Celtic Totem Animals by John Matthews

Celtic Totem Animals
John Matthews
Red Wheel/Weiser Books, 2002
192 pages plus CD and 20 cards

There are only so many ways you can rehash basic totem animal material. Usually it comes down to “What is a totem animal? How do I meet my totem? What does each totem mean? What do I do once I know my totem?” and so forth. John Matthews has attempted to try to put a Celtic spin on things, as he did with Celtic Shamanism.

Much of the material in the book that came with this set is based on the usual neopagan totemism material, mixed with core shamanism. Guided meditations are presented as “journeys” (when they are not the same thing). Totems are painted as generally benign, and there’s not much offered in the way of warning in case one encounters an unhappy totem animal. He also invokes a number of human-animal interactions, and shapeshifting, as “totemic” or “shamanic” experiences. Some of these are real stretches of speculation; while I can see where the spirit of totemism flows through Celtic mythology, I have to question some of his historical assumptions.

Still, practically speaking, Matthews offers a pretty decent totemic system. While he limits his focus to twenty birds, mammals and the occasional cold-blooded critter that feature in Celtic myth and culture, he does briefly mention that other animals may show up as well. And his yearly cycle for working with the totems does offer a good structure for integrating theory into practice. I wish he’d spent less time talking about lore (which is what a large portion of the book is dedicated to) and more to development of the practical material, as well as discussion of his own experiences.

The totem cards are a complete disappointment. They’re tiny, and the card stock is about on par with a cheap postcard. They won’t last long, and the small size doesn’t really allow the artwork to have as much detail as it could. The drumming CD is a nice addition, though it’s specifically tailored for the totemic “journeying” described in the book–20 minutes of a single drum, 20 minutes of two drums, 30 minutes of one drum. As with any drumming CD, you’re limited by the time constraints of the recording.

It’s a nice effort, but it has a number of flaws. It almost comes across as something that was created primarily to tap the market of totem and other magical “kits” that was just hitting its stride when the set first came out. It’s not the worst totem kit I’ve seen, but neither is it the best. The originality of some of the material gives it some bonus points, but it could have been better.

Three pawprints out of five.

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Meta-Magick, the Book of Atem by Philip H. Farber

Meta-Magick, the Book of Atem: Achieving New States of Consciousness Through NLP, Neuroscience, and Ritual
Philip H. Farber
Weiser Books, 2008
170 pages

I think I’ve been a bit spoiled in my reading choices–or maybe I’m just more of a geek than I thought. Here, Phil Farber presents a book that ties together memetics, consciousness and the nature of reality, NLP and other forms of psychology, and magical entities, and I’m thinking over and over again “Wow, I’ve seen this before. I’ve read that, too. Oooh, I’m familiar with this concept!” And then it dawned on me–Farber’s read a lot of the same stuff, and managed to synthesize it into this nifty handbook for working with the entity Atem.

Atem is an egregore created by Farber in conjunction with this book. He is an opener of ways for an entire new group of entities to be created by those magicians who read Meta-Magick–in short, Atem is a catalyst, a means to an end. As such, this book should be taken not as a basic guide to consciousness and magic, or memetics, or entity creation, but in how these and other topics relate to Atem, and the overarching goals associated with him

While Farber includes a satisfactory amount of theory to explain what he’s about, the practical material in this book is even better. For example, working with a six-part structure based on the various elements (such as Attention and Passion) that are part of Atem’s fabrication, Farber guides the reader through a thirty-six day regimen that allows them to not only understand Atem in all his parts in more detail and work these into new entities, but to also have a better understand of the self and its place in reality. There are other rituals and practices as well, and he does a good job of explaining why they’re there. It reminds me, in some ways, of an updated and expanded version of what Robert Anton Wilson was trying to do with Prometheus Rising–help explain how the mind and reality interact.

I would classify this as an intermediate text. Those who have a basis in magic, particularly Chaos or other postmodern forms of magic, will have a better understanding of what’s going on than a rank beginner. However, those who have already read extensively on consciousness and reality, psychology, neurobiology, memetics, entity creation, and other topics that Farber integrates into the Atem working will probably not find too much new material here. I would suggest using this book as a springboard into looking into these other subjects. I do wish he had used internal citations, because I like being able to follow a particular thought to its source and then on from there, but he does offer some resource suggestions to tempt the bibliophile’s appetite.

