Shamanic Egg Cleansings – Kalyn Raphael

Shamanic Egg Cleansings: A Traditional Healing Technique of Mesoamerican Shamans
Kalyn Raphael
Lightwurks, LLC Publishing, 2003
131 pages

I forget exactly where I first heard about this little small press book, but it was one of those things that made me intensely curious, so I picked up a copy. While there are plenty of general books on shamanic practice, it’s good to see more specialized topics being covered as well, and this is the only book I know of that covers this particular form of healing from a practical perspective in detail.

As the title suggests, the book is dedicated solely to how to perform an egg cleansing ceremony for the purposes of healing a client, as well as various considerations to keep in mind for preparation, execution, and aftercare. The author describes a few different ways to do the ritual, including her preferred method as well as that of her mentor. She also talks about the trappings of the ritual and whether they’re necessary or not, how to cleanse the client on different levels of the self, and what to do if a client begins to react badly, especially at a first cleansing. Additionally, there’s information on how to do divination using the eggs post-cleanse.

I have to give this book big props for addressing and poking holes in the idea that illnesses are all the fault of the people who have them, or that they’re all some karmic debt being repaid. While the author does say that these things are possible, she also says that it’s not the healer’s role to make that judgement, and that the judgement can adversely affect the cleansing.

I do wish the author had gone into more detail on some aspects; there were several questions left unanswered (unless I happened to miss them while reading). For one thing, does the egg need to be fresh? Might a rotten one attract similar energy? Can the egg be disposed of in a compost bin so that the natural processes of decay may dissipate the impurities? There were also several places where I felt the author could have gone into more detail on the process; while the body map portion, for example, was covered in great detail, there were other sections that only warranted a paragraph or two. More anecdotes would have been helpful, even if the clients were kept completely anonymous.

Additionally, the subtitle is misleading. I would have preferred if the author had differentiated between what aspects of the book were traditional to specific tribes’ practices, and which were New Age. Some are obviously New Age imports, such as archangels, chakras and auras. However, it would have been nice to know which parts came from indigenous sources, and which were later additions by her or other practitioners. It’s not that the system isn’t effective, but I tend to support being more clear about cultural origins, especially when the system is claimed to be “traditional Mesoamerican”. There was no bibliography or other source material, or even recommended reading for such things as the chakras.

Because of my qualms I considered giving this book a lower rating. However, as a workable text I enjoyed it quite a bit, and I really was glad to see something new (to the publishing world, anyway) being written about. Granted, it’s been around since 2003, but I’ve not seen anything like it. So I’ll simply suggest that if the author does a later edition that she A) expand the material in more detail, and B) be more clear about what’s traditional and what isn’t.

Four pawprints out of five.

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Good Fortune and How to Attract It – Titania Hardie

Good Fortune and How To Attract It
Titania Hardie
Quadrille, 2008
304 pages plus three divination coins

I like creative reworkings of old systems (at least as long as they don’t claim to be the original!). Good Fortune is just such a book. Titania Hardie offers her own modernization of the I Ching; she argues that as the original was created in an entirely different culture, including one in which women weren’t even allowed to use it, a form friendly to both men and women was in order. I am pleased by this.

The first section of the book describes what the basic concept is, how to throw and read the coins, and the different personality types that affect the outcome of the reading. There’s also some interesting elemental correspondence worked in there as well. It was a bit complex to understand at first, but a little closer study made it make sense. The readings rely on a grid with numbers on it; the way the coins fall in six throws, and the lines created on the grid by recording these throws, determines what the answer is. With a little practice, it’s a wonderfully effective divination system.

I’m a bit on the fence about the personality types, specifically the element of birth order which is used to help determine what the dominant aspects of your personality are. According to The Birth Order Book by Dr. Kevin Leman, one’s sex isn’t as important as Hardie makes it out to be; it’s more about the interactions of the family members. Hardie covers that too, though, so it’s a more thorough view. I’m not a big fan of rigid gender/sex dichotomy, and occasionally a bit of “female-nurturing, male-doing” sentiment got to me a bit, especially with the “Mother always equals Earth and Father always equals Sky” aspect. Overall, though, personal biases aside, it adds a useful dimension to one’s reading and understanding of how who you are affects what may occur and how you react to it.

