A Magical Life, Volume 1 by Taylor Ellwood

A Magical Life: The Magical Journal of Taylor Ellwood Volume 1
Taylor Ellwood
Megalithica Books, 2013
344 pages

Reviewed by Nicky

A Magical Life: The Magical Journal of Taylor Ellwood, as the title suggests, is a compilation of the first three years of Taylor Ellwood’s magical blog. The blog covers events from his personal life, discusses books he is working on and includes musings of a spiritual and philosophical nature. This particular volume includes posts from 2008 until 2010. The book is divided into three parts, one per year with each entry or post divided by date and subject.

I began reading Taylor’s blog a small while ago and so was interested to read earlier entries. I am pleased to say that, overall, I was not disappointed with this book.

On a personal level, the reader could clearly see Taylor changing as he wrote. His demeanour differed noticeably when working with different elements, as he himself pointed out. When working on the element of Love, he was more emotional. When working with the element of Emptiness, his energy seemed slower and more depressed. When working through Time, it became more frenetic. It was fascinating to see how apparent these changes were. Even so, Taylor never hits you over the head with his emotional or spiritual development, it’s simply something that seeps into his words. The fact he was able to convey so much so subtly is the sign of a skilled writer.

On a philosophical level, Taylor’s musings often made me stop and think. Throughout the blog, Taylor often discussed relationships and honesty, analysing his own relationships and offering opinions based on what has worked best for him. I found his post on love magic toward the end of the volume especially worth reading, as well as his discussion of sex magic versus sex for sensation or distraction. I also agree strongly with Taylor’s assertion that to receive something, you must give something in return. My absolute favourite post came toward the end, entitled The Proof of Your Success. I highly recommend it.

Looking outwardly, Taylor included some great social commentary on the Pagan community and its general beliefs and practices. I found his thoughts on Aleister Crowley and the power – or, perhaps, lack thereof – of the Gods to be particularly pertinent. The post on President Bush as a negative manifestation was especially intriguing and his assertion that politics, that activism, can be something that is worked on internally rather than externally resonated deeply with me.

With all that excellent content, this book still had some areas that could have been improved.

One thing that slowed my reading down is that subjects jump a lot. Although the book maintains a consistent overall feel throughout, often I’d read something about a personal event, then go to something deeply philosophical, to something very spiritual, to something very practical. I felt I might enjoy it more if reading it as originally posted on his blog, where I could use tags and archives to follow my interests. The arrangement of the book sometimes gave me the feeling of “mood whiplash.” Sometimes it would take me a while to “recover” before I could read the next post.

Some posts were difficult to understand out of context. A paragraph or editor’s note here and there may have helped explain the context in these instances. I’m sure long term fans would get it but “newbies” such as myself may be confused.

Finally, this book is also a very meaty, dense book. I welcome any and all in depth content for Pagans but it did take me a long time to get through it. I think this was partly a formatting issue. The volume might have been better as a “best-of,” with a selection of the strongest posts or presented as a volume per year or two years; an entire three years in one is a lot to take in.

Overall, this is a very good book. It’s full of lots of great insights and it was lovely to watch emotional growth that has been deliberately sought after. Though this is not at all a light or quick read and there are some mood whiplash issues, it’s definitely worth a read.

Four and a half paw prints out of five.

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Sacred Kink by Lee Harrington

Sacred Kink: The Eightfold Path of BDSM and Beyond
Lee Harrington
Mystic Productions, 2009
406 pages

I’d been waiting for this book for a while; the author is an acquaintance of mine, and I’ve been following his blog adventures for a while. What I’d seen impressed me, so I was really happy to get a review copy of this. Among books on BDSM and magic, this is by far one of the absolute best you can get.

