Totemism – Jean-Claude Levi-Strauss

Jean-Claude Levi-Strauss
Beacon Press, 1971

This was a vital source for the totemism chapter for my own book on animal magic. It’s a classic anthropological text on the subject as pertains to indigenous cultures around the globe.

Strauss spends much of the time explaining and exploring the various theories about totemism that developed in the first half of the 20th century. The book first came out in 1962, and it’s interesting to trace the deveopment of social anthropology through contemporary quotes.

The information itself is quite solid, and makes for good source material for traditional totemism. It’s not the easiest read in the world, and it comes across as very much an academic text. However, it’s well worth slogging through the lingo (if you aren’t already familiar) and the translation is excellent.

Highly recommended for anyone interested in totemism from any angle, particularly pagans who may yearn for more academic looks at totemism.

Five pawprints out of five.

Want to buy this book?


Cloisters Bestiary – Metropolitan Museum of Art

Cloisters Bestiary
Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1960
60 pages

A rare find in a used bookstore, this is an assemblage of lore from medieval bestiaries,the collections of quaint and often fantastic natural histories of animals ranging from stags and wolves to unicorns and dragons.

“A Cloisters Bestiary” draws primarily from T.H. White’s “Book of Beasts” which itself combined material from a number of medieval texts. It is illustrated with photographs of contemporary sculptures, illuminated scripts and other artwork contemporary to the bestiaries, including some fine details from the Unicorn Tapestries.

It’s a quick read–60 pages, mostly pictures, more meant as an example than heavy reading material. Still, it captures the spirit of the medieval bestiary very nicely, and is good for a reference of that particular literary niche. The animal magician will find it useful as an example of where certain beliefs, particularly about mythical beasts, were derived.

Four pawprints out of five.

Want to buy this book?

The Chicken Qabalah – Lon Milo DuQuette

The Chicken Qabalah of Rabbi Lamed Ben Clifford: Dilettante’s Guide to What You Do and Do Not Need to Know to Become a Qabalist
Lon Milo DuQuette
Weiser Books, 2001
233 pages

Let me start by saying that this is the first book that was able to effectively explain the Qabalah to me. I tried Fortune’s basic book, and the language just threw me off enough that I got nothing out of it. Thanks to the dear old Rabbi, I’m in much better shape.

The basics of the Qabalah/Kaballah/Cabala/Quwwwabbballlooooraaahhh are explained in plain terms that it would be well-nigh impossible to misunderstand. Sure, the writing is easy to read, but there’s definitely solid information within it.

And the humor is priceless. I will now never forget that the Hebrew letter Lamed looks like “a snake that has swallowed a brick and is now having second thoughts”.

Highly recommended for anyone who wants to learn the Qabalah, even if it’s just basic understanding as in my case. And with that, I say…

Hell yes! I’m a chicken Qabalist!

Five chicken scratches out of five.

Want to buy this book?

The Personal Totem Pole – Eligio Stephen Gallegos

The Personal Totem Pole: Animal Imagery, the Chakras and Psychotherapy
Eligio Stephen Gallegos
Moon Bear Press, 1990
183 pages

If I had to pick one book as the most important one in my Top Ten Most Underappreciated Books on Animal Magic list, this would be it.

The author had, prior to this book, no real experience with animal imagery, though he had some experience with meditation technique and the like. He discovered totemic animals associated with each of his seven primary chakras quite by chance, and created a wonderful system of it. The book deals not only with how to find these totems, but also how to interact with them and supports his findings with anecdotes from patients.

The real value here is that A) he acknowledges that these totems have independent existences rather than simply personifying the energies of the chakras, and B) describes pathworking that involves holding councils with the animals. Additionally, he notes that the animals evolve as the patient grows.

Be aware that this isn’t some spoonfeeding text. He doesn’t actually give a how-to, step-by-step procedure. However, it’s pretty apparent to anyone with any magical experience whatsoever what it is he’s describing in the text; both my husband and I were able to independently figure it out without any problem. If you’re looking for a totemism 101 book, check out some of the other reviews I have in the Animal Magic category on the left sidebar for suggestions. Then come back and get this book!

I have used this book to good effect, and I highly, highly, highly recommend it for pathworking. I’ve also used it as a source in my first book, and sincerely hope that the pagan and magical community recognizes “The Personal Totem Pole” for the true gem that it is.

Five pathworking pawprints out of five.

Want to buy this book?