I think my only complaint is that much of the material works best with two other people. If you are a solitary practitioner entirely, and can’t find other folks who are dedicated enough to give a couple of months to Atem workings, you’re going to have trouble completing this text as described. This is a pretty significant drawback, considering that some magicians are simply isolated, and others don’t prefer to work with others. I wish he would have primarily tailored the material for the individual, with options for small group work.

I do commend Farber for what he’s trying to do here–he’s done a nice job of synthesizing his research into a cohesive magical working that’s effective both internally and on a wider plain of reality. This is a good book to give someone who’s already read Carroll and Hine and wants to do something more specific with Chaos-type magic, particularly surrounding entity work.

Four pawprints out of five.

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A Seeker’s Journey and Initiation into Wicca by Janine DeMartini

A Seeker’s Journey and Initiation into Wicca
Janine DeMartini
PublishAmerica, 2006
194 pages

This particular text, while published via PublishAmerica, was not given any editing by that company. Unedited works (whether through such a publisher or self-published), more than any other, seem to be a bit of a crapshoot. Because there aren’t the extra pairs of eyes looking over the manuscript (unless the author hires a freelance editor), the quality of the book rests solely on the skills of the author. I’ve seen unedited works which were absolutely stunning–and I’ve seen others that simply stunk. This one is a mixed bag; I’d like to start out by extolling its virtues before getting into my criticisms.

I have to applaud the author for coming right out and complaining about some of the issues with many Wicca 101 and related books: poor research, rehashes of the same old stuff, and inaccurate presentations of deities from polytheistic cultures. She then presents her book as an alternative that avoids these pitfalls, and as someone who’s written books for similar reasons, I give her many kudos! And indeed, while she does cover some basic ideas about Wicca, as well as a small section of rituals, she doesn’t do the usual rehash of “This is an athame, and this is what red candles are burned for”, etc. DeMartini also makes it very clear that Wicca is not whatever you want it to be, and explains her background regarding traditional vs. eclectic Wicca from the beginning.

She also covers a lot of experiential information that many authors overlook, especially concerning the neopagan community as a social phenomenon. This includes things like people in the pagan community who mislead others (accidentally or deliberately), a bit of discussion about coven group dynamics, and what happens when you take oaths in more than one tradition over the years. And I really enjoyed the introduction to Omnimancy which, although not expressly Wiccan, is something that she found personally useful–this is partly a record of her own journey, and so it is appropriate to include it.

It’s very obvious that she’s done her work, and her anecdotes back it up. She’s a great teller of true stories, and she’s seen and done quite a bit. There are a lot of things of interest, especially (though not exclusively) to newbies.

However, this leads into my first criticism. The book could have been better organized. The chapters don’t always segue well from one to the next, and at times it reads more like a collection of essays on a loose theme. Additionally, the book is overbalanced towards anecdotes, which aren’t well-woven with the practical material. It’s all good stuff; it just isn’t tied together well into a cohesive work, which sometimes made it frustrating to try to put together in my mind.

The other problem stems directly from the fact that the book apparently wasn’t put through any formal editing process beyond the author’s own work. While at times DeMartini’s writing is engaging, overall the book reads like a rough draft manuscript. There are certain consistent patterns that kept throwing me off, most notably a frequent appearance of incomplete sentences. Additionally, there were a number of typos, as well as the use of the wrong word (an example being “throws” instead of “throes”).

I realize, as an author and an editor myself, that the prospect of taking one’s pride and joy and running it through the red ink of the editing process can be intimidating. I specifically went with the publisher that I did because I had a loooong discussion with the editor about keeping my writing mine, while improving the overall quality. However, the criticisms I have are things that would be readily fixable by an editor, either a freelance editor, or one with a different publishing company*. As is, the rough draft quality of the book significantly diminished its readability.

There is a good amount of material in this book, don’t get me wrong. DeMartini absolutely has the right ideas and the experience, and this could be a wonderful counterpoint to the usual re-re-rehashing of “This is an athame…” etc. If it were to be thoroughly and professionally edited and reworked, it could be one of the best–and this coming from someone who’s damned hard to impress with basic Wicca material any more.

*PublishAmerica is possibly the most notorious vanity press out there; the SFWA staged a well-known sting a few years ago.

Two and three quarters pawprints out of five.

