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

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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Madame Xanadu by Wagner, Hadley, Friend, Fletcher and Major

Madame Xanadu: Disenchanted
Matt Wagner (Writer), Amy Reeder Hadley (Pencils, Inks), Richard Friend (Inks), Guy Major (Colors),
Jared Fletcher (Letters)
Vertigo, 2009
240 Pages

Reviewed by Covert

This is the first trade paperback of a series following the life of Madame Xanadu, a seer and magical
consultant in the DC/Vertigo Universe. The series starts out in medieval Britain as the DC version of
Camelot falls and Nimue (as she is known then) tries in vain to stop the fall. In the process, she loses
most of her powers and spends the rest of the book (and the next thousand or so years) regaining them.

I cannot sing the praises of this book loudly or often enough. This is one of the most accurate and
sympathetic treatments of a Pagan character in a comic that I’ve ever read, frankly. Nimue has a distinct
love of life and her home (whether that be Britain, China, France, or the States), and does what she can
to protect that. Unfortunately, when history and her efforts to protect her friends and home collide,
history always wins. Madame Xanadu is flawed, she’s impulsive and naïve and lets her anger get the
better of her. But we see her grow. We see her learn where her place is in a fast-moving world, and how
she can help those she loves. That really endears the series to me.

Plus, Disenchanted is littered with Pagan/occult elements and themes. Most obviously, in the beginning
of the book she prays to Brigid and Arianrhod, uses everything from the elder futhark to tarot (which
she invented in this universe) to divine her and others’ future, and deals with fellow Fae, demons, and
even Death herself. The theme of fate versus free will, tempered with divination, is something that is at
least touched upon in the life of every Pagan or magician who tries to predict the future. The treatment
of this theme in Disenchanted is interesting to say the least, and occasionally calls to mind the Greek
tragedies where knowing of and trying to avoid destiny creates it. The theme of the isolation created by
practicing magic (and being a centuries old member of a magical race) is sadly more resonant with me
than it really should be.

Overall, this is an amazing start to a good series. The other trade paperbacks are Exodus Noir, Broken
House of Cards, and Extra-Sensory. I recommend Broken House of Cards, and Extra-Sensory if you
particularly liked the first and third volumes. Do not read Exodus Noir unless you really feel the need
to finish the series. The art is atrocious and the plot is so mediocre that even the presence of Madame
Xanadu in a relationship with a woman is not enough to make me like the book.

Note: This book is for mature readers, and contains a rape scene and the word g**sy. The treatment of
the rape is period appropriate, and Madame Xanadu is appropriately appalled. The use of the slur is not
to harm or dehumanize a character, but instead to excoticize Madame Xanadu.

Five pawprints out of five for this book, four for the overall series.

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The Shaman’s Doorway by Stephen Larsen

The Shaman’s Doorway
Stephen Larsen
Station Hill Press, 1988
258 pages

When I first picked up this book, I had no idea that the author had done so many neat things! I was specifically impressed by his work with mythology and semiotics in practice, and it seems that a lot of what he does parallels a lot of neopagan ritual structures. This means I will have to find out more, because I already like what I’ve seen.

That includes picking up a newer edition of this particular book. Even this edition has a lot to offer. In it, Larsen doesn’t so much describe what shamanism is as he continues the work in mythos that Campbell (among others) created, and places the figure of the shaman within that context. While it is a bit of an academic, abstract approach, this meta-analysis of shamanism still has much value for the modern practitioner, especially as those of us practicing within largely non-animistic cultures try to carve out niches for ourselves.

Even if one is not a practicing (neo)shaman, there’s much that this book has to offer. One of the most valuable parts of the book for me was when Larsen broke down the various stages of development in approaching myth, from the very dogmatic to the very flexible, with a detour into pure scientific rationalism along the way. While it’s a bit biased and overly linear, and Larsen shows a decided preference for a psychological approach to myth, there’s still a lot to think about in how he describes the benefits and shortcomings of each approach.

Similarly, other parts of the book, to include Larsen’s assessment of Eastern vs. Western approaches to myth, should be taken with a grain of salt. However, with a healthy critical eye one should be able to look past that to get to the good brain food in these pages.

Four pawprints out of five.

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The Tree of Enchantment by Orion Foxwood

Note: This is a guest review by Philip A. Bernhardt-House, who graciously agreed to help me cut down on some of my existing review books once I decided to go on semi-hiatus.

