Norse Goddess Magic by Alice Karlsdottir

Norse Goddess Magic: Trancework, Mythology, and Ritual
Alice Karlsdottir
Destiny, 2015

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Review by Shirl Sazynski.

It’s rare to find a beginner’s book on adept-level magic, let alone one that is well-organized, grounded, easily understood, and part of Heathenry. Norse Goddess Magic is exactly that, focusing on visionary and trance work, known to the Norse as seidhr and utiseta. It serves both as an introduction for those who have great difficulty entering trance, and provides a rare compendium of Norse goddess lore that’s useful even if you have no interest in trance work.

True to its title, this book explores the “Mother” Goddess Frigg and her twelve divine “friends” : Eir, Saga, Gna, Gefjon, Snotra, Lofyn, Sjofyn, Var, Fulla, Hlin, Syn and Vor. Karlsdottir invites personal experience with them as real people through guided journeys, invocations, and rituals. Since little is known from the Eddas about these twelve “minor” Goddesses, this book helps the reader fill in those gaps with their own experience. By exposure to — and comparison with — the trance experiences of others, it also helps in expanding upon the lore. The emphasis in this book on forging and strengthening relationships with the Gods is spot on.

This is a guide to beginning seidhr techniques, including a basic understanding of how to use myth and ritual structure to enhance entering trance, remain there, exit peacefully, and take good care of yourself afterward. The techniques covered open this oft-misunderstood realm of Asatru and Heathenry to anyone with the patience to still their mind. The structure of this book begins with how to understand mythology and its uses in ritual, ideas to open up the imagination for beginners, and a definition of trance work. Then, that work begins with basic (and fairly safe) techniques accompanied by a ritual format that provides some protection to the novice seidhr practitioner.

One caveat: trance work is never, by its nature, without danger. Norse Goddess Magic provides a compass in very unpredictable territory that should guide you to the door of the right person and send up some basic defenses. However, trance work with beings you’ve never met is exactly like wandering in a foreign country. Even a novice can stumble headlong into a profound, fate-altering experience the very first time they trance. The danger of dealing with spirits is routinely ignored in modern books on the subject, a major blind spot I wish this book had covered more fully.*

After continuing with a guided meditation, the author opens up about her own experiences in trance work. Then, a chapter is devoted to each Goddess in turn (other Goddesses mentioned briefly include Freyja, Nerthus, Frau Holle, Holda, Berchta and Brigid.) The Goddess chapters begin with lore, add interpretations by the author, continue with a guided trance journey, and close with a ritual and invocation for each Goddess.

The author’s cautious approach is very balanced. However, Alice Karlsdottir is a master in the Rune Gild, and has worked as priestess for several kindreds. I wish that she spoke with more confidence, but she is carefully circumspect that these are just her experiences.

Esoteric polytheism needs to move confidently past both this reticence from elders to pin down their own gnosis as real and valid and the fundamentalist tendency to over-humanize the Gods and their behavior based on stories laced with symbolism and meant to teach lessons (often humorously) about the consequences of certain actions within a society. Regardless of the outer path, when someone has mastered visionary work, common elements and beings occur. There are consistencies of places we arrive at, powers woven by the Gods, and elements of their appearance that do not always fit a translation of the Eddas but help signify a spirit or deity’s power and personality traits. Our ancestors certainly knew these common elements and passed on some of that knowledge. This is that shared gnosis of a living faith Karlsdottir is describing.

I can’t comment much on the use of rune lore in this book for chants and to open rituals, as it differs from the more visually-oriented methods I was taught. Other people may respond to these verbal methods more. Or the Goddesses may teach them completely different ways of working that suit their minds. (This book is certainly a good guide to seeking out that kind of knowledge directly.)

Norse Goddess Magic ends solidly with three intriguing fairy tales in the appendix, a glossary of terms, a visual guide to the runes and a bibliography jam-packed with good scholarship. Even if you’ve done seidhr for ages, this is still a very useful book to have on hand as a reference. Several times I found, in these pages, independent corroboration of details I’ve experienced in trance, leading me to believe that the author truly met with these Goddesses – whether or not we always share the same viewpoints about them.

