Rites of Pleasure – Jennifer Hunter

Rites of Pleasure: Sexuality in Wicca and NeoPaganism
Jennifer Hunter
Citadel, 2004
248 pages

I really, really, really liked this book. I’ve pretty much been reading anything I can get my hands on as far as BDSM and sex magic goes in the process of cowriting Kink Magic, and so the chapter in this book on that topic was what first attracted me. I’m not surprised I like it, though–I think that her 21st Century Wicca is one of the best (and most underappreciated) Wicca 101 texts out there (and you know it has to be good to impress me 😉

This is definitely a unique book in the existing corpus of knowledge regarding paganism and sexuality in general. Rather than a how-to guide for sex magic, it’s an excellent discussion of ethics and the role of sex and sexuality in the pagan community. You want your paganism 201 material? Here it is, with intelligent, mature discussion of what can sometimes be sticky (literally and figuratively) subject matter. Hunter punctuates her writing with quotes from a wide selection of interviewees ranging from Annie Sprinkle and Dossie Easton to Donald Michael Kraig and Raven Kaldera.

The topics covered include various sexualities (hetero, homo, bi, etc), polyamory, transgendered people and gender fluidity in the pagan community, BDSM and even sex work, among others. Hunter does an excellent job of treating every topic fairly and evenly. There’s also a good chapter on sex magic and preparations thereof, making this a really good guide overall. And, I am absolutely pleased to say that she makes good use of endnote citations and has a wonderful bibliography. (Those of you who have been reading my reviews a while, or my journal, or talking to me in person, or…well…you get the idea, know that the lack of internal citations in pagan nonfic is one of my major pet peeves.)

Overall, I highly recommend this book to any pagan. Hunter offers a lot of food for thought that I think the pagan community really needs to be paying attention to, especially in light of recent social shifts towards the mainstream. As paganism gets more exposure from outside the community, other people will be asking about our views on sex and sexuality. This book addresses a lot of the controversial issues about sex and sexuality in paganism in a manner that not only can help the individual pagan get a better handle on hir own thoughts on the matter, but could even be offered as a text for non-pagans to read.

Five pawprints out of five.

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An Elfin Book of Spirits – The Silver Elves

An Elfin Book of Spirits: Evoking the Beneficient Powers of Faerie
The Silver Elves (Silver Flame Love and Zardoa Silverstar)
Silver Elves Publications, 2005
264 pages

My first exposure to the writings of the Silver Elves was through their Magical Elven Love Letters, writings of philosophy, spirit and magic flavored by their unique and lovely interpretation of what “elven” is to them. An Elfin Book of Spirits is exactly the sort of light-hearted, yet practical and powerful writing that I have learned to enjoy from them.

The book is a modern-day grimoire in the classic sense–a series of entries on various spirits within a specific system, along with suggested rituals for evoking them. I was already hooked on the book by the first page, when the Silver Elves explained their philosophy on evocation–cooperation rather than command (something I heartily agree with!). The method for working with the spirits involves a form of divination to determine which spirit would have the best ideas for a particular situation (if you don’t already have a particular being in mind). I approve of this open-ended method, as it allows the spirits more participation in the planning of the ritual.

The rituals and spirits are based loosely on astrology (and not just Sun signs, either–there’s a lot of work that went into this sytem). There are 360 spirits, one for each degree of the Zodiac; each entry for a spirit includes its degree, sigil, name, motto, evocation, and additional astrological information.

The areas of influence for the spirits are generally positive and constructive, with practical, everyday applications. Don’t, however, interpret this as being “overly white light” or “fluffy”. The Silver Elves and the spirits they work with don’t turn a blind eye to the fact that there’s negativity in the world, and they don’t try to gloss it over with New Age Band-aids. You won’t find spirits of vengeance here, but instead beings who will help you find a constructive, healthy way of dealing with bad situations and making the most of good ones. This book also isn’t exclusively for elves; any magical practitioner who is interested may find something of use here.

Pretty much my only complaints (and they are minor overall) are technical. There are a number of typos and misspellings throughout the book, but nothing terrible. Also, the binding of the book doesn’t leave quite enough margin on the inside edge, which makes reading the first few pages rather difficult without breaking the spine of the book. However, these are tiny things, and the fact that I enjoyed reading the book is much more important than a couple of physical flaws.

And one warning–there are a number of photographs of practitioners and other elfin folk in the book, a couple of which pay no heed to current prohibitions on uncovering the body. They’re no worse than other books on magic that include an occasional picture of a nude Wiccan in ritual, etc. And the photos in general are nice accents to the text.

Five pleasant pawprints out of five.

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The Way of the Animal Powers (Part 1) – Joseph Campbell

Historical Atlas of World Mythology Volume 1: The Way of the Animal Powers, Part 1: Primitive Hunters and Gatherers
Joseph Campbell
Harper & Row, 1988
125 pages (large coffee table book)

I was thrilled when I found this book and its companion volume (which will be reviewed at a later date). I love Joseph Campbell’s work, and particularly enjoyed his Primitive Mythology. The Way of the Animal Powers ties nicely into that volume. This book is also one of a large set of books, the Historical Atlas of World Mythology. It’s a decent-sized coffee table-style book, so don’t let the page count fool you!

The content isn’t strictly animal-related. Along with evidence of cave paintings, ritual spaces and other sacred items in the theoretical religious practices of paleolithic cultures, Campbell gives a decent amount of background on the evolution of humanity and its mythology. This is a fascinating read, with numerous threads weaving together telling the story of our ancestors’ beliefs, at least as far as we can surmise. The text is punctuated with a variety of illustrations showing specific examples; the combination is well balanced and informative.

There are those who take issue with some of Campbell’s material, particularly his attempts to globalize mythological concepts. While he does discuss archetypes and motifs, and demonstrates how different cultures (sometimes very far away from each other) may have affected each others’ myths, one should not take this as evidence of a monolithic mythology or that “All Gods are one God”. Still, if supplemented with other resources, this is an excellent read for the neopagan interested in the roots of pagan beliefs.

Five pawprints out of five.

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When I See the Wild God – Ly de Angeles – June BBBR

When I See the Wild God: Encountering Urban Celtic Witchcraft
Ly de Angeles
Llewellyn, 2004
288 pages

This is one of those books that seems to have lost its focus. Some of it appears to be aimed at modern pagan men’s mysteries and the God aspect of the Divine, but then there’s also the (by now stereotypical) Celtic aspects of it. However, the bulk of the book is a rehash of Wicca 101, with the usual ritual tools, casting the circle and calling the quarters, etc. And the book doesn’t flow particularly well; sometimes the progression of chapters seems rather disjointed.

Because of this, I found myself skimming the book a lot, more because it was very familiar material than because it was poorly written. I actually like de Angeles’ writing style; she’s an excellent storyteller, and it perks up the fiction quite a bit. If it were just marketed as a Wicca/witchcraft 101 book, it’s be one of the better-written ones on the market. All the basics are here in an easy to read format.

Unfortunately, I just really couldn’t get into the book as I think it was meant to be. The male aspects are primarily a little bit of talk at the beginning of the book, and a mention of some gods. The Celtic flavoring is no different than in other books on “Celtic Wicca” or similar modernized systems with Celtic names in it. Granted, she does a decent job of Celtic mythology 101, but it shouldn’t be taken as genuine Celtic culture, just the usual mash-up.

If you’re looking for a basic book on Wicca 101, this one is a good intro, but if you want men’s mysteries, check out The Pagan Man by Isaac Bonewits or King, Warrior, Magician, Lover by Douglas and Gillette.

Two and a half pawprints out of five.

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