Oracle Bones Divination by Kostas Dervenis

Oracle Bones Divination: The Greek I Ching
Kostas Dervenis
Destiny Books, 2014/2004
166 pages

Reviewed by innowen

Dervenis’s book, Oracle Bones Divination, describes the practice of astragalomancy—the divination using the ankle bones of an animal (in this case, a sheep). According to Dervenis, this system possibly predates the Chinese I Ching by a few thousand years. Dervenis has spent a lot of time pouring over ancient texts and poems to make sure he was able to produce a coherent and cohesive ressurection of this practice. He’s even given it a bit of a modern face-life by giving instructions on how to divine with coins instead of the bones. The book contains two parts. Part one discusses this system, how Dervenis came about reconstructing it, and how he feels it works. It also goes into a bit of historical background about the Greek’s perspective on divination and mentions a smattering of Gods who could be used in seeking guidance. Part two details the stanzas that are to be read in the divination setting. The stanzas themselves are short and a bit “mystic”. They read more like fortunetelling bits than actual advice that one could get from going to a practitioner.

To use this system, you need three coins and a question. Holding the question in your head, you then “toss” the coins and use a chart from the book to record the number. You do this five times for each question before consulting a chart in the back of the book to tell you what page to read from. This is very similar to the Chinese I Ching system. However, trying to find your 5 numbered system can take some time. Dervenis lists the order of the coin tosses in an order of “total” numbers. For example, 4-4-3-1-3 = fifteen. So I had to go to the area that lists all fifteens and then find my pattern in the next column. It’s not easy to find the numbers (the book doesn’t list all the combinations, rightfully so!).

This book is compact. It comes in at 166 pages but there’s no fluff. I liked how Dervenis introduces readers to the heart of the matter. I also like that he cites his sources and notes that if he got interpretations of the stanzas wrong, then it was his fault. I also like the fact that he’s a true resource for this system… he’s Greek and lives in Athens. This is important when it comes down to spiritual appropriation. He’s not appropriating the material, he’s trying to restore a valuable resource for his culture.

Because this book is intended to act as a real divination system, I decided to ask the system three questions (just like I do when I review new tarot decks or other systems). The results of the coin tosses (and their interpretations) come straight from the book.

1. What can you teach users?

4-4-3-1-3= page 80. My toss lead me to the “Zeus the Savior” passage, which reads, “A single one, two threes fall, and two fours: For such deeds as much transpire, with courage, take action. Proceed, for the gods send good tidings on this matter. Spare no efforts; there is nothing evil ahead for you.”

I interpret this to mean that this system can help users gain clarity and get clear guidance from this system. That it takes courage to test this out and to “learn” it but it will help you uncover what concerns you have.

2. What are your strengths?

3-6-3-3-4 page 118. This passage is called “Victory Triumphant” and reads,” One six and three threes, the fifth a four: I foresee good things, stranger, in this consultation. And he who walks in foreign lands will end his journey well. With the help of Zeus, you will soon achieve what you strive for.”

I interpret this to mean that the oracle’s strengths lie in it’s ability to give those victory over adversity.

3. What are your weaknesses?

4-3-3-1-3 page 74. This passage is called “Triton” and reads,” A single one and three threes, the fifth a four: Your attempts are in vain; you struggle against the waves. You seek a fish in the ocean; be in no hurry to act. Nor is it useful for you to make demands of the gods at the wrong time.”
Wow… okay, this is a bit spooky. It’s like the oracle has a sense of humor and knows that I am asking it about itself. It’s like this passage is all “I know what you are doing and it’s not going to work. Take me seriously, or don’t use me at all.” Point taken oracle, point taken. I’m just trying to let the readers here know what they can expect, that’s all.

Bottom Line

Oracle Bones Divination is a great introduction to using this oracular system. It gives readers history of where it came from, two ways to divine for guidance, and it even discusses some of the theory behind how this could all work and which of the Greek gods to use when casting the system. If you are curious about Greek methods of divination, then this book is right up your alley.

