Shamanic Egg Cleansings – Kalyn Raphael

Shamanic Egg Cleansings: A Traditional Healing Technique of Mesoamerican Shamans
Kalyn Raphael
Lightwurks, LLC Publishing, 2003
131 pages

I forget exactly where I first heard about this little small press book, but it was one of those things that made me intensely curious, so I picked up a copy. While there are plenty of general books on shamanic practice, it’s good to see more specialized topics being covered as well, and this is the only book I know of that covers this particular form of healing from a practical perspective in detail.

As the title suggests, the book is dedicated solely to how to perform an egg cleansing ceremony for the purposes of healing a client, as well as various considerations to keep in mind for preparation, execution, and aftercare. The author describes a few different ways to do the ritual, including her preferred method as well as that of her mentor. She also talks about the trappings of the ritual and whether they’re necessary or not, how to cleanse the client on different levels of the self, and what to do if a client begins to react badly, especially at a first cleansing. Additionally, there’s information on how to do divination using the eggs post-cleanse.

I have to give this book big props for addressing and poking holes in the idea that illnesses are all the fault of the people who have them, or that they’re all some karmic debt being repaid. While the author does say that these things are possible, she also says that it’s not the healer’s role to make that judgement, and that the judgement can adversely affect the cleansing.

I do wish the author had gone into more detail on some aspects; there were several questions left unanswered (unless I happened to miss them while reading). For one thing, does the egg need to be fresh? Might a rotten one attract similar energy? Can the egg be disposed of in a compost bin so that the natural processes of decay may dissipate the impurities? There were also several places where I felt the author could have gone into more detail on the process; while the body map portion, for example, was covered in great detail, there were other sections that only warranted a paragraph or two. More anecdotes would have been helpful, even if the clients were kept completely anonymous.

Additionally, the subtitle is misleading. I would have preferred if the author had differentiated between what aspects of the book were traditional to specific tribes’ practices, and which were New Age. Some are obviously New Age imports, such as archangels, chakras and auras. However, it would have been nice to know which parts came from indigenous sources, and which were later additions by her or other practitioners. It’s not that the system isn’t effective, but I tend to support being more clear about cultural origins, especially when the system is claimed to be “traditional Mesoamerican”. There was no bibliography or other source material, or even recommended reading for such things as the chakras.

Because of my qualms I considered giving this book a lower rating. However, as a workable text I enjoyed it quite a bit, and I really was glad to see something new (to the publishing world, anyway) being written about. Granted, it’s been around since 2003, but I’ve not seen anything like it. So I’ll simply suggest that if the author does a later edition that she A) expand the material in more detail, and B) be more clear about what’s traditional and what isn’t.

Four pawprints out of five.

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Journey to Enlightenment – Ross Bishop

Journey to Enlightenment
Ross Bishop
Blue Lotus Press, 2008
248 pages

I’ll admit that when it comes to anything that’s more New Age than Neopagan, I’m a tough crowd. Ross Bishop, happily, has presented a book that got through my cynicism and gave a wonderfully balanced approach to healing internal wounds. I am quite pleased to have had the opportunity to read this book.

A good bit of Journey to Enlightenment centers on healing the traumas (no matter how seemingly small or supposedly unimportant) from childhood. It’s not just a matter of blatant abuse, but of simply not being understood, or having to deal with the bad conditioning your parents may have had that may have affected how they raised you, even if they never meant to hurt you and loved you dearly. However, Bishop also touches on a number of other issues that people may have unhealthy relationships with, such as finances and social skills.

The thing that makes this book valuable is that Bishop gently guides the reader into facing hir traumas head-on, without guilt or shame, and without too much pressure. He offers a set of thirteen principles that build upon each other as the book progresses, which form the core of a system for going into the self, confronting the issues and getting in touch with the inner child, and bring about healing for all aspects of the self, past and present. Guided meditation is used as a tool to further this process, though a lot of the book is brain food, things to get the reader really thinking about the issues, rather than a book full of rote, stock meditations and exercises. It’s a nice balance of things to think about and things to do.

If you’re expecting traditional shamanism a la Siberia and the Amazon, you won’t find it here. However, Bishop manages to bring elements of shamanic practice into 21st century postindustrial terms in a way that channels much-needed lessons and healing to an audience that can benefit from it. He never claims to be descended from eighteen Native American shamans, or attempts to frame his experiences in anything pretentious; he is down to earth, and strikes a good balance between (neo)shamanism, and healing psychology.

