Earthway – Mary Summer Rain – September BBBR

Earthway: A Native American Visionary’s Path to Total Mind, Body and Spirit Health
Mary Summer Rain
Pocket Books, 1990
442 pages

Oops, almost missed this month–grad school has me exceptionally busy. But here it is, the Bargain Bin Book Review for September! I’ll admit, this is the very first book by Mary Summer Rain I’ve ever read. I’ve heard the praise and complaints about her work, but I wanted to find out for myself what the fuss is all about. Some people absolutely love her work, and some hate what they consider to be some of the worst plastic shamanism.

I’m afraid I’ll have to opt in with the latter group. Right off the bat, I was cringing from the pidgin English that “No-eyes”, Rain’s supposed mentor, was stuck with–“Nope, it just be fact”, from p. 26, is just one example. I’m guessing No-eyes is up there with don Juan Matus for being a fictionalized Indian presented as a flesh and blood human being. Trying to buy legitimacy with a made-up mentor = points off your final review.

This is subtitled “a Native American visionary’s path”. I found a hodgepodge of information from a variety of sources, including a ton of Western medicine, with some totem animals and other correspondences thrown in. There’s New Age dream interpretation material, to include a whole bunch of 20th century elements that wouldn’t have been a part of any traditional Native American culture. There’s what’s supposedly Anasazi astrology. And there’s a whole lot of medical advice being dispensed by someone who, to my understanding, isn’t a medical professional. Extra points taken off for an utter and complete lack of a bibliography or other notations of source material.

I can’t, in good conscience, recommend this book to anyone, either as a guide to healthy living, or indigenous spiritual and cultural practices–really for anything except as an object lesson in plastic shamanism. Now I see why so many people complain about this author’s work. This is some of the worst of the worst.

One pawprint out of five.

Want to buy this book?

Advertisements

Spiritual Tattoo – John A. Rush

Spiritual Tattoo: A Cultural History of Tattooing, Piercing, Scarification, Branding and Implants
John A. Rush
Frog, Ltd., 2005
244 pages

I think I was expecting something a little more image-heavy when I picked up this book, perhaps a pictorial exploration of body modifications throughout history. While it ended up being something different, it certainly didn’t disappoint. Spiritual Tattoo is a fascinating, light-academic exploration of body modifications for spiritual and cultural purposes, both modern and historical, in cultures around the world.

While Rush admits that discussion of some of the earliest deliberate modification, including among Neanderthals, is based on a good bit of conjecture, he raises some interesting points on body modification as it relates to universal human experiences. However, further in the future he’s able to stand on more solid ground, with plenty of evidence and illustrations that draw a firm line from spiritual and other life-shaping experiences to body modification. He also intelligently discusses the modern use of body mods, particularly in postindustrial societies. Rather than painting every modern person who gets a tattoo, non-ear piercing, or other modification as an immature rebel or otherwise maladjusted individual, he instead gets to the heart of the reasons why people have these things done, even in a culture where it’s still often frowned upon.

Rush balances an academic level of research with an accessible writing style. He organizes the material creatively, and not always in a strictly linear fashion. Instead, the chapters are arranged by themes in spiritual body mods, exploring each one in depth and with care.

Overall, this is an excellent read. Some of it may be preaching to the choir when it comes to the already inked and pierced and so forth, but it’s also a valuable text when demonstrating that there’s more to body mods than rebellion–that in fact these fill in the gaps for the meaningful rites of passage that are lacking in American cultures, among others. Rather than being a recent counterculture phenomenon, Rush shows us that body modifications and spirituality have gone hand in hand in very consistent ways for millenia.

Five inked pawprints out of five.

Want to buy this book?

Writing Spiritual Books – Hal Zina Bennett

Writing Spiritual Books: A Bestselling Writer’s Guide to Successful Publication
Hal Zina Bennett
Inner Ocean Publishing, 2004
222 pages

With the advent of the internet, print on demand services, and a growing number of pagan and occult publishers and self-publishers, there are increasing opportunities to be a published author. However, just because you have an idea and can string a few words together doesn’t mean that you’re automaticaly going to get your book accepted. What Bennett offers is a guide to book writing that specifically focuses on the spiritual genre.

I’ve enjoyed some of Bennett’s other works, including Spirit Animals and the Wheel of Life and Zuni Fetishes. This book, however, is another animal entirely. Instead of being a text focused on a particular spirituality, this is a wonderfully thorough guide to writing a book about your own spirituality. Bennett’s extensive experience as an author, as well as a writing coach, shines through in this work.

