A Guide to Pagan Camping by Lori Dake

A Guide to Pagan Camping: Festival Tips, Tricks and Trappings
Lori Dake
Rotco Media, 2011
208 pages

My first question about this book is: why didn’t anyone write it before? I mean, really: outdoor festivals have been a part of neopagan culture for decades, and everyone gets their initial trial by (camp)fire, especially if this is their first time sleeping in a tent. But there are also a number of considerations that are unique to the festival environment (and not limited to just pagan festivals) that you won’t find in just any old book on camping.

There’s really only room for one book on this rather niche topic, and thankfully for we the readers, Lori Dake is right on target with this one. She covers pretty much everything you need to know for your first few festival outings, from what to wear and what your basic kit should be for camping, to good etiquette that doesn’t shy away from things like skyclad attendance, or festival hookups. Of course, even if you aren’t a newbie to festivals, there may be useful info if you decide to expand the nature of your participation beyond “festival attendee”. As a longtime vendor at events, I can say that she did a thorough job with the vending section, especially in as small a space as she had for it (instead of writing an entire book, which is entirely possible). And there are good tips for performing, giving workshops, and other participation that newbies may not necessarily feel ready for. Also, festival folk of any vintage may find the generous selection of camp-friendly recipes and related info helpful.

It’s a well-written book overall, and I found very little in the way of typos. I wasn’t crazy about the layout; the sans serif font chosen would have been better for something like a term paper, and the spaces between paragraphs don’t look as professional as simply indenting new paragraphs. The cover art and layout scream “small press”, which (as you may know from my background) isn’t in and of itself a bad thing, but it also could have been more polished.

Still, this is a case of not judging the book by its cover. This is a definite gem, and I highly recommend it for festival folk across the board, whether pagan or not. Well done!

Five campfire-smoky pawprints out of five.

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The Pagan Clergy’s Guide by Reverend Kevin Gardner

The Pagan Clergy’s Guide For Counseling, Crisis Intervention, and Otherworld Transitions
Reverend Kevin Gardner
Waning Moon Publications, 2009
212 pages

As both a pagan and as a student working on a Master’s in counseling psychology, this book interested me greatly. The number of books on counseling for minority groups is on the rise, and to my knowledge this is the first one to specifically address counseling neopagans. However, rather than being strictly psychological counseling, it is instead a text on spiritual counseling–a distinction that is incredibly important to note, as I’ll explain shortly.

Pagan spiritual counselors don’t have nearly the resources available that spiritual counselors in some other faiths, such as Christianity, do. Gardner does an admirable job of delineating some of the common issues that clients may bring to the table, from relationship woes to the need for facilitation of rites of passage. A large portion of the book is dedicated to grief counseling of various sorts. There’s also a good selection of basic ritual scripts for funerals and other rites of passage, including a few specific to individual neopagan traditions. This makes the book invaluable to pagan spiritual counselors.

Psychologically speaking, however, the book is on shaky ground for a couple of reasons. First of all, there’s no indication that the author has a license for psychological counseling, something that’s a grey area when it comes to spiritual counseling. He does make it clear that there are times when referrals to licensed psychological practitioners are necessary, and that this book should in no way be seen as a sole reference for the psychological elements of spiritual counseling. However, he also has had much more experience–counted in decades–of experience, something most readers will not have, and so I hesitate to recommend this to a newer spiritual counselor who may not have learned through trial and error how to counsel for deeper psychological issues. Additionally, in perusing the bibliography, many of his resources on psychological counseling are outdated; while, for example, the works of Carl Rogers are classics, there are newer approaches to client-centered counseling available.

As a text for spiritual counseling and being clergy in the sense of ritual facilitation, I think this is an excellent guide, and I recommend it highly. My misgivings about the psychological aspects of counseling should be noted, but not to the point of not buying the book. Supplement with other works or, better yet, get formal training in psychological counseling (particularly since there’s very little formal training available for pagan spiritual counselors).

Three and three quarters pawprints out of five.

