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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Enochian Vision Magick – Lon Milo DuQuette

Enochian Vision Magick: An Introduction and Practical Guide to the Magick of Dr. John Dee and Edward Kelley
Lon Milo DuQuette
Weiser/Red Wheel, 2008
262 pages

I think I must typify one of the target audiences for this book. I have no ceremonial background whatsoever, but I love getting at least a basic idea of paths other than mine. I start to fall asleep while reading Crowley and GD material, but I also don’t want to have to deal with overly fluffy, watered-down info. Here is a lovely compromise for getting a foot in the door with Enochian magick–or at least having an idea of what’s going on with all those angels.

As always, Lon Milo DuQuette has presented his information in an accessible, but solid manner. While it doesn’t have the amount of wit of the Chicken Qabalah, once again his writing has managed to help me understand a rather complex topic.

This isn’t just a book on theory, though the history of how Dee and Kelley obtained the Enochian system was appreciated for its context. Instead, DuQuette lays out what all those various charts and weird words are actually for, and then guides the reader through rituals to put them into practice. He draws heavily from the original materials, including some that have been unearthed since Crowley’s time, and I think many readers will appreciate all the sifting, organizing and slogging through primary texts that he’s done.

The really nice thing about this book, though, is that because he’s done such a good job of referencing these original items, and showing where they apply to the actual practices in the book. This means that if a reader wanted to trace things back to Dee and Kelley’s material, the road map is already in place. However, the text is also sufficient just for those who are curious, or who want to be able to practice but aren’t at a point where they’re going to dig through earlier material.

Five 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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Seasonal Dance – Broch and MacLer – July BBBR

Seasonal Dance: How to Celebrate the Pagan Year
Janice Broch and Veronica MacLer
Weiser, 1993
172 pages

I’m admittedly kind of jaded about books on celebrating sabbats and esbats. How many times do we need to know that we can associate bread with Lammas, have pumpkin soup at Samhain, and rut like bunnies at Beltane? Still, I was pleasantly surprised to find a good deal of practical information in this book that’s a decade and a half old now.

The first chapter, “Creating Ritual”, is exceptionally important all on its own. The authors give a detailed process for structuring and writing a good ritual. While it doesn’t have every single answer you may need, it’s a wonderful resource if you’re just learning how to write a ritual, especially one with other people involved. The appendices are also quite useful, especially the ones on song and dance and games (though the appendices of correspondences aren’t too much different from what you’d find elsewhere).

The chapters on individual sabbats do have precrafted rituals, though the authors do advise that if you use one of them (or any other publicly available, widespread ritual), someone else may recognize them–which may or may not be embarrassing. While they offer sample rituals, they do encourage the reader to write their own. They’re fairly generic Wicca-flavored neopaganism, but they are nice and the background information in the first chapter gives added depth to understanding the components of the rituals–much better than just giving people a book of spells and rites and telling them to go to it.

This would be a lovely book to give to a beginner, especially someone who may be in an informal group with other relative newbies. While it certainly shouldn’t be the only resource made available, it is a wonderful addition to a 101 bookshelf.

Five pawprints out of five.

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The Weiser Concise Guide to Herbal Magick – Judith Hawkins-Tillirson

The Weiser Concise Guide to Herbal Magick
Judith Hawkins-Tillirson
Weiser Books, 2007
126 pages

I am really excited about this book–and it takes a lot to make that happen these days! Usually what it takes is somebody writing something that fills a particular niche, or explores something different, or otherwise manages to stand above the crowd. Judith Hawkins-Tillirson has managed to provide a book on herbal magick that will appeal to practitioners both of “low magic”–witchcraft and related practices–and “high magic”–ceremonialism and ritual magic.

Now, for myself, most of my magical experience and knowledge of herbs comes from the likes of Cunningham, books that do a lot of research on other books that do a lot of research, and eventually come down to the original texts from whence most herbal correspondences in formal magic come today (as well as various bits of folklore of dubious origin). What Hawkins-Tillirson has done is gone directly to the original sources, starting with Crowley’s 777 as well as other Qabalistic and related sources, and ferreted out the bare bones of herbal correspondences. She then provides us with concise (as the title suggests) yet meaty entries for herbs associated with the various planets, the Sephiroth and paths of the Tree of Life, and the classic elements. What this leaves us with is a handbook for those who don’t really want to go through all the trouble of reading through countless texts on ceremonialism, but who do want a more solid background to their herbalism than “Someone way back when once said….”. This makes the text appealing both to detail-oriented folk who are sticklers for proper research, and to more free-form practitioners who want information they can apply to their own works.

