Dark Moon Rising – Raven Kaldera et. al.

Dark Moon Rising: Pagan BDSM and the Ordeal Path
Raven Kaldera, with several guest essays
Asphodel Press, 2006
426 pages

This is one of those books that’s been on the shelves for a while, paged through piecemeal (it’s a good book for randomly opening up to read whatever interesting thing comes up since it’s largely made of a series of essays) and even used as source material for Kink Magic. But I hadn’t really been in the mood to pick it up and actually read it cover to cover til this week. (Yes, it made the commute, ah, interesting. For some reason, I ended up without anyone sitting next to me each time even though I had the cover nice and safely hidden.)

So, on to the book. I like this book. A lot. It’s not the usual chapter-by-chapter explanation of things; rather, Kaldera has collected a number of his essays, as well as a significant number of guest essays from such folks as Mistress Damiana and Morning Glory Zell. The topics are far-ranging, including everything from BDSM spirituality in service to the gods, to practical considerations both mundane and magical. Some ideas are presented in a very straightforward manner; others are personal accounts used to illustrate the concepts therein. There are even some rituals presented, including rites of passage, and some lovely poetry that could easily be worked into a ritual context such as an invocation or evocation. In short, it’s full of variety.

It’s pretty obvious that Raven and fellow essayists have quite a bit of experience. The various BDSM and fetish techniques utilized cover a pretty decent range of possibilities, and many of them are not for the (relatively) faint of heart. You may find yourself squicked; I am in no way, shape or form a fan of *anything* that pierces the skin (even hypodermic needles) and I found myself literally covering pictures of hook suspensions. Still, this is what works for others, and despite the not-my-kink factor, I found even the personally squick-worthy parts to be valuable additions. Regardless of what your particular tastes are, there are some great ideas that can be adapted to just about any consensual kink in a ritual context.

Much of the material seems to be oriented towards spirituality and service to the Divine, though there are some practical magical techniques as well. The concept of god-slavery is covered in decent detail here, and both it and the concept of service in general are presented not as unhealthy obsessions, but as spiritual dedication. I was particularly fond of the essay by Raven’s boy, Josh, about serving the shaman, and Raven’s own explanation of the archetypes and roles that may be found in a D/s relationship. Good food for thought whether you’re in a 24/7 lifestyle or not.

Overall, this is definitely a worthy endeavor, and a good addition to the bookshelf of anyone who has any interest in BDSM and fetishes in a spiritual and/or magical background. As with any book on either BDSM or spirituality, it’s not the do-all and end-all of the topics at hand (but what book is?) but it presents one very superb and well-developed approach to the combination thereof. Highly recommended.

Five pawprints out of five.

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The Sacred Paw – Shepard and Sanders

The Sacred Paw: The Bear in Nature, Myth, and Literature
Paul Shepard and Barry Sanders
Arkana, 1985
244 pages

I love this book. It’s currently out of print, but not too hard to find. As the title suggests, it covers the relationship between humans and bears, and it covers everything from natural history to fairy tales. And, in the same vein as Lopez’ Of Wolves and Men and Ryden’s God’s Dog, it traces our mythological relationship with bears from paleolithic times on.

The text opens with a thorough explanation of the evolution, distribution and habits of the eight species of bear on Earth today. From the enormous brown bear, to the small tropical sun bear, the diversity of bears is given center stage, and it’s remarkable just what amazing creatures they are. The authors do a great job of honoring the bear as s/he really is, in and of hirself. The text is thorough, but approachable.

However, my favorite part of the text is where the authors trace the Bear Mother and Bear Sons mythological motif from its possible advent in paleolithic caves, through hunter-gatherer societies and later agriculture, all the way up to modern day folk and fairy tales. They give a really good argument for the shifting of the emphasis of the myths from the Bear Mother to the adventures of her sons, who eventually become purely human heroes. The Underworld and Rebirth themes of the Bear Mother are slowly stripped form her until she is nothing but a memory. There’s also some really good material on rituals for the hunting of the bear from numerous cultures around the world. We’re shown both the similarities and individualities of the different rituals performed around the world.

Pretty much my only complaint is that the authors occasionally repeat themselves, stating a particular fact twice in the book, each time worded as if it were the first time. However, this is a minuscule complaint in light of the excellent quality otherwise.

This would be a superb companion to David Rockwell’s excellent study of bears in ritual and myth, Giving Voice to Bear. If Bear is your totem, or you otherwise have an interest in ursine mythology, this would be an excellent read for you. The same goes for anyone interested in tracing the roots of mythology to paleolithic times; co-author Paul Shepard has written a number of volumes on human-animal interaction in behavior and myth, and his expertise and solid research, paired with Barry Sanders’ skills, make this a solid reference.

Five pawprints out of five.