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The Hell-fire Club by Donald McCormick – December BBBR

The Hell-fire Club (The Dennis Wheatley Library of the Occult)
Donald McCormick
Sphere books Ltd., 1975
206 pages

I’ll admit I was a little leery of this book when I first picked it up, since the cover and format make it come across as a rather sensational pulp paperback. However, for $1.29 I was willing to give it a shot, especially since I’d recently seen the episode of the Sci Fi channel’s Ghost Hunters at a friend’s place that featured the Hell Fire caves where Sir Francis Dashwood and others were rumored to have enacted black magic.

All told, it’s a better book than I expected. The author is concerned less about sensationalism (though there is a touch of that) and more about determining whether there actually was any truth to the accusations of black magic and other debaucheries. He does a significant amount of research, drawing on letters and other primary documents from contemporary times, and weaves them together in a nicely organized tale. He also emphasizes the social and political contexts that the Hell-fire Club existed in, rather than trying to get it to exist in a vacuum for his own purposes.

The writer of the introduction insists that the author is wrong, that there actually were Satanic masses going on at the time, though he doesn’t offer much evidence. Still, those who want to believe this is true may dislike this book. Additionally, because it is an older text, and there are newer resources on the topic, readers may want to compare it to more recent research. For an introduction to the topic, though, it’s not bad at all.

A reasonably good read with better research and presentation than a lot of the New Age drek floating around today.

Four pawprints out of five.

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The Phillupic Hymns by P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

The Phillupic Hymns
P. Sufenas Virius Lupus
Bibliotheca Alexandrina, 2008
292 pages

The world is full of would-be poets. These range from people who are thrilled that they discovered “cat”, “flat”, “rat” and “bat” all rhyme (and therefore should throw them all in one poorly written verse), to those who manage to rise above the usual stuff and present something original. P. (Phillupus) Sufenas Virius Lupus is, thankfully, well on the latter end of the spectrum. Given that I am not a huge fan of poetry, the fact that I have found a book of it that impresses me quite a bit is saying a lot.

While many collections of poems are published for the benefit of the poet’s ego, a paycheck, or other self-focused reasons, this is a devotional collection, an offering to a plethora of deities from Egypt, Greece, Rome, Celtic Gaul, and Britain. The earliest poems stem from Phillupus’ 2002 inauguration of the renewed worship of Antinous, the deified lover of the Emperor Hadrian. A large majority, however, came from two short but incredibly fruitful bursts of inspiration and dedication on the poet’s part earlier this year, brought about by an oracle from Dionysos. I was fortunate enough to witness the initial postings online of many of these devotional poems, and was excited to hear that they and others would be brought into a printed collection. I have trouble reading things online, and find the format of a dead-tree book to be much easier on my eyes.

Phillupus is an incredibly gifted poet who stands well above the crowd. Rather than endless attempts at “free verse” (which are usually excuses for overly flowery prose peppered with hard returns at inopportune moments), he has worked largely within ancient styles made popular by Homer, Hesiod, Virgil, and their contemporaries. As I read, I was reminded strongly not only of the delivery but of the highly descriptive language of the Iliad, the Aeneid, and other well known (and more obscure) poems. While this is not a major literary pursuit of mine, I’m familiar enough with the form from my educational background to recognize its modern counterpart. Phillupus has a knack for choosing just the right words in pleasing combinations, and there is not a strained or stretched phrase in the entire collection.

Where many collections of poems seem to be linked together solely by the fact that they all came from the same poet, this book flows well exceptionally well precisely because it was created with such strongly focused intent. This is not a mish-mash of some devotionals, then some free-verse about the poet’s love life, and perhaps some sketchily-written rhymes about cats. Rather, the very fact that it has a definite theme, and that it sticks strictly to that theme, gives it strength.

However, don’t let this fool you into thinking you’ll be reading the same poem over and over again with a different deity each time. The offerings here range from humorous to morose, traditional to playful, with setting in both ancient and modern times. I laughed out loud at the dating plights of Sobek, pondering a past of “typhonic” love while hanging out in a coffee shop waiting for a blind date set up by Anubis. I sat in quiet contemplation of the Matres as they went about their tasks. I witnessed sorrow more than once for the loss of Antinous, and was surprised and a little sad for Ganymede, taken to be a cupbearer instead of a prince. I delighted to see the feral Abnoba, often overlooked, running through the wilderness.

