Norse Goddess Magic by Alice Karlsdottir

Norse Goddess Magic: Trancework, Mythology, and Ritual
Alice Karlsdottir
Destiny, 2015

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Review by Shirl Sazynski.

It’s rare to find a beginner’s book on adept-level magic, let alone one that is well-organized, grounded, easily understood, and part of Heathenry. Norse Goddess Magic is exactly that, focusing on visionary and trance work, known to the Norse as seidhr and utiseta. It serves both as an introduction for those who have great difficulty entering trance, and provides a rare compendium of Norse goddess lore that’s useful even if you have no interest in trance work.

True to its title, this book explores the “Mother” Goddess Frigg and her twelve divine “friends” : Eir, Saga, Gna, Gefjon, Snotra, Lofyn, Sjofyn, Var, Fulla, Hlin, Syn and Vor. Karlsdottir invites personal experience with them as real people through guided journeys, invocations, and rituals. Since little is known from the Eddas about these twelve “minor” Goddesses, this book helps the reader fill in those gaps with their own experience. By exposure to — and comparison with — the trance experiences of others, it also helps in expanding upon the lore. The emphasis in this book on forging and strengthening relationships with the Gods is spot on.

This is a guide to beginning seidhr techniques, including a basic understanding of how to use myth and ritual structure to enhance entering trance, remain there, exit peacefully, and take good care of yourself afterward. The techniques covered open this oft-misunderstood realm of Asatru and Heathenry to anyone with the patience to still their mind. The structure of this book begins with how to understand mythology and its uses in ritual, ideas to open up the imagination for beginners, and a definition of trance work. Then, that work begins with basic (and fairly safe) techniques accompanied by a ritual format that provides some protection to the novice seidhr practitioner.

One caveat: trance work is never, by its nature, without danger. Norse Goddess Magic provides a compass in very unpredictable territory that should guide you to the door of the right person and send up some basic defenses. However, trance work with beings you’ve never met is exactly like wandering in a foreign country. Even a novice can stumble headlong into a profound, fate-altering experience the very first time they trance. The danger of dealing with spirits is routinely ignored in modern books on the subject, a major blind spot I wish this book had covered more fully.*

After continuing with a guided meditation, the author opens up about her own experiences in trance work. Then, a chapter is devoted to each Goddess in turn (other Goddesses mentioned briefly include Freyja, Nerthus, Frau Holle, Holda, Berchta and Brigid.) The Goddess chapters begin with lore, add interpretations by the author, continue with a guided trance journey, and close with a ritual and invocation for each Goddess.

The author’s cautious approach is very balanced. However, Alice Karlsdottir is a master in the Rune Gild, and has worked as priestess for several kindreds. I wish that she spoke with more confidence, but she is carefully circumspect that these are just her experiences.

Esoteric polytheism needs to move confidently past both this reticence from elders to pin down their own gnosis as real and valid and the fundamentalist tendency to over-humanize the Gods and their behavior based on stories laced with symbolism and meant to teach lessons (often humorously) about the consequences of certain actions within a society. Regardless of the outer path, when someone has mastered visionary work, common elements and beings occur. There are consistencies of places we arrive at, powers woven by the Gods, and elements of their appearance that do not always fit a translation of the Eddas but help signify a spirit or deity’s power and personality traits. Our ancestors certainly knew these common elements and passed on some of that knowledge. This is that shared gnosis of a living faith Karlsdottir is describing.

I can’t comment much on the use of rune lore in this book for chants and to open rituals, as it differs from the more visually-oriented methods I was taught. Other people may respond to these verbal methods more. Or the Goddesses may teach them completely different ways of working that suit their minds. (This book is certainly a good guide to seeking out that kind of knowledge directly.)

Norse Goddess Magic ends solidly with three intriguing fairy tales in the appendix, a glossary of terms, a visual guide to the runes and a bibliography jam-packed with good scholarship. Even if you’ve done seidhr for ages, this is still a very useful book to have on hand as a reference. Several times I found, in these pages, independent corroboration of details I’ve experienced in trance, leading me to believe that the author truly met with these Goddesses – whether or not we always share the same viewpoints about them.

