A Quick Bit of Housekeeping – Need Links!

So I finally went through and updated my blogroll–it was so out of date as to be embarrassing! Anyway, a request for you folks out there: I am looking for some new additions to the Other Reviewers section, so people have more places to find feedback on books they may be interested in. If you know of a pagan or occult related book review site that isn’t currently up there, please let me know! Even if it hasn’t been updated in years, that’s fine–feedback is feedback!

Thanks for your help!

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life
Barbara Kingsolver
Harper Perennial, 2007
370 pages

On occasion I find a book that isn’t particularly about pagan religious or related topics that I still feel adds value to concepts often explored in paganism. One of the biggest ones is food. While not all pagans are Wiccan, obviously, the harvest cycle of holidays that originated in Wicca has spread throughout many branches of paganism, and other traditions have created their own approaches to the cycles of life and death. Additionally, as animals, we all eat, and so pagan or not, this book has immediate relevance.

Barbara Kingsolver writes here about the first year she and her family decided to become locavores, eating food that only originated within an hour’s drive of their home. Having the distinct advantage of enough land and money to be able to have their own small farm made a huge difference, and the degree of her locavorism is beyond most people’s ability at this point (which she even admits). But it’s inspiring, and her story is illustrative of the differences between corporate farming, and traditional small farming, on numerous levels. Over the period of a year she not only describes what it was like to only be able to have certain produce fresh at specific times of the year, raising poultry, and how to keep a family of four fed this way. She also wove in a lot of information about just how destructive large-scale agribusiness is, from the human body to the animals and plants raised in it, and the environment as a whole. Also, the fact that the family saved several thousand dollars by being locavores is a huge revelation in this economy, and busts the myth that locavorism must be expensive because a whole chicken costs more than four dollars. Just for this practical information alone the book is worth the cover price and then some.

However, what I feel should be of particular notice is the way that the change in practices affected the family structure. Life began to revolve around the kitchen, and not in a bad way. All four members of the family were often involved in activities ranging from cooking to canning to slaughtering poultry; Kingsolver’s older daughter contributed a number of essays detailing her experiences growing up in this household (a good place to be, apparently) and the younger took the initiative to buy her own chickens and start her own egg-selling business. The family spent more time together because of the efforts put into making food happen, and this created stronger bonds as a cohesive group, with more communication and collaboration.

Additionally, and not at all surprisingly, Kingsolver and her family became much, much more aware of the cycles of the seasons, and just how important it is to pay attention to Nature, not just as an abstract entity, but as the environment we are all immersed in and reliant upon every day. Animals and plants taken out of their cycles suffer both as individuals and as species, and the safety of our food supply is threatened because of it. If we pagans are to walk the talk about harvest festivals and being close to Nature, then our food is a damned good starting point.

This is not the how-to book of locavorism, but it’s a good inspiration. Consider it locavorism in theory, with recommended reading for practice (though this book contains a wealth of recipes to try out!)

Five pawprints out of five.

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Practical Protection Magick by Ellen Dugan

Practical Protection Magick: Guarding and Reclaiming Your Power
Ellen Dugan
Llewellyn Publications, 2011
218 pages

Back in the 1990s when I first started getting into neopaganism, the pagan publishing world was glutted with countless books on spells, rituals, how-to-do-X-type-of-magick, and other compendia of brief and not particularly deep explorations of assorted topics. This book is a throwback to that time, for better or worse.

It does have its good points. The information that the author includes in conjunction with the rituals is often pretty sound. She talks about standing up to bullies, a topic that needs much more coverage, and doesn’t just throw a spell at it. She also uses anecdotes and discussion to illustrate how not to deal with disruptive members of magical groups, how to tell a psychic vampire with good ethics from one without, and setting one’s boundaries more firmly, the latter of which is absolutely essential to staying safe on all levels of being. And the rituals and spells associated with the various topics can help to solidify the lessons in the reader’s mind.

However, there are also some major issues that severely deplete the effectiveness of even the good points. For example, early in the book she gives symptoms of a psychic attack, such as the feeling of being watched, or a heaviness about the shoulders. What’s sorely lacking, though, is a healthy application of Occam’s Razor—“the simplest answer is the most likely”. The feeling of being watched is a remnant of us being mammals, and we are aware of purely physical cues on a not-entirely-conscious level that can still create reactions we are conscious of. And she completely ignores any other potential internal source for these feelings.

In at least one case this could lead to someone not getting proper treatment for a mental condition: she states that having “Vivid, recurring dreams that are especially violent or disturbing” (p. 39). This is a classic symptom of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and can also be associated with other anxiety disorders, and nowhere does she suggest going to a counselor or other professional to rule out any potential diagnoses.

She also sets people up for self-pigeonholing by offering up a set of criteria to determine whether one has one of four psychic “powers”—clairaudience, clairvoyance, empathy, and intuition (the latter of two are actually found in any healthy human being and are products of our evolution as social mammals based, again, on subtle unconscious cues and responses). Some of the criteria are pretty weak:

“I always pay attention to my inner voice or my inner monologue.” Yes, that’s called thinking.
“I can hear it when someone is lying to me.” Welcome to nonverbal communication.
“While being taught something new, I do better by being shown as opposed to being told.” There are lots of people with a more visual learning style as opposed to an auditory learning style.
“I mistrust people who will not look me in the eyes or who look away while speaking to me.” There are some cultures in which it is considered rude to look at someone directly while speaking; additionally, some people even in American culture are just shy.
“I am easily influenced by other people’s moods and emotions.” So are a lot of other people with really permeable boundaries; this is not always healthy.

I wanted to give a few more examples, but this is all I could stomach. Needless to say, the majority of these criteria are just plain human being traits, and I foresee this book making people, yet again, treat these normal human traits as “I’m soooooooo special!”

Overall, I really cannot recommend this book to anyone. The shaky and questionable parts far outweigh the benefits.

One and a half pawprints out of five.

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