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Witches & Pagans Magazine, Issue 19

Witches & Pagans Magazine
Various authors, editors, artists and other contributors
BBI Media, Autumn 2009
96 pages

First, a little background: Witches & Pagans is what happened when BBI Media merged their prior publications, PanGaia and newWitch. PanGaia was their more “serious” pagan publication, with a heavy eco-friendly slant and a target audience interested in ritual practices and spiritual experiences. newWitch came about a few years ago, and was met with some skepticism since its general themes were “sex, spells and celebs”. Some feared that newWitch would manifest all the worst stereotypes of image-obsessed teenybopper witches, and yet the publication managed to hold a fine balance between entertainment and facing controversial topics head-on. As a disclosure, I have written for both publications, so my potential bias should be noted.

Witches & Pagans has managed to blend elements of both magazines. This issue, for example, features interviews with musician S.J. Tucker and author R.J. Stewart (the faery AND initial issue!), something that newWitch was keen on. However, articles on 19th century mystic Ella Young, a surprisingly well-researched article on Cherokee fey beings, and several other in-depth writings on a central theme of Faery hail back to the best of PanGaia.

The regular columnists provided me with some of my favorite reading overall. Isaac Bonewits explored the practice of magic at different stages of one’s life, and how factors ranging from physical health to years of experience and knowledge can shape one’s energy and thereby one’s practice. Galina Krasskova did an excellent job of tackling the practice of celibacy as part of the ascetic’s path, something that a heavily hedonistic neopagan community may not often give much thought to. And I love Archer’s article on connecting to the wilderness through forests and their denizens, both physical and archetypal.

Those who were used to reading only one of the parent publications that merged to create this one may feel disappointed that there isn’t more of “their” stuff in there. However, one thing I appreciate about Witches & Pagans is that it brings together two potentially separate demographics in the pagan community–the more “serious” practitioners who look askance at the supposed “fluff” content of newWitch, and the energetic (though not always neophyte) envelope-pushers who might see their counterparts as muddy sticks. Both groups have much to offer in their own way, and Witches & Pagans does a nice job of showcasing the best of both worlds.

Five pawprints out of five.

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ChristoPaganism by Joyce and River Higginbotham

ChristoPaganism: An Inclusive Path
Joyce and River Higginbotham
Llewellyn, 2009
310 pages

Hoo, boy. This book is bound to stir up controversy. There are plenty of pagans who seem to have no qualms with drawing inspiration and practices from other religions–pretty much all of them, except for Christianity. You have Jewish witches, and those who draw on indigenous religions (despite the protests of some indigenous practitioners!) Yet try mixing Christianity and paganism, and you get all sorts of complaints from those who say it can’t be done (no doubt many of whom are speaking from a history of bad experiences with Christianity–or at least Christians).

However, for those whose experiences in such blending do undeniably work, or for those who wish to give it a try, this is an invaluable text. The authors have a strong understanding of the theological concepts that go into blending such a seemingly difficult interfaith blending, and make a good case for it. They start out by giving good foundational explanations of neopaganism and Christianity. Some may balk at the “unconventional” approach to Christianity they present, which challenges a lot of assumptions that casual Christians may have, and goes back to a variety of historical research that shows a very different origin and growth of the religion than is popularly understood. (No, I’m not talking about the various grail mythos thingies that talk about Jesus and Mary Magdelene in Europe–it’s much better scholarship than that.)

In making the case for interfaith blending, they draw on a variety of contemporary sources, not the least of which are the writings of Ken Wilber as well as spiral dynamics. I will admit that I thought that occasionally the general message of a broader perspective being more evolved read like it translated into interfaith = more evolved, but a closer reading without this kneejerk reaction gave me a better sense of what the authors were trying to say–that a more evolved perspective allows for the existence of, but doesn’t necessarily include personally, such things. This sounds controversial, but this is a controversial book to begin with, so in for a penny, in for a pound!

There’s also a nicely substantial section of personal testimonies from folks who have done various combinations of Christianity and neopaganism. This may be really helpful to those who feel alone in their path, as well as give ideas on how-tos without dealing with dogma.

Ultimately, many people are going to come to this book with their biases intact whether I advise them to or not; needless to say, I still recommend approaching it with as open a mind as possible. Of all the ways this combination of faiths could have been presented, this is probably one of the sanest and most well-thought-out. While it’s not my personal path, for anyone who has been wanting resources on the topic of mixing Christian and neopagan religious beliefs and practices, this is a great text to have on hand.

Five pawprints out of five.

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Women and Religion in the West edited by Aune, Sharma and Vincett

Women and Religion in the West: Challenging Secularization
Edited by Kristin Aune, Sonya Sharma and Giselle Vincett
Vermont/England: Ashgate Publishing Company
230 pages

Note: This review was originally published in the first issue of Thorn Magazine, which I reviewed here.

