Shamanic Egg Cleansings – Kalyn Raphael

Shamanic Egg Cleansings: A Traditional Healing Technique of Mesoamerican Shamans
Kalyn Raphael
Lightwurks, LLC Publishing, 2003
131 pages

I forget exactly where I first heard about this little small press book, but it was one of those things that made me intensely curious, so I picked up a copy. While there are plenty of general books on shamanic practice, it’s good to see more specialized topics being covered as well, and this is the only book I know of that covers this particular form of healing from a practical perspective in detail.

As the title suggests, the book is dedicated solely to how to perform an egg cleansing ceremony for the purposes of healing a client, as well as various considerations to keep in mind for preparation, execution, and aftercare. The author describes a few different ways to do the ritual, including her preferred method as well as that of her mentor. She also talks about the trappings of the ritual and whether they’re necessary or not, how to cleanse the client on different levels of the self, and what to do if a client begins to react badly, especially at a first cleansing. Additionally, there’s information on how to do divination using the eggs post-cleanse.

I have to give this book big props for addressing and poking holes in the idea that illnesses are all the fault of the people who have them, or that they’re all some karmic debt being repaid. While the author does say that these things are possible, she also says that it’s not the healer’s role to make that judgement, and that the judgement can adversely affect the cleansing.

I do wish the author had gone into more detail on some aspects; there were several questions left unanswered (unless I happened to miss them while reading). For one thing, does the egg need to be fresh? Might a rotten one attract similar energy? Can the egg be disposed of in a compost bin so that the natural processes of decay may dissipate the impurities? There were also several places where I felt the author could have gone into more detail on the process; while the body map portion, for example, was covered in great detail, there were other sections that only warranted a paragraph or two. More anecdotes would have been helpful, even if the clients were kept completely anonymous.

Additionally, the subtitle is misleading. I would have preferred if the author had differentiated between what aspects of the book were traditional to specific tribes’ practices, and which were New Age. Some are obviously New Age imports, such as archangels, chakras and auras. However, it would have been nice to know which parts came from indigenous sources, and which were later additions by her or other practitioners. It’s not that the system isn’t effective, but I tend to support being more clear about cultural origins, especially when the system is claimed to be “traditional Mesoamerican”. There was no bibliography or other source material, or even recommended reading for such things as the chakras.

Because of my qualms I considered giving this book a lower rating. However, as a workable text I enjoyed it quite a bit, and I really was glad to see something new (to the publishing world, anyway) being written about. Granted, it’s been around since 2003, but I’ve not seen anything like it. So I’ll simply suggest that if the author does a later edition that she A) expand the material in more detail, and B) be more clear about what’s traditional and what isn’t.

Four pawprints out of five.

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Divine Nature – M. Cremo and M. Goswami – June BBBR

Divine Nature: A Spiritual Perspective On the Environmental Crisis
Michael A. Cremo and Mukunda Goswami
The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, 1998
144 pages

I picked this up expecting a general book on ecospirituality. What I got was a book about how the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (commonly known as the Hare Krishnas) is working for sustainability and ecological balance.

I’m not going to judge the theological or social propriety of ISKCON. However, the book itself was an interesting read. A good deal of it was basic environmental awareness. The first few chapters focus on ecological issues that face the world today, as well as environmental and spiritual arguments for everything from humane treatment of animals to using ox power for farming rather than tractors. There’s also an interesting chapter on “Karma and the Environment” which may be of particular interest to those who believe in karma. And the last part of the book details what ISKCON members have been doing as far as sustainable actions and lifestyles go. The book is also peppered with profiles of individual ISKCON members and affiliates and the pro-environment work they’re doing.

Overall, it’s an interesting little book. I have little use for the theological specifics, but I think it’s great to see what other people are doing to A) present the problems that many are ignoring, and B) do something about it. Some of the environmental issues may be preaching to the choir for those who are already aware of them, but they are presented well. Ten years after this book came out, some of the references are a bit dated, but the message is clear.

Four pawprints out of five.