This is a collection that, while it may be enjoyed simply for itself, would lend itself very well to ritual purposes. If you’re tired of the stereotypical neopagan ritual “verse”, and want to be able to incorporate words of devotion that will set the mood for your rite, these works will open the way for the Divine with beauty, grace, and power. There are a couple of prose pieces, as well, that would make excellent readings for group storytelling rites (though any of these would be wonderful for reading aloud). (Do keep in mind, of course, that if you’re using them for any sort of group ritual, even if nothing is written down, it’s more than polite to give credit to the poet–and Phillupus certainly deserves it!) Be aware that there are a number of works in here that are not his originals, but rather are his translations of Latin writings; however, the majority of the material is his own, and it meshes well with the older writings.

I also appreciate that the poems are aimed towards renewing interest not only in modern-day polytheism, but in a syncretic approach as well. Due to his background as both an academic and a practicing polytheist, Phillupus approaches syncreticism with great authority, and without the sloppy eclecticism often seen in neopaganism today. Acknowledging that the gods most certainly did get around the ancient world beyond their initial borders, he allows for historical crossover, with good research and better results.

This is, in all, a marvelous collection, whether you simply want to read it, or incorporate the verses in your own ritual work. I can’t say enough good about it!

Five pawprints out of five

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Our Gods Wear Spandex by Christopher Knowles

Our Gods Wear Spandex: The Secret History of Comic Book Heroes
Christopher Knowles
Weiser Books, 2007
234 pages

I had a number of reasons for being really excited about reading this book. One, I am a geek. While I’m a bit of a latecomer to comic book geekery in specific, I’ve done a good bit of catching up. Two, I’m also a sometimes-practitioner of pop culture magic (a concept that my husband, who wrote a practical guide on it, introduced me to). There’s really not much about the intersection of occultism and pop culture out there other than some examinations of trends in movies and books in general, so this text pinged a lot of my geek buttons.

The idea itself is excellent: examine the trappings of the occult in various comic books, both from major publishers like DC and Marvel, and smaller indy publishers, as well as the relationship comic book fans have to the characters and stories as modern-day mythology. There’s plenty of material available, some of it subtle, a good deal of it (especially recently) more open.

Knowles most definitely knows his comic books, at least more mainstream ones. He draws on a wide variety of titles, and brings in a lot of little details about their origins (occult and otherwise). He also explains the contexts in which different characters were created and/or revived, particularly social and political issues, which adds significantly to the depth of his research. His research on the various flavors of occultism in and of itself is pretty solid as well; I’m not sure how active he himself is, but if he’s coming more from the perspective of an observer, he’s done pretty well.

His enthusiasm for the topic comes through in his writing, and I’d love to hear him speak about comic books sometime. He makes nonfiction into a story, as his writing has a narrative quality to it. I would love to read just a straight comic book history from this author. This book could have used extra proofreading, as there are some typos, but that’s not on the author.

Unfortunately, the execution of the material wasn’t nearly as good as I had hoped. First, the book feels more like it’s written for the comic book end of the audience rather than the occultists, despite having been picked up by one of the premiere occult and pagan publishers in the industry, and seems to have been promoted primarily within the comic book scene. It’s a book entirely composed of theory and research, rather than any practical material. This isn’t a bad thing, per se, other than that the bias may be a bit disappointing to those expecting more occult-specific material.

The organization of the text leaves much to be desired. The chapters don’t always segue well from one to the next. Additionally, and this is a big complaint on my part, Knowles spends a lot of ink interjecting 101 material both about the history of comics and occultism. Given that there are numerous texts that cover these concepts more than adequately, the space could have been better put to use. The same goes for the bulk of the material on the actual occult aspects of comic book characters. It reads mostly like a laundry list or a high school report; there’s not a lot of analysis of the information amid the statement of the facts. And while Knowles does cite some sources here and there, he engages in a LOT of speculation about the supposed occult influences on various characters. Granted, we know a lot more about the activities of, say, Grant Morrison than we do about Jack Kirby, thanks to interviews and so forth. However, speculation should be presented as just that, not as undisputed fact.

I really think that the laundry list should have been shortened significantly, and a lot of the not-directly-relevant 101 material cut out. What would have been more valuable would have been extending the more solid information that we do have–for example, Alan Moore, Grant Morrison and Neil Gaiman and their occult-influenced works could easily have been given a chapter apiece. While I don’t think the contributions of Kirby and others should have been ignored, I think Knowles missed the chance to go more in-depth with some of these creators and their creations.