Three pawprints out of five.

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Sacred Plant Medicine by Stephen Harrod Buhner

Sacred Plant Medicine: The Wisdom in Native American Herbalism
Stephen Harrod Buhner
Bear & Company, 2006
208 pages

Reviewed by Ser/Ket

This book presented a lot of interesting, thought-provoking information, though it proved tough for me to get into. I believe the largest disconnect lay in the frequently referred to concept that the world we live in (the everyday, mundane world) is less “REAL” than the sacred world. For me, all is sacred in some way, even the rainbows of oil slicked across the parking lot, and doesn’t exist in a separate space. I’m not claiming any view is right or wrong, but it did require me extra work to stick with the writing.

The author explores a variety of belief systems and traditions used by indigenous people throughout history. This was enjoyable to me, as I’m not familiar with very many of these practices, though at some parts the writing came across as dry and, at times, repetitive. I enjoyed the second half of the book more than the beginning, however, where many of the plants have a lengthy discussion not only of what the plant is used for, but also their appearance, location, associations in other cultures and belief systems, and personal interactions with the plants through meditation as well as personal use.

The most resonant part of the story for me was a personal one from the author, describing his journey from doctor to doctor to determine the cause of his debilitating pain. I myself spent many years trying to root out the causes of my own pains and can empathize with his frustration and disenchantment with the world of pharmaceuticals. The author’s story ends happily, by discovering a medicinal plant and working with it to heal, and leading him on the lifelong quest documented in this book. Through his work, I can see others joining him on this path, learning to work with the plants both in their local area and featured in this book.

A final point I’d like to mention were the inclusion of occasional songs, including sheet music and lyric translation. Not something I was expecting, but a nice touch!

Overall, I would give this book a score only slightly higher than “average” due mainly to it’s writing style. For me, I need the style to move me through the material presented, and I felt this book’s style was a bit halting and difficult. The dryness, coupled with an initial difficulty to relate to the content, kept me from really enjoying my reading experience. Of the positives in the book, the songs weren’t numerous, and the author’s experience with the plants contained much of the “REAL” belief system that I’d had trouble adapting to.

Three pawprints out of five.

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Voice of the Mother Goddess by Patricia Della-Piana

Voice of the Mother Goddess
Patricia Della-Piana
Self-published, 2010
401 pages

Reviewed by Ser/Ket

I received a copy of this book from the Goodreads Giveaway, which was pretty amazing given that I also won the contest for the previous volume, The Goddess Book of Psalms! As such, I was excited to receive and read this book, and wasn’t let down.

I read this book a bit faster than the previous; instead of reading one or two a night, it felt natural to read a handful of psalms as they flowed together like poetry. Since I became familiar with her work after reading Psalms, I could sense a definite change from her natural writing voice to the style used in Voice of the Mother, and I believe her genuine when she states she was channeling.

These are all psalms full of beauty and positive energy – I can envision coming to this book after a bad day, full of frustration, and letting the love in these words push the anger away.

The variety of psalms is greater even than that of The Goddess Book of Psalms. There is a wide range of formats used, some psalms use aretalogies, some focus heavily on repetition or sensory details, and others are reassuring reminders.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and would recommend it and it’s companion to anyone seeking meditative psalms and mantras to try out in their practices.

Four pawprints out of five.

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The Goddess Book of Psalms by Patricia Della-Piana

The Goddess Book of Psalms
Patricia Della-­Piana
Lulu.com, 2008
190 pages

Reviewed by Ser/Ket

I received a copy of this book from the Goodreads Giveaway. Thank you!

I was thrilled to be the winner of this giveaway, and have the opportunity to read some of Patricia Della-Piana’s work. It has taken me a while to review this book only because I didn’t want to rush through the psalms; instead, I would read one or two a night as I felt the urge to.

