The Weiser Field Guide to Witches, by Judika Illes
Weiser Books, 9781578634798, 272 pp., 2010
When a field guide is well done, it gives the reader the means to distinguish between species and can be an incredible aid to study, classification, and practical knowledge. When a field guide is not so well done, it can very quickly become a mess.
I really wanted to like The Weiser Field Guide to Witches. For one thing, I like and admire Judika Illes, whose Element Encyclopedias I consider useful as well as beautiful, well-researched, and wonderfully organized. I was prepared to thoroughly enjoy spending more time with her blend of wit and erudition. The subtitle, “From Hexes to Hermione Granger, from Salem to the Land of Oz”, is marvellously enticing, as well as the idea given in the back cover copy that the field guide could help you, the reader, discern if you are a witch. Continue reading
The Weiser Field Guide to the Paranormal: Abductions, Apparitions, ESP, Synchronicity, and More Unexplained Phenomena from Other Realms, by Judith Joyce
Weiser Books, 9781578634880, 210 pp. (incl. resource guide and index), 2011
Setting out to write a field guide to the paranormal is perhaps the definition of thankless task. There are bound to be quibbles with what one includes or doesn’t, and even terminology is certain to be contentious. Judith Joyce’s bravery is only matched by her handling of competing interpretations within the entries of this field guide, though the overwhelming impression in this particular book is one of editorial bias.
The “field guide” focuses very heavily on Victorian-era Spiritualism and UFOs instead of taking a broader view. With the American study of the paranormal so heavily influenced (and indeed, in the 19th century pretty much exclusively funded by) by Spiritualists, it was perhaps a legitimate choice, though not to my personal taste. In some cases (like the entry on Lily Dale) said emphasis threatens to choke the guide as a whole. A better title might have been “A Field Guide to Spiritualism and UFOs, with Some Other Cool Stuff Slid in Around the Edges.” Continue reading
Teachings of the Santeria Gods: The Spirit of the Odu, by Ocha’ni Lele
Destiny Books, 9781594773327, 270 pp. (incl. glossary and index), 2010
Teachings of the Santeria Gods centres on the diloggun, a method of divination involving cowrie shells cast on a mat. The backs of the shells are filed down, but the important thing is the “mouths” of the shells—how many are facing upward gives the diviner the number of an “odu.” Each odu comprises an almost-endless array of stories (the pataki) about particular orisha, or cautionary folk tales. This is what makes this style of divination so interesting; the choice of the story to be told to the querent, and the ebo (sacrifice to be made in order to banish the querent’s ill-luck, avert disaster, or appease angry spirits, among other things) to be made gives a diviner near-infinite possibilities. Continue reading