December 26, 2014
So it’s really weird when you remember a blog you wrote seven years ago (and pretended to update four years ago, and then didn’t). The writing is a bit cringe-worthy in places, but it could’ve been worse. I might start this up again (ha!).
Veneficium: Magic, Witchcraft, and the Poison Path by Daniel A. Schulke
Letters From the Devil’s Forest by Robin Artisson
Hands of Apostasy edited by Michael Howard and Daniel A. Schulke
Something might happen here, but I’ve been known to lie about such things…
April 8, 2011
Talk about dropping the ball… It’s been what, over 2 years since I checked in on this poor problem child? No matter. I gots me some high speed now, so I’m going to try and get this up and running again. My last vacation (read: book-buying trip) in London netted some interesting finds, such as Shani Oates’ Tubelo’s Green Fire, Dave Lee’s Chaotopia, and all sorts of neat crap that’s difficult to find in Canada. Oh, and Robin Artisson’s new one, too. I hope to have some reading material posted shortly. Thanks for dropping by.
March 2, 2009
Bluenose Magic: Popular Beliefs and Superstitions in Nova Scotia by Helen Creighton
The Ryerson Press, 1968
“Old Daddy Red Cap was supposed to have been a wizard. He put spells on people. One time he went to see a man and said he wanted to buy his cow. The man had no need to sell and said he wouldn’t part with her. Soon after, a snow-white bumblebee sat down on the cow and she didn’t give any more milk. [Allandale, English]”
I’ve always enjoyed reading folklore, and I’ve often wondered why I’ve met so many pagans and witches that avoided it like the plague. They might learn the lore of a country that they’ve never visited, or of a culture that they have no connection to, but would never consider researching local folk remedies or spells. It puzzles me. Perhaps they think that their area doesn’t have any ‘folklore.’
Luckily for me, my area has a long tradition of folklore and many dedicated folklorists who’ve traveled around gathering up songs, stories, and other useful bits of information. The lore of the many peoples who’ve settled here (Acadian, English, French, Scottish, Irish, German, African Loyalists, Dutch, etc.) mixed together with the legends of the Mi’kmaq people, and became something else entirely.
The late Helen Creighton is the Nova Scotian folklorist par excellence, and any of her books are worth reading. This particular title covers faery lore, witchcraft, folk charms, healing and remedies, meanings of dreams, divination, lore about animals, crops, and the weather, superstitions about good and bad luck, and stories of ghosts, forerunners, and the devil. Of particular interest is the concept of the “witch masters,” such as Sammy B., who filled a role very similar (identical?) to the cunning folk of Britain. They found and could control the malignant witches of a community, and could break their spells as well as cast their own.
This is a great book, and one of my favourites. The information in the book is linked up to a Motif Index, so you can find overarching concepts and similarities. I recommend it to anyone living in Maritime Canada, or even if you don’t. Of course, finding yourself a book of folklore local to your area might be even more interesting.
May 14, 2008
The Souls of Animals by Gary Kowalski
New World Library, 2007 (Stillpoint Publishing, 1999, 1991)
“For ancient peoples, the soul was located in the breath or blood. For me, the soul resides at the point where our lives intersect with the timeless, in our love of goodness, our passion for beauty, our quest for meaning and truth.”
I picked this book up on a whim; it really isn’t what I usually read. I read occult/religion or science. Mixing the two rarely results in anything worthwhile; occultists trying to explain how their practices can be applied to scientific concepts is usually a joke (and/or a plea for legitimacy), and when scientists write on the occult they just can’t hide their biases. (I also don’t see how science and religion aren’t compatible, but that’s a whole other topic.)
Once I got past my initial fears that this book would turn out to be some New Age crap and got around to reading it, I found it to be a sensible, sensitive inquiry on the possibility of a spiritual nature of animals. I think what prevents this book from falling into the above problems is that it stays light on the science, drawing on it where applicable, but not trying to force it to justify a spiritual concept. The author, a Unitarian Universalist minister (aka not a scientist) doesn’t try to use science to prove his points, but references the appropriate journal articles where he found his information as examples.
The result is a series of compelling (and often tear-jerking) stories of animal behaviour. They leave you wondering just how much of it could be passed off as instinct, especially with examples of animal altruism towards other species. Other topics include animal awareness of death, morality, and the supernatural, artwork done by animals, and whether animals are conscious of themselves.