Della-Piana’s psalms are numerous and beautiful, obviously written straight from her heart. So many of these I can envision becoming important parts of a practitioner’s daily prayers, and the name of a particular deity switched with “Goddess”.

I enjoy the variety of psalms included – some psalms follow a format, a general rhythm. Then in the midst of these will be a format-breaking, attention-grabbing piece that suggest an alternative format of meditation. In particular, I can see using the psalms with embedded questions for meditative writing practices, and the psalms with “I Am” statements to summon forth my own reflective aretalogies.

Overall, I enjoyed this book and recommend it to anyone looking to add some beautiful words and imagery to their spiritual practice!

Four pawprints out of five.

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A Magical Life, Volume 1 by Taylor Ellwood

A Magical Life: The Magical Journal of Taylor Ellwood Volume 1
Taylor Ellwood
Megalithica Books, 2013
344 pages

Reviewed by Nicky

A Magical Life: The Magical Journal of Taylor Ellwood, as the title suggests, is a compilation of the first three years of Taylor Ellwood’s magical blog. The blog covers events from his personal life, discusses books he is working on and includes musings of a spiritual and philosophical nature. This particular volume includes posts from 2008 until 2010. The book is divided into three parts, one per year with each entry or post divided by date and subject.

I began reading Taylor’s blog a small while ago and so was interested to read earlier entries. I am pleased to say that, overall, I was not disappointed with this book.

On a personal level, the reader could clearly see Taylor changing as he wrote. His demeanour differed noticeably when working with different elements, as he himself pointed out. When working on the element of Love, he was more emotional. When working with the element of Emptiness, his energy seemed slower and more depressed. When working through Time, it became more frenetic. It was fascinating to see how apparent these changes were. Even so, Taylor never hits you over the head with his emotional or spiritual development, it’s simply something that seeps into his words. The fact he was able to convey so much so subtly is the sign of a skilled writer.

On a philosophical level, Taylor’s musings often made me stop and think. Throughout the blog, Taylor often discussed relationships and honesty, analysing his own relationships and offering opinions based on what has worked best for him. I found his post on love magic toward the end of the volume especially worth reading, as well as his discussion of sex magic versus sex for sensation or distraction. I also agree strongly with Taylor’s assertion that to receive something, you must give something in return. My absolute favourite post came toward the end, entitled The Proof of Your Success. I highly recommend it.

Looking outwardly, Taylor included some great social commentary on the Pagan community and its general beliefs and practices. I found his thoughts on Aleister Crowley and the power – or, perhaps, lack thereof – of the Gods to be particularly pertinent. The post on President Bush as a negative manifestation was especially intriguing and his assertion that politics, that activism, can be something that is worked on internally rather than externally resonated deeply with me.

With all that excellent content, this book still had some areas that could have been improved.

One thing that slowed my reading down is that subjects jump a lot. Although the book maintains a consistent overall feel throughout, often I’d read something about a personal event, then go to something deeply philosophical, to something very spiritual, to something very practical. I felt I might enjoy it more if reading it as originally posted on his blog, where I could use tags and archives to follow my interests. The arrangement of the book sometimes gave me the feeling of “mood whiplash.” Sometimes it would take me a while to “recover” before I could read the next post.

Some posts were difficult to understand out of context. A paragraph or editor’s note here and there may have helped explain the context in these instances. I’m sure long term fans would get it but “newbies” such as myself may be confused.

Finally, this book is also a very meaty, dense book. I welcome any and all in depth content for Pagans but it did take me a long time to get through it. I think this was partly a formatting issue. The volume might have been better as a “best-of,” with a selection of the strongest posts or presented as a volume per year or two years; an entire three years in one is a lot to take in.

Overall, this is a very good book. It’s full of lots of great insights and it was lovely to watch emotional growth that has been deliberately sought after. Though this is not at all a light or quick read and there are some mood whiplash issues, it’s definitely worth a read.

Four and a half paw prints out of five.