Every author who writes on this subject has hir own take on it. However, Harrington has gone above and beyond by creating a most thorough structure to work within. He elaborates on eight different paths that are much more nuanced than “top” and “bottom”. The Path of the Horse, for example, goes into the controversial topic of god-slavery, as well as other interactions of the divine in sacred kink practices. The Ordeal Path, which others such as Raven Kaldera (in Dark Moon Rising) have spoken about, involves suffering for a purpose, such as rites of passage and catharsis. And the Path of Sacred Plants is a well-designed, responsible approach to entheogen use. (Quite obviously, this book is going to raise some eyebrows–and some voices. Not a bad thing at all.0

Harrington is a good writer, and has organized the material in an understandable and useful manner. Each chapter has a nice balance of theory, ideas for practice, and anecdotes. Sadly, my reading experience was marred by some typos and other language errors, which is an all-too-common problem in self-published works. However, the content is solid, so the proofreading errors can be overlooked easily enough.

This is a solid text on the topic of esoteric BDSM. I would recommend having at least a basic understanding of both kink (particularly roles within it) and magic before attempting the material in here, but once you have good context for it, this stuff is incredibly valuable. There’s enough to explore for years of practice.

Five pawprints out of five.

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More Facing North Reviews

Witch in the Bedroom – Stacey Demarco

Witch in the Bedroom: Proven Sensual Magic
Stacey Demarco
Llewellyn, 2006
288 pages

Note: This review was written in 2006 for newWitch magazine and appeared in a 2007 issue.

Witch in the Bedroom
is written for witches and non-witches alike on ways to use magic for everything from finding a good partner to getting pregnant. This means that there’s a lot of 101 material that most pagan readers will be familiar with; however, it’s presented in a format that any newbie can understand and doesn’t overwhelm the rest of the material.

Some of the most valuable information is the relationship advice Demarco gives. Rather than just sending us off with a few love spells, she explains how to undo bad relationship patterns, appreciate ourselves, and find a healthy relationship without codependence.

The rituals are another strong point of this book. While aimed at getting a healthy relationship with someone else, they also foster healthy relationships with ourselves and support sex-positive outlooks on life whether you’re currently single or taken. Each one is original without resorting to formulaic templates that just switch around correspondences.

One of the down sides is that the blame for bad sexual attitudes is all too often laid at the feet of Christianity. The entire book has a general feel of “Christians ruined sex, which the pagans had been enjoying with no problem, and now it’s up to witches to make sex good again!” Additionally, she doesn’t say where she got her historical material from, and rather than a bibliography, there’s a scant “Recommended Resources” list. She talks about what the “ancient witches” did, without backing up her research—shoddy scholarship.

Also, the book is overwhelmingly heterosexual. This isn’t bad in and of itself, but if you’re not looking for a relationship with an opposite sex partner or if you’re sick of the God = Active and Goddess = Passive dichotomy, you may find yourself skimming over a lot of this book. Additionally, if you’re childfree by choice, the 58 pages on how to get pregnant and have a healthy baby will be useless.

Still, the book has achieved its intended purpose—to offer a magical guide to healthy sexual and romantic relationships to both pagans and nonpagans. It’s a good, practical work with a lot of useful material.

Four pawprints out of five.

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Spiritual Transformation Through BDSM – Sensuous Sadie (editor)

Spiritual Transformation Through BDSM: Stories and Submissions from Fellow Travelers
Sensuous Sadie (editor)
Ephemera Bound Publishing, 2007
612 pages

This is a book that has desperately needed to be written. While there are a handful of texts on BDSM and spirituality (including Christianity, neopaganism, and other faiths and philosophies), this one brings together thoughts from well over two dozen people in the Scene for whom BDSM is a spiritual act. Generally well-known for their writings, the contributors have offered up their own essays, as well as been subjects of interviews by Sensuous Sadie herself.

Here is a treasure trove of thoughts and perspectives on spirituality and BDSM, from Christianity to neopaganism, Buddhism to animism, Hinduism to “no label, thanks”. Dominants, submissives and switches all weigh in with their thoughts; people from all walks of life, sexuality and experience levels make their voices heard. And the variety of ways in which they make their kink more spiritually meaningful is incredible–I never got bored reading the wide range of experiences these people had!

The editor has done a remarkable job of balancing out the content, as well as choosing a superb array of contributors. I really liked the combinations of interviews and essays, and I thought that both the topics the essays covered and the interview questions really got to the heart of the matter. This book really gave me a ton of brain food (okay, well, over a pound anyway–it’s a big book!)