It would be interesting to see a more scientific perspective on these topics, perhaps taking some of the stranger incidents as examples and trying to explain them. My favourite parts of biology classes are when my professors share some of the odder stories of animal behaviour, such as the chimp that watched a sunset every evening, and wonder what that means for science. The book isn’t by any means a tirade against eating meat or animal experimentation, but it does make one wonder how humans can justify so much cruelty towards beings that aren’t entirely unlike ourselves. All in all, it’s a worthwhile read for an animal lover, or for someone who enjoys philosophizing about souls and who, if anyone, has one.
April 13, 2008
Wicca Candle Magick by Gerina Dunwich
Carol Publishing Group, 1997 (Citadel Press, 1989)
With little information on candle magic and even less on Wicca, I’m not sure how the title of this book came about. Surely entitling it Correspondences of Stones and Voudou Lwas or Ten Pages of Candle Colours and 150 Pages of Filler would have been at least a tad more accurate. This book is a mishmash of hoodoo, Judeo-Christian ceremonial magic, Voudou, and folk magic. Besides a few pages of ‘candle’ Sabbat rituals, there are about four sentences on Wicca.
My major issues with this book:
1) Inclusion of Voudou Lwas in a book proclaiming to be Wiccan in essence. How ‘bout that culture-theft? Not only considering that the deities called upon in Voudou are propitiated differently than those in Wicca, they also are accustomed to being ‘horsed’ (i.e. possessing their devotees) in a way that is rarely, if ever, done in Wicca. If a type of Voudou interests you, find a teacher or a half-decent book, get rid of the weird-coloured candles and break out the cigars.
2) Inclusion of Hindu deities in a list of ‘Wiccan deities’. White and brown candles for Parvati? How about puja instead? The underlying problem here is considering Hinduism to be the same as Neo-Paganism because they both can be polytheistic. This cultural appropriation frustrates me to no end.
3) The lack of explanation of… anything, really. Why give the Three-fold Law a page of its own if you’re only writing two sentences on it? Why include it at all if you’re going to assume that everyone already knows about it? A book for beginners would need more explanations; a book for more experienced practitioners would actually have something useful or thought provoking in it. This book lacks both.
4) The author doesn’t note where the information is coming from, but I guess that’s true of any book that gives correspondences. Still, why invoke Odin with red and purple candles? Why not navy blue, a colour that is at least associated with the god? Why not do some research, find offerings that suit the deity, build a relationship and stop treating your religion like a drive-thru?
5) I wasn’t exactly thrilled with the section on Healing Herb Candles, either. The author suggests adding Jimsonweed to a candle to heal poison ivy rash. Isn’t Jimsonweed actually Datura, a poisonous hallucinogen? (People usually burn candles in enclosed spaces. A warning about the plant would’ve been nice.) Gathering Jewelweed (a plant actually known to be effective against poison ivy rash and often found growing near it) and making a poultice from it would be more immediately useful.
I’m a tad wary of this author now. This book seems like one of those kill-a-tree-make-a-buck schemes. Although I’m happy that I now know what to do with a skull-shaped candle (if only I had one), there’s nothing here you can’t get off the internet for free. Not recommended.
April 8, 2008
The Dictionary of Sacred and Magical Plants by Christian Rätsch
Translated from the German by John Baker
ABC-CLIO Inc, Prism Press, 1992 (1988 )
“In herbs may be found the full power of the world. He who knows their secret abilities is omnipotent.”
— Indian Proverb
They wouldn’t let me take this book out of the library, so I had to read it in bits and pieces between classes. Despite my limited time, habit compelled me to read all of the introductions and forewords, a practice which has, for once, served me well. While I expect translating anything from one language to another and keeping its meaning intact is quite difficult, translating a book about psychotropic herbs used in shamanic and magical practices around the world must be even harder.
The translator’s introduction to this book is well worth reading, as Mr. (Dr?) Baker discusses the difficulties of rendering into English a complete understanding of the German word Rausch. It is usually translated as ‘intoxication,’ which, in the sense of this book, isn’t quite right. Mainstream North American culture no longer has systems to utilize psychedelic plants safely, nor knows how to interpret knowledge gained from them. We view information gained through non-rational, visionary experiences to be less valid than that obtained through rational, scientific methods, and this bias is reflected in our language. Christian Rätsch introduces us to cultures that have not lost their respect for the visionary experience.