This is a valuable contribution to a field with very little reliable guidance, especially in Heathenry. I highly recommend it.

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Ask Baba Yaga by Taisia Kitaiskaia

Ask Baba Yaga: Otherworldly Advice for Everyday Troubles
Taisia Kitaiskaia
Andrews McMeel, 2017

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Review by Katessa S. Harkey.

Author Taisia Kitaiskaia traces her connection with the spirit of this gnarled fairytale witch to her childhood on the borderlands of a deep Russian woodland. Kitaiskaia served as mediator to the voice of Baba Yaga to querents on the website The Hairpin. This is a “best of” collection of these inquiries and the channeled responses received by the author.

The style is poetic, yet chthonic and earthy, as befits such a wild entity. The questions reveal an unusual depth of vulnerability, which strengthens the emotional investment for readers. While the poetry can be somewhat cryptic at times, seldom does one expect an old witch to give a straight answer; and thus the twisty answers only add to the mystique.

In example, to the question “How do I feel my feelings?” we get:

“Your feelings look to you like bison in the distance — stormy, powerful, & ready to charge. But feelings are not anything solid, to be killed or butchered and carried home. Walk toward yr bison; when you reach them, you will walk through them, as they aren’t bison at all, but clouds. You will feel the hue & mist of them, & then you will be on the other side.” (p. 69)

Presuming that the issue of this question that the querent is afraid to fully embrace their feelings, carrying through the visualization exercise contained in the response would act, in effect, as a powerful palliative spell. Anyone in the same boat has recourse to it by simply allowing the poetry to do its work upon the imaginal faculties.

This diminutive volume can be read in an afternoon, but it is better savored, as one would a fine wine, over many days. The book is peppered throughout with bold, tricolor artwork and design elements (black, white, and red) in traditional Russian motifs. Ask Baba Yaga is a rare opportunity to explore the traditional Russian mindset and worldview in very practical modern application.

There are other uses for the work besides as a “straight through” reader. An index of “summary questions” allows for searching topically for reference to one’s own life issues. Of course such matters are purely personal, but I have tested the work on three natural occasions for its use as a bibliomancy tool. I felt I got a “hit” two out of the three occasions. It would also be an ideal study for anyone preparing to embody Baba Yaga in ritual.

Finally, the greatest treasure of the work is the potent echo of the archetypal Crone Goddess’s voice. So much of our view of the Goddess is restricted to the beautiful Ladies of love and youth and even homely motherhood. Age has faced the world and no longer fears its phantasms.

To the question, “What’s the point?” Baba Yaga replies:

“Plow-horses carry out the duty given to them by some Master. For some-such reason, you have decided there is some other being —some Master — telling you what is to be done. & if so valiant, on whose behalf have you gone crusading?” (p. 105.)

On whose behalf, indeed, dear reader?

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Gwyn Ap Nudd by Danu Forest

Pagan Portals: Gwyn Ap Nudd — Wild God of Faerie, Guardian of Annwn
Danu Forest
Moon Books, 2017

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Review by Anthony Rella.

A contribution to Moon Books’ Pagan Portals series, Danu Forest’s Gwyn Ap Nudd is a slender book that provides an accessible and welcoming path to Celtic mythology, Welsh divinities, and a nature-centered practice. At only 94 pages, one still has the foundational material to begin a rich journey into nature worship, connection to the Fae, and devotional practice with this powerful god of the old Britons.

Through each section, Forest provides overviews and discussion of various myths associated with Gwyn Ap Nudd — as guardian of the underworld, as king of the fae, as leader of the Wild Hunt, and as one who lives in the glass castle of Glastonbury Tor. With each facet of this complex and intriguing figure, Forest offers suggestive insights into how a modern-day connection with wildness, the forest, and the dark spaces provides a rich and revivifying journey of transformation.

