City Magick – Christopher Penczak

City Magick: Urban Rituals, Spells and Shamanism
Christopher Penczak
Weiser Books, 2001
302 pages

One of the advantages to being a bibliophile who marries or moves in with a bibliophile is the combination of libraries. Selling off the duplicate copies makes room for more books, and you get to read books you might never have had a chance to see otherwise. City Magick is one of the books that Taylor brought into our mutual library, and it’s my latest commuting conquest.

Having been raised in a rural area, it’s taken some effort to adjust to living in the city. Granted, Portland is pretty green, with a lot of parks in the city proper. However, I’ve also lived in places where it wasn’t so easy to get to greenspace. While I was somewhat aware of the magic of manmade objects and creations, I wish I’d had this book around to give me some extra ideas–I definitely would have coped a lot more quickly!

Penczak does a great job of taking basic (and some intermediate) magical practices and making them relevant to the land of concrete and steel. From an absolutely wonderful section on the sometimes neglected urban totem animals, to a recreation of the tree of life as a skyscraper (complete with mental picture of Spider-man as a shaman), he demonstrates that the concepts often found in green nature-based practices can also be adapted to more “artificial” environments. And that’s one of the really beautiful things about this book; it reminds us that even though the components may have been altered somewhat, everything came from nature and is subject to it. Of course, Penczak doesn’t ignore the fact that manmade creations have done harm to nature, both green and otherwise. However, he offers a realistic resource for those who do choose to (or must) live in an urban area.

There’s a nice dash of Chaos magic in here, too. I thought his variations on sigils were wonderful, especially those appropriating graffiti. It’s proof that subversion is pretty well universal, and the graffiti that’s used to mark territory or deface public property can also be taken and reworked for personal magical purposes. And he has a nicely flexible perspective on deities and other denizens, particularly those of pop culture, the modern mythology of the city. I add bonus points for open-mindedness!

Overall, this is a great book, especially for someone who’s still getting their feet wet in magical practice but thinks s/he has to be out in the middle of a field. As I said before, the basics are covered, but there are plenty of suggestions for expansion into intermediate territory. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and I have some ideas for the next time I’m out wandering in downtown Portland.

Five pawprints out of five.

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The Virtual Pagan – Lisa McSherry

The Virtual Pagan: Exploring Wicca and Paganism through the Internet
Lisa McSherry
Weiser Books, 2002
192 pages

This is one of those books that has a definite audience. While most of the information in it will be familiar to the majority of people reading this review, there are people for whom it is perfect. Those people are the ones who may or may not be new to paganism, but who are relatively new to the Internet.

The general overview of the book is that it’s Wicca 101 + Internet 101 – the pagan internet 101. McSherry explains the basics of both Wicca and getting online with excellent detail–she thinks of pretty much everything. It’s a good beginner’s book just for that material.

However, where this book really shines is in online group dynamics. It’s obvious she has the experience she claims, as her writing is thoroughly backed up by anecdotes. She’s careful to explain how online communication differs from in-person communication, how misunderstandings can arise even easier, and how to deal with a setting that is more easily left than a HPS’ home. She also guides the reader through reasons to (or not to) join up with an online group.

I only have two very minor quibbles. First, she uses Wiccan and pagan interchangably, and on p. 9 says that all pagasn follow the Wiccan Rede. That’s not so–I and many other pagans follow neither the Rede nor any ethical statement like it. The other minor gripe is on p. 45, she says not to follow any group that accepts outlandish things like pop culture entities and the Illumunati as “truth”. As someone who has worked my fair share of pop culture magic (and who is married to Taylor Ellwood, author of the book, Pop Culture Magick) I do have to disagree that modern mythology is less effective *in practice* than ancient mythology. If we can use modern ritual tools to work with ancient beings, we can also use modern (and ancient) technology to work with modern mythology.

However, those two points are two very minor disagreements I have, and they do not take aweay from the quality or purpose of the book. If you know somebody who’s just getting online, and they’re pagan (new or not) pickup a copy of “The Virtual Pagan” for them. I really wish I’d had this back in the mid-90’s when I first discovered paganism and the internet about the same time, becuase it *really* would have made my introduction a lot smoother–and probably helped me to avoid some of my early flame wars!

Edit, 12 February 2007: Lisa emailed me this response to my quibbles ‘n bits (she is a nifty person, by the way :):

“The first one was the result of a young writer getting a tad steam-rolled by a publisher. In retrospect, I didn’t think it through and I let them make an editorial decision I now regret.

The second. . . well. . . all I can say is that I HADN’T heard of anyone even vaguely respectable working with pop culture. I certainly wouldn’t say anything like that now. (Although, I still think people who buy into conspiracy theories and secret groups like the Illuminati are more likely in the ’10 foot pole’ category than trustworthy. J )

Far be it from me to shit on modern magic!”

So there you have it!

Five 1337 pawprints out of five.

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