Throughout her life, Elissa Washuta has been surrounded by cheap facsimiles of Native spiritual tools and occult trends, 'starter witch kits' of sage, rose quartz, and tarot cards packaged together in paper and plastic. Following a decade of abuse, addiction, PTSD, and heavy-duty drug treatment for a misdiagnosis of bipolar disorder, she felt drawn to the real spirits and powers her dispossessed and discarded ancestors knew, while she undertook necessary work to find love and meaning.
Nothing is comfortable in these essays, which labor through the muddy waters of intergenerational trauma, imperialism, capitalism and misogyny, using popular culture ... But this book is not about despair; it’s about sifting through the broken shards of culture, looking for messages to restore one’s spirit ... Instagram psychologists encourage people to take active ownership of their problems, but White Magic rightly recognizes the weight of historical trauma on those living today — violence that is embedded, like a poison, in bodies and land ... Though White Magic is a book of essays, it reads like a single piece, as circuitous and ambiguous as special agent Dale Cooper’s journey through the Black Lodge ... Washuta is capable of something more powerful: making sense of hard realities through deep rumination — a sort of magic ... In consumer culture, where alcohol abuse is not only accepted but also actively encouraged, Washuta’s recovery is deeply powerful ... With that knowledge and power behind her, it will be exciting to see what this talented writer turns her attention to next.
In the case of Elissa Washuta's White Magic, a better comparison is to a hand-rolled cigar — because there was clearly a deliberate layering after a series of violent events and a lot of pressure involved in the process ... White Magic is three books in one. The first is a critique of cheap, modern facsimiles of Native spiritual tools and occult practices ... The second book is a biography in which Washuta openly discusses the abusive men in her life, how a misdiagnosis of bipolar disorder lead to years on useless pills that didn't help, her identity and heritage as a Cowlitz ... Finally, the third book is a sort of fragmented encyclopedia of facts, stories, history, and even etymology ... This is a collection of mostly biographical intertwined essays, which makes it nonfiction, but other than that, this book is hard to categorize. To name all the things Washuta discusses here would be impossible because of word count constraints, but she brings it all together beautifully ... White Magic is a survival story, but one that's hard to read. Washuta's writing makes reading her a superb experience, but this is the type of book that runs toward darkness ... necessary and magical.
In this powerful collection of interlinked essays, Cowlitz writer Washuta (My Body Is a Book of Rules, 2014) explores the inescapable presence of colonization and other traumas as they circle through and around her romantic relationships, her Native identity, and even the pop culture she consumes ... Washuta’s essays refuse the mandate of a tidy resolution ... White Magic is an insightful, surprising, and eloquent record of stories of magic and the magic in stories.