Naturalistic Occultism by IAO131

Naturalistic Occultism
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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The Serpent and the Eagle – Chris Travers

The Serpent and the Eagle: An Introduction to the Elder Runic Tradition
Chris Travers
186 pages

There are a number of introductory guides to the runes on the market. Some of them are well-researched and well-written; others are full of poor scholarship, which negates whatever writing style may have been applied. This, fortunately, is in the former category. Travers presents a good mix of scholarly research and practical application from personal experience.

For the beginner, the book offers an excellent basic guide to the elder futhark, including meanings and interpretations of each rune, and a basic “why” for each of the three groupings known as aetts. The material is firmly couched in the cultural context that the runes were created in. Travers has done many years of research not only into the runes themselves, but also Germanic cultures and even the greater, overarching Indo-European influence. There are many, many tangents that this book gives to the intrepid researcher. It’s not, however, a particularly dry read, and even novices should be able to make good sense of the material.

However, unlike some authors Travers doesn’t just focus on the divinatory/oracular uses of the runes. While divination is covered, so is the poetic magic of runes. An appendix covers further concepts, such as the creation of a niding-pole. One could wish for more of this not-divination material, especially because what he does describe is intriguing. However, it is a nice change from the usual “Here’s how to cast the runes, and here’s what they mean”.

My only real complaint is that the book really could have used a proofreader. There are numerous typos throughout the text, to the point where I found it distracting. While it doesn’t completely counteract the overall quality of the book otherwise, it does come across as a bit unprofessional (and is why I generally recommend that self-publishers hire an editor who’s well worth the cost).

That aside, this is one of the best self-published books I’ve had the pleasure of reading, and a text on runes that I would highly recommend to both those who want to make a thorough study of the topic, and those who simply would like to have a good, basic reference guide in their library.

Four and a half pawprints out of five.

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Bird Cards by Toerien and van Dobben

Bird Cards: The Healing Power of the Bird Kingdom
Jane Toerien and Joyce van Dobben
Altamira-Becht, 2003/Binkey Kok, 2007
158 pages plus 55 cards

This is one of the not-so-well-known animal totem decks out there, specializing in birds as opposed to a wide variety of animals. The specialization is a definite plus, because it allows for a number of birds that normally don’t get a lot of attention in commerical totemism books and decks. Along with some of the usual suspects like Crow, Raven, and Owl, there are some birds I haven’t really seen covered–Thrush, Roller, and Gannet, for example. There are a few surprises, too–Phoenix as a representative of mythological beings, and Dodo as an extinct totem.

The overall tone of this book/deck is intuitive. The author (and artist) relied primarily on a series of direct contacts with the totems/spirits of each bird in a personal ritual setting. This carries over into the individual messages associated with each bird. In fact, the entries are almost uniformly based on the author’s intuition and observation. I wish that she had balanced them out with some biology or lore from various cultures, though. Relying only on an author’s Unverified Personal Gnosis can lead to an imbalanced understanding of the possible teachings of each animal. Additionally, be aware that the writing tends towards New Age language (“deva”, “angel”, “light” and “special bird” are just a few terms to be found). The meanings are also primarily positive, with no warning of potential negative traits of each species–IMO/IME, it’s important to have a balanced approach when working with totems, or other spirits for that matter. I do have to say I’m glad the deck is remarkably free of cultural appropriation–one of the advantages from working with one’s own experiences. So that’s a definite point in its favor.

It is a very useful deck. Toerien offers a nice variety of layouts for the cards, and isn’t dogmatic in how it must or mustn’t be used. And it’s quite possibly one of the loveliest decks I’ve ever seen! van Dobben is an incredible artist, bringing vivacity and brilliant color to each of the birds.

Overall, I think this deck is a good one. I would strongly suggest researching beyond the book when working with an individual bird totem, and also be aware of the “white light” bias of the text. But it’s a nice alternative to some other decks out there. Good stuff!

Four feathers out of five.

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Thorn Magazine, Volume One, Issue One

Thorn Magazine, Volume One, Issue One
Various authors, editors, artists and other contributors
December 2008
72 pages

Before I start this review, a disclaimer: I have been taken on as a reviewer by this publication, and have a book review in this issue. Please note the potential for bias, though I will do my best to maintain my neutrality.

