Voices of the Sacred Feminine

Voices of the Sacred Feminine: Conversations to Re-Shape Our World
Edited by Karen Tate
Changemakers Books, 2014

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Review by Harita Meenee.

How often do you come across a women’s spirituality anthology that includes an interview with a world-famous thinker like Noam Chomsky? Yet Chomsky is not the only important contributor. Karen Tate has achieved to bring together all sorts of powerful voices that discuss religion, politics, activism, and the Sacred Feminine. She weaves a rich tapestry of interviews and essays based on her weekly Internet radio show that bears the same title as the book:

With the logo of a woman reaching out for an apple, a metaphor for Eve reaching for the Tree of Knowledge, my weekly show challenged listeners to fear not and taste the forbidden fruit! To rethink, reclaim and embrace the age-old knowledge that’s been denied us for too long. … I wanted my listeners to understand what denying the feminine face of god, whether the Great She be deity, archetype or ideal, has cost humanity – particularly women! I wanted them to know how the world might change if these ideals were once again a part of our culture and psyches.

Rev. Dr. Tate is no newcomer to the Sacred Feminine. She has written three more books exploring its diverse dimensions. SageWoman named her one of the Top Thirteen Most Influential Women in Goddess Spirituality and a Wisdom Keeper of the Goddess Spirituality Movement. In the beginning of the book, Karen describes her own journey of self-discovery. Then she offers us a true banquet of perspectives and ideas in the words of the show’s guests. You’ll certainly recognize some of their names: Selena Fox, Joan Norton, Charlene Spretnak, Ava, Barbara G. Walker, Tim Ward, Riane Eisler, Jean Shinoda Bolen, Starhawk, Lydia Ruyle, Layne Redmond, and many others.

These thinkers challenge us to reflect deeply upon the world and ourselves. They bring to surface hidden truths, ranging all the way from myth and ritual to American politics, economy, and businesses. I recommend reading each piece separately, then devoting some time to its consideration. This isn’t a book you’ll read overnight, but a treasure-trove you’ll come back to time and again. Its almost 400 pages contain many gems of wisdom!

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Wild Women, Wild Voices by Judy Reeves

Wild Women, Wild Voices: Writing from Your Authentic Wildness
Judy Reeves
New World Library, 2015

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Review by Rebecca Bailey.

What is a wild woman? What is her wild voice?

Judy Reeves is a writer and a writing teacher who has recognized “twin urges” in women: to reclaim the true (or authentic) nature that is usually kept below the surface of everyday life and to give it voice. In Wild Women, Wild Voices: Writing from Your Authentic Wildness, Reeves presents in book form her most popular writing workshop. The book is a thoughtful and inspiring read full of beautiful tools to help women “write to celebrate, heal, and free the wild woman within.”

“By nature we are creative,” Reeves affirms. “Creativity flows through us like blood in our veins. In our natural state we are writers, dancers, singers, poets, and makers of art, even though in our daily lives we may not practice our art or even acknowledge this part of ourselves . . . . Try as culture, politics, religion, or families might to eradicate it, this knowledge of our innermost Self—intuitive and rich and wild—is always with us,” even if we stutter when we attempt to express ourselves.

In her workshops, she brainstorms with participants to tie into words what nearly all women feel when we pair the words women and wild: the color red, earthy smells, nature-connected, creative, fierce, brave, wise, undomesticated.

The wild voice, as Reeves defines it, “is untamed and unbounded and holds the possibility of great beauty . . . Wild voice can be dangerous; it can be outrageous.” This book is not about editing and grammar or placing any restrictions on word-flow, but instead invites women writers to tell their stories and their truths from a place that is deep and true. It’s not about making nice.

The book’s chapters provide “explorations” (rather than writing exercises) of several arbitrary stages/cycles of a woman’s life, not only chronology (being a child, becoming a mother), but the geography of our lives, the illumination that can be provided when we are courageous enough to face our shadow-selves, our quests and life journeys, dreams and death. Offerings from professional writers and workshop participants are presented throughout; each and every one is worthy of contemplation.

I did many of the “explorations” as I read through the book; some I skipped, although there were things that felt like they would be fun to do. An example: write messages to yourself about your wild woman qualities with lipstick on your bathroom mirror! (I am not a woman who owns lipstick, or else I certainly would have done it.)

