Tag Archives: wicca

Pagan and Spiritual Book Round-Up December 2015

naturalmagicNatural 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.

WitchcraftToday60 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.

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Reflections on “Devoted to Death: Santa Muerte, The Skeleton Saint,” R. Andrew Chesnut

devotedtodeathWhy did I choose to read this book?

Ever since reading various internet articles about Santa Muerte, Mexico’s “Skeleton Saint,” I have been absolutely fascinated by this deity and her fast-growing cult. A personification of Death venerated by people who identify as Catholic, yet whose worship is condemned by the Catholic church? A saint who devotees routinely included the last people we would usually think of as “spiritual,” including drug barons, prostitutes and the police who incarcerate them alike? As a Goth, Pagan, ex-Catholic and someone who has a broad interest in folk religion in general, I was intrigued and wanted to know more.[Read more]

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Reflections on “Llewellyn’s Witches’ Datebook”

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The year is now on the wane, and as Lewellyn’s Witches’ Datebook 2016 is now available to buy, I thought I’d look back on how useful the 2015 edition, the first I’ve ever bought, was to me.

In a nutshell…

This is a year-long planner/organiser – with a witchy twist! Not only does it highlight dates of significance to Pagans and witches, it also has (quite extensive) passages on things of a magical/Pagan nature, including spells, festivals (including those of other religions), rituals and symbols. It also includes moon phases and significant astrological events each day.

What did I particularly like about it?

As a newbie Pagan, I’ve found it really useful to have such an accessible and friendly planner to help me keep track of notable Pagan dates – especially the Sabbats and the Full Moons. Trying to memorise the Wheel of the Year and other significant dates can be tough for new Pagans and witches, so this book really did help.

I also like it simply as a way of reinforcing my identity as a Pagan. While I did take the step of covering my Datebook (I don’t actually want everyone I meet to know that I’m into Paganism/witchcraft), I feel a little bit of personal pride every time I open it up – it reminds me of the Path I’m on and how much I enjoy living the Pagan way every day. It’s actually a source of comfort – I feel good just knowing that this book, my little token of Paganism, is always in my bag. Perhaps it does have a magic of its own.

As I mentioned above, the Datebook includes a lot of additional text about spells, etc. which can be interesting to flick through if, say, you’re stuck on a train journey with nothing to read (although all this text does have its downside, which I’ll get to in a moment).

Finally, I actually really like the production of the book itself. It’s a paperback of non-gloss paper (easy to write on), cheaply spiral-bound. Although you could call it “cheap,” this is actually a lot more practical than the better-quality hard-back datebooks, diaries and planners out there – it’s much lighter, the spiral-bind means that the spine doesn’t break as it tends to do with square-bound books that are used heavily. I’m sure that this method of production helps to keep the cost down; everything Llewellyn tends to be expensive, but I’m sure that having cheaper materials has made this diary cheaper for the consumer than it would be if they had focussed more on quality. My datebook is still in very good condition even after daily use over nearly a year – not a single page has fallen out and it looks like it could last a good deal longer. In fact, its durability, combined with its lightness, is a really big selling point.

Was there anything I didn’t like about it?

The biggest downside, as with a lot of Llewellyn publications, is that it’s made for a US audience. This is a big problem for UK users – not only are none of the UK bank holidays and festivals are included, but some of the moon phases are slightly off due to the time zone difference between the US and the UK. All the dates therefore have to be double-checked.

Additionally, while the additional text is fairly interesting, I thought most of it was unnecessary and used up useful space – especially the text that occurs within the diary pages. It uses up a lot of space, which means the space for each day is rather cramped – I prefer having lots of space so I can write lots of things when planning my days. The illustrations throughout the text are pretty but, again, they use up space – I’d have preferred fewer. Additionally, there’s only a single page for notes at the back – I write a lot, so it would’ve been really useful if they’d cut down on the text, and given much more room for notes. Lots of witches write a lot because they’re constantly thinking about rituals and spells and other musings, so I think other people would feel this way too. I would’ve loved to have been able to use this datebook a bit like a Book of Shadows, with plenty of space to write my own material.