Women and Religion in the West, far from being a feel-good “we are all sisters” text, is an ambitious project that focuses on the female interpretation of religion and religiosity in the West. It is set within the context of a world that is becoming increasingly secularized, and whose discussion of secularization is also often male-dominated. Additionally, it avoids the common practice of approaching Christianity alone; while that religion is explored, Islam and new religious movements are given ample coverage as well. Each religious category receives its own section of the book, with four essays per section.

All twelve essays in this book are solid. While each essayist has a unique interpretation of the theme, there are a few that particularly stand out.

–“Religious Change in the West: Watch the Women” by Penny Long Marler: Are women the longtime “secret weapon” of organized religion? Marler makes a convincing argument that while men may have been the primary figureheads of Christianity, it is the women who have been the cohesive congregation that made the religion possible. She details demographic and social changes since industrialization, as well as the effects of the defection of women from organized religions to more free-form spiritualities. While the roles of women have often been relegated to the background, the “pink-collar” occupations and volunteer stations within Christianity have created the backbone of the religion. Particularly noteworthy is the adept approach to the nuclear family—and the current disintegration thereof—in conjunction with trends in the Christian religion. As the social structures that rely primarily on the nuclear family are replaced by more flexible ones, the roles of women shift as well. Marler points out research showing that in the Western world, while women may take the role of only homemaker, or only career woman, the majority have a foot in each world, able to adapt as necessary. The pink-collar roles within traditional Christianity have relied on the stay-at-home mother who is a staple of the nuclear family; as that particular structure has become less common, so has adherence to traditional religious structures. Beyond the church, though, there are implications in these changes even for industrial-capitalist economies, and male-dominated society, which Marler discusses to some extent.

–“The Soul of Soulless Conditions: Paganism, Goddess Religion and Witchcraft in Canada” by Sian Reid: While there is a modern trend to perceive secularization as the most advanced stage of cultural religious development, Reid counters with the fact that numerous women continue to find meaning through belief—albeit through spirituality rather than organized religion. She particularly focuses on pagan religions in Canada, as well as on the importance of the feminine Divine to many female pagans. I was particularly struck by research that noted that female and male neopagans may approach the Goddess in different manners: “…while women are inclined to speak of Goddess spirituality in terms of larger gender inequalities and as a means of obtaining ‘self-validation by having a female image of the divine with which to identify’…men are less likely to make reference to patriarchal social structures, and tend to discuss the Goddess ‘more as an expressive or nurturing force that aided one’s immediate self’” (127). This and other general statements may lead to some hearty debate among practicing pagans, and make the essay well worth reading. Reid’s ultimate conclusion, though, is that while traditional religions may be losing adherents, Canadian women are still finding outlets for belief—to include a mirror of themselves in Deity, and the structure of modern pagan religious systems that allow for more flexibility and personal expression.

–“Being Seen By Many Eyes: Muslim Immigrant Women in the United States” by Garbi Schmidt: Schmidt opens this essay by emphasizing some of the basic stereotypes and misunderstandings associated with Islam and Muslim women in particular, but this is just the beginning. The meaning and politics behind such things as the hijab, the veil that is so strongly associated with Muslim women; the specific roles and niches occupied by women within Islam; Muslim women as sexual beings; and other controversial topics are discussed in depth. Schmidt offers an excellent balance between exposing the stereotypes that exist, and denying those stereotypes power through counter-arguments and contrary examples from real life. She shows how faith is a source of strength for Muslim women, even with the negative aspects and assumptions, and it’s a truly eye-opening essay. What’s particularly remarkable is the discussion of Muslim women using differences to their benefit, rather than as a source of stress. While this is not a universal practice, Karima, one of Schmidt’s interviewees, turns the role of being Other into an advantage. Schmidt remarks, “Rather than choosing a strategy of retreat, she stresses the very elements that make her different. Difference becomes a powerful way of marking identity in public spaces. The identity and political position she chooses to take within the United States equally compels her to position herself towards and even against other localities, for example the region her parents came from. Within these diverse contexts, Islam becomes a means for protest and reform” (209). This theme of activism continues through the experiences of women in Schmidt’s essay, and counters the stereotype of the Muslim woman as a hidden, trapped figure.

