So…

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.

Bluenose Magic

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]”

— Creighton

 

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.

The Souls of Animals

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.”

— Kowalski

 

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.

Wicca Candle Magick

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.