The Woman Magician by Brandy Williams

The Woman Magician
Brandy Williams
Llewellyn Publications, 2011
365 pages

Reviewed by Nicky

The Woman Magician was born from the author’s experiences with the Ordo Templi Orientis (O.T.O.), Golden Dawn and Thelema, in which she felt that, as a woman, she was not a magician in her own right, due to the emphasis on the male as the director of energy. Drawing on her feminist beliefs and knowledge of women’s history, experiences and needs, the author sought to create a workable tradition for the woman magician, a Magia Femina.

The first part of the book explores the history of the O.T.O., Golden Dawn and Thelema in relation feminism and the needs of its woman-identified practitioners. Williams recounts her personal experience as a Priestess in each order, particularly her responses to the standard rituals. She then moves on to discuss how women have come to be spectators rather than participants in the Western Magical Traditions, via the exploration of tradition, culture, history, philosophy, theology and magic. Each chapter introduces the reader to a personification of the concept, initially contacted by the author via meditation.

The second part combines her knowledge of Western Magical Traditions with her exploration of the above to create a tradition that is empowering to women, putting them in the role of magician rather than spectator. As the book reaches its conclusion, the author attempts to reconcile her feminist ideals with her relationship with the tradition, as personified by the deity/entity named Lady Tradition.

Initially, the writing struck me as intellectual, thorough and well researched. The author has clearly not simply read a book or two, but critically analysed the contents of many. She draws from a wide variety of sources and is careful to either avoid any dubious sources or to make mention of concerns before explaining why she has included them in her writing.

Additionally, her conclusions are enlightening and had me making note of topics I’d like to explore further down the track. This is not a quick, light read for a rainy day; this is a deep, ponderous work.

The magical system suggested seems workable and sensible for a modern Witch. The rituals are touching and empowering but confronting enough to help the woman grow as a magician and as a person. Having personally participated in a similar ritual based on Inanna’s descent to the Underworld, I can attest to the power of such a rite. I also found the final initiation, the Initiation of the Sun, to be particularly moving. I can imagine the pride a magician might feel at its culmination.

Of course, no book is without its flaws. As I said, it is a meaty book that can’t be read in one sitting. That in itself is not a flaw, however given the weight of the book, I got the impression that there was a lot of assumed knowledge expected of the reader. Although many rituals and aspects of Western Traditional Magic were explored, not all concepts and symbols were not sufficiently explained for one new to the path. Explanations given seemed almost like a reminder overview. This didn’t lessen my appreciation of the author’s work, however it did leave me confused and needing to look things up at times. This is most notable during discussions of the Qabalah. Although vital aspects were explained in detail, some of the concepts introduced to help explain the Qabalah also needed to be explained, as they are not, in my opinion, general knowledge in the same way casting a circle or the Goddess may be in Pagan/magical circles.

I also noticed a couple of points where the author didn’t fully represent a Goddess or myth or got some facts wrong. For example, she lists Áine (sometimes spelled Aine, without the accent on the A) as simply the name Patricia Monaghan gave to the fairy queen and Goddess of spring. However, Áine is an Irish Goddess of midsummer, wealth, love and fertility, who is sometimes counted as a fairy queen and a Goddess of sovereignty. Though the ritual in which Áine appears still manages to be effective, I feel it would have been improved with a fuller, more accurate representation of the deity.

Overall, Williams has written an interesting book and a genuinely inspiring, inclusive magical system that could be enjoyed by women of different levels of experience and background.

Four pawprints out of five.

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Women and Religion in the West edited by Aune, Sharma and Vincett

Women and Religion in the West: Challenging Secularization
Edited by Kristin Aune, Sonya Sharma and Giselle Vincett
Vermont/England: Ashgate Publishing Company
230 pages

Note: This review was originally published in the first issue of Thorn Magazine, which I reviewed here.