The writing style is pleasant; Bishop is a good writer, and conveys his concepts with thoughtfulness and depth. He has good research, too, and is well-grounded, something that more of the New Age should pay heed to. He proves that one can have a solid footing and still explore spirituality without floating off into the ethers. Other than a few typos, it’s a really good read structure-wise, and the layout far exceeds that even of some larger presses.

Five pawprints out of five.

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The Teachings of Don Juan – Carlos Castaneda – January BBBR

The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge
Carlos Castaneda
University of California Press, 1998
215 pages

While I’ve read de Mille’s Castaneda’s Journey, I’m not going to attempt to prove whether don Juan Matus actually existed, or whether he was a creation of Carlos Castaneda himself. Instead, I’m going to focus on the quality of this, his first book.

First, I really have to question whether this really is a “Yaqui way of knowledge”. There’s no connection between the Yaqui culture and what don Juan talks about. According to, among other places, the official Pascua Yaqui website, there’s no mention of any of the hallucinogenic plants that Castaneda speaks of, though perhaps more importantly Castaneda never brings up things that are culturally important to the Yaqui, such as the deer dancer or flowers, nor their language. While shamanism isn’t always the same as the main religion of a culture, there are still cultural elements in it. This in and of itself makes me suspicious as to the cultural validity of the material, never mind the functional validity.

Functionally this book is a disaster. I’ve been told you have to “read between the lines” to really get what don Juan was saying. However, all I read is a lot of obfuscation of lore and mysticism. We’re given a few tips and tricks for how to deal with the spirits of some hallucinogenic plants, with no reasons as to why these practices are important. Occasionally there’s something basic and functional, such as the lesson of “finding one’s place”, but this should not be used as a practical text. Castaneda’s analysis is so-so; again, lack of connection between don Juan’s teachings and the actual Yaqui culture is a major flaw.

I would have respected this book a lot more if it had been presented from the beginning as either a novel, or a book “based on a true” story without claiming to be an anthropological breakthrough. As for the claim that it’s a huge breakthrough in popular entheogen lore–popular doesn’t always mean accurate or good quality. There were numerous researchers of various hallucinogens prior to Castaneda; for example, in the 1950s R. Gordon Wasson along with Valentina Povlovna, his wife, went through a series of experiments in Mexico with psilocybin mushrooms. Wasson later cowrote this article in Life magazine about his experiences. Real names were used, people who were traceable were cited, and photos of the rituals were taken–much more respectable than Castaneda’s attempts at mystifying the reader.

I’m pretty underwhelmed. The only saving grace was that it was an entertaining read, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Castaneda was describing trips he’s actually been on. Reportedly the later books have less entheogen use and more teachings, so I may check them out at a later date. Still, I recommend this only as a way to familiarize yourself with Castaneda’s work and for entertainment only–in other words, don’t try this at home, kids!

One and a half pawprints out of five.

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Mystical Dogs – Jean Houston – December BBBR

Mystical Dogs: Animals as Guides to Our Inner Life
Jean Houston
Inner Ocean: 2002
208 pages

Well, it’s December again, and just about a year since the very first Bargain Bin Book Review. This month I decided to go a little easier on myself since I just plowed through Eliade’s Shamanism. This was a good choice, a pleasant book of mysticism and spirituality coupled with a variety of stories about dogs the author has shared her life with.

Houston has the usual Western/New Age view of enlightenment–not as a result of years of rigorous meditation, but as a series of realizations during everyday life. I’m not sure I really agree that what the New Age terms “enlightenment” is the same as the Eastern concept, but I do agree with her that dogs can indeed be excellent teachers through example. And in fact her stories are the highlight of this book. I read with joy each tale and anecdote surrounding an array of Airedales, a couple of mastiffs, an Akita and a German shepherd dog, among others. There were occasional moments of sadness in the stories, but for the most part this was an uplifting book.

After each story, the author elaborates on the mystical significance and lessons learned with each dog. Maybe it’s just me, but I didn’t find these sections to be quite so interesting as the stories. She tends to ramble some, and I found myself losing interest a number of times. However, it’s also entirely possible that I simply don’t mesh well with her ideas or her writing style; she’s a lot more concise when she’s telling a story.

Still, I do recommend this book as a heartwarming bit of light writing that may very well bring you to your own sense of peace. Whether you own a dog or simply the company of your friends’ furry companions, this book is a nice way of looking at the more positive aspects of dog ownership (as opposed to filling in holes in the yard, hiding claw marks on the door, and rescuing small creatures from overexuberant attempts to play).

Four pawprints (how appropriate) out of five.