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Titania’s Wishing Spells – “Happiness” and “Wealth” – Titania Hardie

“Happiness” and “Wealth” from the Titania’s Wishing Spells series
Titania Hardie
Quadrille, 2005
App. 50 pages each

I received these two little hardcovers as a nifty bonus along with Good Fortune and How To Attract It. (Hooray for nifty bonuses!) They’re adorable little books, and while I normally am not a spell fan, these charmed be, to be sure.

You won’t find a bunch of magical theory in these; they’re pure spell book, and so best for someone who already has the basic mechanics of magic down. What I really love about them, though, is the simplicity of the spells. They’re reminiscent less of the flashy “First you do this, and then you do this” formulae in modern spell books, and more akin to folk magic. One of the spells for happiness involves planting a tree, and several involve flowers of various sorts. Some of my favorite wealth spells draw on old customs regarding old shoes. They’re neat little spells that you can work into your everyday life and home, and won’t take a lot of time out of your day.

As with so many of the Quadrille publications of Hardie’s works, these are lovingly illustrated with full colors. If nothing else, Hardie’s works are by far some of the most aesthetically pleasing. And these are adorable enough that you could probably make a gift of them to someone who might not be so witchy, but who would appreciate the charm. However, these are also quite workable spells, so don’t pass them off as only decorations.

Five pawprints out of five.

I’m not going to ask you if you want to buy Happiness, but if you want the book by that name, click here

I also won’t ask you to buy Wealth, but you can get Titania’s book on that subject here

Spirit Animals and the Wheel of Life – Hal Zina Bennett

Spirit Animals and the Wheel of Life: Earth-Centered Practices for Daily Living
Hal Zina Bennett
Hampton Roads Publishing Company, 2000
176 pages

There are a lot of totemism/animal spirit 101 guides out there, and it can be tough to find one that isn’t the same old stuff. I am pleased to say that Spirit Animals and the Wheel of Life is one that stands out. Based on the author’s personal spiritual practices formulated over several decades, and deeply rooted in ecospiritual practices, it adds a definite positive flavor to the corpus of literature on practical neopagan totemism.

At first glance, the book seems like just another rip-off of various Native American tribes’ practices. Some may suspect the wheel format, with animals at the four cardinal directions, up and down, and the center. However, the directions, the Earth and the Sky, and the self are more universal than that, and Bennett does a great job of keeping these concepts from being mock-ups of “Native American spirituality”. While he does talk a bit about indigenous practices, more often he speaks from his own personal background as a spiritual person as well as a psychologist.

The system that Bennett has created provides a structure for pathworking that bridges spirituality and psychology. Each position on the wheel represents a different developmental stage, and the animal associated with each position can help with its respective stage. While Bennett provides his animals for each direction, he does emphasize the fact that these are personal, particularly the power animal of the center. He also includes some examples of meditations and rituals that may be used within the structure of his wheel, which makes this a more usable system than those that simply approach the wheel from a symbolic perspective. This is wonderfully interactive material.

I think my only complaint is that he could have gone a lot deeper with the pathworking aspects of the system. He only briefly describes the stages at each point in the wheel, and I think he could have easily gone into more depth without losing the reader. The developmental aspects of his system are one of its strongest points, and I’d like to see them taken further.

However, even as it is this is a great book. It’s incredibly sensitive to ecological issues and the connection between neopagan totemism and the environment, as well as our role in the whole mess we’re in. It offers tools to help us reverse the damage, and emphasizes the need to connect ourselves–to ourselves, to other living beings, to our spirituality, and to draw all these together into one cohesive view of life. The reader who expects a simple introduction to animal totems will find instead a greater wealth of knowledge and wisdom, and tools to wield them for constructive change.

Four and a half pawprints out of five.

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The Weiser Concise Guide to Herbal Magick – Judith Hawkins-Tillirson

The Weiser Concise Guide to Herbal Magick
Judith Hawkins-Tillirson
Weiser Books, 2007
126 pages

I am really excited about this book–and it takes a lot to make that happen these days! Usually what it takes is somebody writing something that fills a particular niche, or explores something different, or otherwise manages to stand above the crowd. Judith Hawkins-Tillirson has managed to provide a book on herbal magick that will appeal to practitioners both of “low magic”–witchcraft and related practices–and “high magic”–ceremonialism and ritual magic.