Women and Religion in the West, far from being a feel-good “we are all sisters” text, is an ambitious project that focuses on the female interpretation of religion and religiosity in the West. It is set within the context of a world that is becoming increasingly secularized, and whose discussion of secularization is also often male-dominated. Additionally, it avoids the common practice of approaching Christianity alone; while that religion is explored, Islam and new religious movements are given ample coverage as well. Each religious category receives its own section of the book, with four essays per section.

All twelve essays in this book are solid. While each essayist has a unique interpretation of the theme, there are a few that particularly stand out.

–“Religious Change in the West: Watch the Women” by Penny Long Marler: Are women the longtime “secret weapon” of organized religion? Marler makes a convincing argument that while men may have been the primary figureheads of Christianity, it is the women who have been the cohesive congregation that made the religion possible. She details demographic and social changes since industrialization, as well as the effects of the defection of women from organized religions to more free-form spiritualities. While the roles of women have often been relegated to the background, the “pink-collar” occupations and volunteer stations within Christianity have created the backbone of the religion. Particularly noteworthy is the adept approach to the nuclear family—and the current disintegration thereof—in conjunction with trends in the Christian religion. As the social structures that rely primarily on the nuclear family are replaced by more flexible ones, the roles of women shift as well. Marler points out research showing that in the Western world, while women may take the role of only homemaker, or only career woman, the majority have a foot in each world, able to adapt as necessary. The pink-collar roles within traditional Christianity have relied on the stay-at-home mother who is a staple of the nuclear family; as that particular structure has become less common, so has adherence to traditional religious structures. Beyond the church, though, there are implications in these changes even for industrial-capitalist economies, and male-dominated society, which Marler discusses to some extent.

–“The Soul of Soulless Conditions: Paganism, Goddess Religion and Witchcraft in Canada” by Sian Reid: While there is a modern trend to perceive secularization as the most advanced stage of cultural religious development, Reid counters with the fact that numerous women continue to find meaning through belief—albeit through spirituality rather than organized religion. She particularly focuses on pagan religions in Canada, as well as on the importance of the feminine Divine to many female pagans. I was particularly struck by research that noted that female and male neopagans may approach the Goddess in different manners: “…while women are inclined to speak of Goddess spirituality in terms of larger gender inequalities and as a means of obtaining ‘self-validation by having a female image of the divine with which to identify’…men are less likely to make reference to patriarchal social structures, and tend to discuss the Goddess ‘more as an expressive or nurturing force that aided one’s immediate self’” (127). This and other general statements may lead to some hearty debate among practicing pagans, and make the essay well worth reading. Reid’s ultimate conclusion, though, is that while traditional religions may be losing adherents, Canadian women are still finding outlets for belief—to include a mirror of themselves in Deity, and the structure of modern pagan religious systems that allow for more flexibility and personal expression.

–“Being Seen By Many Eyes: Muslim Immigrant Women in the United States” by Garbi Schmidt: Schmidt opens this essay by emphasizing some of the basic stereotypes and misunderstandings associated with Islam and Muslim women in particular, but this is just the beginning. The meaning and politics behind such things as the hijab, the veil that is so strongly associated with Muslim women; the specific roles and niches occupied by women within Islam; Muslim women as sexual beings; and other controversial topics are discussed in depth. Schmidt offers an excellent balance between exposing the stereotypes that exist, and denying those stereotypes power through counter-arguments and contrary examples from real life. She shows how faith is a source of strength for Muslim women, even with the negative aspects and assumptions, and it’s a truly eye-opening essay. What’s particularly remarkable is the discussion of Muslim women using differences to their benefit, rather than as a source of stress. While this is not a universal practice, Karima, one of Schmidt’s interviewees, turns the role of being Other into an advantage. Schmidt remarks, “Rather than choosing a strategy of retreat, she stresses the very elements that make her different. Difference becomes a powerful way of marking identity in public spaces. The identity and political position she chooses to take within the United States equally compels her to position herself towards and even against other localities, for example the region her parents came from. Within these diverse contexts, Islam becomes a means for protest and reform” (209). This theme of activism continues through the experiences of women in Schmidt’s essay, and counters the stereotype of the Muslim woman as a hidden, trapped figure.

