Voice of the Mother Goddess by Patricia Della-Piana

Voice of the Mother Goddess
Patricia Della-Piana
Self-published, 2010
401 pages

Reviewed by Ser/Ket

I received a copy of this book from the Goodreads Giveaway, which was pretty amazing given that I also won the contest for the previous volume, The Goddess Book of Psalms! As such, I was excited to receive and read this book, and wasn’t let down.

I read this book a bit faster than the previous; instead of reading one or two a night, it felt natural to read a handful of psalms as they flowed together like poetry. Since I became familiar with her work after reading Psalms, I could sense a definite change from her natural writing voice to the style used in Voice of the Mother, and I believe her genuine when she states she was channeling.

These are all psalms full of beauty and positive energy – I can envision coming to this book after a bad day, full of frustration, and letting the love in these words push the anger away.

The variety of psalms is greater even than that of The Goddess Book of Psalms. There is a wide range of formats used, some psalms use aretalogies, some focus heavily on repetition or sensory details, and others are reassuring reminders.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and would recommend it and it’s companion to anyone seeking meditative psalms and mantras to try out in their practices.

Four pawprints out of five.

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The Goddess Book of Psalms by Patricia Della-Piana

The Goddess Book of Psalms
Patricia Della-­Piana
Lulu.com, 2008
190 pages

Reviewed by Ser/Ket

I received a copy of this book from the Goodreads Giveaway. Thank you!

I was thrilled to be the winner of this giveaway, and have the opportunity to read some of Patricia Della-Piana’s work. It has taken me a while to review this book only because I didn’t want to rush through the psalms; instead, I would read one or two a night as I felt the urge to.

Della-Piana’s psalms are numerous and beautiful, obviously written straight from her heart. So many of these I can envision becoming important parts of a practitioner’s daily prayers, and the name of a particular deity switched with “Goddess”.

I enjoy the variety of psalms included – some psalms follow a format, a general rhythm. Then in the midst of these will be a format-breaking, attention-grabbing piece that suggest an alternative format of meditation. In particular, I can see using the psalms with embedded questions for meditative writing practices, and the psalms with “I Am” statements to summon forth my own reflective aretalogies.

Overall, I enjoyed this book and recommend it to anyone looking to add some beautiful words and imagery to their spiritual practice!

Four pawprints out of five.

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The Ruin of Beltany Ring by C.S. MacCath

The Ruin of Beltany Ring: A Collection of Pagan Poems and Tales
C. S. MacCath
CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, March 2013
86 pages

Reviewed by Ser

The Ruin of Beltany Ring starts off with a beautiful, heartfelt forward by one of my favorite pagan authors, Deborah Blake. I am pleased to agree with her praise and thoroughly enjoyed the read.

Switching between poems and short stories, the author twists you up in one storyline before whisking you off to the next world, not giving you a chance to collect your scattered emotions. That is, if you read it all at once as I did my first read-through, unable to put it down. The stories are so unexpected, so honest and heartfelt yet unyielding. They could be told by anyone, they’re not exclusively pagan, except the threads of magic that run through each one.

I was most struck by the short story, “Ink of the Dead”. There is so much life in those words, and while the storyline itself isn’t pagan-centric, take those elements out and it’s just not the same.

There were a few formatting issues and misalignments, perhaps only in the .pdf version, but nothing that detracts from the spirit of this book. Highly recommended to read, more than once.

Five 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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Echoes of Alexandria by H. Jeremiah Lewis

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

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

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

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

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

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

Five pawprints out of five.

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Watercolour Essences of Moon by Christala Rosina

Watercolour Essences of Moon
Christala Rosina
PublishAmerica, 2006
114 pages

I seem to have tapped, unwittingly, into a vein of pagan and pagan-friendly poets as of late. While Watercolour Essences of Moon isn’t expressly pagan, the themes most certainly are relevant to those pagans for whom Nature is an important factor in spirituality.

Rosina’s work is inspired strongly by the Romantic poets such as Shelley, Coleridge, Blake and others; while I haven’t read them extensively since getting my BA in English years ago, I could definitely sense their influence in this collection of poems. Most of the poems at least allude to, if not center on, natural phenomena ranging from broad-branched trees to splashing, running water. However, it is human nature in specific that Rosina captures quite expertly with her carefully chosen words. While the common themes of love and loneliness are addressed, some of the poems are more playful–for example, “The Lily and the Rose” is a smirking jab at those who claim that “rhyming verse is dead”.

