Mabon: Pagan Thanksgiving, by Kristin Madden
Llewellyn Worldwide, 0738700998, 240 pp. (+ appendices, bibliography and index), 2003
It took a while, but I finally got a copy of the missing book in my collection of “festival books” from Llewellyn. I had been looking forward to reading this book for months and finally got a chance to do so as one mundane year wound to a close and a new one opened up before me.
The first chapter is devoted to a brief history of Thanksgiving, which is closely related to this festival. It covers the American holiday, even making sure to present the Native American perspective.
The second chapter is devoted to similar festivals around the world, from the Incas to ancient Mediterranean cultures to those in the Far East and back into northern Europe and into Celtic lands; from ancient Babylon to modern Neopagan traditions.
Chapter Three delves into the myths and deities associated with those same cultures. Her notes are simple and not very extensive.
The fourth chapter covers symbols of the harvest, including some you might not expect (butterflies as a Mabon symbol? You might be surprised.). There is also a short listing of plants (again, you might be surprised).
Chapter Five contains a variety of Mabon rituals, representing quite a range of approaches. Some are familiar, some less so (Wiccan, Norse Blot, Neoshamanic, Eclectic Pagan, and Children’s rituals are all presented). Even experienced practitioners are likely to find some new inspiration here. Be open to new suggestions. The chapter ends with the lyrics of “John Barleycorn”, a song which very much embodies this season.
There are some wonderful recipes contained in the next chapter; everything from Salsa to Pomegranate Chicken, Corn Chowder to Berry Jam. If you can’t find at least one recipe here to pique your interest, see your physician – you’re nearly dead.
Chapter Seven offers some ideas for magickal workings at this time of year, ranging from items to make for your household, to offerings for our wildlife kin, to methods of divination. While many refrain from actual works of magick during Sabbats, there is an entire season to celebrate, and Ms. Madden offers some good ideas for extending that celebration over more than a single day and/or night.
Chapter Eight is “Fun Stuff” and includes ideas for decorating, both for your ritual and around your home, as well as ideas for gifts which can be given now, or prepared for Yule gift-giving. There are ideas for feeding the local fauna, whether you are talking about migrating animals, or the neighbourhood bird population. She even includes a few ideas for Equinox parties.
The final chapter is “Equinox Science” and covers, in broad outline, everything from weather folklore to archeoastronomy.
The appendices cover some wildlife resources and an Autumn Equinox Season Calendar (running from September 8th to October 9th).
Throughout this book I noticed, as I have for several years (and from various publishers) a number of editorial problems – dropped words, inconsistent italicizing, etc.). While none of these problems are major, they do appear to be an on-going problem. As the technology for publishing continues to evolve, I am hoping that these problems will eventually go away.
Once again Llewellyn has provided a book which, while by no means an indispensable classic, provides good basic information. Kristin Madden writes in a clear, easy to understand, reader-friendly style. You won’t find yourself scrambling to verify references, but neither will you find yourself feeling you wasted your money. Enjoy this book and use it to stimulate your own ideas.
Lammas: Celebrating the Fruits of the First Harvest, by Anna Franklin
Llewellyn Publications, 0738700940, 216 pp. (+ appendices, glossary, bibliography and index), 2003
In a pleasant change from the average Pagan book, the authors of this work admit that there is very little documentation, folklore, or anything known for sure about this festival, or even when it was held. It was, apparently, a fairly regional celebration (Britain, Ireland, Gaul and possibly northern Spain).
A number of associated festivals and observances are explored, as well as traditions (both Pagan and Christian) which grew up around this time of year. There is no attempt made to assert primacy for any of these. They are simply presented to the reader as information to be enjoyed.
During discussions of the representation of the vegetation gods, there are constant references to the use of corn as a symbol, without making any mention of the fact that, in much of the ancient world, corn was synonymous with grain in general, and did not necessarily refer to corn as it is commonly seen today. Thus, when “an ear of corn” is referred to, it may be more accurate to think of a “head of wheat.”
This book is moderately “padded” by the restatement of the same information several times in various places; but, as many people tend to “browse” through books of this type, this “padding” serves the useful purpose of increasing the likelihood of that information sticking in the reader’s mind.
Several short lists of deities appropriate to various celebrations occurring at this time of year appear in Chapter Four. While these lists are quite limited, they do serve as a starting point for ongoing investigations. Suggestions for food and games appear in later chapters.
Chapter Five is dedicated to basic magics associated with this festival. Instructions are included for the construction of several different forms of corn dollies. The examples they offer use “corn” in its generic sense, since wheat stalks are the basis of these dollies.
There are sample spells for friendship and love, as well as practical advice on making a staff. There is a recipe for Vervain Lustral Water on page 97 about which I have some reservations. My uncertainty is about the amount of vervain – the conversion from U.S. to Imperial measurement just doesn’t seem right to me. Interpretations of some omens are included as well as suggestions of stones to be used in household protection.
