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
Talking to the Spirits: Personal Gnosis in Pagan Religion, by Kenaz Filan and Raven Kaldera
Destiny Books, 9781620550830, 320 pp., 2013
This book is an excellent exploration of communication with the spirit world with material of interest to the curious, the absolute beginner, and the experience spirit- worker. While it is primarily informed by Northern Tradition Paganism, it draws first hand examples from a wide array of spirit-workers from a variety of paganisms, including Asatru, Heathens, Druids, Celtic Reconstructionists, Hellenics, Kemetics, modern Shamans, and more. It also does an excellent job reminding us that these communications take place in cultural contexts and in the broader context of the natural world itself.
The book begins with an exploration of what personal gnosis is and what it feels like; and since much of the information we receive from the spirits can not be verified and may not be for everyone, how we can respond to what the gods, ancestors, and spirits are telling us. It explores why we want to cultivate more direct communication, what that communication might look like, and some of the risks and dangers along the way.
The book frankly addresses delusion, scepticism, lies, and inflated egos in a way which is constructive – discerning without being overly judgemental. It also has an entire chapter addressing the relationship between spirit contact and mental health concerns, do so in a way which is supportive, sensitive and informed. Too many books on magical practices simply say that anyone with any mental health issues should simply avoid esoteric work; but that ignores the fact that much healing can be found in these practices and that some of the sensitivities that leave certain people vulnerable to mental illness can be the same sensitivities that leave some of the same people open to spiritual awareness. Managing these gifts and burdens together seems to me to be a far cry better than shutting everything down because some ‘spiritual leaders’ don’t have the skills to mentor such individuals. Given that I work in the intersection of spirituality and mental health, I was delighted to see it introduced so well here. Continue reading
Genuine Witchcraft is Explained, by John of Monmouth
Capall Bann Publishing, 9781861633347, 486 pp., 2012
If your concept of witchcraft is composed exclusively by the neo-Pagan movement and modern day Wicca, this book is going to be a real eye-opener. For the majority of Wiccans and witches in the US, where I reside and write my reviews, there have been few choices – one either “trained” as an eclectic (usually by means of reading one or more books) or one looked for a “tradition” to follow (many of which touted themselves as having a long, distinguished linage, but failed to provide any substantiation of those claims). Within the past couple of decades the concept of initiation by another has fallen into disrepute and “self-initiation” has become the norm.
This is a massive book, but fully one half of it is composed of data which supplements the first half. The supplemental section includes photos of original documents from the Royal Windsor Coven (no connection to British royalty – just a heads-up to American readers). A large number of the documents which appear in the photos are almost indecipherable, since they were either hand-written, heavily amended, or carbon copies of originals. This is, in my opinion, not a shortcoming. The fact that these documents still exist at all is nearly miraculous, and the fact that they are being preserved and made available is a real benefit for those who wish to explore the development of Witchcraft in the 20th Century. Following these reproductions are transcripts of the documents which make it possible to read and understand the preceding illustrations. Continue reading
A Book of Pagan Prayer, by Ceisiwr Serith
Weiser Books, 1-57863-255-2, 245 pp. (plus Appendices, Bibliography and Notes), 2002
This is a book I never thought I would see. Most of the Pagans I know aren’t big on formalized, scripted prayer. There are going to be those out there who will swear by this book, and those who will swear at the author. Many neo-Pagans feel that prayer should be completely spontaneous and will find the idea of A Book of Pagan Prayer (akin to the Episcopalian Book of Common Prayer) to be incomprehensible, if not incompatible with Pagan religion. Continue reading
A spiritual path is, among other things, a way of seeing the world. That is to say, a spiritual path is a way of understanding or interpreting our relationships with the many things, events, people, and places in the world. In most cases, the path will be expressed or configured by a logic of correspondences. In accord with this logic, the appearance of a certain animal, or plant, or weather event, or whatever, signifies realities beyond itself. Similarly, every spiritual path will have meditations, rituals, techniques, practices, and so on, designed to help the practitioner recognise those signs and read the messages they convey.
The co-ordinates of the correspondences will vary in accord with language, culture, climate, geography, and other factors. They can grow ever more complicated and intricate, in order to accommodate an ever growing range of things and events in an ever-changing world. The associations of the four classical elements to cardinal directions, colours, ritual objects, seasons of the year, times of day, and so on, are well known examples. Yet the logic of correspondence can appear in things as simple as children’s rhymes. The game of counting crows: “One for sorrow, two for joy, three for a girl and four for a boy,” and so on, is also a logic of magical correspondences. Continue reading