Finally, some of the little bits of text included in the date entries seemed very irrelevant to me. Every day is given a “colour,” but without any explanation as to why that colour has been assigned to that day – were they simply arbitrarily assigned by the editor to each day without any real meaning? Then there are occasional little factoids like, “The Hindu god Kurma relates to the virtue of perseverance,” but the date it’s on will have absolutely no relevance to Kurma or Hinduism or anything else. These factoids again take up space. I would have preferred facts that were more relevant to the date (more inclusions of important dates from other religions, for example), for no facts at all.

How has it helped my spiritual development?

As I mentioned, it’s really helped me as a newbie Pagan to keep tabs of significant dates, and I really liked just having something of a Pagan nature on me that I could use everyday. However, as I’ve now become more familiar with Paganism and as so many of the important dates for me are Shinto rather than Pagan, this book has become less useful to me. I suspect that for 2015, I will buy a more neutral datebook (that’s more UK-centric) and simply write in all the important Pagan and Shinto dates. But that’s certainly not to say that I didn’t like the Witches’ Datebook or didn’t find it very useful initially – it’s simply the case that I no longer feel it’s necessary as I am more familiar with the Pagan year now.

Would I recommend this book to others?

For beginners of Paganism / Witchcraft, perhaps – as I said, the fact that it’s US-centric is a big downside for UK users, who have to exercise some caution when relying on it to get their dates right. If Llewellyn (or any other company) were to produce a UK edition of a Pagan/Witch datebook, I’m pretty sure I’d snap it right up.

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Sweeps Festival 2015 (Bank Holiday Monday)

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Today was the final day of the Sweeps Festival, which I mainly spent with my family. The highlight for me was the parade through Rochester High Street, a tradition that’s always been a central part of the festival. Fortunately we got a really good spot for viewing the parade this year – not too crowded, and many of the dancers stopped to perform a while by us.

The parade began with a dance of the eponymous chimney sweeps…

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The chimney sweeps led Jack-In-The-Green, who rushed up to members of the audience just as an omikoshi would in a Japanese festival. (He rushed up to me too, dressed as I was as the Green Man, and I gave him a hug!)

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We then had some belly dancers…

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…and a hobby horse…

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There was some Costwold Morris….

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…and Rapper Sword dancing…

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…and faeries…

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… and some Morris Dancers using steel pipes (hardcore!)

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…There were the white-clad Screaming Banshees Morris…

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…some black-clad piratey Morris…

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… and my favourites, the Gothic Wolf’s Head and Vixen Morris….


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…One of my favourite parts was the last part, in which a group of witches cleansed and blessed the High Street. This was undoubtedly a reaction to last year’s cancellation of the Pagan blessing, so I’m really glad they managed to come on the procession and perform their blessing then!

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It was a fantastic 3 days and I’m rather sad it’s all over!

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Reflections on “A Kitchen Witch’s Cookbook,” Patricia Telesco

kitchenwitchWhy did I choose to read this book?

It was a lucky find! I saw it in a charity shop for £1.50 and had to get it.

In a nutshell, what it is it about?

It does what it says on the cover! A collection of recipes selected for the magical significance of their ingredients, preparation method, appearance or cultural associations. There’s over 300 recipes in here, including main meals, snacks, desserts and drinks. Additionally, there’s quite a lot of explanation how to bring magic into one’s cooking, as well a large collection of appendices and lists of the magical properties of particular foods and items.

What did I particularly like about it?

Admittedly, I haven’t actually tried any of the recipes in here yet (I am a *very*  reluctant cook), so all my opinions are based entirely on the writing and not on the tasting! But judging on the writing alone, I thought this was a very good book on magical cuisine. Written with that friendly, engaging tone that can be found in many Llewellyn publications, it’s very easy to follow and, appropriately enough, digestible. And the concept of “kitchen magic” is fantastic; as Telesco puts it, “Magic is no longer just for the Circle; it is no longer the occasional book read or spell performed – herein, magic becomes part of everyday experiences and expressions, specifically those involving food.”