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Beatrysel by Johnny Worthen

Beatrysel
Johnny Worthen
Omnium Gatherium, 2013
385 pages

Reviewed by Micheal

Initially, I had a difficult time getting interested in this book; the pace was slow and it started in such a way that it leaves the reader wondering why the demon is after Lady Sasha. However, I continued to read and by the third chapter, I was intrigued and as the characters developed, there’s the unethical psychiatrist, the intelligent and occult oriented professor…I became more and more fascinated with them and their interactions.

I found the book to be a nice blend of mystery, occult, and horror (only in the way that some characters died), and I have yet to read a book that has merged these genres before and Worthen did an exceptional job. The images of the Magickal temple, chants, all possess a realness that one doesn’t find too often in a work of fiction. The characters came alive with their own struggles, many of which, any reader could experience: adultery, lust, jealousy, etc. The one that might be lacking is creating a demon and a new grimoire for the modern age, however, this is developed in such a way in the book that it seems plausible and is not filled with hyperbole or cliched images of classical films.

My one complaint, would be that discovering the identity of the antagonist was too easy, I had suspicions by chapter 30 and knew who it was by chapter 40.

Overall, this was a fantastic read and one that I’ll likely read again. I can easily give it 5 paws out of 5.

Five pawprints out of five.

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Invoking the Scribes of Ancient Egypt: The Initiatory Path of Spiritual Journaling by Normandi Ellis and Gloria Taylor Brown

Invoking the Scribes of Ancient Egypt: The Initiatory Path of Spiritual Journaling
Normandi Ellis and Gloria Taylor Brown
Bear & Company, 2011
xii + 307 pages

reviewed by P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

This book has an intriguing concept, and in its scope it attempts to provide (at least) four things to potential readers: a travelogue of an especially inspirational pilgrimage to and tour of Egypt; a series of writing exercises; a group of thematic rituals and guided meditations; and personal accounts by various participants in the pilgrimage and tour that don’t necessarily have to do directly with what occurred on the trip, but may relate to their earlier experiences, or particular reflections on lessons learned as a result of the trip and the writing exercises done on it, often including short poetic compositions. To entitle this entire collection both “Invoking the Scribes of Ancient Egypt” and “The Initiatory Path of Spiritual Journaling,” however, is a bit of a stretch in both cases, unfortunately.

Information on scribal practices in Egypt is not as plentiful as many of us might hope, but it is far more extensive than is indicated in this book. While both the scribes of Egypt and the participants in this tour and pilgrimage were both “writing in Egypt,” the similarities somewhat end there. To suggest that what exercises are given in this book—however useful or profound they might end up being for some readers and writers—is in any sense a continuation of ancient Egyptian practices any more than any other type of writing done in Egypt today, or done anywhere else in the world by anyone, would need to have better lines drawn to indicate such than what is presented in this book. Further, to refer to the practice of keeping a journal of one’s spiritual exercises and reflections (which is, undoubtedly, a useful and enriching practice) as an “initiatory path” is also an overstatement. Initiation is a far more serious, intense, and dedicated spiritual practice than keeping a journal is, and many individuals keep journals as assiduously as (if not more so than) some spiritual practitioners, and yet to call one “spiritual” simply by virtue of some of the topics addressed in it is likewise an exaggeration, at very least.

For those who take the existence of the Egyptian deities seriously, some of the writing exercises might not be very palatable. Writing an “I Am Isis” aretalogical poem, for example, may strike some as impious, since that formulation and the goddess are being used as a projection screen for one’s own self-exploration.

Some of the rituals given in this book—including those at the beginning and end of the pilgrimage—are not Egyptian-specific, and in fact draw upon an eclectic range of spiritual traditions, including various Native American concepts (though no singular people or culture is named, only vague notions of totem-type animals and their desirable characteristics). In both rituals, which have a directional (East, South, West, North, Above, Below, Center) focus, ending with the phrase “…all our relations” and then “Ah ho” is the format followed. I don’t know the cultural background or training of the main ritualist amongst the group, but I can’t help but feel that doing this sort of North American indigenous tradition-inspired practice as a beginning and end to a pilgrimage in Egypt is inappropriate at best, and culturally appropriative at worst.