The author’s introduction, besides providing a (very) brief discussion of magic and what constitutes a magical plant, also includes categories that can be used to find a plant that is used for a specific purpose. Having Plants of Prophecy, Elixirs of Immortality, Death Charms, Grave Goods, and Aphrodisiacs all sorted out for you is nice if you’re in a hurry. Rätsch also gives his method of placing psychotropic plants in ritual contexts (vision quests, oracles, sacrifices, hunting magic, etc) and sorting which plants were involved in which stages of certain rituals (preparation, implementation, and integration).
Each dictionary entry gives the folklore and historical uses of the plant, listed either by genus or individual species if certain pieces of lore are applicable to a specific variety alone. The plant’s uses in folk medicine, spells, and religious ritual (mostly pagan) are also listed. Each entry ends with the pharmacological properties of the plant and a list of sources for further reading.
I found the Ayahuasca entry especially interesting. A table, entitled Native Classification of Ayahuasca, listed the many types of Ayahuasca that this tribe (whose name I’ve forgotten) knows how to make. The nifty part is that each type of Ayahuasca brew produces visions of different things; one type might induce visions of hunting, another of famine, another of the land of the dead, and another still of underwater travel.
The entry on witches’ ointments (which is one of the reasons I was so happy to find this book, the other being that I’m an ethnobotany geek), although it could have been longer, contained this nice tidbit from Leuner: “The witches’ ointments may be psychopharmacologically interesting because we apparently have here the only toxic technique of ecstasy in the world in which the specific components of the experience are achieved by the way the psychopharmacological agents are added together.” This differs from the various types of Ayahuasca, apparently, because of the physical sensations accompanying the trip. Either that or Leuner is out of date, I’m not sure. Further rambling is beyond the scope of this review.
Rätsch gathers lore from all over the world, both contemporary and historical. He shows us the valuable interactions between plants and people that our society would do well to regain. Also, we should all take St. Anthony as our personal saint. You should read the book to find out why.
April 1, 2008
The Whisperings of Woden: A Devotional by Galina Krasskova
Self-published (?) in New York, 2004
“I do not fear You,
not even when you burn beneath my skin,
when we share the cloak of flesh together.”
For much of my life I’ve been interested in the gods of the Northern pantheons, but not enough to really be religious. When I did finally delve deeper into the lore of (most of) my ancestors, I found a rich, complex, and fascinating worldview.
Having encountered other writings by Krasskova in Raven Kaldera’s Dark Moon Rising, I was eager to see her perspective on the god to whom she is devoted. Krasskova notes that although some people see Odin and Woden as separate entities, she views them as two names for the same divine being. She begins with a brief introduction to the lore of the god, though it is clear that this book is written for someone who knows what they are getting into. I think few people would perform devotions to a deity that they were not at least acquainted with.
The bulk of this small book consists of the nine devotionals, the rest being a few recipes for oils and incense and a list of herbs associated with Woden. Each devotional begins with a meditative, worshipful poem that beautifully expresses Krasskova’s love for her god. She takes her religion beyond its lore, though heathen sensibility grounds most of the ideas presented. Some of the devotionals (which include making runes, building altars, feasts, meditations, and more) could be adapted for other deities or changed into ‘secular’ meditations, but most are solely for Woden.
Krasskova notes that some of her ideas might be considered a bit ‘out there’ or fluffy by modern heathens, but gives good reasons for everything she includes in each devotional, even if it’s just that it worked well for her. What I liked most about this book is that it shows the author’s personal connection to and experience of divinity. She has offered herself to this god, and treats Woden with respect. It’s refreshing to see that there is nothing here about archetypes, or deities being merely aspects of human consciousness, or whatever other explanations pagans are using these days to assuage their ambivalent feelings about the intersection of belief and modern scientific culture. There’s just devotion. We need more books like it.
March 29, 2008
Dictionary of Occult, Hermetic and Alchemical Sigils by Fred Gettings
Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd, 1981
“When the wise men of old (whom we call in the Greek tongue ‘Philosophers’) found any arcana, any hidden things, either of a natural kind, or resulting from the activities of man, they were accustomed to hide these in various ways and with the aid of figures.”
