Sekhmet by Nicki Scully

Sekhmet: Transformation in the Belly of the Goddess
Nicki Scully
Bear & Co, 2017

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Review by Anthony Rella.

Nicki Scully codifies years of transformational work with Egyptian mysteries into this powerful book. Incorporating practical guidance on magic and transcriptions of guided meditation work, Scully presents her framework for readers to engage in their own transformational relationship with Sekhmet and the Egyptian gods. This kind of initiatory work is a worthy undertaking for students of magic or those interested in serving the gods and spirits, and Scully’s offering fills a need for those particularly interested in Kemeticism or Egpytian cosmology.

This process is quite thorough in its approach with great potential for personal healing, attested to by former participants in the work whose writings are included throughout the book. Each phase of the working leads participants to sense, name, and energetically connect to blockages in growth and development, then to dissolve these blocks, struggles, and obstacles within the transformative cauldron of the goddess’s belly.

Readers concerned about issues of cultural appropriation and blending approaches across cultural lines may take issue with Scully’s incorporation of concepts from multiple traditions and cultures into this work, including concepts from Vedic and Chinese traditions. Scully centers the Egyptian cosmology in this work, but in her efforts to construct a workable model appears to incorporate these other cultural concepts where relevant Egyptian constructs are absent or unknown.

Overall, this book is a worthwhile read for those interested in engaging in self-transformative work, Egyptian or Kemetic approaches to self-healing and magic, or those devotees of Sekhmet looking for deeper layers of connection and healing. People unfamiliar with paganism, polytheism, or Egyptian magic and practice may not glean much from the book unless they were willing to engage with its practices. Much of its potency happens off the page, in the reader’s engagement. While Scully does incorporate theoretical context and insight, the book is primarily a step-by-step detailing of the practices. It is not a dense book, but neither is it written for the casual reader.

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Norse Goddess Magic by Alice Karlsdottir

Norse Goddess Magic: Trancework, Mythology, and Ritual
Alice Karlsdottir
Destiny, 2015

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Review by Shirl Sazynski.

It’s rare to find a beginner’s book on adept-level magic, let alone one that is well-organized, grounded, easily understood, and part of Heathenry. Norse Goddess Magic is exactly that, focusing on visionary and trance work, known to the Norse as seidhr and utiseta. It serves both as an introduction for those who have great difficulty entering trance, and provides a rare compendium of Norse goddess lore that’s useful even if you have no interest in trance work.

True to its title, this book explores the “Mother” Goddess Frigg and her twelve divine “friends” : Eir, Saga, Gna, Gefjon, Snotra, Lofyn, Sjofyn, Var, Fulla, Hlin, Syn and Vor. Karlsdottir invites personal experience with them as real people through guided journeys, invocations, and rituals. Since little is known from the Eddas about these twelve “minor” Goddesses, this book helps the reader fill in those gaps with their own experience. By exposure to — and comparison with — the trance experiences of others, it also helps in expanding upon the lore. The emphasis in this book on forging and strengthening relationships with the Gods is spot on.

This is a guide to beginning seidhr techniques, including a basic understanding of how to use myth and ritual structure to enhance entering trance, remain there, exit peacefully, and take good care of yourself afterward. The techniques covered open this oft-misunderstood realm of Asatru and Heathenry to anyone with the patience to still their mind. The structure of this book begins with how to understand mythology and its uses in ritual, ideas to open up the imagination for beginners, and a definition of trance work. Then, that work begins with basic (and fairly safe) techniques accompanied by a ritual format that provides some protection to the novice seidhr practitioner.

One caveat: trance work is never, by its nature, without danger. Norse Goddess Magic provides a compass in very unpredictable territory that should guide you to the door of the right person and send up some basic defenses. However, trance work with beings you’ve never met is exactly like wandering in a foreign country. Even a novice can stumble headlong into a profound, fate-altering experience the very first time they trance. The danger of dealing with spirits is routinely ignored in modern books on the subject, a major blind spot I wish this book had covered more fully.*

After continuing with a guided meditation, the author opens up about her own experiences in trance work. Then, a chapter is devoted to each Goddess in turn (other Goddesses mentioned briefly include Freyja, Nerthus, Frau Holle, Holda, Berchta and Brigid.) The Goddess chapters begin with lore, add interpretations by the author, continue with a guided trance journey, and close with a ritual and invocation for each Goddess.

The author’s cautious approach is very balanced. However, Alice Karlsdottir is a master in the Rune Gild, and has worked as priestess for several kindreds. I wish that she spoke with more confidence, but she is carefully circumspect that these are just her experiences.