Pagans should not make the mistake of shying away simply because some of the essays involve monotheistic religions. There is much to learn from all of the essayists regardless of their stance. Additionally, those who were curious, incensed, or puzzled about Kristin Aune’s claim that Buffy the Vampire Slayer is convincing thousands of women to leave church every year may want to get a more solid feel for Aune’s research on women and Christianity. It’s not about pop culture, so much as it is about the state of being a single woman within religious communities, and how this is a state of non-normativity (compared to the state of being married, which according to Aune “continues to hold sway as the normative status in contemporary Britain” (67).

The tone of this book may come across as being fundamentally against traditional religious structures, as the majority of the material concerns women who are defecting from those structures to more free-form spiritualities. One particular exception is Maria Trzebiatowska’s “Vocational Habit(u)s: Catholic Nuns in Contemporary Poland”, a discussion of women entering into a deeper relationship with traditional religious structures despite secularization and criticism by peers. Christianity, however, seems to get the brunt of the theme of anti-religiosity.

Additionally, the relatively limited scope of religions discussed may beg the question of how these themes apply to women in other religions. Judaism is a glaring omission, for example; how might modern Jewish women approach secularization, as well as traditional (particularly orthodox) structures within their religious communities? There is plenty of ground left unexplored, and it almost would have been better to release a series of books, each focusing on a particular religion, to bring more depth to the topic.
Overall, though, this is a much-needed discussion about the state of religion in the world today, with the added benefit of breaking the male-dominated mold too often found in religious studies. Even those not of a particularly sociological bent will find the material to be informative and applicable to everyday religious and spiritual interactions and experiences.

Five pawprints out of five.

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Ancestral Airs by Verda Smedley

Ancestral Airs
Verda Smedley
Dim Light Books, 2008
700 pages

As I was reading this book, I was trying to figure out where to fit it into the categories on this blog. On the one hand, it’s purportedly a reconstruction of a culture 6,000 years old; this includes extensive research into botany, mythology, history and other scholarly studies. But, when you get right down to it, it’s also a fascinating set of stories with well-developed characters, settings, and plots.

Beyond a certain point, we can really know only so much about cultures prior to written history in a region. The stories supposedly tell about the people who lived in the British Isles 6,000 years ago, well before there were any written records; while the author draws from texts about the Celts and other older cultures, these are still newer peoples than what Smedley describes. Whether the people of 4000 BC lived in ways the book described is unknown; nonetheless, the author does a lovely job of weaving together a solid description of her thoughts on the matter, and we get a good picture of what it is they did and believed.

So I chose to primarily read this for its storytelling value. Similarly to my experience of reading MZB’s The Mists of Avalon, it didn’t matter whether the story was literally true or not. I found myself sinking into a world where animism was the central belief, where the plants, animals and other denizens of nature were so important to the people that they took their names from them. I read about the rituals these people performed, as well as the participants’ feelings about them. I witnessed the interactions between individual groups of people, and how they wove into the greater overarching culture of the time. It didn’t really matter whether this was the way things “really happened”; it was a great journey anyway. Even if seen only as a novel, it’s a worthwhile read.

I can’t entirely vouch for the validity of the herbal information; the author knows more about that than I do. A lot of the information about plants peppering the stories dealt with magical uses; however, there were some medicinal uses mentioned as well. For those intrepid enough to backtrack the author’s research, there’s an appendix with the common and Latin names of all the plants (numbering in the hundreds) mentioned. Additionally, she included a thorough bibliography for further research and fact-checking.

This is a book I had to read in bits and chunks over time; at 700 pages, it’s a lot to read! The formatting left a bit to be desired, most notably the complete lack of page numbers which, in a book this length, is frustrating when trying to find where I left off, or where I found a piece of information or a snippet of story I wanted to go back to. Also, I can’t for the life of me find information about the publisher, the owner of the publishing company, or the author.