Anyone who knows me should be impressed by now that I’m speaking well of a book of correspondences–this is one of those “blue moon” occurrences! However, that’s not all this book offers. The last few chapters are dedicated to practical applications of the knowledge that’s been provided, including equipment, techniques, and considerations to keep in mind when making everything from tinctures to poppets. They’re not lengthy chapters, nor should they be considered the only source you will ever need for creating these things. However, for those who already have a decent background in the hands-on aspects of, say, making a pouch and stuffing herbs in it, these chapters draw clear connections between the theoretical material described in the first part of the book, and how they may actually be used.

Finally, I have to give the author huge kudos for the last chapter, “Franz Bardon and Herbal Magick”. Bardon is one of those magicians who has received a lot less attention than he deserves, and I was delighted to see her discussing his techniques of fluid condensing. While I haven’t worked a lot with Bardon’s material, my husband has, and no doubt as soon as I finish this review he’ll be spiriting the book away for his own purposes!

As I said, this is not the do-all and end-all of herbal magic. However, the bibliography is substantial, and there are wonderful endnotes, a huge amount for a book of this length. Hawkins-Tillirson has certainly done her homework, theoretical and practical, and I am highly impressed by this text. If you have any interest in herbal magic whatsoever, even if it’s just as components in spell pouches, you’ll want to pick up a copy of this text.

Five enthusiastic pawprints out of five.

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An Enchanted Life – Patricia Telesco – May BBBR

An Enchanted Life: An Adept’s Guide to Masterful Magick
Patricia Telesco
New Page, 2002
224 pages

This is one of a number of books that have come out in recent years that have attempted to break beyond the paganism/magic 101 barrier. Rather than giving all the answers, Telesco instead works to give the reader a lot to think about–something that’s exceptionally important when moving beyond the basics.

There are dozens of incredibly useful exercises in the book. Some involve self-questioning and reflection; others provide the reader lessons in shifting perceptions. They’re much more in-depth than yet another pile of precrafted spells and rituals, and the reader who makes use of them won’t be disappointed. The first two chapters of the book deal mainly with perceptions and awareness, as well as working more with all five senses, not just sight, our primary sense.

The rest of the book is dedicated to four different archetypes–the Healer, the Teacher, the Warrior and the Visionary. Now, this is just a personal preference, but I’m not really fond of directing people towards specific roles. While I understand the reasoning behind promoting archetypes as templates of the self, the problem is that people have a tendency to lock themselves firmly into those archetypes, newbies especially. I think, perhaps, it would be wiser to offer up archetypes, but then encourage the reader to learn to take them all on, rather than sticking with whatever “element” or “role’ they feel they fit the most. IMO, the more advanced you get, the more adaptable you may need to be (even as you may have your specialties).

I wouldn’t call this an advanced text; rather, it’s intermediate-right-after-the-basics. It’s the kind of book you give to a person when they’re just beginning to branch out from learning about the Sabbats, and correspondences, and some of the more common deities and spirits. Despite my qualms about the archetypes, I do think it’s a great text for bridging the way between basic and intermediate magical work, and the wealth of information and exercises in the text is the real strength of this book.

Four pawprints out of five.

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The Women’s Book of Healing – Diane Stein

The Women’s Book of Healing (Revised Edition)
Diane Stein
Ten Speed Press, 2004
313 pages

Note: This review was originally written in 2005; I’m not 100% sure whether it got published or not, since it’s rather on the long side.

This book came into my life right when it was exactly what I needed. I’d been beginning a process of correcting internal imbalances, everything from emotional upsets to shifting my diet to compensate for my recently-diagnosed hypoglycemia. While traditional medicine offered a standard set of ideas to aid me in my quest for a healthier self, Stein’s book gave me an alternative healing path to work with. Thanks to the information conveyed it’s a path for which now I possess a greater understanding and appreciation.

First published in 1984, The Women’s Book of Healing is easily as relevant now as it was twenty years ago. It’s an excellent reference for those interested in natural healing methods ranging from chakra adjustments to the use of stones in healing to laying on of hands. Each chapter explains its subject clearly and thoroughly, often pulling reference from complementary chapters to enhance the healing regimen offered. This valuable material is summarized by tables of correspondences that punctuate the text.