As a long time writer and writing teacher, I was more drawn to her writing prompts. My real name is . . . Yesterday my name was . . . Secretly I know my name is . . . My mother never told me . . . I never told my mother . . . Pick one, light a candle to acknowledge your move into the space of the wild, and write without stopping for five minutes. I paired the last two, and was surprised by what emerged.

I also found the writing selections evocative and inspiring. In thumbing through the book, a poem title jumped out at me, “If Death Were a Woman.” A lightning bolt struck something inside me, and I grabbed paper and pen. “If Death Were My Grandmother” poured out—rather than a skeletal spectre with a blade, I imagined Death coming to me as my beloved and much-missed Grandma Crisp, who would give me time to feed the cats before I joined her and my mother; in death we three would be the same age and be best friends for eternity. I can’t imagine ever again personifying Death as a clanky old mean man. That’s the kind of power the tools in this book can provide.

Appendices include suggestions for creating a Wild Woman Writing Group, chapter end notes, recommended reading, and an index (which always makes me happy). Definitely I’ll be using ideas from Wild Women, Wild Voices when I teach a writing workshop again. Highly recommended, especially for women who want to express themselves through writing but don’t know how to begin, or for those who find themselves bored by their own writing. When our writing begins to contain surprises, we know we’re writing in our wild voices. When it’s fun, when it’s exciting. Our stories, our truths, are all valuable. Judy Reeves provides a trusty roadmap for this introspective part of the journey.

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Warrior Goddess Training by HeatherAsh Amara

Warrior Goddess Training: Become the Woman You Are Meant to Be
HeatherAsh Amara
Hierophant Publishing, 2014

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Review by Pegi Eyers.

In contrast to the external demands on contemporary women such as perfectionism in the workplace or conforming to a “beauty ideal,” our best self is found in living our personal truth and authenticity, in whatever shape and form that takes. With over 20 years’ experience developing circles, programs and trainings that empower women to realize their full potential, HeatherAsh Amara has identified our liberatory calling as “The Path of the Warrior Goddess.” Finding her greatest joy in opening others to their “entelechy” (the unfolding of inherent talents and personal mythology), her dedication to the flourishing of each woman and the energy of the Divine Feminine shines through on every page. As a fan of The Four Agreements teachings, I found it incredibly exciting that HeatherAsh is an apprentice of Don Miguel Ruiz, and has advanced The Four Agreements into the sphere of women’s empowerment!

Based on Goddess Spirituality, contemporary self-help and her Thirteen Moons program, HeatherAsh has synthesized research and experience with diverse streams of spirit and knowledge to create Warrior Goddess Training. Deeply grounded in the earth connectivity of ancient European traditions and informed by indigenous mind, she guides us to take flight through the uncovering, unlearning, and healing of “old stories” to the freedom of self-actualization in the physical, emotional, intellectual and energetic realms. The book holds ten lessons, beginning with a commitment to self-acceptance, unconditional self-love and personal power, followed by a rejection of the binary thinking, false identities and illusory “agreements” we all carry, to the embrace of natural cycles and the impermanence of life. Letting go of the need to control is key (we all struggle with that one!), as we learn to surrender with love and grace to each unique experience and gift.

Building on each lesson like jewels on a string, energetically clearing body, mind and emotions to form the “sacred temple of self” is next, followed by the grounding that provides a base for transformation, finding our anchors in self-love, earth roots, connection to divinity and honoring the Ancestors. HeatherAsh guides us through a re-evaluation of our beliefs on sexuality, and shows us how to deconstruct old patterns in favor of sacred expression, positive body image, healing the sexual flow, and channeling the life force into creativity and joy. Instead of giving away our personal power by people-pleasing, distraction, isolation or over-controlling, she shows us how igniting our own will and focus is the path to freedom. Accessing the wisdom of the heart and practicing lovingkindness nourishes us, and brings us to a place of balance in our relationships with others. Finding our authentic voice and speaking our truth at all costs, paying attention to intuition and embodying the deep awareness of Toltec “silent knowledge,” honors the feminine archetypes of Oracle and Crone. And lastly, we can move beyond traditional roles to re-define ourselves and expand our paths, reclaim our Goddess Warrior Energy, manifest our true purpose, and become our most powerful beautiful self!

HeatherAsh reminds us that our happiness is not found in consumerism or aligning with superficial power structures, but by releasing layers of old habits and claiming authentic treasure. “We are the ones we have been waiting for,” and the paradigm shift to the Divine Feminine today means moving away from other-focused to inner-focused. Embracing the wisdom and guidance in Warrior Goddess Training can empower us to transcend the domestication and negative influence of the patriarchy, and more importantly, to transform the internal limitations we have placed on ourselves.