What really struck me was how incredibly thoughtful the essays were. Unfortunately, all too often people outside the Scene (and even some within it) see BDSM and kinks as only tools for sexual gratification; those who are not kinky may assume that we’re all “perverts”, “deviants”, “sickos”, and otherwise unlovable, unwanted outcasts from society who are just out to get our next sexual fix. While there are certainly those for whom (healthy) kink is solely in the realm of Malkuth, there are also those of us for whom it is a transcendent experience. The contributors to this anthology do a remarkable job of offering up a variety of viewpoints to show the more spiritual/reflective side of BDSM, to show how it can make us better people–and even bring us closer to God (or whatever name you use to refer to the Divine). This is a truly valuable book, and it’s one that I wish I could show to anyone who assumes that BDSM is just about the slap and tickle for everyone. Sure, we may value the slap and tickle for what it is, but that’s not all that’s there.

Honestly, I really have only one minor complaint, and that’s the copy editing/proofreading. This book could have used one more pair of eyes looking it over, because I found a noticeable number of typos and misspellings in there, as well as consistent errors such as swapping its/it’s. Being an editor myself, I do tend to be more sensitive to these things, so it may not make as much of a difference to other readers; however, I found it a bit distracting.

Still, that’s a small thing in the face of 600 pages of pure excellence. I really, strongly recommend this book not only to those in the BDSM community, but also members of various religions who may be perplexed about how we “perverts” can find something so seemingly “messed up” to be such an incredible experience. Be forewarned, if you plan to read this in public, that there are a number of erotic (though not fully pornographic) photos scattered throughout for aesthetics–a brown paper book cover won’t cover those. But they’re lovely pictures, and I think they add to the text, as they’re artfully and tastefully beautiful.

Overall, a really nice book, and it comes quite recommended.

Five pawprints out of five.

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Dark Moon Rising – Raven Kaldera et. al.

Dark Moon Rising: Pagan BDSM and the Ordeal Path
Raven Kaldera, with several guest essays
Asphodel Press, 2006
426 pages

This is one of those books that’s been on the shelves for a while, paged through piecemeal (it’s a good book for randomly opening up to read whatever interesting thing comes up since it’s largely made of a series of essays) and even used as source material for Kink Magic. But I hadn’t really been in the mood to pick it up and actually read it cover to cover til this week. (Yes, it made the commute, ah, interesting. For some reason, I ended up without anyone sitting next to me each time even though I had the cover nice and safely hidden.)

So, on to the book. I like this book. A lot. It’s not the usual chapter-by-chapter explanation of things; rather, Kaldera has collected a number of his essays, as well as a significant number of guest essays from such folks as Mistress Damiana and Morning Glory Zell. The topics are far-ranging, including everything from BDSM spirituality in service to the gods, to practical considerations both mundane and magical. Some ideas are presented in a very straightforward manner; others are personal accounts used to illustrate the concepts therein. There are even some rituals presented, including rites of passage, and some lovely poetry that could easily be worked into a ritual context such as an invocation or evocation. In short, it’s full of variety.

It’s pretty obvious that Raven and fellow essayists have quite a bit of experience. The various BDSM and fetish techniques utilized cover a pretty decent range of possibilities, and many of them are not for the (relatively) faint of heart. You may find yourself squicked; I am in no way, shape or form a fan of *anything* that pierces the skin (even hypodermic needles) and I found myself literally covering pictures of hook suspensions. Still, this is what works for others, and despite the not-my-kink factor, I found even the personally squick-worthy parts to be valuable additions. Regardless of what your particular tastes are, there are some great ideas that can be adapted to just about any consensual kink in a ritual context.

Much of the material seems to be oriented towards spirituality and service to the Divine, though there are some practical magical techniques as well. The concept of god-slavery is covered in decent detail here, and both it and the concept of service in general are presented not as unhealthy obsessions, but as spiritual dedication. I was particularly fond of the essay by Raven’s boy, Josh, about serving the shaman, and Raven’s own explanation of the archetypes and roles that may be found in a D/s relationship. Good food for thought whether you’re in a 24/7 lifestyle or not.