I also loved the level of detail in A Kitchen Witch’s Cookbook; the additional explanations about kitchen magic and other pointers, right down to the presentation of the food and dining table, are almost as long as the main recipe sections themselves.

Speaking of the recipes, I liked that they were a good mix of both more complicated dishes and those with very basic recipes, such as for making pesto. The inclusion of really simple dishes put me, as a complete novice, a lot more at ease. I also liked how varied from there, drawn from many different cultures’ cuisines. Some were really creative as well, such as the idea of making chips out of sliced bagel – what a great idea!

Finally, I liked the overall presentation. The book is peppered with nice illustrations and quotes about food and cooking from famous people, adding to its appeal.

Was there anything I didn’t like about it?

Just a few nitpicks, really. I thought it would have benefited from a proper index, including an index of recipes based on particular sabbats and festivals as I’d find this particularly useful. I was also a little surprised that, among the huge variety of different recipes from different cultures, there were a few notable absences – there was no recipe for Samhain Soul Cakes, for example. Finally, while I liked the illustrations, most of them weren’t of the actual dishes described. Having a few pictures of the dishes themselves would have been helpful.

How has it helped my spiritual development?

A Kitchen Witch’s Cookbook has reinforced for me the idea of bringing magic and Pagan ritual into everyday activities, and emphasised the importance of home cooking within the Pagan lifestyle. I only hope I can get over my fear of cooking and actually put some of the recipes to the test!

Would I recommend this book to others?

Yes – and despite the title, I think this book is just as suitable for Pagans who do not practise magic as those that do. I also think that the broad range of dishes means that the book would appeal both to Pagans with a lot of experience of magical and ritual cooking, as well as Pagans such as myself who are less confident about cooking and need something to gently encourage them!

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Neopaganism v. Shinto: Sacred Objects

Shinto_gohei

A gohei “wand,” which sometimes serves as a shintai at Shinto shrines. “Shinto gohei” by nnh – photo by nnh. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

In this blog, I’ve written a lot about the similarities between Neopaganism and Shinto, because I think they really do have a lot more similarities than differences. But there are differences, which can be tricky to deal with if you are practising both religions together. I thought it would be interesting to look at some of these differences. [Read more]

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Reflections on “The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Great Goddess,” Starhawk (20th Anniversary Edition)

SpiralDanceWhy did I choose to read this book?

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.

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Reflections on “Brida,” Paulo Coelho

BridaWhy did I choose to read this book?

After reading my review of Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist, Cassie & Sophie of the excellent blog Devil’s Advocates recommended Brida by the same author as it goes further into Coelho’s thoughts on magic and witchcraft.[Read more]

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Ancient Wisdom: The “Threefold Rule”

triskelbrooch

Silver triskelion (triple spiral) brooch, which you can buy from my Dad’s shop!

One thing I’ve really come to respect about Paganism, and particularly Wicca, is that rather than attempting to teach rules and ethics, it teaches wisdom. There’s really only one moral “rule” in Wicca, which is the Rede, “An it harm none do what ye will” – in other words, do what you like as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone or anything. Which is a fairly liberal code in itself, but even then, some Wiccans do not follow it; to quote Pirates of the Caribbean, they might see it as “more of a guideline than a code.”

But related to this is the “rule of three,” also known as the “threefold rule.” This is usually interpreted as, anything that one does to another person, they can expect it returned on them threefold. So if a Wiccan decides to curse a person, that curse will magically come back on them – but three times worse. [Read more]

 

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The Four Elements and the Four States of Matter

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The Four Elements are, by definition, fundamental to many forms of Paganism, and particularly Wicca. In the modern world however, I find it difficult to reconcile the four classical elements of Earth, Air, Fire and Water with the 100 or so scientific elements – how can I refer to the four elements that make up our world when I know that the reality is far more complex? [Read more]

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