Good Fortune and How to Attract It – Titania Hardie

Good Fortune and How To Attract It
Titania Hardie
Quadrille, 2008
304 pages plus three divination coins

I like creative reworkings of old systems (at least as long as they don’t claim to be the original!). Good Fortune is just such a book. Titania Hardie offers her own modernization of the I Ching; she argues that as the original was created in an entirely different culture, including one in which women weren’t even allowed to use it, a form friendly to both men and women was in order. I am pleased by this.

The first section of the book describes what the basic concept is, how to throw and read the coins, and the different personality types that affect the outcome of the reading. There’s also some interesting elemental correspondence worked in there as well. It was a bit complex to understand at first, but a little closer study made it make sense. The readings rely on a grid with numbers on it; the way the coins fall in six throws, and the lines created on the grid by recording these throws, determines what the answer is. With a little practice, it’s a wonderfully effective divination system.

I’m a bit on the fence about the personality types, specifically the element of birth order which is used to help determine what the dominant aspects of your personality are. According to The Birth Order Book by Dr. Kevin Leman, one’s sex isn’t as important as Hardie makes it out to be; it’s more about the interactions of the family members. Hardie covers that too, though, so it’s a more thorough view. I’m not a big fan of rigid gender/sex dichotomy, and occasionally a bit of “female-nurturing, male-doing” sentiment got to me a bit, especially with the “Mother always equals Earth and Father always equals Sky” aspect. Overall, though, personal biases aside, it adds a useful dimension to one’s reading and understanding of how who you are affects what may occur and how you react to it.

Quibbles and bits aside, I did thoroughly enjoy this book. It’s quite possibly one of the prettiest books, with some spectacular layout and design work. Don’t let the loveliness fool you, though–this is an effective system of divination suitable for anyone who resonates with it. Don’t expect classic I Ching; you’ll be disappointed. Instead, open yourself up to a new derivation that goes in some creative directions.

Four and a half pawprints out of five.

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Your Sun Sign as a Spiritual Guide – Swami Kriyananda – March BBBR

Your Sun Sign as a Spiritual Guide
Swami Kriyananda (J. Donald Walters)
Ananda Publications, 1971
130 pages

I’m a sucker for vintage pagan and occult books; while there’s a circa-2003 edition out, I managed to snag a somewhat well-loved orange-covered first edition from Ananda Publications at the local Goodwill store (which has a fantastic selection of books, let me tell you! Hooray, Portland!)

Astrology isn’t one of my main areas of focus, so basic books are just about my speed. This one was definitely a nice introduction in a slim volume. The author provides a down-to-earth overview of astrology, the differences between different types of astrology, and a basic look at what each planet’s influence is. He also demonstrates how a person may not necessarily “match” their sun sign’s attributes at first glance, and how the lunar and rising signs may contribute to the interpretation thereof.

The sections on individual sun signs was quite enlightening. One of the main reasons for the book is to show how we aren’t trapped by our sun sign, but instead finding positive ways to channel natural inclinations. I got the most out of my own chapter, Scorpio, though it was nice to read interpretations of others and compare them to the people I know in those signs.

I don’t really have any complaints about this one–it did was it set out to do in a thorough, easy to read manner. There weren’t any huge glaring errors, and I learned quite a bit. I’ll be hanging onto this one, not just because of its age, but also because it’s a good basic resource for functional astrology.

Five pawprints out of five.

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Witch in the Bedroom – Stacey Demarco

Witch in the Bedroom: Proven Sensual Magic
Stacey Demarco
Llewellyn, 2006
288 pages

Note: This review was written in 2006 for newWitch magazine and appeared in a 2007 issue.


Witch in the Bedroom
is written for witches and non-witches alike on ways to use magic for everything from finding a good partner to getting pregnant. This means that there’s a lot of 101 material that most pagan readers will be familiar with; however, it’s presented in a format that any newbie can understand and doesn’t overwhelm the rest of the material.

Some of the most valuable information is the relationship advice Demarco gives. Rather than just sending us off with a few love spells, she explains how to undo bad relationship patterns, appreciate ourselves, and find a healthy relationship without codependence.

The rituals are another strong point of this book. While aimed at getting a healthy relationship with someone else, they also foster healthy relationships with ourselves and support sex-positive outlooks on life whether you’re currently single or taken. Each one is original without resorting to formulaic templates that just switch around correspondences.

