Animal Powers Meditation Kit – Farber and Zerner

Animal Powers Meditation Kit: Spiritual Guidance from Your Totem Teachers
Monte Farber and Amy Zerner
Zerner/Farber Editions, Ltd., 2006

43 pages, 12 cards, 1 CD, 12 pendants

I have found the totemic answer to the “Teen Witch Kit”.

There has been a recent fad ever since Silver Ravenwolf came out with her kit in 2004. A number of authors have come up with similar prefabricated spell kits, meditation kits, and similar “everything you need in one box!” kits since the TWK came out (despite the fact that the reviews on it were largely negative).

Farber and Zerner have found their own niche in this fad with the Animal Powers Meditation Kit. It includes a small booklet, a number of cards with pictures of the animals on them, a CD to go along with your meditations, and twelve pendants, one for each animal covered, with a cord to hang them on.

At first I thought “Hey, this is a great idea!” The authors don’t claim that this is the do-all and end-all of totemic work; it’s their own system that they created, based on their own meditations. It’s obvious that they put a lot of thought into it, and that it’s very personal to them. They also avoided the bulk of cultural appropriation that so many totemic authors fall into.

The artwork is absolutely beautiful; woodcuts by Zerner’s mother, and Zerner’s own collages, illustrate the kit with vibrant colors and vivid representations of the animals. And the idea of the kit it self isn;t so bad; a book to help you learn meditations while focusing on the card that represents a particular animal whose qualities you want to emulate, listening to a CD with music and affirmations associated with that animal, and wearing the pendant of the animal to help remind you that you do have those qualities.

Unfortunately, the actual execution wasn’t all that great. The booklet is only 43 pages long, and while the material is good, I was lefting wanting to know more. How did they develop this system? Do they have any anecdotes as to how it has helped them or other people? Has the kit been “road-tested” by other people?

Additionally, because of the structure of the kit, it’s limited to only 12 animals, and most of these are some of the more “popular” ones–bison, horse, cat (cougar), etc. Only one insect, butterfly, and dolphin represented all aquatic life. While there’s variety compared to, say, the books that try to be more Indian than thou, it’s still pretty limited. Their writings on those animals are decent, but I think they could have gotten away with about 30 animals in this format. If making the pendants was an issue, they could have done 15 double-sided ones.

And that leads me to the “extras”. The CD, while well-intentioned, wasn’t all that great. I was enjoying the music–until the people (I’m assuming the authors) started talking. Gods love them, I’m sure they put a lot of effort into writing just the right affirmations, but the only thing I could think of was “New Age Animal Totem Spoken Word”. I don’t know if it was just the way they recited them, but it just did not work for me at all.

The cards that you contemplate during meditation are quite lovely, and I like the concept. Part of the cardboard packaging is designed to stand up and display an individual card, which is a nice way to keep from wasting even more cardboard and plastic (these kits tend to require a lot more packaging than you’d think). The pendants had nice little designs based on the woodcuts, but the plastic used was incredibly cheap. They’d look a lot less tacky if good quality resin had been used.

This is why mass-manufactured “kits” aren’t really my favorite thing in the world. I like handmade spell kits made by individual pagans and shops; because the items inside are of a good quality and often given blessings by the creator. This, and all manufactured kits, falls far short of that level of quality.

All in all, as I said, the idea was a good one, but the execution really wasn’t all that great.

Two pawprints out of five.

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Ritual Body Art – Charles Arnold

Ritual Body Art: Body Painting for Ritual & Magic
Charles Arnold
Phoenix Publishing, 2001
176 pages

When I first got this book I thought it was going to be a hell of a lot more advanced than it is. Instead, it’s useful only because it draws together a whole bunch of magical correspondences, which you could get out of a collection of Cunningham’s books.