All around the world, women are stepping forward to invite back their authentic, creative, wonderfully unique selves. We are shedding the old, faded clothes of war, domination, competition, jealousy, and repression. We are rising like the sun, shining big and bright as the full moon. We are saying yes to the power of fierce love, compassion, constant authenticity, and vulnerability. These are the attributes of our warrior focus and our Goddess joy. (HeatherAsh Amara)

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Women Healers of the World by Holly Bellebuono

Women Healers of the World: The Tradition, History and Geography of Herbal Medicine
Holly Bellebuono
Skyhorse, 2014

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Review by Jamie Wood.

This colorful, vibrant tome is a well-researched, eclectic portrayal of more than thirty women who have studied, safeguarded and taught herbal medicine for centuries. This kaleidoscope of our herbal inheritance emboldens the reader as they follow the journeys, spirit and knowledge of the brave and resolute women who have dedicated their lives to their unique discovery and sharing of plant wisdom.

Throughout the book, the healers consistently stress that direct experience with plants is essential to develop trust in the healing power of herbs and confidence as a healer. Their collective knowledge is derived from scientific labs to the forests, but all the healers view reciprocity and mutuality with plants as crucial to understanding and using the life essence of the land to heal and maintain health.

As the book presents five different traditions (Plant, Body, Spirit, Land and Handcrafting), readers discover a plethora of herbal practices and approaches to plant medicine. From this broad expanse of knowledge and story, the reader is drawn to the method and teacher that will bring out the healer in them. Within the Plant Tradition, the reader is introduced to influential herbalists and teachers in Western, Native Nations Medicine, Polynesian Medicine, Folk Medicine, Gypsy and Bedouin Traditions, Alchemy and Aromatherapy. In the Body Traditions section, readers learn more about healers in Ayurveda, Eastern Oriental Medicine, Midwifery, Allopathic Medicine and Pharmacology. Within the Spirit Traditions, a wealth of knowledge is presented about Flower Essence Therapy, Homeopathy, Gaelic Pharmacy, Shamanism and Spirit Medicine. Women leading Conservation, Gardening and Ethnobotany are discussed under Land Traditions. Under the Handcrafting Traditions, readers are treated to recipes with oils, pastes, salves, ointments, extracts, concentrates, water remedies, spiritual and ceremonial and what author, Holly Bellebuono, calls “earthly delights.”

Excerpts on etymology, mythology, specific herbs and their uses as well as descriptions of geography are sprinkled throughout the book. The etymology provides a “popcorn trail” to rediscover the deep connection to the power of words and highlights their journey through time to influence our world culture. Mythology grounds the information in the profound resonance of story that allows the plant wisdom to settle into the mind, body and spirit. Profiles on a variety of herbs introduce unique uses and the benefits and is rather like being introduce to a new friend at a party. Picturesque depictions of the healers’ homeland provide the framework that has inspired and guided these powerful women.

The power of this book lies in the legacy of these women and the long lineage of herbal knowledge to encourage and support the reader to become a healer in their own right. This book is a mentor, just as these women have relied upon their teachers, and provides a guiding hand, which moves from gentle to fierce, and instills a powerful confidence that we women have been healers for millennia and will continue to bring the healing powers from the natural world into the future.

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Artemis by Jean Shinoda Bolen

Artemis: The Indomitable Spirit in Everywoman
Jean Shinoda Bolen, M.D.
Conari Press, 2014

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Review by Barbara Ardinger.

First, historical context—Thirty years ago, when Bolen wrote Goddesses in Everywoman, spiritual feminism (aka feminist spirituality) was on a steep upward flight. Whether we saw Artemis, Athena, Hestia, Hera, Demeter, Persephone, and Aphrodite as true goddesses or as archetypes, we wanted to identify with them and live more divine lives. As our high priestess Gloria Steinem wrote in the foreword, “The highest value of [Goddesses in Everywoman] lies in the moments of recognition it provides … moments of ‘Aha!’: that insightful second when we understand and internalize … [and take] one step further to an understanding of, ‘Yes, that’s why’” (Goddesses in Everywoman, p. xi). We devoured this book as we also devoured Bolen’s succeeding books.