Quibbles and bits aside, I did thoroughly enjoy this book. It’s quite possibly one of the prettiest books, with some spectacular layout and design work. Don’t let the loveliness fool you, though–this is an effective system of divination suitable for anyone who resonates with it. Don’t expect classic I Ching; you’ll be disappointed. Instead, open yourself up to a new derivation that goes in some creative directions.

Four and a half pawprints out of five.

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The Birth Order Book – Kevin Leman – November BBBR

The Birth Order Book
Dr. Kevin Leman
Revell, 1996

Okay, so this month’s Bargain Bin Book Review technically isn’t a book on magic or other esoteric topics; however, I found it in the pagan/occult section of the clearance rack, so I say it counts 😉 . Though jokes aside, I actually found it to be a good read, and I think that psychology can be an incredibly useful tool in magical works; I’ll explain more in a bit.

The basic premise is that our personalities are shaped by how our parents treat us based on our birth order. For example, the firstborn child generally gets a lot of attention coupled with a lot of responsibility, the middle children may feel somewhat ignored (depending on circumstances), and the babies of the families often rule the roost. Only children may additionally take after the firstborns, though there are unique traits as well. All of these are presented as generalizations based on the author’s observations among his patients, rather than hard and fast dogma. I found a lot to resonate with as a youngest child who was also a quasi-only due to being the youngest by nine and a half years. There’s also a lot of material on coping with your birth order “issues”, as well as tips on marriages between different birth orders, and information about how to work with your own children to avoid programming the worst traits into them by accident.

Where I see this as being useful for magical practitioners is as a complement for things like astrology and tarot reading, as well as other systems that either deal with telling a person something about hirself and/or that rely on knowing something about the person to get results. While birth order isn’t everything, it can add a dimension of understanding to a person’s internal and external environments. If you’re currently slogging through old conditioning and other such things, either through meditation or other methods, this may be an interesting book that provides some food for thought on how you got to be the way you are. It’s not a complete guide, but it gave me something to think about.

Four pawprints out of five.

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Choice Centered Tarot – Gail Fairfield – September BBBR

Choice Centered Tarot
Gail Fairfield
Ramp Creek Publishing, 1984
154 pages

This is an older edition of the book now known as “Everyday Tarot”, but since this is what I pulled out of the bargain bin, this is the review you get 😉

I read tarot on the side, but not that often. Still, I have enough experience to have more than the basics down, and I really liked the angle this particular author took. The book is very much a psychological approach to Tarot, with a strong emphasis on what the individual symbols mean to each reader and querent. Rather than being dogmatic about what each card means or doesn’t mean, Fairfield encourages the reader to really think about the symbolism, even to the point of thinking very carefully about the colors in a deck before purchasing it. She advocates an approach to tarot that has a lot of preparation rooted in personalization rather than superstition.

I also like her comparison of divination to sitting in a hot air balloon. You can see a lot more than just the immediate surroundings, and get a much better perspective on what’s going on. It’s a very open-ended approach, one that allows a lot more freedom of personal interpretation and perception.

The meanings she gives for the individual cards are her own, admittedly, but she gives a lot of detail–and the preceding information provides the context within which she reads. Her section on designing and using spreads is also valuable.

Overall, I enjoyed this book. It’s an incredibly useful tool for Tarot readers of any experience level, and would be a definite help in creating a more thoughtful, conscious approach to reading, rather than just going by whatever the book says.

Five pawprints out of five.

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The Oracle of the Bones – Claire O’Neill

The Oracle of the Bones
Claire O’Neill
St. Martin’s Press, 1994
128 pages

I really, really liked this book. It’s the handbook for a Western reinterpretation of a method of divination with bones used by several tribes in Africa. It’s nice to see something derived from a culture that’s not from Europe, Asia, or North America. The author is quite clear about her sources and the derivation of the system she presents, rather than trying to say “This is exactly how the Africans do it!” While there aren’t in-text citations, there is a bibliography, which earns points.

The basic system consists of tossing four bones–a long bone, a small bone, a broken bone, and a fat bone–onto a tri-parte circle, each section standing for a different set of qualities. The meaning of the bone depends on where it falls in the circle, and where it is in relation to other bones. The bulk of the book is dedicated to summaries of what each bone/circle combination means and suggestions on how to interpret it.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get the casting cloth that originally came with it, but it’d be a simple thing to make. Additionally, since I bought the book alone, I had to get my own bones (though this was relatively easy, considering the kind of artwork I create). The concept is wonderfully simple, though, and those who are artistically inclined can easily reproduce their own set, especially since this is out of production.

