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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Power Crystals by John DeSalvo

Power Crystals: Spiritual and Magical Practices, Crystal Skulls, and Alien Technology
John DeSalvo, Ph.D.
Destiny Books, 2012
189 pages

Reviewed by Ser

Lupa hadn’t told me which book I’d be receiving to review, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that the book chosen for me was Power Crystals. I had just viewed a few documentaries on the subject of crystals skulls, including Smithsonian’s The Legend of the Crystal Skulls, and I was eager to devour more information on this enchanting topic. Unfortunately, I don’t feel the author lived up to my expectations.

There were three main issues I had with Power Crystals that I would like to discuss. First, this book proved difficult to read and I had to walk away from it numerous times. There are plenty of examples of typos and grammatical issues, as well as repetitive and run-on sentences such as:

– “These practices were all forbidden by the church, and the continued practice of them could lead to excommunication or worst.” (pg. 38)
– “I wrote a book called Andrew Jackson Davis, First American Prophet and Clairvoyant about the nineteenth-century clairvoyant and prophet.” (pg. 57)
– “They hold a power to heal, but modern crystal practitioners have not unlocked the lock.” (pg. 60)
– “Known for his in-depth scientific work on the Shroud of Turin… John DeSalvo holds a Ph.D. in biophysics and, for more than 30 years, scientifically studied the Shroud of Turin.” (back cover)

Second, in the Introduction the author voiced his wish to “be the first scientist/paranormal researcher to carry out the first objective study of ancient crystal skulls”. However, this goal is not carried out even through the second chapter. Chapter Two started out with a lot of potential, briefly mentioning the Schumann Resonance and how it might contribute to a connection between crystals and the human brain, but then goes on to spend a lot of time on biblical references that don’t contribute to his point. For example, DeSalvo inserts a large quote from Ezekiel 1:22-28, citing a “significant reference to crystal”: “Over the heads of the living creatures there was the likeness of an expanse, shining like an awe-inspiring crystal”, followed by many more lines with no further crystal references. The author then quotes the Bible three more times, with more examples of how something is shining “like crystal”. The author is using these examples to illustrate “the holy significance of crystal”, but to me, these are just similes and do nothing to strengthen his argument.

Part Two was focused on crystal skulls and the tests performed on these skulls to determine their age. The premise of this section was interesting, but again there was an issue of the author’s objectivity. In one section, he states, “We all know the power of prayer and the energy it releases” (pg. 57). This area would have benefited from a short discussion on his view of the power and energy of prayer before comparing it to crystal energy. I also question his definition of “specific” when he says that “soon” is a specific time frame (pg. 104) – soon could mean in an hour, or it could mean a month from now. He also includes some side stories which detract from the subject of the book; in chapter 4, he says that he believes in spiritual healing, though he has never experienced success healing with crystals or any other gems. To qualify his belief, he explains an experience at a charismatic healing program, spanning two pages, which ends in, “This is the mystery of God’s will. I do believe Jesus healed my back that day” (pg. 59). Again, this seems to detract from his goal of scientific research and objectivity. He brings up a scientific subject, such as string theory, then with the next sentence states his experiences and assumes his reader will accept them as reality because he does. I would also like to know why he feels that scrying with crystals is successful, while healing with crystals is not.

Lastly, I feel that the last two sections of the book need a lot of expansion. Section Three, and in particular Chapter 10, deals with meditation, and seems almost entirely written by his friend Helene Olsen. While her input is important, there should be more sources and discussion on meditation than just quotes from one person! Chapter 11 seems to serve as an advertisement for his other books, as he mentions their titles four times in a span of four paragraphs. It is also worth noting that the author seems to see God as male-only energy, taking a lot of his reference from his time in the Christian church, which may not sit well with some readers. He prefaces his section on Enochian meditations and journey to the Thirtieth Aethyr with a warning to undertake this exploration at your own risk, yet I don’t think he was able to get his point across about why we would want to try this meditation, how it relates to crystals, and what it can offer.