Pagans should not make the mistake of shying away simply because some of the essays involve monotheistic religions. There is much to learn from all of the essayists regardless of their stance. Additionally, those who were curious, incensed, or puzzled about Kristin Aune’s claim that Buffy the Vampire Slayer is convincing thousands of women to leave church every year may want to get a more solid feel for Aune’s research on women and Christianity. It’s not about pop culture, so much as it is about the state of being a single woman within religious communities, and how this is a state of non-normativity (compared to the state of being married, which according to Aune “continues to hold sway as the normative status in contemporary Britain” (67).

The tone of this book may come across as being fundamentally against traditional religious structures, as the majority of the material concerns women who are defecting from those structures to more free-form spiritualities. One particular exception is Maria Trzebiatowska’s “Vocational Habit(u)s: Catholic Nuns in Contemporary Poland”, a discussion of women entering into a deeper relationship with traditional religious structures despite secularization and criticism by peers. Christianity, however, seems to get the brunt of the theme of anti-religiosity.

Additionally, the relatively limited scope of religions discussed may beg the question of how these themes apply to women in other religions. Judaism is a glaring omission, for example; how might modern Jewish women approach secularization, as well as traditional (particularly orthodox) structures within their religious communities? There is plenty of ground left unexplored, and it almost would have been better to release a series of books, each focusing on a particular religion, to bring more depth to the topic.
Overall, though, this is a much-needed discussion about the state of religion in the world today, with the added benefit of breaking the male-dominated mold too often found in religious studies. Even those not of a particularly sociological bent will find the material to be informative and applicable to everyday religious and spiritual interactions and experiences.

Five pawprints out of five.

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Bell, Book and Murder by Rosemary Edghill

Bell, Book and Murder: The Bast Novels
Rosemary Edghill
Forge Books, 1994
448 pages

Okay, so a lot of folks who read these reviews most likely have already read these novels at least once. I read the first one years ago, and just now got around to hunting down the omnibus edition including the entire trilogy. I enjoyed it thoroughly, so here’s my review, just in case there are pagan folk who need a good tip-off on a thoroughly wonderful piece of pagan-flavored fiction.

Bast is a thirty-something Gardnerian Wiccan in New York city. She works doing book layout as a freelancer, and has a “coffin-sized and shaped” apartment. Active in her local pagan community, she also ends up being a key figure in solving three separate murders, one per novel. Her fellow pagans and magicians are realistic, running the gamut from flakes to uber-serious ceremonialists, and all points in between. Bast herself is well-grounded and mature, but not without her flaws.

The mysteries themselves are well-paced and inventive, and while they incorporate the pagan aspects of the novels to one extent or another, it’s in a believable style. I never felt like any of the stories were strained–I think the latter two books, particularly their endings, were better than the first, but even the first was a great read.

You know all those recent novels where authors try to add information about paganism in the duration of the storyline? This is the book that they aspire to be (and only a few achieve similar quality). Instead of clumsy attempts to have a lesson on neopaganism at one point in the book, Bast does what any good writer does when introducing niche material into a storyline–she weaves it in seamlessly with the narrator’s commentary. Details on paganism are integrated fluidly along with the basics of (pre-computer) book layout, and what it’s like to live in the Big Apple. I learned a good deal about the latter two, and thought the former was quite well handled as well.

What I loved the most about her portrayal of neopaganism, though, is that never once is there anything unbelievable. There’s no Harry Potter-esque magic. There’s not even speculation in the vein of the famous British Wiccan ritual during WWII that may or may not have been actually effective (and may not even occurred for that matter). There aren’t any incarnated angels or cross-planar spirits physically materializing or voices of deities in the middle of New York. Bast does spells and rituals in the course of the novels, but none of them are shown to definitely cause anything out of the ordinary. In other words–the world of Bast could just as easily be this one.

These novels have a lot going for them–well written, excellent integration of specialized material, and believable characters and settings. If you haven’t had a chance to read them yet, they’re probably one of my most highly recommended fiction pieces on this review site to date.

Five pleased pawprints out of five.

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Thorn Magazine, Volume One, Issue One

Thorn Magazine, Volume One, Issue One
Various authors, editors, artists and other contributors
December 2008
72 pages

Before I start this review, a disclaimer: I have been taken on as a reviewer by this publication, and have a book review in this issue. Please note the potential for bias, though I will do my best to maintain my neutrality.