Overall, a unique divination system that I intend to make good use of.

Five pawprints out of five.

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Animal Messages – Susie Green

Animal Messages
Susie Green
Cico Books, 2005
64 pages + 52 cards

If I didn’t already have a good relationship with my Animal Wise deck, I think Animal Messages would be my top choice for a totem deck. This lesser-known deck is pretty much the best one I’ve seen besides Animal Wise. It’s an almost flawless tool, as far as I’m concerned.

One of the things I love about Green’s work with totems is that she’s incredibly environmentally aware. Some writers, particularly in the New Age, get so wrapped up in “higher planes of existence” and “travelling to the Underworld to meet your power animal” that they forget to connect with this reality. Not Susie Green, though–she takes the spiritual and applies it directly to the worldl around and within us. She has an acute understanding of how the animals themselves see the world, and how we can interact with them on their level of understanding, more instinctual but no less important or powerful.

For being such a small thing, the accompanying booklet has a lot of info in it. Rather than pontificating on what Native people supposedly do (with no research from actual tribes), Green packs a lot of thought about the human-animal connection, different spreads that she finds work well and why, and streamlined suggestions for figuring out what each card represents. Granted, there’s always room for more information on that last, but Green gives good starting points for people to work with–she’s excellent at making every word count, and again she focuses on an animal-centric point of view.

The artwork on these cards is absolutely astounding. Csaba Pasztors’s paintings of the animals are vividly colored and realistic. They’re an absolute joy to look at, and I can safely say this is the most visually attractive deck I’ve ever seen.

Overall, an excellent totem animal deck, limited only by the usual parameters of such things–there are never enough cards for all the animals, and there’s never really enough room for all the information on each one. An excellent tool alone, or as a companion to Green’s first book, Animal Wisdom.

Five pawprints out of five.

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Good Witch, Bad Witch – Gillian Kemp – July BBBR

Good Witch, Bad Witch: Sweet Spells and Dark Charms
Gilliam Kemp
Bulfinch, 2002
64 pages + 52 cards

The first thing that drew me into this set is the artwork. Bright colors, beautifully painted, with whimsical images of witches, both “good” and “bad”. Unfortunately I couldn’t find any notation of who are artist was. Still, the artwork is a lovely illustration of the text.

This set is…well…it’s best summed up as “cute”. There’s a very playful air to the way Kemp writes about her good and bad witches, 26 of each. The Good Witches include the Stardust Witch, who “makes dreams come true” (22), the Fire Witch who “makes temperatures rise” (32) and the South Witch, who “predicts a happy phase when the sun will shine for you” (36). The Bad Witches, on the other hand, features such characters as the Warty Witch, who “speaks to you in a vein of honesty, ‘warts and all'” (46), the Wickedest Witch who “reveals that jealousy may create havoc” (49) and the Venomous Witch who is “as poisonous as an adder’s fang” (55). The various roles of each of the witches in this divinatory pack deal primarily with everyday concerns such as love and good living. Along with descriptions of the “personality” of each witch, the general attributes and forecasts that each card suggests are explained. Each entry is completed with a brief spell that fits the theme of the card that comes up.

Some may look askance at some of the spells; for example, there are several that are dedicated to ruining someone else’s relationship or getting revenge on others. These hearken back to historical witchcraft, in which the spells for love and healing were joined by the equally common spells for revenge and sickness–in modern practices of witchcraft (particularly Wicca) the latter aren’t spoken of as much in an attempt to improve P.R. for paganism as a whole. While most witches choose not to implement such spells, the fact that they exist shouldn’t be denied. It all comes down to personal ethics.

I think my only complaint is that it is pretty lightweight. The descriptions are quite brief, and I would have enjoyed reading about how Kemp actually created the deck–a story is always a nice addition. Still, for being a little gift-box divination set, it’s pretty darned good.

For all its cute factor, this is a very usable deck. Kemp did a great job of designing some sample layouts to be used with this deck, and they serve a very functional purpose. If you’re looking for something a little out of the ordinary that keeps even the “bad” witches light-hearted, this is a fun deck to work–or play–with.

Four pawprints out of five.

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Spirit Stones – Growling Bear

Spirit Stones
Growling Bear
Journey Editions, 1997
128 pages

Note: This book apparently initially came with a set of stones with animals on them, but I just had the book. The stones look easy to make, though.

