Spiritual Scents by Shauna Aura Knight

Spiritual Scents: Creative Use of Scent and Fire in Ritual
Shauna Aura Knight
Jupiter Gardens Press, 2013
20 pages

Reviewed by Hilde

As more people discover they have intolerances and allergies the use of scents has become an increasingly important topic. The restrictions of many areas also make the use of live fire difficult or even completely unavailable. But limitations of attendees and venues need not be a worry for a facilitator willing to make some compromises. Knight bring her experience as both an attendee and a leader of ritual to provide alternatives for practitioners.

The majority of the alternatives the author offers are possibilities most people are already aware of, like using battery operated candles instead of wick candles or using water instead of oils. She also suggests the use of guided techniques to stimulate the mind into feeling and smelling what may not be physically available.

Even if there are restrictions with scent, it doesn’t necessarily mean it can’t be used entirely. A little bit of organization, like splitting the smudging of sage between multiple people, can greatly reduce the amount of smoke. Substituting one sense for another is also an option, like using a rattle to cleanse with sound instead of cleansing with scent like smudging.

While I appreciate having all of these ideas readily available in one booklet, I didn’t see anything new or innovative. A little bit of common sense and creativity could easily lead a facilitator to choosing many of these options on their own.

Three pawprints out of five.

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Holy Smoke by Amy “Moonlady” Martin – new edition

Holy Smoke: Loose Herbs & Hot Embers for Intense Group Smudges & Smoke Prayers
Amy “Moonlady” Martin
Moonlady Media, 2010
110 pages

On rare occasion I will review a book a second time, especially if it’s undergone a lot of reworking. In its initial incarnation, this title was known as Spirit Herbs: Simple Recipes for Hibachi Herbal Magic & Sacred Space, and I gave it a glowing review because it was just so awesome. So a while back (longer than i care to admit, thanks to grad school eating my life), the author was kind enough to send me the new, updated, and even better version of the book! She removed a few things that she felt no longer fit, and added a LOT more practical material.

If you’re not familiar with the original review, this is a book all about alternatives to the usual sage smudging wand that everybody and their coven mother uses at the beginning of group neopagan rituals. Smudging is one of those practices that often gets taken for granted. “Okay, we’re going to waft smoke over you–and then get into the REAL ritual!” Yet this text takes what could be a brief step and goes into much more depth.

Some of the material is meant for the aforementioned group rituals. Beyond the initial “clean-up”, there are also smudges meant for much more intensive work over a duration of time, even a couple of hours. And whether you work with a group or alone, the “smoke prayers” are incredibly useful, both for offerings, and for focuses for meditation. At the center of all of these is the concept that scent is one of the most powerful senses we have; in fact, studies show that aromas are even more evocative than visual memories for bringing us back to a place and time, and Martin uses that to connect specific smudges to particular states of consciousness, ritual settings, etc. This is powerful stuff!

Better yet, she offers a variety of recipes for loose herb smudges. If you want a more organic alternative to chemical-laden incense sticks and cones, and especially if you’re big into DIY creations, this is a superb resource. The recipes can get you started, but she also takes care to familiarize you with a variety of ingredients and what they do, which will help you start making your own blends.

I thought I couldn’t say enough good about this book, but this new edition proved me so wrong–for which I’m quite happy! Whether you’re an herbalist looking for an addition to your library, a member of a group wanting more interesting material for rituals, or simply someone who appreciates the full use of the senses in spirituality and magic, this is a most excellent text to pick up!

Five pawprints out of five

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Temple of the Twelve, Vol. 1: Novice of Colors by Esmerelda Little Flame

Temple of the Twelve, Vol. 1: Novice of Colors
Esmerelda Little Flame
New Gaia Press, 2008
278 pages

A young woman finds herself at the threshold of service to great deities who embody archetypal powers. Rather than a relationship of fear, though, can she create connections of love and devotion with them?

I had heard about the Temple of the Twelve books from a few friends who were working through the pathworking system woven into the novels, and I’ll admit I was quite intrigued. I do like fiction that also serves as a teaching tool, but unfortunately a lot of it turns into awkward monologues about what Wicca is shoehorned into a badly written teaching scene or somesuch.

While there is some teaching dialogue scattered throughout this book, much of what each of the archetypal Twelve deities in this story–one for each of several colors and their correspondences–have to teach is demonstrated in their interactions with the main character, Caroline. For example, Caroline creates paintings of several of the deities, and one deity, Lord Blue, felt them strongly: “He felt the colors radiating from them. The hot red. The cool white. Need. Love. Lust. Pain. Joy” (p. 96). The author does an excellent job of “show, don’t tell”.

