Green Hermeticism – Wilson, Bamford and Townley

Green Hermeticism: Alchemy and Ecology
Peter Lamborn Wilson, Christopher Bamford, and Kevin Townley
Lindisfarne Books, 2007
206 pages

I cannot rave enough about this book. I forget exactly where I heard about it, but given the dearth of material on ecological spirituality/magic, especially outside of a shamanic or neopagan perspective, I fairly jumped at a chance to pick this text up.

This is not a how-to book, with the exception of one chapter. It is primarily rather dense and inspiring theoretical discussion of the links between hermeticism and alchemy, and the need for a more eco-friendly approach to life, the Universe, and everything. Rather than try to summarize the book as a whole I’ll go through each chapter independently.

Chapter 1 (Wilson) – The Disciples at Sais: A Sacred Theory of Earth – This was originally a paper presented by the author at a 2003 “Sacred Theory of Earth” conference. Wilson traces the influences of green hermeticism, focusing particularly on the works of Romantic scientist and hermeticist Novalis, whose novel provided the title for the chapter. However, Wilson also draws on everyone from Paracelsus to Goethe. However, the bulk of the chapter is dedicated to Novalis, and is liberally adorned with quotes from his works that aptly illustrate foundations of green hermeticism.

Chapter 2 (Bamford) – One the All: Alchemy as Sacred Ecology – Chapter 2 examines the basic philosophy and worldview of alchemy, while highlighting those portions that are particularly applicable to modern ecological concerns. It is also part history lesson, following the progress of alchemy from Egypt to the East and back to the West. And, perhaps most importantly, the idea of One the All is discussed–a deep, pragmatic awareness of the interconnection of all things. We are not merely presented with wishy-washy pleas to “all just get along”, but convincing arguments towards revamping how we approach the Universe, and ourselves and everything else as the All.

Chapter 3 (Wilson) – Green Hermeticissm – Here’s where the book starts getting really good. Wilson dives deeper into hermeticism-as-ecological spirituality, and shows more examples of where the green roots in hermeticism come from throughout its history and development. However, modern implications are also discussed; I was particularly delighted by the section on mycoremeditation–cleaning up toxins through mushrooms which break down the chemical compounds–as a modern form of alchemy. There’s also a marvelous interpretation of lycanthropy as eco-magical awareness and activism, but in a way that takes animals on their own terms instead of through our usual anthropocentric perceptions. While the chapter flows from one topic to another, all together it paints a picture of a very different, much healthier way of viewing reality from what we’re raised with.

Chapter 4 (Bamford) – Quilting Green Hermeticism: A Tissue of Texts and Tracings – This chapter adds texture to the previous material. It’s a delightful collection both of Bamford’s own thoughts, and extensive quotes from various classic alchemical/hermetic texts. By far my favorite part was the section entitled “Ouroborous (‘Tail-eater’) or the Coincidence of Opposites”, an excellent tool for shattering dualistic preconceptions and tendencies towards dividing the world up just so. “Perception and Imagination” is also incredibly important in its promotion of change starting in the very way we view things; unless you are able to shift your perception, none of this will be nearly as useful. By the end of the chapter, my head was reeling from all the information and paradigm shifts, and yet I was left with a sense of a greater, all-encompassing reality–not just “out there” somewhere in the heads of strange old men tinkering with antique glassware, but “in here”, “right here”, “right now”, relevant to All.

Chaoter 5 (Townley) – The Manufacture and Use of Planetary Tinctures – I’m afraid to say that while this essay was exceptionally well-written, it seemed rather tacked on to the end of this book. It’s a practical guide to creating and using planetary tinctures, with a brief explanation of various substances created through alchemy. Do not, however, skip it just because it shifts gears. Give your mind a rest for a few days from the rest of the book, and then read this chapter as its own entity. Despite the difference in styles and focus, you can see elements of the theory of green hermeticism within the processes. In fact, try reading it once before reading the rest, and once after. What I really think, though, is that Townley should author or co-author a practical, hands-on book of green hermeticism techniques. He’s got the right idea, and if there had been more practical material in this book, this chapter would have fit in much better.

