Tarot For Healing by Kara Owl

Tarot for Healing
Kara Owl
Jupiter Gardens Press, 2012
176 pages

Reviewed by innowen

Tarot for Healing by Kara Owl describes a healing journey/pathworking that readers can learn to incorporate into their practices. Owl recommends that you have a basic knowledge of tarot (in that you know the card meanings, and can do readings for self and others) before diving in and using the techniques. The author has over 20 years of tarot experience. I think she puts the book best in her words when she says, “Why use the Tarot? Because the cards can pinpoint problem areas, and the reaction of the individual can aid in finding the proper path to solving them. Healing with the Tarot is a journey, a path to greater understanding of self.”

Owl begins the book by laying down her ideas of what tarot can do for healing, picking a deck, how to deal with ethics of healing work and doing healing readings. Throughout these introductory chapters, she does give small bite-sized techniques that you can try out and apply immediately to your practice. The meat of the book then focuses around card meanings, card meditations, and a sampling of spreads to use in your practice. The final chapters discuss setting up a practice, case studies, and ends with a note on trusting one’s intuition.

What I Liked
I liked that before Owl gets into the meat of the book, she instructs readers how to ground and take care of themselves first. Healers often forget that they need to be in “perfect” shape in order to effectively heal others. I also liked how she suggests that readers develop their own strengths into what subjects they’re willing to tackle and when to call in extra help on the areas/issues they are weaker in. The chapter on Tarot Healing Meditations was great. Owl gives a small guided meditation for each major arcana card to help aid the practitioner in diagnosing client issues. The spreads chapter, although short, gave a wide variety of created and modified spreads to use.

What I Didn’t Like
Early on Owl recommends that healers “be ever vigilant that those you read for do not become reliant on you.” I understand that we, tarot readers, do not want to be seen in a bad light. I know I hope that one day the health care community understands the power of tarot and how it can help uncover issues buried deep in our bodies. But… I disagree that we need to be hyper-vigilant to this need. There are just as many bad clients as there will be readers, and it’s our goal as healers to try and help everyone… even if it’s just a placebo.

However, my biggest beef with Tarot for Healing is that once again, we’re treated to a book with card meanings and the Minor Arcana are left with smaller info than their Major Arcana counterparts. Owl does an amazing job at describing how each of the majors relate to various areas of a client’s life. But, the minors are left to contend with generic “upright” and “reversed” diagnosis meanings. I am happy to report that the court cards get a small chapter with suggested meanings based on their rank in the court and their elemental and astrological connection. Oddly enough, Owl still gives the Court Cards the generic meanings alongside their other suit-mates in the minors sections.

This “shortening” feature was once again done in the Meditations chapter where Owl suggests mediations such as, “Two of Swords: For this meditation, ask how you can free yourself from things blocking you. Alternately, you can ask how to find a good compromise. Either way, the swords people can tell you the answers,” rather than giving the healer sample scripts to use.

I also want to mention that I’m not good with astrology and tarot yet, so the reader is left to decide whether the information Owl gives for astrological meanings in the Court Cards chapter and the Spreads chapter are correct.

Bottom Line: Interested in doing healing work with Tarot, or combining the divination system with another type of healing? Then Tarot for Healing is a good place to start reading, learning, and developing your own style.

Three Pawprints Out of Five

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Oracle Bones Divination by Kostas Dervenis

Oracle Bones Divination: The Greek I Ching
Kostas Dervenis
Destiny Books, 2014/2004
166 pages

Reviewed by innowen

Dervenis’s book, Oracle Bones Divination, describes the practice of astragalomancy—the divination using the ankle bones of an animal (in this case, a sheep). According to Dervenis, this system possibly predates the Chinese I Ching by a few thousand years. Dervenis has spent a lot of time pouring over ancient texts and poems to make sure he was able to produce a coherent and cohesive ressurection of this practice. He’s even given it a bit of a modern face-life by giving instructions on how to divine with coins instead of the bones. The book contains two parts. Part one discusses this system, how Dervenis came about reconstructing it, and how he feels it works. It also goes into a bit of historical background about the Greek’s perspective on divination and mentions a smattering of Gods who could be used in seeking guidance. Part two details the stanzas that are to be read in the divination setting. The stanzas themselves are short and a bit “mystic”. They read more like fortunetelling bits than actual advice that one could get from going to a practitioner.

To use this system, you need three coins and a question. Holding the question in your head, you then “toss” the coins and use a chart from the book to record the number. You do this five times for each question before consulting a chart in the back of the book to tell you what page to read from. This is very similar to the Chinese I Ching system. However, trying to find your 5 numbered system can take some time. Dervenis lists the order of the coin tosses in an order of “total” numbers. For example, 4-4-3-1-3 = fifteen. So I had to go to the area that lists all fifteens and then find my pattern in the next column. It’s not easy to find the numbers (the book doesn’t list all the combinations, rightfully so!).