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Castaneda’s Journey – Richard de Mille

Castaneda’s Journey: The Power and the Allegory
Richard de Mille
Capra Press, 1977, et. al.
205 pages

I wanted to get some background on Carlos Castaneda before diving into his books. This may seem a bit like putting the cart before the horse; however, I’ve been exposed to a lot of commentary on him, both positive and negative, so the chances of my having an unbiased look were already shot. I had heard good things about this book as a balanced approach to Castaneda and his works, so I gave it a try.

The author did a fantastic job of rooting out sources, even going to UCLA and talking to the professors who were involved in Castaneda’s doctoral program and defense of his thesis. De Mille also went to the trouble of hunting down one of the few available copies of the thesis itself, which normally isn’t open to the public. However, upon looking at the copy that UCLA had in its library, the author discovered that, other than a few minor changes, it was the entirety of Castaneda’s third book, Journey to Ixtlan. Additionally, he shows where sources that Castaneda almost certainly had access to had material that “mysteriously” showed up later as events in his books.

While de Mille pretty much tears a huge hole in the theory that Castaneda literally went out and met don Juan Matus and learned Yaqui ways (by the way, the amount of actual Yaqui material in his works is just above zilch), he did paint the would-be shaman as a clever trickster and rogue, and not entirely terrible. So while Castaneda’s veracity as an anthropologist is quite damaged, his skill as a literary writer of allegory is quite well-honed. The blame of people believing his works literally is partly placed on his ability to tell a good yarn.

My only complaint with this book is that it’s occasionally hard to follow the author’s train of thought. He bounces back and forth between light academic writing, straight forward, and an odd narrative that leaps around like a coyote on stimulants. I found myself skipping a few chunks of the work because I simply couldn’t figure out what the author was trying to say.

Still, I think this is essential reading for anyone with any interest in modern shamanic texts. An entire selection of books that model themselves after Castaneda’s “allegorical spirit teacher” have cropped up, and are often (unfortunately) presented as literally true. This text gives interesting insight into the granddaddy of them all, and a new perspective on how to read Castaneda’s works, as well as derivatives thereof.

Four pawprints out of five.

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Spirit Stones – Growling Bear

Spirit Stones
Growling Bear
Journey Editions, 1997
128 pages

Note: This book apparently initially came with a set of stones with animals on them, but I just had the book. The stones look easy to make, though.

“Spirit Stones” is one of a number of modern divination systems that are supposedly based on older traditions. It caters to those of the animal totem variety, featuring stereotypically “Native American totem” animals like Wolf, Bear, Snake and Frog, as well as other mostly Big, Impressive North American Birds and Mammals and other Traditional Native Animals. The book is meant as a guide for using stones with thes eanimals painted (or printed) on them.

I really have mixed feelings on this book. On the one hand, the author does cite some tribe-specific examples of relationships between humans and animals. However, he doesn’t cite his sources, giving only a list of recommended reading, most of which seems to be on Native American cultures in general. And he throws around a lot of talk about “Native American spirituality” without making tribal distinction, and falling into the “noble savage” stereotype that all Indians are close to the Earth spiritually and ignoring the very real problems facing them today. He does bring in some historical information about various tribes, to include not glossing over the fact that the U.S. government basically screwed them over.

Functionally, it’s an interesting system, all cultural appropriation issues aside. The author includes a few sample readings that really flesh out the concepts he talks about, and he does include a decent amount of information on his interpretation of each animal. It’s something I’d recommend to a beginner looking for a simple, easy animal-based divination system.

Overall, it’s getting two and a half pawprints. I like the idea and the inclusion of research on Native cultures, but there’s just enough plastic shamanism to make me cringe every couple of pages.

Two and a half pawprints out of five.

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Return of the Bird Tribes – Ken Carey – March BBBR

Return of the Bird Tribes
Ken Carey
HarperSanFrancisco, 1988
252 pages

I bet you thought I forgot about this month’s Bargain Bin Book Review! Nope. I’ve just been pretty busy, but technically it *is* still March, and I do reserve the right to post the BBBR any time in the month. That being said, I will try to be a little earlier about it. But without further ado, here’s this month’s BBBR.

I was thrilled when I found this book on the bargain rack, since it was one that I’d been wanting to read for quite some time. I’d heard it was partly totemic, partly Otherkin-related, and so my curiosity was piqued.

Unfortunately, I was disappointed by the result. This is one of the reasons I’m not a huge fan of the New Age. The author claims to have channelled the entire work through communication with a “higher being” that watches over humanity, and is in fact one of a number of these higher beings. As is common among New Age channelling, the message is uber-positive, “love” and “peace” are thrown around like confetti, and the general message is “This generation is ever so special–time for you to realize your potential!”