Part Four, dealing with Atlantis and alien technology, comprises a mere 14 pages of the book. What was said about Atlantis seems to not even have been written in his voice and instead reads like a history book (which may actually be more his style, as his previous works include college textbooks). He teases the reader about a “structure” found on the Atlantic Ocean floor that could be a remnant of Atlantis, but then neglects to describe the structure at all! All he says is that it could be man-made – but how? Is it a building? Is it a statue? What could this mean for our view of history? The reader is left wondering.

That said, I do have to compliment DeSalvo on his inclusion of numerous lovely, full-color photos. There are 29 full-color “plates” as well as a few diagrams and photos throughout the rest of the book, all displaying wonderful crystals and skulls. (My favorite photo is #9, a rose quartz crystal larger than the man posing next to it!) I also enjoyed the variety of topics presented by DeSalvo as well as the way they were presented in order to build on each other as you progressed through the book – I just feel many of them are lacking in detail and the scientific attention he seemed to want to give them. There was a lot of potential in this book, but overall it feels rushed – so many details are omitted, sentences confusing, and again it has that lack of objectivity throughout. It seems that Power Crystals was written for a group of close-knit friends – the author frequently mentions how he is close to this skull owner, or this psychic. While it may accurately portray the relationships between skull owners (as ancient and antique skull owners are few and far between), at the same time I wonder why this book was not proofread by these individuals a few times to help the author catch some of the spelling and grammar issues, and perhaps point out a few of the places needing further clarification.

I would not recommend this book to those looking for an objective study of crystal skulls. I would suggest it to someone in passing, if they were interested in personal experiences with crystal skulls and photos of lovely crystal collections, but would suggest skipping the last two, seemingly unfinished, sections.

One pawprint out of five.

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Pagan Metaphysics 101 by Springwolf

Pagan Metaphysics 101: The Beginning of Enlightenment
Springwolf
Schiffer Publishing, 2011
128 pages

This book has so much potential. The concept is awesome: a book on paganism that doesn’t even start with tools and rituals and such, but instead gets to the very roots of the beliefs and cosmology through the language of metaphysics. Not “metaphysics” as in “woo”, but the nuts and bolts of “How does this work? Where did this core belief come from? Why do pagans often have this sentiment?” It’s the first in a planned series of books that build on each other to explore paganism in theory and practice, and is the foundational text thereof.

I will say that in some places it veers much more closely to the New Age than neopaganism. Most neopagans don’t really put much of an emphasis on Atlantis, for example. But there’s a lot that is more relevant, from how “energy” works, to practical work with karma (albeit a new Age tinged version thereof). Starting the book with a bunch of questions for the reader to answer about their own beliefs was a brilliant idea, because this book has a lot for a person to think about. Consider it brain food for spiritual exploration.

Unfortunately, the execution leaves me wondering whether the publisher even had an editor or proofreader look over this text, or whether the manuscript was simply put into print straight from the author. I found numerous typos, and places where the writing was rough and awkward to read. The organization didn’t always make sense, and sometimes the transition from topic to topic was less than smooth. I could kind of see the flow of where the author was trying to take the book, but it needs a good bit of refining.

Also, there are certain things that some neopagans may find downright offensive. The idea, for example, that Helen Keller (and other people born with disabilities) chose, prior to birth, to incarnate into a life with such challenges has all too often been used as a patronizing form of discrimination, as well as diminishing and even silencing the actual concerns of people with disabilities. This, and a number of other concepts that are more popular among New Agers than pagans, may cause some pagans to put the book back down (which is a bad idea–more on that in a moment).

My biggest complaint, though, is that the book simply could have been more. It’s a scant 128 pages, fewer if you take out the table of contents and whatnot, with fairly large text. The author covers a variety of topics, and yet many of them only get two or three paragraphs. I found myself saying on almost every page “This is really cool! But what about this element of it? Can you explain in more depth?” There are so many places where she could have expanded into more detail and background about just about everything she talked about, and still had a really good, coherent book that fit what seems to have been her intent with it.