Now, for myself, most of my magical experience and knowledge of herbs comes from the likes of Cunningham, books that do a lot of research on other books that do a lot of research, and eventually come down to the original texts from whence most herbal correspondences in formal magic come today (as well as various bits of folklore of dubious origin). What Hawkins-Tillirson has done is gone directly to the original sources, starting with Crowley’s 777 as well as other Qabalistic and related sources, and ferreted out the bare bones of herbal correspondences. She then provides us with concise (as the title suggests) yet meaty entries for herbs associated with the various planets, the Sephiroth and paths of the Tree of Life, and the classic elements. What this leaves us with is a handbook for those who don’t really want to go through all the trouble of reading through countless texts on ceremonialism, but who do want a more solid background to their herbalism than “Someone way back when once said….”. This makes the text appealing both to detail-oriented folk who are sticklers for proper research, and to more free-form practitioners who want information they can apply to their own works.

Anyone who knows me should be impressed by now that I’m speaking well of a book of correspondences–this is one of those “blue moon” occurrences! However, that’s not all this book offers. The last few chapters are dedicated to practical applications of the knowledge that’s been provided, including equipment, techniques, and considerations to keep in mind when making everything from tinctures to poppets. They’re not lengthy chapters, nor should they be considered the only source you will ever need for creating these things. However, for those who already have a decent background in the hands-on aspects of, say, making a pouch and stuffing herbs in it, these chapters draw clear connections between the theoretical material described in the first part of the book, and how they may actually be used.

Finally, I have to give the author huge kudos for the last chapter, “Franz Bardon and Herbal Magick”. Bardon is one of those magicians who has received a lot less attention than he deserves, and I was delighted to see her discussing his techniques of fluid condensing. While I haven’t worked a lot with Bardon’s material, my husband has, and no doubt as soon as I finish this review he’ll be spiriting the book away for his own purposes!

As I said, this is not the do-all and end-all of herbal magic. However, the bibliography is substantial, and there are wonderful endnotes, a huge amount for a book of this length. Hawkins-Tillirson has certainly done her homework, theoretical and practical, and I am highly impressed by this text. If you have any interest in herbal magic whatsoever, even if it’s just as components in spell pouches, you’ll want to pick up a copy of this text.

Five enthusiastic pawprints out of five.

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Dark Desires After Dusk – Kresley Cole

Dark Desires After Dusk
Kresley Cole
Pocket Books, 2008
368 pages

I get a wide variety of books when I review, which includes an interesting array of fiction from Pocket Books/Simon and Schuster. Amid the various nonfiction texts and tomes, it’s nice to take a break and just have some fun with a bit of fiction. My latest bit of enjoyment, Dark Desires After Dusk, was a quick read, and a bit of a surprise.

Imagine you’re a straight-laced kind of woman–with a case of OCD, no less. Everything in your life needs to go in a particular way. Now add in an entire alternate reality that overlaps with this one, where demon mercenaries interact with vampires, (admittedly unorthodox) Valkyries, and fey beings. Get yourself dragged into the show and dropped right into the spotlight. Oh, and on top of it, your main contact and support in this sudden invasion of your privacy is not only your complete opposite as well as a demon (complete with horns), but has an enormous….ah….crush on you.

You see where this is going, right?

Ever since Laurell K. Hamilton hit it big with her erotica-themed modern fantasy/horror novels, the niche genre has exploded. Some have been more on the novel-with-a-little-sex end; this one is quite firmly planted in the romance novel side of things. I’ll admit to not being a huge romance novel fan; I find them to be rather formulaic, and this one travelled the usual “reluctant female eventually falls for bad boy” route. However, the worldbuilding was good enough to keep me interested. If this hadn’t been specifically intended to be a romance novel, I would suggest that the author cut out the romance and focus more on the really interesting storyline developing aside from the main characters’ budding relationship.