This book is compact. It comes in at 166 pages but there’s no fluff. I liked how Dervenis introduces readers to the heart of the matter. I also like that he cites his sources and notes that if he got interpretations of the stanzas wrong, then it was his fault. I also like the fact that he’s a true resource for this system… he’s Greek and lives in Athens. This is important when it comes down to spiritual appropriation. He’s not appropriating the material, he’s trying to restore a valuable resource for his culture.

Because this book is intended to act as a real divination system, I decided to ask the system three questions (just like I do when I review new tarot decks or other systems). The results of the coin tosses (and their interpretations) come straight from the book.

1. What can you teach users?

4-4-3-1-3= page 80. My toss lead me to the “Zeus the Savior” passage, which reads, “A single one, two threes fall, and two fours: For such deeds as much transpire, with courage, take action. Proceed, for the gods send good tidings on this matter. Spare no efforts; there is nothing evil ahead for you.”

I interpret this to mean that this system can help users gain clarity and get clear guidance from this system. That it takes courage to test this out and to “learn” it but it will help you uncover what concerns you have.

2. What are your strengths?

3-6-3-3-4 page 118. This passage is called “Victory Triumphant” and reads,” One six and three threes, the fifth a four: I foresee good things, stranger, in this consultation. And he who walks in foreign lands will end his journey well. With the help of Zeus, you will soon achieve what you strive for.”

I interpret this to mean that the oracle’s strengths lie in it’s ability to give those victory over adversity.

3. What are your weaknesses?

4-3-3-1-3 page 74. This passage is called “Triton” and reads,” A single one and three threes, the fifth a four: Your attempts are in vain; you struggle against the waves. You seek a fish in the ocean; be in no hurry to act. Nor is it useful for you to make demands of the gods at the wrong time.”
Wow… okay, this is a bit spooky. It’s like the oracle has a sense of humor and knows that I am asking it about itself. It’s like this passage is all “I know what you are doing and it’s not going to work. Take me seriously, or don’t use me at all.” Point taken oracle, point taken. I’m just trying to let the readers here know what they can expect, that’s all.

Bottom Line

Oracle Bones Divination is a great introduction to using this oracular system. It gives readers history of where it came from, two ways to divine for guidance, and it even discusses some of the theory behind how this could all work and which of the Greek gods to use when casting the system. If you are curious about Greek methods of divination, then this book is right up your alley.

Three pawprints out of five.

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Shamanka by T.E. MacArthur

Shamanka: Oracle of the Shamaness
T.E. MacArthur
Tarot Media Company, 2009
55 pages plus 44 cards

Reviewed by innowen

Shamanka is a unique oracle deck based off the principles of Shamanism. T.E MacArthur created and painted the deck herself and says, “The images are deeply personal to me. I was guided by dreams, visions, and experience to design and complete each one. My influences and training come from Siberia, the Himalayas, Mongolia, Tibetan Buddhism, and the Pacific Northwest. I do not represent any of the cultures either as an expert or claim that they are my own culture. I am at best an amateur anthropologist. It has been a spiritual journey for me and a privilege to share them with you.” The deck’s 44 images focus around a type of shaman, going about their work. The paintings are brightly colored and have a multicultural appeal. The backs of each card show hands set upon a tribal-style background. The cards do not contain any numbers.

The Shamanka companion guide, which can be purchased separately or with the deck, contains 55 pages of good info. There’s an introduction to shamanism, three spreads based off global shamanism topics, and information on each card. MacArthur really delivers with the background info and divinatory meanings (positive and shadow sides). In the first chapter of the Shamanka companion guide, MacArthur believes that her deck can help anyone “reconnect with the Universe and gather knowledge.”

1. What can you teach users?
I drew The Traveler, which shows a female shaman drumming in a tunnel. The companion book says that this card represents “a physical journey.” In this position, this card tells us that using Shamanka can actually be a force of nature in our lives to tell us where we need to go and what paths to take.

2. What are your strengths?
The Shapeshifter. The shaman on this card wears a bearskin and appears ready to dance. The companion book says that this card is about our ability to shape shift, where we can change our behaviors and become something new. As a strength card, the Shapeshifter, tells us that using the Shamanka oracle can help us shift our perspectives and get out of our skins and grow as individuals.