Forest also provides guided pathworkings to help practitioners make contact with and build their own connections to the figures described therein. Along with these pathworkings, she utilizes prayers and images from Celtic tradition to offer readers foundational tools for space clearing, purification, and personal initiatory experiences with the gods. Along with herthoughtful and researched discussions of the material, Forest offers suggestive hints or questions that could lead the curious practitioner into their own explorations of practice and research to root more deeply into the mythology.

For those interested in Celtic history and practice, this book would serve as an excellent addition to one’s research shelf. For those who are brand new to the tradition or — like myself — struggle to fully understand the mythology and its language, this book provides a gentle introduction that helps one to begin to understand the core concepts that arise so often in these practices.

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Journey to the Dark Goddess by Jane Meredith

Journey to the Dark Goddess: How to Return to Your Soul
Jane Meredith
Moon Books, 2012

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Review by Pegi Eyers.

She is the one who makes and unmakes us. She is the one resting deep inside us when we think we have nothing left.” — Jane Meredith

The Dark Goddess as we know her is Kali the Destroyer, Hecate the Nightwalker, Morgana the Villainess, the Wicked Stepmother, Persephone Descending, and the Crone. She is also the necessary shadow side of life, the terrifying or womb-like darkness we all encounter. Sudden change, illness, accidents, grieving or sea changes of the soul — all these things can bring us face-to-face with the terrain of the Dark Goddess. Meet Her we must, but as Jane Meredith tells us, better to get to know Her ahead of time, and become familiar with the intricacies of change, healing and renewal. Journey to the Dark Goddess is a wise and wonderful guidebook for our journey into the transformational darkness and back again.

Using powerful symbols in the myths of Persephone, Inanna and Psyche, Jane traces the many stages of our visit to the Underworld, offering stories, rituals and guideposts to prepare for our Descent, our time in the Underworld, coming back, and continuing the cycle of life.

The myths and fairy tales of heroines who have lost everything, who are stripped to the bone and still come back reborn, have deep fascination and meaning for us. Similar to the many personal narratives found in the book, during my own experience with serious illness, I spent many months firmly in Her dark embrace. Feeling safe and protected at all times, I arose from the ashes and gained powerful life lessons. The Dark Mother grabbed me, held me, loved me and let me go. I learned that once you surrender and embrace Her in her full glory, powerful insights are waiting to be found.

Meredith is a superb guide to uncovering the meaning and metaphor in ancient mythologies as maps that we can apply to our lives today, and she fully grounds us in the self-inquiry and soul-expression tools such as journaling, dreaming, dancing, creating mandalas, altars, art and poetry. She offers powerful and meaningful rituals that connect us to Diety and the Earth, bringing clarity and integration to our own unique journey.

Instead of resisting, or being dragged kicking and screaming, Jane suggests that we deliberately seek out the means and methods to face the Dark Goddess. As much as the dominant society denies it, the fertility and blessings of the darkness are a natural part of nature’s cycles, such as the waxing and waning of the moon and the growth and passing away of the seasons. “Living eternally in the dark is no more a natural existence than staying eternally in the light.” Jane urges us to taste the pomegranate, open Pandora’s box and willingly step into the unknown to bring much-needed balance to our lives and the Earth.

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Grail Alchemy by Mara Freeman

Grail Alchemy: Initiation in the Celtic Mystery Tradition
Mara Freeman
Destiny Books
Rochester, VT 2014
278 pages

Reviewed by Micheal

I’ve had this book for a few months now, and despite my best intentions, I cannot finish it in one or two days.

Freeman, has done an excellent job at relating the Celtic myths to their counterparts in Christian, Hindu, and other mythos. Relating the Fisher King not only to masculine principle severed from the feminine but also to various other deities such as Osiris, Adonis(dying and being reborn) for example.

Additionally, Freeman views the silver branch to being a miniature version of the tree of life, and she correlates it to a Siberian Shamanic practice of attaching tree branches to their drums, as an aid to help them reach the tree on their journeys (pg. 49).

The meditations, VisionJourneys, are beautifully crafted, I would suggest that they be recorded prior to beginning the journey. Freeman offers a dedication and healing ritual at the end of the book.

Grail Alchemy presents the reader with a lot of information that simply should not be read over in one or two nights. While it has merely ten chapters, this reviewer would suggest that the reader take their time to truly benefit from the research and information that Freeman is making available.