This is a valuable contribution to a field with very little reliable guidance, especially in Heathenry. I highly recommend it.

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The Linestrider Tarot by Siolo Thompson

The Linestrider Tarot Deck & Book
Siolo Thompson
Llewellyn, 2016

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Review by Hayley Arrington.

The opening lines of the accompanying book, The Linestrider’s Journey best exemplify the spirit of her deck: “The Linestrider Tarot is a deck that dances on the edge of magic and logic, animal and human, the conscious and unconscious mind. Drawing inspiration from the edge while still moving forward on the Fool’s journey — that is Linestriding” (p. 1). Linestrider is at times whimsical, but it is certainly not shallow. This is not an animal deck, per se, but many of the cards in both the Major and Minor Arcanas are populated with animals, for instance, the Magican is a monkey, the Hanged Man is a tiger, and the King of Wands is a powerful, crowned lion.

The Linestrider Tarot is a wonderfully creative contribution to the vastness that encompasses available modern tarot decks. Siolo Thompson’s unique ink and paint artwork render her images as inviting and worthy of study while using the deck. They are drawn in ink on a white surface with splashes of color throughout. There are no borders so her images dominate while not being overwhelming. This is a perfect deck for someone who doesn’t like too much going on in the art. Linestrider is a beautiful medium between heavily illustrated and austere.

The Linestrider Tarot is one of my favorite new decks. Thompson’s book is also a breath of fresh air. This isn’t just a softbound edition of a little white booklet. No, there is so much more here, from how Thompson first found Tarot and how she decided to create this deck, to interesting ways of interpreting cards, and informational correspondences. I love the familiarity that is there when the artist for a deck is also its author, hence its interpreter. Siolo Thompson’s sincerity of voice comes through in the accompanying book. I love all different kinds of decks, and with Linestrider I felt an instant rapport and have been using it as my primary deck for some months. I think it can find a home with novices as well as seasoned readers, those who like animals, modern Art Deco, and beautiful, easy-to-use Tarot. Highly recommended.

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John Dee and the Empire of Angels by Jason Louv

John Dee and the Empire of Angels: Enochian Magick and the Occult Roots of the Modern World
Jason Louv
Inner Traditions, 2018

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Review by Barbara Ardinger.

Let’s begin with a spoiler. Although many Neopagans are interested in occultism and the work of the 16th-century astrologer John Dee, it’s important to keep in mind that Dee was nothing close to pagan. He and Kelly spoke to and were visited by angels and demons (or hallucinations), not classical gods or goddesses. Enochian magick and visits by angels and demons are concepts based on Jewish, Christian, and Islamic holy books, both exoteric and esoteric. Dee’s angelic work influenced the Golden Dawn, which sort of counts as pagan because the late 19th-century group added some (mostly Egyptian) gods and goddesses to the elaborate angelic names and calls, watchtowers, tablets, sigilla, and altar “furniture” the angels and demons gave Dee. (There are some nifty color plates of these things in the book.)

Many Witches and Pagans are interested in history, ceremonial magic, the occult world (which author Jason Louv calls “the occulture”) and its practices. These practices include operative magic, which Louv defines as applying the “intellectual streams” of the Renaissance to “uncover a working methodology for interacting with and manipulating the universe” (pp. 61-62) — i.e., pretty much what we do every day. If you’re attracted to the occult, this excellent book should be in your hands. It’s well written, insightful, sometimes witty, and thoroughly researched, with 60 pages of endnotes, bibliography, and index, plus numerous footnotes.

Louv, a writer and teacher of magick and spirituality, opens the book in the Garden of Eden with the Fall of Man. Next, comes the “sublunary world,” which is apparently the fallen world we live in. The stage is now set for Book 1, “The Magus,” which contains a biography of the frustrated and usually poverty-stricken Elizabethan mathematician, intellectual, astrologer/astronomer, and scientist John Dee (1527-1609), who spent much of his life aspiring to be an adviser to a queen or a king but with little success, mostly because the royal advisers considered him a quack. Also explained in the first seven chapters are the Christian interpretations of the Book of Revelation. Louv also asserts that Dee’s work set both England and America on their paths to empire.