I found the interweaving of the chapters to be particularly useful; rather than being separate entities they flow together very well and the information from each can be combined with ease. Most of the time, however, Stein includes the pertinent information in regards to the requisite colors, minerals and other correspondences when describing each specific area of healing. She eliminates much of the jumping back and forth from chapter to chapter that so many other reference books require—if I want to work with my root chakra, for example, I need only to turn to that section. Not only do I have its basic qualities but also what colors, minerals and other tools I’ll need to perform my work.

She’s also very thorough about her information. When I first started reading I’d had the desire to work with chakras, but had no previous experience or knowledge to work with. The second chapter goes into what each of the seven primary chakras represents, drawing both from classic and modern texts. Stein also details the effects of imbalances of the chakras—not only when they’re not open enough, but also when they’re open too wide, a condition I’d not even known existed. Finally, she offers up meditations useful in adjusting the chakras to a healthy end.

Stein is particularly adept at recommending mineral allies for each area of the body, mind and spirit covered. She describes not only what corresponds to each stone in her healing toolkit but also what ailments each stone is best at counteracting. In some instances there’s even advice on what time of day to best work with the stones so as to gain the best possible use of their qualities. In fact, the second half of the book is dedicated to this valuable topic, though the other chapters have strategically placed references.

I found the recurring theme of using our mindsets to aid the healing to be a very important one. Too often we sabotage our own efforts by second-guessing and doubting our abilities to create change on a non-visible level, thereby negating whatever effort we’ve put towards healing ourselves and often worsening the condition. Stein makes the concept of healing through thought understandable and her consistent use of meditation throughout the book backs up her confidence in its ability to destroy our dis-eases. Her explanation of healing on a molecular level further bolsters the ability to believe that which cannot be seen but nonetheless is.

While the primary portion of the book is well worth the read the appendices are superb references at short notice. With these Stein has successfully summarized all of the information she’s passed on in the previous chapters, making it an invaluable reference. Reading the entire book, of course, is recommended. It’s not a difficult task, as Stein’s writing style is wonderfully conversational, easy to understand, and yet conveys the information without skimping on the important details. I honestly came away from this book with no questions about just what it was she was trying to explain.

If there’s only one complaint I have about The Women’s Book of Healing it’s the fairly negative treatment of Western medicine and way she often seems to blame its inadequacy solely on the male sex. While in her preface Stein extols the virtues of equality she constantly maligns “male medicine”. I find this to be a great disservice not only to the men who have been involved in alternative healing for far longer than she gives them credit for but to people of all sexes who have made great progress in the field of Western medicine. Rather than perpetuating the dichotomy of conflict that continually puts both forms of healing at odds, I believe it’s much more constructive and beneficial in the long run to find ways for these medicines to complement each other.

Indeed, Stein’s superb writing is an excellent reference whether used alone or in tandem with traditional medicine. My complaint is primarily stylistic, and I can say from experience that the information provided has proven incredibly useful in aiding my self-healing. I recommend that both novice and experienced healers add The Women’s Book of Healing to their shelves. It has been a valuable resource for the past two decades and promises to be just as relevant in years to come.

Four pawprints out of five.

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An Elfin Book of Spirits – The Silver Elves

An Elfin Book of Spirits: Evoking the Beneficient Powers of Faerie
The Silver Elves (Silver Flame Love and Zardoa Silverstar)
Silver Elves Publications, 2005
264 pages

My first exposure to the writings of the Silver Elves was through their Magical Elven Love Letters, writings of philosophy, spirit and magic flavored by their unique and lovely interpretation of what “elven” is to them. An Elfin Book of Spirits is exactly the sort of light-hearted, yet practical and powerful writing that I have learned to enjoy from them.

The book is a modern-day grimoire in the classic sense–a series of entries on various spirits within a specific system, along with suggested rituals for evoking them. I was already hooked on the book by the first page, when the Silver Elves explained their philosophy on evocation–cooperation rather than command (something I heartily agree with!). The method for working with the spirits involves a form of divination to determine which spirit would have the best ideas for a particular situation (if you don’t already have a particular being in mind). I approve of this open-ended method, as it allows the spirits more participation in the planning of the ritual.