The quality of neopagan dead tree magazines vary greatly. On the one hand, you have a small grouping of professional magazine publishers who have consistently managed to put forth decent material on a schedule. On the other, you have the magazines that never made it past the first issue, DIY zines of varying stripes and qualities, and some miscellaneous forgettable examples throughout the years. Running a magazine is tough, because it means multiple times a year you’re collecting, editing, laying out, printing and distributing material from all sorts of writers and other creatives. Burnout is common in the (relatively) small press magazine world.

I have a lot of hope for Thorn magazine, however. Started by “Chip O’Brien, the hideous result of a mad experiment by the Rutgers English department”, this is a pagan mag that goes well beyond spells and shiny objects. For this first issue, Chip and Co. managed to compile a delightful variety of articles, commentaries, artwork and other items. There’s too much to discuss every single item in detail, but here are a few of my favorites:

–The Wild Hunt (magazine column version) by Jason Pitzl-Waters: Despite the prevalence of paganism on the internet, not all pagans love spending time online as much as I do. So I thought that the addition of a summary of some of the highlights from the Wild Hunt was a great way to help the less cyber-focused still get access to a wide variety of pagan-relevant news bits. I thought it translated well, especially as I am a regular reader of the blog itself.

–Without a Watchmaker: An Atheist’s Search for the Gods by Robert Koskulics: Having recently taken up with someone who identifies both with the terms “pagan” and “atheist”, and having seen a recent spate of discussion of atheism in paganism via various popular pagan blogs, I leaped on this article almost immediately. It’s a sensitive treatment of one atheist’s experiences joining a coven for their Samhain celebration; while the author was frank about the points where he maybe wasn’t so moved by the ritual as the pagans were, I did enjoy his conclusion: “Gratitude for my life and my place in the world is almost as good as knowing why I should be grateful in the first place” (p.11). It’s a beautiful piece, and one of my favorites from the entire issue.

–The Extraordinary Healing And/Or Totally Fraudulent Powers of Orgone by Jeff Mach: I’m a bit familair with Reich from an occult perspective, but also from the perspective of a psych grad student. I haven’t yet read Reich’s works directly, though I have them in my possession, but I did have a class where a Reichian therapist sat in as a substitute for the usual professor and talked a bit about his practice. Mach’s article, on the other hand, tends to favor the more occultish interpretations of orgone energy, Reich’s theoretical energetic matrix that permeates, well, everything. While he does touch on Reich’s work in psychotherapy, much of the article deals with the more esoteric applications of orgone–and the conspiracy theories surrounding Reich’s persecution and mysterious death in prison. Reich and his work are not a simple topic to tackle, and Mach does quite the admirable job of presenting his case.

The Cauldron of Poesy (translation) by Erynn Rowan Laurie: This is a circa 7th century poem written by an Irish fili, or poet-mystic; Laurie has done a lovely job of translating it. Translation is always a bit of a challenge, especially with poetry, because often the original words are specifically chosen for their rhythm and sound, and trying to make a translation that sounds just as nice isn’t easy. Laurie preserves the meaning while creating something that is pleasurable to read and recite.

–Thralldom in Theodish Belief by Joseph Bloch: I’ll admit that I’m no expert on heathenry, and I know less about Theodism than other sorts, such as Asatru. However, I was utterly fascinated by this approach to a neotribal membership process that draws on the concept of a newcomer to a culture being a thrall, a “nobody”, who then must earn their place in society, through working within some very specific parameters. It’s a wonderfully thorough way to weed out potentially problematic applicants and to show who’s really dedicated to being a part of the tribe. I admit that I couldn’t help but be reminded, to an extent, of the spirit of the Master/slave relationship in BDSM–while the Theodish thralldom is in no way sexual, the general concept of a willing sacrifice of one’s power for a particular goal/purpose seems to be a commonality.