One of the down sides is that the blame for bad sexual attitudes is all too often laid at the feet of Christianity. The entire book has a general feel of “Christians ruined sex, which the pagans had been enjoying with no problem, and now it’s up to witches to make sex good again!” Additionally, she doesn’t say where she got her historical material from, and rather than a bibliography, there’s a scant “Recommended Resources” list. She talks about what the “ancient witches” did, without backing up her research—shoddy scholarship.

Also, the book is overwhelmingly heterosexual. This isn’t bad in and of itself, but if you’re not looking for a relationship with an opposite sex partner or if you’re sick of the God = Active and Goddess = Passive dichotomy, you may find yourself skimming over a lot of this book. Additionally, if you’re childfree by choice, the 58 pages on how to get pregnant and have a healthy baby will be useless.

Still, the book has achieved its intended purpose—to offer a magical guide to healthy sexual and romantic relationships to both pagans and nonpagans. It’s a good, practical work with a lot of useful material.

Four pawprints out of five.

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Gaia Calling – Kim Bold

Gaia Calling: Spirit Animal Stories and Gaia Calling: Spirit Animal Music set
Kim Bold
Fifth Mesa Creations, 2006
113 pages

Note: This review was originally written for newWitch magazine in 2006 and appeared in a 2007 issue.

Kim Bold offers a lovely combination of creative writing and music in this set of one book and two CDs. Influenced by the Gaia Theory, the idea that the Earth is a conscious living being, Bold offers up stories and music inspired by spiritual conversations between Gaia and a number of animals from around the world.

The book contains six tales about such animals as Beaver, Giraffe and Panda. In the tradition of world folklore each tale contains a lesson about human behavior through animal fables. They’re simply written and convey their messages in an easy to understand format. The dialogue can be a little silly; in fact, the stories read more like something written for children than adults.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The CD that is sold separately from the book, Spirit Animal Music, accompanies the stories quite nicely. Each track is written to match each story, and makes a nice background to a read-aloud. I could definitely see children, pagan and otherwise, really enjoying getting to hear these stories with Bold’s beautiful musical compositions creating additional depth to the words and actions of the animals.

Speaking of the music, Bold is quite an accomplished artist in that respect as well. The Spirit Animal Music CD weaves her flutes along with assorted percussion and keyboard accents. Even purchased alone it would make an excellent relaxing soundtrack to a meditation or to calm the ambience of a workspace.

Similar music also creates the background to the CD which comes with the book, Meeting Your Spirit Animal. This is a pretty standard totem animal meditation which first relaxes the listener, then guides hir through a cave and into an alternate reality where s/he can meet hir animal. It’s longer, running nearly a half an hour, a third of which is preparation. Some people may find this to be too long, but the meditation itself is quite effective, so you might skip ahead to a couple minutes before it begins if you don’t need as much prep time.

The book only dedicates a couple of pages at the back of the book to practical animal totem work, then makes a recommendation of five books for further reading, including Andrews’ acclaimed Animal Speak, and the popular but culturally appropriative Medicine Cards by Sams and Carson. The basic message is that you need to determine for yourself what your animal is telling you. This is fine if you have some familiarity with totemism, but a brand new beginner may be a little lost without additional 101 information. It might have been better to package the Spirit Animal Music CD with the book, and save the Meeting Your Spirit Animal CD for a new book. I’d love to see Bold come out with a more practical guide to animal magic based on her unique view of animal spirits, provided she could avoid falling into the “just another totem animal dictionary” trap.

Four pawprints out of five.

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The Women’s Book of Healing – Diane Stein

The Women’s Book of Healing (Revised Edition)
Diane Stein
Ten Speed Press, 2004
313 pages

Note: This review was originally written in 2005; I’m not 100% sure whether it got published or not, since it’s rather on the long side.

This book came into my life right when it was exactly what I needed. I’d been beginning a process of correcting internal imbalances, everything from emotional upsets to shifting my diet to compensate for my recently-diagnosed hypoglycemia. While traditional medicine offered a standard set of ideas to aid me in my quest for a healthier self, Stein’s book gave me an alternative healing path to work with. Thanks to the information conveyed it’s a path for which now I possess a greater understanding and appreciation.

First published in 1984, The Women’s Book of Healing is easily as relevant now as it was twenty years ago. It’s an excellent reference for those interested in natural healing methods ranging from chakra adjustments to the use of stones in healing to laying on of hands. Each chapter explains its subject clearly and thoroughly, often pulling reference from complementary chapters to enhance the healing regimen offered. This valuable material is summarized by tables of correspondences that punctuate the text.