Egyptian tradition is not my primary area of familiarity, but even I know that some matters are rather inaccurately portrayed. The Great Sphinx is addressed by some participants as a female (p. 47), and even though the gender of the statue is not entirely certain, the Egyptians of antiquity considered it male. The Egyptian goddess Satis is called the “goddess of satisfaction” at one point (p. 57), but the etymologies of the name “Satis” and the word “satisfaction” are not at all connected (and originate in two entirely different, non-cognate languages!), and Satis herself has no direct connection to such a concept. In reference to Imhotep, the architect of the step pyramid at Saqqara (amongst many other venerable accomplishments), Gloria Taylor Brown writes “[He] is the only example of which I am aware where a historical man has been added to the pantheon of Egypt” (p. 245). Brown’s biography in the book suggests she is a lifelong student of Egyptian studies and teacher of Egyptian mysteries. Thus, it is rather upsetting that she doesn’t seem to know about the possibilities for deification of humans that are present in a great deal of ancient Egyptian religion, nor the further examples of it, including Petesi and Paher (whose temple is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York), and which continued through to the early second century of the current era as well with, at very least, Antinous. Granted, few amongst the pharaohs, even, achieved renown as great as Imhotep, but he is far from the only example.

For readers who are not interested in a close study of Egyptian precedents for spiritual practice, and who don’t mind a fair bit of New Age material (including references to Edgar Cayce, Omm Sety, and various other New Age-Egyptian connections), as well as spiritual traditions from a variety of other cultures, being mixed into the ever-intriguing cauldron of Egyptian “mystery,” this will be a very satisfying book. What I found the most interesting and useful about it was the photos and the two principal authors’ narratives about some aspects of the various sites that were visited on the tour. The type of writing exercises offered here are found in many other places, and if approached outside of the specific Egyptian tour and pilgrimage context, may be just as effective to pursue for those who wish to do so.

Two pawprints out of five.

The Secret History of Poltergeists and Haunted Houses: From Pagan Folklore to Modern Manifestations by Claude Lecouteux

The Secret History of Poltergeists and Haunted Houses:  From Pagan Folklore to Modern Manifestations
Claude Lecouteux, translated by Jon E. Graham
Inner Traditions, 2013
vii + 246 pages

Reviewed by P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

Those who are familiar with the various books published by Inner Traditions that are translations of earlier (usually French) monographs by Claude Lecouteux will be familiar with this great professor’s style, his thoroughness, and the academic rigor he brings to surveying his subjects in comprehensive manners.  Generally, his books present the reader with a wealth of excerpts from primary sources, and his commentary on these is generally cogent and highly valuable.

Unfortunately, this particular book does well in the primary source quotations department—perhaps too well and too extensively at some points—but falls very short in its analysis of the materials.

The book’s subtitle is somewhat misleading:  the majority of the sources he cites are from the later middle ages (generally after 1400 CE), and while some more modern (20th century) accounts are detailed, the elements of “Pagan Folklore” are not as abundant as one would hope if that context is named in the subtitle.

In essence, Lecouteux’s typological analysis of poltergeists and haunted houses groups these phenomena by particular prevailing interpretations of each phenomena:  the poltergeist or haunted house as a variety of noise-making spirit, a manifestation of the restless dead, an instance of pesky household spirits, and demonic activities being the main categories explored.  This is an interesting and noteworthy schema, because when an exorcism is performed by Christian clergy but the culprit of a given “knocking-spirit” phenomenon is a household spirit rather than a demon, of course that methodology does not drive the household spirit away.  For modern readers who are looking to this book as an historical sourcebook for tips and clues on how to best implement one’s own interactions with such spiritual beings, this making of distinctions is an important and useful take-away from reading this systematized collection of data.