Book II, “The Angelic Conversations,” tells us how to rise up along the paths of the Qabalistic Tree and how to prepare a proper altar for the angelic work. Louv trudges through the magical Books (which all have Latin names), Watchtowers, and Aethyrs. We also meet angels and demons and the god that inflicts suffering on us to teach us how to behave ourselves. There’s also some alchemy, but very little gold in the monetary sense. It’s all metaphorical gold.

Book III, “The Antichrist,” is mostly devoted to the life and works of Aleister Crowley, Jack Parsons, and other occultists who followed them in working (magically and with the help of drugs and lots of sex) to become as evil as possible so that they can become as holy as possible. Chapter 15, “The Invisible College,” introduces us to learned men from the 16th to the 21st century and describes the Rosicrucians, the Freemasons and Masons, the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia (SRIA), and the founding of the Golden Dawn. Chapter 16, “Crowned and Conquering,” is mostly about Crowley the 666 Beast and takes us in scrupulous — not to mention almost endless — detail through all thirty Aethyrs. These are visions and words of power. Chapter 17, “In the Shadow of the Cross,” introduces us to Crowley’s organization, the A..A.. and gives us more Golden Dawn, the Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO), and assorted people who wanted to meet Babalon, who is (to oversimplify) sexual Woman as the Supreme Evil.

Finally, Louv asserts that the work of John Dee initiated a line that reaches from the Reformation through 18th-century rationalism to the 20th century — hippies, the New Age, every strange and wonderful movement away from middle-class mores — and into the 21st century and the election of Donald Trump (really! See pp. 458-59). We’re in the middle of the modern Apocalypse now, and the last words in the book are “Christ is coming, and with him he shall bring an Empire of Angels.” (p. 462) The book, incidentally, was written in the City of Angels.

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Santa Muerte by Tracey Rollin

Santa Muerte: The History, Rituals, and Magic of Our Lady of the Holy Death
Tracey Rollin
Weiser, 2017

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Review by Holli Emore

A saint for criminals? A goddess who accepts everyone? A holdover from the blood cult of the Aztecs? It seems that everyone from the New York Times to Reza Aslan (Believer 2017 television series) to the Roman Catholic Church are either intrigued, enchanted or upset about Nuestra Señora de la Santa Muerte, or Santa Muerte for short. Our Lady of Holy Death, the skeleton in a colorful dress, is rapidly acquiring new followers throughout Mexico and the southeastern United States. The Bony Lady, as some call her, is either a folk saint unauthorized by the church, or a goddess, depending on who you talk to. Either way, she is beloved and revered, particularly for her power to answer the prayers of her devoteés.

Tracey Rollin has written what might be the definitive Pagan book about Santa Muerte, skillfully weaving the bright colors of personal experience, history and lore, and suggested modern practice. Santa Muerte: The History, Rituals, and Magic of Our Lady of the Holy Death is beautifully-written. Rollin begins with an account of her Catholic childhood then goes on to provide fascinating details about the presumed origins of Santa Muerte, who is arguably based on the Aztec goddess Mictecacihuatl (also connected with the goddess Tonantein, who many believe to be the source of Our Lady of Guadalupe.) The church already had several patron saints of the dead, but Rollin notes that Santa Muerte is a haven of last resort for the marginalized such as prostitutes, addicts and, yes, drug cartel members.

This is the dark underside of Santa Muerte devotion which leads law enforcement to dread cartel followers who they feel act with more abandon and violence, thinking that they are under a special protection by the saint-goddess. It is even murmured that some will kill as an offering to Santa Muerte. Rollin does not apologize for this unfortunate connection, but relates it as being a natural outgrowth of Santa Muerte’s universal acceptance of all who come to her for protection and favors. In that aspect, she closely resembles many mother goddesses associated with death such as Kali, Hela, Oye or Sekhmet, or even the earth itself, which both gives and reclaims life with apparent disregard of status or even goodness. Neither death nor Santa Muerte discriminate; they come for each of us eventually.

