Godless Paganism

Godless Paganism: Voices of Non-Theistic Pagans
Edited by John Halstead
Lulu.com, 2016

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Review by Holli Emore.

Most of us think of 1964’s “most hated woman in America,” Madalyn Murray O’Hair or, scientists like Stephen Hawking, when we hear the words atheist, agnostic or humanist.  And yet a new volume paints a beautifully-nuanced picture of today’s non-theistic Pagans.  In a crowd of recent years’ anthologies of Pagan writers on various subjects, Godless Paganism: Voices of Non-Theistic Pagans, edited by John Halstead, stands out as a significant contribution to the field of contemporary Pagan theology.

Nearly seventy-five essays are organized under inviting sections like Non-Theistic Pagans: “Yes, We Exist!”; Analyzing with Apollo: Rationality, Critical Thought, and Skepticism; Dancing with Dionysus: Emotion, Passion, and Mysticism; Not Your Fathers’ God: Non-Theistic Conceptions of the Divine; Who Are We Talking To Anyway?: Non-Theistic Paganism and God-Talk; Just LARPing? Non-Theistic Pagan Practice; Bringing It Down to Earth: Non-Theistic Paganism and Nature; Origin Stories: Becoming a Non-Theistic Pagan; Looking Back: Non-Theistic Pagans in History; and Looking Forward: Non-Theistic Pagan Community.

Unlike common stereotypes, the writers presented in Godless Paganism choose to call themselves (if they choose a label at all) by names that illustrate the variety in this growing segment of the Pagan world – Atheopagan, Humanistic and Naturalistic Pagan, Buddho-Pagan, or Gaian, for example. Many of them share their personal stories in the anthology. The reader may be surprised to find familiar names among the contributors.  That’s because their spiritual trajectory has often moved from beginnings in one modern Pagan tradition or another into a personal understanding of existence which has left theistic belief behind, even when the outer practice is maintained. In this, the contributors reflect the most common pattern for most of today’s Pagans, that of being raised in a more-or-less mainstream religion before embracing some path of Paganism.

At a time when many are being loudly vocal about what they call hard polytheism, Godless Paganism is refreshingly non-dogmatic. By telling their own stories, the writers show that just as in any religious/spiritual group, there are infinite shades of gray in both experience and practice. Nowhere did I encounter a writer insisting that Pagans who believe in or otherwise honor a deity or pantheon are wrong. In fact, I was struck by the authenticity of this passage by Halstead:

“It is probably true that not all questions can be answered by the scientific method.  Many issues which concern Naturalistic Pagans may fall into this category.  In such cases, humility is what is called for, not faith.  The paucity of scientific evidence is not a justification to believe whatever one wants.  Naturalistic Pagans believe that, when science has yet to answer a question, we must place the question in the category of the ‘as yet unknown’ and suspend judgment. In the meantime, though, our condition of ‘unknowing’ may be enriched by our individual subjective  experiences. But we should remember that we can submit even our own experiences to the scientific method: experiment, observe, draw tentative conclusions, compare with others, and then repeat.” (page 48)

From philosophical, to poetic, to science- and environment-focused, the essays of Godless Paganism thoughtfully address many current Pagan topics: place-based practice, reciprocity, mystical experience, devotional practice, transcendence as a lateral phenomenon rather than horizontal, Jungian archetypes, the gods and the chthonic forces which underlie them.

I heartily recommend Godless Paganism as an enjoyable read, a complement to personal devotion and practice no matter what one’s beliefs, and a volume which will be useful to many who are pursuing Pagan academic studies.

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The Hearth Witch’s Compendium by Anna Franklin

The Hearth Witch’s Compendium: Magical and Natural Living for Every Day
Anna Franklin
Llewellyn, 2017

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Review by Sharynne NicMhacha.

This book is a true magical compendium, and an absolutely delightful volume to own! Every detail has been well thought out, from the cover art to the graphics inside, from the inspiring contents to inviting open spaces where the reader can mark down their own notes or experiences.

The main sections of the book include: The Witch’s Kitchen; Wine, Cider and Beer; Preserving; The Witch’s Home; Personal Care; A Witch’s Guide to Natural Beauty; The Witch’s Garden; Herbs for Healing; Home Remedies; Essential Oils; Magical Herbalism; Incense; Vegetable Dyes; and appendices containing information about color correspondences, planetary influences, and magical herbal correspondences.

