Witches Revelation by Timothy Gibbons

Witches Revelation: A Novel
Timothy Gibbons
Self-published, 2010
276 pages

The world has fallen into chaos. The human population has been devastated by a plague. The remnants of the U.S. military struggle to maintain what order they can amid attacks by a strange religious cult with entirely too much firepower. The remaining civilians do what they can to survive amid the turmoil. One young woman finds herself the final survivor of a massacred encampment, and suddenly thrust into a world tinged with esoteric symbolism–and reality.

Such is the basic plot of this first novel by Timothy Gibbons. It’s an intriguing premise, and the world-building is pretty solid. Gibbons manages to create a believable dystopic future, albeit one somewhat scant on details at times, but a rich visit nonetheless. While his characters are a bit flat, they’re interesting enough to follow through, and some development does occur over the course of the story.

Gibbons is a good writer. His description is good, but his dialogue is better. The conversations flow well, and even the internal dialogue of the characters has good life to it. Spots of humor shine amid the sober background, and there’s a lot of talent in there. And while the pace is slow sometimes, the conclusion both is satisfying, but also leaves plenty open for future books.

The book does fall prey to some common self-publishing problems. While Gibbons is a good writer, there are some areas–such as the aforementioned issues with character and plot–that a good editor could help him tighten up. And there are numerous typos through the entire thing, which got to the point of distraction. Finally, he does what a lot of esoteric fiction writers do–too much tell, not enough show, when weaving the esoteric elements into the storyline. Less exposition, more demonstration, would have helped this a great deal.

Still, for a first novel, self-published, it’s a good showing. I think with some professional editing for both style and content, Gibbons could have some truly outstanding works on his hands. As it is, it’s a good but not great read, worth a look and definitely worth finishing.

Three and a half pawprints out of five.

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Spirit & Dream Animals by Richard Webster

Spirit & Dream Animals: Decipher Their Messages, Discover Your Totem
Richard Webster
Llewellyn, 2011
248 pages

While many books on totemism mention dreams as a way of discovering and working with totems, they generally don’t go into much detail about the process, other than “if you keep dreaming about this animal, it might be your totem”. Dream work is not my preferred way for totemic work, but I was impressed by this book, which is more in-depth on the subject than I’ve seen.

It does feel to me like the author is much more familiar with dream work than totemism. Even if you’ve no interest in animal totemism, this book has some excellent information on basic dreamwork, for which it is a valuable text. In just a couple dozen pages Webster imparts some wonderfull practical advice on how to work with your dreams, what they mean, and how to get the most out of that level of consciousness that almost everyone experiences every night.

However, the totemic information is good, if nothing particularly new–it’s pretty solid standard information like signs that may point to what your totem is, ways to work with your totem (like dancing!), and a bunch of historical and cultural information on animals around the world. Again, in not too many pages, he’s done a fine job of pulling together the basic relevant information for someone who may be new to the topic.

And that sort of rounds out the strengths of the book in my eyes. Webster has taken two topics and given great background on them, so someone who hasn’t done dreamwork can understand it, and someone who hasn’t done totemism can understand it, and then put the two together neatly. My complaint is that he didn’t go further with this–the practical material basically stops after “Here’s how to find out what your totem is”, and then the second half of the book is all totem animal dream dictionary. I recognize that the dictionary format is beloved both among dream writers and totem writers, but I lament that there wasn’t more “how to” material from this author. What else, for example, does he do or recommend to bond with your totem besides dancing? How can we work with our totems in dreams once we’ve identified them as more than just symbols? After all, totems are independent beings, not just quick lists of dream keywords and generic concepts. He’s got a good handle on things like lucid dreaming–how do we use it more in conjunction with totems, for example as a form of journeying?

If you’re looking for a basic book on animal dreams and/or totemism, this is good; as I said, the author clearly knows his stuff and conveys it admirably well. But I, greedy thing that I am, am left wanting more, because what was there already was so good.

Four pawprints out of five.

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Salmon Nation by Wolf and Zuckerman, eds.

