Slaying the Mouse – Wendy Halley

Slaying the Mouse: A True Story of Healing in the Spiritual Realms
Wendy Halley
Self-published (Lulu.com)
142 pages

I ran into this author on an online forum a couple of months ago; she was talking about her new book and was looking for reviewers. Being an adventurous sort, I volunteered.

Normally I don’t read first-person accounts in narrative style; this seems to be a particularly common format among neoshamanism, popularized by authors like Carlos Castaneda and Mary Summer Rain. While I can appreciate good storytelling, when it comes to nonfiction I’m a sort of “just the facts, ma’am” kind of person. Still, it’s good to shake things up a bit, and I’m glad I got the chance to read this.

The book is apparently a first-person account written by the author about a nine-month spiritual healing experience that she performed on a young man in a coma. All of the expected neoshamanic elements are there–the spirit guides (many of whom are, unsurprisingly, from American indigenous tribes–how come no one ever has deceased Western Caucasian occultists or African shamans as spirit guides?), the highly symbolic forms of healing, the shaman calling the spirit back to the body before it loses its grip. Devotees of core shamanism will recognize familiar techniques in her writing.

The writing itself is excellent. Halley has a wonderful style, and her words flow smoothly from one chapter to the next. She’s good at conveying dialogue, and mixes it well with descriptions of action. I did not find this at all to be a boring read. The story is punctuated by what are presented as actual verbatim emails from the patient’s family, conveying his improvement during the healing process. And, like most of the first person narratives in this style, the ideas surrounding her techniques are described, though not in as much detail as in some books.

I guess my biggest quibble comes from the skeptic in me. Being more from a pagan than a New Age background, I have a tendency to question things. While I have no doubt about the sincerity of the author, and I don’t believe this is just fiction wrapped up in a nonfiction label, I was just a wee bit disappointed when I got to the end of the book and found that Jason, the patient, was “unable to speak or communicate with ease”. If Jason ever does recover enough for open communication (and it would be an excellent thing if he did) it would be telling to note whether he remembered what happened, and how he felt about someone writing a book about his illness.

Still, overall this is a really good read, regardless of how you interpret it. It’s a lovely narrative of neoshamanic mind/body/spirit practices applied to a serious illness (without suggesting that the patient be removed from traditional medical care). It will probably appeal more towards the New Age end of my readership, but anyone who enjoys the style of a lot of neoshamanic texts will enjoy this well-written, intriguing work.

Four pawprints out of five.

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Zuni Fetishes – Hal Zina Bennett

Zuni Fetishes: Using Native American Sacred Objects for Meditation, Reflection, and Insight
Hal Zina Bennett
HarperSanFrancisco, 1993
192 pages

This is a unique book. It combines history and lore about fetishes, tiny stone carved animals, with modern spiritual practices to create a modern paradigm.

Bennett is careful to remind us that what he is teaching is NOT necessarily Zuni tradition, but is inspired by it, and he cites some good sources. His interpretation is practical and spiritual all at once, and is quite accessible by modern pagans.

The author goes over the background of fetishes, emphasizes that they are not merely decorative, and explains the ways that he and others of non-Zuni background use the fetish spirits in evderyday life. He then has a dictionary of tradition-inspired lore about eat fetish, though he does suggest throughout the book consulting the individual fetishes themselves.

A lot of the material may be 101 to those of you who have done a lot of animal magic, particularly that dealing with fetishes and other ritual spirit houses. However, it’s a great book to start out with, and also worth a read even if you’ve some experience. Veyr thorough and well-written, and a unique take on animal totemism.

Five pawprints out of five.

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Personal Power Animals – Madonna Gauding

Personal Power Animals: For Guidance, Protection and Healing
Madonna Gauding
Godsfield, 2006
144 pages

This is one of those books that really just doesn’t stand out from the crowd of books on totems and related topics. There’s really nothing original, and what is covered has been explored more thoroughly by other authors.

The first part of the book talks about various systems of animal symbolism, such as both the Western and Chinese Zodiacs, as well as some very basic totemic information. Then the rest, a little over half, if I recall correctly, was just another totem animal dictionary, and not a very good one at that. The information was sparse and not very detailed, dabbling a little in several puddles rather than diving deeper into the surface. A short paragraph on mythology. another on what a person under that totem is supposedly like personality-wise.

