The 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
The Tradition of Household Spirits: Ancestral Lore and Practices, by Claude Lecouteux, translated by Jon E. Graham
Inner Traditions, 1620551055, 227 pp. (incl. index and eight pages of colour plates), 2013
Ever since his first book, Witches, Werewolves and Fairies: Shapeshifters and Astral Doubles in the Middle Ages in 1992, I’ve quite enjoyed Claude Lecouteux’s work.
Claude Lecouteux is a French historian specialising in the Middle Ages and its understanding of the spiritual world, the chair of German civilization and Literature of the Middle Ages, and a professor emeritus, at the Paris-Sorbonne University.
The Tradition of Household Spirits: Ancestral Lore and Practices was initially published in French in 2000 as La Maison et ses Génies: Croyances d’Hier et d’Aujourd’hui. Personally, I find the French title more apt, since it more clearly describes the content, but that’s a fairly minor quibble on my part. In the original French, this was Lecouteux’s fifth book published. However the English translation are being published in a different order, and this is the seventh book released in English.
The first part of the book begins with the actual house, while the second part of the book turns to the spirits themselves. This is followed by a brief exploration of the notion of haunted houses, and a few appendixes about proverbs associated with household spirits and a few other odds and ends. Continue reading
For many people, their first introduction to the Song of Amergin came through Robert Graves’ The White Goddess. Graves states that, “English poetic education should, really, begin not with Canterbury Tales, not with the Odyssey, not even with Genesis, but with the Song of Amergin.”
However, despite this apparently reverential beginning; Graves does not actually put forward the Song of Amergin as we have it; rather he begins by utterly changing this ancient poem to better fit his own pet theory, connecting the lines from this poem to the Ogham alphabet and the “months” of the year. This creates a vague pattern, unprecedented in either nature or the Gaelic source culture he purports to respect.
Graves provides neither the original Irish poem, nor anyone else’s English translation. Instead he just sets off on his own imaginative journey. Continue reading
The Way of the Oracle, by Diana L Paxson
Weiser Books, 9781594774904, 247 pp., 2012
This book is an excellent follow up to Diana Paxson’s previous work, Trance-Portation: Learning to Navigate the Inner World (Weiser Books, 2008).
The Way of the Oracle is divided into two parts. The first explores some of the historical evidence for oracular practice in Celtic, Greek, and especially Norse cultures. The second section has more of a DIY how-to quality. Paxson has made a very complicated subject engaging and accessible without ignoring the historical and practical problems that exist.
I love that the first section is chalk-full of historical quotes and references paired up with personal anecdotes which connect the background material to lived experience. The historical and mythic examples from Norse and Greek culture are excellent, and the author makes a valiant effort to include Celtic material where possible. Unfortunately, despite having strong traditions of prophesy and second-sight, the Celts did not have many oracular sites, like the Greeks, or travelling oracles with elaborate rituals, like the Norse. While it is not suitable to group ritual, a nod to the tradition of kings, heroes, and regular folk meeting receiving prophesy otherworldly beings at certain times and places (such as late on lonely roads or at dawn on the liminal ramparts) would have been nice. Continue reading
A Circle of Stones: Journeys and Meditations for Modern Celts, Second Edition, by Erynn Rowan Laurie
Megalithica Books, 9781905713776, 124 pp., 2012
It may be showing its age a bit, even the author admits that there have been advances in the archaeological underpinnings of the work, and increased knowledge of the language and culture of the Irish Celtic people. In spite of that, or perhaps because of it, this remains an easily understandable book, and a good source for those who wish to walk the Celtic Reconstructionist path of Paganism.
There haven’t been a lot of changes made since it was originally issued. There have been a few improvements in the translation of Irish words, and the illustrations have been redone, but the information is essentially unchanged.
There are numerous suggestions for several rituals, as well as guidelines for the creation and maintenance of altars – including suggestions for turning your entire living space into a sacred environment. One of the great things is that she emphasizes the need for the altar to work for you: it doesn’t have to be a certain size or shape, it doesn’t have to be kept overly neat and tidy, and it doesn’t need to be particularly artistic in its arrangement. It should, however, be a place which you visit frequently, thus alleviating the necessity for dusting it. After all, if you are interacting with the altar constantly, things will not remain static for very long. Continue reading