Romance aside, I found this to be a fun read. Cole is a talented writer, and I found her style to be wonderfully inviting. Her fleshing out of the characters was a nice touch–I found myself alternately hating and cheering for Cadeon, the aforementioned demon-bodyguard-pain in the ass, in particular. The sex scenes aren’t overly gratuitous, so they don’t distract too much from the story. And as the book ended with plenty of opportunity for a continuation of the series (of which this is the fifth book), I’m actually curious to see where this goes next.

If you aren’t normally a romance novel reader, you might find the romantic bits to be a bit distracting. On the other hand, if you’re looking for a romance novel that can actually stand on something besides the naughty bits, this is a nice bit of brain candy, and I know I enjoyed the read.

Four pawprints out of five.

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Sea Witch – Wendy Joubert

Sea Witch
Wendy Joubert
Self-published, 2008
192 pages

There have been a handful of books on ocean-related magics to come out recently. Now that I’m living within a reasonable distance from the Pacific Ocean, I’ve been taking more of an interest in this area of elemental magic. So I was really looking forward to reading this particular text. It turned out to be a real mixed bag, with some good points, and some areas that could use some work.

I’ll start with the strong points. It is very clear throughout the book that the author loves the ocean, and everything about it. It’s also obvious that she’s done a lot of work magically and spiritually with this particular ecosystem, and she writes from her heart. She’s very considerate of the natural environment, reminding people to not kill animals just for their shells, and including environmentally friendly spell components. She covers a lot of territory, from shells and sand in magic, to the connection between the Moon and the Tides in sea witchery, and even some assorted bits of old lore about the sea. There’s a lot of neat stuff in this book, and I learned a bunch of interesting tidbits on a variety of subjects. The illustrations are lovely, and it has one of the most attractive cover photos I’ve ever seen. It is a book that has been written with a lot of love and a lot of passion for what the author does, and that really comes through in the writing and the energy of the work.

Unfortunately, the book falls into a lot of the problems that self-published works often do. While there aren’t a load of typos and mistakes, the book is in serious need of editing. The biggest problem is organization; the chapters don’t segue well from one to the next, and the order seems a little arbitrary in places. Additionally, the content could use a lot of filling out (but not filler!). A lot of the chapters are very sparse on information, except where the author goes into correspondences–and even with the correspondences, more background information, such as how she developed her information, would be useful. Here are some things I’d like to see:

–More of her personal background, how she developed her relationship to the sea.
–More elaboration on how someone may develop their own relationship to the sea, and more elaboration on what landlocked folk may do as a substitute.
–More information on magic with the moon and tides
–A better organized single section on historical sea witchery and other nautical history that is considered relevant, and why it’s relevant to modern practice, rather than having historical information scattered in a couple places. Also, citations for where she got specific bits of information would be helpful.
–More information that isn’t just correspondences and spells; discussion of the reasons for working with the sea, as well as the need to connect with it for spiritual and even ecological reasons. Also, reasons for including the correspondences that are there, why they’re important, how to work with them for more than spellwork.
–Less of the Wicca/magic 101 material; we don’t need to learn all over again how to cast a circle or write a spell.

Basically, where the book is right now is primarily a book of somewhat scattered correspondences and pre-crafted spells. As I said in the beginning, there are a lot of really neat ideas, and this isn’t just something someone wrote to make some extra cash. Unfortunately, self-publishing is a tougher prospect than a lot of would-be authors realize. If the author hired a good editor to help with the organization and fleshing out the content more, I think this could be a really awesome book. As it is, I think it has a lot of good potential, and just needs some help with the polishing.

Two and a half pawprints out of five.

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Cluck: Murder Most Fowl – Eric D. Knapp

Cluck: Murder Most Fowl
Eric D. Knapp
Self-published, 2007
338 pages

Okay, okay. “Zombie chickens” aren’t pagan. Not in the religious sense, anyway. But when I got offered a review copy of this novel, I had to bite.

Take one flock of zombiefied chickens, with an uber-rooster at the head. Throw in one inept wannabe farmer living in a haunted house. Top it off with an order (no pun intended) of secret zombie chicken hunters, with a particularly talented mortal off on a solo crusade to end the plague of undead fowl once and for all. Mix well with a good dose of off-the-wall humor, some camp, and enough talented description to give you a movie in your head, and you have the makings of one very fun read.