3. What are your weaknesses?
The Spirit Warrior. The shaman on this card, is from the Pacific Northwest. She wears traditional garb and wields a staff out in front of her. The companion book says that The Spirit Warrior on this card is about acting courageously, and becoming a leader. It’s about breaking traditions and standing out… as long as you’re fighting for something you believe in. In this Weakness position, this tells me that the deck will fight for your right to transformation and change, but the images on the cards may not resonate with the images to understand the deep power that can help push you out of your habits and make the change that needs to stick.

One thing I noticed after drawing these cards is their colors. The Traveler shows a shaman in a cave, there’s a lot of dark blues and blacks. The Shapeshifter shows the fiery colors of reds and oranges and The Spirit Warrior displays light colors of green and yellows. It’s almost as if the cards’ colors are telling a story of going from the darkness and into the light by trial by fire.

Bottom Line
If you are interested in a new shamanic approach to divination and want to connect to the universe, then give Shamanka a try. This multicultural deck guides you to seeing new perspectives through connecting with shamanic cultures around the world.

Three and a half pawprints out of five.

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The Element Stones by Clayton Griffin

The Element Stones
by Clayton Griffin
Book + handmade wooden divination set

Reviewed by innowen

Introduction
The Element Stones by Clayton Griffin are a 13-piece divination system loosely based off the elements. Each piece is hand made from wood, and it’s hard to tell but the symbols are either drawn or burned into the wood. You then use the set like runes: by drawing pieces from the velvet case the set comes with and answering questions. The last component of this set is a large 8.5 by 11” slim handbook that gives a keyword listing of what each stone means. The booklet also gives you three quick ways to use the cards and instructions for meditation.

When I review divination tools I tend to ask the device in question a few questions to understand what strengths, weaknesses, and things that it can teach its users:

1. What can you teach users?
For this question, I received the Forest Stone. The image has 3-trees, in a triangular shape on the front of the piece. According to the book, the Forest Stone represents “magical path,” “rejuvenation,” and “returning home.” Based off these meanings, I wager that interested pagans can incorporate the stones into their magical practice and gain a sense of coming home to pagan ways and divinations.

2. What are your strengths?
I pulled the Storm Stone for this question. Among the list of keywords the booklet gives, this stone means to “destroying old patterns” and “creation and destruction.” I’m interpreting this to mean that The Element Stones can help see you through the storms in your life by giving you ways to undo old patterns and seeing new ways to bring magic into your life.

3. What are your weaknesses?
For this question, I pulled the Fire Stone. According to the booklet, this stone refers to “creativity,” “fertility,” and “strength.” As this stone is in the weakness position, I think that The Element Stones are not the best that they can be. There is a lot of ambiguity around the meanings of the stones and how a reader should best use them. There is also no real connection between how the symbols came into being to best represent each element.

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t very impressed with the booklet. It’s not well written and quickly glosses over the meanings of the stones and their uses. There’s very little information about where these symbols come from and who Clayton Griffin is.

Bottom Line
The Element Stones have potential. However, as written, the booklet that comes with the set does not accurately introduce or guide the user into bringing the strengths of the stones out. However, if you are interested in a modern divination set that is based around 13 elements, then you might want to give this set a try.

Two pawprints out of five.

The Tarot of Vampyres by Ian Daniels

The Tarot of Vampyres
Ian Daniels
Llewellyn Publications, 2010
312 Pages, 78 Cards

Reviewed by Jasmine Simone

The Tarot of Vampyres, by Ian Daniels, has a lofty goal of helping the user to face their fears
and integrate their shadow self into one balanced whole. It misses the mark in a few places, but
the deck has beautiful art and a surprising depth — even the backs of the cards have meaning.

While tarot decks read differently for different people, I’ve found it to be fairly straightforward,
but time and contemplation reveal a lot of nuance in its responses. The cardstock is typical of
Llewellyn’s releases these past few years. It’s got a rather flimsy feel, but the cards have been
standing up to a lot of use and have a nice, smooth texture and shuffle. As is sadly the norm
lately, there is no bag included with the kit, and the oversized plain white box they expect you to
use falls apart after one or two openings.

The book that accompanies the deck is mostly dedicated to the descriptions and meanings of
the cards. Unlike many companion guides, the book includes no images of the cards, but it does
go into much greater detail on the Minor Arcana than what is usually found in these books. If it’s
a choice between the small black and white pictures normally given and the increased input on
the cards from the artist, I believe the right choice was made.

It sheds a lot of insight into the symbolism chosen, and since this is in no way a clone of the
Waite Colman Smith deck, the look into the artist’s intentions should be helpful for those more
used to “standard” imagery.

