The Tarot of Bones by Lupa

The Tarot of Bones
Lupa
Llewellyn Publications, 2012

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Review by Natalie Zaman.

I’m admittedly biased about The Tarot of the Bones because I supported the Indiegogo campaign. I’ve always loved Lupa’s work and have been eye-balling sets of her bone runes (visit her etsy shop at http://thegreenwoff.etsy.com for a look if you already haven’t), so when she started putting out the word for patrons to fund the creation of a Tarot deck that would be based in her artwork, I was in like skin (no pun intended).

It wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect a somewhat skeletal rendition of the Rider-Waite-Smith symbolism in The Tarot of the Bones. Lupa said that she’d be building on traditional symbolism, but Tarot of the Bones is unique. Each image is a combination of natural elements, arranged and collaged in Lupa’s signature style; stark, crisp, immersive. Looking at these images is a wander through the woods, or the careful navigation of a moss and wildflower-tufted cliff. It’s a walk along the seaside, or a peek inside a cave, a visual feast. Close your eyes and you might hear bird calls, the soft pad of feet in the underbrush, smell earth and rain. If you’re not comfortable of confident about handling actual bones, working with these cards would certainly be an effective beginner’s step.

I love beautiful collector’s decks, but ultimately, I like things that I can use. Some of The Tarot of the Bones’ nods to Rider-Waite-Smith are subtle, but obvious, like the serpent skeleton that chases its own tail to represent the Magician. I cheekily thought that I’d “gotten” that one: The skeletal snake is The Magician’s belt. Perhaps that can enter into the card’s meaning in a reading—after all, there is the archetype, and then there’s the intuitive pulls the reader draws from certain imagery. I couldn’t help but think of The Magician’s belt as soon as I saw this image. But it does not end there. The snake, as Magician, Lupa says, sheds his skin to emerge as something new. Then there is that sinewy magic of a snake’s movement. Even the type of serpent—the corn snake—was, she says, “a deliberate choice.” Not just the physical remains, but the whole animal and its nature is taken into consideration: The corn snake is often kept as a pet, Lupa says, and as such he is The Magician. Unlike his counterpart, The Hermit (played by a female hornbill skull). The Magician is evident, and in the public eye. Not so obvious was the Four of Cups portrayed as four white deer bones that form a shelter is, Lupa says, “the card of the introvert,” a safe haven from choices (at least for the moment), a place of contemplation. These details add a new and fresh meaning to the Tarot archetypes.

Like all takes on the Tarot, The Tarot of the Bones is loaded with symbolism, some traditional, and some with its own meaning entirely, embedded in natural elements, some I was familiar with (or thought I was familiar), and some not so much. I will need the book, at least at first, to help me identify all of the elements that went into each piece (It also occurred to me that this will make a marvelous reference for identifying and interpreting these natural elements both for working with this deck and otherwise.). Lupa is thorough in this regard—we get the story behind the card and its making, her associations and its connections with traditional Tarot archetypes where applicable. Her conversational and witty writing style makes this a pleasure (free Lupa with every deck!).

My favorite cards:

    • The Happy Squirrel (a happy add on after the Indiegogo campaign made goal). Apart from the Magician, it is the only other complete skeleton. I also love having a wild card type element in a reading.
    • Wheel: I have a thing about sand dollars, and was glad to see this shell-skeleton make an appearance.
    • The Lovers: I loved the almost pre-historic look of the albatross (made of resin) skulls in this image; they also look like the hands of a clock, pointing to the crystals that encircle them. Choices!
    • The King of Cups, represented by a turtle shell—perfect.

 

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New Paths to Animal Totems by Lupa

New Paths to Animal Totems: Three Alternative Approaches to Creating Your Own Totemism
Lupa
Llewellyn Publications, 2012

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Review by Jennifer Lawrence.

