Health and Wellness

Herbal and natural remedies and wellness.

Review: Incense, by Carl F. Neal

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Incense: Crafting and Use of Magickal Scents, by Carl F. Neal
Llewellyn Worldwide, 0738703362, 149 pp. (incl. appendices, glossary, bibliography and index), 2003

In the introduction Neal lets the reader know that this will be a different sort of book, noting that it is not intended to make large quantities of incense, or incense for commercial purposes, as these often use synthetic materials. Neal prefers a more personal and natural approach to incense making. Incense covers a variety of techniques including stick, joss, cone and loose incense making, completely naturally. You won’t find any synthetic or dipped incense recipes in this book, and, if you’ll forgive the pun, it’s a breath of fresh air.

Brief histories of incense making around the world are given, acknowledging different philosophies and traditions. Also noting that many so-called ‘traditional’ recipes may only go back 10-20 years, and while still useful, may not really be historically accurate, but reminds the reader that this doesn’t diminish their wonderful scent. He also gets into various incense philosophies, the ethics of incense making, for example whether or not to use animal material (he advises not), rare poached plants, possible attempts at fraud by merchants of incense materials, etc.

Neal discusses the possible dangers of synthetic based dipped incenses, the possible toxins and harmful effects, as well as the dangers of saltpetre found in most commercial charcoals, and why he prefers to use more natural materials. He seems to have a special reverence for Japanese incense making techniques, philosophies and practices, and several are detailed within.

A variety of recipes are offered, including numerous ‘traditional’ scents, and ritual-specific recipes such as ‘Sanctification’, ‘Handfasting’ and even ‘Happy Cats’, followed by a chapter on experimentation, which he encourages, whereas some other books don’t mention or avoid for fear of making something ‘dangerous’, but without the use of saltpetre, as Neal advises, this is unlikely to be a problem.

Advises making nice smelling incense, but also notes that one might want to ‘make incense that does not create a pleasing scent, strictly because of the magickal alignment of the materials’ (pg 40-41), or perhaps ‘if you’re a prankster, you’ll even find that your incense making skills can be used to create some pretty terrible smells’ – though he does note that no recipes of this type can be found in this book.

Wonderful as it is, I do have a few criticisms. There are a few typos, and it often gets repetitive in parts; indeed, there is even a small section that is repeated in its entirety. While there are a few pictures, step-by-step illustrations to go along with the text, though detailed, would have been appreciated, as not everyone will be able to visualize the steps clearly, especially those who have never made incense before. Appendix B lists numerous suppliers in the United States, with a handful in the UK, but none in Canada. It would be nice if, in future editions, the appendix branched out a bit to include more locals.

Very easy to use, Incense offers step-by-step instructions on how to acquire tools, materials and various incense burners. This is an excellent book for those with an interesting in incense making or who are just starting out, and as Neal notes, even if you don’t end up making your own incense, you’ll have a much better idea of what goes into the process and which things to consider when purchasing off the shelf at your local shop.

Monsters and Magical Sticks, by Steven Heller & Terry Steele

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Monsters and Magical Sticks, by Steven Heller & Terry SteeleMonsters and Magical Sticks: Or, There’s No Such Thing As Hypnosis, by Steven Heller, Ph. D. & Terry Steele, introduction by Robert Anton Wilson
New Falcon Publication, 1561840262, 191 (Incl. bibliography), 1987, 2001

Prior to reading Monsters and Magical Sticks, I didn’t know much about hypnosis, it wasn’t a subject that was really ‘on my radar’. Sure, I’d seen it used as a tool for entertainment at a few shows, where a hypnotist stood up in front of a crowd, selected a few individuals and ‘made’ them do silly things. Beyond hearing about it in reference to quitting smoking on the radio, I never really considered that it may have real, practical applications. I simply did not understand the potential therapeutic aspects, nor did I realize that I’d experienced a version of it nearly every day. Continue reading

Review: Yin Yoga, by Paul Grilley

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Yin Yoga, by Paul Grilley
White Cloud Press, 1883391439, 118 pp. (incl. bibliography.), 2002

Admittedly, my study of yoga has been mostly superficial: I’ve read a few books, but never studied with a professional teacher. However, I do enjoy the few asanas (poses/postures) that I do practice regularly, and was glad to receive an opportunity to expand on them.

Grilley combines Chinese mysticism with Indian philosophy to create yin yoga, incorporating the Modern Meridian Theory of Dr. Hiroshi Motoyama and Dr. James Oschman. This theory postulates that the meridians run through the connective tissue of the body, representing the yin energy, whereas the muscle tissue represents the yang. Included are several colour diagrams of the body and connective tissue to illustrate this point. The main difference between what Grilley calls ‘yang yoga’ and ‘yin yoga’ is that the postures in the latter are held longer, with the muscles relaxed, rather than the straining of ‘yang yoga’.

