I stood before my unused sewing table, where I was to build my first ancestor altar. I thought of what I might put there: a photo of my birth parents, certainly, and two metal Peruvian figurines, a man and a woman, to honour my karmic roots to Peru. What else held meaning for my ancestors; what might make them feel at home? For my birth parents, two treasured old compasses that belonged to my father and a favourite hamsa necklace of my mother’s. For the Peruvian folk, an offering of corn meal and tobacco, and palo santo, a Peruvian wood incense. To symbolize the ancestral wisdom I wanted to access, two small plastic skulls; and to honour my shamanic path, pieces of wood from a tree struck by lightning on the property of one of my shaman-sisters (being struck by lightning three times is believed to be a call to that path).In shamanism you learn fairly quickly about the constant presence and influence of the ancestors, their legacies — both gifts and wounds — and why it behoves you to pay your respects and enlist their help. Yet no matter what path you’re on, a relationship with your ancestors can benefit you. Read More
A Spirit Walker's Guide to Shamanic Tools: How to Make and Use Drums, Masks, Rattles, and Other Sacred Implements, by Evelyn C. Rysdyk Weiser Books, 9781578635573, 258 pp. (incl. glossary, resource list, and bibliography), 2014Forming your own relationship with your helping spirits, teachers and power animals is essential in shamanic work. Shamanism is a highly individualistic practice in which your skill and effectiveness largely depends on your ability to communicate and work well with them. Anything you can do to make your connection stronger is welcome -- especially by the spirits, and author Evelyn C. Rysdyk believes there's no better way than by crafting your own “power tools.”Rysdyk assumes you are already an experienced shamanic journeyer and you know your spirit community. Read More
MagickIt's not necessarily the tradition that makes the magician.Feel like your magick runs in cycles? Here are some suggestions for how best manage your time.Do you have to make your own ritual tools? (Bonus: Read our review of Aaron Leitch's latest book, The Essential Enochian Grimoire.)The ins and outs of word magick.
SpiritualityOn community and mentoring Pagan youth. Read More
Talking to the Spirits: Personal Gnosis in Pagan Religion, by Kenaz Filan and Raven Kaldera Destiny Books, 9781620550830, 320 pp., 2013This 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. Read More
Neolithic Shamanism: Spirit Work in the Norse Tradition, by Raven Kaldera and Galina Krasskova Destiny Books, 9781594774904, 342 pp. (incl. index, plus 8 pages of colour plates), 2012The title, Neolithic Shamanism, may be a bit misleading as there is not a lot careful exploration of the stone age, but the sub-title, "Spirit Work in the Norse Tradition" seems closer to the subject of the book. The book instead serves as an introduction to the Northern Tradition - which the authors use to refer to a specific modern tradition, not simply the hearth cultures of Northern Europe and the modern practices derived from them. However, by looking at the natural rather than cultural aspects, they seem to be trying to go back to the bare bones of the matter. Regardless, much of the information is generalizable and the book can be read in this broader light, so long as the reader understands that this is not its primary purpose or intention. Read More
The Shamanic Witch, by Gail Wood Red Wheel/Weiser, 978-1-57863-430-9, 244 pp. (incl. Glossary, Notes, and Bibliography), 2008The Shamanic Witch is targeted at introducing practicing witches to neo-Shamanism. As such, the first two thirds of the book introduce and instruct one in beginning a neo-Shamanic practice, and the last third is directed at incorporating Shamanic elements into a pre-existing Witchcraft practice. Even if one is not a witch, the introduction to neo-Shamanism is well written, accessible, and assumes no prior knowledge. It would be unwise to pick up this book with the intention of beginning witchcraft, although a reading list is provided at the end of the book.The first two chapters introduce the concept and context of Shamanism and provide the reader with some expectations as to what the experience of journeying will be like. Wood includes a number of exercises to prepare the reader: becoming comfortable with their own style of visualization, connecting with drumming and non-ordinary states of consciousness. The third chapter is dedicated to introductory journeys, following what seems to have become standard practice for neo-Shamanism: journeying to the lower world to meet a power animal and then journeying to the upper world to meet a guide or teacher. Wood writing is casual and approachable. She draws directly from her own experiences both as teacher and student, presenting components of her own personal journeys but also alerting the reader that their own may take very different forms. Read More