The Tree of Enchantment: Ancient Wisdom and Magic Practices of the Faery Tradition
Orion Foxwood
Red Wheel/Weiser, 2008
264 pages

Orion Foxwood’s The Tree of Enchantment presents a novel cosmology of modern fairy seership work, which is deeply rooted throughout in a series of practices and exercises to facilitate contact with otherworld beings and to continually allow a practitioner to align with their three states of being—referred to as the “threefold life”—that is inspired by certain aspects of premodern and folk traditions. It is a work that is poetic and beautiful in its imagery and its vision of divine symmetry and parallelism, and presents a coherent and internally consistent narrative of how these various aspects of the otherworld interact with and are related to one another, and to the seeker, at every stage of the process.

If that brief summary appeals to you, and describes exactly what you’re interested in reading about or studying or seeking, then this really is the book for you, and you should most certainly have a look at it.

Unfortunately, the above is not what Foxwood himself describes is the basis for this work. There are repeated claims that the practices and doctrines detailed in this book are from traditional beliefs, particularly of the Insular Celtic peoples, but this is rarely (if ever) substantiated with references to actual lore (folkloric or literary). There are a few occasions on which Foxwood states that academic study is part of this endeavor (e.g. pp. xiii, 8), but the only academic sources in his footnotes or bibliography are survey essays, several of which are outdated by a century or more. Several are referenced as easily available online, but they do not represent the best or most thorough views of these subjects possible, either in their theoretical subtlety or in their expansive knowledge of actual source materials.

Further, the views presented in this book are not given as one among many possible options for cosmological speculation—they are presented as the “true nature of existence” (p. 22). At another point in the text, Foxwood discusses the various images he uses (e.g. threefold flame, Spindle of Destiny, Tree of Enchantment, etc.), and then says the following: “Note that I did not refer to these images as ‘symbols,’ because they do not symbolize or represent anything. Simply put, they are the actual patterns that exist in the natural and spiritual world” (p. 57). While making the important distinction between imagery being symbolic and descriptive in this work is useful, this statement, as well as others, seem to present almost exclusivist truth-claims to this view of the universe and how it functions, which is not only at variance with a great variety of other spiritual and religious traditions, but it is not even accurate to the cosmological beliefs (as they can be apprehended and understood) of the Celtic and other cultures which are supposed to be their source. This makes the validity of the many guided visualizations given in the book highly questionable, in the view of the present reviewer: if these universal structures and “Vision Keys” simply are inherent to existence, then why would they have to be described in such detail? Why would the content of one’s visualization and visionary experiences need to be delineated so succinctly and at such length, if they could simply be encountered objectively? It is widely known and understood that a great deal of meditative and visionary work is prone to suggestibility, yet can still be quite valid and useful, and such experiences can be considered authentic and even divinely inspired. The system for fairy seership as laid out in this book is not one where there is much room at all for one to simply go to the otherworld and encounter it however it may choose to present itself to the seeker; instead, exact imagery of color, number, gender, size, shape, and other adjectival qualities are given in every exercise, which would suggest to the present reviewer that this is a personal system (a valid one, at that) which has been applied and set up in its presentation here to be a universal one. For those for whom this would work, that’s great; but both tradition and the general variety of human spiritual experience, I think, undermines these claims greatly. One need not make such claims of universal validity and objective spiritual actuality to have a useful or coherent system of spiritual practice and belief.

On several occasions, words in certain Insular Celtic languages are given, and are either ill-defined, or given a meaning which they do not necessarily have in the attested linguistic tradition. To give an example of the ways in which this material is not always accurately presented, think of the English word “path.” In religious and spiritual discussions, “path” takes on a whole different meaning, in contrast to when one is talking about a “foot path” through a garden, or “making a path” through objects strewn on the floor in a cluttered room. The word can have many different meanings, depending on context, but it isn’t as if the word “path” itself has a holy and divine valence every time it is used in English. Likewise, this is the case with many of the terms from Insular Celtic languages used by Foxwood. He uses the term sith, which he defines as “soul” (p. 6) or as “walker” (p. 15), quite frequently, as the “threefold life” is dependent upon an understanding of the “three walkers” and how they interact with this world and the otherworld. However, in Scots Gaelic, sith is several different words: a feminine noun (coming originally from Old Irish síd) meaning “fairy,” “hill” or “peace,” which is a very common and important otherworld and fairy-related term, which nonetheless does not have any “soul” valence; and the Scots Gaelic masculine noun sith which means a stride, a rush (as in “rushing forth”), or a manner of standing. As Foxwood usually employs the term in what would seem to be the latter sense, his usage in relation to better-known otherworld vocabulary really requires clarification so as not to mislead those not familiar with these languages. Likewise with what he says about the “toradh, a Gaelic word meaning pith or essence” (p. 21). His pronunciation guide is not quite correct, and he should have clarified that it is a Scots Gaelic word (“Gaelic” can mean any of at least three Goidelic languages—Irish [or Irish Gaelic, but the Irish themselves prefer the former], Scots Gaelic, and Manx). However, the basic meaning of this (despite its usage as such in some sections of the Celtic Reconstructionist movement) is neither “pith” nor “essence,” but instead “fruit” or “produce,” or even “profit.” This applies not only to Scots Gaelic, but to the Old Irish torad and to Modern Irish toradh. When Foxwood says that the “living light that is poured into all” from universal origins is the toradh, thinking of it as the “fruits” or “profits” or “increase” of everything is not necessarily off track, but considering it the “essence” of it would be incorrect, in literal terms that are in line with the linguistic cultures concerned. Bilé is given as the “Tree of Enchantment” (p. 33), but later as the “pillar of white flame” that is the “center post of all life” (p. 233). In addition to the orthography Foxwood gives being incorrect, the Irish term bile is the word for a sacred or important tree (particularly five important such trees in ancient Ireland), but the sense of it as a “world tree” and axis mundi is not present in the original culture. He gives the Welsh terms hiraeth and bro as “ancestral memory or ‘longing for the homeland’” and “’homeland’ or ‘our place upon the sacred land’” respectively (p. 182), but each is simply a term for “homesickness, longing, yearning, desire” and “area, district.”

