Manifesting True Desires: Learning from Arianrhod and the Tree of Life by Alfred Willowhawk

Manifesting True Desires: Learning from Arianrhod and the Tree of Life
Alfred Willowhawk
Self-published, 2013
134 pages

Reviewed by Nicky

I was quite excited to read this very promising sounding book. The stated premise is learning from and working with Arianrhod’s myths and the Kabbalistic Tree of Life in order to make desired changes in your life. As a devotee to Arianrhod with an interest in the Tree of Life, it sounded right up my alley. However, the book left me disappointed when it did not match its premise.

The book starts on a reasonably positive note in the first section, which recounts Arianrhod’s myths and lists suggested ways of working with the Goddess. The author has an easy to follow informal tone and I appreciated that he emphasised real life working to manifest desires, not just passively sitting by expecting the magic to do all the work. He seemed to have a decent working understanding of Arianrhod’s myths and how they apply in real-life situations. Nothing in here is groundbreaking but there are some potentially effective meditations and it’s easy to understand. I had high hopes that the book would expand upon these principles.

The second section covers the Tree of Life. Unfortunately, this segment is where the book falls down significantly. The explanations of the Tree of Life are unclear and lacking in detail. My understanding is that that Tree of Life is complicated and that it takes a lot of study and practice to fully understand. For that reason, I was disappointed in the short, simple paragraphs discussing the general meaning of each part of it. For something so complex, I expected a more careful exploration. I often felt the author was repeating facts rather than exploring or explaining them.

Additionally, I found the author’s strict adherence to a masculine/feminine dichotomy and other gender binary stereotypes to be problematic and possibly alienating to one who does not identify with either named gender or as more than one. I saw no suggestion that a woman or man could embody other qualities than those traditionally seen as “feminine” or “masculine.” He actually actively discusses the duality of gender as a universal truth and emphasises the necessity of this duality in creation. I understand that this is a traditional Kabbalistic belief but I’ve seen many Kabbalists and magical workers expand these beliefs to include a less black and white practice or system. They treat these things as symbolic representations of deeper mysteries, whereas I felt this book presented them as literal fact.

The book ends with a list of suggested spells that draw from both segments. I presume this is the “manifesting desires” portion of the text, given that it was only talked about in theory in the previous chapters. This might have been fine in another book but not in one actually titled Manifesting Desires. I expected more instruction than a list of spells and some theoretical, albeit wise, advice about doing the physical work and being careful how you word a spell.

To reiterate, the biggest problem with this book is that it doesn’t meet its stated goal of teaching how to use the myths of Arianrhod and the Tree of Life to manifest one’s desires. Although the first segment showed promise, the writing doesn’t draw together the two strands; it reads like two books in one. I wanted a much more in depth discussion on manifesting desires with many examples, suggestions on how to improve your practice and maybe even some advice on getting out of situations you don’t desire. I wanted to see Arianrhod’s myths weaved into a larger portion of the text and more connection made between those myths and the use of the Tree of Life. I wanted more and I wanted it done more clearly, tightly and with a broader, less literal interpretation.

Overall, there is nothing new in this book that I haven’t seen explained better elsewhere. The idea was great; the execution let it down.

Two pawprints out of five.

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Lightbreaker by Mark Teppo

LightBreaker: The First Book of the Codex of Souls
Mark Teppo
Night Shade Books, 2008
342 pages

Most of the time I never get to meet in person the authors of books I review. So it was kinda cool when Mark Teppo, who recently published his first novel, came up to me at an event we were both at and handed me a copy of Lightbreaker. (Okay, scratch that–it was really cool.) It just so happened that said novel is of one of my absolute favorite genres–urban fantasy.

Markham, the main character, is intoduced to the reader as he is in hot pursuit–of a deer. A glowing deer. With a fugitive human soul in it. Headed straight for Seattle. No good can come of this, right? But it gets better–the soul can leap into human bodies, and only Markham’s magical senses and spirit guides can help him keep from losing his quarry in the metropolitan area. To complicate matters further, the soul won’t be going quietly, and before Markham can achieve his goal, here come the police, who are wholly ignorant of this whole metaphysical reality–or are they? There’s a lot going on, and that’s just in the first two chapters.

I’ll be honest and say that the next hundred or so pages were somewhat slow. But after that things picked up again, and I found it to be an excellent read. Teppo does a good job of worldbuilding, though I might have like a little more expository background writing to give some context to the political intrigue. However, I bet the next book will have more details to that end; as it was, there was enough to keep me immersed in the story in this one. And the ending was both satisfying, while also leaving plenty of room for returns to this world, which I eagerly await.