Sadly, an overarching interpretation of the entire corpus by Lecouteux is lacking here (though present in many of his other works).  While in some of his other works this can be a slight hindrance to understanding particular (often outlying) instances of whatever phenomenon he is discussing, or they can stretch the transmitted evidence to near the breaking point, with this particular collection of evidence, a conclusion that is more substantial than “it all depends on how you look at it,” in essence, would have been more desirable.

Readers may find this book valuable for the corpus of lengthy primary source excerpts itself, however, and thus anyone who is interested in this subject will want to review this material in Lecouteux’s book themselves personally.

Three pawprints out of five

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The Tradition of Household Spirits by Claude Lecouteux

The Tradition of Household Spirits: Ancestral Lore and Practices
Claude Lecouteux
Inner Traditions, 2013
228 pages

Reviewed by Lupa

Household spirits are one of those topics that gets referenced frequently in passing, but doesn’t really get a thorough treatment itself. I rather feel that the spirits of the home have been nowhere near enough attention despite their ubiquitous nature, and so I was pleased to receive this book as a treatise on the subject.

Mind you, this isn’t a modern “here’s how to placate the household spirits” book. Like other of Lecouteux’s works, it’s primarily a literature review, albeit a thorough one if your interest is primarily in European traditions. He collects information and tales of the spirits of abodes across the European continent, and organizes them nicely into a series of chapters that look at how houses were constructed, and then the sorts of spirits that may live there.

Do be aware that he doesn’t really gauge the veracity of sources; for example, the Malleus Maleficarum is given equal footing with the rest of the bibliography; additionally, some of the sources are quite dated. However, the bibliography is quite thorough (if mostly not in English) so if you’re a polylinguist and want to hunt down some of his source material, you have a wealth of options.

Even if you just want to emulate your ancestors (or someone else’s ancestors, for that matter), there are some practices described in passing, such as how to honor or not anger certain spirits, offerings, and the like. Again, it’s not a how-to book, but it is a nice survey of spirits that you may wish to research further.

Four pawprints out of five.

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Faery Tale by Signe Pike

Faery Tale: One Woman’s Search for Enchantment in a Modern World
Signe Pike
Penguin Group, 2010
300 pages

Reviewed by Ser

This book I picked up from my local library on a whim. Browsing my favorite Dewey Decimal sections, I came across this unobtrusive, green-spined book about faeries. While faeries aren’t a topic I generally choose to read about, I was feeling adventurous and figured, “why not?”, and took it home with me.

I am pleased that I did; I love this book! The author, Signe Pike, chronicles her personal journey to discover if faeries really do exist. Her path takes her across the British Isles, visiting many famous historical sites, and stumbling across lesser-known sites along the way.

The author met many different people during her trip, each contributing their own stepping stone to complete her path. From famous fantasy world builders to a troupe of unlikely motorcyclists, Signe’s open and accepting personality welcomed each person into her circle and created lasting memories.

This book was written gently; while there is a lot of discussion of history and mythology, it isn’t written with the scholar in mind. Faery Tale is written for the hopeful, the ones who still lie awake at night, one eye opened, wondering if that noise really is a creature in the closet even though they stopped believing ages ago. The language is casual and welcoming, honest and open for discussion.

I feel there is so much to be gained from this book – information about the places she visited, as well as subtle life lessons – that I’m almost convinced it could be worth a second read (a rare occurrence for me!). The most touching message I took from the book is so simple, and perhaps often overlooked: trust your intuition. Perhaps this is too often ignored by people today, both in the magical communities and elsewhere. People are so concerned with doing things correctly, and making sure everything is real, that their focus on accuracy chases away the faery dust and glimmering lights. Just going with your intuition can bring about so many opportunities for adventure, for revelation, and for just plain fun!

Five pawprints out of five.

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