If you are up to the challenge of looking into the compassionate but unyielding face of death, Santa Muerte (the book) may be your best introduction to a relationship with the saint-goddess. You will read about color aspects, using candles and novenas, rosary, incense, oil– even chocolate offerings. Rollin shares a number of prayers, blessings and other liturgical elements, even a banishing ritual à la the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram. While ending with a helpful glossary and a recommended reading list, a glaring omission from this otherwise excellent volume is the complete lack of references. Perhaps a future edition will add citations to satisfy those of us with inquiring minds.

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Njord and Skadi by Sheena McGrath

Njord and Skadi: A Myth Explored
Sheena McGrath
Avalonia, 2016

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Review by Erin Lale

Njord and Skadi is a good overview of the source material and the opinions of major scholars about these gods and their context. It also mentions some works of popular culture on the subject. The book is easy to read, and suitable for both general and academic readers.

The book has a lovely cover by Laura Daligan featuring the two title gods in a design reminiscent of a Yin and Yang sign, surrounded by a repeating Elder Futhark rune row with the variant Ingwaz and with the Dagaz and Othala in the variant reverse order.

The book starts off with a summary of the plot of the myth of Njord and Skadi’s marriage, including the prequel about Skadi’s father Thiazzi, which McGrath considers an essential part of the story. It goes into historical detail about the poem by which the myth was transmitted to us, and then quotes the poem, (in English translation) in its entirety, with explanations of the meanings of the kennings.

McGrath draws parallels between the plot of the poem and the story of Hrungnir. Then the author discusses the authenticity, dating, and interpretation of the myth of Njord and Skadi. McGrath goes into the question of whether Njord is Nerthus, examining evidence and various scholars’ opinions. She covers the origin and meaning of the name Skadi and Scandinavia. She writes about the other gods who appear in the two linked stories of Skadi and of her father.

The book strays into etymology, examines the theme of cooking in the story of Thiazzi and Idunna, and relates that to the apple motif in various Indo-European cultures. It also gives background information on the peoples and places in heathen mythology. Then McGrath tells about various interpretations of the meaning of this myth.

McGrath details the many words for giant and their connotations.This discussion relates to who Skadi is, since her father Thiazzi is a giant. A discussion of places named after Skadi follows, as well as description of historical worship of her. The author details historical evidence for giantess worship and proceeds to describe the nature of gods and giants, as well as the primal schism between them.

McGrath then presents the idea that Skadi represented a Saami woman. Skadi hunts on skis with a bow, like Saami women did. In the final few chapters, McGrath mops up some remaining questions, such as, “what is a hostage?”, and “how does that relate to Njord’s position in Asgard?”

This book strikes a good balance between providing detail for an academic reader and keeping a general reader from getting lost. The author presents a comprehensive roundup of the scholarship on the subject of this story. Recommended for pagan readers, especially for heathens and polytheists interested in Skadi, Njord, or giantesses.

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Brigid by Morgan Daimler

Pagan Portals: Brigid
Morgan Daimler
Moon Books, 2015

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Review by Hugh Eckert.

The pan-Celtic Goddess Brigid is my Patroness, so naturally I’m interested in books about Her. All too often, I find that there’s a tendency to reduce Her to a facet of the Wiccan “Great Goddess” or the “Divine Feminine” of Goddess spirituality. There’s also considerable confusion between the Goddess Brigid, and the Christian saint that bears the same name. I’m a polytheist Pagan, and for me Brigid is an individual, discrete Goddess (or set of Goddesses; a matter which Daimler addresses in her book).

With all that, I was excited to read what Morgan Daimler had to say about Brigid. Daimler is an Irish reconstructionist Pagan with a strong grounding in scholarship and an interest in presenting a balance between research and personal religious experience. This is a living faith to her, and I get the impression that her research is part of her devotion.

