Beatrysel by Johnny Worthen

Johnny Worthen
Omnium Gatherium, 2013
385 pages

Reviewed by Micheal

Initially, I had a difficult time getting interested in this book; the pace was slow and it started in such a way that it leaves the reader wondering why the demon is after Lady Sasha. However, I continued to read and by the third chapter, I was intrigued and as the characters developed, there’s the unethical psychiatrist, the intelligent and occult oriented professor…I became more and more fascinated with them and their interactions.

I found the book to be a nice blend of mystery, occult, and horror (only in the way that some characters died), and I have yet to read a book that has merged these genres before and Worthen did an exceptional job. The images of the Magickal temple, chants, all possess a realness that one doesn’t find too often in a work of fiction. The characters came alive with their own struggles, many of which, any reader could experience: adultery, lust, jealousy, etc. The one that might be lacking is creating a demon and a new grimoire for the modern age, however, this is developed in such a way in the book that it seems plausible and is not filled with hyperbole or cliched images of classical films.

My one complaint, would be that discovering the identity of the antagonist was too easy, I had suspicions by chapter 30 and knew who it was by chapter 40.

Overall, this was a fantastic read and one that I’ll likely read again. I can easily give it 5 paws out of 5.

Five pawprints out of five.

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Invoking the Scribes of Ancient Egypt: The Initiatory Path of Spiritual Journaling by Normandi Ellis and Gloria Taylor Brown

Invoking the Scribes of Ancient Egypt: The Initiatory Path of Spiritual Journaling
Normandi Ellis and Gloria Taylor Brown
Bear & Company, 2011
xii + 307 pages

reviewed by P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

This book has an intriguing concept, and in its scope it attempts to provide (at least) four things to potential readers: a travelogue of an especially inspirational pilgrimage to and tour of Egypt; a series of writing exercises; a group of thematic rituals and guided meditations; and personal accounts by various participants in the pilgrimage and tour that don’t necessarily have to do directly with what occurred on the trip, but may relate to their earlier experiences, or particular reflections on lessons learned as a result of the trip and the writing exercises done on it, often including short poetic compositions. To entitle this entire collection both “Invoking the Scribes of Ancient Egypt” and “The Initiatory Path of Spiritual Journaling,” however, is a bit of a stretch in both cases, unfortunately.

Information on scribal practices in Egypt is not as plentiful as many of us might hope, but it is far more extensive than is indicated in this book. While both the scribes of Egypt and the participants in this tour and pilgrimage were both “writing in Egypt,” the similarities somewhat end there. To suggest that what exercises are given in this book—however useful or profound they might end up being for some readers and writers—is in any sense a continuation of ancient Egyptian practices any more than any other type of writing done in Egypt today, or done anywhere else in the world by anyone, would need to have better lines drawn to indicate such than what is presented in this book. Further, to refer to the practice of keeping a journal of one’s spiritual exercises and reflections (which is, undoubtedly, a useful and enriching practice) as an “initiatory path” is also an overstatement. Initiation is a far more serious, intense, and dedicated spiritual practice than keeping a journal is, and many individuals keep journals as assiduously as (if not more so than) some spiritual practitioners, and yet to call one “spiritual” simply by virtue of some of the topics addressed in it is likewise an exaggeration, at very least.

For those who take the existence of the Egyptian deities seriously, some of the writing exercises might not be very palatable. Writing an “I Am Isis” aretalogical poem, for example, may strike some as impious, since that formulation and the goddess are being used as a projection screen for one’s own self-exploration.

Some of the rituals given in this book—including those at the beginning and end of the pilgrimage—are not Egyptian-specific, and in fact draw upon an eclectic range of spiritual traditions, including various Native American concepts (though no singular people or culture is named, only vague notions of totem-type animals and their desirable characteristics). In both rituals, which have a directional (East, South, West, North, Above, Below, Center) focus, ending with the phrase “…all our relations” and then “Ah ho” is the format followed. I don’t know the cultural background or training of the main ritualist amongst the group, but I can’t help but feel that doing this sort of North American indigenous tradition-inspired practice as a beginning and end to a pilgrimage in Egypt is inappropriate at best, and culturally appropriative at worst.

Egyptian tradition is not my primary area of familiarity, but even I know that some matters are rather inaccurately portrayed. The Great Sphinx is addressed by some participants as a female (p. 47), and even though the gender of the statue is not entirely certain, the Egyptians of antiquity considered it male. The Egyptian goddess Satis is called the “goddess of satisfaction” at one point (p. 57), but the etymologies of the name “Satis” and the word “satisfaction” are not at all connected (and originate in two entirely different, non-cognate languages!), and Satis herself has no direct connection to such a concept. In reference to Imhotep, the architect of the step pyramid at Saqqara (amongst many other venerable accomplishments), Gloria Taylor Brown writes “[He] is the only example of which I am aware where a historical man has been added to the pantheon of Egypt” (p. 245). Brown’s biography in the book suggests she is a lifelong student of Egyptian studies and teacher of Egyptian mysteries. Thus, it is rather upsetting that she doesn’t seem to know about the possibilities for deification of humans that are present in a great deal of ancient Egyptian religion, nor the further examples of it, including Petesi and Paher (whose temple is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York), and which continued through to the early second century of the current era as well with, at very least, Antinous. Granted, few amongst the pharaohs, even, achieved renown as great as Imhotep, but he is far from the only example.