Ancestral Airs is a thoroughly enjoyable read, regardless of how much salt you choose to take the research with. Whether you choose to read it as I did, in little pieces, or simply spend several hours going from cover to cover in one fell swoop, I hope you like this unique combination of research and narrative.

Four and a half pawprints out of five.

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Circle of Stones by Judith Duerk – May BBBR

Circle of Stones: Woman’s Journey to Herself
Judith Duerk
LuraMedia, 1989
70 pages

I initially picked this book up because it had the same main title as one of my favorite books, A Circle of Stones: Journeys and Meditations for Modern Celts by Erynn Rowan Laurie, and occasionally I’ve had people mistake the two in conversation. So I was curious as to what this other text was all about, since it had gotten favorable feedback.

This Circle of Stones is a lovely little text on women’s mysteries and connecting to the Divine Feminine, including that within. Rather than being an academic text or how-to book, it’s a veritable stream of consciousness filled with philosophies and advice for coming more fully into one’s identity as a woman. Much of it hints at a different society where there’s not millenia of sexism and worse oppression towards women, and what that might look like. I’m generally somewhat cynical about “herstory”, but I liked this as an alternate concept of what could be.

Because of this, I think my favorite parts of the book were the meditations beginning “How might your life have been different…”. They’re short meditations on what might have happened if, for example, women-only spaces that weren’t based on shutting women away, and how that might affect a woman’s development over her lifetime. Rather than telling the reader what to think, the author simply invites contemplation and personal consideration.

I will warn those who are intent on historical accuracy that there is a bit of revisionism, particularly at the beginning, to the tune of “There used to be matriarchies before the patriarchies took over”. However, this is minimal, and most of the book–including the practical material–is not based on this premise.

Overall, a lovely read, and I understand why others have spoken well of it.

Four and a half pawprints out of five.

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Walking An Ancient Path by Karen Tate

Walking An Ancient Path: Rebirthing Goddess on Planet Earth
Karen Tate
O Books, 2008
394 pages

Much has been written in recent decades about Goddess spirituality. Some of it has been horrific, full of historical claptrap and stereotypes about both/all sexes. Others have been creations of beauty, allowing for Goddess spirituality to be its own entity without trying to prove or disprove others. This is definitely one of the latter texts; while I personally do not agree with every single thing the book offers, overall I find it to be a valuable addition to texts on this subject.

A large portion of the material throughout the book is dedicates to Tate’s anecdotes of her experiences. She is able to make pilgrimages that most of us wouldn’t be able to afford, going to all sorts of places around the world where the Divine Feminine has been revered throughout history. Lest you think that this makes the text inaccessible, think again: not only does she make these far-away places seem real and relevant to those who remain at home, but she also brings forth some home-grown examples of living Goddess spirituality. The anecdotes show her absolute wonder and reverence for the Divine Feminine, and it’s quite clear what is most sacred to her.

I also really enjoyed how Tate divides the book up by the five modern elements—Spirit, Earth, Air, Fire and Water. Each section includes information and practices that resemble these elements, as well as discussing goddesses who are related to them. Sometimes the order of the individual subsections seems a little random, and chapters don’t always segue well from one to the next. Still, the book taken as a whole is a delightful journey through many possible modern manifestations of Goddess spirituality.

I would definitely recommend this book for anyone interested in, or currently practicing, Goddess spirituality. There are numerous ideas for honoring the Divine Feminine, all wrapped up in the passion and joy of a talented author.

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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New Batch of Facing North Reviews

Facing North, an ambitious repository of reviews of pagan books, recently posted some new reviews. While I crosspost some of my reviews from over here there, I do some exclusives for them. I linked to some here, and here are the newest ones as well:

The Good Cat Spell Book by Gillian Kemp
Rock Your World With the Divine Mother by Sondra Ray
Angel Animals by Allen and Linda Anderson
Nature and the Human Soul by Bill Plotkin (this, incidentally, is the book that started my path to graduate school)

Ecopsychology edited by Roszak, Gomes and Kanner

Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth, Healing the Mind
Edited by Theodore Roszak, Mary E. Gomes and Allen D. Kanner
Sierra Club Books, 1995
334 pages

So you might wonder why I’m reviewing a book on psychology here. It’s not just because there’s an essay on ecopsychology and shamanism in it (though that’s a definite talking point). Rather, it’s because (outside of neopaganism) ecopsychology is the closest thing to animism that the dominant culture in the U.S. has at this point. I found numerous parallels between this book and my own beliefs as a pagan and (neo)shaman, and I think that any pagan who has animistic beliefs and/or has a commitment to the world around them (environmental or otherwise) should take a good, long read of this book.