Daniels presents the cards as part of a system, and I found the various bits of kabbalah,
alchemy, elements, and Western astrology to be distracting, confusing, and unnecessary. They
aren’t necessary for successful tarot reading, and the information given isn’t enough to equip
a beginner to really use these methods. On the other hand, I thought that creating a “Vampyre
Name” was rather silly, but it was actually kind of fun, and the construction of a vampyre
persona may help lend a helpful distance in facing one’s fears.

The book also features many great exercises to work with the cards, and several interesting
spreads. This is a gorgeous deck that had a lot of thought put into it, although that wasn’t
immediately obvious to me. If you view this deck as being pretty, but shallow, as I did, flip
through the book and give the deck another chance.

Four pawprints out of five.

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Secrets of the Lost Symbol by John Michael Greer

Secrets of the Lost Symbol: The Unauthorized Guide to Secret Societies, Hidden Symbols & Mysticism
John Michael Greer
Llewellyn, 2009
230 pages

Remember a few years ago when Dan Brown was all the rage? His fiction introduced people to a hodgepodge of occult symbols and concepts–and as with anything that ends up tossed into the mainstream, there was a lot of incomplete information and juxtaposition of odd bedfellows. Granted, his works may not have done to magical lodges what the 1990s schlock The Craft did to Wicca, but it’s always a bit frustrating to see people getting only part of the story and little of the context.

And who better to disentangle the facts from the fluff than John Michael Greer? Secrets of the Lost Symbol, an answer to Brown’s The Lost Symbol, is sort of the pocket version of Greer’s well-received The New Encyclopedia of the Occult, which was itself an ambitious, thorough and well-researched overview of various ceremonial, magical and related traditions, symbols and other matters. While the casual curious might have found that particular work daunting in its scope, this distillation of entries that touch on the works of Brown and his ilk is a much more approachable book.

However, it’s not just for the magical “tourist”. Those who are well-versed in other magical traditions but new to more ceremonial traditions may find this to be a good way to broaden their understanding of esoterica. It also would make an excellent guide for students of covens and other teaching groups who want to offer more than just what their own tradition teaches. Writers may find it of use to be able to more accurately infuse their fiction with esoteric elements in a realistic manner, without having to immerse themselves entirely in a study of the occult. In fact, anyone who needs a quick, well-researched and well-written desk reference.

It’s also a good introduction to Greer’s writing in general. If you like this book, consider investing in The New Encyclopedia of the Occult at the very least. He definitely knows his stuff when it comes to magical orders, and is one of the best writers for reaching a variety of audiences.

Five pawprints out of five.

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Animal Spirits Knowledge Cards by Susan Seddon Boulet

Animal Spirits Knowledge Cards
Susan Seddon Boulet
Pomegranate, 2007
48 cards, no booklet

I have loved Susan Seddon Boulet’s artwork for a good long while; her detail and original, ethereal style make fitting imagery for animal totem work (though I recommend her other creations, such as depictions of various deities, too). I am fond of the lush colors as well and the depth of the figures. Her creations are alive, if any art can be said to live and breathe.

However, this deck is not only about the art, but also about the meaning. There’s no book, but on the back of each card is Boulet’s brief interpretation and keywords for the totem on the front. Each is necessarily brief because there’s only so much room on each card, and text can only be shrunk so far. However, Boulet did her best to pack in as much information as she could. Generally, each card contains both historical and mythological information about the totem, and some commentary on the image she herself created.

This is not at all exhaustive, and should not be taken as the end of your research on each totem. And, as with any dictionary, it’s the author’s interpretation of what each totem means. Additionally, there is somewhat of a New Age approach, with smatterings of Eastern religions, “feminine energy”, and rather light associations with each totem; this has been aimed at a broader audience than the neopagan community. Some may find these meanings lacking; others may wish to primarily see them as commentary on the art, and attribute more detailed, personalized meaning to the cards.

The thin cardstock is disappointing, and if you’re wanting to preserve the art, you should have two decks–one for art, one for divination. However, the selection of animals is nice, if being almost exclusively vertebrates. Additionally, some of the cards are really general, like “Birds” or “Animal Deities”, which isn’t particularly helpful if you’re looking for something more specific.

Overall, though, this is a lovely addition to any collection of totem cards, whether for art or divination.

Four and a half pawprints out of five.

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The Tree of Enchantment by Orion Foxwood

Note: This is a guest review by Philip A. Bernhardt-House, who graciously agreed to help me cut down on some of my existing review books once I decided to go on semi-hiatus.

