Religion and Spirituality

Opiate of the masses, marijuana of the lunatic fringe.

Teen Spirit Guide to Modern Shamanism, by S. Kelley Harrell

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Teen Spirit Guide to Modern Shamanism, by S Kelley Harrell

Teen Spirit Guide to Modern Shamanism, by S Kelley Harrell

Teen Spirit Guide to Modern Shamanism: A Beginner’s Map Charting an Ancient Path, by S. Kelley Harrell
Soul Rocks Books, 1782794336, 148 pp. (incl. resources and references), 2014

S. Kelley Harrell, a veteran shamanic teacher and practitioner, has written a fine book on shamanism – but not necessarily for teens. I was excited to come across this title for review, because, to my knowledge, no other book on shamanism exists aimed specifically at teens. Although Teen Spirit Guide to Modern Shamanism contains much useful information I feel it lacks the “grab” factor needed to draw today’s teenager in.

I believe the problem may simply be one of organization and voice. “Our Wise Young,” the first chapter, describes Harrell’s early years and how she came to shamanism, along with a discussion of animism. The first chapter of part one is a rather pedantic discussion of its  history – a necessary topic at some point, but not one that teens might be dying to read first if they don’t have a clue what shamanism is. I love Harrell’s voice in her preface, where she speaks directly and simply to the reader, without jargon or academic-sounding prose. I sincerely wish she had kept it up throughout the book. Continue reading


The Path to the Guru, by Scott Teitsworth

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The Path to the Guru, by Scott TeitsworthThe Path to the Guru, by Scott TeitsworthThe Path to the Guru: The Science of Self-Realisation According to the Bhagavad Gita, by Scott Teitsworth
Inner Traditions, 978-1-62055-321-3, 342 pp. (incl. prologue, introduction, epilogue, notes, bibliography, and index), 2014

In The Bhagavad Gita, guru Krishna employs a “secret dialectic” with his pupil Arjuna. “Teacher and taught begin as polar opposites in whom a kind of osmotic interchange takes place, each stimulating and edifying the other, until they become as one in realization.” The oppositional stance Teitsworth takes in The Path to the Guru seems intended to provoke the same kind of response in the reader.

It strikes me that this review is a commentary on a commentary on other commentaries about a story of a guru guiding a guru guiding a guru. I feel like the Hindu deity on the cover, waving a thousand arms in front of a mirror, my image refracting into reflection upon reflection — one of the more pleasant effects of reading Teitsworth’s dense and thought-provoking book. Continue reading


Compassion Conquers All, by Tsem Rinpoche

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Compassion Conquers All, by Tsem RinpocheCompassion Conquers All, by Tsem RinpocheCompassion Conquers All: Teachings of the Eight Versus of Mind Transformation, by Tsem Rinpoche
New Page Books, 978-1-60163-354-5, 192 pp. (incl. foreword, appendix, glossary, and author bio), 2014

His Eminence Tsem Rinpoche, an unrealized monk, received the teachings of the Eight Verses of Mind Transformation at the age of 13 from His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama. The teachings are a translation of the Lord Buddha’s teaching on compassion and, when followed, develop the Bodhicitta or compassionate mind, ultimately leading to enlightenment.

The text begins with a discussion of motivation and how motivation affects an action and the outcome of any single action. The eight worldly concerns are introduced and discussed and the reader is instructed to memorize these concerns and use them as a reference point to check their motivation in day-to-day life. When working from the eight  worldly concerns, suffering is guaranteed and can only lead to negative states of mind. Continue reading


The Journey into Spirit, by Kristoffer Hughes

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Death and Dying, photo by Wayne WilkinsonThe Journey into Spirit, by Kristoffer HughesThe Journey into Spirit: A Pagan’s Perspective on Death, Dying and Bereavement, by Kristoffer Hughes
Llewellyn Publications, 978-0-7387-4075-1, 312 pp., 2014

What a gift this book is. From the lyrical quality of Kristoffer Hughes’ writing, not often present in nonfiction, to the sensitive and thoughtful wisdom he imparts, The Journey into Spirit gives the reader a compassionate space to rethink beliefs about death.

Hughes is both a Druid priest and a professional pathology technologist who has worked in British morgues for the past quarter-century, and a funeral celebrant and a teacher of death customs and philosophy. He tells us how as a young child watching his first mortuary scene on TV he knew he was destined for a life entwined with death. Although the adults around him at that time were scared and taken aback by his interest, he felt no fear, only a deep respect for the physical process of death and curiosity about the ensuing spiritual transition. This is the perspective he’s carried throughout his life, and from which he has written this book.

He frames his views within the three Celtic realms of existence — the realm of necessity, the realm of spirit and the realm of infinity – and discusses his philosophical conclusions and certain Celtic teachings pertinent to each realm. Continue reading


Wiccecraeft, by Sinead Spearing

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Wiccecraeft, by Sinead SpearingWiccecraeft, by Sinead SpearingWiccecraeft: Shamanic Magic from the Dark Ages, by Sinead Spearing
Green Magic, 978-0-956188625, 184 pp. (incl. appendix), 2011

Over years of discussion with family members and other initiates, I have come to the conclusion that perhaps the biggest problems faced by members of non-Abrahamic faiths is not opposition (both from within their own movements and from without), but the language we use to express ourselves. That is apparent twice within the title of this book. “Wiccecraeft” is bound to both confuse people (did the author mean Wicca craft or witchcraft?) and turn people away (if it is about Wicca, then witches won’t look at it, and if it is about witchcraft, then Wiccans might spurn it). Looked at another way, however, it is obviously intended to make people stop and think about the subject.

The second sticking point is the “shamanic magic” referenced in the subtitle. Purists will insist that shamans only exist with the extreme northern reaches of the inhabited work. There are other words to describe indigenous religious practitioners from other regions. “Shaman,” however, has been used within the academic community in such a non-specific way for decades, so its use is probably guaranteed for the foreseeable future.

The introduction serves to clear up any misunderstandings concerning the use of the word shaman, although the perceived differences between Wicca and witchcraft are not really addressed. Spearing makes it clear that she is aware of the fact that our perception of the world is very different from that experienced by our ancestors. While we may acknowledge this on some levels, it does not make it easy to shift to a more primitive perception. Continue reading


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