Defense Against the Dark: A Field Guide to Protecting Yourself from Predatory Spirits, Energy Vampires, and Malevolent Magick, by Emily Carlin
New Page Books, 9781601631701, 223. pp, 2011
“When we lie awake, listening to the sounds of the night, we imagine all the things that could be making those strange sounds”.1
Defense Against the Dark aims to introduce the reader to disruptive and occasionally dangerous entities and educate on how to avoid them, engage them, and if need forcibly remove them. The “dark” tends to be a hit-or-miss area with a lot of books in the occult arena. I find almost everything regarding the dark can be categorized into three camps: the Light, the Illusion, and the Fucked. What I mean is a lot of books say if these dark creatures exist just imagine a bubble of purple light (or whatever is in vogue) and you’re completely protected, or that these beings don’t and can’t exist because God/Universe loves us too much, or lastly they exist and are powerful and if you encounter them you’re screwed.
Carlin takes a pleasant middle ground, she admits that these beings exist, these beings can harm you, generally they are rare (especially the more dangerous ones) and you can protect yourself but it isn’t always easy. She takes a very rational approach to the possible existence and encounters with these beings. When discussing initially even if they exist and how to find out if you’re dealing with something she mentions “you can perform a simple banishing. If the phenomena stop, does that mean you had pixies or goblins in your home? Probably! But does it really matter? If the symptoms exist and the suggested methods alleviate them, what more is needed?…you’ve little to lose by trying, and a lot to gain”.2 The same was applied to curses “True curses and psychic attacks are extremely rare. But if someone truly believe himself to be under attack or cursed, he can effectively curse himself”3 and as such a hex-breaking ritual can be useful regardless of the origin or existence of the hex.
Several times in the book she takes this down to earth approach. Sure, pixies might like to trip people when carrying larger loads, but don’t forget to consider you may have hit the edge of a carpet, or a cat was underfoot4 sometimes an accident is just that, and one should never assume every trip, misplaced object, or bump in the night is something more than it seems. Carlin also points out from the start that it may just be you’re being toyed with, that many of these creatures operate and think differently than us, and their actions aren’t necessarily evil or bad, they may be just the opposite to them so we have to approach them in that light.5
So what does this book actually contain? The first three quarters of the book is a categorized listing of many spirit and entity types. Each entry has “Vital Statistics”, such as “Danger Level”, rarity, and difficulty of removal, as well as lore and methods of removal. After first these Vital Statistics struck the wrong chord with me, feeling a step away from a D&D Monster Manual, but eventually I came to appreciate them as a quick and handy reference to the creature’s likelihood and how troublesome they’d be. The big categories include Faeries, Bogeys, Demons, Vampires, Dead/Undead, and Malignant Magick. For the most part I’d agree with the layout but felt sometimes she was trying too hard to be inclusive/appropriative with her creatures, so she’d list a common European creature (from the British Isles more often than not) and mention it is also known as – and then go onto list a series of creatures from non-European countries that may only have the most basic link to the originally named creature. Sometimes I’d completely disagree with her associations, such as listing the Pisacha as a Revenant (physically reanimated corpse) when they are quite alive and “demons” in Hinduism, or Manananggals as shape-shifters when they drink blood at night and don’t usually shape-shift making them more of a vampire I’d say, though related monsters like the Aswang do change form. Other than that I can’t fault her mythology/lore for the most part. I was surprised by Carlin’s discussion of physical entities, in fact many she covers she describes as physical. Not that they can affect the physical world, not that they can physically manifest for a short period, but that the Brownie (or whatever) is a completely physical being interacting with our world. I have trouble accepting that position and for such a practical or rational book it seems out of place.
The last quarter of the book is protection and banishing magick. In the introduction Carlin stresses this isn’t a book about defensive magick, but she’ll include some information to help. She includes things as simple as the visualized sphere of light, and elemental protections, to using salt, smudging, and energy balls, charms and even a few “big” protection rituals. The big rituals in the final chapter include a small chant to Kali, and a ritual involving Hecate, Ares, and Kali. Why she went with Kali rather than a protective form of Kali, I can’t say, but matching two Greeks and a Hindu deity makes for an interesting choice. I was surprised at the depth of the final ritual, requiring a blood sacrifice and spraying alcohol over an open flame, not the standard fare in most books about the dark, Carlin seems to take this seriously.
I was pleasantly surprised with this book, it was more balanced and practical than most books on the dark tend to be, and while I may have minor issues with some of the research and cultural stuff, I’d say that Carlin achieves what she set out to do; give the average person “A field guide to protecting yourself from predatory spirits, energy vampires, and malevolent magick.”