Esoteric polytheism needs to move confidently past both this reticence from elders to pin down their own gnosis as real and valid and the fundamentalist tendency to over-humanize the Gods and their behavior based on stories laced with symbolism and meant to teach lessons (often humorously) about the consequences of certain actions within a society. Regardless of the outer path, when someone has mastered visionary work, common elements and beings occur. There are consistencies of places we arrive at, powers woven by the Gods, and elements of their appearance that do not always fit a translation of the Eddas but help signify a spirit or deity’s power and personality traits. Our ancestors certainly knew these common elements and passed on some of that knowledge. This is that shared gnosis of a living faith Karlsdottir is describing.

I can’t comment much on the use of rune lore in this book for chants and to open rituals, as it differs from the more visually-oriented methods I was taught. Other people may respond to these verbal methods more. Or the Goddesses may teach them completely different ways of working that suit their minds. (This book is certainly a good guide to seeking out that kind of knowledge directly.)

Norse Goddess Magic ends solidly with three intriguing fairy tales in the appendix, a glossary of terms, a visual guide to the runes and a bibliography jam-packed with good scholarship. Even if you’ve done seidhr for ages, this is still a very useful book to have on hand as a reference. Several times I found, in these pages, independent corroboration of details I’ve experienced in trance, leading me to believe that the author truly met with these Goddesses – whether or not we always share the same viewpoints about them.

This is a valuable contribution to a field with very little reliable guidance, especially in Heathenry. I highly recommend it.

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Njord and Skadi by Sheena McGrath

Njord and Skadi: A Myth Explored
Sheena McGrath
Avalonia, 2016

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Review by Erin Lale

Njord and Skadi is a good overview of the source material and the opinions of major scholars about these gods and their context. It also mentions some works of popular culture on the subject. The book is easy to read, and suitable for both general and academic readers.

The book has a lovely cover by Laura Daligan featuring the two title gods in a design reminiscent of a Yin and Yang sign, surrounded by a repeating Elder Futhark rune row with the variant Ingwaz and with the Dagaz and Othala in the variant reverse order.

The book starts off with a summary of the plot of the myth of Njord and Skadi’s marriage, including the prequel about Skadi’s father Thiazzi, which McGrath considers an essential part of the story. It goes into historical detail about the poem by which the myth was transmitted to us, and then quotes the poem, (in English translation) in its entirety, with explanations of the meanings of the kennings.

McGrath draws parallels between the plot of the poem and the story of Hrungnir. Then the author discusses the authenticity, dating, and interpretation of the myth of Njord and Skadi. McGrath goes into the question of whether Njord is Nerthus, examining evidence and various scholars’ opinions. She covers the origin and meaning of the name Skadi and Scandinavia. She writes about the other gods who appear in the two linked stories of Skadi and of her father.

The book strays into etymology, examines the theme of cooking in the story of Thiazzi and Idunna, and relates that to the apple motif in various Indo-European cultures. It also gives background information on the peoples and places in heathen mythology. Then McGrath tells about various interpretations of the meaning of this myth.

McGrath details the many words for giant and their connotations.This discussion relates to who Skadi is, since her father Thiazzi is a giant. A discussion of places named after Skadi follows, as well as description of historical worship of her. The author details historical evidence for giantess worship and proceeds to describe the nature of gods and giants, as well as the primal schism between them.

McGrath then presents the idea that Skadi represented a Saami woman. Skadi hunts on skis with a bow, like Saami women did. In the final few chapters, McGrath mops up some remaining questions, such as, “what is a hostage?”, and “how does that relate to Njord’s position in Asgard?”

This book strikes a good balance between providing detail for an academic reader and keeping a general reader from getting lost. The author presents a comprehensive roundup of the scholarship on the subject of this story. Recommended for pagan readers, especially for heathens and polytheists interested in Skadi, Njord, or giantesses.

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Brigid by Morgan Daimler

Pagan Portals: Brigid
Morgan Daimler
Moon Books, 2015

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Review by Hugh Eckert.

The pan-Celtic Goddess Brigid is my Patroness, so naturally I’m interested in books about Her. All too often, I find that there’s a tendency to reduce Her to a facet of the Wiccan “Great Goddess” or the “Divine Feminine” of Goddess spirituality. There’s also considerable confusion between the Goddess Brigid, and the Christian saint that bears the same name. I’m a polytheist Pagan, and for me Brigid is an individual, discrete Goddess (or set of Goddesses; a matter which Daimler addresses in her book).

With all that, I was excited to read what Morgan Daimler had to say about Brigid. Daimler is an Irish reconstructionist Pagan with a strong grounding in scholarship and an interest in presenting a balance between research and personal religious experience. This is a living faith to her, and I get the impression that her research is part of her devotion.

Daimler’s book provides a concise and immensely readable introduction to the Goddess Brigid. The book starts with an introduction to the Goddess (“Meeting Brigid”), followed by chapters on Her aspects and names outside of Ireland; Her mythology; symbols, animals and holidays pertaining to her; more modern myths, stories and practices tied to Her, and prayers, charms and chants for Her. Throughout the book, Daimler gives stories of her own experiences with Brigid and how this Goddess has affected her.