Bennett cover a lot of ground just concerning writing itself. He helps the would-be author to get started, not with a traditional outline, but with the more creative mind map. He also brings up some excellent points about the importance of knowing your audience and what you’re trying to tell them, rather than only writing for yourself. There’s even an entire chapter dedicated to putting together effective exercises for the reader to test-drive theoretical material with. There’s not so much material on the actual publication and promotion process, but what he does offer is good advice.

I think the main consideration that readers of this blog may want to keep in mind is that the advice does tend to more heavily favor New Age/Metaphysical writing, rather than pagan or occult texts. Therefore, some of the assumptions that are made might not fit your experience; for example, he assumes that you’ll agree with the Perennial Philosophy as popularized by Huxley. Additionally, some considerations specific to pagan and occult writing, particularly regarding audience and topics, are not covered here.

Still, it is an excellent book for what it was meant to be, and definitely worth a read if you’re a would-be author of spiritual books, especially if you don’t have a background as a professional writer. It reads like a manual for the average reader who has some ideas, but isn’t sure how to implement them, rather than someone who is a seasoned writer in some genre or another. Regardless of your experience level, there’ll be good information and ideas for you in this book.

Five pawprints out of five.

Want to buy this book?

The Good Cat Spell Book – Gillian Kemp

The Good Cat Spell Book
Gillian Kemp
Crossing Press, 2008
122 pages hardback plus oracle poster

This is the latest release from spellcrafter Gillian Kemp. It’s also the newest book to focus on cat magic, and one of the more interactive ones as far as your cat is concerned.

The book focuses on the cat as a familiar. While I agree with Kemp that a familiar is an animal who actively aids in magic, I disagree that the main factor involved in whether a cat (or any animal) is a familiar is love. You can love a pet dearly, but that doesn’t make hir any more likely to be a familiar than a family member would be a magician hirself. She also includes astrological profiles for cats; the information didn’t particularly match my two cats, but then again astrological generalizations presented in brief often tend to be hit or miss.

Kemp provides dozens of spells for a variety of purposes, from love to prosperity to reversing your luck. Your cat simply acts as a cat normally would, and that energy is placed into the spell or divination. A good example is “To Speed Cash to You Quickly” (p. 43), which basically involves enticing your cat to play with money as a toy, with a little extra “oomph”.

While the cats are well-treated, some of the spells may offend some peoples’ ethics. The very first spell in the book, “To Bewitch the One You Love” (p. 14), involves compelling a specific person to think of you; “To Keep the One You Love” (p. 17) and “For a Lover To Return To You” speak more of insecurity than love. “To Encourage Your Parents to Reconcile and Reunite” (p. 31) is similarly aimed at those who may be tempted to try to interfere with a situation that they may not completely understand.

The Cat Oracle is a reworking of the old divination trick of watching the movements of an animal to get an answer. There’s a poster in the back of the book that has a set of symbols arranged in a particular way, and however your cat moves will determine which symbol is relevant to your question. If you do have a feline familiar, this may be a neat thing to try out.

I’m torn on how to rate this book. On the one hand, there are some useful things in here for those who like cat magic. However, on the other, the borderline manipulative spells, as well as my disagreement about what actually constitutes a familiar, and a complete lack of a bibliography or references, take away points. So I’m going to give it…

Three and a half pawprints out of five.

Want to buy this book?

The Shamanic Drum – Michael Drake

The Shamanic Drum: A Guide to Sacred Drumming
Michael Drake
Talking Drum Publications, 1991
100 pages

If you’re not a fan of core shamanism, you probably won’t like this book. It’s heavily based on material from Harner’s The Way of the Shaman and derivative works. I tried to keep in mind that when it was written back in 1991, there wasn’t nearly as much practical information on neoshamanism as there is now, and most of it was core shamanism. There is a revised edition as of 2002, which has more material; however, as I have not read that edition yet. So be aware that this review is for the original edition.

That being said, I have some things I like about this book, and some things I’m not so crazy about.

    Likes

–Drake definitely knows his drums. His information on drum care is spot-on. This bit of practical information is quite valuable if this is your first book on drumming.
–He also has obviously done practical work; this is a book based on experience, not just a bit of theorizing and making things up to fill the pages. If the things I dislike below don’t particularly bother you, you may find this to be an excellent text to work from, as it covers everything from the cosmonology of the drum, to different drumming rites and practices you can engage in.
–Endnotes! There are Endnotes! Which means you can see where Drake got some of his third-party information. While he doesn’t provide endnotes for every bit of information that didn’t come from his head, what is there gives you a decent idea of his source material.
–There’s a good deal of environmentally-friendly information in this book, so it’s not all about the humans. It’s a healthy reminder of the good things this material can be used for, and I applaud it.