As I was perusing my university’s library the other day, I was thinking, “My, for a Catholic school, this place sure does have a lot of occult books” which seconds later was followed by, “Oh, right…” Regardless of any preconceived notions I might have had about what books can be found in which locations, I’m quite happy to have found this one. At least now, despite the odd looks I received while signing it out, I can read it for free, as opposed to spending $500 to $1000 and buying it used off Amazon.
For a dictionary, it’s fairly readable, in part because each entry is so brief. The first paragraph of the author’s introduction describes the book as a “reference, guide and source-book for those involved in general occult studies” (7). I must disagree. It’s for obsessive geeks working through old texts on alchemy. And maybe a demonologist or two. Beyond that, it’s simply far too extensive to be more than a curiosity in a collector’s library. (I desperately want a copy of my own.)
As for what it contains, the author gives “the meaning of over 9,000 sigils which appear in European alchemical, astrological, geomantic and related hermetic sources, along with a unique graphic index by means of which the majority of such sigils may be identified” (7). This index is especially useful if you’ve found a sigil but have no idea what it might mean. It’s organized by how many pen strokes it would take to draw the sigil, and whether the drawn lines are straight, curved, enclosed, or contain circles or other shapes. The appendices contain lists of sigils drawn from specific texts, which is helpful if you want to compare sources and dates.
Besides drooling over the bibliography, I was also interested in the collection of ‘secret scripts’ (read: magical alphabets) presented. Having been a victim of Bad Neo-Pagan Referencing (or would that be The Bad Referencing of Neo-Pagans?) for a number of years, it was nice to see the sources of some of the alphabets that I’d found randomly tossed into New Age books. I enjoyed just picking the book up and reading random pages, though I haven’t found much practical use for the information. Unless you belong to one of the categories in paragraph two, I’d recommend looking for a copy in a library rather than hunting down and buying the book.
Oh, and for a more intellectual review, click here.
March 23, 2008
The Horn of Evenwood by Robin Artisson
Pendraig Publishing, 2007
“The moment you’ve pinned him down, you find yourself staring at the bare ground, the empty sky, a dim forest, or just handfuls of dust. What you thought was a fleshy body is just bare white bone, and when you grasp for the bones, they turn out to be slivers of light on the ground.”
Having dithered over the introduction to this review off and on for several days now, I’ve decided just to state that although at times I have found Artisson’s writing to be long-winded, I have never been disappointed by it. His most recent effort is a tidy grimoire and sourcebook for those interested in pursuing a more traditional witchcraft path. It engages the spirit of the writings of Nigel Jackson and Robert Cochrane and is a fascinating elaboration on the themes of their work.
Artisson describes his book as a tool kit, rather than a recipe book. He gives techniques designed to help you forge relationships with the spirit world, and although his “exemplary sorcerous workings” can be used as written, they are meant to show one possible method of doing things. This is a teaching grimoire, and to make the most of it, you have to apply what has been written to your own practice, rather than just following along.
The book begins with Artisson’s absolutely chilling invocations. Simply reading the poetry gave me shivers. These are given without explanation; Artisson states that as you read on in the book, you can figure out what to do with them and how to create your own. The reader’s engagement with the text is required; this is not a 101 book where everything is laid out in front of you. You have to think about it, and sometimes, to not think about it.
Next is a section called the Ten Pillars, which consists of some basic points to ground your practice of witchcraft. These include brief instructions on preparing materials for talismans, old-school (seven planets) astrology, the power of spoken words, familiar spirits, and a few other concepts that should be taken into consideration. The section ends with a few practical notes about tools and what Artisson calls the “Power that Binds,” meaning the weaving that holds the worlds together. He asks the reader to really think about how our words and actions affect ourselves and everything else.
I think this is one of the reasons why I keep returning to Artisson’s writing. There is a deeper level to it, an underlying philosophy that holds true throughout his works. All of his further ideas for rites or spells are built up from this foundation of relationships with the spirits, the quest for true knowledge, and the recognition of Old Fate Herself.
Continuing on in the book, Artisson offers a method of casting a Witch-Ring and several sigils for invoking the Huntsman, the Witch-Queen, and the Master. I wasn’t as impressed with Artisson’s chapter on the Mandrake plant, mostly because I didn’t see anything new, although there is a lot of good information gathered there for someone unfamiliar with the plant. I especially liked that he gave a way of using the Mandrake that encourages people to grow it, rather than going to a New Age shop and buying root chips in a plastic bag.