For readers who are not interested in a close study of Egyptian precedents for spiritual practice, and who don’t mind a fair bit of New Age material (including references to Edgar Cayce, Omm Sety, and various other New Age-Egyptian connections), as well as spiritual traditions from a variety of other cultures, being mixed into the ever-intriguing cauldron of Egyptian “mystery,” this will be a very satisfying book. What I found the most interesting and useful about it was the photos and the two principal authors’ narratives about some aspects of the various sites that were visited on the tour. The type of writing exercises offered here are found in many other places, and if approached outside of the specific Egyptian tour and pilgrimage context, may be just as effective to pursue for those who wish to do so.

Two pawprints out of five.

The Secret History of Poltergeists and Haunted Houses: From Pagan Folklore to Modern Manifestations by Claude Lecouteux

The Secret History of Poltergeists and Haunted Houses:  From Pagan Folklore to Modern Manifestations
Claude Lecouteux, translated by Jon E. Graham
Inner Traditions, 2013
vii + 246 pages

Reviewed by P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

Those who are familiar with the various books published by Inner Traditions that are translations of earlier (usually French) monographs by Claude Lecouteux will be familiar with this great professor’s style, his thoroughness, and the academic rigor he brings to surveying his subjects in comprehensive manners.  Generally, his books present the reader with a wealth of excerpts from primary sources, and his commentary on these is generally cogent and highly valuable.

Unfortunately, this particular book does well in the primary source quotations department—perhaps too well and too extensively at some points—but falls very short in its analysis of the materials.

The book’s subtitle is somewhat misleading:  the majority of the sources he cites are from the later middle ages (generally after 1400 CE), and while some more modern (20th century) accounts are detailed, the elements of “Pagan Folklore” are not as abundant as one would hope if that context is named in the subtitle.

In essence, Lecouteux’s typological analysis of poltergeists and haunted houses groups these phenomena by particular prevailing interpretations of each phenomena:  the poltergeist or haunted house as a variety of noise-making spirit, a manifestation of the restless dead, an instance of pesky household spirits, and demonic activities being the main categories explored.  This is an interesting and noteworthy schema, because when an exorcism is performed by Christian clergy but the culprit of a given “knocking-spirit” phenomenon is a household spirit rather than a demon, of course that methodology does not drive the household spirit away.  For modern readers who are looking to this book as an historical sourcebook for tips and clues on how to best implement one’s own interactions with such spiritual beings, this making of distinctions is an important and useful take-away from reading this systematized collection of data.

Sadly, an overarching interpretation of the entire corpus by Lecouteux is lacking here (though present in many of his other works).  While in some of his other works this can be a slight hindrance to understanding particular (often outlying) instances of whatever phenomenon he is discussing, or they can stretch the transmitted evidence to near the breaking point, with this particular collection of evidence, a conclusion that is more substantial than “it all depends on how you look at it,” in essence, would have been more desirable.

Readers may find this book valuable for the corpus of lengthy primary source excerpts itself, however, and thus anyone who is interested in this subject will want to review this material in Lecouteux’s book themselves personally.

Three pawprints out of five

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The Tradition of Household Spirits by Claude Lecouteux

The Tradition of Household Spirits: Ancestral Lore and Practices
Claude Lecouteux
Inner Traditions, 2013
228 pages

Reviewed by Lupa

Household spirits are one of those topics that gets referenced frequently in passing, but doesn’t really get a thorough treatment itself. I rather feel that the spirits of the home have been nowhere near enough attention despite their ubiquitous nature, and so I was pleased to receive this book as a treatise on the subject.

Mind you, this isn’t a modern “here’s how to placate the household spirits” book. Like other of Lecouteux’s works, it’s primarily a literature review, albeit a thorough one if your interest is primarily in European traditions. He collects information and tales of the spirits of abodes across the European continent, and organizes them nicely into a series of chapters that look at how houses were constructed, and then the sorts of spirits that may live there.

Do be aware that he doesn’t really gauge the veracity of sources; for example, the Malleus Maleficarum is given equal footing with the rest of the bibliography; additionally, some of the sources are quite dated. However, the bibliography is quite thorough (if mostly not in English) so if you’re a polylinguist and want to hunt down some of his source material, you have a wealth of options.

Even if you just want to emulate your ancestors (or someone else’s ancestors, for that matter), there are some practices described in passing, such as how to honor or not anger certain spirits, offerings, and the like. Again, it’s not a how-to book, but it is a nice survey of spirits that you may wish to research further.

Four pawprints out of five.

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