Drawing the Three of Coins – Terri Paajanen

Drawing the Three of Coins: How to Open and Run a Pagan Store
Terri Paajanen
Spilled Candy Books, 2005
150 pages

This is an awesome small-press book from Spilled Candy. It’s the kind of book I try to write myself–a good, in-depth, no-frills exploration of something that hasn’t really been covered before. Additionally, the author very obviously has a good deal of experience with the topic she’s writing about, which just makes it even better.

Paajanen has written just about the closest thing to a perfect book on being a pagan shopowner. I know so many pagan folk whose dream it is to open a shop some day–brick and mortar, if you please! Unfortunately, while I’ve seen some wonderfully successful businesses, I’ve also seen failed attempts that either had too little capital behind them, or too little business sense, or some other fatal error. I think that Drawing the Three of Coins could go a long way in lessening the potential failures. Mind you, it’s not a complete book on owning a book store in general; the beauty of the book is that is specifically focuses on things that are primarily of interest to someone wanting to own a pagan (or occult) shop. You’ll need to supplement with other business-related books, but this is a must-have.

Paajanen covers a lot of ground nonetheless. There’s strong emphasis on the need for a good location, as well as how you lay out and design the interior of your shop once you have it in place (very, very important, let me tell you!). She also discusses actually getting ahold of inventory, what to get, and how much. Even seemingly minor details like hiring on tarot readers or putting up a website are given a good deal of attention. And if you want to organize events, the book has answers for that as well.

The author doesn’t pull any punches about the reality of small business ownership. If you think it’ll be a breeze–think again. After reading this text, you’ll have a much better idea of just how much work it really is.

On the other hand, if you are bound and determined to open a pagan shop–or, for that matter, just sort of hemming and hawing over the possibility, maybe someday…..read this book. As far as I know, it’s the only one of its kind–but it’d be tough to top.

Five pawprints out of five.

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The Long Descent – John Michael Greer

The Long Descent: A User’s Guide to the End of the Industrial Age
John Michael Greer
New Society Publishers, 2008
258 pages

This isn’t a strictly pagan book; however, the author is well-known in the pagan and occult communities. Additionally, the material in this book will be of interest to many pagans (and non-pagans as well!). Instead of speaking primarily from a place as a spiritual leader, in this book, Greer emphasizes his experiences as “a certified Master Conserver, organic gardener and scholar of ecological history” (as per his bio).

The Long Descent is an in-depth discussion of an often-ignored possibility for the future. Having studied the destruction of numerous civilizations throughout history, the trend that Greer observes the most is that of slow decay, often staggered, over a period of centuries–hence the title of the book. I can already see two groups of people who will be, at the very least, irritated about the holes that Greer pokes in the futuristic mythologies they tell. One will be those who believe that technology will save us all, and keeping industrial civilization going is only a matter of finding the right invention. The other will be fatalistic would-be anarchists (or Rapturists, or those waiting for the Veil to fall etc.) who anxiously await a sudden Apocalypse that will bring everything as we know it an end–either ushering in a new paradise, or a hellhole.

Either way, Greer offers a much more time-tested pattern of change. However, instead of leaving us with a pessimistic view of the future, in which we’re all victims of plagues and violence, he provides a good number of constructive solutions for making a smoother transition from industrial society to a more agrarian one. (He argues that the linear perspective of civilizations, that industrialism is automatically “higher” and “better” than agrarian ones, is unrealistic–similar to claiming that monotheism is an automatic improvement over polytheism in the grand, linear scheme of things). Surprisingly, he does not support having small, self-contained communities scattered everywhere, though he does strongly favor community interaction; the lone cabin of the survivalist is inferior to the remainders of cities, towns, etc.

He does realistically explore the down sides of this potential future; it’s not all sunshine and windmills. As health care degrades, people will succumb to illnesses and injuries that even a century ago were major threats. (One of his suggestions is to do as much DIY health care as possible.) However, overall this is a hopeful book, one that balances the very real possibility that a few generations from now there won’t be the internet, automobiles, and other luxuries we’ve come to expect–and realistic, accessible solutions for riding out the worst parts of the transition. Additionally, as he advocates acting now, rather than waiting until it’s too late, it’s a very much-needed reminder that simply thinking about the issues won’t change things.

There is an excellent chapter on spirituality and post-peak-oil that pagans should particularly take interest in. While he doesn’t promote one religion over another, he does take a good, hard look at how the reality of one’s living conditions can interplay with spiritual beliefs. He manages to blend it nicely into an otherwise primarily secular book.

Whether you’re pagan or not, whether you believe in progress, apocalypse, or some other potential future, and whether you’re a reader of Greer’s popular Archdruid Report blog, give this book a try. You may throw it against the wall, you may love it dearly, but I’m betting that you’ll have something to say about it once you’re through.

Five informed and empowered pawprints out of five.

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The Talisman Magick Workbook – Kala and Ketz Pajeon – August BBBR

The Talisman Magick Workbook
Kala and Ketz Pajeon
Citadel Press, 1992
244 pages

This month’s Bargain Bin Book Review is a handbook on creating magical talismans using combinations of existing symbols from cultures and practices around the world. There is theoretical discussion of talismans and the individual symbols, as well as extensive information on correspondences. In short, it should in theory contain everything you need to get started on talisman magic. But let’s get into the nitty-gritty.