Some of the most interesting pieces of information in the book are Artisson’s thoughts on the Horned Master of witches. While I wouldn’t go so far as to call it in the Luciferian current, the ideas are certainly leaning that way. Several meditations on the subject are included, and they (along with the section on arcane flight) are worth the price of the book by themselves. (Also, the appendices of various sorcerous currents, such as Lunar or Mercurial, are more useful than any correspondence table could ever be.)
In Part Six, Artisson takes a charm from the Long Lost Friend, deconstructs it, and puts it back together again in various usable forms. He throws enough ideas at the reader for them to re-write the charm a thousand different ways for hundreds of purposes and still not be done with it.
To end the book, the author explores the pagan themes in the folktale, The Nixie of the Millpond, and also gives several rather dark rituals for springtime: “I feel real fear now. I am a blasphemous creature of winter evenings long dead, stalking about in fields of gold and white…” The writing is, as always, evocative of the Unseen landscapes. A fascinating book; it’s definitely recommended reading.
March 14, 2008
Grimoire for the Green Witch: A Complete Book of Shadows by Ann Moura
Llewellyn Publications, 2006 (2003)
“Be careful what you do.
Be careful who you trust.”
Despite having read several other books in the Green Witch collection (namely, Green Witchcraft and Green Witchcraft II: Balancing Light and Shadow), I’m not sure how this book is a grimoire for a green witch as opposed to a Book of Shadows for an eclectic Wiccan. Although the author distinguishes three types of green craft (dare I say Catholic folk magic, pseudo-monotheistic non-religious folk magic, and Wiccan folk magic?), she then proceeds to offer a mostly Wiccan viewpoint. That’s fine; I just don’t why this series is the one recommended to people looking for non-Wiccan material. Comparing the information within to that of many Wicca 101 books, there isn’t much difference, except that this book is better.
This is a massive workbook, tastefully laid out, which collects all of the practical information of the Green Witch series. There aren’t many explanations or reasons given for anything, the author assumes for the most part that you will know how to use the information presented. At times, the brief explanations or personal notes serve only to raise other questions, such as when Moura gives her family deities as Bendidia (Mediterranean) and Shiva (Hindu).
The book is divided into two parts: rituals and spells. Included in the rituals section is a brief introduction to green craft, and an elaboration on the various ways and contexts in which it can be practiced (see my confusion in the first paragraph). Some of the most interesting information in the book is the lore handed down from Moura’s Catholic mother and grandmother, though there isn’t much of this.
The author gives rituals for all the Wiccan Sabbats, six versions of the circle casting, and four different Esbats (full, new, dark, and sidhe). She includes the usual recitations that are easily found in almost any other book, or on the internet (Charge of the Goddess et al.). The chants and songs, however, are mostly original. After these, the author adds more rituals (which might have been better placed nearer to the Sabbats), including rites for Wiccanings, funerals, dedications, initiations, consecrations, namings, and handfastings.
Other useful info includes a calendar of observances, a short note on grounding and centering, an extensive glossary, common symbols used in green craft, notes on the tools, basic materials needed in formal ritual, altar arrangements, general magical tips, and magical alphabets (runic, ogham, and Theban). Space is given at the end of each section to add a few of your own notes.
The second part of the book is devoted to spells and spellcraft. There are more correspondences here than anyone would know what to do with, and they are organized in a myriad of different ways, depending on whether you’re looking for a certain herb, planetary hour, rune, stone, or element. Sigils and seals of planetary spirits and geomantic characters are given with a very brief explanation, and a few demonic names with no explanation at all. (It’s probably the only material in the book that a Wiccan would look askance at.)
The herbal associations are quite extensive, and in the standard Wiccan format (meaning a mix of folklore and 777 and nonsense, which you have to sort through). The book ends with spells, oil mixes, and extensive information on making and using various divinatory tools. There is a lot in this book, but you have to know what you’re looking for, and what to do with it when you do find it.
In my case, this book sits on my shelf and looks pretty. I think the only time I’ve actually used it was to look up a few symbolic meanings of feathers. I’m sure it would be a great reference for a Wiccan who has read a few 101 books and is looking to put together their own Book of Shadows. While I wouldn’t use any of the rituals myself, they make great (if long and complicated) examples both of format and the range of activities for which they can be adapted. The herbal tea recipes aren’t bad either.