Animal totemism is a hot topic among magical folk, in particular Pagans and shamans. This, of course, has spawned a growing number of books about totems which vary in quality from excellent to appalling, as books are wont to do. Many of them attempt to be an improvement on Ted Andrews’ works, which spawned the “totem dictionary with some extra stuff” trend. In addition, there are numerous websites about totems, again of varying quality. It’s laughably easy to find the information you seek. Continue reading
A Witch Like Me: The Spiritual Journeys of Today’s Pagan Practitioners, by Sirona Knight
New Page Books, 2002
Right off the top let me say that I hope this book inspires another one or two in the same line, although perhaps not limited to book authors. I love the idea of learning more about some of the background of some of the “big names” in Paganism. Of course, some of the people I would most like to read about are deceased, but perhaps there are close associates who could provide the data for “posthumous interviews.” In another vein, perhaps a book of fictional biographies could be assembled for the likes of Harry Potter, Sabrina, Samantha (“Bewitched”) Stevens, the “Charmed” sisters, etc.
It is difficult to critique a book like this, other than on technical grounds, since it is composed of individual life stories and opinions. I truly believe that everyone is entitled to their own opinions, no matter if they match up with mine or not. So, I find myself in the position of not being able to disagree with any of the statements contained within this book.
Perhaps the only legitimate criticism I can level at this book, if it is that, is that of the fourteen authors presented here (Dorothy Morrison, Phyllis Currot, Raymond Buckland, Z. Budapest, Marion Weinstein, Patricia Telesco, Raven Grimassi, Lady Sabrina, Skye Alexander, A.J. Drew, Silver Ravenwolf, Timothy Roderick, and Sirona Knight), there are only a few who are “Old Timers” (i.e., their first published work came out 20 or more years ago). Even that, however, merely reflects the author’s choice to deal with those individuals who have stood up for their beliefs, and who are still on the cutting edge of the evolving religion of Wicca.
This is a fun book. No, you won’t learn any deep, dark secrets. There are no skeletons in the closet being revealed. And of course, each author presents themselves in the best possible light,. That is human nature and no one can be faulted for that.
It is a book worth reading, because it shows that Wiccans are very human, and that some of us are willing to stand up and take our lumps for our beliefs. Wiccan authors are becoming more visible, and their books more viable. If you want to know more about the works of these authors, they are listed in the appendix. That appendix could form the basis for a decent “wish list” to improve your library.
The Cyber Spellbook: Magick in the Virtual World, by Sirona Knight and Patricia Telesco
New Page Books, 1564145824, 2002
I have read books by both Ms. Knight and Ms. Telesco before and have found them to be useful works. They have covered lots of useful, basic information. While the current offering has the same concept, I have a few problems with it.
Before I begin to discuss the shortcomings of this book, let me reassure people that, like most of the offerings I have read from New Page Books, it is book which has many good points, and which will stimulate you to think in ways which are (at times) quite unconventional.
My first problem with this book is the title. Throughout, the material refers only minimally to what I consider to be “cyber” topics. I asked my son, who is totally non-magickal in his outlook, what he thinks of when he hears the word “cyber.” Being a child of the computer age his response was immediate: “The Internet.” That is also the first thing I think of. Yet throughout this book, there is little mention of the Internet (or even the computer). Nor is it a spellbook, since only about the last 50 pages actually are dedicated to spells. While they are interesting, they hardly qualify as “cyber” spells.
Although they constantly use the phrase “Cyber Witch,” in my opinion they could just as easily (and more accurately) have used the phrase “Modern Witch” or “Techno Witch.” This work focuses more on the uses of modern technology in general, than on the use of cyber space, which is what I expected from the title.
On page 14 the following statement is made: “The ancient alchemists concerned themselves chiefly with taking ordinary metal and turning it into gold.” This statement, coming from individuals who should know how to “read between the lines” bothers me. It is such a gross misrepresentation of alchemical work that I don’t even know how to respond. Transmutation of base metal into gold was only the “cover story” used by alchemists in order to get the funding for their real work.
The authors remind the reader, early on, that personal feelings about a spell are far more important than the “proper” items according to some general correspondence list. In fact, they encourage the reader to make up their own correspondence list, which is something I highly recommend. You could start with a “standard” list (available in many books dealing with magick) and tweak it by substituting items with personal significance as you discover them.
Their ritual suggestions border on the Discordian, insofar as the symbolism is concerned, and this is a refreshing change from the overly serious (and dare I say, pompous) attitude displayed by many magickal workers and authors.
I ran into another problem on page 27, where it is stated “initiation implies some type of groups acceptance or training.” Although, in my experience, initiation can signal such, it can also be an occurrence between two individuals, with no group involvement. Many perceive initiation to be a “connection” to a magickal current.
The list, on pages 32 and 33 on determining if you are a Cyber Witch is a paraphrase of “You Might Be a Techno Pagan if” which has been circulating for a number of years on the Internet. It might have been nice to acknowledge this, although since it is an anonymous compilation, they were under no obligation to do so.
On page 113 the authors state “Most Cyber Witches celebrate the eight Solar Sabbats that mark the annual cycle of the seasons.” I have a minor problem with this statement, since only four of the Sabbats are actually Solar in nature and orientation (the Solstices and Equinoxes). The other four Sabbats are agricultural in nature. It’s a minor point, but one which I feel is significant.
Then, on page 117, they say “Most Cyber Witches coordinate their spells with the cycles of the moon called the Esbats.” In twenty-five plus years of working in the Craft community, this is first time I have ever heard the lunar CYCLE referred to as an Esbat. The rituals celebrating the Full Moon, surely, but the lunar cycle itself? Never.
This is not a spellbook, since it contains very little in the way of spells. It is a good book to encourage folks to look at the modern conveniences many of us take for granted, and to see how they relate to our spirtual paths and pursuits.
Chapter Five (Cyber Spells) starts off with one of the most important admonitions, and in my opinion, one that I feel is frequently forgotten. They remind us that we need a personal connection to the symbols used. If it doesn’t work for you on some level, it may work against you.
One item they failed to reinforce in this chapter is the need to keep records of the work you do, so you can evaluate effectiveness at some later time.
Unfortunately, the more I read of this book, the more disagreements I had with it. In the section of Divination on page 139, the authors say, “If you don’t like a particular reading, just keep clicking on until you do.” As one who has ignored readings that didn’t suit me (much to my personal regret), I have to call a halt here. If you don’t like the results of a particular reading, then perhaps you shouldn’t have asked the question. Of course, you could do further readings to clarify some points, but to “just keep clicking” until you are happy with the results is a bad idea.
On page 174 they tell the reader to “inscribe the rune of protection on it (it looks a bit like a capital Y).” They then suggest using another series of runes, but give no descriptions of them. In my opinion, they should have included illustrations of the runes in question. Not everyone is familiar with the runes.
Once again, New Page Books, and these authors in particular, have given the reader a different slant on things. Their approach is unconventional, but eminently practical. It is unorthodox and thought provoking. It will, most likely, spark unusual connections and approaches. As long as the reader is aware it is less about cyber-space, and more about technology in general, it is a book well worth purchasing.