The quality of neopagan dead tree magazines vary greatly. On the one hand, you have a small grouping of professional magazine publishers who have consistently managed to put forth decent material on a schedule. On the other, you have the magazines that never made it past the first issue, DIY zines of varying stripes and qualities, and some miscellaneous forgettable examples throughout the years. Running a magazine is tough, because it means multiple times a year you’re collecting, editing, laying out, printing and distributing material from all sorts of writers and other creatives. Burnout is common in the (relatively) small press magazine world.

I have a lot of hope for Thorn magazine, however. Started by “Chip O’Brien, the hideous result of a mad experiment by the Rutgers English department”, this is a pagan mag that goes well beyond spells and shiny objects. For this first issue, Chip and Co. managed to compile a delightful variety of articles, commentaries, artwork and other items. There’s too much to discuss every single item in detail, but here are a few of my favorites:

–The Wild Hunt (magazine column version) by Jason Pitzl-Waters: Despite the prevalence of paganism on the internet, not all pagans love spending time online as much as I do. So I thought that the addition of a summary of some of the highlights from the Wild Hunt was a great way to help the less cyber-focused still get access to a wide variety of pagan-relevant news bits. I thought it translated well, especially as I am a regular reader of the blog itself.

–Without a Watchmaker: An Atheist’s Search for the Gods by Robert Koskulics: Having recently taken up with someone who identifies both with the terms “pagan” and “atheist”, and having seen a recent spate of discussion of atheism in paganism via various popular pagan blogs, I leaped on this article almost immediately. It’s a sensitive treatment of one atheist’s experiences joining a coven for their Samhain celebration; while the author was frank about the points where he maybe wasn’t so moved by the ritual as the pagans were, I did enjoy his conclusion: “Gratitude for my life and my place in the world is almost as good as knowing why I should be grateful in the first place” (p.11). It’s a beautiful piece, and one of my favorites from the entire issue.

–The Extraordinary Healing And/Or Totally Fraudulent Powers of Orgone by Jeff Mach: I’m a bit familair with Reich from an occult perspective, but also from the perspective of a psych grad student. I haven’t yet read Reich’s works directly, though I have them in my possession, but I did have a class where a Reichian therapist sat in as a substitute for the usual professor and talked a bit about his practice. Mach’s article, on the other hand, tends to favor the more occultish interpretations of orgone energy, Reich’s theoretical energetic matrix that permeates, well, everything. While he does touch on Reich’s work in psychotherapy, much of the article deals with the more esoteric applications of orgone–and the conspiracy theories surrounding Reich’s persecution and mysterious death in prison. Reich and his work are not a simple topic to tackle, and Mach does quite the admirable job of presenting his case.

The Cauldron of Poesy (translation) by Erynn Rowan Laurie: This is a circa 7th century poem written by an Irish fili, or poet-mystic; Laurie has done a lovely job of translating it. Translation is always a bit of a challenge, especially with poetry, because often the original words are specifically chosen for their rhythm and sound, and trying to make a translation that sounds just as nice isn’t easy. Laurie preserves the meaning while creating something that is pleasurable to read and recite.

–Thralldom in Theodish Belief by Joseph Bloch: I’ll admit that I’m no expert on heathenry, and I know less about Theodism than other sorts, such as Asatru. However, I was utterly fascinated by this approach to a neotribal membership process that draws on the concept of a newcomer to a culture being a thrall, a “nobody”, who then must earn their place in society, through working within some very specific parameters. It’s a wonderfully thorough way to weed out potentially problematic applicants and to show who’s really dedicated to being a part of the tribe. I admit that I couldn’t help but be reminded, to an extent, of the spirit of the Master/slave relationship in BDSM–while the Theodish thralldom is in no way sexual, the general concept of a willing sacrifice of one’s power for a particular goal/purpose seems to be a commonality.