One might expect a book of this type to contain just a few of these sections, or a number of sections that contain just a few recipes. This book is a cornucopia of knowledge, and the information is solid and plentiful. Each section contains excellent foundational information as well as unusual and enticing recipes.
The chapter on The Witch’s Kitchen contains daily food recipes as well as traditional foods for the eight holidays. The chapter about Wine, Cider and Beer cider provides brewing information and many truly magical recipes, including Rowan Wine, Hawthorn Berry Wine, Hedgerow Wine, and Honeysuckle Wine, to name just a few.

This is followed by a chapter on preserving, which provides guidance on making jams, jellies, marmalades and fruit curds (I grew up in Canada where lemon curd was spread on toast or crumpets). There is also information on making fruit cheeses and fruit butters, as well as fruit syrups, pickled foods, chutney and sauces. In addition, instruction is given for drying foods, making fruit leathers and other methods of conserving food. I was especially happy to see a section on non-alcoholic cordials, as not everybody wants to partake of alcohol before or during a rite (and children can partake as well!)

The chapter called The Witch’s Home contains alternative and natural home and cleaning products which are very useful indeed; good for you and your loved ones, and good for the planet as well! The next chapter is on Personal Care and provides the reader with recipes for bath bombs, bath teabags, milk baths, bath powders, natural shampoos and coloring rinses, amongst many other wonderful products you can create.

In the chapter entitled A Witch’s Guide to Natural Beauty, we learn about the uses of herbs and how to make facial scrubs and masks, facial cleansers such as Elderberry Cleanser or Cucumber and Honey Cleanser, skin toners like Violet Milk, moisturizers, skin treatments and more.

The next chapter brings us to The Witch’s Garden, with suggestions for creating gardens based on magical uses, winemaking, healing products, natural cosmetics, dyes and more. The author gives many ideas and tips for moon gardening and indoor gardening as well.

Next is Herbs for Healing, in which we meet the plants and learn how to make traditional herbal preparations. Home Remedies follows, with many useful and unusual recipes such as making a Meadowsweet Compress or a Castor Oil and Juniper Rub. This is very useful section, and different elements are listed with associated recipes and herbs. Perhaps you think you’ve already seen this type of book, but the information in this compendium includes tried-and-true recipes as well as many unique and alluring ones.

The chapter on essential oils is arranged alphabetically and contains information about magical virtues, deities, planets, elements and sun signs, as well as how to use the oils for health. It also describes how to make and charge magical oils with useful charts for different purposes.

Finally we come to Magical Herbalism, and teachings on gathering ritual herbs, identifying herbs, planetary correspondences and magical uses. In addition there are recipes and instructions for making potions, teas and herbal inks!

The chapter on incense making was very interesting and covered different categories like resins, essential oils, woods and barks, roots, dried berries, dried herbs, dried flowers, and seeds and pods. A wide range of incense recipes follows, some of which are associated with particular deities or elements, holidays or moon phases, and specific purposes like cleansing, banishing or abundance.

The last chapter discusses vegetable dyes and how to make a wide variety of dyes and colors from plant materials. This is a book you will return to time and time again, one of those books that you keep for a lifetime and in which you continue to discover new magic and marvels every time you open it up. Highly recommended!

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The Wolf of Allendale by Hannah Spencer

The Wolf of Allendale
Hannah Spencer
HarperCollins, 2017

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Review by Rebecca Buchanan.

The wolf has returned. The cysgod-cerddwr is a fearsome monster of deep legend, a creature of darkness and hunger. Bran, the Pennaeth of the Pridani, is the only one who can save his people. But he may not be powerful enough to defeat the wolf, face down challenges to his position as Penneath, and protect his land against invaders from across the sea …. Millennia later, change is once again coming to the land and people. Bert is the last in a long line of sheep herders, content with his quiet life. But his young grandson, the lone male family member available to succeed him, is more interested in the railroad cutting across the countryside. Now sheep are disappearing and a cold winter has set in, and the lore passed down by his ancestors may not be enough for Bert to defeat a fearsome wolf who has returned, hungrier than ever…

The Wolf of Allendale is a tale of slowly creeping dread and terror, with the wolf becoming more terrible and more real with each encounter. The story moves back and forth between the first century BCE and the mid-nineteenth century and, though Bran and Bert are separated by millennia, they share a common fear for the future of their people and way of life. Bran understands immediately the nature and danger of the cysgod-cerddwr, while Bert is less certain, reluctant to believe and reliant upon knowledge that may have been corrupted by the passage of time. Each man does his duty as best he can, depending upon his own strength and his faith.