There were plenty of other things that I loved, to include a beautiful critique of Gimbutas’ faulty research, some absolutely amazing artwork, and spotlights on pagan-related pop culture. Admittedly, there were also a few pieces I thought weren’t as strong. Tchipakkan’s “Hanging with the Gods”, a discussion of her and her family’s experiences with “real live encounters” with the spirits and deities made me want to reach for my Occam’s Razor. Starwolf’s “Wyrd Science: A Lab Report” was supposed to include “20% craft skill, 60% research and 20%….insane inspiration!”, all I really saw was a couple of instructables on how to make a copper wand and a “Psychic Shield Generator”, with no real scientific method, research, or other content. And Jack Lux’s “An Evening With Uncle Chuckie” discussed the author’s inspiration to thumb his nose at “white lighters” and their pesky ethics after a presentation by the infamous Charles Cosimano; it came across more as a rebellious OMGDARKMAGICIAN, and my end reaction was “Gee, so you cast a curse and it might have worked. That’s nice”.

Still, overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this magazine, and even the parts I wasn’t so impressed by may absolutely tickle someone else. Also, I’d like to mention (and here I’ll definitely admit my bias as a writer!), Thorn is one of very, very few paying venues for pagan magazine contributors. Granted, as a startup, they’re limited in what they can afford to pay. However, considering most of the time writers have to settle for a contributor’s copy of the magazine they get published in, or maybe a free subscription, this is a welcome change. I strongly suggest that if you like what you see from this magazine, that you treat yourself to a subscription–and help keep this excellent publication afloat.

Thorn is by far the most professional startup I’ve seen, and if the first issue is an indication, this will definitely be a strong voice in pagan publishing for years to come.

Five pawprints out of five

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Runes For Transformation – Kaedrich Olsen

Runes for Transformation: Using Ancient Symbols to Change Your Life
Kaedrich Olsen
Weiser Books, 2008
230 pages

When I first became interested in paganism back in the mid-1990s, the very first divination set I worked with was the elder futhark of runes. I had a photocopy of a few pages with rune meanings out of a book that I suspect may have been from Ralph Blum’s questionable writings. While runes have never been a central focus in my practice and I no longer utilize them, I do have somewhat of a nostalgic soft spot for them. I am quite pleased with this brand-new text–it takes an entirely innovative approach to the runes, not only as a historical alphabet/divination system couched in venerable traditions, but also as a living, evolving set of energies and symbols that the modern practitioner will find relevant regardless of current cultural context.

Olsen presents us with a solid overview of the history and origin of the Norse runes. However, before he even gets into that, he throws a chapter on the nature of reality at the reader, asking us to challenge our perceptions and assumptions, particular with regards to magical thinking. This sets a stage for an introduction to the runes not only as symbols with correspondences, but as tools for shaping and understanding subjective reality.

While Olsen has done his research, drawing extensively on primary texts, he strongly supports the use of Unverified Personal Gnosis as a key to one’s individual relationship to the runes and their meanings. This is a much more organized and introspective process than mixing up runes and the I Ching, for example. While UPG is crucial, it is still set within the context of historical meaning, and the two are meant to complement each other, even if their information doesn’t entirely agree. In short, Olsen allows the historical material on the runes to serve as a solid foundation on which the practitioner may then build hir own extensive personal research–a healthy balance.

The runes are also not treated as only tools for divination. One of the most valuable dimensions of this book is the potential for a Western system of internal change. Olsen blends techniques from NLP and other psychological systems, as well as other areas of modern science, with runic magic and spirituality to create a wonderfully workable system. The runes are promoted as tools for understanding interconnection between the self and the world, and various elements thereof; as energies that may be utilized in improving the self in deep, fundamental capacities; and making connections with deities, among other capacities. The depth with which Olsen explores these possibilities is commendable, and I say this not only as an experienced psychonaut, but also a counselor-in-training.

Practitioners who are critical of UPG may find this book to be too UPG-heavy for their tastes. This all comes down to a matter of subjective preferences. Olsen does an excellent job of presenting his material, and beyond a certain point it’s not really possible to change peoples’ minds. The solid research may mollify some by-the-book folks; however, I can also see this book coming under fire from exceptionally conservative individuals.

Overall, this book is a winner. Whether you are Asatru, or a psychonaut in need of a system for internal exploration, or merely someone who appreciates the magic and aesthetics of the elder futhark, this text is an excellent choice.

