Of Wolves and Men – Barry Holstun Lopez

Of Wolves and Men
Barry Holstun Lopez
Scribner, 1979
320 pages

You may wonder why I have this in the animal magic category since it’s a “mundane” book. However, this is an incredibly valuable text because it pinpoints the relationship between humanity and wolves, one which has had an incredible number of ups and downs. Additionally, Lopez’ research reveals a lot of observations that teach us to rethink how we consider other animals, and this is exceptionally valuable information to the animal magician.

This is THE classic book on wolf behavior. Even more recent books, such as The Wolf Almanac, draw heavily from it.

The first part discusses wolf biology and behavior, and disproves many of the myths–including the idea that nobody has ever been attacked by a healthy wolf in North America (nobody, apparently, thought to check with American Indian experience in history). It’s an incredibly thorough look at the wolf as a physical being and its natural history.

Then Lopez goes into the tangled thornbush of wolf mythology and folklore, how our stories shaped our attitudes, adn how these manifested into the reality of wholesale slaughter.

There’s a lot of heartbreaking information about wolf hunting, and just how devastated the wolf population has been. We are left amazed that the wolf has even survived. The final pages are a reminder that we are responsible for the effects we have on others, even if the “others” aren’t human.

Our treatment of the wolf mirrors our treatment of the wild; this is a must-read, and I highly recommend it to all people, regardless of path.

Five pawprints in the snow out of five.

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Power Animals – Steven Farmer

Power Animals: How To Connect With Your Animal Spirit Guide
Steven Farmer
Hay House, 2004
267 pages (plus CD)

This book was excellent; I really enjoyed it! (The review is ONLY for the book, by the way, not the accompanying CD, which is a guided journey for finding your power animal). The author provides the basic info on working with power animals–while it could be more in-depth, it’s sufficient for a 101 level text. Don’t take it as traditional totemism, though–he seems to draw a lot from Medicine Cards-style New Age totemism, though he doesn’t cite his sources so I’m not sure where each piece of info comes from. Still, as a reference to neopagan totemism it’s a good one.

This one also avoided my “Just Another Totem Animal Dictionary” ire, as it at least presented the material in a creative way. He starts with a meditation-derived quote from the animal, then traits of people who resonate with that animal, and further ideas for strengthening the bond. In addition, the illustrations are absolutely lovely!

While it’s not the only totemism 101 book out there, it’s one of the better ones I’ve seen. Additionally, if you like his work he has a second book on the topic out, Animal Spirit Guides, which is a much larger dictionary with a lot less how-to info.

Four pawprints out of five.

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Power Animal Meditations – Nicki Scully

Power Animal Meditations: Shamanic Journeys With Your Spirit Allies
Nicki Scully
Bear & Company, 2001
280 pages

This book is an excellent pathworking tool. The meditations, aided by animals, plants and minerals, lead the reader through the psyche to repair and upgrade where needed. The journeys gentle and realistic, supportive of healing wounds but also not shirking the necessity of dealing with difficult areas. Rather than being a happy, feel-good piece of white light, it’s a series of well-balanced guided meditations that can be used by both beginning and advanced magical practitioners and lacks the saccharine feel of a lot of New Age texts.

The weaving in of the Egyptian pantheon is also well-done. Rather than creating a forced set of correspondences, the author allowed the deities (and other guides) to appear when they chose in her own pathworking for the book. The meditations themselves are quite open-ended. The guardian of the threshold, whom she visualizes as Thoth, may appear differently for different people, and while the environments may be described in great detail, the actual communication between the seeker and the guide is left to the fluidity of the seeker’s experiences.

I do wonder where she got certain bits of mythological information and wish there’d been some citations, adn there’s no bibliography. Still, considering that the book was originally published over a decade ago, it’s a bit more forgivable, as the practice of putting citations in esoteric non fiction is relatively new and still widely ignored these days. Still, given that the bulk of the book is based on the author’s own personal research through meditation, it’s more forgivable.

It’s an excellent tool for conscious evolution, and I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys animal imagery in their meditations.

Four and a half pawprints out of five.

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Book of the Dragon – Allen and Griffiths

Book of the Dragon
Judy Allen and Jeanne Griffiths
Quality Books, 1979

I was first alerted to this book’s existence via the Otherkin and Therianthrope Book List when I was looking for sources for the Field Guide. Orion Sandstorrm liked it, so I figured it was worth a look–and it was!

People may assume that because it has lots of pretty pictures that it’s not particularly in depth. On the contrary, the authors study the history of the dragon from Mesopotamia onward, covering the globe from China to Mexico. The dragon is explored as archetype, as cryptozoological beastie, as a case of mistaken identity, and as alchemical matter.