The Wolf of Allendale is an historical fantasy; as such, while some of the historical aspects may be inaccurate, the faith displayed by both men is sincere and deeply moving. Bran reflects often on the nature of the Four-Faced Goddess and of the dying-and-rising God of the Green. In her wintery aspect of The Cailleach, she is not to be trifled with, but she is not unreasonably cruel, either. In  his first serious encounter with the wolf, Bran draws upon that faith and the power of the Goddess:

He raised his rowan staff [….] He felt the sacred sigils carved beneath his fingers. Of the Goddess, the One. With her son, as One became Two. Of her triple aspect as One became Three. And of the totality as All became One. (p 66)

Millennia later, when Bert first faces the wolf at the Well of Saint Bride (another Goddess reference for those who remember, and few do), he relies upon the power of the pentagram and the elements and the ravens, but he doesn’t know why. That knowledge only comes much later.

A writer and sheep farmer in England, Spencer pours her love for her land and its folklore into her work; little details, such as the way sheep will pull down branches to reach the few remaining leaves, and the sounds and smells of the fell where they graze, and the brightness of the berries against the snow, permeate her story. The result is a tale which is beautiful and terrible, life-affirming and heart-breaking.

Highly recommended to fans of Alex Bledsoe’s Tufa series, Nina Milton’s Shaman Mystery series, Strange Magic by Syd Moore, and the Green Men series by KJ Charles.

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Pagan Portals by Rebecca Beattie

Pagan Portals Nature Mystics: The Literary Gateway to Modern Paganism
Rebecca Beattie
GoddessInk, 2013

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Review by Amanda Lonsdorf.

In the author’s mind “modern Paganism is a movement born from literature”. Rebecca Beattie’s book Pagan Portals-Nature Mystics: The Literary Gateway to Modern Paganism exposes the reader to some of the historical and literary foundational individuals who helped to develop the modern Pagan movement through their lives and written works. These individuals are labeled “Nature Mystics”. Beattie describes Nature Mystics as “someone who has mystical experiences in nature or connects to the divine through nature, and uses that connection to fuel inspiration”. Now, Beattie does not claim that any of the authors explored in this book are explicitly Pagan, but that they “contributed to the pre-Pagan cultural environment” that helped lay the foundations of modern paganism to develop and grow. She calls them “proto-Pagans”. The authors individually have attitudes, beliefs, practices, or themes in their lives and works that would echo modern pagan culture or personal experience. Beattie explores various authors: John Keats, Mary Webb, Thomas Hardy, Sylvia Townsend Warner, D.H. Lawrence, Elizabeth von Arnim, William Butler Yeats, Mary Butts, J.R.R Tolkien, and E. Nesbit. A reader might say that is a narrow list and Beattie would agree with you. Beattie freely admits there could have been more authors included, but states this book is meant to be an introduction into the topic.

Beattie divides the book by author. Each author is explored thoroughly. There are four sections to each author: 1) a description of the reason they were included in the book, 2) Putting their work in context with their life and time they lived in, 3) exploring their spirituality, 4) examples of their written work. Having selected examples of the writer’s works was helpful to not only get a feel for the author’s voice, but their connection to nature. This made them more relate-able. It was interesting to see where and how some author’s lives crossed and influenced each other. In addition, Beattie included how the authors crossed paths with other notable figures or groups in the history of modern paganism. If you are interested in history, whether it be world, literary, or pagan history, you will get a good dose of it in this book. Beattle does an admirable job of explaining historical events, terms, or people of import in the space available to her. The reader might need a little previous knowledge of Pagan or literary history to get the most out of this book. At the same time, I appreciated that Beattie didn’t drag down the book with too much historical explanation. She explains just enough to show you the significance of each individual author without belaboring the point. The only thing I would have liked to see in the book was in text citation. While Beattie does have a bibliography at the end of the book, which is appreciated and adequate, I would have felt more comfortable with accepting the historical information or personal details of author’s lives with the inclusion of in-text citations. Even so, Beattie freely admits this is not a “scholarly” book, but that she is “wearing the hat of practitioner, who is exploring our literary past and origins”. Thus, my one criticism is very minor over all.