What I would love to see is a second edition of the book someday, one that has better editing, has had more feedback from neopagans and what they more commonly believe, and, most importantly, more expansion on the material that’s already in here. Even with my complaints about the book in its current form, I do think there’s a lot of value to it–you just have to dig some. There is the aforementioned element of philosophical and soul-searching brain food that just about anyone would find useful, especially at a point of trying to find one’s spiritual identity (or simply as a refresher if you’ve been doing this a while). And despite the New Age woo that sometimes gets a little overwhelming, there are also awesome reminders that we are human beings in this life, and that sometimes that means things that are wholly human and physical and perfectly okay even if they aren’t strictly “spiritual”. There’s good grounding in there.

Three pawprints out of five.

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The Little Book of Odes and Invocations by Auntie Matter

The Little Book of Odes & Invocations
Auntie Matter (Sondra Slade)
Self-published, 2010
10 pages

One of the things I love about reviewing self-published works is that while a good number of them are in sore need of editing, there are those wonderfully independent gems that are both well-written, and defy conventional publishing rules. A ten-page book of nothing but sacred poetry may not sound all that exciting or original, but this particular little chapbook packs a lot of quality into a small space.

The booklet begins with a Winter solstice invocation, with meditative lines on “The Slumbering Seed”, “Endless Night” and “Formless Energy”. The air of anticipation and turning toward the sunnier part of the year again is apparent. The last invocation is, appropriately, the Summer Solstice, a joyous celebration of life and light. In between these, Slade writes of the Moon, a Wiccan-flavored raising of energy, and one of the few things written about 2012 that I didn’t hate, among other themes.

Her writing style is incredibly descriptive even in a few words, and I can definitely see where these invocations would have a very powerful effect in a ritual. Her words have a good flow and rhythm to them, which should help bring on altered states of consciousness rather nicely. They’re interesting to look at, too. She patterns some of her free verse poetry with indentations to punctuate specific words or ideas following a general idea earlier in the stanza. This adds a wave-like quality to the works.

Pretty much my only complaint is that this is a very slim volume for the $10 price. I recognize that because it is printed on a home printer, to include some wonderfully detailed full-color illustrations, that printing up these booklets probably requires a lot of ink cartridges. However, seven poems and two pieces of artwork on ten pages is going to be a tough sell for a lot of people, even with the excellent quality of both writing and art. I might suggest that the layout be redone, and maybe some content added, to accommodate the minimum page count for a book at Lulu.com.

Still, it’s a wonderful compilation, and if you are looking for some really effective creative invocations for use in either solo or group rituals, this is a great resource to have on hand. It’s obvious that the author is tapped into the energies she writes about, and this comes through in every piece in this book.

Four pawprints out of five.

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Chinese Power Animals by Pamela Leigh Powers

Chinese Power Animals: Archetypes of Transformation
Pamela Leigh Powers
Weiser, 2000
322 pages

Some things just don’t translate well across cultures–or, at least, the execution could be better. This is one of those things. This book is one of a number out there on Chinese astrology–you know, Year of the Fire Horse, Year of the Metal Dragon, etc.–that tries to make the system available to Westerners. The author takes elements of this system, and then adds them into a rather awkward synthesis along with Western astrology and New Age-flavored animal totemism.

Don’t get me wrong–I like new and interesting ideas. The problem is that the context of Chinese astrology, and various Chinese and other Asian healing systems, isn’t nearly as solid in this book as it needs to be to help people understand the why of the material. We’re left instead with an incomplete and sometimes confusing collection of quick-fix correspondences, and not enough answers.

For example, in talking about different relationships, the author says things like “The Horse has a Cat for a father”, regardless of the actual birth year or personality of the Horse person’s father himself. This makes no sense. And in fact, the whole system falls prey to the common pitfall associated with trying to make Chinese astrology “work” in the U.S.–it becomes a “You’re a [insert animal here], so therefore that means you are [insert stereotyped traits here]”. Because we don’t have the cultural contextual background to really get where these concepts came from, they end up oversimplified.

