El Brujo by Thomas Gerard

El Brujo
Thomas Gerard
Self-published (Printmaker), 2007/2012
218 pages

Reviewed by Lady Anastasia

***Spoilers ahead***

“When you are following your life’s purpose, when you are doing things you were born to do, then everything becomes easy. Money flows your way. All of the things that make you happy seek you out with little effort on your part, life is abundant.” -El Brujo

Born to a Spanish father and a half breed Irish/Apache mother, Pete Mondragon was known as a coyote. The tale of El Brujo follows Pete from the age of 12 when he lost his father, leaving his ranch on the outskirts of El Rito, New Mexico, and travels to the Apache Reservation to be raised by his Uncle Jack. Uncle Jack is a charismatic man who has a special way with the ladies, and even during the tough times, has abundant cash flow. Some who live on the reservation attribute this to him being a medicine man, others to his being a witch or warlock, when asked by Pete, Jack simply tells him that he is “El Brujo”.

Pete spends the next few years learning about coyote medicine and tending to the horses on his Uncle’s ranch and going to school. Things are fairly uneventful until Jack dies shortly before Pete is 18. Pete spends his last summer between childhood and adult hood sleeping under the stars, finding himself and connecting on a deeper level with his coyote medicine. Summer over, Pete joins the army and ends up overseas.

The next interesting milestone in the book is when Pete spends a year in New Orleans with an army buddy who introduces him to Papa Legba, and American Hoodoo practitioners. There seems to be an interesting balance between Pete’s coyote medicine and the Hoodoo rites and the instances where Pete becomes possessed by Papa Legba.

The next few years of Pete’s life have him reconnecting with his Maternal Grandfather, becoming a photographer during set production and meeting his wife, Pete’s life is good. But I’ll leave the rest of his life in the book, there are other key characters.

Enter Maria Mondragon. Maria inherits some of Pete’s knowledge, and ability to use Coyote medicine, as well as some of his skill with the camera. She becomes a famous fashion photographer in NM. Without getting into too much detail at this point, I’ll admit, this is where the author starts to lose me and my interest.

When painting the picture of Maria’s photography empire, the author spends a little too much time over detailing the cost of things, and the emphasis on making money, spending money, paying employees wages and spending on extravagant things that the dollar signs actually detract from the actual story line. More than once, I felt my eyes glaze over when reading chapters that dealt heavily with financial aspects.

I will also point out that during the second half of the book and during the focus on Maria Mondragon, you are also introduced to a handful of New Age practices, including Yoga, meditation, Kundalini and a women’s group that seems to be of the Wiccan flavor. Not to be overly critical but I felt like the author was now cramming as many different spiritual paths, practices and ideologies into the book as possible.

I did enjoy the portion of the story that dealt with Changing Woman, but I think that bouncing from trad to trad also ends up detracting from the story. All in all, I will say that the first half of the book was great, I enjoyed reading about Pete and watching him grow and learn. The second half of the book, I like the character of Maria, I just wish I didn’t know down to the penny what she was spending her money on. I would recommend the book to anyone who wanted to do a little bit of light reading.

Two pawprints out of five.

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The Priests of Ancient Egypt by Sauneron, Lorton and Corteggiani

The Priests of Ancient Egypt: New Edition
Serge Sauneron (author), David Lorton (author), Jean-Pierre Corteggiani (author)
Cornell University Press (May 25, 2000)
264 pages

Reviewed by Devo

This book is considered a staple for Kemetics in many circles, and it doesn’t disappoint. This book goes far more in-depth into the priesthood of ancient Egypt than almost any other book that I have read so far.

The book starts off discussing the generalized idea about what priests are and do. Sauneron shows us that while many people have an ideal about what priests were like (morally speaking) there were examples of priests who were less than savory in their dealings. I would guess he does this to break any romanticism we have with the notion of being a priest. Priests were people just like us- and they were fallible as we are now.

Sauneron also discusses the basics of temple ritual, what a priest’s day might entail while in the temple. Most of this was not entirely new to me, but it was still interesting to read another perspective on it. He also goes into detail about different areas priests would have studied. He made a point to mention that each priest within the temple would have had a specialty. There was rarely a priest who knew EVERYTHING. Usually, you had someone who read stuff. Someone who oversaw just the offerings. Someone who spent their day making the linen and clothes for the icon. Someone who was there to deem if an animal was pure enough to be sacrificed to the god. Someone who knew the music that the god liked… etc. I think this is an important concept for modern Kemetics to consider, since it seems like we all have to know everything about everything in order to get somewhere. He also gave a generalized history of ancient Egypt and how the priesthood could have played a role in it. It was interesting to see his ideas about how the Ramessides were trying to placate the priests of Amun while trying to promote their own god- Set. I’ve never seen anyone really discuss whether the 19th dynasty had problems with the temple of Amun or not. So the concept was interesting to consider.