The rituals and spirits are based loosely on astrology (and not just Sun signs, either–there’s a lot of work that went into this sytem). There are 360 spirits, one for each degree of the Zodiac; each entry for a spirit includes its degree, sigil, name, motto, evocation, and additional astrological information.

The areas of influence for the spirits are generally positive and constructive, with practical, everyday applications. Don’t, however, interpret this as being “overly white light” or “fluffy”. The Silver Elves and the spirits they work with don’t turn a blind eye to the fact that there’s negativity in the world, and they don’t try to gloss it over with New Age Band-aids. You won’t find spirits of vengeance here, but instead beings who will help you find a constructive, healthy way of dealing with bad situations and making the most of good ones. This book also isn’t exclusively for elves; any magical practitioner who is interested may find something of use here.

Pretty much my only complaints (and they are minor overall) are technical. There are a number of typos and misspellings throughout the book, but nothing terrible. Also, the binding of the book doesn’t leave quite enough margin on the inside edge, which makes reading the first few pages rather difficult without breaking the spine of the book. However, these are tiny things, and the fact that I enjoyed reading the book is much more important than a couple of physical flaws.

And one warning–there are a number of photographs of practitioners and other elfin folk in the book, a couple of which pay no heed to current prohibitions on uncovering the body. They’re no worse than other books on magic that include an occasional picture of a nude Wiccan in ritual, etc. And the photos in general are nice accents to the text.

Five pleasant pawprints out of five.

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Goth Craft – Raven Digitalis

Goth Craft
Raven Digitalis
Llewellyn Publications, September 2007
316 pages

I was lucky enough to get to preview a galley copy of Raven Digitalis’ first book, Goth Craft, which is due out this coming September. Now, this is one of those books that had the potential to be either really good, or abysmal. Fortunately, Raven managed to stick to the former, avoiding a trainwreck of trendiness and black-dyed fluff.

If you’re unfamiliar with the Goth subculture beyond a few outward trappings, this book will give you a solid introduction to the whys, hows, and manifestations of what it is to be Goth. However, like the introductory material on witchcraft that he presents, Raven manages to avoid dogma and snarkiness. This will make Goth Craft a particularly good guide for teens and early twenty-somethings who are just getting into both the Goth subculture and witchcraft, though people who are more established in one community or the other shouldn’t turn away, either.

What I really liked about this book was the fact that it doesn’t shy away from potentially controversial material. The ritual use of drugs, sex (vanilla and otherwise) and gender issues are some of the topics that are covered in a respectful, intelligent manner. Raven also includes a good collection of rituals and spells aimed at the appreciation of the darker end of the spectrum of life, and provides some refreshing ideas to work with. He also shows the magic in “everyday” elements of Gothic culture, including conscious application of makeup and clothing, and the use of dance for reaching altered states of consciousness.

I would consider Goth Craft to be primarily 101 level material, but it’s on the higher end of 101–there are explanations of common pagan symbols and correspondences filtered through a Gothic worldview, but there’s also a good collection of further resources. And I learned quite a bit about the Gothic subculture that I hadn’t known before. So while the target audience seems to be younger folks in the Goth community who are interested in witchcraft, I suggest giving this book a chance if you’re interested in a darker approach to magic that is well beyond the ooga-booga spookiness and sensationalism that some prior texts have fallen prey to.

Five pawprints out of five.

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Cunningham’s Encyclopedias – Scott Cunningham

Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs
Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Crystal, Gem and Metal Magic
Complete Book of Incense, Oils and Brews
Scott Cunningham
Llewellyn, various

I’ve been using these books for a decade and realized I’ve never actually reviewed them–so here you go.

There’s a good reason these three books are classics in neopaganism (and why my copies are quite well-worn). They’re wonderfully complete books of correspondences for plants, minerals and various things that smell good, respectively. The author did a good bit of research on the history of each element he talks about, as well as gives modern uses for them in magical terms.

As with the rest of his work, his writing style in these encyclopedias is easy to read and gets the point across. Unlike some more recent works, he doesn’t pack the books fullk of useless filler–every page is full of useful information. He doesn’t rely on a thousand pre-crafted spells and rituals. These books provide information on the tools to be used, and what they can be used for, but it’s up to the individual practitioner to decided how it’s done.

I have very few of the books I started out with back in the mid-to-late-90s, and these three have withstood the test of time–and a shifting practice. I only lament that Cunningham is no longer with us; I’d love to be able to tell him how formative his works were to my own practice.

Five pawprints out of five.

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