I first heard about Portland’s Vampire’s Masquerade Ball by chance. I was coming out of a period of intense navel-gazing and decided I needed to leave the house more often. I saw that my friend was a guest DJ at an ’80s goth dance night and decided I’d go for maybe an hour, make myself dance if I was feeling brave, then run back to my hidey-hole. But that’s not what happened. First, some very friendly people saw that I was new to the scene and introduced me around, and then I met Sean who, wouldn’t you know it, has attended the VMB from the beginning. Anyway, he told me about the ball and I was intrigued; it sounded like the perfect opportunity for me to make some sparkling entrance back into the wider world. Continue reading
A Field Guide to Otherkin, by Lupa
Immanion Press, 9781905713073, 310 pp. (incl. appendices, bibliography and index), 2007
A Field Guide to Otherkin is the first full length treatment of this subculture, and, as such, while it has an extensive bibliography, a significant amount of material is drawn from surveys submitted from Otherkin and Lupa’s own experience, as she identifies as Otherkin herself.
Otherkin are people who are physically human, yet believe some aspect of their being to be wolves, foxes, or even fae, dragons and other fantastic creatures. Where in totemism a connection has been forged with an external entity, Otherkin identify the “other” as a part of themselves. Continue reading
Vampires in Their Own Words: An Anthology of Vampire Voices, edited by Michelle Belanger
Llewellyn Worldwide, 9780738712208, 245 pp., pp.
Michelle Belanger, perhaps best known for her first book, The Psychic Vampire Codex, serves as editor for this unique anthology. Vampires In Their Own Words is exactly what it sounds like: a collection of essays by various vampires, some identify as psychic or energy vampires, whereas others identify as sanguinarians (vampires who drink blood), and others who fall somewhere between the two.
In her introduction Belanger gives an overview of the myth of the vampire and details her “Awakening” (a term used to denote the starting point of one’s conscious awareness of hir vampiric condition) and process of acceptance. Much of this will be familiar to anyone who’s read her earlier works or listened to Shadowdance, the podcast she co-hosts with Chris Miller.
The rest of the anthology is divided into loose sections written by an impressive cross-section of vampires covering everything from vampire culture, feeding and the ethics surrounding various practices, codes of behaviour and traditions, followed by a section written by those with close ties to the vampire community but who do not consider themselves vampires.
Many of the essays open with explanations on how each individual arrived at their identification with vampirism and their “Awakening” process. The majority of the essays are followed with a definition section, explaining the vampire culture-specific terms used, such as “donor”, “therian”, “kitra”, and numerous others. There is some overlap, but it’s nice to see the range and variety in the answers, which points are emphasized, as it gives a feel for how individual vampires relate to the terms they use.
Naturally, taken as a whole, some of the essays are contradictory, and they’re far from equal in calibre, but such is the nature of anthologies. There are also quite a few that shine, and others which give pause for thought, such as Sylvere ap Leanan’s “American Vampires” where the author rants against the caste- and court-based vampire community structures. She writes, “…we’re Americans. Our nation was founded on the principle that all are equal in the eyes of our Creator and should be acknowledged as such by those around us…Yet, in clubs and on the Internet, we revert to the very societal structure from which our countrymen struggled to free us.” She raises many valid points.
In “Vampire Lifestyle and Culture” Sanguinarius makes a legitimate case for the appropriation of vampire myths in weaving an identity as a vampire lifestyler, writing: “Since we have no culture of our own, historically speaking, we are inventing it for ourselves…In our case, the only “existing cultural heritage” or knowledge base that could be said to exist are the social/cultural aspects of vampiric fiction…”
Though for this occultist, perhaps the most intriguing essay was that written by Alexzandria and James Baker, “The Serpent’s Kiss”, which explored Aleister Crowley’s use of the term “vampire” and explored his relationship with the vampire myth in modern occult views and through his published works.
Vampires In Their Own Words provides a fair range of opinions on what it means to be a vampire, how vampire behaviour ought to be conducted, what the community should look like, and would serve well as a resource for anyone wanting to learn more about the subculture.
Not In Kansas Anymore: Dark Arts, Sex Spells, Money Magic, and Other Things Your Neighbors Aren’t Telling You, by Christine Wicker
HarperSanFrancisco, 0060726784, 275 pp. (incl. sources and bibliography), 2005
Wicker is a religious reporter, who, two years prior to writing the book, had no idea that people ‘still believe in magic’. She repeatedly makes it clear that she doesn’t believe any of this magick stuff in a way that is rather condescending, given this is the subject and subculture she decided to tackle. She claims an irreligious stance herself in the beginning of the book, yet ends up in church by the end. Irreligious in practice initially, perhaps, but it becomes clear that her Christian upbringing heavily informs her prejudices throughout the book. This need not necessarily be a detracting factor, yet Wicker makes it so.