Unimpressive. If you happen to be a beginner, it will introduce you to a few concepts, for which I gave it an extra star, but that’s about it. There are much better, more thorough alternatives.

Two pawprints out of five.

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Buckskin and Buffalo – Colin F. Taylor

Buckskin and Buffalo: The Artistry of the Plains Indians
Colin F. Taylor
Salamander Books
128 pages

This is an amazingly wonderful book! It features excellent color photos, both full-size and detail, of dozens of circa 19th century Plains Indian works of leather, including shirts, leggings, robes, and other practical artwork. Beadwork, quillwork adn paint adorn these works of buffalo deer, elk, antelope and bighorn sheep hides, and the author selected some astoundingly lovely pieces.

The text that accompanies each one goes into the source, the components, and the cultural significance of both the objects themselves and their adornment, as well as interesting bits of information about certain details, such as a particular type of bead or feather used, or the importance of the piece in its culture. The tribal origins of each entry are also discussed, including cases where the author disagreed with the museum or collection that held the piece, and details explaining why (ie, this detail resembles this tribe instead of that tribe).

Overall, it is a really nicely done work. However, one question is left unasked. We’ve seen the pretty artwork and have learned its immense importance. Now can we please return these to the people to whom they are so very important?

Five pawprints out of five.

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Serpent Worship – anonymous

Serpent Worship
Anonymous
Tutor Press, 1980

The full title of this book is Serpent Worship, aka Ophiolatreia: The Rites and mysteries connected with the origin, rise, and development of serpent worship in various parts of the world, enriched with interesting traditions, and a full description of the celebrated serpent mounds & temples, the whole forming an exposition of one of the phases of phallic, or sex worship, aka The Rites and mysteries connected with the origin, rise, and development of serpent worship in various parts of the world, enriched with interesting traditions, and a full description of the celebrated serpent mounds & temples, the whole forming an exposition of one of the phases of phallic, or sex worship.

It’s essentially an overview of the role of snakes and related creatures around the world and throughout history. There’s a heavy emphasis on the Classical world–Greece, Egypt, and surrounding civilizations, though a number of North and South American cultures are also featured, among others.

Now, admittedly, it was written in 1889, so the writing style is quite different from today, and as it is an academic text from the time it’s not designed to be easy reading. However, there are plenty of scholarly texts from around the same time that are much easier on modern readers, IMO.

There also doesn’t seem to be a lot of organization to the text. The information is sometimes arranged in a seemingly arbitrary way, and isn’t always tied together very well.

I’d imagine that not everyone will have as much issue with this as I did. Thanks, but no thanks–there are much better books that have the exact same information in a better format. This is officially my newest Worst Book Ever.

One pawprint out of five.

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The Ethical Psychic Vampire – Raven Kaldera

The Ethical Psychic Vampire
Raven Kaldera
Xlibris
156 pages

I was quite pleasantly rewarded with a really, really good explanation of both psychic and sanguine vampires that filled in a lot of the holes in my education, so to speak. Kaldera is an excellent writer, with a very good writing style that doesn’t dumb down the text. It was a rather quick read, somewhere around 144 pages, but not a bad one.

The first part of the book is dedicated to introducing the concept of vampirism, and why it is that some people simply need to feed. He also marks the differences between “primary” and “secondary” vampires, which answers the question of “Is a vampire born, or made?” with “Yes, and here’s why”.

He also dedicates a lot of this book to practical issues, such as physical safety and health for feeding, and problems that can arise in a vampire-donor relationship. And, true to the title, the ethics of vampirism are discussed throughout the book, such as why it’s better to have a willing donor.

This book is rather streamlined–there’s really no extra information beyond the basics, and not pages upon pages of vampire legends and lore (Vlad the Impaler, anyone?) so I’d definitely recommend it as a basic guide to today’s vampires. He does throw some magical rituals in there for specific purposes, but they’re more of an accent to the main body of the text and are purely optional.

My biggest complaint is that the book lacks both internal citations and a bibliography. I don’t doubt that most of the material is original. However, particularly in regards to the chapter on vampires and shamanism, I’d like to know where he got his information–a lot of it sounds like material from Nigel Jackson’s “The Compleat Vampyre”, which is a book dedicated to vampirism, lycanthropy, and shamanism. That’s not to say that this isn’t necessarily Kaldera’s work; I’m just curious as to whether he has read Jackson’s text. The nice thing about bibliographies is that you can use them for further reading, and to see what inspired the author.