While Foxwood does admit that this path is a syncretistic one that draws on Southern and Appalachian folk practices, certain Native American strains, and also Christianity, some of his claims do need to be considered in their individual cultural lights, rather than in the manner in which they are presented here. At one point, Foxwood states openly that “I have taken this folk teaching, which was adapted into Christian symbology, and restored what I believe is the more original, mystical, pre-Christian meanings” (p. 27). Whether or not there is validity in this in particular places where it occurs or not (and I leave it up to individual readers to decide that for themselves), it would be useful if Foxwood had mentioned every case in which he exercised his interpretive prerogative in this manner; unfortunately, this is the only place where he mentioned that. He talks at various later points about the fairy races being “fallen angels,” and that “Irish Gaelic Faery teachings…refer to the Dreamer as the ‘Proud Angel’ or ‘Lucifer’…” (p. 181); and in the same place, he talks of an “Oral Faery legend” (one of many he mentions) that involves the creation of the world from a spark of the Star Father. The appeal to oral authority in the latter is questionable; and the existence of a figure corresponding to the Dreamer in Irish (or any Insular Celtic) lore is also quite dubious. (King Arthur is supposed to be sleeping in a cave, ready to awaken when next he is needed, but this is much different from the cosmic implications Foxwood gives.) There is a strain of Irish literate lore that says the aes side are unfallen humanity, or possibly some type of angel, but these are syncretistic and speculative statements within the tradition, and are by no means the only such opinion expressed in the tradition (others say the otherworld peoples are demons, others that they are gods, while others simply say they’re mortals of a particular race descended from Noah). His discussion of the sleeping and opening of the eyes of the Dreamer at various stages in history (p. 182) also doesn’t seem to have much to do with attested tradition in Insular Celtic countries, but instead appears to be similar to Hindu concepts of Vishnu. He speaks of the use of BDSM practices to induce altered states of consciousness, but that such practices are not attested in the lore (p. 30), whereas they are in fact amply attested—St. Colum Cille/Columba, an important early Irish saint who evangelized in Scotland, was reportedly whipped by an angel in a vision; and the important Irish otherworld tale Serglige Con Culainn features the hero Cú Chulainn being flogged with horse-rods (i.e. riding crops!) by two otherworld women who visit him. He says the Fir Bolg are giants (and equivalent to titans, etc.) that attend to the Dreamer (p. 205), but there is little evidence for this view of that race in attested Irish literature. Instead, the more usual race corresponding to such a titanic role, and indeed the usual word translated as “giant” in Irish and Scots Gaelic literature, is the Fomoiri. These examples of inaccuracies could be multiplied greatly.

There are a number of mistakes that are fairly systematic in the work, including “lightening” for “lightning,” “luminal” for “liminal,” and “eminent” for “immanent.” While the places where some of these occur can be read with the incorrect word and some degree of understanding can ensue from such, it is clear in certain instances (e.g. the pairing of “eminent and transcendent”) that the other word is what is intended.