The story is nicely paced, and allows Caroline to develop not only in her relationships with the gods and others, but as an individual. At the same time, a usable spiritual path is drawn out as the story progresses; shortly after the experience with the paintings, Lord Blue tells Caroline she will bond in particular with one god and one goddess, which reflects the tendency of many pagans to have strong bonds with a few deities in particular (often along perceived lines of balance, such as between male and female energies).

In this, the book creates a mythology upon which nonfiction workbook materials have been based, and there are other novels that expand on this mythos (and I will be reviewing other books in this series). I can see this particular text being everything from a good read in and of itself, to the foundation of a pagan practitioner’s magical path based on colors and correspondences. The author’s personifications of the archetypes shows a strong connection, and I look forward to seeing more implementation of this in a practical sense.

Five pawprints out of five.

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Book of Witchery by Ellen Dugan

Book of Witchery: Spells, Charms and Correspondences for Every Day of the Week
Ellen Dugan
Llewellyn, 2009
321 pages

Note: This is a guest review by Bronwen Forbes, who graciously agreed to take on some of the extra review copies I had when I decided to go on semi-hiatus.

I am thoroughly enjoying this guest review gig here; I’m going to be sorry when Lupa runs out of books for me to review!

Next on my pile is Book of Witchery: Spells, Charms & Correspondences for Every Day of the Week by Ellen Dugan. I wish she’d written this book in the mid-1980s when I, a new Pagan, was struggling with correspondences and magick and trying to get some sort of regular personal spiritual practice started – preferably one that didn’t involve my almost burning down my own house during a solitary Lammas ritual (which is another story for another day).

Dugan refers to this work as her Book of Shadows. However, unlike most Books of Shadows, this one is organized by the day of the week rather than by season or by Sabbat – which, if you think about it, makes perfect sense, especially for beginning ritualists and spellcrafters. There is also an extra section on full moon workings for each day of the week; If the full moon is on a Monday, do this, if it’s on a Wednesday, do this. Why overwhelm readers with long, complicated sabbat rituals that they can only do once a year and promptly forget when they can cut their teeth on small workings that can be done fifty-two times a year. Frequency breeds familiarity and competence; the more one does a ritual, the easier it becomes to do it, and Dugan had a stroke of genius to make magick, spells and kitchen witchery accessible to all with this format. Kudos!

As a quick reference for correspondences, this book has some value for the more experienced practitioner as well. I’ve never memorized correspondences beyond the basics, have you? However, devotees of the various deities connected with each day of the week may wince at the oversimplification of their Patron’s/Matron’s aspects and history. Fortunately there is enough material about the mentioned deities elsewhere (including the Internet), so anyone who wants to know more can easily research them in depth.

Overall, though, this is a useful, well-written, logically organized book. Alas, my current living situation is such that I cannot try any of Dugan’s spells or rituals for myself and report on their efficacy. If I could, I definitely would!

Four and a half paws out of five!

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Llewellyn’s 2010 Sabbats Almanac – Various

Llewellyn’s 2010 Sabbats Almanac
Various
Llewellyn, 2009
312 pages

Note: This is a guest review by Bronwen Forbes, who graciously agreed to take on some of the extra review copies I had when I decided to go on semi-hiatus.

I am honored to be a guest reviewer for Lupa’s book review blog, eager to read something closer to my “field” than the erotica and science fiction I normally critique for a national book review magazine. I bravely told her to “send me anything” only to receive the most random collection of Pagan books I’ve ever seen!

First on the stack was Llewellyn’s Sabbats Almanac: Samhain 2009 to Mabon 2010. In the interest of full disclosure, I will say upfront that I am a relatively new member of the Llewellyn author family. That being said, this latest addition to the Llewellyn annuals (Witches’ Spell-A-Day Almanac, Witches’ Companion, etc.) is, I think, a useful and worthy one. I may not feel comfortable pulling out a Llewellyn Witches’ Datebook out of my backpack when scheduling my next dentist appointment in this small Kansas town, but the Sabbats Almanac is something I will likely refer to from time to time throughout the year – in the comfort of my own home, of course.

Contributing authors to the Almanac include a deliberate mixture of relatively new writers and Pagan “celebrities”; Oberon Zell-Ravenheart, Kristen Madden, Ann Moura, Dan Furst, Raven Grimassi, Michelle Skye, and Thuri Calafia (plus others) all add their expertise and voices.