Given the books depth of information, exercises, visualizations, I give the book:

Five pawprints out of five.

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Beatrysel by Johnny Worthen

Beatrysel
Johnny Worthen
Omnium Gatherium, 2013
385 pages

Reviewed by Micheal

Initially, I had a difficult time getting interested in this book; the pace was slow and it started in such a way that it leaves the reader wondering why the demon is after Lady Sasha. However, I continued to read and by the third chapter, I was intrigued and as the characters developed, there’s the unethical psychiatrist, the intelligent and occult oriented professor…I became more and more fascinated with them and their interactions.

I found the book to be a nice blend of mystery, occult, and horror (only in the way that some characters died), and I have yet to read a book that has merged these genres before and Worthen did an exceptional job. The images of the Magickal temple, chants, all possess a realness that one doesn’t find too often in a work of fiction. The characters came alive with their own struggles, many of which, any reader could experience: adultery, lust, jealousy, etc. The one that might be lacking is creating a demon and a new grimoire for the modern age, however, this is developed in such a way in the book that it seems plausible and is not filled with hyperbole or cliched images of classical films.

My one complaint, would be that discovering the identity of the antagonist was too easy, I had suspicions by chapter 30 and knew who it was by chapter 40.

Overall, this was a fantastic read and one that I’ll likely read again. I can easily give it 5 paws out of 5.

Five pawprints out of five.

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Faery Tale by Signe Pike

Faery Tale: One Woman’s Search for Enchantment in a Modern World
Signe Pike
Penguin Group, 2010
300 pages

Reviewed by Ser

This book I picked up from my local library on a whim. Browsing my favorite Dewey Decimal sections, I came across this unobtrusive, green-spined book about faeries. While faeries aren’t a topic I generally choose to read about, I was feeling adventurous and figured, “why not?”, and took it home with me.

I am pleased that I did; I love this book! The author, Signe Pike, chronicles her personal journey to discover if faeries really do exist. Her path takes her across the British Isles, visiting many famous historical sites, and stumbling across lesser-known sites along the way.

The author met many different people during her trip, each contributing their own stepping stone to complete her path. From famous fantasy world builders to a troupe of unlikely motorcyclists, Signe’s open and accepting personality welcomed each person into her circle and created lasting memories.

This book was written gently; while there is a lot of discussion of history and mythology, it isn’t written with the scholar in mind. Faery Tale is written for the hopeful, the ones who still lie awake at night, one eye opened, wondering if that noise really is a creature in the closet even though they stopped believing ages ago. The language is casual and welcoming, honest and open for discussion.

I feel there is so much to be gained from this book – information about the places she visited, as well as subtle life lessons – that I’m almost convinced it could be worth a second read (a rare occurrence for me!). The most touching message I took from the book is so simple, and perhaps often overlooked: trust your intuition. Perhaps this is too often ignored by people today, both in the magical communities and elsewhere. People are so concerned with doing things correctly, and making sure everything is real, that their focus on accuracy chases away the faery dust and glimmering lights. Just going with your intuition can bring about so many opportunities for adventure, for revelation, and for just plain fun!

Five pawprints out of five.

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My Name is Cernunnos by Dusty Dionne and Jared Mackenzie

My Name is Cernunnos
Dusty Dionne (Author) and Jared Mackenzie (Illustrator)
Jupiter Gardens Press, 2013
62 pages

Reviewed by Uloboridae

As a reader, one of the many book-related phrases I have heard in life is “don’t judge a book by its cover”. In this case, my mistake was judging a book by its title.

I selected “My Name is Cernunnos” because I thought it would be a nice little story about Cerrunnos, or perhaps be a young child’s introduction to deities or mythology related to Cerrunnos. Instead, it is essentially “Baby’s first Animal Guide dictionary”, where Cerrunnos introduces the reader to some of his animal friends and describe what they symbolize. Not a bad, but it was completely unexpected.