This is book offers a great introduction to our literary history as pagans. Often, when works are being critically analyzed they are compared to Christian religious topics, themes, and archetypes. In this book, the authors and their texts are explored with an understanding of broader Pagan references, beliefs, and symbolism. It was personally pleasing to see myself and my beliefs reflected back at me in these literary works and history. This book offers the reader a look at some of the individuals who helped pave the way of modern Pagan thought and practice to become more open and accepted. It is important for us as modern Pagans to understand the many directions and sources our spiritual roots stem from. This way we can feel more grounded in and have understanding of the complexity of our current modern Pagan culture. Through exploring our literary past, we become more connected to those who came before us and each other today. In addition, this book renewed a desired to re-explore old authors or introduce myself to new authors. This text inspired me to add their words to my own beliefs, practice, and spiritual path. These authors, just like myself and other Pagans, have a deep connection to the natural world around us and the magic within it. Their words allow me to become closer to my own spirituality and inspires me to continue to develop it. Reading their works, which echo those felt in my own soul, puts words to my own experiences and beliefs. Treat yourself and expose yourself to these fascinating individuals in our collective Pagan history by reading Beattie’s book.

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Tree Girl by Julianne Skai Arbor

Tree Girl: Intimate Encounters With Wild Nature
Julianne Skai Arbor
Tree Girl Studios, 2016

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Review by Lupa.

There are certain books that are pagan without expressly using that label; this is one of those. Part field guide, part photography book, it beautifully weaves together science and art while being spiritually viable.

The author, Julianna Skai Arbor, aka Tree Girl, has spent the past several years photographing remarkable individuals from fifty different tree species around the world. Many of these photos feature her or other female models in the nude, embracing the trees in sensual communion. Sometimes the models appear to be sleeping comfortably amid great roots and branches; other times there is a playful exploration. But always the human is only one part of a greater ecosystem, something that this book cannot emphasize enough.

For it is more than pretty pictures. Tree Girl shares in detail the natural history of each species she profiles, as well as the relationships humans historically had with it, to include medicinal uses. More importantly, she is quite clear about how our current actions are threatening many of these great plants and the many other beings who rely on them for food, shelter and more. But she also gives many excellent suggestions for how to reconnect with nature and become a better advocate for the beings we share this world with, for the benefit of all involved. This book is a bold combination of ethereal beauty and hard reality.

If this all isn’t overtly pagan enough for you, check out the titles of some of the photos: “Silver Beech Root Fairy”, “Cathedral Fig Dryad” and “Sequoia Meditation” are just a few of the animistic names Tree Girl has given her works. It’s a divinely feminine book, celebrating women’s bodies without heavily sexualizing them, and placing women in the context of the natural world around us. And within the very first chapter, she details the way in which she connects with the tree physically and spiritually. Her process should be familiar to anyone who has worked with nature spirits embodied in wood and flesh.

Whether you be naturalist or feminist, artist or environmentalist, witch or Druid or animist, this is a deeply inspirational book that you may draw deeply from again and again. As there are fifty trees, perhaps you could spend a week meditating on each one’s unique spirit, with a week on either end to prepare yourself to enter this great work or to bring it back out to share with the world. Or simply let it be something you enjoy paging through when you feel the need to live vicariously through a passionate artist’s works.

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New Paths to Animal Totems by Lupa

New Paths to Animal Totems: Three Alternative Approaches to Creating Your Own Totemism
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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The Witch’s Cauldron by Laura Tempest Zakroff

The Witch’s Cauldron: The Craft, Lore & Magick of Ritual Vessels
Laura Tempest Zakroff
Llewellyn Publications, 2017

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Review by Natalie Zaman.

I’m kind of in love with Llewellyn’s Tools series. Written by different authors, each little volume (literally—it measures a neat 5 by 7 inches) is a fast read that offers a sampling of spell and ritual, mostly by the author, but also by several contributing authors for a nice mix, but also a good dose of lore, history and background: Know thy tools—which, even in the mundane sense is a necessary if you’re going to use a tool properly. Laura Tempest Zakroff’s The Witch’s Cauldron, the latest addition to this series, explores this humble, yet mighty vessel. As with other volumes in the Tools Series, several other writers contribute essays; in The Witch’s Cauldron, they’re cleverly pre-titled “Stirring the Cauldron.”