And now—Tons of Goddess books were being published back then. It was the beginning of a great movement. Today it’s a new generation, and we’re seeing fewer such books. This may be because our daughters know more than we did at their age. Bolen opens this new book by defining “indomitable.” It comes from the Latin in + domitare: “to tame; incapable of being subdued or tamed” (p. ix). She then refers to the strong young female heroes (heras) like Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games trilogy, Lisbeth Salander in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, even—Goddess help us!—Anastasia Steele, that witless participant in sexual abuse in Fifty Shades of Grey. Back in the olden days, Bolen reminds us, our primary hera was Jo March in Little Women, published in 1868 but beloved by generations of girls who wanted something more than sappy novels about modest maidens.

Who is our new mythological and possibly archetypal hera? Bolen says it’s Atalanta, a figure from Greek mythology. She is the newborn daughter of a king who wants a son and orders her thrust out into the wilderness to die. The baby is rescued (possibly by Artemis) and brought up by a mother bear. She grows up strong and beautiful, joins the hunt for the fearsome Calydonian Boar and shoots it in the eye. Prince Meleager then kills it, and they go off into the wilderness to live together until he is killed. Now Atlanta goes home to her father and says she’ll marry the man who can beat her in a foot race, which Prince Hipponemenes (from the next kingdom over) does by throwing golden apples on the road to distract her. They fall in love. The story of Atalanta is Chapter 1 of Bolen’s new book. Myths like Atalanta’s, she says, “have the power of collective dreams and fascinate us because the themes in them are ours to inhabit or to observe” (p. 12).

Although Conari/RedWheel/Weiser needs to hire more competent editors (who can, for example spell Boeotia correctly and understand that a tabula raza is not a tabula rasa), Bolen’s new book is worth reading as she relates every aspect of the Atlanta myth and its context to the inner and outer lives of modern women (and some men). In Chapter 2, she writes about her nights as a Girl Scout camping in the wilderness under the stars. She also writes about the unfortunate habits of patriarchy, one of which is fathers who sell their daughters into marriage. Throughout the book, she tells stories about real women, some of them her patients, others authors like Cheryl Strayed who hiked the Pacific Crest Trail (though Bolen wrote the book before Reese Witherspoon made the movie).

In Chapter 4, “The Hunt for the Calydon Boar,” Bolen describes this famous hunt in the wilderness. Just as Zeus hurled thunderbolts and Poseidon unleashed earthquakes and floods to express their anger, Artemis felt insulted enough to send the huge, ferocious boar to ravage the Greek kingdom. The anger of Artemis happens in modern life, too:

When a woman with a cause becomes so outraged that she is out of control and can’t see that this is damaging both her cause and herself … she has been taken over by the Calydon boar. She doesn’t care who or what her words or actions hurt. … [S]he acts as an avenger of injustice who brings retribution. … She will get even! Her Calydon boar anger grows out of all proportion (p.54).

Scary stuff! Bolen also sees the Boar (both metaphorically and Jungially) as a destructive force of nature, which can include deforestation and death and drying. Yes, destruction happens. Like Atalanta after Meleager’s death, we end up in our own private, usually inner, wilderness after disasters crash into our lives. The wilderness is also the opening topic of Chapter 5. It’s the “metaphoric landscape … where you are in your life when you are in between one major phase or identity and the next. It’s a time when you make your own way, when you do not know what will come next or how you will change” (p. 69).

Bolen uses Chapter 6 and the footrace in which Hippomenes throws the golden apples on the road to distract Atalanta to write about Artemis-identified women who run today, either as exercise or for causes. She assigns meanings to the three golden apples. Apple #1 represents “awareness of time passing.” Apple #2 represents the “awareness of the importance of love.” Apple #3 represents the “awareness of the urge to create.” There are psychological lessons in all of this, of course, as there are in the remaining chapters. Chapter 9, “Free to Be You and Me,” she writes, “fits the intention of this book. Myths and stories come most alive when there is a corresponding active archetype in us” (p. 183). As in the earlier chapters, Bolen refers to present-day girls and women as well as Greek myths to show how we can indeed find our inner goddess and be free to be our best selves. These are good lessons.

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The Witching Herbs by Harold Roth

The Witching Herbs: 13 Essential Plants and Herbs for Your Magical Garden
Harold Roth
Weiser, 2017

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Review by Rebecca Bailey.

