Between the Worlds – Stuart Myers – April BBBR

Between the Worlds: Witchcraft and the Tree of Life – A Program of Spiritual Development
Stuart Myers
Llewellyn, 1995
230 pages

I generally find mashups of Wicca/witchcraft and other magical systems to be somewhat clumsy affairs, usually because the relatively new interpretations of witchcraft sometimes seem to water down the much older systems that they’re paired with. I can understand the desire to draw together elements of multiple magical/spiritual paths, but all too often the results come across as contrived if they’re presented as anything more than the author’s own personal blend. (Plus it’s irritating to hear over and over again how everyone from Siberian shamans to Jesus of Nazareth was really practicing witchcraft.)

The author of Between the Worlds made a worthy attempt at blending Wicca and Qabalah; considering that a lot of the correspondences and other elements of Wicca stem from Qabalistic symbolism, they’re a much better pairing than others I’ve seen. The text is highly practical, composed entirely of exercises, meditations and rituals for growth and personal evolution using the Tree of Life as scaffolding. While much of it is based on Qabalah, Myers manages to weave in odd bits of witchcraft here and there, particularly as a way to show how the tools and techniques of that system can be used in conjunction with the more complex symbolism of Qabalah.

I’m not sure I’m entirely convinced by the attempt to take the duotheistic/soft polytheistic theology of Wicca and juxtapose it with the monotheistic (or hard polytheistic, depending on who you talk to) theology of Qabalah. Granted, Qabalah is pretty flexible in and of itself, but I find the God/Goddess thing to often be oversimplified. That’s where most of my issues with the book stem from, and if you can work around it, you’ll probably find it more useful than I did.

Overall, it’s a highly useful book, and offers much to the reader who is willing to go through and utilize the tools offered in its pages. It’s been out of print for several years, though used copies are fairly easy to find. A good book for a Wiccan/witch wanting to incorporate more Qabalah, or simply wanting a more detailed and structured method of personal evolution than what your average Wicca 101 book offers.

Four pawprints out of five.

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The Pagan Anthology of Short Fiction – by various

The Pagan Anthology of Short Fiction
Various authors
Llewellyn Publications/PanGaia Magazine
228 pages

This is one of the cooler ideas I’ve seen come out of the pagan publishing genre in recent years. There are lots of fiction writers in the pagan community, and not a lot of venues for them to share their works–especially when compared to nonfiction writers. So I thought this was a great idea from the start. Add in that I love fiction anthologies, and this book already had a good start in my mind.

There aren’t any bad stories in this collection of thirteen. There were a few that didn’t really capture my interest, but they were still well-written, so as far as I’m concerned how good a story is really depends on what you like in a story. Here’s a sampling of my favorites out of the collection:

–“Dead and (Mostly) Gone” by Deborah Blake: this was a fantastic opener to the collection, featuring a witch who works for a police department finding missing people–who just happen to be dead. So what happens when the chief comes in with a special request? A good story, that’s what!

–“Silkie’s Diary” by A.C. Fisher Aldag: written as though by a teenaged selkie raised by humans, the voice in this story is spot-on! Teen angst mixes with supernatural occurrences and excellent descriptive talent to make this one of the most creative tales in the bunch.

–“A Nose For Magic” by Eugie Foster: this was an adorable story, and not just for the skunk familiar! One of the more unique interpretations of the witch’s familiar, and what happens when a non-magical person meets up with a witch.

–“Under a Double Rainbow” by Sophie Mouette: Iris, the goddess of the rainbow, shows up at a women’s spirituality festival. Love, healing, and a healthy dose of sex ensue. A lovely tale with just the right amount of mild erotica, and a great weaving together of several subplots.

There are nine other award-winning tales in this collection, and it’s well worth the cover price. If you want a light read that’s well above most of the fiction in print these days, and a variety of interpretations of just what “pagan fiction” is, pick up a copy of The Pagan Anthology of Short Fiction.

Five pawprints out of five.

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Make Merry in Step and Song – Bronwen Forbes

Make Merry in Step and Song: A Seasonal Treasury of Music, Mummer’s Plays and Celebrations in the English Folk Tradition
Bronwen Forbes
Llewellyn, 2009
264 pages

I’ve been in the pagan community for over a decade, and while I haven’t been a part of any formal group for any length of time, I have seen numerous examples of attempts at creative, unique group rituals. Some of these end up being rehashes of the usual Cunningham-mixed-with-something variety. If you’d like to avoid that fate, Make Merry in Step and Song is an excellent choice.