One of the editors, Theodore Roszak, coined the term “ecopsycholoy” in his 1992 book The Voice of the Earth (which is on my want list). This anthology is a continuation of that current. It contains over twenty essays from therapists, ecologists, and other folks on the psychology of connection with the world around us–and seeing ourselves as a part of that world, not separate from it. I’m not going to go through every single essay; I will say that I enjoyed every single one–this is a very solid collection. I do want to highlight a few of the themes covered:

–Ecopsychology as a way to make the boundaries between Self and Other more permeable, but not to the point of the complete dissolution of Self. One of our biggest problems is that we’re too independent, to the point of ill health on numerous levels. Ecopsychology finds healthy balances that address both the needs of Self and of Other.

–Another theme, related to that, is ridding ourselves of our hangup on dualities–for example, not assuming that reducing the rigidity of one’s boundaries of Self will automatically result in a complete loss of Self. Instead, ecopsychology promotes a different way of looking at the world.

–Social issues are another theme. Ecopsychology is brought into conjunction with feminist theory in a few of the essays. The domination and controlling headspace of men enacted towards women is directly linked to the domination and control of the natural environment by humanity, particularly in the Western world. Additionally, there’s a brilliant essay on confronting racial issues in ecopsychology, as well as the concept of “deconstructing whiteness” and what that means for psychology and ecology.

–The current destruction of the natural environment is explored as being the result of pathologies, to include addiction and narcissistic personality disorder. These are some of the most powerful essays in the collection, and as they’re early on, they’re a hard-hitting opener.

There’s plenty more to this meaty text. For pagans, there’s plenty to chew on. Besides the parallels between ecopsychology and animism, and approaching the world as an interconnected whole populated by spirits, deities, and a living Earth, there’s also a neat essay about combining core shamanism and ecopsychological practice. And one of the essays delves deeply into indigenous shamanisms and what the author brought out of an experience halfway around the world from where he lived.

This is not an easy text to read, and not just for the writing style. It thoroughly challenges many of our assumptions about how the world is put together, and how we as humans (especially those of us in Western cultures) approach it. If you feel like it’ll be preaching to the choir, read it anyway. If you think it isn’t relevant to anything in your life, read it anyway. And if you think you’ll disagree with every bit of it–you got it, read it anyway. There aren’t that many books that I would consider absolute required reading for neopagan folk, but this is one of them.

Five pawprints out of five.

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Facing North Reviews

For those who don’t know, I’ve been a reviewer with Facing North from its inception. Webmistress and author Lisa McSherry started it as an online database of reviews of esoteric texts; while I’ve shared some of my reviews from here over there, I also have some that are unique to that site. Here are the links to what I have there at this point:

The Druid Magic Handbook by John Michael Greer
Your Altar by Sandra Kynes
Wisdom Walk by Sage Bennett
Pagan Prayer Beads by John Michael Greer and Clare Vaughn
The Bitch, the Crone and the Harlot by Susan Schacterle
Creativity for Life by Eric Maisel, Ph.D.
When Fear Falls Away by Jan Frazier
Circle, Coven and Grove by Deborah Blake
Moon Days by Cassie Primo Steele

I strongly suggest checking out Facing North, as well as the other reviewers I have linked on the left sidebar.

The Women’s Book of Healing – Diane Stein

The Women’s Book of Healing (Revised Edition)
Diane Stein
Ten Speed Press, 2004
313 pages

Note: This review was originally written in 2005; I’m not 100% sure whether it got published or not, since it’s rather on the long side.

