Reason For Hope – Jane Goodall

Reason For Hope: A Spiritual Journey
Jane Goodall
Warner Books, 1999
282 pages

Biologist and chimpanzee expert Jane Goodall has authored a number of informative and approachable books. This one combines a summary of her life with her spiritual insights. Often ecospiritual in nature rather than “Worship God!”, the book allows the reader a sensitive look into Goodall’s personal thoughts on her experiences of the past few decades, as well as her thoughts on contemporary issues in animal welfare and environmentalism.

Reason For Hope is divided into chapters that each focus on a particular theme, such as solitude, war, evil and healing. While the material that Goodall covers is often familiar to people who have read her other works, there are some new writings as well. A variety of photos allows more depth to the text, putting faces to names. The book ends on a positive note, extolling the virtues of–and need for–hope. Instead of feeling as though there’s nothing we can do, instead Goodall explains the problems we face, and through her patient and courageous example, inspires us to continue the good fight.

Even though Goodall is a self-described Christian, there is much in here to interest pagans, particular those of an ecospiritual persuasion. You won’t find preaching and proselytization. Instead, Goodall glories in the wonders of this world and the potential for human depth and growth in harmony with the rest of the world. It’s an inspiring read, and one I intend to return to.

Five pawprints out of five.

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Divine Nature – M. Cremo and M. Goswami – June BBBR

Divine Nature: A Spiritual Perspective On the Environmental Crisis
Michael A. Cremo and Mukunda Goswami
The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, 1998
144 pages

I picked this up expecting a general book on ecospirituality. What I got was a book about how the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (commonly known as the Hare Krishnas) is working for sustainability and ecological balance.

I’m not going to judge the theological or social propriety of ISKCON. However, the book itself was an interesting read. A good deal of it was basic environmental awareness. The first few chapters focus on ecological issues that face the world today, as well as environmental and spiritual arguments for everything from humane treatment of animals to using ox power for farming rather than tractors. There’s also an interesting chapter on “Karma and the Environment” which may be of particular interest to those who believe in karma. And the last part of the book details what ISKCON members have been doing as far as sustainable actions and lifestyles go. The book is also peppered with profiles of individual ISKCON members and affiliates and the pro-environment work they’re doing.

Overall, it’s an interesting little book. I have little use for the theological specifics, but I think it’s great to see what other people are doing to A) present the problems that many are ignoring, and B) do something about it. Some of the environmental issues may be preaching to the choir for those who are already aware of them, but they are presented well. Ten years after this book came out, some of the references are a bit dated, but the message is clear.

Four pawprints out of five.

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Spirit Animals and the Wheel of Life – Hal Zina Bennett

Spirit Animals and the Wheel of Life: Earth-Centered Practices for Daily Living
Hal Zina Bennett
Hampton Roads Publishing Company, 2000
176 pages

There are a lot of totemism/animal spirit 101 guides out there, and it can be tough to find one that isn’t the same old stuff. I am pleased to say that Spirit Animals and the Wheel of Life is one that stands out. Based on the author’s personal spiritual practices formulated over several decades, and deeply rooted in ecospiritual practices, it adds a definite positive flavor to the corpus of literature on practical neopagan totemism.

At first glance, the book seems like just another rip-off of various Native American tribes’ practices. Some may suspect the wheel format, with animals at the four cardinal directions, up and down, and the center. However, the directions, the Earth and the Sky, and the self are more universal than that, and Bennett does a great job of keeping these concepts from being mock-ups of “Native American spirituality”. While he does talk a bit about indigenous practices, more often he speaks from his own personal background as a spiritual person as well as a psychologist.

The system that Bennett has created provides a structure for pathworking that bridges spirituality and psychology. Each position on the wheel represents a different developmental stage, and the animal associated with each position can help with its respective stage. While Bennett provides his animals for each direction, he does emphasize the fact that these are personal, particularly the power animal of the center. He also includes some examples of meditations and rituals that may be used within the structure of his wheel, which makes this a more usable system than those that simply approach the wheel from a symbolic perspective. This is wonderfully interactive material.

I think my only complaint is that he could have gone a lot deeper with the pathworking aspects of the system. He only briefly describes the stages at each point in the wheel, and I think he could have easily gone into more depth without losing the reader. The developmental aspects of his system are one of its strongest points, and I’d like to see them taken further.

However, even as it is this is a great book. It’s incredibly sensitive to ecological issues and the connection between neopagan totemism and the environment, as well as our role in the whole mess we’re in. It offers tools to help us reverse the damage, and emphasizes the need to connect ourselves–to ourselves, to other living beings, to our spirituality, and to draw all these together into one cohesive view of life. The reader who expects a simple introduction to animal totems will find instead a greater wealth of knowledge and wisdom, and tools to wield them for constructive change.

Four and a half pawprints out of five.

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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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When Elephants Weep – Masson and McCarthy

When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animals
Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson and Susan McCarthy
Dell Publishing, 1995
292 pages

While this isn’t strictly a “pagan book”, it’s one I’ve been wanting to read for some time. As a totemist and animal magician, I believe it’s exceptionally important to study the natural history of animals as well as the more abstract mythology, lore, and UPG.

This book explores the emotions of species of animals ranging from ants to whales. Numerous anecdotes are given, particularly involving primates, cetaceans, and African gray parrots. These are used to put forth discussions and considerations of the debate as to whether or not nonhuman animals have emotions, and to what extent they share emotional states and expressions with us. We are not told what we must believe; the authors make their arguments, but they are not entirely dogmatic. Instead, they present their case, give their examples, and beseech the reader to consider what they have offered up. Responsibility is placed in the hands of the reader; we are not spoonfed the answers.

Let me make something clear: this book was not written by scientists. If you’re looking for hard scientific evidence for animal neurology and related fields, this isn’t it. One author has a PhD in Sanskrit; the other has degrees in journalism and biology. (Of course, I have a B.A. in English, so perhaps according to some I’m unfit to judge the scientific integrity of a work in my mere layman’s understanding.) However, I don’t believe science has all the answers, and the authors point out numerous places where science has perhaps been quite blind. We are called not just to think, but to feel–a more complete way of observing and considering emotions themselves. After all, it is strict adherence to left-brained thinking that justifies everything from vivisection of unanesthetized animals to extermination of entire species.

What I consider important about this book is that it can get the average person to think about how we approach animals and their emotions, and reconsider the practice of anthropomorphization. It may make you angry, it may make you cry, or it may make you nod and say “Yes, I agree with this”. But as long as you’re thinking about your position on animals as emotional beings instead of just reacting with your usual routines, I think the authors have done their job.

Five 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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