And guess what? No werewolves, or vampires (sparkly or otherwise)! Instead, Teppo’s story is based on Western occultism, particularly Qabalah and other forms of ceremonial magic. To be sure, there’s a lot of the fantasy element to it–souls shoving each other out of bodies with visible results, qlipothic spirits zapping rival mages–but the author knows his stuff as far as basic western magical theory goes. (Even if he does say that he’s concerned that some will say he didn’t research enough.) Plus–Portland’s in there! Yay!

Overall, I would most definitely recommend this author to my readers, and he’s going on my short list of Authors Whose New Books Get Preordered at Powell’s.

Five pawprints out of five.

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Between the Worlds – Stuart Myers – April BBBR

Between the Worlds: Witchcraft and the Tree of Life – A Program of Spiritual Development
Stuart Myers
Llewellyn, 1995
230 pages

I generally find mashups of Wicca/witchcraft and other magical systems to be somewhat clumsy affairs, usually because the relatively new interpretations of witchcraft sometimes seem to water down the much older systems that they’re paired with. I can understand the desire to draw together elements of multiple magical/spiritual paths, but all too often the results come across as contrived if they’re presented as anything more than the author’s own personal blend. (Plus it’s irritating to hear over and over again how everyone from Siberian shamans to Jesus of Nazareth was really practicing witchcraft.)

The author of Between the Worlds made a worthy attempt at blending Wicca and Qabalah; considering that a lot of the correspondences and other elements of Wicca stem from Qabalistic symbolism, they’re a much better pairing than others I’ve seen. The text is highly practical, composed entirely of exercises, meditations and rituals for growth and personal evolution using the Tree of Life as scaffolding. While much of it is based on Qabalah, Myers manages to weave in odd bits of witchcraft here and there, particularly as a way to show how the tools and techniques of that system can be used in conjunction with the more complex symbolism of Qabalah.

I’m not sure I’m entirely convinced by the attempt to take the duotheistic/soft polytheistic theology of Wicca and juxtapose it with the monotheistic (or hard polytheistic, depending on who you talk to) theology of Qabalah. Granted, Qabalah is pretty flexible in and of itself, but I find the God/Goddess thing to often be oversimplified. That’s where most of my issues with the book stem from, and if you can work around it, you’ll probably find it more useful than I did.

Overall, it’s a highly useful book, and offers much to the reader who is willing to go through and utilize the tools offered in its pages. It’s been out of print for several years, though used copies are fairly easy to find. A good book for a Wiccan/witch wanting to incorporate more Qabalah, or simply wanting a more detailed and structured method of personal evolution than what your average Wicca 101 book offers.

Four pawprints out of five.

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The Weiser Concise Guide to Herbal Magick – Judith Hawkins-Tillirson

The Weiser Concise Guide to Herbal Magick
Judith Hawkins-Tillirson
Weiser Books, 2007
126 pages

I am really excited about this book–and it takes a lot to make that happen these days! Usually what it takes is somebody writing something that fills a particular niche, or explores something different, or otherwise manages to stand above the crowd. Judith Hawkins-Tillirson has managed to provide a book on herbal magick that will appeal to practitioners both of “low magic”–witchcraft and related practices–and “high magic”–ceremonialism and ritual magic.

Now, for myself, most of my magical experience and knowledge of herbs comes from the likes of Cunningham, books that do a lot of research on other books that do a lot of research, and eventually come down to the original texts from whence most herbal correspondences in formal magic come today (as well as various bits of folklore of dubious origin). What Hawkins-Tillirson has done is gone directly to the original sources, starting with Crowley’s 777 as well as other Qabalistic and related sources, and ferreted out the bare bones of herbal correspondences. She then provides us with concise (as the title suggests) yet meaty entries for herbs associated with the various planets, the Sephiroth and paths of the Tree of Life, and the classic elements. What this leaves us with is a handbook for those who don’t really want to go through all the trouble of reading through countless texts on ceremonialism, but who do want a more solid background to their herbalism than “Someone way back when once said….”. This makes the text appealing both to detail-oriented folk who are sticklers for proper research, and to more free-form practitioners who want information they can apply to their own works.

Anyone who knows me should be impressed by now that I’m speaking well of a book of correspondences–this is one of those “blue moon” occurrences! However, that’s not all this book offers. The last few chapters are dedicated to practical applications of the knowledge that’s been provided, including equipment, techniques, and considerations to keep in mind when making everything from tinctures to poppets. They’re not lengthy chapters, nor should they be considered the only source you will ever need for creating these things. However, for those who already have a decent background in the hands-on aspects of, say, making a pouch and stuffing herbs in it, these chapters draw clear connections between the theoretical material described in the first part of the book, and how they may actually be used.

Finally, I have to give the author huge kudos for the last chapter, “Franz Bardon and Herbal Magick”. Bardon is one of those magicians who has received a lot less attention than he deserves, and I was delighted to see her discussing his techniques of fluid condensing. While I haven’t worked a lot with Bardon’s material, my husband has, and no doubt as soon as I finish this review he’ll be spiriting the book away for his own purposes!

