Dolnick's formula mixes useful information and advice with a brand of new-age, ancient-goddess religion that will put many readers off. Our homes, Dolnick reminds us in the introduction, are our only respite from the world, our place to find rest and rejuvenation, and a reflection of our own natures.
I couldn't help looking up from the book to see what kind of environment I had created. My bare living room walls and spare furnishings--I had always tried to lend a clean, uncluttered feeling to the room-could be cold and forbidding, according to Dolnick. But my mistake was common and easily corrected: the four elements (fire, earth, air & water) would help correct the most glaring errors. Dolnick recommended a lamp (fire), a fruit bowl (water), and some incense (air). (Wood paneling already lent a strong earth energy.)
Dolnick has advice of this kind for every room and every occasion. Throwing a dinner party? You will want pink candles, the smell of lavender, and music; fluorescent lights, silk flowers and plastic flowerpots are out. To lend playfulness to the family room, the color yellow (dandelions, perhaps), and the smell of cinnamon will help.
All without ever casting a spell. Dolnick takes pains to avoid the words Witch, witchcraft and Wicca, and her one mention of the word "pagan" (lower case), she tells us "...not to worry. Spells for hearth and home are acknowledgments, celebrations, and remedies that can incorporate your current religious (or nonreligious) affiliation."
Nevertheless, some of Dolnick's spells sound very much like prayers to Vesta, the Roman goddess of the hearth and home ("I ask that Vesta bestow her blessings and say, So be it.") Is Dolnick hoping that brushing off her spells as harmless will make devout Christians or Jews feel better about using them? Prayer and incantation are powerful when used sincerely. What's the point of using them insincerely?
A useful index and the book's simple organization, however, make it easy to navigating around the goddess-worship. And I learned a few things from "Simple Spells." I now know why some rooms make me feel the way they do. I learned how to arrange a room for a festive, or intimate, or relaxing mood, and I know which plants contribute to the atmosphere I want in my home. The spells themselves, nicely arranged on individual pages, provide some home-and-hearth rituals that go beyond sage-burning and picture hanging. And, Vesta knows, I could probably use them. Come to think of it, I might just try that spell for coziness, since the moon is waning. I think I have some grapes and cinnamon on hand. Now, if I can only find a yellow candle.