I found the interweaving of the chapters to be particularly useful; rather than being separate entities they flow together very well and the information from each can be combined with ease. Most of the time, however, Stein includes the pertinent information in regards to the requisite colors, minerals and other correspondences when describing each specific area of healing. She eliminates much of the jumping back and forth from chapter to chapter that so many other reference books require—if I want to work with my root chakra, for example, I need only to turn to that section. Not only do I have its basic qualities but also what colors, minerals and other tools I’ll need to perform my work.

She’s also very thorough about her information. When I first started reading I’d had the desire to work with chakras, but had no previous experience or knowledge to work with. The second chapter goes into what each of the seven primary chakras represents, drawing both from classic and modern texts. Stein also details the effects of imbalances of the chakras—not only when they’re not open enough, but also when they’re open too wide, a condition I’d not even known existed. Finally, she offers up meditations useful in adjusting the chakras to a healthy end.

Stein is particularly adept at recommending mineral allies for each area of the body, mind and spirit covered. She describes not only what corresponds to each stone in her healing toolkit but also what ailments each stone is best at counteracting. In some instances there’s even advice on what time of day to best work with the stones so as to gain the best possible use of their qualities. In fact, the second half of the book is dedicated to this valuable topic, though the other chapters have strategically placed references.

I found the recurring theme of using our mindsets to aid the healing to be a very important one. Too often we sabotage our own efforts by second-guessing and doubting our abilities to create change on a non-visible level, thereby negating whatever effort we’ve put towards healing ourselves and often worsening the condition. Stein makes the concept of healing through thought understandable and her consistent use of meditation throughout the book backs up her confidence in its ability to destroy our dis-eases. Her explanation of healing on a molecular level further bolsters the ability to believe that which cannot be seen but nonetheless is.

While the primary portion of the book is well worth the read the appendices are superb references at short notice. With these Stein has successfully summarized all of the information she’s passed on in the previous chapters, making it an invaluable reference. Reading the entire book, of course, is recommended. It’s not a difficult task, as Stein’s writing style is wonderfully conversational, easy to understand, and yet conveys the information without skimping on the important details. I honestly came away from this book with no questions about just what it was she was trying to explain.

If there’s only one complaint I have about The Women’s Book of Healing it’s the fairly negative treatment of Western medicine and way she often seems to blame its inadequacy solely on the male sex. While in her preface Stein extols the virtues of equality she constantly maligns “male medicine”. I find this to be a great disservice not only to the men who have been involved in alternative healing for far longer than she gives them credit for but to people of all sexes who have made great progress in the field of Western medicine. Rather than perpetuating the dichotomy of conflict that continually puts both forms of healing at odds, I believe it’s much more constructive and beneficial in the long run to find ways for these medicines to complement each other.

Indeed, Stein’s superb writing is an excellent reference whether used alone or in tandem with traditional medicine. My complaint is primarily stylistic, and I can say from experience that the information provided has proven incredibly useful in aiding my self-healing. I recommend that both novice and experienced healers add The Women’s Book of Healing to their shelves. It has been a valuable resource for the past two decades and promises to be just as relevant in years to come.

Four pawprints out of five.

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A Witches’ Notebook – Silver Ravenwolf

A Witches’ Notebook: Lessons in Witchcraft
Silver Ravenwolf
Llewellyn, 2005
248 pages

Note: This review was written in 2005 for a publication, but was not published. I’m in the process of pulling out some old reviews on my hard drive.

I have to hand it to Silver Ravenwolf: she’s by far one of the best-selling pagan authors ever, all because she’s found her niche. Thousands of beginning neopagans have been introduced to witchcraft and related topics through her works.

Unfortunately, I had high expectations for A Witches’ Notebook. Hailed by her publicist as “a glimpse of her decades-old journey into Witchcraft,” this newest book held promise for me when I first got it. Finally—a chance to get deeper into the practices and mysteries that she’s only skimmed the surface of in previous works! A glimpse at the material known previously only to her and her students! A candid look at the author before she became famous!

What I’d hoped for was something a little grittier and disorganized than her usual works, something that involved the more advanced studies she’s had to have done if she’s birthed as many covens as she has. What I got was yet another highly-polished series of brief glances at a bunch of topics.

The book in and of itself isn’t awful. Her writing style, as always, is very easy to read and she explains concepts in a manner just about any reader can comprehend. She covers a lot of the basics, and makes sure to emphasize the importance not only of spells and potions but also of purification of self, the idea that magic is a tool for development and the consideration that most neopagans today have to deal with the stresses of the mundane world as a matter of course.