The book also has a guide to pronunciation, a list of mixed media resources, and an extensive bibliography. All in all, this is a wonderful work that balances lore with living practice. It’s subtitled “Meeting the Celtic Goddess of Poetry, Forge, and Healing Well”, and it’s just that: a valuable introduction and guide to devotion to the Goddess who holds my heart. Hail Brigid!

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Dancing with Nemetona by Joanna van der Hoeven

Dancing with Nemetona: A Druid’s Exploration of Sanctuary and Sacred Space
Joanna van der Hoeven
Moon Books, 2014
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Review by Jennifer Lawrence.

When I first began reading this book, I was wholly unfamiliar with the goddess Nemetona. I knew the word nemeton, of course; as a member of several druid organizations, it would be difficult to remain unaware of the idea of a sacred grove. As it turns out, it isn’t odd that I was unfamiliar with Nemetona, because very little is known of her with any sort of historical accuracy. A few place-names, a few inscriptions: all that’s left to tell us about a goddess whose worship apparently once stretched from Germany to Spain to Britain. Greece, Gaul, Ireland, Wales; these places paid reverence to her, but today she has all but vanished from history, and the author tells what little is known of her within a page and a half of introduction.

The first chapter talks about one’s personal “nemeton,” which, rather than being a term for the sacred space outside of one’s body, appears to be the author’s way of discussing a person’s aura — that veil of energy which wraps around and through the physical body, changes color and shape with health and mood, and can be impinged upon by others both positively and negatively.

As the book moves into further chapters, it takes time exploring Nemetona’s titles and purviews: the Lady of Edges and Boundaries, of Hearth and Home, of the Sacred Grove, of Sanctuary, of Ritual, and finally, of Everything and Nothing. Of all these, only the final chapter seems to be a stretch: while the last title might be valid in a modern interpretation of Nemetona’s strengths (which, of course, this is), I suspect that the original peoples that venerated the goddess might have found room to argue the point. If nothing else, “everything and nothing” smacks of a monotheistic deity that rules all, and given how many modern Pagans came to Paganism after leaving such monotheistic religions, they might not want much to do with a deity that claims some of the same qualities as the god they left behind. However, the rest of the material leading up to that chapter is excellent, both well-written and well-presented, although I might have wished that the book as a whole was longer.

It was a bit of a surprise to see how much of the material in this book was originally found by the author within the ideology of Zen Buddhism. This is less odd in today’s mix-and-match Paganism than one might suspect. The Zen material woven into the book actually supports the ideas on Nemetona well enough to not be objectionable.

There is so much good material that works well in this book that the above-mentioned issues are of very small import. Not only are the exercises simple to do and effective, the greatest mass of the written material reads like poetry, full of elegant and beautiful imagery that flows like clean water. When the author describes the shadowed, quiet peace of the forest, the sweet smell of earth after the rain, the songs of the trees and the sunshine, the reader is vividly and instantly able to see that forest, smell the wet earth, and hear those songs. That ability to paint a vivid picture is one of the marks of a really talented writer. This is especially so in any book on material of a spiritual nature, where the reader must be lifted — or even torn — away from the dull reality of mundane life. That Van Der Hoeven has succeeded so well at this minimizes anything I might find fault with otherwise.

This was a beautifully-done book with some excellent exercises and enough material to give an individual the tools to begin a relationship with this obscure but important goddess and the things she rules over.

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Journey to the Dark Goddess by Jane Meredith

Journey to the Dark Goddess: How to Return to Your Soul
Jane Meredith
Moon Books, 2012

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Review by Pegi Eyers.

She is the one who makes and unmakes us. She is the one resting deep inside us when we think we have nothing left.” — Jane Meredith

The Dark Goddess as we know her is Kali the Destroyer, Hecate the Nightwalker, Morgana the Villainess, the Wicked Stepmother, Persephone Descending, and the Crone. She is also the necessary shadow side of life, the terrifying or womb-like darkness we all encounter. Sudden change, illness, accidents, grieving or sea changes of the soul — all these things can bring us face-to-face with the terrain of the Dark Goddess. Meet Her we must, but as Jane Meredith tells us, better to get to know Her ahead of time, and become familiar with the intricacies of change, healing and renewal. Journey to the Dark Goddess is a wise and wonderful guidebook for our journey into the transformational darkness and back again.

Using powerful symbols in the myths of Persephone, Inanna and Psyche, Jane traces the many stages of our visit to the Underworld, offering stories, rituals and guideposts to prepare for our Descent, our time in the Underworld, coming back, and continuing the cycle of life.