Overall, though, I really enjoyed this book and it’s become an important resource for my own writing. Definitely recommended for anyone who wants a good, basic understanding of modern vampirism.

Five pawprints out of five.

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Animal Wisdom – Susie Green

Animal Wisdom: Harness the Power and Wisdom of Animals to Liberate Your Spirit
Susie Green
CICO Books, 2005
144 pages

This is yet another animal totem dictionary–do we really need another? Still, this one’s pretty good, for all that.

Her methods for finding totems and working with them is very much influenced by core shamanism; however, her material also includes a lot of environmental and animal-rights-based practices. She drops hints about ways to be kinder to animals, such as buying free range mear instead of factory-farmed. I did disagree with her suggestion of feeding physical represntatives of wild totems–feeding wildlife only ends up badly for the wildlife in the end, as it teaches them to not fear humans, and makes them dependent on us. Some can even be dangerous, especially if you live in an area where black bears are moving into the suburbs. In short, to keep the critters safe, don’t feed them! Still, overall, I really like her tone of environmental responsibility.

Her totem definitions are quite obviously her own interpretations of animal behavior–which is a good thing. Each author should offer their own thoughts, not just parrot the words of others. In addition, she doesn’t claim that she’s teaching anything ancient and genuine; she’s honest about her sources.

She has a GREAT variety of animals in her dictionary–there are the usuals, like Bear and Wolf and Coyote, but she also includes Armadillo, Kookaburra, Platypus and Meerkat, among others.

My only real complaint, I guess, is that it’s just another totem dictionary. There’s nothing really new here. And it’s not something I’d give to a rank beginner, just becuase she doesn’t go into as much detail with the introductory material as, say, Ted Andrews or other authors. Still, I’d recommend it for those who like having a variety of other peoples’ views of what different totems mean and what they have learned, and as a dictionary, it’s excellent.

(Note: This book should not be confused with Jessica Dawn Palmer’s “Animal Wisdom: The Definitive Guide to the Myths, Folklore and Medicine Power of Animals”, which is a bigger animal totem dictionary published by Thorsons in 2001).

Four pawprints out of five.

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The Witches’ Sabbats – Mike Nichols

The Witches’ Sabbats
Mike Nichols
Acorn Guild Press, 2005
132 pages (not including preface, etc.)

It’s been a good long while since I’ve read anything specifically pertaining to witchcraft; most of my studies and practice in the past few years have been less about religion, and more about practical and metamorphic magic, as well as smatterings of shamanism. But I’d heard some good stuff about this book, and decided to snag a copy for myself.

If you need a really good resource on the history of the eight sabbats, this is your book! I’ve seen a number of books published in recent years on specific sabbats, but they always seme to be stuffed full of prefabricated rituals. This is a wonderfully streamlined book that will be an excellent addition to both beginning and experienced pagans’ libraries; beginners will get a good overview of the origins of the sabbats, while more experienced folk can breeze past the books of pre-written rituals and use the information in The Witches’ Sabbats as inspiration to create their own rituals from scratch.

I won’t fault the book for not having in-text citations because the earliest drafts were written nearly 40 years ago. However, the lengthy bibliography promises many wonderful book hunts, and is additionally a cornucopia of nonfluffy sources. Much of the material in the book originated from essays that may still be found online (including Mike’s own website). However, there is some unique material here. Additionally, for those of us raised on books rather than computers, and whose optical systems are thus conditioned for the visual setup of paper rather than a very long webpage, this is an ideal format. And it won’t run out of power, doesn’t need to be turned on, and is a heck of a lot easier to carry around.

Oh, and for those of you who are in the habit of skipping the foreword and preface? Don’t, especially not with this book–there are some really good pieces of information in them.

My only little bitty quibble is that it’s occasionally quite evident that the chapters were written individually. It’s mentioned a number of times that the Celts started their celebrations the sundown before the big day, something that probably only needs to be mentioned once at the beginning; and he occasionally also refers to something “in another esay” or somesuch.

Still, this is only a tiny complaint, and overall I think this is an awesome book. I can definitely see why the writings are considered classics in the realm of neopaganism, and this is a great way to not only have a convenient, easy-to-navigate, portable version of these writings, but to also give something back to the guy who did all that hard work and who often goes uncredited.

Five celebratory pawprints out of five.