This makes for a series of exercises and essays that are very down-to-earth and practical, but far from stodgy. For instance, in considering the effects of your money magick, she writes “Yeah, the bills got paid, but what the heck did you have to suffer with for six months after that?” (p. 107) She’s obviously been there, done that, got the t-shirt. And a good portion of the exercises she provides, particularly in the first half of the book, are geared towards grounding, centering and advancing the practitioner rather than just tossing magic at love and money.
One thing that can be said for this author is that she does offer a tantalizing taste of magical practices. Ravenwolf introduces the reader to a number of concepts ranging from astrology and herbalism to hoodoo and Powwow magic. Variety is definitely a spice she likes to use.

The down side is that most of the topics aren’t covered in any depth whatsoever. Instead of drawing deeper into her hinted-at notebooks, once again she simply flings out a few spells and bare explanations of concepts associated with each topic she covers. They tend to be rather haphazardly organized as well, with little background to offer a transition from, say, Powwow to Reiki. And most of these topics deserve a lot more material presented on them before they should be worked with. A half a dozen pages does not a healer make.

In addition she’s horrible about citing sources. She does include a bibliography, but there are absolutely no in-text citations to support her information. While this is supposedly a collection of tidbits from her personal archives, we shouldn’t be expected to accept everything she says just because she’s an elder.

And she definitely needs a better copy editor. From page fifteen: “[I]t seemed like I could have counted the threads in the cotton sheet I was laying on…all of a sudden I could smell the sheep it was derived from…” Enough said.

In short, while it’s a nicely-written book in a lot of ways, it’s just another rehash of 101 concepts. The most advanced section of the book is nothing more than yet another dictionary of herbs, over sixty pages’ worth. Do we really need to devote more ink and paper to that? For that matter, do we really need yet another skim-the-surface 101 book? There’s little to set this book apart from Ravenwolf’s other books, let alone the dozens—if not hundreds—of beginner’s books already on the market.

If you’re just starting out, you may want to give A Witches’ Notebook a look while you’re browsing to see if it speaks to you. After all, Ravenwolf didn’t become as popular as she did by writing books that collect dust on the sellers’ shelves. Otherwise, don’t waste your money. There’s nothing here that can’t be found elsewhere whether at a basic or advanced level.

One and a half pawprints out of five.

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Green Hermeticism – Wilson, Bamford and Townley

Green Hermeticism: Alchemy and Ecology
Peter Lamborn Wilson, Christopher Bamford, and Kevin Townley
Lindisfarne Books, 2007
206 pages

I cannot rave enough about this book. I forget exactly where I heard about it, but given the dearth of material on ecological spirituality/magic, especially outside of a shamanic or neopagan perspective, I fairly jumped at a chance to pick this text up.

This is not a how-to book, with the exception of one chapter. It is primarily rather dense and inspiring theoretical discussion of the links between hermeticism and alchemy, and the need for a more eco-friendly approach to life, the Universe, and everything. Rather than try to summarize the book as a whole I’ll go through each chapter independently.

Chapter 1 (Wilson) – The Disciples at Sais: A Sacred Theory of Earth – This was originally a paper presented by the author at a 2003 “Sacred Theory of Earth” conference. Wilson traces the influences of green hermeticism, focusing particularly on the works of Romantic scientist and hermeticist Novalis, whose novel provided the title for the chapter. However, Wilson also draws on everyone from Paracelsus to Goethe. However, the bulk of the chapter is dedicated to Novalis, and is liberally adorned with quotes from his works that aptly illustrate foundations of green hermeticism.

Chapter 2 (Bamford) – One the All: Alchemy as Sacred Ecology – Chapter 2 examines the basic philosophy and worldview of alchemy, while highlighting those portions that are particularly applicable to modern ecological concerns. It is also part history lesson, following the progress of alchemy from Egypt to the East and back to the West. And, perhaps most importantly, the idea of One the All is discussed–a deep, pragmatic awareness of the interconnection of all things. We are not merely presented with wishy-washy pleas to “all just get along”, but convincing arguments towards revamping how we approach the Universe, and ourselves and everything else as the All.

Chapter 3 (Wilson) – Green Hermeticissm – Here’s where the book starts getting really good. Wilson dives deeper into hermeticism-as-ecological spirituality, and shows more examples of where the green roots in hermeticism come from throughout its history and development. However, modern implications are also discussed; I was particularly delighted by the section on mycoremeditation–cleaning up toxins through mushrooms which break down the chemical compounds–as a modern form of alchemy. There’s also a marvelous interpretation of lycanthropy as eco-magical awareness and activism, but in a way that takes animals on their own terms instead of through our usual anthropocentric perceptions. While the chapter flows from one topic to another, all together it paints a picture of a very different, much healthier way of viewing reality from what we’re raised with.