The history of each sabbat is thoroughly discussed, including an astrological section by Fern Feto Spring. I would have liked a little more explanation of astrological terms for the zodiacally-impaired reader. Kristen Madden provides seasonal recipes for an appetizer, main course, dessert and beverage for each holiday far beyond the usual “bread at Lammas, apple pie at Samhain” fare. Every sabbat section ends with a holiday ritual that can either be done as a solitary or with a group (except Mabon, which definitely requires several people).

In further interest of full disclosure, I’ve never once opened any of the Llewellyn Almanac series until Lupa sent me this one. If the Sabbats Almanac is any indication, I’ve been missing out on a basic, useful source of inspiration and ideas. The Sabbats Almanac, at least, may just become a permanent addition to my holiday book-buying binge.

Four and a half paws out of five!

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Egyptian Revenge Spells by Claudia R. Dillaire

Egyptian Revenge Spells: Ancient Rituals for Modern Payback
Claudia R. Dillaire
Crossing Press, 2009
192 pages

It’s no secret that the original pagans were no stranger to curses. From tribal shamans to priests to everyday people utilizing folk magic, part of most magic-workers’ arsenal was curses and other maleficio. The Egyptians weren’t an exception to this, and contemporary examples of magic that would make white lighters’ toes curl can still be found today. Of course, “black magic” being antithetical to the Wiccan rede and many other neopagan ethical guidelines (or, at least many neopagans’ interpretations of said ethical guidelines), curses can sometimes be a subject that gets skirted around–or subjected to flame wars.

Kudos, then, to Claudia Dillaire, for writing a book on something new for a change! In this case, it’s revenge that’s the topic of the day, whether dealing with a jilted lover (including those with stalker-like tendencies), ruining someone financially, or simply messing with someone who has already messed with you. There are dozens of incantations, spells and rituals for multiple uses–and while some of them are most definitely for revenge, there are also some for more benign forms of protection, reflection spells, etc.

This isn’t a book of old Egyptian spells, but is instead a collection of modern Wicca-flavored spellcraft with some Egyptian influence. There’s a decidedly Wiccan feel to them, with the common inclusion of candles, crystals, common “witchy” herbs, and incense, and the fairly standard spoken portions. While they do incorporate calling on Egyptian deities, in some ways this could be any of a number of spell books.

I’m not entirely sure how the author interprets Egyptian neopaganism in the first few chapters, where she’s establishing some context for the spells. Sometimes it seems like she’s comparing “Egyptian magic” to Wicca (that in particular, as opposed to general neopaganism); other times, it’s as though she’s trying to differentiate between them. Given that the spells themselves are pretty heavily Wicca (or at least witchcraft) flavored, I would have hoped she’d be a little clearer about how much Wicca and witchcraft influenced the unique brand of Egyptian magic she compiled from research and practice. In fact, if there’s anything seriously missing here, it’s a better explanation of where, exactly, she’s coming from. I was left a little unsure as to where the connection is between ancient Egyptian religious practices that spanned several millenia, and her personal practices today.

I’m also not a Kemetic pagan, and Egyptian religion and culture aren’t things I know a whole lot about, so I can’t speak too much to the quality of research. There was nothing glaringly wrong, and the bibliography had a mix of scholarly and practical source material. I could have hoped for in-text or other citations, especially for the historical information, but it’s a bit late for that now!

If you’re looking for some inspiration to unleash some wicked magic–or at least vent some frustration creatively–this is a good book. Don’t pick it up as an example of historically-based Kemetic paganism, however; it’s rather too eclectic for that. It’s a unique creation of the author’s, and gripes aside, I think it’s a nice change from the usual strict adherence to “Harm none”.

Four pawprints out of five.

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Ancestral Airs by Verda Smedley

Ancestral Airs
Verda Smedley
Dim Light Books, 2008
700 pages

As I was reading this book, I was trying to figure out where to fit it into the categories on this blog. On the one hand, it’s purportedly a reconstruction of a culture 6,000 years old; this includes extensive research into botany, mythology, history and other scholarly studies. But, when you get right down to it, it’s also a fascinating set of stories with well-developed characters, settings, and plots.

Beyond a certain point, we can really know only so much about cultures prior to written history in a region. The stories supposedly tell about the people who lived in the British Isles 6,000 years ago, well before there were any written records; while the author draws from texts about the Celts and other older cultures, these are still newer peoples than what Smedley describes. Whether the people of 4000 BC lived in ways the book described is unknown; nonetheless, the author does a lovely job of weaving together a solid description of her thoughts on the matter, and we get a good picture of what it is they did and believed.