The Tree of Enchantment: Ancient Wisdom and Magic Practices of the Faery Tradition
Orion Foxwood
Red Wheel/Weiser, 2008
264 pages

Orion Foxwood’s The Tree of Enchantment presents a novel cosmology of modern fairy seership work, which is deeply rooted throughout in a series of practices and exercises to facilitate contact with otherworld beings and to continually allow a practitioner to align with their three states of being—referred to as the “threefold life”—that is inspired by certain aspects of premodern and folk traditions. It is a work that is poetic and beautiful in its imagery and its vision of divine symmetry and parallelism, and presents a coherent and internally consistent narrative of how these various aspects of the otherworld interact with and are related to one another, and to the seeker, at every stage of the process.

If that brief summary appeals to you, and describes exactly what you’re interested in reading about or studying or seeking, then this really is the book for you, and you should most certainly have a look at it.

Unfortunately, the above is not what Foxwood himself describes is the basis for this work. There are repeated claims that the practices and doctrines detailed in this book are from traditional beliefs, particularly of the Insular Celtic peoples, but this is rarely (if ever) substantiated with references to actual lore (folkloric or literary). There are a few occasions on which Foxwood states that academic study is part of this endeavor (e.g. pp. xiii, 8), but the only academic sources in his footnotes or bibliography are survey essays, several of which are outdated by a century or more. Several are referenced as easily available online, but they do not represent the best or most thorough views of these subjects possible, either in their theoretical subtlety or in their expansive knowledge of actual source materials.

Further, the views presented in this book are not given as one among many possible options for cosmological speculation—they are presented as the “true nature of existence” (p. 22). At another point in the text, Foxwood discusses the various images he uses (e.g. threefold flame, Spindle of Destiny, Tree of Enchantment, etc.), and then says the following: “Note that I did not refer to these images as ‘symbols,’ because they do not symbolize or represent anything. Simply put, they are the actual patterns that exist in the natural and spiritual world” (p. 57). While making the important distinction between imagery being symbolic and descriptive in this work is useful, this statement, as well as others, seem to present almost exclusivist truth-claims to this view of the universe and how it functions, which is not only at variance with a great variety of other spiritual and religious traditions, but it is not even accurate to the cosmological beliefs (as they can be apprehended and understood) of the Celtic and other cultures which are supposed to be their source. This makes the validity of the many guided visualizations given in the book highly questionable, in the view of the present reviewer: if these universal structures and “Vision Keys” simply are inherent to existence, then why would they have to be described in such detail? Why would the content of one’s visualization and visionary experiences need to be delineated so succinctly and at such length, if they could simply be encountered objectively? It is widely known and understood that a great deal of meditative and visionary work is prone to suggestibility, yet can still be quite valid and useful, and such experiences can be considered authentic and even divinely inspired. The system for fairy seership as laid out in this book is not one where there is much room at all for one to simply go to the otherworld and encounter it however it may choose to present itself to the seeker; instead, exact imagery of color, number, gender, size, shape, and other adjectival qualities are given in every exercise, which would suggest to the present reviewer that this is a personal system (a valid one, at that) which has been applied and set up in its presentation here to be a universal one. For those for whom this would work, that’s great; but both tradition and the general variety of human spiritual experience, I think, undermines these claims greatly. One need not make such claims of universal validity and objective spiritual actuality to have a useful or coherent system of spiritual practice and belief.

On several occasions, words in certain Insular Celtic languages are given, and are either ill-defined, or given a meaning which they do not necessarily have in the attested linguistic tradition. To give an example of the ways in which this material is not always accurately presented, think of the English word “path.” In religious and spiritual discussions, “path” takes on a whole different meaning, in contrast to when one is talking about a “foot path” through a garden, or “making a path” through objects strewn on the floor in a cluttered room. The word can have many different meanings, depending on context, but it isn’t as if the word “path” itself has a holy and divine valence every time it is used in English. Likewise, this is the case with many of the terms from Insular Celtic languages used by Foxwood. He uses the term sith, which he defines as “soul” (p. 6) or as “walker” (p. 15), quite frequently, as the “threefold life” is dependent upon an understanding of the “three walkers” and how they interact with this world and the otherworld. However, in Scots Gaelic, sith is several different words: a feminine noun (coming originally from Old Irish síd) meaning “fairy,” “hill” or “peace,” which is a very common and important otherworld and fairy-related term, which nonetheless does not have any “soul” valence; and the Scots Gaelic masculine noun sith which means a stride, a rush (as in “rushing forth”), or a manner of standing. As Foxwood usually employs the term in what would seem to be the latter sense, his usage in relation to better-known otherworld vocabulary really requires clarification so as not to mislead those not familiar with these languages. Likewise with what he says about the “toradh, a Gaelic word meaning pith or essence” (p. 21). His pronunciation guide is not quite correct, and he should have clarified that it is a Scots Gaelic word (“Gaelic” can mean any of at least three Goidelic languages—Irish [or Irish Gaelic, but the Irish themselves prefer the former], Scots Gaelic, and Manx). However, the basic meaning of this (despite its usage as such in some sections of the Celtic Reconstructionist movement) is neither “pith” nor “essence,” but instead “fruit” or “produce,” or even “profit.” This applies not only to Scots Gaelic, but to the Old Irish torad and to Modern Irish toradh. When Foxwood says that the “living light that is poured into all” from universal origins is the toradh, thinking of it as the “fruits” or “profits” or “increase” of everything is not necessarily off track, but considering it the “essence” of it would be incorrect, in literal terms that are in line with the linguistic cultures concerned. Bilé is given as the “Tree of Enchantment” (p. 33), but later as the “pillar of white flame” that is the “center post of all life” (p. 233). In addition to the orthography Foxwood gives being incorrect, the Irish term bile is the word for a sacred or important tree (particularly five important such trees in ancient Ireland), but the sense of it as a “world tree” and axis mundi is not present in the original culture. He gives the Welsh terms hiraeth and bro as “ancestral memory or ‘longing for the homeland’” and “’homeland’ or ‘our place upon the sacred land’” respectively (p. 182), but each is simply a term for “homesickness, longing, yearning, desire” and “area, district.”