There are nine pages of incense recipes for a variety of deities from a number of cultures. If you can’t find one you like out of this bunch, you’re not trying. I would recommend making a small bit of each of them (and burning them), so that you can see which works best for you. Don’t be afraid to tinker with the proportions, if you are so inspired.
Paul provides insights into the dyeing of fabrics, including some plants as source material and instructions in basic dyeing techniques.
Chapter Six consists of games and competitions to liven up your Lammas gathering. With a couple of exceptions all of them are quite enjoyable ways to divert yourself and your guests.
Chapter Seven includes recipes for body paints, and making stencils; as well as mask and shield making; and suggests ways to find your totem and power animals. The relaxation techniques and visualizations are pretty standard. There is a healthy amount of information given about a reasonably large group of animals. This part of the chapter is a valuable resource and should not be overlooked.
Chapter Eight consists of recipes for the Lammas/Lughnasa feast. All measurements are provided in American, Imperial, and metric quantities so, no matter what system you are used to using, you don’t need to make conversions.
Naturally, being a harvest feast, there are plenty of bread recipes, but no aspect of the feast – from the salad course to the dessert – is neglected. This chapter will enable you to plan a real harvest feast.
As in Midsummer, which I have previously reviewed, the final chapter is dedicated to ritual ideas from a variety of sources. The instructions for ritual preparations are fairly simple and standardized.
The “Lughnasa Calendar” in Appendix One runs from July 15th through August 25th, and includes many festivals [Greek, Chinese, Roman, Christian, and Nordic (among others)].
Appendix Two is simply a listing of alternate names for this festival.
Appendix Three provides a short list of symbols associated with, and appropriate for, Lammas; while Appendix Four gives some of the associated deities. The seventeen pages which make up Appendix Four should serve as a starting point for your own explorations.
Appendix Five gives the words (but not the music) for a few songs and chants relevant to Lammas, as well as a bit of their background.
The two page Glossary was hardly needed. It is too short to be of much help, and the terms have already been dealt with adequately in the text.
As with the other books in this series which I have read, it is a good source for general background on the holiday. It is NOT what I would consider a “must have” book, but it is well worth adding to the Coven library for basic information.
Midsummer: Magical Celebrations of the Summer Solstice, by Anna Franklin
Llewellyn Publications, 0738700525, 173 pp (+ appendices, glossary, bibliography and index), 2003
One of the books dealing with the Sabbat cycle, this book shares all the basics of that series.
First there is the mythic and historic background of the festival, drawn from a number of cultures and historical periods. We also get some basic divination forms which are traditionally used on this date. Ms. Franklin also includes instructions for making a set of runes and for interpreting Tarot and the runes as well as the use of playing cards and oghams.
She includes some basic lore on fairies, as well as gemstones, wand making and herbalism.
Spells are given, and their folklore and background explained. The roots of the folk magic which underlie many of our customs are explored and explained.
Chapter Five deals with traditional herbcraft and production of gargles, oils and teas. While by no means extensive, there is a good sampling of herbs and their uses. There is also a fairly extensive listing of incenses for various deities, Sabbats, etc., and a short list of oils. While not as thorough as Cunningham’s works, it is a good basic section which will give you a working foundation on which to build.
Chapter Six is devoted to recipes. The information given is fine, but there are some minor glitches. On page 136 Ms. Franklin says “Christians believe that the bread and wine is the transubstantiated flesh and blood of God.” While that is true of Catholics, it is not necessarily true for all branches of Christianity. It is, as such, an overly broad statement.
Chapter Seven is about rituals, both indoor and outdoor. The rituals are drawn from a variety of traditions, and the reader is sure to find inspiration in them. It also includes a suggested hand-fasting ritual. My only quibble with the basic instructions for setting up an altar is the same one I have with the majority of books which include such instructions: On page 144 she says “The Goddess image is placed on the left, and the God image on the right.” Is that as the officiator faces the altar or as the altar faces the circle (since the altar is placed in the north in this situation)?
All of the rituals included are designed for group involvement, but could be easily adapted for solitary use.
The appendices include animal totems appropriate for this time of year, ranging from bees to snakes to reindeer; a midsummer calendar; correspondences; deities of midsummer; and symbols of the sun.
The glossary is a bit thin (actually it is VERY thin), but the index and bibliography help to make up for this shortcoming.
This books gives a lot of good, basic information. If you have never done a Midsummer ritual, you will find inspiration here. If you have even wondered about some of the traditions associated with this time of the year, this book is an excellent starting point. It is easy to read and quite enjoyable. While it will not my “Required Reading” list for students, it would certainly be a nice addition to a coven library.