not like to be around these two at all. The offerings for these orishas should be kept separate and rituals to honour them shouldn’t be done at the same gathering or time.

🔮 – This brings us to what is no doubt the most important thing I found in this book – the rules. From the very beginning, Lilith differentiates the ATRs from modern witchcraft by making it clear that you can’t just hodge-podge something together and ignore rules and directions. These religions – Vodou, Voodoo, and La Regla Lucumi (formerly Santeria) – require study under teachers and clergy, and formal initiations. There are also many practices that are secret or kept from non-initiates to preserve the practices and traditions. not 1 chapter in this book gives you everything you need to become an initiate of any of these goddesses, and in fact she holds back just enough that it made me do research of my own. The book is full of resources and names of workers you can look up online, tips about searching for things like ritual dances or ceremonies on youtube, and even just clear boundaries. If there’s something you cannot know as a non-initiate, she tells you that. This means that the recipes and foods, songs, altars and shrines and other activities in the book are ones you CAN try out for yourself without crossing lines, theoretically. Not only do I just really appreciate having that clear line, I liked that it put me in my fucking place. I’m so used to modern witchcraft being something I can just weave and create on my own, take this, leave that, etc etc and honestly? That’s some white people shit. I realized I do feel kind of entitled to magical info, even if it’s kind of subconcious. The mentions of limits and boundaries pointed this out to me and gave me a chance to really think about those feelings.

I highly recommend this book. No matter what kind of magic your practice, what kind of gods you do or do not worship, or where you come from, this book will help you understand not only these magical practices, but where they came from and why they’re so important to the practitioners in these communities. You’ll see why young black women are flocking to these traditional religions looking for empowerment and strength (and finding it!) and ways that you can support that as a white witch while staying firmly in your lane. Plus – it’s just great! The stories are good, the writing is fantastic, and every chapter was so interesting. The shorter chapters left me hungry for more, and the list of resources in the back have already blown my book budget to smithereens.

Lilith’s Website

Her blog – Voodoo Universe

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