So I chose to primarily read this for its storytelling value. Similarly to my experience of reading MZB’s The Mists of Avalon, it didn’t matter whether the story was literally true or not. I found myself sinking into a world where animism was the central belief, where the plants, animals and other denizens of nature were so important to the people that they took their names from them. I read about the rituals these people performed, as well as the participants’ feelings about them. I witnessed the interactions between individual groups of people, and how they wove into the greater overarching culture of the time. It didn’t really matter whether this was the way things “really happened”; it was a great journey anyway. Even if seen only as a novel, it’s a worthwhile read.

I can’t entirely vouch for the validity of the herbal information; the author knows more about that than I do. A lot of the information about plants peppering the stories dealt with magical uses; however, there were some medicinal uses mentioned as well. For those intrepid enough to backtrack the author’s research, there’s an appendix with the common and Latin names of all the plants (numbering in the hundreds) mentioned. Additionally, she included a thorough bibliography for further research and fact-checking.

This is a book I had to read in bits and chunks over time; at 700 pages, it’s a lot to read! The formatting left a bit to be desired, most notably the complete lack of page numbers which, in a book this length, is frustrating when trying to find where I left off, or where I found a piece of information or a snippet of story I wanted to go back to. Also, I can’t for the life of me find information about the publisher, the owner of the publishing company, or the author.

Ancestral Airs is a thoroughly enjoyable read, regardless of how much salt you choose to take the research with. Whether you choose to read it as I did, in little pieces, or simply spend several hours going from cover to cover in one fell swoop, I hope you like this unique combination of research and narrative.

Four and a half pawprints out of five.

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The Amulet Manual – Kim Farnell

The Amulet Manual: A Guide to Understanding and Making Your Own Amulets
Kim Farnell
O Books, 2007
134 pages

Note: This review was originally written for and published in newWitch magazine.

Most Pagans, once they have some experience, prefer to create their own rituals, spells and magical objects. The Amulet Manual is a basic guidebook to making amulets, magical objects aimed at drawing a particular sort of energy, influence or entity.

The first part of the book deals with the history of amulets in various cultures, and gives brief overviews of common amulets found everywhere from South America to ancient Egypt. The author also explains the difference between an amulet and a talisman, and provides a basic ritual for creating and charging your newly created amulet.

The bulk of the book is dedicated to magical correspondences that may come in handy when making amulets. The usual suspects—herbs, stones and planetary energies—are covered, though Farnell also covers sigilization (classic and Chaos magic). Her research is good and there’s a good bit of information in these pages. If you already have several books of magical correspondences, though, you may find much of the material redundant. In fact, the best audience for this book is the Pagan who has the basics down and wants to test the waters of amulet magic, but can’t afford a lot of books. It’s compact, though it shouldn’t be taken as the do-all and end-all of correspondences.

I do wish she would have cited her sources, or at least provided a bibliography. There’s a lot of information quite clearly taken from third party sources, and she doesn’t give credit for any of it. Additionally, it would be nice to know where she got her historical information.

If you’re still a relative beginner and want a good introductory text to the theory of amulet creation, this is a good start. There’s no practical how-to information on the actual creation of amulets, but this gives you basic building blocks.

Four pawprints out of five.

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Lllewellyn’s 2008 Herbal Almanac – various

Llewellyn’s 2008 Herbal Almanac: Herbs for Cooking and Crafts, Health and Beauty, Growing and Gathering, History, Myth and Lore
Various
Llewellyn Publications, 2007
312 pages

People often assume that because the Llewellyn almanacs are dated (and are called “almanacs”), that most of the information in them isn’t relevant beyond the year they’re published. The truth is to the contrary. While the 2008 Herbal Almanac does include a few pages of lunar information that can be used with herbal magic and growing, this is no Farmer’s Almanac. Instead, it’s an anthology of informational essays on a wide variety of topics related to herbs and plants, sure to be relevant for years to come.

The book is divided into sections: Growing and Gathering Herbs, Culinary Herbs, Herbs for Health, Herbs for Beauty, Herb Crafts, and Herb History, Myth and Lore. Each section contains anywhere from three to eight essays of a nice variety. While overall I enjoyed the quality of the writing and information in here (albeit as someone who does not work extensively with herbs beyond cooking), here are a few of my favorites:

Endangered Herbs by Patti Wigington: Because some of the most commonly used herbs in magic are often ubiquitous (and even weeds) it can be easy to forget that not everything that’s an herb is easy to procure, or has a healthy population overall. This essay details a few herbs that, while used frequently in magic, are endangered from habitat loss, overuse, and other reasons. The author offers some excellent alternatives, as well as tips on sustainable consumption (culinary and otherwise) of these plants.