The story centers on the reader being introduced to Cernunnos’s animal friends around the forest, both wild and domestic. The reader learns from Cernunnos about each animal’s particular powers, and learns how to apply their lessons to the reader’s life (i.e. appreciate what you have, listen to the adults in your life, etc.).

This could have been a good book, but the lack of consistency in both its writing style and its subject matter is why I give this book a low score. Most of the book is written in plain English and the symbolism is basic and easy for a young child to understand, so why have fancy words like “widdershins” to describe the energy of Cat when “clockwise” or “counterclockwise” works just as well? Why does the idea that Cat has opposing energy currents even matter in the first place? There is no explanation. At least the description of the Hummingbird having fairy garb and fairy associations makes sense because Hummingbirds DO look and act like common depictions of fairies. In contrast, the description of Cat just becomes too abstract for a young child, to the point where it’s meaningless (even as an adult, I fail to see what point Cat’s description has for the reader). To be fair, the book does give a glossary at the end of what those, and other new (to the child) terms mean. As a result, for others this may be turned into a teaching tool for their children.

The cow is another animal whose introduction felt wholly out of place. Most of the book had animals in rather familiar North American/European settings. When Cow came along though, suddenly a picture of a Hindu addressing an Indian Cow in religious regalia appears, with a vague description on how Cow is “a God to some people”. What People? Tell us more, this sort of thing is interesting! Don’t just randomly do this with Cow when you could add this sort of information to many of the other animals, like Cat and Crow. Children’s books do not need an overload of detail, but being very vague can make them lose interest too.

Finally, and this may be debatable, the book uses the term “medicine” frequently when referring to what each animal symbolizes. This could be considered cultural appropriation to some. Personally, I would not be comfortable reading this to a child, as I am not a member of any Native American tribe and did not grow up in a culture that gives context to the concept of “animal medicine”.

The illustrations in the book are charming and colorful, drawn in a comic-like style. There is a variety of people and animal activities present, along with different details to search for that tells a story (on their own and with the written text). The facial expressions (on humans and other animals), for example, are varied and can create a story within itself to the imaginative reader. My favorite is the page where Deer gives a monster an exasperated look, as if to sigh and say “You again? Are you kidding me? I just got rid of you on the last page”. I literally laughed out loud when I noticed that. I do not know if this book is meant to be as a print or as a .pdf file, but I feel that the illustrations would benefit greatly from being in a printed book format. The .pdf file format tends to degrade the images a bit, to the point where the labels on the animals are not quite legible.

Overall, I feel that this is an interesting topic and is arranged in a good format for a children’s book. However, I would recommend a tightening up of the language, and making the information more consistent, and clear.

Three pawprints out of five.

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Rabbit’s Song by S.J. Tucker, Trudy Herring and W. Lyon Martin

Rabbit’s Song
Written by S.J. Tucker and Trudy Herring, illustrated by W. Lyon Martin
Magical Child Books, 2009
32 illustrated pages

If you haven’t become acquainted with the rich fabric that is S.J. Tucker’s storytelling skill, here’s a chance to introduce both yourself and your child to her way with words. In this collaboration with author Trudy Herring, Tucker creates a delightful tale of how rabbit and other overlooked animals became favorites of the trickster, well before they gained their fame through such pranks as stealing the sun. Its message is clear–even the humblest beings have important places in the world, a crucial moral to give to any child. And the amazingly complex and appealing illustrations by artist W. Lyon Martin give this book a sense of life and movement while evoking the Otherworld of mythos.

The suggested readership is 5 years and up. It would be easy to say this is a book for pagan children, but that’s selling it short. Many children are raised with world mythology, and this lovely tale draws inspiration from the best of those. Animals and nature feature prominently in a lot of children’s books as well, and this one has a variety of wild creatures beckoning the reader in. However, even adults can enjoy the rolling lyrics and lovely artwork of this book, making this a finely crafted tale fit for a wide range of readers.

Five pawprints out of five.

