Temple Making by Freddy Silva

Temple Making: The Complete Guide for Transforming Your Home Into a Place of Co-Creation
Freddy Silva (director)
Awaken Productions, 2008
2 DVDs

Sacred space is something that many Pagans are familiar with. However, the New Age community—the target audience for this DVD—includes a more general group of people who may never have thought to honor Spirit in their own homes, especially if raised in a strictly church-based setting. This set of DVDs is geared towards reminding people of the importance of sacred space, as well as a guide to finding the sacred close to home.

Much of the material deals with historical sacred spaces, from temples to groves. Silva touches on numerous auxiliary topics, such as sacred geometry, ley lines, and qualities of energy. He also offers a variety of ideas for applying these to personal space, such as proper use and placement of crystals, stones and other sacred objects according to supposedly ancient secrets.

Unfortunately, a lot of the material is highly unsound. Silva makes some broad and incorrect historical assumptions about ancient cultures, including some gross generalizations about such folks as the Egyptians and the Celts. A good example is his overreliance on supposed uses of geometry such building as European cathedrals—the juxtapositions of geometric shapes over the floor plans for these places was a stretch at most.

And the DVDs are rife with watered-down New Age tripe such as the Law of Attraction and the Seven Laws of Manifestation—a bunch of feel-good, lightweight drek that promises everything will be okay and wonderful, just so long as your thoughts are pure. It’s essentially magic for people who don’t want to deal with the risk.

Overall, while this is a nicely produced DVD set, I can’t in good conscience recommend it for its many flaws.

One pawprint out of five.

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Modern Shamanic Living by Evelyn C. Rysdyk

Modern Shamanic Living: New Explorations of an Ancient Path
Evelyn C. Rysdyk
Weiser, 1999
110 pages

There are numerous introductory texts on neoshamanism out there; most have the usual material–what is shamanism, how to journey, what are the three worlds, how to find a power animal, etc. Evelyn Rysdyk offers up her own interpretation of these ideas in her book, Modern Shamanic Living. What sets her book apart from others of its vein is the archetype of the hunter/gatherer that she works with as part of her own shamanic work.

I’ll admit some discomfort with the hunter/gatherer archetype. While I understand that Rysdyk wants to encourage readers to get in better touch with Nature within and without, and to question the harmful effects of postindustrial society, I’m not sure that hyperromanticed conjectures about prehistoric living are the way to go. Rysdyk paints pre-agricultural life as idyllic, and her conception of Nature is similarly romanticized. Additionally, as she is coming from a core shamanic background, some of her conceptions of shamanism, and particularly journeying, are correspondingly New Age-ish. While she admits, for example, that there are harmful spirits (but only in the Middle World), she makes no mention of the possibility that even helper spirits may not always have our best interests in mind. She additionally treats the power animal as a spirit-of-all-worlds, telling people, for example, that they can invite the power animal into the upper world (when, in actuality, the power animal may not even have access to it).

That being said, she also brings up some really important material. I was particularly impressed with her chapter on connecting with the body, and how we’ve managed as a society to become so distanced from what our bodies are telling us. Additionally, she discusses some much-needed perspectives on ecology and sustainability. I wish the book were longer; she could have gone into much greater detail on these and other topics, and while I don’t agree with her on every point, I would have loved to see her ideas fleshed out more fully. She dedicated a significant portion of the small page count to personal anecdotes, and while these are important, I would have liked to have seen more personally applicable material.

If you’re looking for a basic book on neoshamanism, this is a decent choice. The basic techniques are there, and to her great credit, Rysdyk includes not only a bibliography, but footnotes, which I heartily approve of. Use this as a good starting point for neoshamanic practice, and utilize the resources she cites to take it further.

Four pawprints out of five.