Chapter 4 (Bamford) – Quilting Green Hermeticism: A Tissue of Texts and Tracings – This chapter adds texture to the previous material. It’s a delightful collection both of Bamford’s own thoughts, and extensive quotes from various classic alchemical/hermetic texts. By far my favorite part was the section entitled “Ouroborous (‘Tail-eater’) or the Coincidence of Opposites”, an excellent tool for shattering dualistic preconceptions and tendencies towards dividing the world up just so. “Perception and Imagination” is also incredibly important in its promotion of change starting in the very way we view things; unless you are able to shift your perception, none of this will be nearly as useful. By the end of the chapter, my head was reeling from all the information and paradigm shifts, and yet I was left with a sense of a greater, all-encompassing reality–not just “out there” somewhere in the heads of strange old men tinkering with antique glassware, but “in here”, “right here”, “right now”, relevant to All.

Chaoter 5 (Townley) – The Manufacture and Use of Planetary Tinctures – I’m afraid to say that while this essay was exceptionally well-written, it seemed rather tacked on to the end of this book. It’s a practical guide to creating and using planetary tinctures, with a brief explanation of various substances created through alchemy. Do not, however, skip it just because it shifts gears. Give your mind a rest for a few days from the rest of the book, and then read this chapter as its own entity. Despite the difference in styles and focus, you can see elements of the theory of green hermeticism within the processes. In fact, try reading it once before reading the rest, and once after. What I really think, though, is that Townley should author or co-author a practical, hands-on book of green hermeticism techniques. He’s got the right idea, and if there had been more practical material in this book, this chapter would have fit in much better.

I honestly don’t believe I have done this book justice. Truth be told, I’m still digesting what I’ve read, and will go back to it numerous times to re-inoculate myself. However, I wanted to get the word out there as soon as I could, because this is by far one of the most impressive and thought-provoking texts I have ever read. I can’t speak too much as far as the alchemical/hermetic purity goes, since I’m not particularly well-read in those topics at this time. However, as a guidebook for ecological spirituality and magic, and a healthier way of being, it’s beyond essential. In fact, this is another one of those “anyone magical at all should read this” texts (I need to make a list someday….). It’s not an easy read, but it is one of the best.

Five exuberant pawprints out of five.

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Staked – J.F. Lewis

Staked
J.F. Lewis
Pocket Books, 2008
370 pages

This is the second of two brand new vampire novels I’ve reviewed lately, A Rush of Wings, which I reviewed last week, was the other. As with the first book (by a different author), I thoroughly enjoyed this read.

Eric is a vampire. A vampire who owns a strip club, drive a ’64 1/2 Ford Mustang, and has persistent short-term memory problems thanks to having been embalmed. Unfortunately, that werewolf that he killed while defending himself had connections–and now the pack’s coming to collect payment (and did I mention they’re holy rollers on top of it?). On top of it, his girlfriend, who convinced him to turn her into one of the undead, suddenly just isn’t doing it for him any more. And his partner in the strip club business may not be the best friend Eric thought he was. What’s an undead guy to do?

One would think that a novel featuring a vampire-owned strip club would be pretty predictable. Same goes for vampires vs. werewolves, and, of course, the physiology of the vampires themselves. Lewis manages to not only avoid being predictable, but displays an excellent talent at worldbuilding and characterization. Eric is anything but the seedy, smarmy stereotypical strip club owner. Despite being a vampire, he still deals with very human problems, from love to paying fines and tickets. Additionally, because he’s still relatively young, dying in the mid-20th century, he doesn’t have the “I’ve been dead for so long that my culture of origin no longer matters” copout going on. Instead, the reader is treated to odd cultural references from the 1950s and 1960s, and Eric’s life is still punctuated by reminders of his human life–including his would-be wife, Marilyn, who stays with him even after his undeath.

The plot is fast-paced, too, especially for a not-quite-400-page book. Rather than focusing only on the mystery at the center of the story, Lewis brings in several plot threads and fleshes them out enough to keep them interesting. He wraps them up well, though he leaves a few cliffhangers at the end–which makes me really, really want to read the next book! He has a good grasp of dialogue, too; the characters speak believably and have distinctive voices. The changing first-person perspective brings added depth to the story as a whole, and Lewis has a good sense of when to change narrators.

Overall, this is one of the most entertaining and well-developed novels I’ve read in a good long while. Highly, highly recommended.

Five pawprints out of five.

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