I give the authors kudos for addressing the worry that they’re giving powerful tools into the hands of anyone who wants them, and therefore are responsible for other peoples’ actions. I think they handled this concept very well, and present the information in a well-balanced manner that all but the most misguided of practitioners should understand. I’m not particularly sure what in this book would be considered particularly offensive; it primarily deals with fairly common symbol sets such as zodiacal astrology, the I Ching, Norse runes, and the Tarot. Still, there will always be magical busybodies worrying themselves over what their neighbors are doing.

The information on the symbols themselves is pretty standard, though a few of their sources aren’t so great–for example, they draw on Ralph Blum (among others) for rune information. Given that the book was written in 1992, when there was a lot less source material, it’s forgivable–however, be aware that there may be inaccurate information from these sources. If you’re going to study these symbols and systems beyond the talisman magic explained in this book, make sure you refer to other source material.

Where I actually see the most potential value for this book is for Chaos magicians wanting to indulge in a bit of paradigmal piracy, and others who aren’t too concerned about in-depth study of the systems drawn on. If you want a quick “plug it in, charge it up, and let it go” bit of magic, this will be a good single text to work from. However, if you’re more type-A about historical and factual accuracy, you’ll at the very least want to supplement this text, and if potential inaccuracies really bother you, you may just want to pass it by altogether. It’s a good practical text and it accomplishes the goal it was made for, though.

Three and a half pawprints out of five.

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Nine Worlds of Seid-Magic – Jenny Blain

Nine Worlds of Seid-Magic: Ecstasy and Neo-Shamanism in North European Paganism
Jenny Blain
Routledge, 2002
186 pages

This book was recommended to me as a good introduction to what seithr, shamanistic practices based in Northern European cultures, is. Specifically it focuses on the oracular aspects of the practice. Rather than a practical how-to manual with step-by-step instructions, it is a thoughtful and well-balanced text on the topic from someone who is both an academic and a practitioner. It fills two niches: the need for more material on seithr; and the need for more academic material on neoshamanisms in their own right, rather than as footnotes in shamanic discourse.

Blain presents a mixture of historical references to support the existence of seithr in Northern Europe, both before and after large-scale Christianization. However, she also approaches these materials with a critical eye, rather than simply accepting them as truth. She neatly weaves these in with commentary from modern practitioners of seithr, as well as her own experiences.

There are a number of controversial topics brought up in a generally neutral manner, allowing for the contemplation of the material discussed. A good deal of the book concerns gender issues in relation to seithr and the modern heathen movement, particularly the resistance to seithr by more conservative elements. The questions of whether seithr is strictly “wimmin’s work”, whether or not that disempowers it, and whether a seithman is “unmanned”, are all brought up and discussed in detail, both in the context of historical evidence and the modern heathen community.

Blain also tackles authenticity and seithr. Is it shamanism? Is it a legitimate, authentic practice? Are neoshamanisms in general authentic? Can “shamanism” be defined? Can a practitioner truly give an impartial review of seithr? These topics and more all provide a wealth of brain food to chew on.

While it isn’t an easy-breezy book to read, being written in high academese, it is an excellent introduction that gives context for the modern practice of seithr, as well as providing numerous resources that may be traced for more information. The fact that it is written by a practitioner who is also an academic only serves to deepen the value of this book. Hopefully it will encourage the weakening of the terror of “going native” in academia

Five pawprints out of five.

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Tempt Me With Darkness – Shayla Black

Tempt Me With Darkness
Shayla Black
New York: Pocket Books
384 pages

Some authors are really good at working sex into a plot; while romance novels are supposed to be steamy, I tend to prefer the ones where there’s a story besides the flesh and fantasies. Unfortunately, this book didn’t quite make the blend as smooth as some.

The premise is that Marrok, a fictional knight of King Arthur’s court, has been cursed with immortality after sleeping with (and subsequently pissing off) Morganna le Fey. A descendant of Morganna, Olivia, happens into his life seemingly by chance, and Marrok instantly assumes Olivia is Morganna in disguise (again). Cue much confused feelings of lust on both their parts. Unfortunately, this is where it gets bad. Their first coupling leads to an incomplete life-bond which reveals Olivia as a newbie witch in her own right–the kicker is that the bond was done incorrectly (because Marrok didn’t spill his seed) and in order to keep a now highly-randy Olivia alive, Marrok has to sleep with her numerous times each day. To top it off, there’s an enchanted spell book that holds part of the key to breaking Marrok’s curse floating about, an evil magician who leads an army called Anarki, and…well..I won’t ruin the ending for you.

The characters aren’t particularly memorable, and the plotline could use more originality. The best parts were probably the sex scenes, though phrases like “his thick staff” were rather melodramatic. Granted, these are rather par for the course for the genre, but there wasn’t much that made this book stand out from the crowd.

It’s not an unreadable book, but I have read better from Pocket Books. If you want something for an easy afternoon’s read (whether with licentious intentions or not), it’s worth taking a look, but it’s not something that really jumps out at me for a re-read.

Two pawprints out of five.

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