This isn’t to say there isn’t any good material in it. If you’re new to paganism and don’t know much about correspondences, and want to play with body art a bit, this is a good book for you. The chapters mainly deal with color symbolization, oils, materials you’ll need, props and jewelry, and some common symbols you may want to try using. There are also some suggestions on how to tailor body painting to different Sabbats and Esbats. In short, it’s a very basic how-to-get started guide.

The examples are rather limited, and divided sharply by a polarized view of male and female–there’s a lot of “male this” and “female that”, and, in addition, are heavily fertility-based, particularly for women. Pregnancy and childbirth get a lot of time, especially in the photos in the center. And his only body art for a woman who has had an abortion involve tears of mourning and a bloodstained hand–in fact, it’s the exact same design as miscarriage except for the bloody hand. How about an abortion design of rejoicing in one’s own choice, maybe with an Artemisal motif? Granted, the reader can certainly create new designs, but couldn’t the examples have been a little more imaginative and varied?

I’d really only recommend this book to beginners who don’t have the cash to pick up a few books on correspondences and symbols. It’s a good pocket guide, but nothing I’d be running out to buy.

Two pawprints out of five.

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The Virtual Pagan – Lisa McSherry

The Virtual Pagan: Exploring Wicca and Paganism through the Internet
Lisa McSherry
Weiser Books, 2002
192 pages

This is one of those books that has a definite audience. While most of the information in it will be familiar to the majority of people reading this review, there are people for whom it is perfect. Those people are the ones who may or may not be new to paganism, but who are relatively new to the Internet.

The general overview of the book is that it’s Wicca 101 + Internet 101 – the pagan internet 101. McSherry explains the basics of both Wicca and getting online with excellent detail–she thinks of pretty much everything. It’s a good beginner’s book just for that material.

However, where this book really shines is in online group dynamics. It’s obvious she has the experience she claims, as her writing is thoroughly backed up by anecdotes. She’s careful to explain how online communication differs from in-person communication, how misunderstandings can arise even easier, and how to deal with a setting that is more easily left than a HPS’ home. She also guides the reader through reasons to (or not to) join up with an online group.

I only have two very minor quibbles. First, she uses Wiccan and pagan interchangably, and on p. 9 says that all pagasn follow the Wiccan Rede. That’s not so–I and many other pagans follow neither the Rede nor any ethical statement like it. The other minor gripe is on p. 45, she says not to follow any group that accepts outlandish things like pop culture entities and the Illumunati as “truth”. As someone who has worked my fair share of pop culture magic (and who is married to Taylor Ellwood, author of the book, Pop Culture Magick) I do have to disagree that modern mythology is less effective *in practice* than ancient mythology. If we can use modern ritual tools to work with ancient beings, we can also use modern (and ancient) technology to work with modern mythology.

However, those two points are two very minor disagreements I have, and they do not take aweay from the quality or purpose of the book. If you know somebody who’s just getting online, and they’re pagan (new or not) pickup a copy of “The Virtual Pagan” for them. I really wish I’d had this back in the mid-90’s when I first discovered paganism and the internet about the same time, becuase it *really* would have made my introduction a lot smoother–and probably helped me to avoid some of my early flame wars!

Edit, 12 February 2007: Lisa emailed me this response to my quibbles ‘n bits (she is a nifty person, by the way :):

“The first one was the result of a young writer getting a tad steam-rolled by a publisher. In retrospect, I didn’t think it through and I let them make an editorial decision I now regret.

The second. . . well. . . all I can say is that I HADN’T heard of anyone even vaguely respectable working with pop culture. I certainly wouldn’t say anything like that now. (Although, I still think people who buy into conspiracy theories and secret groups like the Illuminati are more likely in the ’10 foot pole’ category than trustworthy. J )

Far be it from me to shit on modern magic!”

So there you have it!

Five 1337 pawprints out of five.

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The Oak King, the Holly King and the Unicorn – John Williamson

The Oak King, the Holly King and the Unicorn: Myths and Symbolism of the Unicorn Tapestries
John Williamson
HarperCollins, 1987
260 pages

This book is a must-read for neopagans. Williamson details a large portion of medieval symbolism that, while superficially Christian, is at the core Greek, Roman, or Northern European in origin, shown through the multilayered iconography of the seven Unicorn tapestries.