While Foxwood does admit that this path is a syncretistic one that draws on Southern and Appalachian folk practices, certain Native American strains, and also Christianity, some of his claims do need to be considered in their individual cultural lights, rather than in the manner in which they are presented here. At one point, Foxwood states openly that “I have taken this folk teaching, which was adapted into Christian symbology, and restored what I believe is the more original, mystical, pre-Christian meanings” (p. 27). Whether or not there is validity in this in particular places where it occurs or not (and I leave it up to individual readers to decide that for themselves), it would be useful if Foxwood had mentioned every case in which he exercised his interpretive prerogative in this manner; unfortunately, this is the only place where he mentioned that. He talks at various later points about the fairy races being “fallen angels,” and that “Irish Gaelic Faery teachings…refer to the Dreamer as the ‘Proud Angel’ or ‘Lucifer’…” (p. 181); and in the same place, he talks of an “Oral Faery legend” (one of many he mentions) that involves the creation of the world from a spark of the Star Father. The appeal to oral authority in the latter is questionable; and the existence of a figure corresponding to the Dreamer in Irish (or any Insular Celtic) lore is also quite dubious. (King Arthur is supposed to be sleeping in a cave, ready to awaken when next he is needed, but this is much different from the cosmic implications Foxwood gives.) There is a strain of Irish literate lore that says the aes side are unfallen humanity, or possibly some type of angel, but these are syncretistic and speculative statements within the tradition, and are by no means the only such opinion expressed in the tradition (others say the otherworld peoples are demons, others that they are gods, while others simply say they’re mortals of a particular race descended from Noah). His discussion of the sleeping and opening of the eyes of the Dreamer at various stages in history (p. 182) also doesn’t seem to have much to do with attested tradition in Insular Celtic countries, but instead appears to be similar to Hindu concepts of Vishnu. He speaks of the use of BDSM practices to induce altered states of consciousness, but that such practices are not attested in the lore (p. 30), whereas they are in fact amply attested—St. Colum Cille/Columba, an important early Irish saint who evangelized in Scotland, was reportedly whipped by an angel in a vision; and the important Irish otherworld tale Serglige Con Culainn features the hero Cú Chulainn being flogged with horse-rods (i.e. riding crops!) by two otherworld women who visit him. He says the Fir Bolg are giants (and equivalent to titans, etc.) that attend to the Dreamer (p. 205), but there is little evidence for this view of that race in attested Irish literature. Instead, the more usual race corresponding to such a titanic role, and indeed the usual word translated as “giant” in Irish and Scots Gaelic literature, is the Fomoiri. These examples of inaccuracies could be multiplied greatly.

There are a number of mistakes that are fairly systematic in the work, including “lightening” for “lightning,” “luminal” for “liminal,” and “eminent” for “immanent.” While the places where some of these occur can be read with the incorrect word and some degree of understanding can ensue from such, it is clear in certain instances (e.g. the pairing of “eminent and transcendent”) that the other word is what is intended.