It started out a little questionably. While Knapp is a talented author and does a good job of describing what’s going on, the intentionally campy writing got to be a bit much to slog through, especially after the umpteenth time there was a description of a zombie chicken moving in such a way that a random body part fell off. Camp doesn’t really translate over to writing nearly as well as film, as far as I’m concerned, though Knapp made a really good effort of it. Additionally, the backstory took a while to build up to an interesting point, though for good reason–the story behind the story is actually somewhat complex, and made what could have been a relatively simple zombie chicken novel into a more solid read.

I urge prospective readers who find the beginning to be a bit tough to get into to hang in there; it all makes more sense the more deeply you get into the story. The second half of the book grabbed me much more firmly, and it was hard to put it down after that point. The writing, though still campy, had more going on plot-wise, so I was less distracted and more enthralled. While I think the ending (which I won’t spoil for you) came out of left field to an extent, it was satisfying, and left me with a good feeling about the entire adventure through zombie chicken land.

Overall, while it has a few flaws and could use a bit of tightening up in the first half, “Cluck” is definitely an amusing read. It’s particularly commendable as a self-published work, and is among the best self-pub works I’ve ever read, nonfiction or fiction. And, as I said, Knapp is very good with descriptions, and I had a clear mental picture of what was happening the entire time, even if it didn’t make sense at first. Pick this one up if you have a long plane flight, need something to read on the morning commute, or simply want something entertaining to read over a weekend. It has good re-read potential, too, so you’ll definitely get your money’s worth.

Four pawprints full of undead feathers out of five.

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Weather Shamanism – Nan Moss with David Corbin

Weather Shamanism: Harmonizing Our Connection With the Elements
Nan Moss with David Corbin
Bear and Co., 2008
258 pages

Now that I’m telecommuting instead of commuting to a workplace via public transit, I’m not reading as much as I used to (plus I admit to having been reading more comic books from the library than usual, now that I have the time to go!). However, I picked up a copy of Weather Shamanism, a book I’ve wanted to read since I first heard about it last year. I just finished it off, and I’m rather pleased with the result.

I was a bit concerned that this would be a text on how to control the weather, a modern-day mix of spirituality and human-centric overpowering. However, I was pleasantly presented with a book full of concern for the impact we’ve already had on the atmosphere and the Earth, how this has affected the weather, and how further manipulation is not the answer. Nor is the power placed entirely in our hands; the authors focus on working with the spirits of the weather–not ordering them about, but aligning ourselves with them, and learning to see the bigger picture even when our immediate needs may not be being met.

The bulk of this book is theoretical in nature. It is not a “how-to” book with a bunch of exercises and rituals and prayers. I was quite thankful there wasn’t some dictionary of weather spirits, talking about the personality of cloud spirits or the favorite offerings of rain spirits–the authors stress building your own relationships with the weather spirits, which I very much support. Also the authors seem to go on the basic assumption that the reader will already have a decent understanding of shamanism, particularly core shamanism which is the foundation of their own practice. Therefore, this is not a shamanism 101 text.

I think my only complaint is that there’s too much theory; while the authors do a good job of explaining things like respect and power, animistic perspectives, and the nature of certain weather spirits in particular, as well as share a lot of anecdotes (their own and others’), they could have gotten their points across effectively in a lot less space. Really, it’s only the last few dozen pages where there’s any explanation of practical applications beyond anecdotes. My favorite chapter was probably the second to last, the one on healing with weather. And yet, there was so much more they could have described. The book spends a lot of time setting up the stage, for a comparatively brief “performance”. While I don’t expect a bunch of precrafted rituals, it felt at times like they were making the same general points again and again in different words. I would have liked more specific information on practical applications and considerations.

Still, this is a very worthy text, especially for being the first of its kind, and I would definitely recommend it–I am most assuredly hanging onto my copy, because I learned quite a bit that woke me up to the reality of weather spirits, and since I started reading it I’ve been much more aware of them in my everyday life. Thank you to the authors for providing this text.

Four pawprints out of five.

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