A plant is a sacred text,” Harold Roth writes in this wonderful book. The description, the plan, the story of the plant’s spirit,” he continues, and when you tend that plant and cultivate it and groom it, you indicate to its spirit that you are receptive to its contact.” (pp. 12-13). This book’s ambitious — and largely successful — goal is to marry the art of growing plants as a gardener with using plant magic as a practitioner of the Craft.

The thirteen witching herbs selected by the author are: poppy, clary sage, yarrow, rue, hyssop, vervain, mugwort, wormwood, datura, wild tobacco, henbane, belladonna, and mandrake. Roth relies on common names and does not emphasize the scientific binomials; in my reading, this is the book’s only significant flaw. While this is not a scientific text (although much good science is included, especially about plants’ chemical compositions), readers need to know exactly which species the author means. In this aspect, as well as others, the book’s primary audience is the intermediate to advanced practitioner.

His chapter “Cultivating Your Witch’s Garden” is a thorough introduction to establishing plants in your garden. As a lifelong gardener, I appreciate his emphasis on the spirituality inherent in bonding with plants we choose to cultivate. Roth’s self-deprecating humor shines when he confesses that although he can grow datura, he can’t grow a zucchini!

I like the way the author does not shy away from what he calls “the baneful plants,” especially those in the Solanaceae (nightshade) family. He presents information on just what exactly makes them baneful, largely tropane alkaloids that can produce sinister hallucinations and behaviors and can even kill. “New Age approaches to the natural world have meant that many no longer expect plant spirits to have anything but calm and wise personalities” — in contrast, “datura gets a bang out of messing with people” (p. 178). The chapter for each baneful plant contains copious, explicit, and vivid warnings about their effects, from merely smelling the flowers to touching their leaves with ungloved hands.

This unique and well-written volume includes lore, cultural history, growing tips, instructions for magical uses of each plant and a comprehensive bibliography. A worthy addition to a green witch’s library.

I’ll give Harold Roth the last word: “No one can gainsay healthy witching herbs that you grow yourself. They are there as proof of your hard-won expertise. I hope this book leads you to experience the satisfaction, confidence, and knowledge that are born from the serious practice of growing the witching herbs and devotion to their spirits” (p. 245).

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Pagan Consent Culture

Pagan Consent Culture: Building Communities of Empathy & Autonomy
Edited by Christine Hoff Kraemer & Yvonne Burrow
Asphodel Press, 2016

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Review by Hecate Demetersdatter.

This is a hefty book crammed with essays by and a few interviews with Pagans from a wide variety of traditions. Many of the essays would make excellent starting points for discussions or workshops about consent culture. The issue of consent has been of interest to Pagans for a few years now, especially in light of complaints about the behavior that is sometimes tolerated, ignored, or dealt with imperfectly at Pagan gatherings, festivals, and conferences and within some Pagan groups. Those who organize, run, and work at such events or groups will likely find this book a useful resource.

The essays are grouped into three parts:  Part I: Developing Pagan Philosophies of Consent; Part II Responding to Abuse and Assault; and Part III:  Building Communities of Empathy and Autonomy. Appendices at the end include a list of additional resources, a sample handout for a class on consent culture, and the Pagan Community Statement on Religious Sexual Abuse (2009).

Part I includes discussions of consent from the perspective of Druidism, Thelma, Heathenry, Feminist Paganism, Wicca, the Anderson Faery Tradition, Animism, and Polytheologism. Essays discuss consent as it relates to sexual initiation, BDSM, mythology, and being a god spouse. Part II includes chapters that recount personal experiences with abuse and assault, discuss how to respond to and prevent abuse, consider how to deal with consent, boundaries, and ethics in a sex-positive religion, and provide guidelines for being in community with those who have survived sexual abuse and/or assault. The essays and interviews in Part III range over wider territory, including discussions of how to raise children who understand their own boundaries and respect those of others, using mindful touch, dealing with sky clad practices, and Pagans with Asperger’s Syndrome.

As in any collection of different authors, some of the writing is quite good and some leaves a bit to be desired.  But the book is better-edited than is, sadly, true of much modern Pagan writing.  Raven Caldera’s discussion of what the BDSM community can teach us about consent is particularly well-written, as is Jason Thomas Pitzl’s essay on exploitation and initiation. Shauna Aura Knight contributes a clear and well-argued discussion of the difference between a Pagan community that is sex-positive and one that pressures members into relationships and acts to which they may not freely consent. A. Acland presents a fascinating discussion of whether the ballad Tam Lin is a rape story. At first glance, that may appear to have little to do with modern consent culture, but the author uses the ballad to make the larger point that much Pagan mythology comes from times and cultures that saw and valued consent quite differently from modern Pagans. I found it a valuable lesson in how to interpret and re-vision mythology that, while rich, can also be troubling. Mythology, as Acland notes of ballads, is a living, breathing, changing thing.