My overall impression of this system suggested to me that it has much more in common with Kabbalistic notions and the theurgy presented in the late antique Chaldean Oracles than with anything from Insular Celtic traditions. The terminology Foxwood uses for the ultimate image of divinity and divine origins, the Holy and Formless Fire, is a particularly Chaldean usage. There is certainly evidence in a variety of Celtic cultures for the idea of the cosmos as being Land, Sea, and Sky (corresponding to Foxwood’s schema, with the Stone/Earth, Ocean/Sea, and Sky/Star worlds). Likewise, the figure of the Greek goddess Hekate, as presented in Hesiod’s Theogony, is said to have had dominion over earth, sea, and the heavens; this is relevant because Hekate is presented in the Chaldean Oracles as the goddess who is, in essence, the Formless Fire. Thus, I wonder if this aspect of Foxwood’s structure in fact comes from a neoplatonic and theurgic understanding of Hekate as basic to the system, rather than anything being taken directly from any attested Celtic culture. The mapping of the Vision Keys presented on page 1 looks very much like the Kabbalistic Tree of Life (Foxwood’s “Tree of Enchantment”?), altered slightly, but with rivers acting as barriers at the expected intervals on the tree. The traditional supernal triangle seems to be echoed quite explicitly by Foxwood’s “triangle of light” composed of the Star Father, the Utterer, and the Holy and Formless Fire. On page 236, Foxwood admits to the similarity between the kabbalistic system and his system, but I would opine that the similarity isn’t one of parallel development, but of conscious and deliberate patterning. Had he admitted this at that stage (and at various other places in the book), I would have been much more forgiving of the way he presented his material. He discusses the “Old Ones before Time” on page 249, and says that certain other traditions refer to these as Stellar Aeons, but then opines “Because this term lacks the feeling and texture of folk concepts, I suspect it is modern and originates in a temple-based tradition.” I suspect that much the same can be said about this entire system as Foxwood presents it.

One very useful section, on pages 238-239 (at a late enough stage of the book that such a reminder is extremely useful) emphasizes the importance of meeting one’s basic physical needs of good water, nutritious food, adequate sleep and regular exercise in doing the entirety of this work successfully. While this is not a teaching unique to Foxwood’s system, and perhaps is something that should go without saying, having it appear at that stage of his system’s presentation (when one would be very prone to getting away from physical concerns altogether) was an excellent reminder of the importance of doing this basic bodily maintenance and appreciation. Within his own system, it fits with the teaching that the various walkers are reflections of one another, just as the cosmic template Foxwood elucidates is one in which there is a fractal-like self-similarity to the cosmos and the processes and beings within it. This type of cosmic schema is a useful thing in and of itself, and would make this system appealing to anyone who enjoys such a spiritual aesthetic.

As I stated initially, this system is not useless nor invalid, and its coherence is attractive; but, the entire presentation is marred by the constant appeal to “ancient authority” and “oral tradition” and “ways of the ancestors” that simply cannot be proven, and a great deal of which does not match attested lore. As a modern system inspired by some aspects of fairy belief in Insular Celtic cultures, synthesized with large helpings of more widely known esoteric traditions (including kabbalah, the Chaldean Oracles, and so forth), this is an excellent book and an enjoyable exploration, that begins in the experience of “divine discontent” (which some might know through the Christian mystical tradition’s terminology, the “dark night of the soul”) and works towards a healing, holistic connection to the universe and to all of life. However, if one is looking for something that accurately reflects the beliefs and practices of the “fairy faith” (which is post-Christian in the forms now known), much less pre-Christian Celtic practices, then this is not the place to find them.

Two Formless Fires out of Five.

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Naturalistic Occultism by IAO131

Naturalistic Occultism
IAO131
The Society of Scientific Illuminism, 2009
96 pages

Scientific Illuminism was described by Crowley as “The Method of Science, the Aim of Religion”. A number of attempts to explain magic through science have been made, including (but not limited to) The Science of the Craft by Bill Keith and Real Energy by Isaac and Phaedra Bonewits, both of which (similarly to Peter J. Carroll’s brand of Chaos magic) utilize quantum physics as the “how” of magic. Naturalistic Occultism is much more psychology-heavy, explaining everything from astral projection to divination using almost exclusively various psychological models and schools of thought.

Certain accusations (by others, such as some scientists) that psychology is a “soft” discipline aside, the author does a pretty good job of basic, bare-bones explanations. He certainly achieved his overall goal of explaining occult concepts and techniques without resorting to mysticism and superstition. For example, he shows how the astral body is actually the brain’s own perception and understanding of the shape and appearance of the physical body itself–the image that the brain carries of the body, as it were. This doesn’t stop him from including a brief appendix with instructions on how to astrally project using this concept.