Nowe, I have nothing against love, peace, and achieving one’s full potential as an individual and as part of a society. Gods know we need more of that. The problem is that this particular conveyance of that message is wrapped up in a bunch of cultural appropriation and seriously revisionist history. We have a Caucasian, New Age author supposedly channelling information about Native American cultures, everything from White Buffalo Calf Woman to Hiawatha and the Iroquois League (the entity he’s channelling supposedly was one of the main players at the forming of that treaty). It’s pretty much a cliche, and it’s a classic example of cultural appropriation. And, also in the style of the New Age, the channelling includes the idea that, prior to a point 2,500 years ago (conveniently at a time and place where we have no written history) the Native Americans were all peaceful and living in a virtual utopia–I’m surprised he didn’t try to claim they were all vegan. And all of human history has apparently been manipulated by these higher powers–apparently humans themselves can’t understand reality beyond a certain point; we have to have a higher spirit to help us.

Now, I have no issue with Unverified Personal Gnosis. However, it’s important to view any UPG, no matter how inspired, with constructive criticism. The fact that most of the material matches with New Age revisionist history rather than commonly accepted history should be cause, at the very least, for skeptical comparison. The entire work, though, is presented as genuine, without any critique or questioning whatsoever. No, it’s not romantic to analyze one’s meditations and question them. But it’s also not healthy to romanticize Native Americans as the “Noble Savages” while thousands are barely scraping by on reservations across the country.

This book would have been better off if the author had taken the results of his channelling efforts and distilled them into a direct critique of modern society, adding a grain of salt for good measure. He could have discussed the virtues of literal vs. metaphorical understanding of what he received. There are some good points in here, including the idea that a person can evolve beyond the basics of everyday life, and that the way we’re doing things now is a Bad Idea. However, they’re so wrapped up in apocalyptic fantasy, cultural appropriation and the basic assertion that we’re essentially being directed by higher powers (instead of by our own wills) that the lessons in here are all but lost in a sea of drek.

One and a half pawprints out of five.

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Animal Totem Astrology – Debbie Burns

Animal Totem Astrology
Debbie Burns
Lansdowne, 2001
~78 pages

The concept for this book was really neat; the execution, on the other hand, fell far short of full potential. This was an attempt at a totemic zodiac, a combination of neopagan totemic qualities and traditional Western astrology, mixed in (supposedly) with some indigenous beliefs about the animals associated with certian birth months (though the source material pretty much confirms a basis in plastic shamanism.

The author explains the animals associated with each month (conveniently, they correspond to the twelve Western zodiac signs). She also brings in seasonal and time-of-day correspondences to try to show the qualities of people according to when they were born, all based on totemic qualities mixed with common astrological information.

Unfortunately, what could have been a really neat idea fell flat. I would love to see someone work with totem animals in association with Western astrology to create a new system–but I’d like to see it done in more depth. I highly doubt that what was described here is traditional to any tribe,a dn i think the author would have been much better off starting from scratch, studying both astrology and modern totemism, and then creating her own system based on these two areas of spirituality. Instead, she draws from some of the worst offenders of plastic shamanism, including Sun Bear and Jamie Sams, and perpetuates a whole bunch of drek. Her bibliography is barely over a dozen books, and almost all of them are New Age treatments of indigenous topics. She presents the whole thing as genuine “Native American” spirituality, in the grand tradition of her predecessors, and the whole thing ends up a train wreck.

I’m giving it an extra half of a pawprint, just because I like the concept (as long as it’s presented as a new system). But other than that, meh.

One and a half pawprints.
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Earth Angels – Doreen Virtue

Earth Angels: A Pocket Guide for Incarnated Angels, Elementals, Starpeople, Walk-Ins, and Wizards
Doreen Virtue
Hay House, 2002
176 pages

I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I picked this book up. I’d heard it was something kind of like Otherkin, but not using that term. I was a little leery when I saw that the author was a very popular, angels-are-all-sweetness-and-light New Age icon, but decided to give it a try anyway.

Talk about Otherkin Lite.

“Earth Angels” are basically people who are reincarnated “elementals” (read: therianthropes, elves and fae Otherkin), angels (read: angelkin), starpeople (read: aliens), Wise Ones (read: people who worked magic in a past life) and walk-ins. Okay, that’s not so very different from what a lot of Otherkin believe.

However, it’s how she explains the phenomenon of people who were not human in other lives that ruins the book for me. First off, the way you determine what type of “Earth Angel” you are is basically a 30-question “Are you like this? How about this?” quiz that would fit in perfectly on Quizilla–samples of questions are whether you’re overweight, if you dye your hair, if you’re of Celtic ancestry, whether you’re good at handling money or not, if you practice Reiki, or believe in magic. Supposedly these things tell you what type of Earth Angel you are (never mind that pretty much everything she asks about are things that are common among garden-variety humans, too).

