One of the activities commonly associated with Lammas is baking bread. I’m not much of a baker – as a matter of fact, I really don’t care for cooking. But I do like arts & crafts, so I have found an alternative to baking bread for Lammas that uses that Lammas essential, flour, and one which is easy to work in a little magic – making salt dough! [Read more]
Tag Archives: magic
This month I’ve read…
- Pagan Planet: Being, Believing & Belonging in the 21st Century, ed. Nimue Brown
- Practical Candle Burning: Spells and Rituals for Every Purpose, Raymond Buckland
- Pagan Portals – Brigid: Meeting the Celtic Goddess of Poetry, Forge, and Healing Well, Morgan Daimler
- Tales of Unease, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (compiled by David Stuart Davies)
- The Face of Jizo: Image and Cult in Medieval Japanese Buddhism, Hank Glassman
- Whispers from the Earth: Teaching stories from the ancestors, beautifully woven for today’s spiritual seekers, Taz Thornton
This was an impulse buy from the discount bookshop near my office (cheap books on esoteric subjects can be hard to come by). It describes all the weird and wonderful religions of the world, from the well-known to very obscure, including Theosophy, Kabbalah, the Rosicrucians, Satanism, and of course Paganism (although Paganism is hardly a “secret” religion these days). There’s a lot of historical detail, making this book a handy reference for those interested in the subject, although it is written in a somewhat bare-bones tone. On the other hand, I very much appreciate that the author has not been tempted to go down the sensationalist route, giving objective and neutral accounts of each religion, and being keen to stress that “esoteric” does not equal “cult.” His treatment of the various Pagan religions seemed accurate to me (and the author seems to have a particular affection for Paganism), and it’s great to see the history of how the Pagan Federation and other groups formed. I also liked Barrett’s celebration of Paganism as a diverse yet cohesive movement: “It is arguable that one of Neo-Paganism’s greatest strengths is its diversity. Although there is sometimes rivalry and mutual criticism between different traditions and groups of Neo-Pagans…there is probably far more commonality between them, and mutual support in the face of opposition, than there is between the many variations and offshoots of Christianity.” Finally, I approved of his reminder to tolerate and respect those whose beliefs may seem kooky to others: “It is important to accept that members of these [UFO] movements believe in the extraterrestrial origin of the messages given to them, just as Mormons believe in Joseph Smith’s golden plates, and Christians believe that the Creator of the Universe became a man of thirty-three years; they should not be dismissed as ‘UFO nuts.’ They are normal, intelligent people; their belief is genuine , and their religions are worth as much attention as all the others in this book.” Admittedly, much of the information found in this book could probably be found online; but it is good to see it presented in such an unbiased and balanced manner as it is in this book.
Natural Magic, Doreen Valiente
Doreen Valiente is one of the most important figures in Paganism, so I thought it was important to read her works. Despite its title, Natural Magic is not so much about working with nature as it is a little guidebook to various aspects of witchcraft, including herbs, working with the four elements, and sexual magic. Valiente’s writing style is lively and engaging (it reminds me a little of Rae Beth), although I felt that this book was a bit of a slow start – this might simply be because I’ve now read quite a few introductory books on witchcraft and much of the content is similar. It’s worth persevering though as there’s lots of interesting content – for me, the highlights were the sections on talismans, dream magic, weather magic, and cartomancy using ordinary playing cards. It is quite a slim read though, and more experienced witches will probably chew their way through it very quickly. Probably best for beginners.
Witchcraft Today – 60 Years On, ed. Trevor Greenfield
**Book of the Month!**
This book was released in celebration of the 60th anniversary of Gerald Gardner’s Witchcraft Today, one of the most important Wiccan texts, as a documentation of how far witchcraft has evolved in those 60 years. Admittedly I still haven’t read Witchcraft Today so I was worried that this book might contain a lot of analysis of the original that would go straight over my head, but in fact, aside from the introduction, 60 Years On does not really talk about the original. It is instead a collection of short essays by individuals within witchcraft (some well-known, some unknown), talking about their particular path and what it means to them. Although this book lacks practical information (it isn’t intended to be a reference book for magic or for factual information about different forms of witchcraft), I found it inspiring. I enjoyed all the individual approaches displayed by each author – not only in their practise of witchcraft itself, but also in their writing style. Each account is personal, idiosyncratic, and honest. My favourite essay was probably Rick Derks’ description of Hekatean Witchcraft; not only am I particularly drawn to Hekate, but I found this the best-written out of all the essays, with an excellent bibliography to help out those looking to find out more about Hekate. I also found the section on Dianic Wicca fascinating, specifically because this form of radical feminist Wicca is the least known to me. I’ve never met anyone from this path so it was interesting to be able to find out more about what Dianic Wiccans think about their path. Finally, it was great to see that Kevin Groves, a fellow member of Medway Pagans, had also contributed to this book! It was a great reminder that, although Paganism continues to grow all the time, it’s still quite an intimate and friendly community. Witchcraft Today – 60 Years On succeeds well in celebrating Gardner’s legacy, and gives a fantastic insight into the personal thoughts and feelings of contemporary witches.