Five pawprints out of five.

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Dreams, Symbols and Psychic Power by Tanous and Gray – October BBBR

Dreams, Symbols and Psychic Power: Your Guide to Personal Growth
Alex Tanous and Timothy Gray
Bantam Books, 1990
216 pages

This month’s Bargain Bin Book review was a definite bargain–I found this little text in the middle of a parking lot while walking home from work one day. Deciding that the Universe must have wanted me to read it and review it, I placed it in my BBBR stacks. Having done the reading, I must preface this review by saying that the Universe has sent me a message that it hates me.

Okay, okay–maybe the Universe doesn’t hate me. However, this was a painful book to read. It’s basically a few chapters of halfway decent advice on basic dreamwork wrapped around a bunch of chapters of stereotype-laden dream dictionary.

The first chapter as a basic intro to dream interpretation. There’s a smattering of traditional psychological dream interpretation tossed in there, along with a bit of scientific information about what happens when we dream. I do feel like the authors were trying too hard to ascribe psychic and woo-woo powers to all dreams; I’m of the general opinion that most dreams are mainly our brain’s way of organizing thoughts and experiences from when we’re awake. However, for what the book is, the information isn’t all bad. The second chapter, full of advice on how to remember your dreams better, has a lot of value to it, and adds to the usefulness of this book for general beginners.

The dictionary part…well…I’m really not a fan of the stereotypical dictionary format in any form of spirituality or magical practice. Dream symbols are highly personal, and IMO it matters less what, exactly, you see, than how what you see makes you feel/react. There’s too much material in this book that prods people towards reading too much into something, or interpreting it in a stereotypical manner, rather than looking at the subjective qualities of a particular symbol. A few mentions here and there that dreams are personal won’t really offset the dictionary section of this book. The same can all be said of chapter five, which includes some broad assumptions about specific types of dreams, held up by a handful of anecdotes.

Chapter six is more useful because it includes open-ended advice on how to analyze your dreams. I really think that this book suffered for trying to pigeonhole things that are really very subjective in their interpretation, and overemphasized the recipe-book approach to dream interpretation. Had the book been more focused on the open-ended material in the second and sixth chapters, I think it would have been a much better work overall.

I might recommend this to a beginner with the caveat that chapters two and six are really the only useful portions. Other than that, though, the rest of the pages would make better pulp for new books.

One and a half pawprints out of five.

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The Good Cat Spell Book – Gillian Kemp

The Good Cat Spell Book
Gillian Kemp
Crossing Press, 2008
122 pages hardback plus oracle poster

This is the latest release from spellcrafter Gillian Kemp. It’s also the newest book to focus on cat magic, and one of the more interactive ones as far as your cat is concerned.

The book focuses on the cat as a familiar. While I agree with Kemp that a familiar is an animal who actively aids in magic, I disagree that the main factor involved in whether a cat (or any animal) is a familiar is love. You can love a pet dearly, but that doesn’t make hir any more likely to be a familiar than a family member would be a magician hirself. She also includes astrological profiles for cats; the information didn’t particularly match my two cats, but then again astrological generalizations presented in brief often tend to be hit or miss.

Kemp provides dozens of spells for a variety of purposes, from love to prosperity to reversing your luck. Your cat simply acts as a cat normally would, and that energy is placed into the spell or divination. A good example is “To Speed Cash to You Quickly” (p. 43), which basically involves enticing your cat to play with money as a toy, with a little extra “oomph”.

While the cats are well-treated, some of the spells may offend some peoples’ ethics. The very first spell in the book, “To Bewitch the One You Love” (p. 14), involves compelling a specific person to think of you; “To Keep the One You Love” (p. 17) and “For a Lover To Return To You” speak more of insecurity than love. “To Encourage Your Parents to Reconcile and Reunite” (p. 31) is similarly aimed at those who may be tempted to try to interfere with a situation that they may not completely understand.

The Cat Oracle is a reworking of the old divination trick of watching the movements of an animal to get an answer. There’s a poster in the back of the book that has a set of symbols arranged in a particular way, and however your cat moves will determine which symbol is relevant to your question. If you do have a feline familiar, this may be a neat thing to try out.