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A Book of Beasts – Pennick and Field

A Book of Beasts
Nigel Pennick and Helen Field
Capall Bann, 2003
220 pages

There are things I really love about this book, and things that I’m not so wild about–but that’s normal for me. I’m a tough crowd all by myself 😉

This is basically a bestiary for modern times. Penniock and Field detail the lore, mythology, and other relevant esoteric information about numerous animals in Europe. The great thing about it, though, is that they approach their topic in a manner that I really haven’t seen before in the neopagan market. Rather than spending pages upon pages talking about the totemic virtues of different animals (though the information they give on power animals is decent), they discuss everything from the traditional bestiaries to animal costumery to the use of animal parts in folk medicine. There’s even a section about the treatment of horses in urban areas (not as bad as one might think!). The choices in topics is truly unique, and I was pleasantly surprised.

The other thing that makes this book really valuable is that it’s an in-depth exploration of the lore of a particular region, rather than attempting to be a book for the entire world. This allows the authors to go into greater detail. The book is more slanted towards the United Kingdom, though Germanic, French, and even Slavic mythologies and histories end up referenced. This is what I’d really like to see more of, honestly.

Now for the quibbles ‘n bits. The book uses the exact same pseudo-Celtic font for the section and chapter headings that they’ve used in every book I’ve gotten from them, which leads to bland layout. There are numerous typos throughout the book, as well as spacing errors (especially neglecting to put a space between sentences). This really makes me wonder about the rumor I heard that Capall Bann makes authors edit their own work instead of having in-house editors. Also, the book lacks in-text citations. While the bibliography is quite solid from all appearances, there were a number of pieces of information that I questioned and I really would have liked to have access to where, exactly, the authors got the information. Still, the biblio itself is lacking in known bad sources, so it’s in a much better position than a lot of books I’ve skewered for this reason.

Finally, a couple of personal disagreements. First, they’re quite upset about laws against feeding wildlife, birds in particular. My counter to this is that any time you feed wildlife, you A) teach it to be dependent on humans, something which gets passed on to the young, and B) teach it to lose its fear of humanity, making it more vulnerable to human-borne harm. We have problems with Canada geese here in the States because of available food and artificial ponds, and the geese often no longer migrate (which is decidedly unnatural). Also, the authors seem to think that if you work with predatory animals in a spiritual manner for too long, particularly invocation, you’ll lose touch with your humanity. This goes directly against my own experience as both a wolf therianthrope and an animal magician. Predators are no more “wild” than prey animals like deer, rabbits and squirrels. The danger is in the human perception of those animals becoming an excuse to be an idiot, IMO/IME.

Still, these are pretty minor complaints in light of the fact that this is the first book on animal magic I’ve read in a good long while that truly has something different to offer. If I ever expand my Top Ten List of the Most Underappreciated Books on Animal Magic, this one may be a strong contender for a spot.

Four pawprints out of five.

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Tarot Outside The Box – Valerie Sim – BBBR February 2007

Tarot Outside the Box
Valerie Sim
Llewellyn, 2004
170 pages

I really had high hopes for this book when I found it on the clearance rack. While tarot isn’t a huge part of my practice, I do like people who come up with new ideas and practices–I am, after all, an experimental magician 🙂 So I was looking forward to the read.

And some of it did deliver. One of the key points of the book, comparative tarot, involves using cards from more than one deck in a single reading. I’d never even thought to do that, though I only own one tarot deck and one totem deck–I’m not a collector, though I do like the different styles of art in various decks. I really liked the way she explained how the concept worked and why she used it, as well as a couple examples of the theory in practice.

I also liked that she encouraged people to create their own layouts. While with tarot I primarily use the regular old favorite, the Celtic Cross, I did figure out a unique layout with my totem deck. And she had some good ideas for other types of readings and methods of practice that I found innovative–I really liked the idea of using the tarot to spark creative writing.

Unfortunately, all this material was wrapped in a bunch of filler. There were over a dozen pages just comparing a bunch of Nine of Cups cards from different decks, both pictures, and descriptions that were a couple of paragraphs long each. I know she was trying to emphasize the unique traits of each card and how these differences could be used in comparative tarot, but it was jsut too much. Additionally, I’m with Psyche of Spiral Nature on the opinion that there are just too many sample layouts in this book.

Honestly, the really good stuff in this book would have made a long essay; I really wish she’d given more ideas on really unique ideas for using tarot, instead of spending over half the pages on filler.

Two and a half pawprints out of five.

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