It took me a few times to really get into reading these poems. The author has a background in music, and the quality of the verses is such that they seem to immediately lend themselves to being spoken aloud. At first I wanted to say that this would be the most effective way of conveying the writing, but the poems grew on me over time as reading material as well. Sadly, I live across an ocean from Rosina, so I can’t hear her recite the poems herself, but I hope I did an adequate job myself in the privacy of my own home!

Some of the poems might make for good additions into ritual practices; “Sonnet to the Night”, for example, is a lovely tribute to that particular time, personified as female (the Star Goddess, perhaps?). However, even if you’re just appreciative of poetry, this would be a lovely addition to your collection.

Five pawprints out of five.

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Dancing God by Diotima

Dancing God: Poetry of Myths and Magicks
Diotima
Bibliotheca Alexandrina, 2008
200 pages

Poetry usually isn’t my preferred reading material, but every so often I find a book of it that I truly enjoy. Dancing God is the second volume of poetry that’s caught my attention in such a way, the first being The Phillupic Hymns by P. Sufenas Virius Lupus. In this particular text, I was treated to a lovely variety of verses, some of which are strongly flavored by mythology–but all of which speak to the human condition.

Diotima’s verses are generally not long, but instead are bite-sized descriptions of her interaction with the world, Divine and mortal alike. There are four themes, each with its own section: Gods, Myths and Sagas; Love; Life; and Death. Diotima has done a lovely job of sorting her works into these categories, but the variety she displays demonstrates an understanding of multiple perspectives on each theme.

The poems in the Gods, Myths and Sagas section may be of particular interest to pagan readers. Her works encompass several mythologies, from Greek to Celtic to Japanese; primarily, though not exclusively, they are snippets of story or honor (or both!) offered to a particular deity. Some are rooted in the deities’ contemporary cultures, such as a rather macabre description of Dionysus’ darker aspects, a retelling of Fenris’ chaining, and a poem to Hekate as “lady of the hounds”. Others, such as Icarus’ musing on human’s common flight in airplanes, a poem comparing the original manifestation of angels to their modern “cute” depictions, and wondering “Do the old gods walk the streets of London?”, are more modern commentary. They all weave together well, and demonstrate that the gods are not, in fact, dead at all. These would all make lovely incorporations into private rituals and meditations.

All of the poems, however, are exquisitely crafted. Both the kind and the painful sides of love are evoked (I was particularly fond of “Communication”, with its recurring line “Damn you, pick up the phone!”). “Life” is a short section full of little slices thereof, commentary on the day to day (and yet how unusual it can be from this angle!). The theme of death is dealt with using everything from grief to black humor, a good catharsis for working through loss.

Having been assaulted with bad verse and worse attempts, Dancing God is a reminder that we still have muse-touched poets today, those who create beauty through carefully structured words. There’s magic in these pages, and Diotima is an accomplished magician when it comes to evoking the feelings she wishes to convey.

Five pawprints out of five.

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Make Merry in Step and Song – Bronwen Forbes

Make Merry in Step and Song: A Seasonal Treasury of Music, Mummer’s Plays and Celebrations in the English Folk Tradition
Bronwen Forbes
Llewellyn, 2009
264 pages

I’ve been in the pagan community for over a decade, and while I haven’t been a part of any formal group for any length of time, I have seen numerous examples of attempts at creative, unique group rituals. Some of these end up being rehashes of the usual Cunningham-mixed-with-something variety. If you’d like to avoid that fate, Make Merry in Step and Song is an excellent choice.

Not all Morris dancers are pagan, or even familiar with modern paganism. However, the traditional English dances are becoming more common at pagan events and rituals; incidentally, I was just at a festival this past weekend that featured one of Portland’s Morris dancing troupes. So this is a wonderfully timed text. Forbes does a lovely job of presenting well-researched information on historical Morris dancing and related practices, a tradition that her own family has been involved in for quite some time.

The book is divided up into the four seasons, along with some other miscellany that didn’t fit into any of those. I was surprised that there wasn’t an introductory chapter on the basics of Morris dancing/etc., its history and context, and so forth. Instead, the history is neatly woven into each of the sections as Forbes describes the relevant dance and celebration. This isn’t just a theoretical text, though. She goes into great detail describing the ritual format, the play scripts, the songs, and the dances themselves.