The myths and fairy tales of heroines who have lost everything, who are stripped to the bone and still come back reborn, have deep fascination and meaning for us. Similar to the many personal narratives found in the book, during my own experience with serious illness, I spent many months firmly in Her dark embrace. Feeling safe and protected at all times, I arose from the ashes and gained powerful life lessons. The Dark Mother grabbed me, held me, loved me and let me go. I learned that once you surrender and embrace Her in her full glory, powerful insights are waiting to be found.

Meredith is a superb guide to uncovering the meaning and metaphor in ancient mythologies as maps that we can apply to our lives today, and she fully grounds us in the self-inquiry and soul-expression tools such as journaling, dreaming, dancing, creating mandalas, altars, art and poetry. She offers powerful and meaningful rituals that connect us to Diety and the Earth, bringing clarity and integration to our own unique journey.

Instead of resisting, or being dragged kicking and screaming, Jane suggests that we deliberately seek out the means and methods to face the Dark Goddess. As much as the dominant society denies it, the fertility and blessings of the darkness are a natural part of nature’s cycles, such as the waxing and waning of the moon and the growth and passing away of the seasons. “Living eternally in the dark is no more a natural existence than staying eternally in the light.” Jane urges us to taste the pomegranate, open Pandora’s box and willingly step into the unknown to bring much-needed balance to our lives and the Earth.

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Merlin Stone Remembered by David H. Axelrod, Carol F. Thomas, and Lenny Schneir

Merlin Stone Remembered: Her Life and Works
David H. Axelrod, Carol F. Thomas and Lenny Schneir
Llewellyn Publications, 2014

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Review by Barbara Ardinger.

Merlin Stone’s book, When God Was a Woman, was a lightning bolt of feminist scholarship that told the world that before there was a Judeo-Christian god there were goddesses, and before there were goddesses, there was the Goddess. If you’re reading this review and you have not read When God Was a Woman, buy the book. Right now. As you sink into Stone’s book, try to imagine what it was like before we knew about Isis or Inanna or Astarte, before we knew that the tree in the Garden of Eden was probably a sacred fig and that the serpent was a symbol or aspect of the Goddess and that people who ate figs or worked with serpents were honored priestesses and prophets. The work of the second wave feminists added to the work of scholars like Merlin Stone and Marija Gimbutas, but this didn’t begin until the second half of the 20th century. Before that? Just “God the Father, maker of heaven and earth.”

Gloria Orenstein puts Stone’s work in context. Orenstein cites G. Rachel Levy’s The Gate of Horn (1948), Helen Diner’s Mothers and Amazons (1973), and Elizabeth Gould Davis’ The First Sex (1971). These books gave us some of our foundational myths, but, Orenstein writes, “we can see that although there was some writing that had already attempted to reconstruct a history of women …, much more expertise and authority were needed” (p. 8).

She continues, “Once Merlin Stone provided us with her careful scholarship and a truly feminist (not biased, patriarchal) accounting of ancient Goddess cultures, I and all who found Merlin’s work were finally able to understand our herstory…” (p. 9).

Merlin Stone Remembered is divided into eighteen parts; one is a timeline. Stone was born as Marilyn Jacobsen in 1931, became a sculptor and teacher, and in 1972-73 traveled in the Middle East to do research. She met her life partner Lenny Schneir in 1976, was featured in Donna Reed’s film The Goddess Remembered in 1989, and died in 2011.

Another part is Schneir’s memoir, a panegyric in which he describes himself when they met as a wannabe “manly man.” Though they never married, he and Stone lived together for thirty-four years. She turned his life around. “I worshipped her,” he writes. “She … sculpted me into everything I wanted to be. I needed her energy to succeed, and she gave it to me generously, naturally, and fully” (p. 74). He describes a homey, hippie life. It’s a fascinating read.

Unraveling the Myth of Adam and Eve” is Chapter 10 from When God Was a Woman. Rereading this chapter, we see again the depth of Stone’s work. Citing the best known male scholars of the 20th century, she also tells us about evidence of Goddess cultures — not cults! —found by those scholars and others in sites around the Mediterranean.

Regarding Stone’s second book, Ancient Mirrors of Womanhood, which is descriptions of goddesses, stories about them, and liturgical free verse, editor Axelrod writes that Stone’s poetry “teaches, coaches, and sings the long-lost, the banished, the often-forbidden goddesses back into our lives” (p. 141).

There’s more in the book, including Stone’s notes for a presentation in which she carries on a conversation with the voice, named Intuition, in her head. Unpublished works, including parts of a novel, poetry, color photos, a long section on Stone as an artist and sculpture, a remembrance written by one of her daughters. You may be long familiar with Stone’s work or this may be your introduction to it; either way, this is a valuable resource. Highly recommended.

P.S. A personal note. The book was lying on my couch when a friend who is an astrologer and Tarotist came to visit. She saw it, exclaimed, picked it up, and said. “I read When God Was a Woman in 1988 or 89 and it changed my life.” Me, too.

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