I honestly don’t believe I have done this book justice. Truth be told, I’m still digesting what I’ve read, and will go back to it numerous times to re-inoculate myself. However, I wanted to get the word out there as soon as I could, because this is by far one of the most impressive and thought-provoking texts I have ever read. I can’t speak too much as far as the alchemical/hermetic purity goes, since I’m not particularly well-read in those topics at this time. However, as a guidebook for ecological spirituality and magic, and a healthier way of being, it’s beyond essential. In fact, this is another one of those “anyone magical at all should read this” texts (I need to make a list someday….). It’s not an easy read, but it is one of the best.

Five exuberant pawprints out of five.

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Pagan Visions For a Sustainable Future – various

Pagan Visions for a Sustainable Future
Ly de Angeles, Emma Restall Orr, and Thom van Dooren (editors)
Llewellyn, 2005
282 pages

I am thoroughly and completely impressed by this anthology. In it, the various essayists manage to cover a broad range of topics, from ethics in paganism to sustainable practices. While many of the essayists come from an academic background, the anthology is quite readable and accessible to just about anyone.

Be aware that this isn’t a how-to book of hands-on activities to save the world. Rather, it is a discussion of concepts designed to plant the seeds of change in your mind. It’s not enough to say “Here, plant a tree”. Rather, you have to explain why it’s important to plant that tree, both from a practical and a spiritual perspective–and this anthology does a brilliant job thereof.

Here’s a rundown of the essays:

Emma Restall Orr’s “The Ethics of Paganism”: good thoughts on ethics and interconnection, as well as the impact we have on each other (not just humans). A bit idealistic, especially towards the end.

Akkadia Ford’s “Magickal Ecology”: One of my absolute favorites in the book, works with ethics within the Egyptian Negative Confession and shows how these principles may be applied to modern paganism. Lots of good stuff here.

Dr. Susan Greenwood’s “Of Worms, Snakes and Dragons”: Another favorite, *really* down to Earth, lots of valuable points that make environmentalism and sustainability relevant to this reality.

Marina Sala’s “Toward a Sacred Dance of the Sexes”: I didn’t care for this one so much, particularly the revisionist history and idealism. However, I loved the archetypal material discussing the Warrior and the Hunter.

Ly de Angeles’ “What If Everyone Started Telling the Truth?”: A bit more stream-of-consciousness than I really like, and I found myself skipping over bits of it. Has some interested activities in it, though, and there are good points worth reading. Don’t skip it.

Dr. Douglas Ezzy’s “I Am the Mountain Walking”: Yet another excellent one, possibly my favorite of all. So much consideration for others is worked into this, but without pushing ideals onto others. Well-balanced.

Dr. Sylvie Shaw’s “Wild Spirit, Active Love”: A beautiful and thoughtful exploration of why people form such deep, positive relationships with the environment.

Gordeon MacLellan’s “Dancing in the Daylight”: Makes the crucial point that sustainability doesn’t just have to be about paganism, that we can bring ritual into work with everyone willing to work with us, pagan or otherwise. Much-needed essay, another favorite.

“Pagan Politics, Pagan Stories”: A great interview with Starhawk about ritual work in activism, including during demonstrations.

Starhawk’s “Toward an Activist Spirituality”: More good information and anecdotes from her experiences.

Dr. Val Plumwood’s “Place, Politics and Spirituality”: A bit more academic than some of the rest, though it’s still good. A great interview overall. Plus some neat cameos by some of the local wildlife!

Thom van Dooren’s “Dwelling in Sacred Community”: A great essay to wrap up the collection. Brings together a lot of the points in other essays, and makes the reader very aware of the connections. Good stuff.

Eventually I’m going to get around to making a list of books I think should be absolute recommended reading for pagans in general. This will be on that list. It doesn’t get nearly enough appreciation, and I think people get kind of scared away by the idea that it’s all highbrow academia with no practical application. Maybe it doesn’t have a bunch of spells and rituals in it–but it is meant to be brain food. Those who disdain it for being too theoretical are too dependent on spoonfeeding. There are important, valuable, crucial ideas in here, and it behooves us to take them into consideration.