Animal Spirits – Nicholas J. Saunders

Animal Spirits: An Illustrated Guide
Nicholas J. Saunders
Little Brown and Co., 1995
256 pages

Here’s another book that ended up on my Top Ten Most Underappreciated Books on Animal Magic list.

It’s not aimed specifically at pagans; rather, it’s a more general audience text on the symbolism and folklore surrounding various animals from around the world. While a lot of the information is historical rather than modern, it’s still rather easy to translate it into practical usage.

The text itself is easy to read without being fluffy, and is punctuated well with a variety of lovely full color pictures. The material is preossionally presented and well-organized.

I’d really recommend this as a more high-quality totem dictionary of sorts; while it doesn’t have the same formulaic feel, it’s good basic information on both wild and domestic animals that animal magicians may find useful in their studies. It’s a part of the “Living Wisdom” series, and there are several other books in this series I’m looking forward to reading.

Five pawprints out of five.

Want to buy this book?

Familiars – Anna Franklin

Familiars: Animal Powers of Britain
Anna Franklin
Capall Bann, 2001
400 pages

This is an exploration of familiars (the British term for totems/power animals). Franklin weaves in a variety of mythology–mostly British and Irish Celtic, but a bit of other areas as well–and includes biological information, superstitions, totemic info, and for some, guided meditations. Each section is very thorough.

She also has a wonderful writing style, very easy to read, and she has a good variety of animals that are particularly relevant to the U.K. There’s a good variety, and it’s apparent that Franklin has really enjoyed this area of study and practice.

I do have a few complaints. Occasionally she repeats herself, which gets old after a while. The book not only has no citations, but completely lacks a bibliography! That takes it down a few points in my opinion, because how are readers supposed to know where she gets information that isn’t her own? And where can newbies find more reading material?

Still, overall, I’m keeping my copy, and using it as a reference guide for my totemism classes.

Three and three quarters pawprints out of five.

Want to buy this book?

Ecoshamanism – James Endredy

James Endredy
Llewellyn, 2005

This book came to me at just the right time. I’d moved into a new house, and was just preparing to get settled into this novel envirinment, including my yard. This book has some wonderful and innovative ideas for reconnecting with nature in a number of ways.

His opening deals with the connection between shamanism an the environment. The entire chapter explaining the differences between traditional indigenous shamanism, neoshamanism/core shamanism (ie, buy a crystal and take this seminar and you’re a real-live shaman!) and ecoshamanism (drawin from traditional shamanism but with the community being served bein the entire Earth and all inhabitants thereof) is worth the price of the book alone.

The following chapters deal with various aspects of ecology without guilt tripping, but also over 50 exercises that are designed to help the reader be more in tune with nature. Rather than simple little things like sticking feathers in your hat band, the rituals include being buried alive overnight, and an impressive hunting ritual that can take a year or more to complete.

This book is very Earthy, and much, much grittier than the lip service a lot of “nature” based books give. Endredy takes us beyond tossing bird seed out in the yard, has us running through the mud, and getting to know Nature no matter the discomfort. It gets us truly grounded, and we learn from that experience.

I really enjoyed the exercise of mapping out special places in nature from childhood. I can clearly remember the various wild spots that were sacred to me when young, and, like Endredy, I saw most of them destroyed by development and human encroachment. This helped me to heal that connection to innocence and purity that often gets lost in the craziness of adult life.

I can’t say enough good about this book. I believe it should be read by anyone who seeks to follow a true Nature-based path, rather than abstracting Nature into symbols and seminars that separate us from the dirt and the rain and the blood. I would suggest it in tandem with The Earth Path by Starhawk.

Five pawprints out of five.

Want to buy this book?

Daughters of the Earth – Carolyn Niethammer

Daughters of the Earth
Carolyn Niethammer
Simon & Schuster, 1995
450 pages

This is on of the best books I’ve read all year; it’s a study of indigenous American cultures prior to the 1900’s, and focuses specifically on women’s roles in the various tribes.

Niethammer breaks the stereotype of the Indian woman was of a hunched, overburdened human pack animal trailing a string of children while her husband rode a fine steed. She provides evidence that while a woman’s place tended to be in the home, it was as a counterpoint to the man’s role as hunter and warrior. While the feminist may initially balk at these traditional sex roles, it is importat to remember that A) these are not modern European-derived American cultures that are being discussed, and B) the home was a place of great power, influence, and control in many tribes.