My overall impression of this system suggested to me that it has much more in common with Kabbalistic notions and the theurgy presented in the late antique Chaldean Oracles than with anything from Insular Celtic traditions. The terminology Foxwood uses for the ultimate image of divinity and divine origins, the Holy and Formless Fire, is a particularly Chaldean usage. There is certainly evidence in a variety of Celtic cultures for the idea of the cosmos as being Land, Sea, and Sky (corresponding to Foxwood’s schema, with the Stone/Earth, Ocean/Sea, and Sky/Star worlds). Likewise, the figure of the Greek goddess Hekate, as presented in Hesiod’s Theogony, is said to have had dominion over earth, sea, and the heavens; this is relevant because Hekate is presented in the Chaldean Oracles as the goddess who is, in essence, the Formless Fire. Thus, I wonder if this aspect of Foxwood’s structure in fact comes from a neoplatonic and theurgic understanding of Hekate as basic to the system, rather than anything being taken directly from any attested Celtic culture. The mapping of the Vision Keys presented on page 1 looks very much like the Kabbalistic Tree of Life (Foxwood’s “Tree of Enchantment”?), altered slightly, but with rivers acting as barriers at the expected intervals on the tree. The traditional supernal triangle seems to be echoed quite explicitly by Foxwood’s “triangle of light” composed of the Star Father, the Utterer, and the Holy and Formless Fire. On page 236, Foxwood admits to the similarity between the kabbalistic system and his system, but I would opine that the similarity isn’t one of parallel development, but of conscious and deliberate patterning. Had he admitted this at that stage (and at various other places in the book), I would have been much more forgiving of the way he presented his material. He discusses the “Old Ones before Time” on page 249, and says that certain other traditions refer to these as Stellar Aeons, but then opines “Because this term lacks the feeling and texture of folk concepts, I suspect it is modern and originates in a temple-based tradition.” I suspect that much the same can be said about this entire system as Foxwood presents it.

One very useful section, on pages 238-239 (at a late enough stage of the book that such a reminder is extremely useful) emphasizes the importance of meeting one’s basic physical needs of good water, nutritious food, adequate sleep and regular exercise in doing the entirety of this work successfully. While this is not a teaching unique to Foxwood’s system, and perhaps is something that should go without saying, having it appear at that stage of his system’s presentation (when one would be very prone to getting away from physical concerns altogether) was an excellent reminder of the importance of doing this basic bodily maintenance and appreciation. Within his own system, it fits with the teaching that the various walkers are reflections of one another, just as the cosmic template Foxwood elucidates is one in which there is a fractal-like self-similarity to the cosmos and the processes and beings within it. This type of cosmic schema is a useful thing in and of itself, and would make this system appealing to anyone who enjoys such a spiritual aesthetic.

As I stated initially, this system is not useless nor invalid, and its coherence is attractive; but, the entire presentation is marred by the constant appeal to “ancient authority” and “oral tradition” and “ways of the ancestors” that simply cannot be proven, and a great deal of which does not match attested lore. As a modern system inspired by some aspects of fairy belief in Insular Celtic cultures, synthesized with large helpings of more widely known esoteric traditions (including kabbalah, the Chaldean Oracles, and so forth), this is an excellent book and an enjoyable exploration, that begins in the experience of “divine discontent” (which some might know through the Christian mystical tradition’s terminology, the “dark night of the soul”) and works towards a healing, holistic connection to the universe and to all of life. However, if one is looking for something that accurately reflects the beliefs and practices of the “fairy faith” (which is post-Christian in the forms now known), much less pre-Christian Celtic practices, then this is not the place to find them.

Two Formless Fires out of Five.

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Echoes of Alexandria by H. Jeremiah Lewis

Echoes of Alexandria: Poems and Stories
H. Jeremiah Lewis
Bibliotheca Alexandrina and Nysa Press
260 pages

I actually read this a few weeks ago, but I’ve been so backed up with finals that I just now got the chance to sit down and write out the review. I have the Bibliotheca Alexandrina edition, but the book is now available via Nysa Press.

Whereas the last of Lewis’ books that I reviewed, Balance of the Two Lands, is nonfiction, this text includes fiction and poetry, as well as a scattering of nonfic essays, flavored heavily by the author’s Greco-Egyptian polytheistic syncreticism. He displays a great deal of versatility as a writer, because I like this book every bit as much as the last.

Much of the poetry scans like old Greek verses, addressing the gods and other beings with praise and fine description. One could simply say “Eilieithuia is associated with midwifery”, but instead Lewis writes “…lend [the expectant mother] your strength, so that she can grit her teeth/and bring her screaming baby into the world” (105). These poems would be excellent choices for ritual work, even if not in a strict Greco-Egyptian context. However, they also make for good reading as well.

The stories are of a similar quality. They make the gods seem even more real, multi-dimensional, even moreso than the original myths which often focused on the foibles and failings of divine and semi-divine beings. I think my favorite story is “The Beautiful Reunion”, which describes Hathor’s thoughts as she awaits her lover Horus, and how she feels conflicted over her attraction versus her independence. (And, of course, there’s the amusement of Horus greeting her with “Hello, sexy. I’ve missed you”.)

Overall, I found this to be a highly entertaining and enjoyable collection, and once again, Lewis does not disappoint. Highly recommended whether you want a good read for a cold night, verses for ritual use, or alternate, though faithful, interpretations of ancient myths.

Five pawprints out of five.

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