Five impressed pawprints out of five.

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The Earth Path – Starhawk

The Earth Path: Grounding Your Spirit in the Rhythms of Nature
HarperOne, 2005
256 pages

I’ll be honest; I normally have a rather lukewarm opinion of Starhawk’s work. It’s not that it’s bad; it’s simply that I don’t connect with it the way that some other people do. This, however, is a wonderful exception to the rule that I am incredibly pleased to be able to review.

This is not a book of political action. It won’t tell you how to protest, or write letters, or reduce your carbon footprint. However, it is an incredibly valuable guide to attitudes and mindfulness. The Earth Path is an exceptional work that demonstrates to the reader how very important it is to be in tune with the environment that needs saving, and how that connection is crucial to understanding why it’s so important to be aware of and act on the problems that threaten ecosystems worldwide. In short, while activism works on the external connections, this book strengthens one’s internal connections to the Earth; properly applied, the material in this text will make it virtually impossible to ignore the impact we have on the environment. The theoretical and commentary material is punctuated by effective and to-the-point exercises designed to bring it all home in a firm, positive manner.

This isn’t, however, a funerary dirge and moan of all the horrible things we do, laying a guilt fest on the reader. Starhawk is quite clear about the fact that maybe we can’t all convert to solar energy; and she admits that even all the things she does can’t completely negate the impact she makes when she flies on planes to do speaking engagements and other activities. This is a book of “Here is what you *can* do, no matter who you are and what your circumstances may be”.

It’s a very thoughtful work, as well. I’m particularly fond of the chapters dealing with individual elements. This book actually came at the perfect time; as a part of my personal path, I’ve been dedicating a month with each of the traditional four elements in turn. I just happened to be at the very start of my Earth month when I read this; I read that chapter, and I’m saving the other three for required reading at the beginning of the other three months, as they’ll make wonderful introductory material to my work.

I absolutely love The Earth Path; this and James Endredy’s Ecoshamanism are the sine qua non of spiritual ecology (or ecological spirituality, if you prefer). In fact, the two books make a wonderful complement to each other, and I highly recommend them to anyone with any interest in magic and/or environmentalism. This includes people of all sexes; while the material is based somewhat on eco-feminism, there is nothing in here that prevents those who do not identify as women from working with it. In short, an effective guidebook for anyone.

Five green pawprints out of five.

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Ecoshamanism – James Endredy

James Endredy
Llewellyn, 2005

This book came to me at just the right time. I’d moved into a new house, and was just preparing to get settled into this novel envirinment, including my yard. This book has some wonderful and innovative ideas for reconnecting with nature in a number of ways.

His opening deals with the connection between shamanism an the environment. The entire chapter explaining the differences between traditional indigenous shamanism, neoshamanism/core shamanism (ie, buy a crystal and take this seminar and you’re a real-live shaman!) and ecoshamanism (drawin from traditional shamanism but with the community being served bein the entire Earth and all inhabitants thereof) is worth the price of the book alone.

The following chapters deal with various aspects of ecology without guilt tripping, but also over 50 exercises that are designed to help the reader be more in tune with nature. Rather than simple little things like sticking feathers in your hat band, the rituals include being buried alive overnight, and an impressive hunting ritual that can take a year or more to complete.

This book is very Earthy, and much, much grittier than the lip service a lot of “nature” based books give. Endredy takes us beyond tossing bird seed out in the yard, has us running through the mud, and getting to know Nature no matter the discomfort. It gets us truly grounded, and we learn from that experience.

I really enjoyed the exercise of mapping out special places in nature from childhood. I can clearly remember the various wild spots that were sacred to me when young, and, like Endredy, I saw most of them destroyed by development and human encroachment. This helped me to heal that connection to innocence and purity that often gets lost in the craziness of adult life.

I can’t say enough good about this book. I believe it should be read by anyone who seeks to follow a true Nature-based path, rather than abstracting Nature into symbols and seminars that separate us from the dirt and the rain and the blood. I would suggest it in tandem with The Earth Path by Starhawk.

Five pawprints out of five.

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