Talking to the Spirits: Personal Gnosis in Pagan Religion, by Kenaz Filan and Raven Kaldera
Destiny Books, 9781620550830, 320 pp., 2013
This book is an excellent exploration of communication with the spirit world with material of interest to the curious, the absolute beginner, and the experience spirit- worker. While it is primarily informed by Northern Tradition Paganism, it draws first hand examples from a wide array of spirit-workers from a variety of paganisms, including Asatru, Heathens, Druids, Celtic Reconstructionists, Hellenics, Kemetics, modern Shamans, and more. It also does an excellent job reminding us that these communications take place in cultural contexts and in the broader context of the natural world itself.
The book begins with an exploration of what personal gnosis is and what it feels like; and since much of the information we receive from the spirits can not be verified and may not be for everyone, how we can respond to what the gods, ancestors, and spirits are telling us. It explores why we want to cultivate more direct communication, what that communication might look like, and some of the risks and dangers along the way.
The book frankly addresses delusion, scepticism, lies, and inflated egos in a way which is constructive – discerning without being overly judgemental. It also has an entire chapter addressing the relationship between spirit contact and mental health concerns, do so in a way which is supportive, sensitive and informed. Too many books on magical practices simply say that anyone with any mental health issues should simply avoid esoteric work; but that ignores the fact that much healing can be found in these practices and that some of the sensitivities that leave certain people vulnerable to mental illness can be the same sensitivities that leave some of the same people open to spiritual awareness. Managing these gifts and burdens together seems to me to be a far cry better than shutting everything down because some ‘spiritual leaders’ don’t have the skills to mentor such individuals. Given that I work in the intersection of spirituality and mental health, I was delighted to see it introduced so well here. Continue reading
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
Genuine Witchcraft is Explained, by John of Monmouth
Capall Bann Publishing, 9781861633347, 486 pp., 2012
If your concept of witchcraft is composed exclusively by the neo-Pagan movement and modern day Wicca, this book is going to be a real eye-opener. For the majority of Wiccans and witches in the US, where I reside and write my reviews, there have been few choices – one either “trained” as an eclectic (usually by means of reading one or more books) or one looked for a “tradition” to follow (many of which touted themselves as having a long, distinguished linage, but failed to provide any substantiation of those claims). Within the past couple of decades the concept of initiation by another has fallen into disrepute and “self-initiation” has become the norm.
This is a massive book, but fully one half of it is composed of data which supplements the first half. The supplemental section includes photos of original documents from the Royal Windsor Coven (no connection to British royalty – just a heads-up to American readers). A large number of the documents which appear in the photos are almost indecipherable, since they were either hand-written, heavily amended, or carbon copies of originals. This is, in my opinion, not a shortcoming. The fact that these documents still exist at all is nearly miraculous, and the fact that they are being preserved and made available is a real benefit for those who wish to explore the development of Witchcraft in the 20th Century. Following these reproductions are transcripts of the documents which make it possible to read and understand the preceding illustrations. 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
A Book of Pagan Prayer, by Ceisiwr Serith
Weiser Books, 1-57863-255-2, 245 pp. (plus Appendices, Bibliography and Notes), 2002
This is a book I never thought I would see. Most of the Pagans I know aren’t big on formalized, scripted prayer. There are going to be those out there who will swear by this book, and those who will swear at the author. Many neo-Pagans feel that prayer should be completely spontaneous and will find the idea of A Book of Pagan Prayer (akin to the Episcopalian Book of Common Prayer) to be incomprehensible, if not incompatible with Pagan religion. Continue reading