Overall, this is definitely a worthy endeavor, and a good addition to the bookshelf of anyone who has any interest in BDSM and fetishes in a spiritual and/or magical background. As with any book on either BDSM or spirituality, it’s not the do-all and end-all of the topics at hand (but what book is?) but it presents one very superb and well-developed approach to the combination thereof. Highly recommended.

Five pawprints out of five.

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Sexy Witch – LaSara Firefox

Sexy Witch
LaSara Firefox
Llewellyn, 2005
314 pages

This book has gotten some mixed press since it came out–people seem to either love it or hate it. The people who hate it seem to have completely missed the point of the book. They either get freaked out by the frank use of euphemisms for female anatomy, or they run screaming from the idea of *gasp* getting to know the most nether regions of the female body, and all the various things it does. Additionally, uber-witches get terrified that *gasp* somebody might think witches have sex, and that sex can be a part of witchcraft!This is completely symptomatic of the body-PHOBIC mindset that Sexy Witch sets out to reverse.

In this book I found a wealth of exercises determined to shatter the negative tunnel vision most people in America (and in many other places) have about our bodies. The author challenges us to venture into the most terrifying aspects of the female physical form, the parts that we’re told are “dirty” and “bad”, and become comfortable with them. We’re encouraged to touch, to look, and to otherwise become familiar with our bodies in every crevice. And this is a *good* thing. Firefox has the right idea–rather than skirting around the fear we have of our bodies with pretty flowers and mincing, femmy steps, she meets it head-on fearlessly, showing the reader that there’s nothing to be afraid of, and that we stand to gain much in the way of confidence and health by getting over ingrained hangups. She challenges gender stereotypes, even to the point of including a decent section on conscious crossdressing as a way to break out of one’s preconceived notions.

She gives plenty of material for both solitary and group work; the latter is particularly nice as it offers the reader the chance to spread body-positive thoughts. And while some may complain that the magical aspects of the book are too watered-down, keep in mind that the material is aimed not just at experienced pagans, but any woman with body issues who could use some help in getting over them.

I can only wish that there was such a thing for men out there; while body issues in women are well-documented, body issues in men are often ignored. If you’re a guy having trouble with your image, there won’t really be much here for you to work with, though it may be worthwhile to read just to get an idea of some of the issues that woman face, and how Firefox recommends dealing with them.

This is a brilliant work that deserves its controversy–it highlights body-fear, and for those brave enough to face it, Sexy Witch offers a multitude of methods for getting over it, already!

Five bold pawprints out of five.

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Wicca For Lovers – Jennifer Hunter

Wicca for Lovers – Spells and Rituals for Romance & Seduction
Jennifer Hunter
Viking Studio, 2001
96 pages plus feather, candle, oil, crystal

Generally speaking, I hate love spells.

Generally speaking, I also hate boxed sets.

I guess the two hatreds must have cancelled each other out rather than making the hate grow exponentially.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the author is quite talented. I loved both her Rites of Pleasure and Twenty-First Century Wicca. So it actually didn’t surprise me when I discovered that this set bucks the system when it comes to luuuuuv spells and Wicca-inna-box.

Hunter’s writing is, once again, quite grounded. Rather than simply throwing a bunch of spells at the reader, she explains where sacred sexuality in general weaves in with Wiccan spirituality. And the material isn’t just about what you want in a partner–it also covers the very important point that to love yourself is even more important. There’s also a chapter on sex magic, to include the traditional (as opposed to symbolic) Great Rite. For a 96-page book, there’s a lot of good information in here.

Lest you complain that “Wicca isn’t about love spells!”, I assure you that Wicca For Lovers doesn’t purport to be the do-all and end-all of (eclectic) Wicca. And, as mentioned, Hunter ties love magic in with the sacred sexuality inherent in Wicca, and in pagan religions in general. Finally, look at Christian publishing–there are all sorts of niche books in that genre. Maybe not all Wiccans are interested in using magic to augment their search for that special someone (or someones–the book is poly-friendly). But just as with Christian dating manuals, so this work helps to tie in the methods we have at our disposal for finding partners to spirituality.