There were plenty of other things that I loved, to include a beautiful critique of Gimbutas’ faulty research, some absolutely amazing artwork, and spotlights on pagan-related pop culture. Admittedly, there were also a few pieces I thought weren’t as strong. Tchipakkan’s “Hanging with the Gods”, a discussion of her and her family’s experiences with “real live encounters” with the spirits and deities made me want to reach for my Occam’s Razor. Starwolf’s “Wyrd Science: A Lab Report” was supposed to include “20% craft skill, 60% research and 20%….insane inspiration!”, all I really saw was a couple of instructables on how to make a copper wand and a “Psychic Shield Generator”, with no real scientific method, research, or other content. And Jack Lux’s “An Evening With Uncle Chuckie” discussed the author’s inspiration to thumb his nose at “white lighters” and their pesky ethics after a presentation by the infamous Charles Cosimano; it came across more as a rebellious OMGDARKMAGICIAN, and my end reaction was “Gee, so you cast a curse and it might have worked. That’s nice”.

Still, overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this magazine, and even the parts I wasn’t so impressed by may absolutely tickle someone else. Also, I’d like to mention (and here I’ll definitely admit my bias as a writer!), Thorn is one of very, very few paying venues for pagan magazine contributors. Granted, as a startup, they’re limited in what they can afford to pay. However, considering most of the time writers have to settle for a contributor’s copy of the magazine they get published in, or maybe a free subscription, this is a welcome change. I strongly suggest that if you like what you see from this magazine, that you treat yourself to a subscription–and help keep this excellent publication afloat.

Thorn is by far the most professional startup I’ve seen, and if the first issue is an indication, this will definitely be a strong voice in pagan publishing for years to come.

Five pawprints out of five

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A Seeker’s Journey and Initiation into Wicca by Janine DeMartini

A Seeker’s Journey and Initiation into Wicca
Janine DeMartini
PublishAmerica, 2006
194 pages

This particular text, while published via PublishAmerica, was not given any editing by that company. Unedited works (whether through such a publisher or self-published), more than any other, seem to be a bit of a crapshoot. Because there aren’t the extra pairs of eyes looking over the manuscript (unless the author hires a freelance editor), the quality of the book rests solely on the skills of the author. I’ve seen unedited works which were absolutely stunning–and I’ve seen others that simply stunk. This one is a mixed bag; I’d like to start out by extolling its virtues before getting into my criticisms.

I have to applaud the author for coming right out and complaining about some of the issues with many Wicca 101 and related books: poor research, rehashes of the same old stuff, and inaccurate presentations of deities from polytheistic cultures. She then presents her book as an alternative that avoids these pitfalls, and as someone who’s written books for similar reasons, I give her many kudos! And indeed, while she does cover some basic ideas about Wicca, as well as a small section of rituals, she doesn’t do the usual rehash of “This is an athame, and this is what red candles are burned for”, etc. DeMartini also makes it very clear that Wicca is not whatever you want it to be, and explains her background regarding traditional vs. eclectic Wicca from the beginning.

She also covers a lot of experiential information that many authors overlook, especially concerning the neopagan community as a social phenomenon. This includes things like people in the pagan community who mislead others (accidentally or deliberately), a bit of discussion about coven group dynamics, and what happens when you take oaths in more than one tradition over the years. And I really enjoyed the introduction to Omnimancy which, although not expressly Wiccan, is something that she found personally useful–this is partly a record of her own journey, and so it is appropriate to include it.

It’s very obvious that she’s done her work, and her anecdotes back it up. She’s a great teller of true stories, and she’s seen and done quite a bit. There are a lot of things of interest, especially (though not exclusively) to newbies.

However, this leads into my first criticism. The book could have been better organized. The chapters don’t always segue well from one to the next, and at times it reads more like a collection of essays on a loose theme. Additionally, the book is overbalanced towards anecdotes, which aren’t well-woven with the practical material. It’s all good stuff; it just isn’t tied together well into a cohesive work, which sometimes made it frustrating to try to put together in my mind.

The other problem stems directly from the fact that the book apparently wasn’t put through any formal editing process beyond the author’s own work. While at times DeMartini’s writing is engaging, overall the book reads like a rough draft manuscript. There are certain consistent patterns that kept throwing me off, most notably a frequent appearance of incomplete sentences. Additionally, there were a number of typos, as well as the use of the wrong word (an example being “throws” instead of “throes”).

I realize, as an author and an editor myself, that the prospect of taking one’s pride and joy and running it through the red ink of the editing process can be intimidating. I specifically went with the publisher that I did because I had a loooong discussion with the editor about keeping my writing mine, while improving the overall quality. However, the criticisms I have are things that would be readily fixable by an editor, either a freelance editor, or one with a different publishing company*. As is, the rough draft quality of the book significantly diminished its readability.

