Dreams, Symbols and Psychic Power by Tanous and Gray – October BBBR

Dreams, Symbols and Psychic Power: Your Guide to Personal Growth
Alex Tanous and Timothy Gray
Bantam Books, 1990
216 pages

This month’s Bargain Bin Book review was a definite bargain–I found this little text in the middle of a parking lot while walking home from work one day. Deciding that the Universe must have wanted me to read it and review it, I placed it in my BBBR stacks. Having done the reading, I must preface this review by saying that the Universe has sent me a message that it hates me.

Okay, okay–maybe the Universe doesn’t hate me. However, this was a painful book to read. It’s basically a few chapters of halfway decent advice on basic dreamwork wrapped around a bunch of chapters of stereotype-laden dream dictionary.

The first chapter as a basic intro to dream interpretation. There’s a smattering of traditional psychological dream interpretation tossed in there, along with a bit of scientific information about what happens when we dream. I do feel like the authors were trying too hard to ascribe psychic and woo-woo powers to all dreams; I’m of the general opinion that most dreams are mainly our brain’s way of organizing thoughts and experiences from when we’re awake. However, for what the book is, the information isn’t all bad. The second chapter, full of advice on how to remember your dreams better, has a lot of value to it, and adds to the usefulness of this book for general beginners.

The dictionary part…well…I’m really not a fan of the stereotypical dictionary format in any form of spirituality or magical practice. Dream symbols are highly personal, and IMO it matters less what, exactly, you see, than how what you see makes you feel/react. There’s too much material in this book that prods people towards reading too much into something, or interpreting it in a stereotypical manner, rather than looking at the subjective qualities of a particular symbol. A few mentions here and there that dreams are personal won’t really offset the dictionary section of this book. The same can all be said of chapter five, which includes some broad assumptions about specific types of dreams, held up by a handful of anecdotes.

Chapter six is more useful because it includes open-ended advice on how to analyze your dreams. I really think that this book suffered for trying to pigeonhole things that are really very subjective in their interpretation, and overemphasized the recipe-book approach to dream interpretation. Had the book been more focused on the open-ended material in the second and sixth chapters, I think it would have been a much better work overall.

I might recommend this to a beginner with the caveat that chapters two and six are really the only useful portions. Other than that, though, the rest of the pages would make better pulp for new books.

One and a half pawprints out of five.

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Beef by Andrew Rimas

Beef: The Untold Story of How Milk, Meat, and Muscle Shaped the World
Andrew Rimas
William Morrow and Co., 2008
256 pages

You may very well be wondering why it is that I have a book on the history of the relationship between domestic cattle and humanity on a pagan book review blog. I already have reviews of other books that are about specific animals, such as Of Wolves and Men by Lopez and The Sacred Paw by Shepard and Sanders. However, while those are about wild creatures, Beef studies the relationship we have to a domestic creature–the cow. Underappreciated by many modern pagans as not being “impressive” enough, the cow and bull were nonetheless absolutely crucial to many paleopagan cultures, and I believe in promoting more than just the woo-woo aspect of sacred animals.

The book starts off with a modern discussion of beef as a foodstuff, the different cuts, etc. However, this is followed by an incredibly important section about cattle as sacred animals in various cultures. There’s also a good bit of research done on the actual history of the domestication of cattle, and why this was so important to humanity’s development.

However, even today we are still highly dependent on cattle in this world. Our health as a species through better nutrition, as well as certain areas of economy, have been largely due to cattle over the centuries, and continue to do so today. It’s rather sobering to read through some of the material the author presents.

The wrap-up includes a hard look at the beef and milk industries today. Animal abuse is brought up, along with the horrific conditions in stockyards. And, of course, the pollution caused by the demand for more cheap beef, as well as tropical deforestation, can’t be denied. While Rimas offers some potential alternatives, the main message seems to be “eat less beef”.

Any pagan who works within the context of a culture that reveres cattle, or who works with domestic totems and animal spirits, should pick up a copy of this book. Even if neither of these applies, it’s still a fascinating and educational read. The writing style is engaging, so it’s a quick read, and quite the eye-opener.

Five hoofprints out of five.

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Primal Needs by Susan Sizemore

Primal Needs
Susan Sizemore
Pocket Books, 2009
370 pages

Hey, supernatural romance/fic fans–you’ll want to look at this one! If you’re sick of LKH’s Mary Sues, and are tired of LKH knockoffs that are more smut than plot, Primal Needs is a nice breath of fresh air. Admittedly, since it’s a sequel, if this is your introduction to Sizemore’s work it may take a few chapters to get caught up (as was my experience); however, there’s enough of an actual plot to give good context.

Sizemore offers a world in which there are (of course) vampires and werewolves, among others. Despite having to hide in plain sight, the various supernatural beasties interact with everyday society, as well as retaining their own unique cultures. While this book reveals more about the vampire culture in the novels than werewolves, Sizemore adds some interesting details–not the least of which being that while the vampires are matriarchal, the women actually have very little personal freedom. Of course, you know that our female vampire protagonist, Sidonie Wolf, must buck the system. What 21st century heroine would be content to sit in a guarded castle all the time birthing babies? Taking the part of rebellious youngster, she takes on the world at large, complete with heartbreak, danger, and artificial insemination. Much of the plot revolves around her reluctance to hook up once again with the werewolf who broke her heart–I’ll leave it to you to find out whether they become an item again, or whether that sexy alpha vampire that pops into the picture a few chapters in captures her interest instead.