The issue of consent is one best dealt with before problems arise. This book is a valuable tool for Pagans who interact with other Pagans and parents raising Pagan children.

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FEAST by Scott Helland

FEAST
Scott Helland

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Review by Deborah Blake.

Scott Helland is most familiar to those in the Pagan community through his music. As a gifted musician and the guitarist half of popular international touring indie folk punk cabaret duo, Frenchy and the Punk (he’s the punk, obviously), Scott has been a part of the witchy world for many years. But it turns out that his talents encompass the artistic realm as well.

I confess, that’s not a surprise to me. I have been fortunate enough to hear Scott play in person a few times, and he usually had a few tee shirts and other fun goodies with the duo’s Batfrog logo he designed. What did surprise me was the scope of his gifts, on view in his first book of art.

FEAST is indeed a feast, both for the eyes and for the spirit. At first glance, the black and white pen and ink drawings in the book seem simple. After all, they’re only in two colors, and it’s pen and ink, not some more dramatic medium such as oil or watercolor. But when you take a second look, and a third, and a fourth (and I promise, you will want to), there is a depth and a complexity to these more than fifty pictures that will pull you in and capture your imagination.

Many of the images contain some combination of the human form, music, gothic architecture, the natural world—most particularly trees—and various mythical components, all wound up together so you can’t tell where one starts and the other lets off. Which is the point, I think. Some of the pictures are also accompanied by short, poignant quotes, which provide spice to the main dish that is the art itself.

This book defies categorization. It is part sacred worship, part social commentary, and perhaps, part diary of a musician; you’d have to ask the author to be sure. What it is for certain, however, is a beautiful marriage of spirit and art, and a book well worth having on your shelves or giving as a gift to someone you know would appreciate something magically unusual and inspirational.

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Les Cabinets des Polythéistes

Les Cabinets des Polythéistes: An Anthology of Pagan Fairy Tales, Folktales, and Nursery Rhymes
Edited by Rebecca Buchanan
Bibliotheca Alexandria, 2016

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Review by Hugh Eckert.

Modern Polytheists and Pagans are heirs to a massive body of lore. Libraries all over the world are treasure troves, and anyone with an Internet connection has access to a wide selection of tales and myths from cultures all over the world, ranging from the modern day back to the inventions of writing. This bounty is not without its problems, though. Collections of fairy tales and folklore often are tainted with monotheistic judgments, pious morality, or outdated academic biases. Even the best are lensed through the worldview of their collectors and editors, and often discard meaning and magic for the sake of scholarly objectivity.

This book is a first step in addressing the above problem. The editor in her introduction makes it clear that she has a purpose and an agenda: the reenchantment of the world. Fairy tales are, in her view, the literature of this reenchantment, a literature that is at its core polytheistic. The stories in this volume have been selected to evoke a sacred sense of wonder, of awe, of horror and laughter.

The book is (amongst other things) an homage to the classic Le Cabinet des Fées, a massive collection of fairy tales and one of the first of the modern era. It has the feel of the sort of an eclectic collection one might run across in a dusty tome- the stories are arranged alphabetically by title and range from short poems to much longer prose pieces, hopping from the modern era to the distant past to the imagined “long ago and far away” of the storyteller’s art.

There are some real gems to be found in these pages. Darius Klein’s “The Princess and the Frogs” feels like it came from the mouth of a storyteller in Ancient Egypt; it’s a strong story with a moral that is entirely authentic and pre-Abrahamic. Szmeralda Shanel’s “Queenie the Beautiful and Her Magical Doll” takes inspiration from the tales of Baba Yaga and uses it to tell a powerful tale of the making of a conjure woman. Kiya Nicholl’s “Spine of the World” felt to me like the sort of story that a character in a story might tell; it concerns the value of modesty, pride and politeness and has a finely-woven mix of Egyptian and European elements. And Erin Lale’s “Woodencloak: A Tale Reimagined” is a delightful re-working of a Norwegian fairy tale, slyly interlaced with Norse myth.

