A Magical Tour of the Night Sky: Use the Planets and Stars for Personal and Sacred Discovery, by Renna Shesso
Weiser, 9781578634958, 261 pp., 2011
A Magical Tour of the Night Sky is a pretty unique book. Despite the title, sub-title , and even some of the back cover this is not a book about astrology; it is a book about the sky, and our selves. While astrology does come up, there is some discussion of signs and planets and what they mean in astrology but it isn’t about astrology really, there are no mentions of personality traits, predictions, or matching Sun signs with one another. Instead this book focuses on the mythology, and the astronomy, the latter making it an especially interesting book.
Each chapter – starting with the Pole Star, to the Zodiac, then out through the planets – has Shesso weaving together mythology and history from various cultures, most notably Greco-Roman, Norse, Egyptian, and Babylonian. The reader is given a sense of the spiritual importance placed on the planets, as well as seeing how these views permeated the cultures and show up in everything from basket weaving to architecture. Though occasionally the links feel like a bit of a stretch, and some are just incorrect (the etymology of Yule and the history of term Summerland for instance) overall they’re sound and intriguing. She also then explains some of the astronomy behind the planets, and that’s the section that is probably most useful to a magickal practitioner. To generalize most Pagans (like most people in general in modern Western culture) can’t look at the Moon and say if it is waxing or waning, but Shesso explains simple ways to tell just that. She explains how the orbits and motions of Mercury and Venus function, the appearance of the morning/evening star, and interesting mathematical and astronomical facts about each, such as how Venus’ solar conjunctions slowly trace a pentagram in the sky. The ability to locate and understand the movements of the planets is a great step in being able to use them more efficiently. Continue reading
Casting Sacred Space: The Core of All Magickal Work, by Ivo Dominguez Jr.
Weiser Books, 9781578634996, 207 pp., 2012
Everyone in the occult community knows the usual complaint: there are too many 101 books, too many books for beginners. What could be more 101 than an entire book on creating sacred space? Despite the deceptively simple title and seemingly simple topic this book is not 101.
The subtitle of the book refers to making sacred space as the core of all magickal work, and it’s true most magickal systems, as most magickal workings involve some sort of delineation of space. But how hard could it be? You make a circle, you toss everything you don’t want out, and you begin — how could an entire book be devoted to that? As anyone who has dealt with multiple traditions knows, not all spaces are made equally, or in the same way. Dominguez does a brilliant job explaining a great variety of methods for the creation of sacred space, and the reasons why some methods are more appropriate in some situations than others. The majority of the methods in this book are unique being “re-created, from my past-life memories, visions, and careful thought based on this life’s learning.” If you’re the type of person to be turned off by the mention of past-lives in regards to something like this all I can say if give the exercises a try first, then decide. Continue reading
The Way of the Oracle, by Diana L Paxson
Weiser Books, 9781594774904, 247 pp., 2012
This book is an excellent follow up to Diana Paxson’s previous work, Trance-Portation: Learning to Navigate the Inner World (Weiser Books, 2008).
The Way of the Oracle is divided into two parts. The first explores some of the historical evidence for oracular practice in Celtic, Greek, and especially Norse cultures. The second section has more of a DIY how-to quality. Paxson has made a very complicated subject engaging and accessible without ignoring the historical and practical problems that exist.
I love that the first section is chalk-full of historical quotes and references paired up with personal anecdotes which connect the background material to lived experience. The historical and mythic examples from Norse and Greek culture are excellent, and the author makes a valiant effort to include Celtic material where possible. Unfortunately, despite having strong traditions of prophesy and second-sight, the Celts did not have many oracular sites, like the Greeks, or travelling oracles with elaborate rituals, like the Norse. While it is not suitable to group ritual, a nod to the tradition of kings, heroes, and regular folk meeting receiving prophesy otherworldly beings at certain times and places (such as late on lonely roads or at dawn on the liminal ramparts) would have been nice. Continue reading
The Herbal Alchemist’s Handbook: A Grimoire of Philtres, Elixirs, Oils, Incense, and Formulas for Ritual Use, by Karen Harrison
Weiser, 9781578634910, 239pp., 2011
In this book, we explore Herbal Alchemy as practiced in the West, through the uses of the plants and their Planetary signatures as developed by the 14th century philosopher and Alchemist Paracelsus.
A book on this topic couldn’t start with a more hopeful introduction. After a brief description of alchemy in different forms (lead to gold, internal alchemy, alchemy as a path to the divine), the author states this as her purpose for the book. While it sounds good, this is the beginning of my problems with the book: her use of the terms “alchemy” and “alchemist.” Continue reading
Anthologies provide themed essays from a variety of writers, allowing the reader to sample an assortment of styles and opinions. Finding new writers can be difficult for the average person, there’s so much out there that’s useless, or worse. Anthology pieces always vary in quality, and are frequently contradictory when taken as a whole, but that can be part of their charm.
Generation Hex was released last year, edited by Jason Louv and published by the folks at Disinformation.com.
It’s a collection of essays written by magickians under thirty, several of whom I’m familiar with online, and some I’ve not spoken to for years. I found it a great nostalgic piece, despite the fact it was supposed to be cutting edge; it more reminded me where I’ve been, and where I’ve found others. It’s the kind of book you can read to know you’re not alone. Continue reading