This could have been a much better book, but it feels slapped together out of convenience and connections between concepts that may or may not actually be relevant to each other. I was unimpressed.

One pawprint out of five.

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Shamanic Wisdom by Dolfyn

Shamanic Wisdom: Nature Spirituality, Sacred Power and Earth Ecstasy
Dolfyn
Earthspirit, Inc., 1990
184 pages

I have mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, I want to not like it, because there’s a decent helping of cultural appropriation in it. Lots of “medicine” and various appropriations of watered-down indigenous concepts that have become so common in new age neoshamanisms. However, there are also some useful rituals for practicing a nature-based animistic path. I think it might have been a better book framed as animism rather than shamanism, and without the pseudo-Native trappings.

The good stuff includes practices for connecting with the directions, animals, plants, the sun and other celestial bodies, and various other denizens of the natural world. They’re designed to recreate awareness of these things we often take for granted, and the author does have a nice ecological flavor in her presentation of the material. The rituals are also not too difficult to enact, and this would be a great book in a lot of ways for a newbie pagan just learning to reach out to the world around hir.

However, as with so many other neoshamanic texts, there’s an element of entitlement, as though Nature will automatically always help us. While the chapter on eco-magic does emphasize giving back, the overall approach is fairly lightweight and says nothing about any of the potential dangers of connecting with these spirits. And there’s not really a discussion of the differences between what is presented here and indigenous practices. There’s the usual brief and somewhat stereotyped animal totem dictionary, just as a bonus.

Taken with some cautionary salt, this can be a useful text for beginners to nonindigenous animistic practices. Be skeptical, but also be open.

Three pawprints out of five.

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Rainbow Medicine by Wolf Moondance

Rainbow Medicine: A Visionary Guide to Native American Shamanism
Wolf Moondance
Sterling Publishing Company, 1994
192 pages

I tried to give this book a fair chance, despite my misgivings about claims of “Native American shamanism” from someone who, to my knowledge, isn’t recognized by any official tribe. (Having Cherokee and Osage genetics does not predispose one to knowing about a culture one has not been exposed to, or its religious practices.) While there are some useful practices in here, trying to call them a complete system of shamanism–or calling them Cherokee or Osage practices–would be seriously misleading.

As the title suggest, the information here is organized along the colors of the rainbow, though with an addition of “burgundy”, and several chapters on the directions and other natural phenomena. Each chapter includes the record of a journey the author did with the theme of the chapter, followed by a number of meditations, craft projects and other activities associated with the theme. And that’s pretty much it.

In and of themselves some of the journaling and meditation exercises are good reflection tools. Unfortunately, some of the activities, particularly crafts, are hijacked from various indigenous cultures, taken out of their context, and presented as “universal” practices. This, of course, dilutes their purpose as they need context which is unfortunately not provided here. One person’s journeying does not make up for the loss of an entire culture. Additionally, as mentioned, this seems to have less to do with complex Cherokee or Osage spirituality and more with core shamanism, New Age practices, and the author’s background in “human development” (does she have a degree in developmental psychology? Nothing is for sure.).

While I have no doubt that this can be an effective set of tools, both for the author and for some readers, I was disappointed by the lack of context, including but not limited to the lack of making direct connections between the author’s personal journey, and the exercises themselves. How much of this is the author’s own subjective experience, and how much is cultural material (however it may be presented)? It’s never made very clear.

One and a half 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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Shamanic Mysteries of Egypt by Scully and Star Wolf

Shamanic Mysteries of Egypt: Awakening the Healing Power of the Heart
Nicki Scully and Linda Star Wolf
Bear & Co, 2007
230 pages

Okay. I’m going to give this book some leeway because the authors make it very clear that what they’re presenting is New Age material. While they may take some concepts and flavorings from Egyptian mythos, what they’ve created are only very loose semblances, and they’re up front about that. Therefore I won’t pan the book as I would if they’d tried to convince me that the material was ancient, but I will have a few caveats.