I could go on and on. There’s something for everyone here: myth as beat poetry, Heathen bedtime stories, hymns that sparkle or haunt, ancient tales dressed in the trappings of urban fantasy or lushly growing in the soil of a different culture. There’s also a brief but useful “for further reading” list for those who want to delve further. There are a few clunkers here and there, as well- tales with morals that are about as subtle (and offputting) as a thrown brick, pieces that were too arch or distanced or awkward and earnest for me, some that were nice enough but had little to do with Polytheism or Paganism, some that were muddled or fragmentary, others that simply could have used a bit more proofreading. There were a couple of odd stylistic decisions- one of the stories was in a different font size, and there were a couple of paintings by Nina Kossman that looked like they might have been lovely if I could see them larger and in color.

As Polytheists and Pagans, we need these tales. We need stories we can tell our children to explain the world or to lull them to sleep. We need yarns to tell around the fire after the dancing and drumming have died down, or in front of the hearth in the dark half of the year. We need stories that reflect the multicolored, multifaceted world, full of magic, of Gods and spirits, which we believe in. This book is a great start, and I can only hope there will be more to come.

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Esoteric Empathy by Raven Digitalis

Esoteric Empathy
Raven Digitalis
Llewellyn Publications, 2016

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Review by Natalie Zaman.

Some books explore the nature of the Divine; reading them enhances our understanding of deity. Others are filled with means and methods to infuse magic into day to day living; practical manuals for building a lifestyle. Both are valuable and needed depending on where you are in life and on your path. Every now and again, however, there are books that manage to do both of these things: Offer techniques for a day to day practice with the end goal of looking deity straight in the eye.

Raven Digitalis’ Esoteric Empathy is an owner’s manual for our times. Our world(s)—magical and mundane—it seems like it’s become all too easy to judge, frustrate anger and offend. We need empathy, desperately, achingly. Empathy, Raven says is, “an emotional experience… the ability to feel what another person is feeling… taking place on numerous levels simultaneously.” If only we could really understand one another. Trying out the practices in this book just might get us there. To open yourself to your empathic abilities (everyone has them) unlocks the potential to see the face of god/dess in the faces of your fellow human beings. I caught a glimpse of this, thanks to Esoteric Empathy.

My initial thought on my first read (This is one of those books that’s destined to be dogeared, marked up and filled with personal notes—a note for the reprint, if space allows) was that this would be an excellent road guide to navigate the social/economic/spiritual/religious/political/etc. etc. etc. terrain we’re all trying to traverse every day. I expected to put some of what I read into practice (Favorite chapters were the necessary and detailed, “Grounding, Shielding and Energy Management,” and “Approaching the Mundane World.”) at my own pace and in my own time, but the universe (and perhaps Mercury Retrograde) had other plans. It was one of those days where everything went wrong. I won’t bore you with the details, but let’s just say most of it took place at the Division of Motor Vehicles and what should have been a one, maybe two hour trip max turned into a full morning and afternoon affair. About half way into it I was drained, exhausted, and at the end of my patience. We’ve all been there. But I had a secret resource to draw on—a simple series of hand meditations—mudras—that I’d committed to memory after reading Esoteric Empathy (I’d read the book on a plane, and being a nervous flier, practicing these mudras helped me get through that as well).

In the chapter, “Balancing the Self,” Raven offers a series of four mudras for balancing, Prana, Rudra, Prithvi and Anjali, with accompanying breathing techniques and a mantra at the end. Mudras must, as Raven says in “Balancing the Self,” “be practiced with the utmost precision and focus,” and they lend themselves to this because of their simplicity. Practicing the mudras (which I was able to do discreetly in public) not only got me through what could have been a really terrible and stressful experience (17 year old’s birthday where he *almost* didn’t get his driving license), it boosted my energy and helped me remember that I was dealing with folks who were just trying to do their jobs, and who were as probably as tired and as frustrated as I was. Admittedly, I didn’t say the mantra exactly as it was written in the book (each of us brings our unique energy to all we do)—but it worked, and I will certainly be using it again.

Esoteric Empathy explores the nature of empathic ability (everyone has it) through analysis, anecdotes, exercises and meditations that draw on personal experience, pop culture, multicultural practices and world religions—empathy is, at its heart, a study of understanding. I would recommend reading this from cover to cover, but you can just as easily turn to any chapter (maybe even with a bit of bibliomancy—what form of empathy is needed today?) to, “open the window to the soul.”

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