The Way of the Oracle, by Diana L Paxson
Weiser Books, 9781594774904, 247 pp., 2012
This book is an excellent follow up to Diana Paxson’s previous work, Trance-Portation: Learning to Navigate the Inner World (Weiser Books, 2008).
The Way of the Oracle is divided into two parts. The first explores some of the historical evidence for oracular practice in Celtic, Greek, and especially Norse cultures. The second section has more of a DIY how-to quality. Paxson has made a very complicated subject engaging and accessible without ignoring the historical and practical problems that exist.
I love that the first section is chalk-full of historical quotes and references paired up with personal anecdotes which connect the background material to lived experience. The historical and mythic examples from Norse and Greek culture are excellent, and the author makes a valiant effort to include Celtic material where possible. Unfortunately, despite having strong traditions of prophesy and second-sight, the Celts did not have many oracular sites, like the Greeks, or travelling oracles with elaborate rituals, like the Norse. While it is not suitable to group ritual, a nod to the tradition of kings, heroes, and regular folk meeting receiving prophesy otherworldly beings at certain times and places (such as late on lonely roads or at dawn on the liminal ramparts) would have been nice. Continue reading
The Herbal Alchemist’s Handbook: A Grimoire of Philtres, Elixirs, Oils, Incense, and Formulas for Ritual Use, by Karen Harrison
Weiser, 9781578634910, 239pp., 2011
In this book, we explore Herbal Alchemy as practiced in the West, through the uses of the plants and their Planetary signatures as developed by the 14th century philosopher and Alchemist Paracelsus.
A book on this topic couldn’t start with a more hopeful introduction. After a brief description of alchemy in different forms (lead to gold, internal alchemy, alchemy as a path to the divine), the author states this as her purpose for the book. While it sounds good, this is the beginning of my problems with the book: her use of the terms “alchemy” and “alchemist.” Continue reading
The Candle and the Crossroads: A Book of Appalachian Conjure and Southern Root-Work, by Orion Foxwood
Weiser Books, 9781578635085, 234 pp., 2012
At first glance, I was expecting another introductory magic book with a bit of southern flair. On this front Orion Foxwood’s book does not disappoint, as it does provide a number of important basics in a clear, easily understood, and practical way. However, what really makes this book compelling is that in addition to the basics of Conjure, there are a few other interesting strands in the fabric of this book. These include auto-biographical elements, auto-ethnographical elements, and a sense of spirituality that goes beyond the use of magic as a simply occult means to practical ends.
Biographically, Foxwood opens a window onto his life growing up in the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia, and his later move to Maryland. He tells us about conversations with his mother and mother’s midwife, both practitioners of Conjure. His lived experience is an effective vehicle to introduce us to both Conjure and the culture it comes from.
Ethnographically, we are introduced to the magical side of southern culture in an engaging and accessible way. We see a world where African, European, and Native folk magic have come together to make a uniquely American, and uniquely southern system of magic. It is syncretic and eclectic, yet coherent and profoundly grounded in the land and the history of the people who live there. Continue reading
The Weiser Field Guide to Witches, by Judika Illes
Weiser Books, 9781578634798, 272 pp., 2010
When a field guide is well done, it gives the reader the means to distinguish between species and can be an incredible aid to study, classification, and practical knowledge. When a field guide is not so well done, it can very quickly become a mess.
I really wanted to like The Weiser Field Guide to Witches. For one thing, I like and admire Judika Illes, whose Element Encyclopedias I consider useful as well as beautiful, well-researched, and wonderfully organized. I was prepared to thoroughly enjoy spending more time with her blend of wit and erudition. The subtitle, “From Hexes to Hermione Granger, from Salem to the Land of Oz”, is marvellously enticing, as well as the idea given in the back cover copy that the field guide could help you, the reader, discern if you are a witch. Continue reading
Psychic Self-Defense: The Classic Instruction Manual for Protecting Yourself Against Paranormal Attack, by Dion Fortune
Weiser, 9781578635092, 238pp., 1930, 2001
“This is a warning to the curious: Times, points of view, and fashions change, but never principles.” I doubt Dion Fortune knew how true those words would be eighty years after she wrote Psychic Self-Defense. A lot has changed in the world, both the mundane and magickal landscape are drastically different from her time, so much so that it can be hard to see how relevant this book remains today.
The book is divided into four sections. Part I deals with the types of psychic attack, such as witchcraft, vampirism, and when ceremonial magick goes wrong. It also deals with the signs of the attack and analyzing the nature, figuring out what type of attack it is. Part II deals with differential diagnosis or the other things that could be going on. Part III tackles diagnosing the attack in detail, how they are made, and the motives. Lastly, Part IV is what you’d expect from a book with this title, methods of defence.
Part IV deals with a variety of methods, starting off from simple to more complex. The beginner reading this book can learn how to make Holy Water (provided they are Christian), or using garlic to absorb a negative psychic atmosphere. Getting more complex (but more common in this day) you get the Qabalastic Cross and LBRP, as well as creating magickal circles. Finally she touches upon destroying thought forms, and dealing angels, and the “Occult Police.” Continue reading