No, this isn’t a complete treatise on love magic, sex magic, or related topics. However, given that there are people out there who have no knowledge of magic in general who may pick up something on love spells on a lark, it’s good to know that this set exists (though currently is unavailable brand new–unopened packages may still be found through used book dealers). If I were going to offer anything to the curious, it’d be this set–the book contains a good basic grounding of magical theory, covered well before the spells even begin. However, even those who are more seasoned in magic may find this to be a fun things to play with, a light-hearted gift to give to a friend, or even to give to a couple for a bit of magical “bonding”.

While this isn’t Hunter’s best work (Rites of Pleasure is a much more thorough and “serious” book), all things considered it’s well above other love magic/love spell compendiums I’ve seen. It’s playful, fun, but with an undercurrent of magic and spirituality that give it depth that all too often missing from this sort of thing.

Four pawprints out of five.

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Carnal Alchemy – Dawn and Flowers

Carnal Alchemy: A Sado-Magical Exploration of Pleasure, Pain and Self-Transformation
Crystal Dawn and Stephen Flowers
Runa-Raven Press, 2001 (originally 1995)
86 pages

I finally got around to reading this book cover to cover after reading it piecemeal for a couple of years. It’s arguably the first book to focus solely on BDSM sex magic (which the authors alternately term Carnal Alchemy, Sado-magic, and Sado-shamanism, p. ix). While it’s not a huge book, it does cover the basics.

Dawn and Flowers do an excellent job of tracing the history of sex magic in general, including BDSM magic. Not only do they cover the usual suspects like De Sade and Von Sacher-Masoch, but they also get into Robert North and the New Flesh Palladium, and Aleister Crowley’s own Sado-magical journeys. There’s also basic information on BDSM and the various toys involved, and common sense safety.

Unfortunately, the book is pretty sparse as far as content goes. There’s very little description of any rituals (the authors’ magical group, the order of the Triskelion, keeps its rituals secret). There are only a couple very brief fictional examples; the reader is left largely up to hir own devices. And the actual material dealing with practical BDSM magic is pretty brief, compared to the background material given. I think they could have given some more information without compromising privacy, though they also confess trepidation with misinterpretation of the material by individuals who stop thinking after the word SEX!

However, for being a pioneering book, it’s to be given good marks. While there’s not a ton of information, what is there is excellent, and it set the stage for a number of books by other authors that followed it.

Four pawprints out of five.

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Sex and Magic – David Farren

Sex and Magic
David Farren
Simon and Schuster, 1975
192 pages

I picked this up used on a lark not too long ago. I’d never actually heard anyone refer to this particular text, and at first glance it didn’t seem like one of those sensational “OMG SEX AND SATAN!” books that you occasionally find. So I decided to give it a try.

I liked it overall. The author isn’t a magician himself, but he did a good job of researching magic in the mid-1970s. Along with discussions of Wicca and gypsy witchcraft, he also brings in ceremonial magic and LaVeyan Satanism, as well as Eastern philosophies and the Western traditions they inspired. As for the sex part, it’s rather subdued, though he does talk a lot about the need to change attitudes in society overall–something that Taylor and I talk about in Kink
over three decades later.

In fact, this book is primarily theory, written by a philosopher. There’s a lot of material on symbolism, as well as expose’s that the supposedly lurid and kinky evil rites of various magical groups down through the centuries were a lot more hype than reality, with a lot of glorified circle jerks and bits of *gasp* homosexuality. Having read “Brave New World” recently, the accounts of the feelies in the latter book seemed a lot more interesting than what Farren describes.

There is a bit of practical material in here, though it’s almost entirely limited to folklore and a bit of I Ching divination. The long subtitle of the book, “How to use the spells, potions and ancient knowledge of magic to improve and enhance your sexual life” made me think that this would be a lot more hands-on (so to speak). It’s not a bad book, mind you–just don’t expect a lot of step by step how-tos. I believe it was more written for the nonmagician, and makes for a good source in that respect. Farren makes a good argument for the place of both sex and magic in a healthy society, while promoting positive attitudes towards the body and recommending the abolishment of sexism.

Overall, an interesting find.

Four pawprints out of five.

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