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When God is Gone, Everything is Holy by Chet Raymo

When God is Gone, Everything is Holy: The Making of a Religious Naturalist
Chet Raymo
Sorin Books, 2008
148 pages

This is another one of those “Why is this important to pagans, anyway?” books. At first glance, it would seem that a balancing act between Catholicism, agnosticism, and strict scientific interpretations of reality would have little interest to your average neopagan. This is exactly the kind of book that I like to bring to my readers’ attention, however. It’s full of interesting little surprises, and I got quite a bit out of it as far as brain food goes.

Raymo presents a series of arguments towards a materialistic interpretation of Nature as sacred. Nature is not sacred because it is filled with spirits, but rather because the very processes which science is uncovering are endlessly fascinating. With this perspective, he skewers dualistic worldviews which separate Sacred from Profane, and the idea that Earth is just a waystation to be used and abused before we go off to some afterlife. However, as a dedicated agnostic, he proceeds to toss the idea of a personal God, along with numerous religious trappings (emphasis on “trap”) out and instead explains the Divine as the ongoing “I Don’t Know”.

It is this emphasis on admitting that we don’t know everything (and that’s okay) which I think really makes this book worth reading. Neopaganism as a whole lacks a healthy dose of skepticism. What Raymo presents is a nice alternative to some of the more militant atheist voices at the table; healthy skepticism (as opposed to outright debunking) is paired with the admission that, removed from its fundamentalist, harmful roots, religion and spirituality can still serve healthy purposes in the evolution of humanity.

Do be aware that Raymo tends to shove animism, pantheism, polytheism, and other mainstays of (neo)paganism into the same category of useless superstition, while admitting aesthetic preferences for certain aspects of Catholicism. This bias may not have been intentional, but it is glaring. If you are easily offended, you’ll probably end up unhappy with this (of course, if you’re easily offended the entire book may come up with the same result). However, I still found his conception of Nature as sacred (in his own interpretation of the idea) to be one that I could resonate with on numerous levels, even if I believe in spirits and he doesn’t.

Despite my enjoyment of the book, I’m still not convinced that animism isn’t a good theological choice for me at this point, so his argument against it wasn’t as effective as he might have hoped. And, as with anything, take what you read with a grain of salt. This is a book for considering over time, not simply to read and discard after first impressions. If you find things that you disagree with (and if you’re like most neopagans, you will), don’t disregard the text in its entirety. Give it time to percolate in your mind, and see what you think after a second read a few months down the line.

Five pawprints out of five.

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My Immortal Promise by Jen Holling

My Immortal Promise
Jen Holling
Pocket Books, 2008
326 pages

Vampire romance novels have become their own niche within a niche within a niche. This means that the market has been flooded by a plethora of them of varying premises–and qualities. The newest offering from Jen Holling, Immortal Promise, is a sequel to her book Immortal Protector which, judging from the blurbs, received praise from reviewers.

Holling seems to focus on historical romances set in Scotland; generally speaking, in the romance genre, “historical” is used loosely at best, and this book is no exception. However, most readers of such books aren’t there for the history lesson, so this can be nudged aside. As to the vampire bit, Holling refers to the beings as “blood witches”; there’s not a whole lot of difference between them and any of a number of other authors’ magic-wielding vampires (beyond the bad accents).

Into this mix of elements, Holling drops in a number of rather forgettable, but serviceable characters. Drake, the stud of the story, is fittingly masculine and stoic. Hannah, the leading lady, is fittingly feminine and willing to melt into his arms over time after initial resistance. The supporting cast does its job supporting, and that’s about it. The plotline, while not entirely predictable, doesn’t stand out as a story, and more seems to be a scaffolding for a few sex scenes and romance tropes. Even the sex is mediocre, though Holling makes sure to emphasize more than once that Drake and Hannah like it “hard and fast”.

If you really, really enjoy romance novels and aren’t too picky about the details, this is a fair choice. If you enjoyed Holling’s other works, it’s worth picking up. On the other hand, if you prefer your paranormal romance to be a little more towards the paranormal rather than the romance, this may not suit you. For romance, it’s about average; for anything else, there are better options.

Two and a half pawprints out of five.

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