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
Neolithic Shamanism: Spirit Work in the Norse Tradition, by Raven Kaldera and Galina Krasskova
Destiny Books, 9781594774904, 342 pp. (incl. index, plus 8 pages of colour plates), 2012
The title, Neolithic Shamanism, may be a bit misleading as there is not a lot careful exploration of the stone age, but the sub-title, “Spirit Work in the Norse Tradition” seems closer to the subject of the book. The book instead serves as an introduction to the Northern Tradition – which the authors use to refer to a specific modern tradition, not simply the hearth cultures of Northern Europe and the modern practices derived from them. However, by looking at the natural rather than cultural aspects, they seem to be trying to go back to the bare bones of the matter. Regardless, much of the information is generalizable and the book can be read in this broader light, so long as the reader understands that this is not its primary purpose or intention. 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
The Candle and the Crossroads: A Book of Appalachian Conjure and Southern Root-Work, by Orion Foxwood
Weiser Books, 9781578635085, 234 pp., 2012
At first glance, I was expecting another introductory magic book with a bit of southern flair. On this front Orion Foxwood’s book does not disappoint, as it does provide a number of important basics in a clear, easily understood, and practical way. However, what really makes this book compelling is that in addition to the basics of Conjure, there are a few other interesting strands in the fabric of this book. These include auto-biographical elements, auto-ethnographical elements, and a sense of spirituality that goes beyond the use of magic as a simply occult means to practical ends.
Biographically, Foxwood opens a window onto his life growing up in the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia, and his later move to Maryland. He tells us about conversations with his mother and mother’s midwife, both practitioners of Conjure. His lived experience is an effective vehicle to introduce us to both Conjure and the culture it comes from.
Ethnographically, we are introduced to the magical side of southern culture in an engaging and accessible way. We see a world where African, European, and Native folk magic have come together to make a uniquely American, and uniquely southern system of magic. It is syncretic and eclectic, yet coherent and profoundly grounded in the land and the history of the people who live there. Continue reading
Biographies are a lot of fun. While I like getting to know a person through their works, learning more about the circumstances that produced them lends additional weight to certain turns of phrase, and often frames ideas in contexts not previously considered.
I read Thomas Williams’ biography of Éliphas Lévi (titled: Eliphas Levi, Master of the Cabala, the Tarot and the Secret Doctrines) about six months ago in preparation for a workshop that was drawing on his influence in the occult tarot and I wanted to better understand where he was sourcing his material.
I read the second edition and was not impressed with the number of typos and general lack of editing, however, this may be the only full length biography of Lévi in print in English – it’s certainly the only one I’ve been able to find. Despite its flaws, it serves as a decent introduction to Lévi’s life and thought. Continue reading