The same goes for the “reverent” approach towards heroes that Knowles attributes to many comic book fans. He hints at it here and there, but never really examines it in detail. Given that there are people who work with comic book characters in magical practice, and folks who see them as modern manifestations of ancient archetypes in spirituality, he could have done some research on this sort of modern practice. Of course, he also refers to Joseph Campbell’s work as “obscure” (p. 193), so he may be more mainstream than I had initially assumed (again, reference the heavier influence towards the comic book audience in the book overall).

Finally, one quibble in gender-related terminology I’d like to bring up. On p.167, Knowles states, “In Miller’s stories, Elektra is essentially devoid of a recognizably feminine personality, and became quite square-jawed and muscular in his later renderings. One can even argue that Elektra is essentially a transvestite or transsexual character, and that the trauma of her father’s death effectively removes her femininity” (italics mine). No, no, and furthermore, no. A masculine woman is NOT automatically transgender. Given, however, that the comic book aesthetic relies quite a bit on gender dualities, I’m not surprised to see this misunderstanding of nondualistic gender and sexual identity.

Given that this is the first (to my knowledge) book to explore the occult history of comic books, it’s not surprising that there are some flaws–this is common with the first of any sort of book. Despite my complaints, it’s a good effort, all told, and still worth reading (albeit with some caveats). I’m a pretty picky reviewer, and as mentioned, geeky enough to have nitpicks that other readers may overlook. However, I’m going to give it….

Three pawprints out of five.

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The Goat Foot God by Diotima

The Goat Foot God
Bibliotheca Alexandrina, 2008
104 pages

This is my first review of a Bibliotheca Alexandrina title; I’ve been anxiously awaiting my chance to dig into the promising line of books that this small press has been producing in the past year. I’ve been familiar with Diotima’s work through essays, but this is the first book of hers I’ve been able to give a good read. BA is one of a tiny handful (I think a total of two, if I’m not mistaken) of small presses that have specialized in producing nonfiction works specifically devoted to individual deities. The Goat Foot God, of course, is entirely about the Greek God Pan. Unlike the more common devotional texts, which often feature a variety of writings by multiple authors, this is entirely penned by Diotima herself.

I wasn’t quite sure what approach she would take with her subject; would this be a book of personal experiences, or of ritual observances? Neither, in fact; this slim volume is a wonderfully well-researched exploration of the primary sources (and derivatives) that give us the basis of our understanding of Pan. Starting with Homer, and including works all the way up to Tom Robbins’ delightful Jitterbug Perfume, Diotima has scoured the corpus of knowledge to offer up a concise but thorough text. Along the way she answers some critical questions about Pan himself: Why do some sources speak of Pan’s sexual desires, and others omit it? How may a feminist approach Pan? How accurate are pop culture depictions of Pan? And just what is up with the infamous statue with the goat? (On second thought, her answers raise their own set of questions and things to ponder…which is not entirely a bad thing.)

I also very much appreciated the context she provides at the beginning of the book. Additionally, her tone is never overly authoritarian, allowing room for interpretation and discussion, as well as those murky areas punctuated by “We don’t really know for sure”. She is also careful not to privilege ancient texts over unverified personal gnosis, which creates a lovely balance to her solid research.

No one should be able to criticize the scholarship of this text. Diotima’s done her homework, and has the citations to prove it. While her writing style does have an academic flavor to it, it’s quite readable for a variety of audiences. About the only complaint I have about the book in its entirety is her excessive use of parenthetical statements–not including the in-text citations. There are parts of the book where there’s literally one in each sentence.

Still, that’s a tiny quibble in the face of what should be considered an exceptionally important text. Greek-inspired pagans, whether Hellenic recons, or more eclectic practitioners, should look to this as a superior source for information on Pan, as well as for a thought-provoking perspective on what “Greek religion really was/is”. The publishing industry should see this book as an example of the sorts of texts that need to be brought into print–well-researched, in-depth explorations of specific deities (which can also be applied to other topics) that can quell the cries for advanced works. This also would offer readers something besides (insert flavor of the week here) Wicca rehashes and poor scholarship.

The Goat Foot God has more than accomplished its goal. Pan is presented in all his goaty glory, yet unfettered by conventions and strict definitions. Diotima has done him honor with this book, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. I am definitely looking forward to reading more both from this author and publisher.

Five hoofprints out of five.

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Happy Two-Year Anniversary!