Daimler’s book provides a concise and immensely readable introduction to the Goddess Brigid. The book starts with an introduction to the Goddess (“Meeting Brigid”), followed by chapters on Her aspects and names outside of Ireland; Her mythology; symbols, animals and holidays pertaining to her; more modern myths, stories and practices tied to Her, and prayers, charms and chants for Her. Throughout the book, Daimler gives stories of her own experiences with Brigid and how this Goddess has affected her.

The book also has a guide to pronunciation, a list of mixed media resources, and an extensive bibliography. All in all, this is a wonderful work that balances lore with living practice. It’s subtitled “Meeting the Celtic Goddess of Poetry, Forge, and Healing Well”, and it’s just that: a valuable introduction and guide to devotion to the Goddess who holds my heart. Hail Brigid!

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Queer Magic by Lee Harrington and Tai Fenix Kulystin

Queer Magic: Power Beyond Boundaries
Edited by Lee Harrington and Tai Fenix Kulystin
Mystic Productions Press, 2018

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Review by Anthony Rella.

While the term “queer” has veered closer to being mainstream, it continues to retain the layers of trauma, danger, and transgressive excitement layered into its historical uses. What is “queer” is that which could not fit into the norms prescribed to us, and thus needed to find its own space to grow on the edges, in the cracks and corners. Queerness exists for itself, and it is medicine that heals and brings wholeness.

Thus queerness is elusive, evolving, and pluralistic. So, too, is this collection of pieces gathered together by editors Lee Harrington and Tai Fenix Kulystin. They have accomplished an impressive feat, publishing the voices and images produced by a wildly diverse and fascinating array of individuals.

One significant theme threaded throughout these works is the queer magical power of embodiment. In the essay “Living with Attunement with Sensation Rather than Identity,” Z Griss offers a queer praxis in which the sensory body leads in anchoring and producing the self in all its emerging complexity. Rather than encasing our experiences in labels and identity scripts, Griss shows a productive arc in which the body teaches and reveals mysteries of the self. Yin Q’s “Blood, Body, Birth, and Emptiness: Queer Magic in my Life and Work” articulates power and possibility within stigmatized experiences around cutting and BDSM, transforming her experiences of cutting into “rituals that affirmed life, whereas in prior years, [she] had focused on the thrill of annihilation.” In “The Endlessly Unfolding Mirror: An Introduction to the Queer Sex Magic of Traditional Witchcraft,” Troll Huldren offers body acceptance and eroticizing the Abject as a path to magical power.

Another queer theme emerges as the multiplicity of identity and porousness of self. M.C. MoHagani Magnetek’s “thaMind-Sol Lady’s Revenge” tells of an experience of duality between the speaker and an alter-ego, in which both strive to seek effective strategies to maintain dignity in the face of transphobia. The Reverend Teri D. Ciacchi articulates an experience of self as multiplicity, using the pronoun “we” “to express my internal experience of being an individual embedded in an ecological web of relatedness.” Ade Kola and Aaron Oberon in their respective essays explore the fluidity and multiplicity of identity through experiences of ritual possession, articulating ways in which deity contact becomes an unexpected site of queer transformations.

In an anthology of so many gifts, one of the highlights are the interviews of wolfie, who brings in the perspectives of First Nations queer elders Clyde Hall and Blackberri. wolfie’s “Chapter 23: The Plague Years” speaks to their own history and experience of living through the height of the AIDS epidemic. Kulystin and Harrington dedicate this anthology “to our queer ancestors and magical forebears,” and reverence for those who came before permeates the work, particularly in pieces such as Pavini Moray’s “The Glitterheart Path of Connecting with Transcestors.”

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Ask Baba Yaga by Taisia Kitaiskaia

Ask Baba Yaga: Otherworldly Advice for Everyday Troubles
Taisia Kitaiskaia
Andrews McMeel, 2017

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Review by Katessa S. Harkey.