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Phantom Armies of the Night by Claude Lecouteux

Phantom Armies of the Night: The Wild Hunt and the Ghostly Processions of the Undead
Claude Lecouteux
Inner Traditions, 2011
320 pages

Reviewed by Uloboridae

As the title promises, this text is a detailed introduction to the “Wild Hunt” literary theme found throughout Europe. Dr. Lecouteux frames the entire book around the hypothesis that the Wild Hunt theme is an ancient pagan fertility (“third function”) motif of Indo-European origin that was later modified for Christian uses.

The first two-thirds of the book is spent looking at the various figures within the stories, their origins, and the many ways the stories were used for promoting a Christian worldview, particularly regarding sinful actions. This is mainly organized as a timeline, with the first chapters starting with the stories in early 1000s and gradually becoming more recent in later chapters. This is where he identifies, and then separates, the Christian additions from what he recognizes as the original Pagan framework. This method results in quite a large chunk of the book dedicated to explaining Christian clerical beliefs. The author starts out with the “Good Women” troops and the troops of the dead, and then goes into the troops that participate in a hunt or a procession of some sort. The troops of the dead reappear in later chapters to clarify the differences between these types of processions.

He also identifies the regional variations of the figures and stories, focusing mainly on Germanic regions (primarily today’s UK, Germany, Denmark, Austria, and parts of Scandinavia) and Germanic-influenced regions in Spain, France, Italy, and Central Europe. Attention is given to famous figures such as King Herla, Hellequin, and Perchta along with lesser known ones such as Oskeria, Dame Abundia, and Guro. Little attention is given to non-Germanic cultures, which is disappointing, but understandable, given that his professional background is specifically Medieval Germanic literature.

Eventually the author ends his timeline-based exploration in chapters 11 and 12 with the evolution of the Wild Hunt stories in the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance. He discusses the romance of Fauvel to lead into the more exploratory aspects of the processions, such as the rowdy troops of the living that imitate the dead and devils. Pausing briefly for a chapter on Scandinavian folklore that resemble more basal Wild Hunt stories, the author then ties up the previous 12 chapters with a review on shared themes and other scholars’ interpretations.
The author then concludes with a dismissal of Odin as a Wild Hunt leader, going into detail as to why he is not a true huntsman figure, and an exploration of living processions that are linked to the lore processions. His final chapter recognizes the fact that no true conclusion can be met about the nature of the Wild Hunt and related stories, a refreshing attitude for books of this subject. The appendixes are translations of old stories and poems that depict or refer to the Wild Hunt and other processions, free of Dr. Lecouteux’s interpretations (those are given in earlier chapters).

Overall, I found this book to be informative from both a historical and a religious viewpoint. There are times where he asserts an idea as if it were fact (particularly with linguistic connections being used to “prove” or “disprove” an aspect or being of the Wild Hunt), which one would not be able to check unless they were familiar with the field. This situation forces a regular reader to either accept his word, or ignore it, which I find a bit distracting. I prefer to have context and information to support either decision, rather than mentally flipping a coin to decide which way to go. Usually I end up just ignoring the unsupported assertions, which thankfully does not interrupt the rest of the book.

This book is written in an academic voice, requiring some sections to be reread to fully comprehend them. Occasionally the book felt dragging due to the repetition of ideas and interpretations. Dr. Lecouteux also has a tendency to pack his books with information, which can be both good and bad. Good because historical Pagan information is limited and many of us need every bit we can find. Bad, because there is often no room left to give context to the random tidbits. Since the book was originally written in French, the references are mostly French and German sources, so trying to trace the information is nearly impossible for other language speakers to do. For someone like me who wants to double-check something for “truthfulness”, this can be irksome.

However, the author is excellent in keeping a neutral, professional tone in his work. He does not promote or degenerate Christianity or Paganism, nor does he reveal which “side” he is on (if any at all). His interest is solely academic, allowing this book to appeal to a variety of readers. I would recommend this book to anyone who loves European and Religious history and lore, as well as those seeking to understand the differences between Christian and Pagan worldviews. It will make an interesting addition to their library. However, due to the lack of context for some ideas, I would not recommend this book to those new to historical paganism. This is a “201” book, something to read after basic knowledge on Pagan worldviews has already been obtained and understood.

Three and a half pawprints out of five.

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