Not that I dislike the book; for what it is and was intended to be, it turned out great! It’s a rather Aquarian pathworking system using Egyptian and sort-of shamanic elements. The pathworkings are arranged in groups. Two of them are–again, very loosely–based on the major arcana of the tarot, though the connections to the original cards might not immediately be evident. Then there are a number dedicated to the elements, as embodied through Egyptian phenomena (such as the Nile for Water). The authors then bring everything that the pathworker has done up to this point into a cohesive path toward “love” and “healing” (however you wish to interpret those particular concepts).

Kemetic pagans and others may disagree with the fairly light interpretation of the deities and other Egyptian beings; they’re shown as being a bit more nice and cooperative with the developing human spiritual being than ancient mythos describes (but again, this isn’t supposed to be grounded in the older mythos). I’m not sure I entirely agree with this being described as a “shamanic” text; guided meditations aren’t journeys, and while there is a death-rebirth theme to more than one of the pathworkings, that doesn’t make something automatically shamanic.

However, it’s still a quite useful text. The pathworkings, despite my qualms with the trappings, do build on each other, and do challenge the pathworker to delve deep within and wrestle with things that may not be easy to face. Certainly this books offers a good bit to think about and meditate on.

I didn’t like it quite so much as Scully’s Power Animal Meditations, but this is another decent collection of pathworkings along a specific theme. If that’s your style of working, this may be just what you’re after.

Four pawprints out of five.

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Beyond 2012 by James Endredy

Beyond 2012: A Shaman’s Call to Personal Change and the Transformation of Global Consciousness
James Endredy
Llewellyn, 2008
220 pages

Leave it to James Endredy to write a book on 2012 that actually makes sense. I’ve liked what I’ve read of his work, particularly Ecoshamanism (which is one of my absolute favorite books on shamanism). It took me over a year after I first learned about the book to get it and read it, but I’m glad I did–it came at a good time.

Most of the books on 2012 are gloom-and-doom–the world is coming to an end in 2012 because the Mayan calendar says so, and all the bad things in the world are just more reasons to sit and mope and/or pontificate about this. And yet….and yet….this always struck me as really nowhere near constructive–especially since the end of the world had been predicted numerous time and had never happened. Beyond 2012 completely reframes the 2012 situation. Not only is the world not ending (except, maybe, as we know it) but 2012 is a good marker for a shift in consciousness and the way we make our decisions regarding the very real world we face right this moment, rather than some apocalyptic fantasy near-future. Endredy takes the root information on the 2012 phenomenon and manages to make a great deal of sense about it.

While Endredy’s shamanism does play a significant role in the material in this book, it is not strictly a book on shamanism. The techniques that he includes are more open than that, and are practices for those who wish to put forth conscious effort in making a better world in the face of environmental, social, and other destruction. Building altars, for example, is a fairly common technique in modern spiritual practices, and many of the techniques he provides for self-reflection aren’t so different from many of the concepts I’ve been learning about in my graduate-level psychological training.

What Endredy does provide is a keen awareness of the interconnectivity that humanity has with all of the rest of Nature, and a thoroughly developed, deeply-felt series of relationships with natural phenomena. A large portion of the book is written to reflect dialogues he’s had with the various phenomena of Nature, some of his most important teachers. What has always struck me about his work, both through his writing and in the occasion I was able to participate in a rite of passage he facilitated, is how sincere it is–he’s about the least pretentious person I’ve ever run into, and this includes within his shamanic practice. The material in Beyond 2012 reflects a primary focus on rebuilding that connectivity and awareness on a greater scale, and offering people a variety of tools to choose from. I know I’ll be keeping this text in part for work with my therapeutic clients, because there’s a lot of versatility here.

And in fact, this book has a lot of potential readers. In addition to shamanic practitioners and pagan folk in general utilizing this in spiritual and other manners, environmental activists and mental health professionals both can take the ideas into the wider social sphere. Additionally, I would love to give a copy of this to every person who’s convinced that the world’s going to hell in a handbasket come 2012, to show them that there are much more constructive ways to look at this potentially transitional period. I never thought I’d give this rating to a book on this subject, but here goes:

Five optimistic pawprints out of five.

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