Well, looks like this review blog’s made it two whole years! Whoda thunk? In case you missed it, I registered the domain name PaganBookReviews.com and applied it to the blog (please do update your bookmarks accordingly!). I also ran a little maintenance here and there; there were a couple of widgets missing which I’ve now returned to the front page (most notably the Categories widget).

Here’s where it was a year ago, and here’s where it stands right now (numbers include stats from last year):

–208 posts (not including this one), of which 206 are reviews or lists of reviews at other sites; I cleaned out a few of the administrative posts and random things that didn’t really need to be there.
–The best-ever day for views is still Monday, November 19, 2007, with the all-time record of 279 views. My goal for this coming year is to break that. Wanna help? ETA on 18 December, 2008: Ask and ye shall receive–as of 10am PST, I’ve gotten 320 views overall, and there are still a few hours to the day by way of WordPress! Muchas gracias! ETA Again: Final tally, 429 views!
–192 legitimate comments, some of which are my replies. I used to have a godsawful amount of spam, til I registered the new domain name, which reset the spam filter–so far I’ve still had 219 of them try to weasel their way in.
–70 categories, 69 of which are book-related
–PaganBookReviews.com is the very first result on a Google search for “pagan book reviews”, up from #4 last year
–My reviews are showing up in some interesting places–Google Books, links to various other blogs, and the occasional link on Wikipedia (check out the list of links for Patrick Harpur)–I may not be notable enough for the Wikipedia folks, but apparently my reviewing abilities are 😉

The first review since my first anniversary post was The Cave Painters by Gregory Curtis; the most recent post was for a new batch of Facing North reviews.

I haven’t been reading as much as I’d like; I quit the job that had me commuting three hours a day, spent the summer telecommuting, and started graduate school this fall (which means that most of my reading has been for my classes, something I’ll be addressing on my break!). However, there were some really great books that I’ve read in the second year of this blog:

Pagan Visions for a Sustainable Future by various – This is the kind of thing pagans need to be talking about. Not just spells. Not just gossip about who wore OMGRENGARB to the ritual. But actual issues that involve people’s personal spirituality and cosmology and how they affect everyday life and shape worldviews.
Spiritual Transformation Through BDSM by Sensuous Sadie – As a pagan who is also a kinky person, I really appreciated this in-depth look at the spirituality of kinks. Like the above book, it goes beyond the usual 101 material to provide some exceptionally good brain food.
Green Hermeticism by Wilson, Bamford and Townley – Alchemy and hermeticism from an ecocentric perspective, partly penned by none other than Peter Lamborn Wilson (aka Hakim Bey). While it’s primarily theory rather than practice, there is a wonderful practical section in the last chapter that I feel could have a lot of good potential.
Wicked Game by Jeri Smith-Ready – This year I signed on with Pocket Books to review some of their paranormal fiction (mainly romance novels, apparently). One of the first ones they sent me was this surprisingly good read that’s more on the urban fantasy end rather than romance. If you want some brain candy to balance out a good chunk of hefty nonfic, this is a good pick. Oh, and you should check out her totemic novel, Eyes of Crow, too (I have the sequel on my review pile).
A Field Guide to Modern Pagans in Hamilton, Ontario by Neil Jamieson Williams – I seem to have been particularly impressed by books in the past year that deal more with theory and social/etc. issues surrounding paganism as a set of religions and as a subculture, rather than the hands-on how-tos that are more common. This is a great niche-within-a-niche book, an academic-level sociological study of the pagan community in one particular city. Even if you aren’t a resident of Hamilton, Ontario, there are a lot of facts and figures in this slim volume that are worth pondering.
The Weiser Concise Guide to Herbal Magick by Judith Hawkins-Tillirson – Here’s something for those of you looking for the practical texts. While herbalism isn’t my forte, I was impressed by the author’s ability to write an incredibly versatile guide to this topic. Now we have something to recommend besides Cunningham (said with tongue firmly planted in cheek!).
Spirit Herbs by Amy “Moonlady” Martin Not long after the Weiser guide, I was given the chance to review this little gem. It’s got some great ideas for actual practices, especially if you want something more snazzy than the same old sage smudge. Couple this book with Hawkins-Tillirson’s work and you have a great combination for an aspiring herbal magician.
Drumming at the Edge of Magic by Mickey Hart – If you’re a drummer (or drum circle dancer) and you haven’t read this book–why haven’t you yet? By far one of the best books I’ve read ever, let alone just this year.
Drawing the Three of Coins by Terri PaajanenSpilled Candy is an awesome small press, and I’ve liked everything of theirs I’ve seen so far. This one-of-a-kind practical guide to opening and running a pagan shop is an absolute must-have, as it covers numerous details that mainstream start-your-bookstore texts won’t have that are specific to pagan and occult businesses.
The Long Descent by John Michael Greer – Yes, I know a lot of my favorite books this year have been green. This may be the best of the bunch, honestly. Even though most of it has nothing to do with paganism, per se, it’s definitely one of the premiere books on the peak oil issue. Additionally, Greer included this incredible chapter on spirituality post-peak oil that should be mandatory reading for any pagan who has had the idea of buying land out in the southwest and starting a pagan commune (prepare to have your fantasies shattered, and your realities well-supported).
Spiritual Tattoo by John A. Rush – As one of the ranks of inked folks, I thoroughly enjoyed this academic-level exploration of the history of tattooing and related scarification as a spiritual practice.
Runes for Transformation by Kaedrich Olsen – While I haven’t read runes in years, I loved this book–not the least reason of which being that Olsen does a remarkably good balancing act between traditional lore and solid research, and modern perspectives and experimentation. We need more books like this.
When God is Gone, Everything is Holy by Chet Raymo – Don’t let the Catholicism fool you–this is a superb book that raises a lot of questions on theology that will be as applicable to paganism as any denomination of Christianity.
Ecopsychology by various – Oh, hell, why not one more green text? Even if you aren’t a sustainability or psychology geek like me, the spiritual overtones in some of the essays (particularly the one on neoshamanism in therapeutic practice, and the one on magical thinking) should make this a good choice for the pagan reader.