He draws from sources thst are generally respected, if sometimes somewhat dated–Frazer, Campbell, Eliade, Graves–as well as lesser known scholars like Ananda Coomeraswamy. This is academic work, not neopagan, though the writing style is incredibly accessible.

Of particular note are the ways the author traces the nonmedicinal meanings of herbs and other plants and why those traits are applied to animals as well. There are some definite surprises–even the Unicorn represents a multitude, from Christ to other dying vegetation deities, from the Sun to the Moon. He weaves in the cycle of the Oak King and the Holly King, supported by the constant presence of those plants in the tapestries at key points. This is sure proof of that particular motif so beloved by many neopagans.

My only complaint is that he recycles quotes throughout the book, but this is an incredibly minor stylistic detail compared to the solidity of the text. This book is essential for those curious about the origins of herbal and animal properties from medieval times, as well as proof of the Oak King/Holly King symbolism as something older than the 20th century.

Five pawprints out of five.

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The Second Circle – Venecia Rauls

The Second Circle: Tools for the Advancing Pagan: Tools for the Advancing Pagan
Venecia Rauls
Citadel, 2004
240 pages

This is one of several books on Paganism 201 that have come out recently. It’s definitely recommended!

The comparison of the pagan path to the progression of apprentice – journeyman – master is aptly utilized. I’m also very impressed by the book chapter, wherein Rauls shows the reader the many different avenues that can be travelled outside of the metaphysical section. That’s where paganism 201 can really be found!

I’m also fond of all the Jungian imagery she brings in. She talks particularly about his concept of synchronicity, and how it relates to magical practice. Definitely another good lead for the intermediate seeker.

And I do have to give her two thumbs up for explaining the differences between pets and familiars. Her discussions on magic, particularly how deities aren’t always necessary, and the ethics of magic, are also highly recomended reading!

I do have a few complaints. On p. 24, she says that all alchemical texts were really just referring to sex–in actuality, sex is just one way alchemy can be interpreted; the original alchemists were speaking both of the literal physical components as well as personal enlightenment. Also, I think her chapter on omens and synchronicity shpuld have warned that people very easily can create self-fulfilling prophecies, *looking* for ways to prove what they *think* (subconsciously) will happen and ignoring other signs (ie, anything long and cylindrical being called a cigar).

In her section on visiting magical spaces created by others, either ancient or modern, she neglected to tell people not to mess with others’ ritual areas–ie, if you see a sand painting by a modern Native, don’t add things to it just because you think you should! And, on p. 134, she says that animal sacrifice is illegal. It is, in fact, legal, according to the 1993 US Supreme Court ruling 508 US 520, the Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye vs. City of Hialeah. Also, she harps on the “evils” of illegal drugs (and some legal, such as salvia), but then advocates the use of legal drugs for magic–including alcohol. A drug is a drug, and all drugs can cause a useful state of consciousness, depending on dosage. The reason so many people overdose or have bad trips is because of misinformation, which perpetuates the bad stereotypes.

Finally, I really didn’t like the final chapter. She talks about “roles” within paganism, such as healer, warrior, bard, oracle, etc. I think this gives the idea that you *have* to specialize in something–I tend to agree with Robert Heinlen: “Specialization is for insects”. We are all healers, warrior, scribes, and oracles–and whatever else we need to be.

However, overall, I would recommend this book to someone looking to branch out. I’ve been a pagan and a magician for a decade, and I really could have used this book about 7 years ago. This is an incredibly realistic look at what options are available to the intermediate pagan, without a ton of fluff and filler. It even got me thinking some about where I am now–and that says to me that it’s a worthwhile read for anyone, just to get you thinking about your path and where you are on it. I’d especially pick it up if I was feeling stuck or discouraged–there are some really good ideas in here!

Four pawprints out of five.

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