There’s not a whole lot of sex in this book–it’s mainly of the “fade out at the end of the chapter with insinuations” variety. This leaves plenty of room for a good story. It’s still brain candy, the kind you want to take on the airplane with you–it may not be that memorable, but it’s worth a good first read. For being of the romance genre, it’s a good choice, and quite a nice surprise amid some of my recent fiction reviews.

Four pawprints out of five.

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Ecopsychology edited by Roszak, Gomes and Kanner

Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth, Healing the Mind
Edited by Theodore Roszak, Mary E. Gomes and Allen D. Kanner
Sierra Club Books, 1995
334 pages

So you might wonder why I’m reviewing a book on psychology here. It’s not just because there’s an essay on ecopsychology and shamanism in it (though that’s a definite talking point). Rather, it’s because (outside of neopaganism) ecopsychology is the closest thing to animism that the dominant culture in the U.S. has at this point. I found numerous parallels between this book and my own beliefs as a pagan and (neo)shaman, and I think that any pagan who has animistic beliefs and/or has a commitment to the world around them (environmental or otherwise) should take a good, long read of this book.

One of the editors, Theodore Roszak, coined the term “ecopsycholoy” in his 1992 book The Voice of the Earth (which is on my want list). This anthology is a continuation of that current. It contains over twenty essays from therapists, ecologists, and other folks on the psychology of connection with the world around us–and seeing ourselves as a part of that world, not separate from it. I’m not going to go through every single essay; I will say that I enjoyed every single one–this is a very solid collection. I do want to highlight a few of the themes covered:

–Ecopsychology as a way to make the boundaries between Self and Other more permeable, but not to the point of the complete dissolution of Self. One of our biggest problems is that we’re too independent, to the point of ill health on numerous levels. Ecopsychology finds healthy balances that address both the needs of Self and of Other.

–Another theme, related to that, is ridding ourselves of our hangup on dualities–for example, not assuming that reducing the rigidity of one’s boundaries of Self will automatically result in a complete loss of Self. Instead, ecopsychology promotes a different way of looking at the world.

–Social issues are another theme. Ecopsychology is brought into conjunction with feminist theory in a few of the essays. The domination and controlling headspace of men enacted towards women is directly linked to the domination and control of the natural environment by humanity, particularly in the Western world. Additionally, there’s a brilliant essay on confronting racial issues in ecopsychology, as well as the concept of “deconstructing whiteness” and what that means for psychology and ecology.

–The current destruction of the natural environment is explored as being the result of pathologies, to include addiction and narcissistic personality disorder. These are some of the most powerful essays in the collection, and as they’re early on, they’re a hard-hitting opener.

There’s plenty more to this meaty text. For pagans, there’s plenty to chew on. Besides the parallels between ecopsychology and animism, and approaching the world as an interconnected whole populated by spirits, deities, and a living Earth, there’s also a neat essay about combining core shamanism and ecopsychological practice. And one of the essays delves deeply into indigenous shamanisms and what the author brought out of an experience halfway around the world from where he lived.

This is not an easy text to read, and not just for the writing style. It thoroughly challenges many of our assumptions about how the world is put together, and how we as humans (especially those of us in Western cultures) approach it. If you feel like it’ll be preaching to the choir, read it anyway. If you think it isn’t relevant to anything in your life, read it anyway. And if you think you’ll disagree with every bit of it–you got it, read it anyway. There aren’t that many books that I would consider absolute required reading for neopagan folk, but this is one of them.

Five pawprints out of five.

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Yokai Attack! by Hiroko Yoda and Matt Alt

Yokai Attack! The Japanese Monster Survival Guide
Hiroko Yoda and Matt Alt (artwork by Tatsuya Morino)
Kodansha International
192 pages

Holy crap, but this is a fun book! Think of the monsters and other critters you’ve perhaps encountered in anime and manga, or video games out of Japan. (I’m especially thinking Okami here.) Yokai Attack! provides the background mythology on some of these beings, and numerous others–some of the scariest (and, in some cases, silliest) monsters in Japanese mythos.

While there are the usual suspects such as the Kitsune and various forms of Tengu, did you know about the Kara-Kasa and Bura-Bura, an umbrella and lantern respectively that have been animated into haunts? Or what about Konaki Jiji, who imitates a baby to gain contact with a human which it then crushes to death? These and dozens more Yokai may be found in the pages of this book (not literally, of course!).

The book is put together like a tongue-in-cheek field guide. Amid the suggestions for what to do if you meet up with one of these beings (such as keeping a leaky ladle in your boat in case of a meeting with the Funa-Yurei), there’s solid research about them. The authors are careful to note when a Yokai is of relatively recent origin, and what that origin likely is. For all its manga-ish appearance, it’s a decent resource.

Speaking of manga, the artwork is excellent. It’s not the typical manga-style, though it does mix traditional designs with modern aesthetics. And there are fun little additions to the layout, like little “Post-it notes” and other things with a bit of extra info here and there.

Overall, if you’d like an introduction to Japanese mythology, particularly as is pertains to things that go bump in the night, this is a good read.

Five pawprints out of five.

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