There is a good amount of material in this book, don’t get me wrong. DeMartini absolutely has the right ideas and the experience, and this could be a wonderful counterpoint to the usual re-re-rehashing of “This is an athame…” etc. If it were to be thoroughly and professionally edited and reworked, it could be one of the best–and this coming from someone who’s damned hard to impress with basic Wicca material any more.

*PublishAmerica is possibly the most notorious vanity press out there; the SFWA staged a well-known sting a few years ago.

Two and three quarters pawprints out of five.

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Drawing the Three of Coins – Terri Paajanen

Drawing the Three of Coins: How to Open and Run a Pagan Store
Terri Paajanen
Spilled Candy Books, 2005
150 pages

This is an awesome small-press book from Spilled Candy. It’s the kind of book I try to write myself–a good, in-depth, no-frills exploration of something that hasn’t really been covered before. Additionally, the author very obviously has a good deal of experience with the topic she’s writing about, which just makes it even better.

Paajanen has written just about the closest thing to a perfect book on being a pagan shopowner. I know so many pagan folk whose dream it is to open a shop some day–brick and mortar, if you please! Unfortunately, while I’ve seen some wonderfully successful businesses, I’ve also seen failed attempts that either had too little capital behind them, or too little business sense, or some other fatal error. I think that Drawing the Three of Coins could go a long way in lessening the potential failures. Mind you, it’s not a complete book on owning a book store in general; the beauty of the book is that is specifically focuses on things that are primarily of interest to someone wanting to own a pagan (or occult) shop. You’ll need to supplement with other business-related books, but this is a must-have.

Paajanen covers a lot of ground nonetheless. There’s strong emphasis on the need for a good location, as well as how you lay out and design the interior of your shop once you have it in place (very, very important, let me tell you!). She also discusses actually getting ahold of inventory, what to get, and how much. Even seemingly minor details like hiring on tarot readers or putting up a website are given a good deal of attention. And if you want to organize events, the book has answers for that as well.

The author doesn’t pull any punches about the reality of small business ownership. If you think it’ll be a breeze–think again. After reading this text, you’ll have a much better idea of just how much work it really is.

On the other hand, if you are bound and determined to open a pagan shop–or, for that matter, just sort of hemming and hawing over the possibility, maybe someday…..read this book. As far as I know, it’s the only one of its kind–but it’d be tough to top.

Five pawprints out of five.

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Nine Worlds of Seid-Magic – Jenny Blain

Nine Worlds of Seid-Magic: Ecstasy and Neo-Shamanism in North European Paganism
Jenny Blain
Routledge, 2002
186 pages

This book was recommended to me as a good introduction to what seithr, shamanistic practices based in Northern European cultures, is. Specifically it focuses on the oracular aspects of the practice. Rather than a practical how-to manual with step-by-step instructions, it is a thoughtful and well-balanced text on the topic from someone who is both an academic and a practitioner. It fills two niches: the need for more material on seithr; and the need for more academic material on neoshamanisms in their own right, rather than as footnotes in shamanic discourse.

Blain presents a mixture of historical references to support the existence of seithr in Northern Europe, both before and after large-scale Christianization. However, she also approaches these materials with a critical eye, rather than simply accepting them as truth. She neatly weaves these in with commentary from modern practitioners of seithr, as well as her own experiences.

There are a number of controversial topics brought up in a generally neutral manner, allowing for the contemplation of the material discussed. A good deal of the book concerns gender issues in relation to seithr and the modern heathen movement, particularly the resistance to seithr by more conservative elements. The questions of whether seithr is strictly “wimmin’s work”, whether or not that disempowers it, and whether a seithman is “unmanned”, are all brought up and discussed in detail, both in the context of historical evidence and the modern heathen community.

Blain also tackles authenticity and seithr. Is it shamanism? Is it a legitimate, authentic practice? Are neoshamanisms in general authentic? Can “shamanism” be defined? Can a practitioner truly give an impartial review of seithr? These topics and more all provide a wealth of brain food to chew on.

While it isn’t an easy-breezy book to read, being written in high academese, it is an excellent introduction that gives context for the modern practice of seithr, as well as providing numerous resources that may be traced for more information. The fact that it is written by a practitioner who is also an academic only serves to deepen the value of this book. Hopefully it will encourage the weakening of the terror of “going native” in academia

Five pawprints out of five.

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