As I said, this is not the do-all and end-all of herbal magic. However, the bibliography is substantial, and there are wonderful endnotes, a huge amount for a book of this length. Hawkins-Tillirson has certainly done her homework, theoretical and practical, and I am highly impressed by this text. If you have any interest in herbal magic whatsoever, even if it’s just as components in spell pouches, you’ll want to pick up a copy of this text.

Five enthusiastic pawprints out of five.

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The Aquarius Key – Keith Rowley

The Aquarius Key: A Novel of the Occult
Keith Rowley
Self published via iUniverse
284 pages

Most of the fiction I end up reviewing has a more neopagan slant to it. However, when the author of this particular gem told me that it was a story that wove in Western occultism, I jumped at the chance for something new. And I was duly rewarded, as it was a good read all around.

The premise showed a lot of potential. Two perfectly mundane, ordinary people in modern-day London have their lives entirely turned inside out by the intrusion of an occult plot that could have universe-shattering consequences. Their experiences become increasingly disorienting as they’re dragged deeper into intrigue and conspiracy in an elaborate plot to manipulate them into just the right place at the right time. This may sound a bit like a bad Satanic Panic novel; however, it’s of much higher quality than that. The author is well-versed in ceremonial magic, and weaves a lot of Thelemic and Qabalistic material into the story–and I do mean a lot.

The execution is pretty good. I will say that the first half of the book was a bit on the slow side, though I stuck it out and thoroughly enjoyed the second half, which got a lot more interesting. Rowley has a good grasp of his characters and describes their feelings, thoughts and reactions well; I had clear images in my mind of what was happening, which helped with the entertainment value.

The occult material in the book is a mixed bag. Everything revolves around a destined plot to bring about the Aeon of Horus, and there’s a ton of Thelemic material throughout the book. Rowley also draws heavily on Qabalah, particularly gematria. It’s rudimentary enough that someone with casual understanding (like me) will understand what’s going on, though it may go over the heads of those who are not magicians of any flavor. I think my main complaint with the inclusion of occult material is the same complaint I’ve had with neopagan novels that also attempt to teach basic Wiccan principles amid the story–it doesn’t blend very well. Sometimes the novel reads more like a treatise on basic ceremonial magic than a story; I understand when authors want to make their audiences clear on what’s going on, but it’s very hard to throw lessons into a plot without it coming off rather clumsily.

Still, it was a fun read, and it kept me entertained on my commute for a few days. I’m not 100% sure how more orthodox Thelemites may feel about the depiction of Aleister Crowley in this book (yes, he’s brought in as an actual character) or the rather violent interpretation of the Book of the Law, and a few readers may find the occasional sexual content (including that which essentially opens the book) to be a bit much. But if you’re looking for a decent occult-themed novel that wasn’t written by someone who thinks we all eat babies and has a good yarn to spin, this is a good choice.

Four pawprints out of five.

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Practical Solitary Magic – Nancy B. Watson

Practical Solitary Magic
Nancy B. Watson
Weiser Books, 1996
288 pages

A good friend of mine first recommended this to me a few years back, and I’m glad he did!

This is a wonderful guide to elemental magic–not just how to evoke sylphs, gnomes and the like, but working with the elements internally as well as externally. She opens up with a common-sense guide to general magical practice, including affirmations, deities and other entities, and ethics. She then goes on to explore both internal and external elements, going beyond Paracelsus and into psychology.

It’s an incredibly thorough work, more from a magical that a worshipful point of view. I highly recommend it as a basic multi-purpose guide to magic for those who like the natural feel of paganism but want more practicality than burning a candle.

Five pawprints out of five.

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The Chicken Qabalah – Lon Milo DuQuette

The Chicken Qabalah of Rabbi Lamed Ben Clifford: Dilettante’s Guide to What You Do and Do Not Need to Know to Become a Qabalist
Lon Milo DuQuette
Weiser Books, 2001
233 pages

Let me start by saying that this is the first book that was able to effectively explain the Qabalah to me. I tried Fortune’s basic book, and the language just threw me off enough that I got nothing out of it. Thanks to the dear old Rabbi, I’m in much better shape.

The basics of the Qabalah/Kaballah/Cabala/Quwwwabbballlooooraaahhh are explained in plain terms that it would be well-nigh impossible to misunderstand. Sure, the writing is easy to read, but there’s definitely solid information within it.

And the humor is priceless. I will now never forget that the Hebrew letter Lamed looks like “a snake that has swallowed a brick and is now having second thoughts”.

Highly recommended for anyone who wants to learn the Qabalah, even if it’s just basic understanding as in my case. And with that, I say…

Hell yes! I’m a chicken Qabalist!

Five chicken scratches out of five.

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