Then, her information about each group is not only based on stereotyped behavior and belief patterns that are common among everyday humans as well as ‘kin, but it’s really, really, really white-light and saccharine. For example, she says that all incarnated elementals are major environmentalists, always happy (but prone to mood swings), and “physically robust”. And as far as the whole Wise Ones thing goes, a lot of it plays right into the Atlantean thing–the whole “Oh, magic isn’t for regular people–anyone who works magic must be at a higher vibrational level than everyone else!” thing as well as the Burning Times persecution complex. All walk-ins, on the other hand, supposedly walked in because they have some mission to fulfill.

And speaking of missions, according to this book, all Earth Angels are here for the purpose of Saving the World!

I don’t doubt that the author ran into a lot of people who, were they in the Otherkin community, would be considered Otherkin. However, this book shows a distinct lack of skepticism and self-questioning, things that are common in the Otherkin community. Instead, it tells readers exactly what they want to hear–“You love nature, so you must be an Incarnated Elemental!” or “You love helping people and often find yourself in codependent relationships–you must be an Incarnated Angel!” While the end of each chapter on specific types of Earth Angels does have some tips on how to counteract the negative aspects of being whatever you are, it’s assumed that by answering the spiffy little quiz at the beginning that you are an Earth Angel–there’s nothing on questioning yourself further, only how to fulfill your God-given mission!

If you think being other than human is a great way to feel special, feel free to pick this up. Otherwise, save your money.

One pawprint out of five.

Medicine Cards – Sams and Carson

Medicine Cards: The Discovery of Power Through the Ways of Animals
Jamie Sams and David Carson
St. Martin’s Press, 1999
240 pages plus cards

Note: This review primarily covers the book itself, since the book is necessary for deciphering the meaning of the cards as the authors created them.

Now I know why people warned me about this book.

This is one of the worst cases of cultural appropriation I’ve seen yet. From the overuse of “Medicine” and “Great Spirit” to the assertion that this is genuine Native American spirituality, the whole book is one big hyperromanticization of the “Noble Savage”. This is the idea that all Native Americans were and are still completely entwined with nature in everything they do, and everything is mystical and amazing and there’s of course NO problem whatsoever and everything is hunky-dorey (just ignore the problems on the reservations and in the U.S. legislature, folks!)

One of my biggest problems is that the authors keep referring to “Native American” this and that. However, they’re not specific about what tribe they’re talking about. On page 221, where the bios are, the authors have between them (or so they say) Cheyenne, Crow, Sioux, Seneca, Mayan, Aztec and Choctaw learning and/or influence. Well, that’s a pretty wide variety of individual cultures there, not to mention the subdivisions within each of those tribes! I don’t believe I saw one single instance in the entire book where they referred to a specific tribe. There is no such thing as “Native American” anything–each tribe is a separate culture, not one big homogenized mass.

Of course, not only is the book lacking in-text citations, there’s not even a bibliography. How are we supposed to know where they’re getting their information? Just saying that “I learned it from so-and-so” isn’t good enough.

Additionally, there’s no indication that any of the tribes whose beliefs the authors are supposedly writing about are actually benefitting from the book and deck. Plastic shamanism as its best.

Feel free to read on for some specific examples….

“Every person has nine power or totem animals” (18)

Of course, they don’t say where they got this piece of rather generalized information.

Page 23 has a bunch of questionable mythology about how Native women are all incredibly intuitive and only men have egos.

p. 27 has a *Druidic* card layout (or so they say). What is this doing in a book that’s supposedly on “Native American totemism”?

“Thoth, the Atlantian who later returned as Hermes” (61)

I think that speaks for itself.

“Long ago, in tribal law…” (69)

Which tribe?

“This operation [of always paying for magical servies] is known as the law of the Lynx people, and is practiced by Native American. Gypsy, Sufi, and Egyptian cultures, among others. (109-110)

I’d say where they’re getting their information, but it wouldn’t be polite.

“All of our petroglyphs speak of the Motherland, Mu, and the disaster that brought the red race to North America…” (201)

Again, going to let this speak for itself.

I think you get the picture.

I do have to say that within the individual entries on different animals there are some motes of really good information. However, they’re buried in so much questionable material that I had to stop myself from throwing this book across the room a number of times. If you can swallow pseudo-Native garbage, go for it. Otherwise, avoid.

One plastic-coated pawprint out of five.

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