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Totem and Taboo – Freud

Totem and Taboo (A. A. Brill trans.)
Sigmund Freud
Dover Thrift Editions, 1998
138 pages

This classic has been on my to-read list for ages; I finally managed to get ahold of a copy not too long ago. I wanted to read it primarily for its historical value; although I’m interested in psychology, I’m more fond of Jung’s theories. Still, Freud is worth reading just to have read his pioneering works, and since this one delves into areas of my interest, it fell prey to my bibliophilia.

It’s about what I expected. On the good side, it was an interesting look at the possible psychology behind the concepts of totemism and taboo in what Freud refers to as “primitive” or “savage” societies. Some more modern examples are cited as well, showing that the mindset behind the concepts may be found in other types of society. It’s a good look into Freud’s head, too, as he systematically explains what source material he’s using, how he came to his conclusions, and some further food for thought for the reader. It’s a pretty complete understanding of totemism and taboos for the time Freud wrote it.

Unfortunately, its validity as a source for modern work is marred by the fact that Freud was still a product of his time. His observations may be painfully Euro-centric, and his occasional notes towards admitting his bias don’t counteract the damage that may be done. The behaviors associated with totemism and taboo are compared largely to the beliefs of neurotics and children in “modern” society. Additionally, his interpretation of the reasons behind these practices is quite narrow; totemism is essentially boiled down to an origin involving a group of brothers overthrowing their father as a way of gaining control of his harem. Additionally, totemism is assumed to *replace* religion in indigenous cultures, not compose part of it.

Read it for historical and background information, but take it with a grain of salt, and use sparingly as source material if you’re researching totemism or paleopagan religious practices. Granted, the value that I have for it may be different from that of a psychotherapist, but while I can appreciate it for its initial contribution, I have little functional use for it other than as a somewhat outdated look at indigenous (and not so indigenous) beliefs.

Three pawprints out of five.

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The Birth Order Book – Kevin Leman – November BBBR

The Birth Order Book
Dr. Kevin Leman
Revell, 1996

Okay, so this month’s Bargain Bin Book Review technically isn’t a book on magic or other esoteric topics; however, I found it in the pagan/occult section of the clearance rack, so I say it counts 😉 . Though jokes aside, I actually found it to be a good read, and I think that psychology can be an incredibly useful tool in magical works; I’ll explain more in a bit.

The basic premise is that our personalities are shaped by how our parents treat us based on our birth order. For example, the firstborn child generally gets a lot of attention coupled with a lot of responsibility, the middle children may feel somewhat ignored (depending on circumstances), and the babies of the families often rule the roost. Only children may additionally take after the firstborns, though there are unique traits as well. All of these are presented as generalizations based on the author’s observations among his patients, rather than hard and fast dogma. I found a lot to resonate with as a youngest child who was also a quasi-only due to being the youngest by nine and a half years. There’s also a lot of material on coping with your birth order “issues”, as well as tips on marriages between different birth orders, and information about how to work with your own children to avoid programming the worst traits into them by accident.

Where I see this as being useful for magical practitioners is as a complement for things like astrology and tarot reading, as well as other systems that either deal with telling a person something about hirself and/or that rely on knowing something about the person to get results. While birth order isn’t everything, it can add a dimension of understanding to a person’s internal and external environments. If you’re currently slogging through old conditioning and other such things, either through meditation or other methods, this may be an interesting book that provides some food for thought on how you got to be the way you are. It’s not a complete guide, but it gave me something to think about.

Four pawprints out of five.

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Shamanism – Graham Harvey (ed.)

Shamanism: A Reader
Graham Harvey (editor)
Routledge, 2003
~430 pages

Well, it took me the better part of two weeks, but I finished this academic anthology over the weekend–and found it to be worth the effort. It was good to see a collection of essays that both approached traditional shamanism with an open mind, and also embraced the existence of neoshamanism (while also bringing up issues with it). I do have to agree with Erynn Rowan Laurie on her observation that the quality of the essays varied quite a bit, and the themes and topics didn’t always seem to mesh well. Though I do also agree that there were some real winners there. So here are my personal opinions on some of them:

I Liked:

–Ioan M. Lewis’ “Possession and Public Morality”, which was an intriguing essay on how shamanic rituals can be used to uphold community moral standards through using public peer pressure to extract confessions of broken taboos. This process then allows the community to heal rifts caused by these violations and release the social tension.
–Alan T. Campbell’s “Submitting”, which got me thinking about attitudes towards shamanism and seemingly implausible realities.
–Edith Turner’s “The Reality of Spirits”, an *excellent* argument against the fear of “going native” by anthropologists and other academics. Based on the experiences of the author and her husband, and a really good commentary on the practical application of anthopological research.
–Chungmoo Choi’s “The Artistry and Ritual Aesthetics of Urban Korean Shamans” is a fascinating look at Korean shamanism, which isn’t nearly as well known outside of academic circles (and the Koreans themselves, of course).
–Mihaly Hoppal’s “Ethnographic Films on Shamanism” is another good one, specifically covering films of Asian (primarily Siberian) shamanism, how these films have progressed and what they contribute, as well as the political climates at the times they were made. This essay and the last were particularly unique contributions.
–Both Bernard Saladin d’Anglure’s “Rethinking Inuit Shamanism Through the Concept of ‘Third Gender'” and Marjorie Mandelstam Balzer’s “Sacred Genders in Siberia: Shamans, Bear Festivals and Androgyny” are excellent perspectives on gender issues within shamanism; the latter is also a nice look at the Carnival-esque feel of the bear festivals.
–Piers Vitebsky’s “From Cosmology to Environmentalism: Shamanism as Local Knowledge in a Global Setting” didn’t surprise me when I enjoyed it thoroughly; I’m generally a fan of Vitebsky’s works, including The Shaman. Here he explores the juxtaposition of shamanic knowledge that’s designed for a specific environment into global society, and how removing the inherent cosmology of a shamanic system necessarily changes it. One of the best in the collection.
–Ward Churchill’s “Spiritual Hucksterism: The Rise of the Plastic Medicine Men” is an essay that I actually really like; it’s a good commentary on cultural appropriation.