This book came into my life right when it was exactly what I needed. I’d been beginning a process of correcting internal imbalances, everything from emotional upsets to shifting my diet to compensate for my recently-diagnosed hypoglycemia. While traditional medicine offered a standard set of ideas to aid me in my quest for a healthier self, Stein’s book gave me an alternative healing path to work with. Thanks to the information conveyed it’s a path for which now I possess a greater understanding and appreciation.

First published in 1984, The Women’s Book of Healing is easily as relevant now as it was twenty years ago. It’s an excellent reference for those interested in natural healing methods ranging from chakra adjustments to the use of stones in healing to laying on of hands. Each chapter explains its subject clearly and thoroughly, often pulling reference from complementary chapters to enhance the healing regimen offered. This valuable material is summarized by tables of correspondences that punctuate the text.

I found the interweaving of the chapters to be particularly useful; rather than being separate entities they flow together very well and the information from each can be combined with ease. Most of the time, however, Stein includes the pertinent information in regards to the requisite colors, minerals and other correspondences when describing each specific area of healing. She eliminates much of the jumping back and forth from chapter to chapter that so many other reference books require—if I want to work with my root chakra, for example, I need only to turn to that section. Not only do I have its basic qualities but also what colors, minerals and other tools I’ll need to perform my work.

She’s also very thorough about her information. When I first started reading I’d had the desire to work with chakras, but had no previous experience or knowledge to work with. The second chapter goes into what each of the seven primary chakras represents, drawing both from classic and modern texts. Stein also details the effects of imbalances of the chakras—not only when they’re not open enough, but also when they’re open too wide, a condition I’d not even known existed. Finally, she offers up meditations useful in adjusting the chakras to a healthy end.

Stein is particularly adept at recommending mineral allies for each area of the body, mind and spirit covered. She describes not only what corresponds to each stone in her healing toolkit but also what ailments each stone is best at counteracting. In some instances there’s even advice on what time of day to best work with the stones so as to gain the best possible use of their qualities. In fact, the second half of the book is dedicated to this valuable topic, though the other chapters have strategically placed references.

I found the recurring theme of using our mindsets to aid the healing to be a very important one. Too often we sabotage our own efforts by second-guessing and doubting our abilities to create change on a non-visible level, thereby negating whatever effort we’ve put towards healing ourselves and often worsening the condition. Stein makes the concept of healing through thought understandable and her consistent use of meditation throughout the book backs up her confidence in its ability to destroy our dis-eases. Her explanation of healing on a molecular level further bolsters the ability to believe that which cannot be seen but nonetheless is.

While the primary portion of the book is well worth the read the appendices are superb references at short notice. With these Stein has successfully summarized all of the information she’s passed on in the previous chapters, making it an invaluable reference. Reading the entire book, of course, is recommended. It’s not a difficult task, as Stein’s writing style is wonderfully conversational, easy to understand, and yet conveys the information without skimping on the important details. I honestly came away from this book with no questions about just what it was she was trying to explain.

If there’s only one complaint I have about The Women’s Book of Healing it’s the fairly negative treatment of Western medicine and way she often seems to blame its inadequacy solely on the male sex. While in her preface Stein extols the virtues of equality she constantly maligns “male medicine”. I find this to be a great disservice not only to the men who have been involved in alternative healing for far longer than she gives them credit for but to people of all sexes who have made great progress in the field of Western medicine. Rather than perpetuating the dichotomy of conflict that continually puts both forms of healing at odds, I believe it’s much more constructive and beneficial in the long run to find ways for these medicines to complement each other.

Indeed, Stein’s superb writing is an excellent reference whether used alone or in tandem with traditional medicine. My complaint is primarily stylistic, and I can say from experience that the information provided has proven incredibly useful in aiding my self-healing. I recommend that both novice and experienced healers add The Women’s Book of Healing to their shelves. It has been a valuable resource for the past two decades and promises to be just as relevant in years to come.

Four pawprints out of five.

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