And I suppose that’s one of my complaints with this book–it’s brief. One of my partners, who is similarly enamored of a more scientific way of explaining esoterica, remarked on what he read as seeming like an abstract rather than a full text, and I would agree with him. There are some very good ideas started in this book, and yet the author could have gone so much further. I would have liked to have seen more thorough explanations of how psychology explains the various occult concepts he covers, as well as a greater variety in the concepts explored. I also would have enjoyed more practical applications of the psychological model of magic that is espoused in this book, because I did like the couple of appendices with that sort of thing in them. I wasn’t quite so thrilled by the occasional tendency toward “debunking” that came across in the writing; one can explain the science of mystical practices and still have a constructive view towards those practices, an example being The Spirit of Shamanism by Roger Walsh. (Just as a note, there were some more constructive aspects to the material as well; it didn’t all come across as debunking.)

In short, there needs to be more, because this is a good start. Overall, I liked the book, and I’m only docking it points for its brevity. If you want a very concise look at the psychological model of magic, this is a good text to have on hand. And there most certainly need to be more rational approaches to a series of topics that often fall prey to ridiculousness and need some serious paring with Occam’s Razor. More writing from IAO131 along this vein would be one such welcome thing, to be sure.

Four pawprints out of five.

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The Hawaiian Oracle – Rima A. Morrell

The Hawaiian Oracle: Animal Spirit Guides from the Land of Light
Rima A. Morrell (art by Steve Rawlings)
New World Library, 2006
144 pages plus 36 cards

It’s been a while since I’ve reviewed a totem deck/book set. I’ve had this one sitting in my personal collection for a while, and figured it was about time to take a break from my review stacks. I also wanted to give myself a fresh look at it, because someone I respect as a totemist gave it a pretty scathing review last year, and I didn’t want that biasing my approach.

There’s good and bad in the set, so I’ll give you some details in list form:

The Good:

–The author emphasizes interconnection and responsibility to nature in the book. There are some valuable lessons for postindustrial cultures who often take the environment and its denizens (includes humans!) for granted. It’s obvious that she’s passionate about being a caretaker, and while she doesn’t include it quite to the extent that, say, Susie Green does in the Animal Messages deck, it was a nice touch. (In addition, she walks the talk, having set up a charity and refuge for rescued animals of various sorts, for which I give her major kudos.)
–Morrell has a Ph.D. in Huna, a New Age mix of Hawaiian mythology and other elements. She’s pretty familiar with Hawaiian mythos, and includes mythological information on each of the animals along with her interpretations, to flesh out the meanings and give people more to ponder when working with each animal.
–The cards themselves feature some of the most beautiful artwork by Steve Rawlings (who sadly only gets mentioned on the copyright page and the acknowledgement in the back of the book, instead of on the cover of the book or box). A lovely blend of realistic depictions of animals and brightly colored environments, the pictures make working with this deck extra delightful!

The Bad

–One of the first things that stuck out was the author’s dogmatic adherence to vegetarianism even in the face of historical facts. I’ve no problem with vegetarianism in and of itself; however, Polynesian cultures are not and never have been vegetarian, and they did not simply begin eating meat because of contact with the Europeans. Yet she asserts this very idea on the first two pages (6-7) of the introduction.
–Lemuria and Atlantis: Arrrrrrgh. This is New Age stuff, pure and simple. Yet, like so many New Age authors, she tries to connect these fictional, completely unproven, conveniently lost continents to Hawaiian indigenous culture.
–Related to my last point, her book is based on the aforementioned Huna–which is not traditional Hawaiian religion. It’s a creation from the latter half of the 19th century when spiritism and other such things were all the rage, and while it (and this book) dabble in Hawaiian religious and cultural elements, they are not synonymous. The author (who as I mentioned has a Ph.D. in Huna gained from University College in London, U.K.) claims to have spoken to indigenous Hawaiian practitioners of this, but she doesn’t give any indication of what status they have in their indigenous culture(s) or where they learned their material. Given that even indigenous cultures can have their frauds (being indigenous in genetics does not automatically confer full understanding of indigenous culture if you are primarily white in culture), I have to question how verifiably indigenous her information really is. This looks more like cultural appropriation than indigenous Hawaiian religion and culture.
–“Land of Light”? This idealization of Hawaiian culture (and it’s definitely not limited to the subtitle) smacks of the Noble Savage stereotype.

Honestly, I’m leaning towards setting aside the book and keeping the cards. Unless you’re brand new to animal card divination and don’t yet feel you can interpret the cards based on your own observations (and the study of a species’ natural history, from whence its lore ultimately springs), it’s really not necessary. The information that is provided on cultural and other contexts is spotted with questionable content. Read through the book to get an idea of the author’s perspective and intent for creating the deck, but take it with a huge lick of salt.

Two pawprints out of five (though I give the art a five!)

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