I Didn’t Care For:

–The reprinting of a chapter of Michael Harner’s The Way of the Shaman; I would have liked to have seen something different from him, though it was one of only two essays on the initiation process of shamanism. In fact, there were a few reprints in here, and it would have been nice to encounter more original material.
–There were a couple of essays I simply could not get into, primarily because I found them rather dry, or otherwise uninteresting. These included Thomas A Dowson’s “Like People in Prehistory”, Marina Roseman’s Remembering to Forget: The Aesthetics of Longing”, Gordan MacLellen’s “Dancing on the Edge: Shamanism in Modern Britain”, and Robert J. Wallis’ “Waking Ancestor Spirits: Neoshamanic Engagements With Archaeology”.
–Sandra Ingermann’s “Tracking Lost Souls” wasn’t horrible, per se, but it was rather jarringly discordant with the rest of the collection. It’s a very New Agey interpretation of core shamanism, and it didn’t fit in with the more scholarly approaches. An examination of neoshamanism, or a critique and comparison of various modern systems, would have worked better than Ingermann giving us a play-by-play of her method of soul retrieval.
–Beverley Butler’s “The Tree, The Tower and the Shaman” was just strangely written and arranged; I had trouble following it, and ended up skipping a good portion of it. I’m also not sure how relevant it is to shamanism, from what I could gather.

Despite my personal dislikes, I still think this is a good anthology to have in your collection if you have any interest in shamanism. The good essays are excellent, and they outnumber the not so great essays by quite a bit. I’m quite pleased with this collection, and I’ve already used it as source material in my writing, as well as gleaned some inspiration for the further development of therioshamanism.

Four pawprints out of five.

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The Earth Path – Starhawk

The Earth Path: Grounding Your Spirit in the Rhythms of Nature
Starhawk
HarperOne, 2005
256 pages

I’ll be honest; I normally have a rather lukewarm opinion of Starhawk’s work. It’s not that it’s bad; it’s simply that I don’t connect with it the way that some other people do. This, however, is a wonderful exception to the rule that I am incredibly pleased to be able to review.

This is not a book of political action. It won’t tell you how to protest, or write letters, or reduce your carbon footprint. However, it is an incredibly valuable guide to attitudes and mindfulness. The Earth Path is an exceptional work that demonstrates to the reader how very important it is to be in tune with the environment that needs saving, and how that connection is crucial to understanding why it’s so important to be aware of and act on the problems that threaten ecosystems worldwide. In short, while activism works on the external connections, this book strengthens one’s internal connections to the Earth; properly applied, the material in this text will make it virtually impossible to ignore the impact we have on the environment. The theoretical and commentary material is punctuated by effective and to-the-point exercises designed to bring it all home in a firm, positive manner.

This isn’t, however, a funerary dirge and moan of all the horrible things we do, laying a guilt fest on the reader. Starhawk is quite clear about the fact that maybe we can’t all convert to solar energy; and she admits that even all the things she does can’t completely negate the impact she makes when she flies on planes to do speaking engagements and other activities. This is a book of “Here is what you *can* do, no matter who you are and what your circumstances may be”.

It’s a very thoughtful work, as well. I’m particularly fond of the chapters dealing with individual elements. This book actually came at the perfect time; as a part of my personal path, I’ve been dedicating a month with each of the traditional four elements in turn. I just happened to be at the very start of my Earth month when I read this; I read that chapter, and I’m saving the other three for required reading at the beginning of the other three months, as they’ll make wonderful introductory material to my work.

I absolutely love The Earth Path; this and James Endredy’s Ecoshamanism are the sine qua non of spiritual ecology (or ecological spirituality, if you prefer). In fact, the two books make a wonderful complement to each other, and I highly recommend them to anyone with any interest in magic and/or environmentalism. This includes people of all sexes; while the material is based somewhat on eco-feminism, there is nothing in here that prevents those who do not identify as women from working with it. In short, an effective guidebook for anyone.

Five green pawprints out of five.

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