Book review: Initiated: Memoir of a Witch by Amanda Yates Garcia

I listen to the podcast Strange Magic, which Amanda Yates Garcia co-hosts, as soon as it airs each week. I went into this book familiar with her background, practices, and conversational voice.

Still, I didn’t read it right away, and was a bit nervous to read it at all, because the last few memoirs I’ve read have been disappointing.

Specifically, the last few memoir slash manifesto slash snapshots of history written by successful women (sometimes also witches) have felt messy and shallow. Instead of diving in, I waded trepidatiously.

This story is a memoir of how AYG became the Oracle of LA. It’s not super linear, or at least, the chronology isn’t always easy to follow. But that doesn’t really matter. Nobody becomes who they are through a neat progression of A to B to C,

We wax and wane, we repeat old phases, we move forward in sudden leaps or hesitant tiptoes, we stagnate, we regress.

This book manages to be both organized and vaguely disorienting, which feels intentional and powerful rather than haphazard, and I think that method makes for an especially powerful memoir.

AYG is not afraid to share her weaker moments. She’s not afraid to paint herself in an ugly light, and she does so with self-awareness and emotion. This is a story of becoming, but it doesn’t try to be a textbook hero’s journey. Without going into too much detail, the book ends on a beautifully human note, not the “and she had her shit together happily ever after” trope some memoirs fall into.

This book explores witchcraft through multiple generations of personal experience and deep research. Her mom is also a witch, so she has the advantage of firsthand exposure to a previous generation’s style of blending feminism and witchcraft. But while many people could have that background, AYG examines her relationship with her mother, her mother’s relationship with herself, and both of their relationships to the goddess with a compassionately critical, very on-point lens.

AYG has had some wild adventures over the decades. Everywhere from California to London to Amsterdam, and they range from entertaining to bewildering to tragic. As far as memoir content goes, it’s an enjoyable ride.

But to call the book simply a memoir is to look at a black and white still of a technicolor play. This book is a memoir, a manifesto, and a history, all threaded together by a sparkle of grimoire, and it works. It works as all of these things and is peppered with truly profound insights and beautiful turns of phrase.

I listened to the audiobook, and I don’t know if I would recommend that form. I liked getting to hear her sing prayers and spells to their intended tunes, and in general I like the audio format for a memoir. I think I will, eventually buy a physical copy, though. This is a book I’ll want to revisit in pieces in a way that’s a bit more difficult on audio.

I also personally like a fairly stoic narration, or at least a very casual and conversational one. For me it’s easier to pay attention to the words when there isn’t a lot of narrative flourish. For a large portion of this book, the speaking style is more dramatic than I expected based on how AYG speaks on the podcast, and for some people I think that will be a big highlight. If you love a dramatically told story, get the audio. If you’re like me and need a more straightforward narration to help you focus and absorb, get the book. In either case, I’m assuming if you’ve read this far it’s a book that potentially interests you, so please do yourself a favor and pick it up. It’s an absolute treat.