I’m torn on how to rate this book. On the one hand, there are some useful things in here for those who like cat magic. However, on the other, the borderline manipulative spells, as well as my disagreement about what actually constitutes a familiar, and a complete lack of a bibliography or references, take away points. So I’m going to give it…

Three and a half pawprints out of five.

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The Talisman Magick Workbook – Kala and Ketz Pajeon – August BBBR

The Talisman Magick Workbook
Kala and Ketz Pajeon
Citadel Press, 1992
244 pages

This month’s Bargain Bin Book Review is a handbook on creating magical talismans using combinations of existing symbols from cultures and practices around the world. There is theoretical discussion of talismans and the individual symbols, as well as extensive information on correspondences. In short, it should in theory contain everything you need to get started on talisman magic. But let’s get into the nitty-gritty.

I give the authors kudos for addressing the worry that they’re giving powerful tools into the hands of anyone who wants them, and therefore are responsible for other peoples’ actions. I think they handled this concept very well, and present the information in a well-balanced manner that all but the most misguided of practitioners should understand. I’m not particularly sure what in this book would be considered particularly offensive; it primarily deals with fairly common symbol sets such as zodiacal astrology, the I Ching, Norse runes, and the Tarot. Still, there will always be magical busybodies worrying themselves over what their neighbors are doing.

The information on the symbols themselves is pretty standard, though a few of their sources aren’t so great–for example, they draw on Ralph Blum (among others) for rune information. Given that the book was written in 1992, when there was a lot less source material, it’s forgivable–however, be aware that there may be inaccurate information from these sources. If you’re going to study these symbols and systems beyond the talisman magic explained in this book, make sure you refer to other source material.

Where I actually see the most potential value for this book is for Chaos magicians wanting to indulge in a bit of paradigmal piracy, and others who aren’t too concerned about in-depth study of the systems drawn on. If you want a quick “plug it in, charge it up, and let it go” bit of magic, this will be a good single text to work from. However, if you’re more type-A about historical and factual accuracy, you’ll at the very least want to supplement this text, and if potential inaccuracies really bother you, you may just want to pass it by altogether. It’s a good practical text and it accomplishes the goal it was made for, though.

Three and a half pawprints out of five.

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Nine Worlds of Seid-Magic – Jenny Blain

Nine Worlds of Seid-Magic: Ecstasy and Neo-Shamanism in North European Paganism
Jenny Blain
Routledge, 2002
186 pages

This book was recommended to me as a good introduction to what seithr, shamanistic practices based in Northern European cultures, is. Specifically it focuses on the oracular aspects of the practice. Rather than a practical how-to manual with step-by-step instructions, it is a thoughtful and well-balanced text on the topic from someone who is both an academic and a practitioner. It fills two niches: the need for more material on seithr; and the need for more academic material on neoshamanisms in their own right, rather than as footnotes in shamanic discourse.

Blain presents a mixture of historical references to support the existence of seithr in Northern Europe, both before and after large-scale Christianization. However, she also approaches these materials with a critical eye, rather than simply accepting them as truth. She neatly weaves these in with commentary from modern practitioners of seithr, as well as her own experiences.

There are a number of controversial topics brought up in a generally neutral manner, allowing for the contemplation of the material discussed. A good deal of the book concerns gender issues in relation to seithr and the modern heathen movement, particularly the resistance to seithr by more conservative elements. The questions of whether seithr is strictly “wimmin’s work”, whether or not that disempowers it, and whether a seithman is “unmanned”, are all brought up and discussed in detail, both in the context of historical evidence and the modern heathen community.

Blain also tackles authenticity and seithr. Is it shamanism? Is it a legitimate, authentic practice? Are neoshamanisms in general authentic? Can “shamanism” be defined? Can a practitioner truly give an impartial review of seithr? These topics and more all provide a wealth of brain food to chew on.

While it isn’t an easy-breezy book to read, being written in high academese, it is an excellent introduction that gives context for the modern practice of seithr, as well as providing numerous resources that may be traced for more information. The fact that it is written by a practitioner who is also an academic only serves to deepen the value of this book. Hopefully it will encourage the weakening of the terror of “going native” in academia

Five pawprints out of five.

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