Choosing – and then having – a totem, or spirit animal, is one of the most ubiquitous experiences in Neopaganism today. It is such a well-known experience that there are even memes about it, where people turn the situation humorous by claiming Bruce Campbell, Chuck Norris, Lady Gaga, Darth Vader, or some other celebrity or fictional character as their spirit animal.

When people think about totems, generally they think of them through the lens of a particular culture. Very often – as much as nine times out of ten, perhaps – the specific culture they think of is “Native American”. Not a particular tribe, but a generic composite spanning an aggregation of the better-known tribes: Cherokee, Apache, Lakota, possibly Seminole, Cheyenne, Comanche, or sometimes Tlingit or Haida (Raven is a very popular totem). Rarely, someone will study up on the beliefs of other peoples around the world as regards spirit animals. But cultural frameworks are not the only way to study or meet totems, and this book provides three other pathways to learn about them: Correspondences, Bioregional, and Archetypal.

The author, Lupa, has been developing these paths for a number of years now, and her blog, A Sense of Natural Wonder (http://www.thegreenwolf.com/blog/) has become a key resource for seekers wanting to learn more about totems and learning to become closer to the spirits of nature in general. She has published three previous books on related topics and served as editor to two anthologies on unconnected Neopagan topics. A fourth book, Plant and Fungus Totems: Connect with Spirits of Field, Forest, and Garden has come out since the publication of this one.

The first pathway discussed in this book, that of Correspondences, begins by explaining – for those new enough to Neopaganism that they don’t yet know – what correspondences are, and then listing some examples of correspondence systems: astrological, seasonal, directional, elemental. Other forms of divinatory systems are discussed (Tarot, ogham, runic), and the section on astrology discusses the Chinese zodiac as well as the Western one. She points out that systems of correspondences can change over time, and emphasizes the need to make personal connections with the totems linked to these systems, rather than relying solely on stereotypical associations. There are invocations and outlines for rituals and spells in the last half of this section, and many suggestions meant to inspire thoughtful introspection that can lead to a much deeper, richer relationship with the totems you interact with.

The second pathway in the book – this reviewer’s favorite – is that of Bioregionalism. Specifically, it emphasizes learning about the specific animals native to the reader’s part of their country. For the reviewer, for example, who lives in the Midwest, in a suburban area near Chicago, by Lake Michigan, that means the totems more likely to be interacted with are apt to be animals like raccoons, tree squirrels, possums, the occasional coyote, robins, sparrows, garter snakes, American toads, and once in a while, hawks or falcons. Larger mammals like wolves, buffalo, and moose are nowhere to be found in this part of the States, and even deer and foxes are more likely to be seen only once the city itself is left behind and one travels out to more rural areas. This approach to totems helps the reader build a stronger relationship with the creatures he or she is more likely to see every day, and the frequency of that interaction is one of the qualities that makes it possible to connect all the more closely. In Arizona, an individual might have connections to sidewinder rattlesnakes, scorpions, Gila monsters, and buzzards; in the far north in Montana, a reader would indeed be likely to see wolves and elk, but also animals like marmots, Canadian lynx, bighorn sheep, and black bears. In Florida, there might be endangered Florida panthers, manatee, red wolves, bobcats, otters, armadillos, and capybara. Each bioregion will play host to its own set of creatures, some of which will be common and found over most of the country (deer, raccoons, squirrels), and others which will be found in that area alone.

The final section of the book deals with the pathway of Archetypes. In this system, creatures become symbols – metaphors — for particular concepts, experiences, and qualities. In the work of psychoanalyst Carl Jung, who defined and described the concept of archetypes, archetypes dwelt in the unconscious of the human brain, and an understanding of archetypes as guideposts to human behavior helped individuals to understand how that behavior was shaped by behavioral, neurochemical, and biological events and processes that had happened a long time in the past. The author points out that while a common understanding – or misunderstanding – of archetypes has led to any number of well-known symbols (dogs as hard workers, bears as healers, etc.), in the system of archetypal totemism, each creature may indeed have a different meaning from person to person. She stresses the importance of the self-interview and several other psychological tools described in this section to make certain that the meaning an individual ascribes to an archetypal totem actually fits what that totem means to that individual. She also cautions that, although working with archetypal totems is a process born from a psychological set of tools, it is in no way a replacement for actual psychological therapy, and should not be construed as such.