Author Taisia Kitaiskaia traces her connection with the spirit of this gnarled fairytale witch to her childhood on the borderlands of a deep Russian woodland. Kitaiskaia served as mediator to the voice of Baba Yaga to querents on the website The Hairpin. This is a “best of” collection of these inquiries and the channeled responses received by the author.

The style is poetic, yet chthonic and earthy, as befits such a wild entity. The questions reveal an unusual depth of vulnerability, which strengthens the emotional investment for readers. While the poetry can be somewhat cryptic at times, seldom does one expect an old witch to give a straight answer; and thus the twisty answers only add to the mystique.

In example, to the question “How do I feel my feelings?” we get:

“Your feelings look to you like bison in the distance — stormy, powerful, & ready to charge. But feelings are not anything solid, to be killed or butchered and carried home. Walk toward yr bison; when you reach them, you will walk through them, as they aren’t bison at all, but clouds. You will feel the hue & mist of them, & then you will be on the other side.” (p. 69)

Presuming that the issue of this question that the querent is afraid to fully embrace their feelings, carrying through the visualization exercise contained in the response would act, in effect, as a powerful palliative spell. Anyone in the same boat has recourse to it by simply allowing the poetry to do its work upon the imaginal faculties.

This diminutive volume can be read in an afternoon, but it is better savored, as one would a fine wine, over many days. The book is peppered throughout with bold, tricolor artwork and design elements (black, white, and red) in traditional Russian motifs. Ask Baba Yaga is a rare opportunity to explore the traditional Russian mindset and worldview in very practical modern application.

There are other uses for the work besides as a “straight through” reader. An index of “summary questions” allows for searching topically for reference to one’s own life issues. Of course such matters are purely personal, but I have tested the work on three natural occasions for its use as a bibliomancy tool. I felt I got a “hit” two out of the three occasions. It would also be an ideal study for anyone preparing to embody Baba Yaga in ritual.

Finally, the greatest treasure of the work is the potent echo of the archetypal Crone Goddess’s voice. So much of our view of the Goddess is restricted to the beautiful Ladies of love and youth and even homely motherhood. Age has faced the world and no longer fears its phantasms.

To the question, “What’s the point?” Baba Yaga replies:

“Plow-horses carry out the duty given to them by some Master. For some-such reason, you have decided there is some other being —some Master — telling you what is to be done. & if so valiant, on whose behalf have you gone crusading?” (p. 105.)

On whose behalf, indeed, dear reader?

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Gwyn Ap Nudd by Danu Forest

Pagan Portals: Gwyn Ap Nudd — Wild God of Faerie, Guardian of Annwn
Danu Forest
Moon Books, 2017

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Review by Anthony Rella.

A contribution to Moon Books’ Pagan Portals series, Danu Forest’s Gwyn Ap Nudd is a slender book that provides an accessible and welcoming path to Celtic mythology, Welsh divinities, and a nature-centered practice. At only 94 pages, one still has the foundational material to begin a rich journey into nature worship, connection to the Fae, and devotional practice with this powerful god of the old Britons.

Through each section, Forest provides overviews and discussion of various myths associated with Gwyn Ap Nudd — as guardian of the underworld, as king of the fae, as leader of the Wild Hunt, and as one who lives in the glass castle of Glastonbury Tor. With each facet of this complex and intriguing figure, Forest offers suggestive insights into how a modern-day connection with wildness, the forest, and the dark spaces provides a rich and revivifying journey of transformation.

Forest also provides guided pathworkings to help practitioners make contact with and build their own connections to the figures described therein. Along with these pathworkings, she utilizes prayers and images from Celtic tradition to offer readers foundational tools for space clearing, purification, and personal initiatory experiences with the gods. Along with herthoughtful and researched discussions of the material, Forest offers suggestive hints or questions that could lead the curious practitioner into their own explorations of practice and research to root more deeply into the mythology.

For those interested in Celtic history and practice, this book would serve as an excellent addition to one’s research shelf. For those who are brand new to the tradition or — like myself — struggle to fully understand the mythology and its language, this book provides a gentle introduction that helps one to begin to understand the core concepts that arise so often in these practices.

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