The first third of the book is an extended introduction: Chapter one covers cauldron basics, everything from definitions to uses to the root of the word “cauldron.” which I found particularly interesting. This is followed by a chapter on mythology and lore that goes beyond Ceridwen and encompass a variety of cultures—while I loved the retelling and discussion of Baba Yaga and her flying cauldron, I thought the Cauldron Game, which discusses cauldrons as vessels of victory was really insightful. Chapter three covers the practical aspects of the cauldron, materials used, considerations for purchasing, and, I was surprised, making your own cauldron. Of course forging is mentioned—it kind of has to be, but not all of us are smiths. Considering what a cauldron is and can be (read the book to learn more!) the idea that cauldrons can be made of paper mache and 3-d printed illustrates (I thought) an important aspect of evolution in the Craft: while we honor the past, we must make for our own times.

Things get interactive for the remainder of the book with suggestions and guidance for preparation (Chapter 4: Getting Started; please do read up on Cauldron Safety—again very thorough because not all cauldrons are crucibles!), ritual (Chapter 5: In the Circle—Ritual Arts; my favorite, Cauldrons as Ritual Markers—not just an excuse to buy/make more cauldrons!), spellwork (Chapter 6: Making Magick—Spellcraft and the Cauldron; I want to try Angus McMahan’s “Soaking a Spell”—an innovative and practical use for a cauldron in spellwork.) and divination (Chapter 7: The Seers Cauldron; loved the Dice Cup.). Chapter 8, Thinking Outside the Cauldron was my favorite in the book because it made me see my own world with new eyes—there are cauldrons, and thus the possibility of magic everywhere: in my bathroom, on my stove and in my laundry room. The book closes with a look at the cauldron as a virtual vessel; the spiritual cauldron of ideas, inspiration and devotion.

The Witch’s Cauldron is a little book, but incredibly thorough and perceptive, a cool crash course on cauldronaria from an experienced practioner with a flair for storytelling, and making what could be dry material a fast and fun read.

The copy of The Witch’s Cauldron that I hold in my hands is the redesigned package for Llewellyn’s Tools series. While I know one should definitely not judge books by their covers, cover and interior art are important aesthetics that express the character of a book. That said, I like both styles of covers for different reasons, but this new packaging—definitely more pared down and reminiscent of the styling of Wooden Books main line (http://woodenbooks.com), lends a very “book of shadows” quality to the series, while the interior illustrations maintain a sense of “yes, magic is serious business, but it can also be whimsical”—and sometimes that’s what magick is all about.

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Grovedaughter Witchery by Bree NicGarran

Grovedaughter Witchery: Practical Spellcraft
Bree NicGarran
CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2017

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Review by Hugh Eckert.

Every once in a while you run into a book and find yourself thinking, “Wow, I wish I’d had this when I was starting out!” NicGarran’s book is one of those- it’s basic in the best possible way: fundamental, taking nothing for granted, with an emphasis on doing your research. It’s written very clearly, and the author’s patient and practical tone is very helpful. There’s a strong emphasis on safely dealing with “real world” elements such as fire and dangerous plants.

This is not to say that this book is for beginners only. I really appreciated her discussion of the scarcity and endangered status of some magical plants, and her suggestions for substitution. The book covers a wide range of spell purposes and formats, with a good balance of “how to” and “recipe” sections. Many of her innovations could usefully expand the toolkit of any experienced spellcrafter. The reference material is useful, too- there are listings of plants by magical use, plus further sections for the “go-to” purposes like warding and hexing.

NicGarran’s system is heavily herbalism-based; in that and in many other ways it resembles folk magic systems from a wide variety of cultures, with one major difference: there are no goddesses or gods, no spirits, no prayers. This underlines an important point about this book- she views witchcraft as practical spellcraft, and presents her system without any religious elements. She states her position at the very start of the book; you can quibble with her definitions, but I can tell she wouldn’t budge an inch! That being said, she presents a strong framework that doesn’t require religious, spiritual, or astrological/lunar elements, although it would be easy (and probably enhancing) to add them in.

The book could use a separate section on raising and directing energy into spells to empower them; there are mentions of this scattered through the work, but consolidating them would make things clearer. The advice about spiritual attack is in general good, but I would have added a qualification that it can happen, and advice to seek a qualified spirit worker if it does.