Salmon Nation: People and Fish at the Edge
Edited by Edward C. Wolf and Seth Zuckerman
Ecotrust/Oregon University Press, 1999/2003
80 pages

This is another one of those “not specifically pagan, but of pagan interest” books that I like to add in here every so often. Much is made of totemism, and the Land, and our connection to these and other elements of nature-based spirituality. Salmon Nation is a book that keenly illustrates those connections, and the roots of why Salmon is such an important totem to the Pacific Northwest. More importantly, it is just one example of how humans have taken a system that developed over millions of years of natural selection, geological evolution, and other processes that we often only barely comprehend, and changed it suddenly, violently, and detrimentally.

The book opens up with an essay from a member of one of the several indigenous tribes that fished for salmon and traded goods at Celilo Falls. A tradition that lasted fifteen thousand years ended when the falls were flooded by a downstream dam, despite protest. This sets the stage for showing numerous other ways in which technological progress has run over patterns that took an incredibly long time to set into place, to include the intricate migration patterns of multiple distinct populations of salmon. The book continues through descriptions of both wild and farmed salmon fishing and cultivation, the safety and health of wild salmon populations, and the impact that our current fishing policies have on the very existence of salmon.

To pagans, this should be an object lesson of why we need to take totemism beyond “My totem is a fish! Yay!” and tie our spirituality to the very earth and waters themselves. Many of the cultures we draw from revere(d) animals, not just out of symbolism, but out of survival. In post-industrial cultures, we are too often divorced from the processes that bring us food, and so turn a blind eye to ongoing destruction of our life support system.

Read this book as inspiration. Read it as motivation. Read it for grief for what has been lost, but also for the realization that we can make more of our spiritual practices than simple lip service to Nature. Meditate on what you read, and go from there.

Five fins out of five.

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Holy Smoke by Amy “Moonlady” Martin – new edition

Holy Smoke: Loose Herbs & Hot Embers for Intense Group Smudges & Smoke Prayers
Amy “Moonlady” Martin
Moonlady Media, 2010
110 pages

On rare occasion I will review a book a second time, especially if it’s undergone a lot of reworking. In its initial incarnation, this title was known as Spirit Herbs: Simple Recipes for Hibachi Herbal Magic & Sacred Space, and I gave it a glowing review because it was just so awesome. So a while back (longer than i care to admit, thanks to grad school eating my life), the author was kind enough to send me the new, updated, and even better version of the book! She removed a few things that she felt no longer fit, and added a LOT more practical material.

If you’re not familiar with the original review, this is a book all about alternatives to the usual sage smudging wand that everybody and their coven mother uses at the beginning of group neopagan rituals. Smudging is one of those practices that often gets taken for granted. “Okay, we’re going to waft smoke over you–and then get into the REAL ritual!” Yet this text takes what could be a brief step and goes into much more depth.

Some of the material is meant for the aforementioned group rituals. Beyond the initial “clean-up”, there are also smudges meant for much more intensive work over a duration of time, even a couple of hours. And whether you work with a group or alone, the “smoke prayers” are incredibly useful, both for offerings, and for focuses for meditation. At the center of all of these is the concept that scent is one of the most powerful senses we have; in fact, studies show that aromas are even more evocative than visual memories for bringing us back to a place and time, and Martin uses that to connect specific smudges to particular states of consciousness, ritual settings, etc. This is powerful stuff!

Better yet, she offers a variety of recipes for loose herb smudges. If you want a more organic alternative to chemical-laden incense sticks and cones, and especially if you’re big into DIY creations, this is a superb resource. The recipes can get you started, but she also takes care to familiarize you with a variety of ingredients and what they do, which will help you start making your own blends.

I thought I couldn’t say enough good about this book, but this new edition proved me so wrong–for which I’m quite happy! Whether you’re an herbalist looking for an addition to your library, a member of a group wanting more interesting material for rituals, or simply someone who appreciates the full use of the senses in spirituality and magic, this is a most excellent text to pick up!

Five pawprints out of five

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A Guide to Pagan Camping by Lori Dake

A Guide to Pagan Camping: Festival Tips, Tricks and Trappings
Lori Dake
Rotco Media, 2011
208 pages

My first question about this book is: why didn’t anyone write it before? I mean, really: outdoor festivals have been a part of neopagan culture for decades, and everyone gets their initial trial by (camp)fire, especially if this is their first time sleeping in a tent. But there are also a number of considerations that are unique to the festival environment (and not limited to just pagan festivals) that you won’t find in just any old book on camping.