Reading books is a big part of how I grow and develop as a Pagan and Shintoist, and followers of my blog will know that I regularly write my reflections on Pagan-related books that I’ve read. I’ve decided though that writing long reviews on each book has been a bit time-consuming, so instead I’ve decided to try and write monthly highlights of all the relevant books I’ve read. So here’s my reflections on the books I’ve read this October (aside from the ones I’ve already reviewed this month).
The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth, Robert Graves
This book is often considered “essential reading” for those interested in the development of folklore studies, as well as Paganism, in the UK. It’s also often recommended to those who’ve read one of my favourite Pagan-related books, The Golden Bough. Like The Golden Bough, The White Goddess is chunky and academic, but that’s really where the similarity ends. While for me The Golden Bough was something of a life-changer that helped to put me on the path I’m on today, I found The White Goddess far less useful as a source of information on Pagan beliefs. Much of the text, especially the first half, is focussed purely on the deep analysis on the possible hidden meanings of old poems and riddles, and is rather inaccessible to those who are not specialists in this field. While there are a few interesting tidbits of information here and there, I’d say that there’s not really a need for Pagans of today to read this – the ideas have been expressed by others in a more accessible manner elsewhere. Still, good to read for those who want a thorough understanding on the history of Neopaganism’s development as a new religion.
This is a book I found at my parent’s house when I was babysitting my nephew; I suspect my Dad bought it in Glastonbury sometime in the nineties. It certainly feels very nineties – lots of references to Atlantis and UFOs, which were big topics in the New Age movement at the time. I’m beginning to think that Druidry is not really a path for me, as I have yet to read a text on Druidry that’s really inspired me. The Book of Druidry is no different. Full of very dubious history, but rather sparse on what it is that modern-day Druids actually do, I didn’t feel I gained much from this book. The parts on the King Arthur legend were quite interesting, but I prefer Richard Cavendish’s King Arthur and the Grail as a source on information on the different interpretations of the Arthurian legends. Not bad, but not particularly memorable for me either.
Knowing that I like books on spirituality and philosophy, my husband recommended Zen And The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance to me. It’s quite a quirky book – a story based sort of on real life, which is used as a framing device for exploring various philosophical concepts. You could possibly class it alongside Paul Coelho’s The Alchemist loosely in the category of “new age self help fable” as well. It starts of quite well – using the analogy of motorcycle maintenance to explain the difference between classical and romantic thought is effective and interesting, as is some of the author’s thoughts on the nature of quality and its links to concepts in Eastern spirituality. But on the whole, I found this book a bit slow, protracted, confused and more than a little pretentious.
Who Killed Mister Moonlight?: Bauhaus, Black Magick, and Benediction, David J. Haskins
**Book of the Month!**
I bought my signed 1st edition copy of Who Killed Mr Moonlight during a reading of section of the book by the author himself, David J, at Atlantis Bookshop, so I thought I’d like it. And I was not disappointed. A brutally honest biography of Goth Rock band Bauhaus by its bassist, Who Killed Mr Moonlight is insane, shocking, funny and extremely enjoyable. There’s plenty of occult content too – David J has dabbled in all kinds of magical practises including voodoo, witchcraft and Sufism, and it’s all included in here. It’s quite rare to read such vivid and in-depth experiences of magic workers in books that aren’t specifically about magic. There’s even a whole chapter devoted to David J’s exploration of the occult with Alan Moore, British occultist and writer extraordinaire. You don’t even need to be a particularly big fan of Bauhaus to enjoy this – I think all those interested in 80s rock and the Goth scene will get a kick out of Who Killed Mr Moonlight.