This is a really impressive work- NicGarran has built it from the ground up, and tested every spell and charm that she’s created. I’m not much of a magician (though my spouse is), but I do occasionally need to do some spellwork. I’m going to keep this one on my shelf- I have a feeling it will end up being very useful.

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Stepping into Ourselves: An Anthology of Writings on Priestesses

Stepping into Ourselves
Edited by Anne Key and Candace Kant
GoddessInk, 2013


Review by Karen Tate.

When this anthology was in the acquisitions phase, I made a mental note to keep an eye out for the publication date. I was particularly curious to see how much priestessing had evolved since I heard the call decades ago, bristling at the painful politics within women’s circles. I know the editors, Anne Key and Candace Kant, and expected a high quality end product. I was not disappointed.

I am inspired by the many women weaving this luscious and colorful tapestry: dozens of contributors, each in their own style and voice, come together in partnership to contribute sweet poetry, articles replete with women’s wisdom, and practical and academic knowledge, all valuable to anyone contemplating the path or curious what it means to be a priestess.

Reaching far back in time and casting a wide net to include Cretan, Mesoamerican, Jewish, Egyptian, Hindu and Polynesian goddesses and traditions, and moving forward to guidance offered by contemporary practitioners, the book is an eclectic feast too rich to detail here. Sections include “Lineage of the Priestess,” “Roles of the Priestess,” “The Priestess Toolkit” and “Stepping into Ourselves.”

I was glad to see the editors included the wise words of priestesses such as Shekhinah Mountainwater and Kim Duckett who address the psychology of women as they empower themselves with few role models in a patriarchal world. Stepping Into Ourselves covers almost everything you might want in such a book; I only found it lacking in the areas of the role of priestess as social justice activist and goddess mythology as a template for a more sustainable and just future. A must for all our libraries, as it will provide not only inspiration but important reference material as well.

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Living the Season by Ji Hyang Padma

Living the Season: Zen Practice for Transformative Times
Ji Hyang Padma
Quest Books, 2013


Review by Sharynne NicMhacha.

This lovely volume by American Buddhist teacher Ji Hyang Padma is a delightful and graceful exploration of the relevance and resonance of Zen teachings in modern times. Focusing on our interconnection with each other, and the importance of right relationship with the self, Padma divides the book into four seasons, with subtopics appropriate to the connection of cyclical existence in each section. Meditations and exercises appropriate to beginners and more advanced practitioners complete each topic section.

Part One: Winter — Finding Light in the Darkness,” explores centering, “sitting zen,” and the concept of nourishing one’s spirit with hope. She discusses bringing forth the wisdom that is within us, and the concept of the sacred circle.

In “Part Two: Spring — New Life Beginning,” Padma steps into power with her masterful chapter on “The Lion’s Roar.” Her chapter on Empathy, including empathy for oneself, contains a powerful Metta practice that is highly recommended. She also brings forth great power in the section on Cleaning House: Traveling Lightly, a practice that is highly relevant in these times.

Part Three: Summer — The Blossoming of True Nature,” explores the theme of creativity with great effectiveness and beauty. Also included in this ‘season’ are Authenticity, Ecology of Mind, and Encountering the Sacred Feminine, where she provides several wonderful stories of early Buddhist nuns and female practitioners. This section is rounded off with a chapter on Inyoun — the theory of cause and effect — which I really enjoyed, and a chapter on Listening, which contained a remarkable dream-teaching which I found on par with the teachings of the old masters. Also included in “Summer” were a chapter enticingly entitled “Dakini, Sky Dancer,” and chapters on applied Zen and interpersonal mindfulness.

Finally, in “Part Four: Autumn, Everything Changes,” the author discusses Wholeness as well as the importance of working with and meditating upon the “Great Questions,” which many of the elders have left for us to ponder. Other chapters explore impermanence, connectivity, reciprocity and gratitude, and Zen and the mind.

Throughout the book are personal stories and learning encounters Padma experienced along the way, as well teachings from her Buddhist teachers and others she met on the path. My favorite quote was in response to her earnest inquiry of the Dalai Lama, about what the one thing was we could do for world peace. He laughed and said, “It is not so simple. There is no one thing. But to do one thing — begin with ecology.” This is clearly one of her most sacred precepts, and one which we would do well to follow.

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