A large variety of poses are illustrated with photographs and detailed explanations on the benefit and suggestions for the novice and more advanced student, giving a range in the degree of difficulty. Three sample routines are included with various emphasis on spine, hips and legs and then a combination. The sample routines are arranged in such a way that the transition between them feels smooth and natural

Several sitting postures are detailed as well, with brief descriptions of the chakras, and a variety of pranayama and meditation techniques, including Sushumna Purification, chakra and kundalini meditation, Bija or “seed” mantras, etc.

Regarding chakras, Grilley brings up an excellent point often overlooked:

‘When trying to describe where a chakra “is” one is in a dilemma. Common language suggests that they are physically located in the spine but the reader should bear in mind that this is both true and false. A “broken heart” is a real experience that indeed seems cantered in the heart but that is not where the feelings “are”. The chakras have a physical correspondence but they are more than physical. Bear this in mind when reading about “where” a chakra “is”. Don’t be limited by only physical conceptions.’

I found the practical section to be effective and the theory is as sound as any. This is definitely a book I value, and suggest it to anyone looking for a different perspective on yoga.

Review: Cooking by the Seasons, Kerri Ann Allrich

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Cooking by the Seasons: Simple Vegetarian Feasts, by Kerri Ann Allrich
Llewellyn Worldwide, 0738703230, 2003, 208 (+2) pp. (Including appendices, and indexes)

I was thrilled to receive Cooking by the Seasons as I’d enjoyed her previous cookbook Cooking By Moonlight. This aimed more specifically at vegetarians and vegans, a large and growing market. Delicious food non-vegetarians will enjoy as well. As with Allrich’s previous work, she writes from a Goddess-centric point of view, while briefly incorporating hints of the God and masculine energies, this work is mostly aimed at women in general.

Divided into four main sections by season, spring, summer, autumn, and winter, each contains a short description of associated colours, elements, brief bits of Goddess lore and so on, as well as menu suggestions for the festivals or sabbats.

Allrich sensibly recommends eating in tune with the seasons to align oneself closer to nature and the Goddess, eating fruits and vegetables as they’re harvested. Many recipes for light fresh greens in the summer, warm simmering soups for the winter. Too often you hear about neo-pagan festivals and such with no actual connection to the changing of the seasons and alignment with Nature; for example, harvest festivals sans the harvesting, etc. This becomes symbolic at best, and at worst supremely naive. Allrich reminds us to “eat in season” to maintain that connection to the Earth and Her bounty.

She includes recipes for flavoured wines, appetizers, soups, main course, salads and desserts for each season with appropriate produce, with a section for notes and additions. Also contains three appendices: resources list to search out ingredients and natural products, as well as a detailed list of cooking terms from US to UK, additionally there is also a measurements conversion chart. Category index, and alphabetical recipe index.

As mentioned in a previous review, I’m no gourmet chef, however, when reviewing a cookbook, it makes sense to give the recipes a go. So I had a go at making the Baked Eggplant with Goat Cheese (page 74), as I love eggplant though rarely know what to do with it. It turned out fantastic, absolutely divine. I even managed to find something my notoriously picky husband (a non-vegetarian) loved, the Bread Crumb Pasta For Two (page 121). The recipes were easy to follow, making me almost feel like a chef on surveying and enjoying the finished product.

I’m gradually learning that food can be much more than stuff you eat to stay alive – it can also be a delicious life affirming experience to be sensually induced and indulge in. Kerri Ann Allrich’s cookbooks have contributed to a large part of that. If you’re looking for something deliciously flavourful to add to your cooking repertoire, pick this up.

Review: Cooking by Moonlight, Kerri Ann Allrich

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Cooking by Moonlight: A Witch’s Guide to Culinary Magic, by Kerri Ann Allrich
Llewellyn Worldwide, 1567180159, 2003, 224 (including appendix and index)

Advice on what to keep stocked in your kitchen, as well as attributes of various ‘love foods’, which foods are best to eat under which moon and season, and why. Excellent recipies, most of the ones with meat ingredients have vegetarian alternatives, which, being a vegetarian, I consider very thoughtful.

I do own a few cookbooks, but they’re quite dusty, as I don’t generally cook. I’ve got a few recipies and things I know how to assemble, but that number doesn’t top a dozen. And half of them simply require adding milk to a package of dried flaky bits. If it can’t be made in 10 minutes or less I dunno how. But a cookbook was sent with a neo-pagan spin, and how could I resist giving it a go?

I made the Cinnamon Zucchini Bread (pg. 117), the ingredients were simple enough, but I had no idea what it meant to ‘fold in the zucchini’, I called my sister who is a baker, and she told me, thinking I was an idiot for not immediately understanding. This easily could have been idiocy on my part, but an appendix of ‘Baking Terms for Dummies’ would have been helpful. At any rate, the bread turned out to be absolutely delicious.

Very Gooddess-centric (there is little mention of the God throughout this book) it contains many references to ‘Wise Woman’ (though none to Cunning Man), this is a cookbook clearly meant for women. Though I’m sure both sexes will appreciate the tastey recipies found within, however it would have been nice to see a bit more of a nod to the fellas. That, and a gloassary would be my only complaints, otherwise it’s a delightful book, an excellent addition to the library of any kitchen witch.

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