There’s really only room for one book on this rather niche topic, and thankfully for we the readers, Lori Dake is right on target with this one. She covers pretty much everything you need to know for your first few festival outings, from what to wear and what your basic kit should be for camping, to good etiquette that doesn’t shy away from things like skyclad attendance, or festival hookups. Of course, even if you aren’t a newbie to festivals, there may be useful info if you decide to expand the nature of your participation beyond “festival attendee”. As a longtime vendor at events, I can say that she did a thorough job with the vending section, especially in as small a space as she had for it (instead of writing an entire book, which is entirely possible). And there are good tips for performing, giving workshops, and other participation that newbies may not necessarily feel ready for. Also, festival folk of any vintage may find the generous selection of camp-friendly recipes and related info helpful.

It’s a well-written book overall, and I found very little in the way of typos. I wasn’t crazy about the layout; the sans serif font chosen would have been better for something like a term paper, and the spaces between paragraphs don’t look as professional as simply indenting new paragraphs. The cover art and layout scream “small press”, which (as you may know from my background) isn’t in and of itself a bad thing, but it also could have been more polished.

Still, this is a case of not judging the book by its cover. This is a definite gem, and I highly recommend it for festival folk across the board, whether pagan or not. Well done!

Five campfire-smoky pawprints out of five.

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Pagan Metaphysics 101 by Springwolf

Pagan Metaphysics 101: The Beginning of Enlightenment
Springwolf
Schiffer Publishing, 2011
128 pages

This book has so much potential. The concept is awesome: a book on paganism that doesn’t even start with tools and rituals and such, but instead gets to the very roots of the beliefs and cosmology through the language of metaphysics. Not “metaphysics” as in “woo”, but the nuts and bolts of “How does this work? Where did this core belief come from? Why do pagans often have this sentiment?” It’s the first in a planned series of books that build on each other to explore paganism in theory and practice, and is the foundational text thereof.

I will say that in some places it veers much more closely to the New Age than neopaganism. Most neopagans don’t really put much of an emphasis on Atlantis, for example. But there’s a lot that is more relevant, from how “energy” works, to practical work with karma (albeit a new Age tinged version thereof). Starting the book with a bunch of questions for the reader to answer about their own beliefs was a brilliant idea, because this book has a lot for a person to think about. Consider it brain food for spiritual exploration.

Unfortunately, the execution leaves me wondering whether the publisher even had an editor or proofreader look over this text, or whether the manuscript was simply put into print straight from the author. I found numerous typos, and places where the writing was rough and awkward to read. The organization didn’t always make sense, and sometimes the transition from topic to topic was less than smooth. I could kind of see the flow of where the author was trying to take the book, but it needs a good bit of refining.

Also, there are certain things that some neopagans may find downright offensive. The idea, for example, that Helen Keller (and other people born with disabilities) chose, prior to birth, to incarnate into a life with such challenges has all too often been used as a patronizing form of discrimination, as well as diminishing and even silencing the actual concerns of people with disabilities. This, and a number of other concepts that are more popular among New Agers than pagans, may cause some pagans to put the book back down (which is a bad idea–more on that in a moment).

My biggest complaint, though, is that the book simply could have been more. It’s a scant 128 pages, fewer if you take out the table of contents and whatnot, with fairly large text. The author covers a variety of topics, and yet many of them only get two or three paragraphs. I found myself saying on almost every page “This is really cool! But what about this element of it? Can you explain in more depth?” There are so many places where she could have expanded into more detail and background about just about everything she talked about, and still had a really good, coherent book that fit what seems to have been her intent with it.

What I would love to see is a second edition of the book someday, one that has better editing, has had more feedback from neopagans and what they more commonly believe, and, most importantly, more expansion on the material that’s already in here. Even with my complaints about the book in its current form, I do think there’s a lot of value to it–you just have to dig some. There is the aforementioned element of philosophical and soul-searching brain food that just about anyone would find useful, especially at a point of trying to find one’s spiritual identity (or simply as a refresher if you’ve been doing this a while). And despite the New Age woo that sometimes gets a little overwhelming, there are also awesome reminders that we are human beings in this life, and that sometimes that means things that are wholly human and physical and perfectly okay even if they aren’t strictly “spiritual”. There’s good grounding in there.

Three pawprints out of five.

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