Shadowplay: Herbs for the Shady Garden by Elizabeth Barrette: You don’t need full sunlight to be able to have a garden. This excellent essay details what may be planted in the shade, as well as some ideas for helping the herbs to grow.

Organic Gardening Practices by Lynne Smyth: Another one of the gardening essays, I liked this simply because it’s a good, basic introduction to ways to garden without chemicals, and in a sustainable manner. Those who claim to be close to the Earth would do well to adopt as many of these practices as possible.

Henna for Hair by AarTiana: I love henna, and have been using it for a few years to dye my hair red. This was a nice guide to using henna, and while I already knew a good bit of the information, I learned a few things (including the fact that Lucille Ball used henna!)

Paracelsus, Plants, and the Doctrine of Signatures by Mark Stavish: This was a little denser read than most of what was in this book, but still quite accessible. A good introduction to a hermetic/alchemical take on magical herbalism, and a more thorough explanation of why we use correspondences than most short writings offer.

Crafts for Kids Unfold Outdoors by Sally Cragin: I’m childfree, but I wholeheartedly support exposing children to nature as soon as possible. This lovely article not only promotes an Earth-friendly approach to using natural items in crafts, but includes a number of how-tos on some very simple creations that can be fun for kids and grown-ups alike!

Overall, this is a great collection. Some of the essays are more 101-level, so this would be an excellent choice for a newbie, but there are some interesting things for the more advanced as well.

Five pawprints out of five.

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Everyday Witch A to Z by Deborah Blake

Everyday Witch A to Z: An Amusing, Inspiring and Informative Guide to the Wonderful World of Witchcraft
Deborah Blake
Llewellyn, 2008
264 pages

Blake, in her second book, has created a collection of short encyclopedic entries on a variety of topics related to witchcraft. Aimed at being both entertaining and useful, it’s a brightly laid-out text with a wide variety of presentations for the information therein.

I found it to be a mixed bag, personally. Here are some of the things that stood out to me:

Likes:

–There’s a good bit of humor mixed in with the information, which makes it an entertaining read. The “input” from one of Blake’s cats, Magic, is absolutely adorable (though useful as well), and there are some cute puns tossed in, including in section headers.
–There are footnote citations in addition to a bibliography. This pleases me, since it gives at least some idea of where Blake got her information. Unfortunately, the footnotes mainly refer to direct quotes, so there are still a lot of books in the bibliography whose contribution to this book are unclear. However, the footnotes that are there are a definite step in the right direction!
–I like the odd bits of information that I haven’t run into before. I was really curious as to what would be included in the “X” section, and found out about Xorguineria, a Basque form of witchcraft. And there are other gems here and there that, even after over a decade of practice, were brand-new to me.
–This isn’t just an encyclopedia of information. There are spells, advice column entries, and other tidbits scattered throughout, which makes it a practical guide in a lot of ways. It’s sort of a mix between book and magazine–but with a longer shelf life than the latter!

Dislikes:

–I know the tone is supposed to be light-hearted and fun, but it often goes beyond humor and comes across as an attempt to snag the teen demographic (many of whom don’t care for the “teen-friendly” writing aimed at them), whether that was the intent or not. Sometimes a conversational tone can be too casual, and there are several places where this happens.
–Some of the source material is suspect. For example, on p. 10 Blake cites Yasmine Galenorn’s assertion that “son of a bitch” was originally a compliment because “bitch” was supposedly a euphemism for a/the goddess. I would have preferred to see a more solid historical source for this information (I’d lay odds that it ultimately comes from Barbara Walker or another similarly sketchy “scholar”).
–A lot of the material is witchcraft 101 rehashed and barely skimmed over to any depth. In trying to get a wide variety of topics in there, from herbs and stones to ritual etiquette to various deities, the reader is left with a cursory bit of information on most of them.

Some people are going to love this book, and the light-hearted tone. Others are going to look at the things I didn’t care for, and possibly others, and not consider it to be serious or well-researched enough. I think it is a book that has a definite audience, primarily among newer folks who may head to the big box stores to get some introductory information. They may very well find this to be an appealing choice, and it’s definitely a lot more fun than some beginner’s texts. However, I would add the caveat that, like a lot of the typical Llewellyn “skim over a whole bunch of topics in one book” stuff, that it should serve as a gateway to deeper research on what the reader finds most interesting, particularly because of my misgivings with some of the source material.

Personally, I liked Blake’s Circle, Coven and Grove better, but I’m probably also not the ideal audience for this newest book. Therefore I’m giving it…

Three pawprints out of five.

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