There were plenty of other great books this year (as well as some real losers!), but those are ones that really stood out to me. That being said, I’m looking at my review shelf which is full to overflowing, plus all the books that I’ve bought from various places or have been given and haven’t read yet, and I’m betting that this coming year is going to be even better. (Seriously–I have a few publishers who have been sending me all kinds of stuff to read!) Thank you to everyone who has read the reviews, left comments, clicked on links, supported my own writing and publishing efforts, and otherwise helped me to feel even better about creating this blog in the first place. As they say on teh intarwebz, “Made of WIN and AWESOME”.


New Batch of Facing North Reviews

Facing North, an ambitious repository of reviews of pagan books, recently posted some new reviews. While I crosspost some of my reviews from over here there, I do some exclusives for them. I linked to some here, and here are the newest ones as well:

The Good Cat Spell Book by Gillian Kemp
Rock Your World With the Divine Mother by Sondra Ray
Angel Animals by Allen and Linda Anderson
Nature and the Human Soul by Bill Plotkin (this, incidentally, is the book that started my path to graduate school)

The Gods Within by Jean Williams and Zachary Cox

The Gods Within: The Pagan Pathfinders Book of God and Goddess Evocations
Jean M. Williams and Zachary Cox
Moondust Books Ltd., 2008
160 pages

“The Gods Within” is a small booklet including essays and evocations for fifteen deities (mostly Greek and Roman combined into one) as well as a brief exploration of theory behind evocation rituals. It is concise, though not complete, and contains some of the more basic, well-known information on the deities. Some hard polytheists may flinch at the concept of deities existing only as archetypes in our psyches, but the functionality of the evocations, as well as their beauty, are a definite bonus.

In order to evaluate this book of evocations of deities, its historical context should be considered. Most of the evocations in the text were originally published in 1979, and this book adds a few more as well as essays about the processes of evocation and the deities being evoked. Pagan Pathfinders, the group for whom Williams and Cox developed the rituals the evocations were in, stems from the 1970s as well. Therefore, the very short bibliography and complete lack of citations may be partly excused by the age of some of the material—it’s tough to recall what sources you used a few decades back!

It’s advisable to take this book with a grain of salt, and also not take it as your only source material on the deities—especially as beside the eleven Greek/Roman deities, there are only three Egyptian ones and the lone Celtic representative, the Morrigan. Reconstructionists will most likely be able to pick apart the research of the book, and what is offered is nowhere near a complete system—there could have been a lot more room dedicated to the actual system the authors use. However, “The Gods Within” is valuable for the lovely evocations which may be used as-is, or provide inspiration for other writings.

Three and a half pawprints out of five.

Want to buy this book?

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