Common themes are explored, though the differences between various types of dragons are duly noted. The authors provide plenty of evidence for each statement they make in a clear, concise manner and discuss less common knowledge, such as Western and Eastern alchemy, in a way that even the newest neophyte can understand.

The illustrations are very well selected, and punctuate the text beautifully. Photographs and contemporary artistic depictions serve to bring the text to more vivid life. The text and pictures are balanced nicely, without the former being overwhelmed by the latter.

All in all, this is an excellent basic guide to world dragon mythos. The bibliography is worth plumbing for further research, but this is a great starting place.

Five pawprints out of five.

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Vampires – Konstantinos

Vampires: The Occult Truth
Llewellyn Publications, 2002
192 pages

I’m not quite sure what to think about this book.

The basic historical research about vampires is pretty much what you’d find in any other book about vampire lore. Again, my common gripe about the lack of in-text citations in pagan.occult nonfic can be found here. The bibliography actually had some surprising inclusions–Franz Bardon’s “Initiation in Hermetics” being notable in that respect.

It’s when the author gets into modern-day vampires that things get a little weird.

Konstantinos did say he got some rather….err…strange letters, usually by people who were obviously ganking their life-history from fictional sources, and so these weren’t quoted. But the quotes he did get for the most part struck me as a little ungrounded and melodramatic.

He does go into the physical dangers of blood drinking. Most people these days are aware of blood diseases, but I got a little chuckle at the idea of someone ruining their cape after discovering that enough blood will make one vomit.

His POV on psychic vampirism is a little strange, in that all “intentional” psi-vamps are noncorporeal, and any corporeal psi-vamps are “unintentional” (ie, have no idea what they’re doing.) It seems to draw a lot from the traditional occult view of vampirism a la Dion Fortune. Of course, that could just be part of “the Occult Truth”.

Personally, there’s a part of me that thinks that Konstantinos wrote everything he did (except for Summoning Spirits, which I very much enjoyed) with his tongue firmly planted in his cheek. I think he hit on a particular untapped target audience, found just the right books to toss at them, and is now laughing all the way to the bank. It’s not that he’s not serious about what he’s doing, but there’s an element of the Trickster here as well.

Two bloodstained pawprints out of five.

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Daimonic Reality – Patrick Harpur

Daimonic Reality: A Field Guide to the Otherworld
Patrick Harpur
Pine Winds Press, 2003
329 pages

If you have even the smallest interest in the Otherworld, read this book.

Harpur examines phenomena ranging from UFO sightings to black dogs and phantom cats to fairies and crop circles (and more). He regards them not as purely literal, but as denizens of what he terms daimonic reality. Daimonic reality seems in its nature to be metaphorical, but it has a very real effect on our world as well.

Drawing on Jung and Yeats, travelling to the Anima Mundi, Collective Unconscious, and Imagination-with-a-big-I, the author reveals the appearances of daimons which have evolved over time to meet our own changes, how the beings known as fairies who used to show themselves to us as diminunitive humanoids in green coats, now appear as alien humanoids in silver spacesuits–and why they’ve changed.

Harpur isn’t a debunker; he doesn’t attempt to disprove the Otherworld’s existence; rather, just the opposite. Harpur provides a unique and substantial set of theories regarding the long-running tradition of the Otherworld that has long fascinated humanity.

This is a truly well-written piece of work. It is academic rather than New Age, and the research provides a solid base for his theories. It’s not a dry read, though newbies may find it to be a bit difficult, but it’s well worth the investment of time and money. Those who identify as Otherkin will find some useful ideas on metaphorical reality that can be applied to being Other.

I can’t even begin to do it justice; all I have to say it–read it!

Five pawprints out of five.

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Bonewits’ Essential Guide to Witchcraft and Wicca

Bonewits’ Essential Guide to Witchcraft and Wicca
Isaac Bonewits
Citadel, 2006
224 pages

This is the first book on Wicca I’ve bought since my early magical experimentation, but this book kept catching my eye, so I snagged a copy. I’m glad I did.

I really recommend this as a basic history of neopaganism, to include debunking the Wicca is 10,000 years old myth, and intriguing discussion about
the early years of the community in the Gardner and Valiente era. It’s also exceptionally valuable for Bonewits’ definitions of various terms, and the appendix on the etymology of the word “witch”. Readers will also find the basic structure of Wiccan ritual and discussion of the variations thereof.

Bonewits used a wonderful array of resources, including the underappreciated Crafting the Art of Magic, as well as a decent list of recommended reading on a variety of related topics.

Occasionally I looked askance at his tone of voice–at first glance he seems rather self-aggrandizing. But I reminded myself that he has been in the neopagan community as it is from the beginning, and I think he deserves some slack for actually being there. Also, in his defense he states early on exactly where he’s coming from (dont say he didn’t warn you!) and I must say I absolutely LOVE his sense of humour! Puns, poetry, and the occasional sideways jab all make the read even better.