I liked learning little facts that I’ve seen asked around the Kemetic community, yet never knew answers to. For example, Sauneron does mention that there was likely some type of initiation ritual for new priests. He says not a lot of information is known, but that something happened to transition them from outside to inside. In the case of higher priests appointed by the King, they would receive a ring and ceremonial staff, which I thought was interesting to know.

Overall, the book had some interesting stuff to it. I learned a few new things and it reinforced a lot of what I have already read. Here are a few excerpts from the book:

A priest is any man who, through bodily purification, puts himself in the state of physical purity necessary to approach the holy place, or to touch any objects or dishes of food consecrated to the god.

Maat is the aspect of the world that the gods have chosen, it is the universal order as they established it from its basic constituent elements, such as the course of the starts and the succession of days, down to the humblest of its manifestations” the harmony of the living, their religious piety; it is the cosmic balance, and the regular recurrence of the seasonal phenomena; it is also the respect for the earthly order set up by the gods – truth, and justice.

The Egyptians distinguished in the sky, beyond the sun and the moon, the stars which never rest – our planets: Mercury, Venus (the star of the evening and the morning), Mars (the red Horus), Jupiter (the glittering star), and Saturn (Horus the bull).

I think the biggest complaint I have about this book is that he cites late sources a lot. It seems like the majority of his information comes from Greek writers. While I know that it’s possible that this was his only major resource to pull from, I would certainly enjoy using more native sources – information directly from the priests themselves- not outsiders who came to Egypt at the very end of her life.

All in all, I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the priesthood of Egypt, and whoever might be interested in creating a priestly role for themselves (or taking on such a role) in the modern era. I think by looking back at how the ancients did it, it can create a lot of ideas about how we can approach the concept today, and translate it into something that works in this time and place. I also feel this book does a good job at clearing up some of the misconceptions one might have about what bring a priest in ancient Egypt was about.

4.5 pawprints out of 5 pawprints

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Eternal Egypt by Richard Reidy

Eternal Egypt
Richard Reidy
Self-published (iUniverse), 2010
364 pages

This book is almost like a Bible for modern Kemetics. I can’t really emphasize how much I (and others) have used this book. It’s pretty much what the Kemetic community was waiting for and needed.

The layout of the book is pretty straight forward: it’s a series of rituals taken from ancient Egyptian temple walls and reliefs, and put into a format that modern practitioners can use in their own practices. There are two large rituals to Ra (morning and night rituals), execration rites for the enemies of Ra, rituals for celebrating your ancestors (akhu), a couple of examples and rubrics for rituals that honor specific deities (netjeru), and finally the rite of “Opening the Mouth” (which isn’t something most modern practitioners would perform lightheartedly). The purpose of the book can serve two-fold. It’s great for those who wish to practice the rituals from antiquity, and it’s great for those who are looking to learn about how rites in Egypt were performed.

The rites in this book can be used by solitary practitioners and by groups of people as well. The author uses these rites in his own temple in California. I have personally done a couple of these rites by myself in my own home and it felt great. I will add, though, that the “ingredients” list for some of these rituals is very extensive, and you might not be able to do every single ritual “by the book” right away. This is because he has tried to be as thorough and authentic in his presentation of the rituals from ancient Egypt- including some of the more complicated items needed to correctly perform these rites.

There are more than just the rites themselves in the book – Reidy is sure to explain the symbolism and meaning behind a lot of the aspects and items used within the ritual. This information helps to enrich the process of doing the rites because you really grok how this works on multiple levels. It helps to draw you in and feel a part of the heka that is stored in the words, motions and actions of each ritual. And all of his information is properly cited and sourced- with only one bibliography point being attested to Budge (which he addresses the reasons behind this in his book). It’s rare to find books for modern practitioners where such care has been taken to properly cite your sources.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who is interested in practicing rituals from ancient Egypt, wants to learn how it was done, or wants to learn how they can take their current rituals and format them into an Egyptian style. Out of all of the books on Egypt I own – Reidy’s book is the only one I open regularly and flip through to get new ideas and revisit ideas and concepts. For anyone who is serious about performing rites for Egyptian gods, I think this book is a must-have.

5 pawprints out of 5

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Abydos by David O’Connor

Abydos: Egypt’s First Pharaohs and the Cult of Osiris
David O’Connor
Thames & Hudson, 2011
216 pages

Reviewed by Devo

If you have any interest in Abydos or early Egyptian tombs/structures, this would be a good book for you. The information is well written and seems to be pretty bias free. The author is very good at stating what we know, what we don’t know, and his thoughts on what might have happened. He doesn’t present his theories as truths- which is something a lot of Egyptological books have a problem with. For this reason alone, I would recommend this book. However, there is a lot of useful information in general. I learned quite a bit about Abydos- its structures, its history. The only thing I would have liked to have learned more about is Osiris- his cult and how his cult interacted with Khentiamentiu. However, there is still a fair amount of information regarding Osiris’ cult and his temple.