Thankfully she also was careful to explain each tribe as a separate entity instead of a monolithic “Native American” megaculture. In each chapter, Niethammer explores a certain facet of everyday life for women in a variety of tribes, and I enjoyed exploring the spectrum from conservative to liberal in areas such as sex and gender roles, religion, births and deaths, and other daily occurrences.

It can be difficut for modern Americans to understand, given that we live in a culture where food is always plenty, health care is relatively easy to procure, and the mortality rate is exceptionally low. But where obstacles ranging from drought and famine to attacks by rival tribes to epidemic illneses were constant threats, the roles were in place to help each culture survive in its own environment. Cultural objectivity is necessary here.

Occasionally she does get a bit patronizing. For instance,after speaking about malignant witchcraft in various tribes, she explains away these peoples’ beliefs and passes them off as simply effects of a boring day to day life. Unfortunately, this relegates their beliefs entirely to the realm of superstition.

Other than that, though, this is a very, very well-written book. Niethammer’s writing style moves quickly and engages the reader, and the information is solid and thorough.

Four and a half pawprints out of five.

Want to buy this book?

Earthly Bodies, Magical Selves – Sarah M. Pike

Earthly Bodies, Magical Selves: Contemporary Pagans and the Search for Community
Sarah M. Pike
University of California Press, 2001
315 pages

There aren’t enough stars out there for this one! This is one of the few examples of academic studies of the pagan community that manages to not be condescending and too concerned with the details. The author immersed herself in the pagan gathering culture by going to Starwood and a number of other large festivals, and the result is superb.

The pagan festival is presented as a place outside of mundania, a piece of Faerie on Earth where pagans can come and explore themselves, *be* whoever they are, without fear. Pike also explores how childhood experiences shape adult identities, and how the child self is brought to the fore in the freedom of the gathering.

It’s not all love and sparkles, though. One entire chapter is dedicated to cultural appropriation by neopagans, primarily of Native American cultures, but also of Afro-Caribbean religions as well. She also describes the hypocrisy of Christian-bashing, though she does explore its roots in negative experiences with churches. And she doesn’t ignore the fact that problems do occasionally crop up, from annoyed neighbors to sexual predators.

Despite being an academic text, the writing is anything but dry. And her citations are flawless, something that I wish more authors would duplicate.

Overall this was a very, very accurate and enjoyable read, good, bad and ugly. I recommend it not only for pagans to get an honest look at themselves from a curious outsider’s viewpoint, but also to nonpagans as one of the best introductions to pagan culture.

Five pawprints out of five.

Want to buy this book?

The Compleat Vampyre – Nigel Jackson

The Compleat Vampyre: The Vampyre Shaman, Werewolves, Witchery & the Dark Mythology of the Undead
Nigel Jackson
Capall Bann, 1995
180 pages

Sometimes a book promises something grand, and then falls short of its mark. This is one of those books.

I like the basic idea. Jackson brought together a large amount of folklore regarding the supernatural in Slavic and Baltic Europe, and then applied it to shamanic experience. He pulled out some fairly obscure information, which impressed me.

The problem came when I actually tried to read the book cover to cover.

I found parts of it stylistically impossible to read. Much of this was due to a lack of transitional phrases from one piece of information to the next. The various beings, archetypes, and motifs weren’t tied together in a particularly convincing manner, and not enough to support the author’s thesis. While the idea he wanted to support was clearly defined, he didn’t use his material very well to support it. It came across as a rather poorly edited draft rather than a completed book.

I also didn’t care for his scholarship; for example, he drew on the work of Margaret Murray, which has already been disproven a number of times. That and other outdated material on witchcraft really damages the integrity of the research. While he included a bibliography, because there were no citations there was no way of knowing exactly where he got certain facts.

Th ebook really could have used better editing overall, even in proofreading terms. He continually confused “its” and “it’s”–“it’s” is the contraction of “it is”, not the possessive, which is “its”. As in “The werewolf shed its skin,” not “The werewolf shed it’s skin”. This really made me wonder about the rumor that Capall Bann doesn’t actually have in-house editors and just expects the authors to edit their own work.

I’d love to see a rewrite of the book by the author. The idea is a good one, but the execution of it is so bad that a lot gets lost in translation, so to speak. I think I know what he’s tryig to say, but without better editing there’s no way to know for sure.

Two and a half pawprints out of five.

Want to buy this book?

« Older entries Newer entries »