    Dislikes

–The book treats journeying as though it were safe: “Remember that nothing can harm you on your journeys without your permission” (p. 42)
–Chakras are mixed in, without the explanation that they are specifically from Hinduism, not any shamanic culture (this is very common in New Age writings, unfortunately). The same goes for other New Age concepts that are mixed in with the material.
–Native American cultures are given the “noble savage” treatment: “We are drawn to Native American teachings because they are so pure and harmonious…When your heartbeat is one with the Earth’s, you may begin to look, feel and act much like traditional Native Americans, for they too resonate with her” (p. 77) There are also several generalizations about “shamanic cultures” throughout the book that are not particularly universal, and some of which have a very Western approach.

My biases being what they are, I do admit that as a concise guide to core shamanic drumming, this one’s pretty good. I’m split about 50-50 on my likes and dislikes. Again, I haven’t seen the newer edition, so you may want to give that one a try; some of the issues above may or may not have been addressed (for example, the new edition has an appendix on the American Indian Religious Freedom Act). On the other hand, if the new book is just an expansion of the same general material, you may want to keep this review in mind. If I get ahold of the new edition, I’ll give it a separate review.

Two and a half pawprints out of five.

Want to buy this book?

Kiss of a Dark Moon – Sharie Kohler

Kiss of a Dark Moon
Sharie Kohler
Pocket Books, 2008
352 pages

Everyone needs brain candy, and paranormal romance novels make for syrupy sweetness…errr…yeah. Anyway. I just finished up with Kiss of a Dark Moon, and I am pleased to say it was a fun read by an author who can not only write steamy sex scenes, but is good with worldbuilding and plots as well.

Sharie Kohler revisits a reality where lycans–frightening shapeshifters who don’t take wolf form, but are badass all the same–prey on a general populace that is ignorant of their existence. The only ones who know better are those few who hunt them, and the focus of our story is Kit Marsh, a lone huntress with a real stubborn streak. What happens when a handsome rival hunter is sent to assassinate her? You can probably see where this is going, but there are some fun plot twists all the same.

*SPOILER ALERT!!*

I did really enjoy reading this book, especially the first half of it. The second half didn’t impress me so much, and can mainly be summed up as “Kit and Rafe the hunter fall in love, Kit is stubborn, Kit is still stubborn, Kit remains stubborn throughout being near-mortally wounded and having lots of sex, Kit is stubborn almost to the end of the main plot, tacked-on last chapter Kit and Rafe are older, married, with at least four children, all of whom are eager to be hunters just like Mom and Dad.

The first half of the book had a lot less sex in it, and this is where I think Kohler really shines. I think the sex scenes took up a lot of space that could have been put towards better development of the plotline, since the second half seemed kind of rushed in between the panting and passion. Honestly, if she hasn’t already done so under another name, Kohler should try her hand at the sci-fi/fantasy genre, where she wouldn’t be constrained by the need to add in so much smut to the plotline. While she’s skilled as a romance writer, she could potentially do some awesome things in a more plot-driven style.

Still, there’s also a market for romance with more to it than some hot ‘n heavy action, and if you happen to be a fan of such brain candy, try picking up Kiss of a Dark Moon. It’s one of the better paranormal romances I’ve read in a while, and I’m pretty picky!

Four pawprints out of five.

Want to buy this book?

Enochian Vision Magick – Lon Milo DuQuette

Enochian Vision Magick: An Introduction and Practical Guide to the Magick of Dr. John Dee and Edward Kelley
Lon Milo DuQuette
Weiser/Red Wheel, 2008
262 pages

I think I must typify one of the target audiences for this book. I have no ceremonial background whatsoever, but I love getting at least a basic idea of paths other than mine. I start to fall asleep while reading Crowley and GD material, but I also don’t want to have to deal with overly fluffy, watered-down info. Here is a lovely compromise for getting a foot in the door with Enochian magick–or at least having an idea of what’s going on with all those angels.

As always, Lon Milo DuQuette has presented his information in an accessible, but solid manner. While it doesn’t have the amount of wit of the Chicken Qabalah, once again his writing has managed to help me understand a rather complex topic.

This isn’t just a book on theory, though the history of how Dee and Kelley obtained the Enochian system was appreciated for its context. Instead, DuQuette lays out what all those various charts and weird words are actually for, and then guides the reader through rituals to put them into practice. He draws heavily from the original materials, including some that have been unearthed since Crowley’s time, and I think many readers will appreciate all the sifting, organizing and slogging through primary texts that he’s done.

The really nice thing about this book, though, is that because he’s done such a good job of referencing these original items, and showing where they apply to the actual practices in the book. This means that if a reader wanted to trace things back to Dee and Kelley’s material, the road map is already in place. However, the text is also sufficient just for those who are curious, or who want to be able to practice but aren’t at a point where they’re going to dig through earlier material.

Five pawprints out of five.

Want to buy this book?