“Spirit Stones” is one of a number of modern divination systems that are supposedly based on older traditions. It caters to those of the animal totem variety, featuring stereotypically “Native American totem” animals like Wolf, Bear, Snake and Frog, as well as other mostly Big, Impressive North American Birds and Mammals and other Traditional Native Animals. The book is meant as a guide for using stones with thes eanimals painted (or printed) on them.

I really have mixed feelings on this book. On the one hand, the author does cite some tribe-specific examples of relationships between humans and animals. However, he doesn’t cite his sources, giving only a list of recommended reading, most of which seems to be on Native American cultures in general. And he throws around a lot of talk about “Native American spirituality” without making tribal distinction, and falling into the “noble savage” stereotype that all Indians are close to the Earth spiritually and ignoring the very real problems facing them today. He does bring in some historical information about various tribes, to include not glossing over the fact that the U.S. government basically screwed them over.

Functionally, it’s an interesting system, all cultural appropriation issues aside. The author includes a few sample readings that really flesh out the concepts he talks about, and he does include a decent amount of information on his interpretation of each animal. It’s something I’d recommend to a beginner looking for a simple, easy animal-based divination system.

Overall, it’s getting two and a half pawprints. I like the idea and the inclusion of research on Native cultures, but there’s just enough plastic shamanism to make me cringe every couple of pages.

Two and a half pawprints out of five.

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Tarot Outside The Box – Valerie Sim – BBBR February 2007

Tarot Outside the Box
Valerie Sim
Llewellyn, 2004
170 pages

I really had high hopes for this book when I found it on the clearance rack. While tarot isn’t a huge part of my practice, I do like people who come up with new ideas and practices–I am, after all, an experimental magician 🙂 So I was looking forward to the read.

And some of it did deliver. One of the key points of the book, comparative tarot, involves using cards from more than one deck in a single reading. I’d never even thought to do that, though I only own one tarot deck and one totem deck–I’m not a collector, though I do like the different styles of art in various decks. I really liked the way she explained how the concept worked and why she used it, as well as a couple examples of the theory in practice.

I also liked that she encouraged people to create their own layouts. While with tarot I primarily use the regular old favorite, the Celtic Cross, I did figure out a unique layout with my totem deck. And she had some good ideas for other types of readings and methods of practice that I found innovative–I really liked the idea of using the tarot to spark creative writing.

Unfortunately, all this material was wrapped in a bunch of filler. There were over a dozen pages just comparing a bunch of Nine of Cups cards from different decks, both pictures, and descriptions that were a couple of paragraphs long each. I know she was trying to emphasize the unique traits of each card and how these differences could be used in comparative tarot, but it was jsut too much. Additionally, I’m with Psyche of Spiral Nature on the opinion that there are just too many sample layouts in this book.

Honestly, the really good stuff in this book would have made a long essay; I really wish she’d given more ideas on really unique ideas for using tarot, instead of spending over half the pages on filler.

Two and a half pawprints out of five.

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The Animal Wise Tarot – Ted Andrews

The Animal Wise Tarot
Ted Andrews
Dragonhawk Publishing, 1999
256 pages plus 78 cards

I realized that I’ve been working with this deck since they first came out in 1999, and never reviewed it.

In short, I LOVE it.

One of the things I love about Ted Andrews’ work in general is that he works with a variety of animals, not just North American large mammals. There’s a great variety of critters to work with in this deck–mammals, birds, insects, amphibians and reptiles. He did a great job of matching animals to the various tarot cards as well. And personally, I love the photographs; they’re very evocative of the individual animals.

The great thing about this deck, too, is that is can be used for totem or tarot readings. My deck and I figured out our own reading style for totemic divination. It’s a very versatile tool.

I’m also really pleased that Andrews doesn’t try to sell himself as a “genuine Native American” anything. These aren’t the Medicine Cards, created by plastic shamans. Instead, Andrews draws from many wells, adn concentrates primarily on observation of the animals themselves for his information, rather than playing Indian. I really respect him for that in all of his work.

The book is a decent helper for getting started, but I found that this particular deck is excellent for intuitive totemic readings; it allows the totems to communicate with you, acting as a focus, rather than saying “This animal always means THIS, while that one must mean THAT”. I’ve given two or three readings in a row where one animal kept popping up, and each tme s/he had something different to say. It’s a wonderfully flexible deck.

Five pawprints out of five.

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