Finally, a little bit of a squee from yours truly–on pages 25-26 he talks about the neurotransmitter work my partner, Taylor Ellwood, has been working on. Not only did it make my day better, but it proves (along with up to date information on neopaganism in general) that Isaac is still an incredibly relevant author after 35+ years–after all, the magical community in general is constantly evolving, and a lot of people tend to get sort of stuck in their own era. Isaac, on the other hand, bridges the gap between the ’70’s and the…well..whatever you want to call this decade, quite well. Good job!

Five pawprints out of five.

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Animal Spirit – Telesco and Hall

Animal Spirit: Spells, Sorcery and Symbols from the Wild
Patricia Telesco and Rowan Hall
New Page Books, 2002
221 pages

It’s nice to see a book on animal magic that actually goes into new territory.

The authors start with some biology, a definite nice touch. They discuss how habitat, behaviors and physiological adaptations all contribute to an animal’s “medicine,” which is largely formulated from human interpretation of biological observations.

I did like the variety of areas of study and practice that were discussed. While totems and spirit guides were covered, so were such topics as animal-based feng shui and working with animal parts in magic, as well as the legalities thereof. This makes it a good 101 intro to the subject of animal magic.

I do have a few complaints. There are NO in text citations, and only a select bibliography. I want to know where they get evidence for “Shamans do this” or “The Ancients did that”–how about some qualifying citations? Or at least references to which culture(s) they’re talking about?

I also got tired of the usual lists of animal qualities in each section–that hits my Too Many Totem Animal Dictionaries button.

For the most part, though, it’s a good starter’s book, and unique in the field.

Four pawprints out of five.

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Guardian Angels – Whitaker and Blanche – BBBR December 2006

Guardian Angels: Discover the World of Angels and How To Communicate With Your Guardian Angel
Hazel Whitaker and Cynthia Blanche
Barnes and Noble, 2000
80 pages

Well, here’s the very first Bargain Bin Book Review, straight from the clearance rack at Half Price Books! This is one of those cute little gift books that the major chain stores just adore. Less than 100 pages, hardcover, and full of bright pastel and shiny gold painted illustrations. In short, it’s a fairly typical New Age angel book, at least on first glance.

The authors did a pretty decent job of researching the history of angels, starting with angel lore in Zoroastrianism and later monotheistic religions, through Renaissance artwork and into today. Granted, they didn’t go into any great depth, but it was nice seeing a brief discussion on the angels associated with the various sephiroth on the Kabbalistic Tree of Life.

Of course, the book does has plenty of fluff, too. The authors talk about faeries and devas in the same breath as angels, and paint them all with the same pink and sparkly brush. And although they do admit that angels (especially cherubs) weren’t always innocent, pretty things, they do persist in continuing to treat angels as innocent, pretty things.

The organization of the book is also lacking somewhat. The section on traditional angel magic seems to be out of place with its commands and controlling, surrounded by an angel love spell, how to talk to your guardian angel, and how to teach your children to talk to their guardian angels.

And, for the most part, there’s just no substance to it. It’s not even a 101 book. More like 001. Though I do have to give the authors credit for at least doing some research, and including their bibliography, which does have some good sources for the reader to check up on.

Overall, this is pretty much what you’d expect–a cute little gift book to give to an angel-obsessed New Age or Christian friend, but not something that serious magical practitioners or any sort would really be interested in.

Two glitter-encrusted pawprints out of five.

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Animal Wisdom – Jessica Dawn Palmer

Animal Wisdom: The Definitive Guide to the Myth Folklore and Medicine Power of Animals
Jessica Dawn Palmer
Thorsons, 2001
368 pages

Normally I really don’t care for animal totem dictionaries, just because there are so many of them. But this book ended up on my list of the Top Ten Most Unappreciated Books on Animal Magic. I wouldn’t call it “definitive,” meaning “ultimate”, but it is very thorough.

This is an incredibly detailed animal totem dictionary. There’s no spellwork, no instruction–it is purely referential. However, it’s very well executed. Palmer starts with physical characteristics and environmental factors of the species, then discusses world lore and mythos surrounding it. Next she goes into more neopagan magical correspondences, and finally a paragraph or two of her obsrvances of people associated totemically with that animal. All in all, very thorough.

It’s not perfect; occasionally she gets a fact wrong or stretches an animal’s inherent magical qualities a little farther than I’d agree with. And the discussions of the people involved are just too limiting. I don’t recommend reading it cover to cover; after a while the format does get a little tedious, though her writing style is excellent.

Still, overall this is a high-quality book that any animal magician should own. It’s a really good exception to my “I’m tired of totem animal dictionaries!” rule, and I highly recommend it as a good reference book.

Four and a half pawprints out of five.

Note: This should not be confused with Animal Wisdom by Susie Green.

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