She frequently references a traumatizing event with a banana in her childhood, where she took the larger of the two offered and found it rotten. She interprets this as ‘bad magic’, which doesn’t quite follow with any sensible occult teaching. It could be interpreted in light of Wiccan karma perhaps, but this is not a widely accepted magickal law, and the subject is not approached from that perspective. Further, she claims paranoid fantasies, constantly visualizing death for herself and imagining the destruction of all she holds dear. She also interprets this as ‘bad magic’, though it is unclear how such bizarre fantasies, which have no tangible effects, relate to magick in any way. She acknowledges not everyone views good and evil (or ‘good magic’ and ‘bad magic’) in such black and white terms, yet she can’t seem to step outside this box herself, and enters every exploration with many prejudices she seems reluctant to depart from, and in most cases, fails to do so.
The subtitle and dustjacket description may lead one to believe that this book intends to illustrate the recent cultural effects of magick and occultism in America today, but unfortunately that is not what this book delivers. Briefly, Wicker touches upon America’s occult history, with Puritanism and Christian magic, and moves on to the new age movement of the sixties and then to the “positive thinking” of the eighties, swiftly and without evaluation, failing to note their influence in modern society in general.
The book opens with the author attending a vampire ball, and it becomes clear she assumes a direct association between vampire, Otherkin and magickal communities, but while there are some overlaps, no direct correlation exists. To her, vampires are “magic people”, Wiccans are “magic people”, hoodoo practitioners are “magic people”, and she often refers to “non-magic people” as “muggles”.
The words Pagan and Paganism always appear in lowercase, which is highly disrespectful. It is worth noting that the same treatment is not given to Christianity, Buddhism, and other religious traditions presented here. Further, she states that “witches are often called Wiccans”, when in actuality a distinction is usually made between a practitioner of witchcraft and a member of the Wiccan religion. She also confuses Drawing Down the Moon, a Wiccan rite which calls the Goddess into oneself, with the Great Rite, a ritual involving sexual intercourse, often symbolically.
She was horrified by the practices of Aleister Crowley and Gerald Gardner and makes a number of disapproving comments regarding each (the former, especially), but her information seems entirely second- or even third-hand as she does not appear to have read any works by either author (no works are mentioned in the seven page bibliography). As a result, her opinions seem uninformed and heavily influenced by fear and repression.
Rather than the cultural history implied in the subtitle, Wicker offers us a chatty and highly judgemental view of her personal experiences with several distinctly fringe occult communities and personalities. Unfortunately, she limits herself to selectively picking and choosing whoever appears oddest to her, rather than exploring the full range of occult practice and belief. As a result, she often finds herself extremely uncomfortable with the situations she puts herself in, and often comments that she can’t handle her brushes with expanding consciousness, and so retreats the moment she encounters a belief which contradicts her current worldview, head spinning, fearful of change.
Wicker seems to feel she was enriched by her experiences, but alas, she comes off as nothing more than a blundering, ignorant tourist for failing to engage, and the caricatures she portrays of the people she encountered insult more than illuminate. Not recommended.
Fang and Fur, Blood and Bone: A Primal Guide to Animal Magic, by Lupa
Immanion Press, 1905713010, 224 pp. (incl. appendices, bibliography and index), 2006
Cultural appropriation is rampant in totemic work, as Lupa acknowledges, but notes that “[i]n any field of study there will always be those who are neophobic and believe that anyone who deviates from specific patterns is not only disrespecting but also diluting the effectiveness and “truth” of said field”. She writes “totemism is something that is essentially universal” (pg 39), arguing that she has practiced totemism for years with no formal background or tradition, and, as she says, “can still boast a decent success rate” (pg 40). As Lupa comes from a neo-Pagan background, this book tends to focus on a neo-Pagan approach to the subject.
There are a number of sections that won’t appeal to everyone, for example, the sections on sacrifice and working with animal parts didn’t agree well with me, a vegetarian. Though some of the material may be controversial, Lupa strives to present it in a palatable fashion, and certainly those interested will likely find benefit from their inclusion, especially as these subjects are often skirted in neo-Paganism. Clearly, Fang and Fur Blood and Bone does not intend to be merely yet another book on animal magick.
One of the more personally appealing ritual ideas described in the book is the creation of an animal, essentially inspired servitors of made up of composite animal parts, with specific details of a creature Lupa created in the past. Lupa details another ritual she employed in order to obtain a familiar. We learn its name and feeding habits, but not how it came into her life, nor how she’s worked with it. While it’s a shame that practical applications are left vague, the section advocating responsible familiar care is certainly commendable. Lupa leaves moral decisions to the reader, though, naturally, she does offer suggestions on how certain situations should be approached.
Lupa also touches upon therianthropy, a state where a person believes s/he is an animal in spirit (at the very least), and shape-shifting. She notes differences between therion and non-therion shifting – a distinction not often made, but interesting to see, given the rise in popularity of ‘Otherkin’-identification over the past decade or so.
Appendices are referenced early and constantly throughout the text, which made me wonder whether or not the material really ought to have been tacked on at the end, or if the structure of the text could have used reworking to incorporate them earlier on.
Throughout the text, Lupa employs a relaxed, conversational tone, however with numerous typographical errors the rough edges show and details are not always fleshed out; it perhaps could have benefited from further editing.
This book provides a number of ideas not commonly found in the average book on animal magick or totemic work, and anyone interested in this area of magickal exploration would do well to pick it up.