I’m sure most of my readers are familiar with the Spiral Dance, the back-and-forth-winding bane of the uncoordinated (individually and collectively). While the dances that Forbes describes do take some choreography and rehearsal is recommended, she does about as good a job of illustrating them on paper as one can hope to do, so no complaints there (though if you truly are clumsy, you may want to take the suggestion of using something other than blades for the sword dances). Also, because the rituals are largely dependent on dancing, one’s physical ability may prevent them from fully participating in that regard. However, the songs and other non-dancing portions of the rituals are well-fleshed-out, so adaptations may be made as necessary. And you will need a group to perform these rituals, not surprisingly; this is not a working text for the solitary practitioner (unless you have some friends!).

I think my only complaint (and it’s a small one) is a wish for footnotes or endnotes. Forbes does offer a select bibliography, but no real indication as to which books provided which information in her own writing. This doesn’t adversely affect the functionality of the book, but it does make it frustrating if you want to do more research on Morris dancing and related topics and aren’t quite sure where the best starting point is. (She does offer an appendix with information on where to find further resources, however.)

Overall, though, I really, really loved this book. It’s nice to see a practical text that doesn’t fall back on tired formulae (there are no spells or correspondences awkwardly shoehorned in) and that shows good research as a general rule. And it’s even better to see a topic that isn’t commonly covered, rather than the usual rehashes. I would most definitely recommend this to any neopagan group that works with English folk practices, those who want to try new styles of participatory ritual, and folks who are curious about the application of old traditions to the 21st century.

Five pawprints out of five.

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More Facing North Reviews

Written in Wine edited by Sannion, et. al.

Written in Wine: A Devotional Anthology for Dionysos
Sannion, et. al. (eds) plus individual contributors
Bibliotheca Alexandrina, 2008
214 pages

Dionysos is one of those deities that I’m surprised I haven’t had more direct interaction with. I think, perhaps, it’s because I’m a modern-day teetotaler (with the rare exception of small amounts for ritual use), and like so many people I’ve primarily associated Dionysus with drinking and wine. However, this particular collection has given me a much deeper and broader perspective on who Dionysos was and is, and while I haven’t had any urge to devote myself to him, I’ll certainly be keeping an eye out for him in places where he’s likely to be found.

While the god certainly likes his wine, he is also a deity of passion and sexuality; of wilderness; of ecstatic and terrifying rites of passage; and of liberty. The wonderful variety of prose, poetry, and plays in this anthology attest to this multitude of roles. While it was all enjoyable–there wasn’t a boring or poorly-written piece in the collection–here are a few of my favorites:

The Mystery of Meilikhios and Bakkhios by Sannion: This, of all the “This is what Dionysos is about”, is one of my favorite guides to the nature of the god. It shows, concisely but thoroughly, the dual nature of Dionysos, and why there are sometimes seemingly conflicting stories about him. (Sannion’s The Paths to Dionysos is an excellent companion to this.)

Black Leopard by Rebecca Buchanan: I love modern fiction that integrates ancient deities, and this story is a particular gem. Leopards–sacred to Dionysos–feature prominently in this heartwarming, creative tale.

Dionysus Sees Her by Allyson Szabo: There are several pieces in the collection that touch on Dionysos’ wife, Ariadne, but this poem really touched me. It focuses on the moment the god found Ariadne abandoned by the sea, and illustrates how deeply he loves. Absolutely beautiful.

Lesser-Known Dionysian Festivals by John H. Wells: This one caught my eye simply because the author collects together details about a few dozen ancient festivals sacred to the god. It could be incredibly useful to those wanting to do regular devotionals to him, and it also shows the great variety in the ways that he was (and still is) honored.

There are so many more pieces I could highlight; as I said, they’re all good. The greatest strength of this book is its diversity, not only because different authors approach different aspects of Dionysos, but also because there is that wide variety of voices in several different written forms. This is an excellent text for anyone wanting to understand this particular deity on a deeper level; it’s also a good model for those wanting to do devotional work to a particular deity, but who aren’t sure how that creative work may manifest. It’s a fitting tribute to a god who is most often relegated only to the wine bottle, but who deserves much more attention, and is more present in this world, than that.

Five pawprints out of five.

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