I’ve been enjoying my Pagan Federation membership and I was very excited to get my second issue of Pagan Dawn magazine this month. Highlight for me include an interview with Damh the Bard, a column about some of the social problems that occur during Halloween by Sergeant Andre Pardy (I really like his columns), AND an interview with one of my favourite bands, Inkubus Sukkubus (together with a competition to win some of their merchandise)
“Blessed Be” probably originates from similar biblical expressions related to “God Bless You,” but on analysis, particularly in comparison with “God Bless You,” it reveals some rather interesting things. [Read more]
Reflections on “The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Great Goddess,” Starhawk (20th Anniversary Edition)
It’s not only considered by many to be “essential reading” for new Pagans (especially Wiccans), but I also had many personal recommendations to read it. So I figured I should!
In a nutshell, what it is it about?
First published in 1979, this is one of the most important books that helped define and construct the ideas behind modern Witchcraft – and especially Wicca as a Goddess-based religion. Although similar in many ways to other introductory books on Wicca, in that it includes a bit of history, explanations of the deities, and introductions to rituals, festivals and techniques of Witchcraft, The Spiral Dance is special in that it was one of the first books to explicitly connect Wicca with feminism, which reflects the social and political climate in which it was written.
What did I particularly like about it?
Firstly, I was delighted to find that The Spiral Dance wasn’t what I had expected from some of its reviews. I had heard criticisms that it pushes its feminist agenda too far, and that Starhawk’s tone is even misandrist in places. I was therefore expecting something a bit preachy and hot-headed, which is what put me off reading The Spiral Dance for a long time.
Having finally read it, I think those criticisms are rather unfair. Yes, there is a feminist agenda, but Starhawk is careful always to relate feminism back to the ideas of Goddess-worship rather than focussing primarily on the political and social aspects of the movement. She sees the re-emergence of Goddess-worship as a way for women to love and value themselves as women, despite what society might say about them otherwise. To love and honour one’s self is to love and honour the Goddess, and vice versa. And I thought Starhawk was quite careful to avoid any kind of man-bashing; she talks about the more radical form of Dianic Wicca but does not advocate it and she makes sure the Great God has plenty of attention even though the main subject of the book is the Goddess. Indeed, on paths that exclude a Male force, she states, “A female-only model of the universe would prove to be as constricting and oppressive to women as well as men, as the patriarchal model has been.” Moreover, she stresses that feminism is not about creating a society that merely benefits women more, but men too – her view is that men suffer just as much under a society that overemphasises competition, dominance and other aggressive qualities that are considered good “masculine” virtues (I’ve always thought that it’s a shame feminism is called “feminism,” and not something like “equalitism” or “genderism” because its ideals apply to all genders).
Another thing that I was expecting was for the book to be very much essay-based and philosophical in tone. I was therefore pleasantly surprised to find that there’s a lot of practical material in here. It’s packed full of exercises in magic and meditation, chants and invocations, specific spells and herbal charms, which are all conveniently indexed at the front. This makes The Spiral Dance readily usable for the practising Witch. Some of the rituals for group work really appealed to me; I loved the idea of the “Word Association Trance” and saw how many of the other role-play type rituals would be quite therapeutic.
Finally, I liked Starhawk’s style of writing. It’s highly readable, friendly and positive, filled with sincere passion and warmth throughout. It’s poetic without being pretentious, instructive without being dense, deep without being impenetrable. It’s a pleasure to read.
Was there anything I didn’t like about it?
Several of the things I wasn’t so keen about in The Spiral Dance can be applied to lots of other books I’ve read on Paganism. Firstly, despite not been mentioned in the title, Wicca/Witchcraft (and not general Paganism) is the focus of this book. There is therefore a heavy focus on magic and coven work. If the title has lead to you expect a more general work on Goddess-worship with a broader focus than Witchcraft, you may find yourself a little disappointed (although I still found plenty here for non-Wiccan Pagans as well).
Secondly, I wasn’t keen on her presentation of her interpretation of Witchcraft history as fact – something I’ve criticised about other Pagan books previously. Much of the history of Paganism and Wicca is incredibly sketchy indeed, and I think it’s much better to present it as conjecture rather than absolute fact. Although, to Starhawk’s credit, she does mention this problem in the anniversary introduction, and what’s more, she stresses that witchcraft is a “religion of poetry, not theology,” and that all teachings (including historical) should not be considered absolute.