Not all Morris dancers are pagan, or even familiar with modern paganism. However, the traditional English dances are becoming more common at pagan events and rituals; incidentally, I was just at a festival this past weekend that featured one of Portland’s Morris dancing troupes. So this is a wonderfully timed text. Forbes does a lovely job of presenting well-researched information on historical Morris dancing and related practices, a tradition that her own family has been involved in for quite some time.

The book is divided up into the four seasons, along with some other miscellany that didn’t fit into any of those. I was surprised that there wasn’t an introductory chapter on the basics of Morris dancing/etc., its history and context, and so forth. Instead, the history is neatly woven into each of the sections as Forbes describes the relevant dance and celebration. This isn’t just a theoretical text, though. She goes into great detail describing the ritual format, the play scripts, the songs, and the dances themselves.

I’m sure most of my readers are familiar with the Spiral Dance, the back-and-forth-winding bane of the uncoordinated (individually and collectively). While the dances that Forbes describes do take some choreography and rehearsal is recommended, she does about as good a job of illustrating them on paper as one can hope to do, so no complaints there (though if you truly are clumsy, you may want to take the suggestion of using something other than blades for the sword dances). Also, because the rituals are largely dependent on dancing, one’s physical ability may prevent them from fully participating in that regard. However, the songs and other non-dancing portions of the rituals are well-fleshed-out, so adaptations may be made as necessary. And you will need a group to perform these rituals, not surprisingly; this is not a working text for the solitary practitioner (unless you have some friends!).

I think my only complaint (and it’s a small one) is a wish for footnotes or endnotes. Forbes does offer a select bibliography, but no real indication as to which books provided which information in her own writing. This doesn’t adversely affect the functionality of the book, but it does make it frustrating if you want to do more research on Morris dancing and related topics and aren’t quite sure where the best starting point is. (She does offer an appendix with information on where to find further resources, however.)

Overall, though, I really, really loved this book. It’s nice to see a practical text that doesn’t fall back on tired formulae (there are no spells or correspondences awkwardly shoehorned in) and that shows good research as a general rule. And it’s even better to see a topic that isn’t commonly covered, rather than the usual rehashes. I would most definitely recommend this to any neopagan group that works with English folk practices, those who want to try new styles of participatory ritual, and folks who are curious about the application of old traditions to the 21st century.

Five pawprints out of five.

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The Serpent and the Eagle – Chris Travers

The Serpent and the Eagle: An Introduction to the Elder Runic Tradition
Chris Travers
Self-published
186 pages

There are a number of introductory guides to the runes on the market. Some of them are well-researched and well-written; others are full of poor scholarship, which negates whatever writing style may have been applied. This, fortunately, is in the former category. Travers presents a good mix of scholarly research and practical application from personal experience.

For the beginner, the book offers an excellent basic guide to the elder futhark, including meanings and interpretations of each rune, and a basic “why” for each of the three groupings known as aetts. The material is firmly couched in the cultural context that the runes were created in. Travers has done many years of research not only into the runes themselves, but also Germanic cultures and even the greater, overarching Indo-European influence. There are many, many tangents that this book gives to the intrepid researcher. It’s not, however, a particularly dry read, and even novices should be able to make good sense of the material.

However, unlike some authors Travers doesn’t just focus on the divinatory/oracular uses of the runes. While divination is covered, so is the poetic magic of runes. An appendix covers further concepts, such as the creation of a niding-pole. One could wish for more of this not-divination material, especially because what he does describe is intriguing. However, it is a nice change from the usual “Here’s how to cast the runes, and here’s what they mean”.

My only real complaint is that the book really could have used a proofreader. There are numerous typos throughout the text, to the point where I found it distracting. While it doesn’t completely counteract the overall quality of the book otherwise, it does come across as a bit unprofessional (and is why I generally recommend that self-publishers hire an editor who’s well worth the cost).

That aside, this is one of the best self-published books I’ve had the pleasure of reading, and a text on runes that I would highly recommend to both those who want to make a thorough study of the topic, and those who simply would like to have a good, basic reference guide in their library.

Four and a half pawprints out of five.

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