The Element Stones by Clayton Griffin

The Element Stones
by Clayton Griffin
Book + handmade wooden divination set

Reviewed by innowen

Introduction
The Element Stones by Clayton Griffin are a 13-piece divination system loosely based off the elements. Each piece is hand made from wood, and it’s hard to tell but the symbols are either drawn or burned into the wood. You then use the set like runes: by drawing pieces from the velvet case the set comes with and answering questions. The last component of this set is a large 8.5 by 11” slim handbook that gives a keyword listing of what each stone means. The booklet also gives you three quick ways to use the cards and instructions for meditation.

When I review divination tools I tend to ask the device in question a few questions to understand what strengths, weaknesses, and things that it can teach its users:

1. What can you teach users?
For this question, I received the Forest Stone. The image has 3-trees, in a triangular shape on the front of the piece. According to the book, the Forest Stone represents “magical path,” “rejuvenation,” and “returning home.” Based off these meanings, I wager that interested pagans can incorporate the stones into their magical practice and gain a sense of coming home to pagan ways and divinations.

2. What are your strengths?
I pulled the Storm Stone for this question. Among the list of keywords the booklet gives, this stone means to “destroying old patterns” and “creation and destruction.” I’m interpreting this to mean that The Element Stones can help see you through the storms in your life by giving you ways to undo old patterns and seeing new ways to bring magic into your life.

3. What are your weaknesses?
For this question, I pulled the Fire Stone. According to the booklet, this stone refers to “creativity,” “fertility,” and “strength.” As this stone is in the weakness position, I think that The Element Stones are not the best that they can be. There is a lot of ambiguity around the meanings of the stones and how a reader should best use them. There is also no real connection between how the symbols came into being to best represent each element.

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t very impressed with the booklet. It’s not well written and quickly glosses over the meanings of the stones and their uses. There’s very little information about where these symbols come from and who Clayton Griffin is.

Bottom Line
The Element Stones have potential. However, as written, the booklet that comes with the set does not accurately introduce or guide the user into bringing the strengths of the stones out. However, if you are interested in a modern divination set that is based around 13 elements, then you might want to give this set a try.

Two pawprints out of five.

The Tarot of Vampyres by Ian Daniels

The Tarot of Vampyres
Ian Daniels
Llewellyn Publications, 2010
312 Pages, 78 Cards

Reviewed by Jasmine Simone

The Tarot of Vampyres, by Ian Daniels, has a lofty goal of helping the user to face their fears
and integrate their shadow self into one balanced whole. It misses the mark in a few places, but
the deck has beautiful art and a surprising depth — even the backs of the cards have meaning.

While tarot decks read differently for different people, I’ve found it to be fairly straightforward,
but time and contemplation reveal a lot of nuance in its responses. The cardstock is typical of
Llewellyn’s releases these past few years. It’s got a rather flimsy feel, but the cards have been
standing up to a lot of use and have a nice, smooth texture and shuffle. As is sadly the norm
lately, there is no bag included with the kit, and the oversized plain white box they expect you to
use falls apart after one or two openings.

The book that accompanies the deck is mostly dedicated to the descriptions and meanings of
the cards. Unlike many companion guides, the book includes no images of the cards, but it does
go into much greater detail on the Minor Arcana than what is usually found in these books. If it’s
a choice between the small black and white pictures normally given and the increased input on
the cards from the artist, I believe the right choice was made.

It sheds a lot of insight into the symbolism chosen, and since this is in no way a clone of the
Waite Colman Smith deck, the look into the artist’s intentions should be helpful for those more
used to “standard” imagery.

Daniels presents the cards as part of a system, and I found the various bits of kabbalah,
alchemy, elements, and Western astrology to be distracting, confusing, and unnecessary. They
aren’t necessary for successful tarot reading, and the information given isn’t enough to equip
a beginner to really use these methods. On the other hand, I thought that creating a “Vampyre
Name” was rather silly, but it was actually kind of fun, and the construction of a vampyre
persona may help lend a helpful distance in facing one’s fears.

The book also features many great exercises to work with the cards, and several interesting
spreads. This is a gorgeous deck that had a lot of thought put into it, although that wasn’t
immediately obvious to me. If you view this deck as being pretty, but shallow, as I did, flip
through the book and give the deck another chance.

Four 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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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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Temple Making by Freddy Silva

Temple Making: The Complete Guide for Transforming Your Home Into a Place of Co-Creation
Freddy Silva (director)
Awaken Productions, 2008
2 DVDs

Sacred space is something that many Pagans are familiar with. However, the New Age community—the target audience for this DVD—includes a more general group of people who may never have thought to honor Spirit in their own homes, especially if raised in a strictly church-based setting. This set of DVDs is geared towards reminding people of the importance of sacred space, as well as a guide to finding the sacred close to home.

Much of the material deals with historical sacred spaces, from temples to groves. Silva touches on numerous auxiliary topics, such as sacred geometry, ley lines, and qualities of energy. He also offers a variety of ideas for applying these to personal space, such as proper use and placement of crystals, stones and other sacred objects according to supposedly ancient secrets.

Unfortunately, a lot of the material is highly unsound. Silva makes some broad and incorrect historical assumptions about ancient cultures, including some gross generalizations about such folks as the Egyptians and the Celts. A good example is his overreliance on supposed uses of geometry such building as European cathedrals—the juxtapositions of geometric shapes over the floor plans for these places was a stretch at most.

And the DVDs are rife with watered-down New Age tripe such as the Law of Attraction and the Seven Laws of Manifestation—a bunch of feel-good, lightweight drek that promises everything will be okay and wonderful, just so long as your thoughts are pure. It’s essentially magic for people who don’t want to deal with the risk.

Overall, while this is a nicely produced DVD set, I can’t in good conscience recommend it for its many flaws.

One pawprint out of five.

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