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.

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Crafting Magick With Pen and Ink by Susan Pesznecker

Crafting Magick With Pen and Ink
Susan Pesznecker
Llewellyn, 2009
240 pages

Note: This review is also appearing in an upcoming issue of Thorn Magazine, along with longer reviews not posted here.

The neopagan community has a lot of writers in many genres, and there’s a demand for resources tailored to our own interests. While general books on “how to be a writer” offer many of the same practical advice found in this book, what makes it stand apart is the more esoteric material. Amid the how-to’s of writing, Pesznecker provides rituals and other magical aids in facilitating one’s creativity.

Pesznecker, who has a Master’s degree in nonfiction writing, explains just about everything the aspiring—or existing—writer could want, neopagan or otherwise. She covers such topics as different methods for provoking greater creativity, refining one’s unique voice, writing effective dialogue and description, revision techniques, and why good readers make better writers. Her information is well-organized, though not always in a strictly linear fashion.

From a magical and spiritual perspective, the author offers quite a bit of support. Along with magical practices to utilize throughout the writing practice to help stay focused, there’s an entire chapter dedicated to writing ritual material and spells. I also liked her concept of writing “sparks”, prompts based on neopagan religious material.

All this theoretical material is nicely punctuated by journaling exercises to further solidify the concepts through practice. Even though I’ve been a published author for a few years and have a pretty good system down with my writing, I picked up some good tips to incorporate, and I’d definitely recommend this to newer writers as well. Whether you’re writing nonfiction, fiction, or ritual material, there’s plenty to love about this resourceful text.

Five pawprints out of five.

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Writing Spiritual Books – Hal Zina Bennett

Writing Spiritual Books: A Bestselling Writer’s Guide to Successful Publication
Hal Zina Bennett
Inner Ocean Publishing, 2004
222 pages

With the advent of the internet, print on demand services, and a growing number of pagan and occult publishers and self-publishers, there are increasing opportunities to be a published author. However, just because you have an idea and can string a few words together doesn’t mean that you’re automaticaly going to get your book accepted. What Bennett offers is a guide to book writing that specifically focuses on the spiritual genre.

I’ve enjoyed some of Bennett’s other works, including Spirit Animals and the Wheel of Life and Zuni Fetishes. This book, however, is another animal entirely. Instead of being a text focused on a particular spirituality, this is a wonderfully thorough guide to writing a book about your own spirituality. Bennett’s extensive experience as an author, as well as a writing coach, shines through in this work.

Bennett cover a lot of ground just concerning writing itself. He helps the would-be author to get started, not with a traditional outline, but with the more creative mind map. He also brings up some excellent points about the importance of knowing your audience and what you’re trying to tell them, rather than only writing for yourself. There’s even an entire chapter dedicated to putting together effective exercises for the reader to test-drive theoretical material with. There’s not so much material on the actual publication and promotion process, but what he does offer is good advice.

I think the main consideration that readers of this blog may want to keep in mind is that the advice does tend to more heavily favor New Age/Metaphysical writing, rather than pagan or occult texts. Therefore, some of the assumptions that are made might not fit your experience; for example, he assumes that you’ll agree with the Perennial Philosophy as popularized by Huxley. Additionally, some considerations specific to pagan and occult writing, particularly regarding audience and topics, are not covered here.

Still, it is an excellent book for what it was meant to be, and definitely worth a read if you’re a would-be author of spiritual books, especially if you don’t have a background as a professional writer. It reads like a manual for the average reader who has some ideas, but isn’t sure how to implement them, rather than someone who is a seasoned writer in some genre or another. Regardless of your experience level, there’ll be good information and ideas for you in this book.

Five pawprints out of five.

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