Plant Magic by Sandra Kynes

Plant Magic: A Year of Green Wisdom for Pagans and Wiccans
Sandra Kynes
Llewellyn Publications, 2017

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Review by Rebecca Buchanan.

I love to garden and I love to bake, so I was very excited to lay my hands on an advance copy of Sandra Kynes’ new Plant Magic. I am happy to report that Kynes’ book is well-researched, easy to understand, and would make a great addition to the library of any witch, gardener, or baker.

The book is divided into two main sections: a lengthy introduction, followed by entries for each individual month. In the case of Plant Magic, it is vital to *not* skip the Getting Started section. Kynes lays out the importance of scientific names (“meadowsweet” for example, is colloquially applied to two very different plants), defines some basic botanical terms, discusses the role of the planets and stars and moon in plant magick, and analyzes the symbolism of the various parts of plants.

Each month, in turn, is divided into four sections: On the Calendar (sacred days and the plants associated with them), In the Garden, In the Wild, and In the House. January, for example, includes entries on New Year’s, Epiphany, and the Celtic Month of Rowan, witch hazel, eucalyptus, spider plant, and a winter wellness rite with thyme. The entry on witch hazel is further divided into a discussion of its common and scientific names, a description of the plant, its magical uses, its astrological influences, and its link to the ogham Emancoll.

I definitely recommend Plant Magic. It is one of the easiest-to-use manuals on the subject that I have ever seen. I do have a suggestion, though: if you buy a physical copy of the book, also grab a blank journal. Use it to take notes, jot down garden plans, and, especially, include photos of the plants. Aside from a lunar chart and illustrations of ogham and runes, there are *no* pictures in Plant Magic. (In the case of a digital copy, it should be possible to copy/paste and attach images in the margins, or create hyperlinks.)

Recommended, especially in conjunction with texts such as Roth’s The Witching Herbs, Rodale’s Ultimate Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening, Riotte’s Carrots Love Tomatoes, and Culpepe’s Herbal.

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Christian Animism by Shawn Sanford Beck

Christian Animism
Shawn Sanford Beck
Christian Alternative, 2015

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Review by Katina Haaland-Ramer.

Christian Animism’ by Shawn Sanford Beck is a curious and brief (52-page) treatise on the titular topic by a Canadian Anglican Priest with Pagan leanings. The author cites as his two greatest sources of inspiration activist/theologian Walter Wink and Starhawk. The work could roughly be called an apologetic, as a great deal of the text is taken up with explaining how such a thing could exist in the first place.

While he claims full faith in Christ, his alternative theology recognizes the influences of Buddhist, Cree, and the aforementioned Pagan traditions. Internal to the Christian heritage he recognizes Celtic faith and classic apocryphal Enochian literature. He contests that while monotheism may be at odds with pantheism and polytheism, there is sufficient Biblical support for an animistic worldview as to make it not incompatible with the Christian faith.

I believe it [an apple tree] to be a fellow creature, a being both physical and spiritual, as I am. But I don’t worship it, and I don’t consider it a god. It is simply a neighbor. Now, while you may think me a bit off my rocker for holding this belief, you cannot accuse me of being a heretic (14).

Beck’s vision is one in which the world may be treated as the body of the triune God: Creator, Word, and Holy Sophia. At the same time, he sees it populated by the spirits of individual living things (including rocks, plants, and even natural features) under the jurisdiction of presiding spirits (such as all vegetables, the sky, and so forth). He also references the fictional worlds of Narnia and Middle Earth as parables of his world view.

Beck contests that adopting this paradigm is theologically beneficial in the areas of creating an ecologically-aware Christianity that treats all beings of the earth as “neighbors”. This is to correct for the other Biblical models of relatedness to the world which are anthropocentric. His work is very carefully progressive, and he seems to suffer much over the past and present errors of the traditional Church.

It is unfortunate to see such a brilliant thinker apparently girding himself for attack expected from all sides, but understandable. He is attempting to syncratize traditions that have much hatred to overcome if they are ever to coexist peacefully. The second benefit he cites is the potential for creating the interfaith dialogue required to make such a future a reality.