He goes in depth about the history of Abydos- from dynasty 0 all the way to the Late Period. He discusses various building projects there, talks about the layout and designs of many of the temples, the anomalies of some of the structures and what we can learn from them. Considering that Abydos is usually only mentioned as being “Osiris’ city” or “the place where Seti built that big temple with the kings list”- it’s nice to see a more in depth approach. Of course, as O’Connor mentions in his book- you find some answers, only to come up with more questions. I, too, have more questions for having read this book, but I have more answers too.

A particular quote that I liked:

The vast cemetery field comprising the Middle and North cemeteries and Umm el Qa’ab was personified as Hapetnebes, “Shoe who hides her lord”, a term peculiar to Abydos. The endless, open desert plain of Abydos was imagined to be a goddess, generated by & embodied in the landscape itself. “She who hides her lord” was complex in meaning. At one level, this goddess as landscape literally hid and thus protected Osiris himself- buried at Umm el Qa’ab – as well as his countless followers, eash one also an Osiris entombed in the Abydene cemeteries. But Hapetnebes was also a more positive force in that Osiris, buried within her, experienced revitalization or rebirth every year. In this perspective, “She who hides her lord’ is virtually lanscape conceited of as a mother goddess, in whose womb lies the potential for and actualization of life. She thus relates to the subtle interplay of meaning btwn desert and floodplain in the prototypical Egyptian landscape. The desert, seemingly dead, generates life for Osiris and deceased Egyptians; and thus relates to those more obvious manifestations of vitatlity and reproduction, the inundation and consequent vegetation, both seen as manifestations of Osiris’ capacity to regenerate.

He also discussed a bit about what we modernly call the Mysteries of Osiris. It was common for the Mysteries to involve a procession that started at Osiris’ temple and worked towards Umm el Qa’ab- what was believed to be Osiris’ tomb. During the procession, agents of Set would try to stop these people by attacking them. Of course, Osiris’ “team” would win, and they’d make their way to the tomb where rituals were more than likely done. This was also an interesting tidbit to learn.

I think for me, besides the two nuggets above, the biggest help this book served for me was to learn about early dynastic pharaohs. Most authors completely skip over early and pre-dynastic Egypt. More or less saying that they were there, stopping to look at Menes, Scorpion King, Narmer Pallet… and then moving on. If you’re lucky, you might see “Naqada” listed. However, O’Connor does go pretty deep into early dynastic goings on in Abydos (at least in regards to the structures there). So I feel like I’ve had a huge history gap somewhat filled. I know that this comes with the territory- Abydos housing tombs for early kings and all, but it was still nice.

Overall, I would recommend this book. I will add the caveat that it’s not likely meant for absolute beginners- if you don’t have a basis of Egyptian history or terminology, you might want to start elsewhere. That aside, it’s well written and has good information. And if you’re into Osiris or Abydos in general- it helps to give a more complete picture of both. The author is respectful of his subject matter, and I think he approaches the topics that he discusses really well. So go read it!

4.5 pawprints out of 5

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Nature-Speak by Ted Andrews

Nature-Speak: Signs, Omens & Messages in Nature
Ted Andrews
Dragonhawk Publishing, 2004
448 pages

This is a book that I’d had my eye on for several years before finally picking up a copy. What Animal-Speak is to animal totems, so Nature-Speak is to plant spirits and landscapes. It follows much of the same pattern–some basic theoretical information about a particular set of beings or phenomena in nature, then some exercises to work with them, and finally a dictionary section. Andrews addresses some of the expected beings like trees and flowers, but also gives “weeds” a place in this veritable garden as well.

And like Animal-Speak, this book is written in a friendly, inviting manner. Andrews had a knack for writing to a wide audience, making the information accessible and interesting enough to make the reader want to try it out for themselves. This is a book that’s good both for the novice and for the more experienced nature pagan.

However, it also deviates into other areas of esotericism. There are rituals for the Sabbats, for example, drawing on Andrews’ rich experiences in nature. And he delves into such areas as work with angelic beings, as well as splashes of Hermeticism and other ceremonial traditions. In this way it’s a more eclectic text than Animal-Speak‘s quasi-shamanic flavor.

The only real complaint I have about the book is the proliferation of typos. It’s possibly one of the worst for that, to be honest. Every few pages I was picking out some misspelled word or grammatical error. I am unsure what Dragonhawk Publishing’s internal structure was like; it was Andrews’ own company, and now that he is sadly deceased I can’t simply ask. So it may be that he was editing his own work.

Still, for all that it’s a worthwhile read, and I highly recommend it for those interested in its subject matter.

Four pawprints out of five.

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