Buckskin and Buffalo – Colin F. Taylor

Buckskin and Buffalo: The Artistry of the Plains Indians
Colin F. Taylor
Salamander Books
128 pages

This is an amazingly wonderful book! It features excellent color photos, both full-size and detail, of dozens of circa 19th century Plains Indian works of leather, including shirts, leggings, robes, and other practical artwork. Beadwork, quillwork adn paint adorn these works of buffalo deer, elk, antelope and bighorn sheep hides, and the author selected some astoundingly lovely pieces.

The text that accompanies each one goes into the source, the components, and the cultural significance of both the objects themselves and their adornment, as well as interesting bits of information about certain details, such as a particular type of bead or feather used, or the importance of the piece in its culture. The tribal origins of each entry are also discussed, including cases where the author disagreed with the museum or collection that held the piece, and details explaining why (ie, this detail resembles this tribe instead of that tribe).

Overall, it is a really nicely done work. However, one question is left unasked. We’ve seen the pretty artwork and have learned its immense importance. Now can we please return these to the people to whom they are so very important?

Five pawprints out of five.

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Chinese Power Animal Stamps – Wu Xing

Chinese Power Animal Stamps
Wu Xing
Red Wheel/Weiser, 2002
48 pages, 12 stamps, stamp holder, ink pad

Okay, now this is a kit I can get into!

This is a perfect example of why less is more. In the last kit I reviewed, my biggest complaint was that the overall quality was bad because there was just too much “stuff” in there. This kit, on the other hand, solves the problem by offering fewer “extras”, but making them a much better quality.

The kit includes a 48 page booklet and supplies for creating and using stamps of the twelve animals of the Chinese Zodiac. I’ll start with the stamps themselves, since they were my favorite part. When you open the box, you’ll find a sheet with all twelve rubber stamps on it. Each one has a sticky backing to it so you can mount it on a small rectangle of faux-wood resin. One you’ve done that you can slide the entire thing into a stamp holder/handle shaped like the Emperor in the story of the twelve animals, sitting on a pedestal. This is also made of a nice quality resin, about the best you can do with mass marketing.

I tried out one of the stamps; the design came up really nicely, especially with the red ink pad that was included. And the nice thing is since the stamps can be easily taken out of the holder, and because they’re backed on resin instead of wood, they’re incredibly easy to clean. So the stamps get five pawprints.

The booklet, on the other hand, left plenty to be desired. It’s very, very basic information on the Chinese Zodiac; relatively accurate, at least as it pertains to my Horse and my husband’s Dragon years of birth, but it’s still pretty shallow. I think they could have made a longer, more in-depth book to go along with this and still been able to sell it.

I also think using the term “Power Animal” is a misleading marketing ploy. Your power animal is not your zodiac sign in any astrological system. It is an individual animal spirit and/or aspect of a totem animal that is very personal and isn’t limited to twelve animals. I docked this a few points because of the title.

But I absolutely love the stamps, and the great thing about this is that it makes an awesome gift for just about anyone–artists, scrapbookers, children (over the ages of 3–you don’t want them swallowing the stamps or eating the ink pad), pagans, etc. It’s a bit pricier than most kits, but it’s well worth it. And because the author didn’t try to add in all sorts of little extras, most of the initial cost was put towards nice stamps and a book that, although short, is printed on nice paper.

So I’m going to give it a 3 3/4 pawprints out of five.

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Ritual Body Art – Charles Arnold

Ritual Body Art: Body Painting for Ritual & Magic
Charles Arnold
Phoenix Publishing, 2001
176 pages

When I first got this book I thought it was going to be a hell of a lot more advanced than it is. Instead, it’s useful only because it draws together a whole bunch of magical correspondences, which you could get out of a collection of Cunningham’s books.

This isn’t to say there isn’t any good material in it. If you’re new to paganism and don’t know much about correspondences, and want to play with body art a bit, this is a good book for you. The chapters mainly deal with color symbolization, oils, materials you’ll need, props and jewelry, and some common symbols you may want to try using. There are also some suggestions on how to tailor body painting to different Sabbats and Esbats. In short, it’s a very basic how-to-get started guide.

The examples are rather limited, and divided sharply by a polarized view of male and female–there’s a lot of “male this” and “female that”, and, in addition, are heavily fertility-based, particularly for women. Pregnancy and childbirth get a lot of time, especially in the photos in the center. And his only body art for a woman who has had an abortion involve tears of mourning and a bloodstained hand–in fact, it’s the exact same design as miscarriage except for the bloody hand. How about an abortion design of rejoicing in one’s own choice, maybe with an Artemisal motif? Granted, the reader can certainly create new designs, but couldn’t the examples have been a little more imaginative and varied?

I’d really only recommend this book to beginners who don’t have the cash to pick up a few books on correspondences and symbols. It’s a good pocket guide, but nothing I’d be running out to buy.

Two pawprints out of five.

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The Oak King, the Holly King and the Unicorn – John Williamson

The Oak King, the Holly King and the Unicorn: Myths and Symbolism of the Unicorn Tapestries
John Williamson
HarperCollins, 1987
260 pages

This book is a must-read for neopagans. Williamson details a large portion of medieval symbolism that, while superficially Christian, is at the core Greek, Roman, or Northern European in origin, shown through the multilayered iconography of the seven Unicorn tapestries.

He draws from sources thst are generally respected, if sometimes somewhat dated–Frazer, Campbell, Eliade, Graves–as well as lesser known scholars like Ananda Coomeraswamy. This is academic work, not neopagan, though the writing style is incredibly accessible.

Of particular note are the ways the author traces the nonmedicinal meanings of herbs and other plants and why those traits are applied to animals as well. There are some definite surprises–even the Unicorn represents a multitude, from Christ to other dying vegetation deities, from the Sun to the Moon. He weaves in the cycle of the Oak King and the Holly King, supported by the constant presence of those plants in the tapestries at key points. This is sure proof of that particular motif so beloved by many neopagans.

My only complaint is that he recycles quotes throughout the book, but this is an incredibly minor stylistic detail compared to the solidity of the text. This book is essential for those curious about the origins of herbal and animal properties from medieval times, as well as proof of the Oak King/Holly King symbolism as something older than the 20th century.

Five pawprints out of five.

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Art and Society in Roman Britain – Jennifer Laing

Art and Society in Roman Britain
Jennifer Laing
Alan Sutton Publishing, 1998
188 pages

I was pleasantly surprised by this book. The author took what could have been really dry material and made it absolutely captivating!

She describes how the Roman occupation of Britain affected the artwork of the region, from the height of the Roman Empire to its decline. Not much is discussed of pre-Roman art except how its influences survived the Romans, but the blending is still there.

Laing shows how the Roman and Celtic styles were uniquely combined according to area and type of artwork. Some, such as mosaics and murals, are almost purely Roman, while items like brooches and other metalwork retain a strong Celtic undertone. Once the Roman grip loosened somewhat, we get to read about how the recession of the Romans and the combination of Celtic and Anglo-Saxon tribal styles affect the local artwork. It also shows how some of what is often stereotyped as purely Celtic is, in actuality, hybridized.

The text is wonderfully easy to read, yet very evocative of the items that are being described. The text is beautifully illustrated with photos and drawings.

This would be an excellent choice for anyone interested in how art reflects societal changes, or Roman or Celtic art and culture.

Five pawprints out of five.

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