Finally, it’s a minor niggle, but I thought that the use of in-text asterisks together with footnotes at the end of each chapter was a little distracting and perhaps unnecessary. I’m sure there may have been a more elegant way of highlighting revisions from previous editions or including notes.
How has it helped my spiritual development?
More than anything, it’s helped me understand and appreciate the history of modern Goddess-worship and its socio-political significance. I also found it very affirming; Starhawk views Witchcraft as joyous, free and poetic, something I’ve always felt too. It also gave me plenty of ideas for future rituals.
Would I recommend this book to others?
Yes – although perhaps only to beginners, and then, only those with a specific interest in Goddess worship/Witchcraft as this is the main focus. This book is very much a primer on Witchcraft, so experienced Pagans might not find so much new material here, but for those new to the Craft, it’s a very good resource.
I found this among my Dad’s book collection while staying over Christmas. It really isn’t the sort of thing he’d usually read – I imagine he got it because of his interest in Grail legends, which Dion Fortune has also written about. Having heard her name in other works on witchcraft cited as one of the most influential people in shaping modern witchcraft, I thought I’d give this book a go.
The edition I read (Aquarius 1984) opens with a publisher’s disclaimer, saying that the original was written “a very long time ago” (1940s?) and that many ideas in the book are no longer held today. You know when something like that’s included in the introduction, something’s up.
Another warning sign is the Rule of Capital Letters. In that, the number of Terms Made Up By The Author, and therefore Capitalised To Denote Proper Nouns is inversely proportional to quality of the content. The opening sentence of Applied Magic and the Occult Path has five such Proper Nouns. The rest of the book follows suit.
I really don’t like doing wholly negative reviews, especially when reflecting on works written by highly respected authors, but I have to be quite damning with this one. I thought Applied Magic and the Occult Path was one of the least useful books I’ve read to date on occultism. It’s deliberately vague yet relentlessly dogmatic, talking in earnest about its own mythos of angels, Jungian archetypes, and various Ways of Something and Paths of Something else without actually saying anything. This is far less a book of instruction (which one would expect it to be from its title) than it is a book of disjointed streams of thoughts and ideas. Perhaps those following an ecstatic, shamanistic path are more in tune to this style of writing, but I have to say it did nothing for me.
What’s worst about this book is that one aspect is downright harmful, and that is its racist overtones. It’s rather old-fashioned and patronising views of “the Eastern verses Western mind” or the sweeping Jewish stereotypes could possibly be written off as a sign of the time in which it was written, but its ideas of “Racial Angels,” in which the “Aryan” angels are considered the top of the hierarchy over the top of “less civilised” societies, are unacceptable in my opinion. I found it all very abhorrent, and it’s at that point I think I stopped reading in-depth and skimmed the rest.
I feel sad to say this, but I got nothing of value our of this book. In my opinion, it’s a work best avoided, especially when there are so many other great works on magic and witchcraft out there.
As a continuation of my list of Top 10 Pagan-friendly family movies, here’s another top 10 list of family movies that Wiccans might find appealing. The main difference between this and the previous list is that, while the movies on the first list had more earth-based and environmental themes, these ones deal more with magic and witchcraft. Although you’ll probably find many items on both lists interchangeable. Continue reading
Although you’ll probably never find this category at the bookstore or on Amazon, there’s a certain genre of books that I like to call “New Age Self-Help Fables.” I’ve read a number of these. They are often novella-length, derived from other stories, and explore such New Age favourite themes as Destiny, Love and The Soul. Richard Bach’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull is one of these books. The less well-known Blue Road to Atlantis by Jay Nussbaum is another. As one of the best-selling books in history, Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist is the big kahuna of this entire genre. And since there is a definite link between modern Paganism and the New Age movement (which I talk about here), and since there are interesting points in here to followers of any religion (including Paganism) I thought it would be worth sharing my own thoughts on The Alchemist. (Be warned – it’s not easy to talk about The Alchemist without a few spoilers, so if you don’t want some of the key points of the story revealed, don’t read on!) Continue reading
I just read The Lefthander’s Path’s recent article on the relationship between Pagans and Satanists, which is actually something I’ve been thinking about recently. I think all Pagans end up confronting this at some point, often because non-Pagans may ask them, “So do you worship the Devil?” So here’s my thoughts on this relationship. Continue reading