Finally, he hopes to revitalize the faith by encouraging personal awakening in the faithful:

Christian animism can give us some tools so that we might begin to open our hearts and minds to the “spirit world”, not as a realm far removed from day-to-day reality, and not as a synonym for heaven (as an eschatological reality), but rather as the world of energy and consciousness intricately bound to the physical creatures whom we encounter in our real lives (18).

If there be any criticism, this is a highly intellectual and academic work thick with jargon through which those unfamiliar with technical religious study might find it tedious to pick. However, it may be the best piece of literature possible for someone from a deep Christian background seeking to reconcile that faith with a magical awakening.

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The Tarot of Bones by Lupa

The Tarot of Bones
Lupa
Llewellyn Publications, 2012

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Review by Natalie Zaman.

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

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

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

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

My favorite cards:

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

 

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The Path of Paganism by John Beckett

The Path of Paganism: An Experience-Based Guide to Modern Pagan Practice
John Beckett
Llewellyn Publications, 2012

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Review by Rebecca Buchanan.

John Beckett is a well-known writer and speaker, and a member of the OBOD, CUUPS, and the ADF. In The Path of Paganism, he offers practical, heart-felt, hard-earned advice on how to be Pagan in the world. Not just offer lip service to the idea of Paganism, but how to actively honor the Gods, live their virtues, and find our true purpose.

Beckett divides the book into four sections: Building a Foundation (the origins and purpose of religion, the different types of Paganism, the place of nature in Paganism, the nature of the Gods, and so on); Putting It Into Practice (the importance of prayer and meditation, piety, how to build an altar, ethics, and so on); Intermediate Practice (individual and group practice, sample rituals and circles, initiation, and so on); and Living at the Edge (the importance of continuing to learn and experience and grow our Paganism, whatever tradition it may be). Most chapters end with questions for contemplation or suggested rituals.

Following his proposal that life, experience, and learning are helical or cyclical, not linear, each section builds on the last, returning to previous discussions and ideas with new insights and information and suggestions. For example, in the beginning Beckett discusses growing up in a fundamentalist Baptist church; the seeds of doubt planted in his childhood continued to plague him until he really began to take his Paganism seriously; when he finally answered the calls of Cernunnos and Danu and the Morrigan (or maybe, began to hear the calls for what they were is more accurate), everything fell into place and he came to understand why he was here and what he was meant to do.

It has been a long time since I underlined anything in a book. I underlined a lot in The Path of Paganism. The pages are filled with both practical advice and real wisdom. I found myself pausing more than once to wonder how this or that line could apply to my own life, or how would I react in this situation, or gee, I should really try to incorporate this into my practice because it sounds useful! Beckett is a Druid and he does honor the Celtic pantheon; if you’re not, don’t let that scare you away. Much of what he discusses — how to answer the call of the Gods, how to live faithfully in troubled times, how to care for the world and the people around us — can be applied across any tradition.

One element that I found particularly compelling was Beckett’s emphasis on science. More than once, he notes that “bad science makes bad religion.” This, in turn, ties into the over-emphasis we place on literal truth and scientific validation. “When we misuse and misunderstand science we are doing exactly the same thing Christian fundamentalists do when they insist the Bible is inerrant [….] The foundation of their proof has crumbled, and they are forced to deny established facts to pretend otherwise. [….] Science has become the arbiter of truth in our materialistic society and we want science to bless our religion. At the root of this desire is the idea that the only truth worth having is the kind of truth science can validate, that the only knowledge is literal, material knowledge. This is why fundamentalists insist the Bible is literally true — if it’s not literally true, they think it’s worthless. They ignore the value of mythical and mystical truth.” (pp. 32-33) For Beckett — a Druid, an engineer, and an environmentalist — science and religion are the twin branches of a helix, twining together to create a life of virtue and knowledge, a life worth living.

Highly recommended to both those new to Paganism and those already far along their chosen path, especially when read in conjunction with Nature Spirituality From the Ground Up by Lupa, The Earth, The Gods, and the Soul by Brendan Myers, The Earth Path by Starhawk, and A World Full of Gods by John Michael Greer.

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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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