The final two sections in the book deal with learning how to combine the systems in the book and work in those combined models (Chapter Six) and other sorts of work with animal totems (Chapter Seven). Both chapters provide a wealth of advanced practice and ideas for individuals who have thoroughly practiced the exercises and ideas in the first part of the book. Part of chapter seven deals with certain American taboos – working with parts of dead totems (deer antlers, animal hides) and extends to eating parts of them; chickens, cows, pigs, turkeys, sheep, geese, ducks, and goats are all considered food animals in most countries, and yet they are all animals that can be connected to in totemic work. In some cultures, eating the flesh, eggs, milk, etc. of such animals is considered a way to become closer to that creature, and partaking of its essence, although it is a practice that vegetarians and vegans would not choose to take part in. This chapter also discusses working with the totem spirits of domestic animals that we commonly regard as pets: cats, dogs, parrots, snakes, fish, rats, hamsters, lizards, and even horses.

Finally, at the end of the book are a bibliography, a list for recommended reading, a glossary, and two indexes that will provide helpful research material for those wanting to do and learn more: a list of animal nonprofit organizations, and a guided meditation for finding totems.

This is one of the most useful and well-written books on totems ever written, and most certainly the finest one written in the last decade or so. In the years to come, it is not unrealistic to believe that it will come to be regarded as a foundational work in the study of totems and how to work with them. It is certainly not unrealistic to state that, for those who wish to not only begin learning how to work with totems but also to work with them in a myriad of ways that deepen the connections one makes, this is the book to add to one’s library.

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Invoking Animal Magic: A Guide for the Pagan Priestess

Invoking Animal Magic: A Guide for the Pagan Priestess
Hearth Moon Rising Moon Books, 2013

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Review by Leslie Linder.

I admit, I was expecting this book to be the usual information about communicating with your magical kitty. While I enjoy that type of material too, Hearth Moon Rising gave a very academic and experiential accounting of several types of animals that I might not have thought of on my own. The book offers an in-depth study of nine animals: snake, bat, mouse, bear, owl, toad, spider, rabbit/hare, and dog/wolf. Surprised by some of them? I was. She also touches on other animals and insects of all sorts —including the noble cockroach!

“Magic” is defined in the text in two ways: as spell casting and also as connection to the divine. The author works with both types of magic when she gives us rituals to follow as well as pagan lore about each species. For instance, she goes into a great deal of detail about the difference between hares and rabbits.

The book is a mix of dense academic research, varied personal exercises, and well-written personal anecdotes. I was drawn in very early in the book by Hearth Moon’s description of a time when she lived in an earth-home. Three snakes slept by or under her bed (including a rattler). Her fear and curiosity culminated in a magical experience where she connected with one of the snakes while trying to remove it from her home. Instead, the two of them formed a spiritual bond. The way she came to co-exist with the snakes and intuitively connect with their magic is a good indication of the tone you will find in the rest of the book.

This author has really spent time researching the Pagan historical context of the chosen species. She has also interacted with living animals and done her work to connect with them. She has designed rituals, meditations, and journaling prompts in each chapter. These make for motivating individual study or for fun group work.

The historical or scientific aspects of each chapter may feel a little dense at times, but the material is well-paced, with personal stories and a humorous writing style. For instance, my favorite sentence in chapter eight (dealing with transformation and shape-shifting) is, “if it looks like a duck, it could still be a witch.”

I would recommend going through this book if you are a Pagan and an animal lover. You will deepen your understanding of the creatures around you in some very interesting ways. Even if it looks like a pest, it may also be a messenger from the Goddess. This book can help you discern the difference.

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