Posted by: Nyxks | August 27, 2008

Spirit Herbs

Spirit Herbs
by Amy “Moonlady” Martin © 2008
Moonlady Publications
pdf book  [Hardcopy coming soon]
73 pages
$12.00 (U.S.)
Reviewed by: Mike Gleason

As I have remarked in previous reviews, I am not a big fan of e-books, since I lack the portable devices for reading them and either have to chain myself to a computer or print out copies to read, so I don’t forget to do the review. In this case the author was kind enough to print out a copy and send it to me. I am a big fan of putting books I have reviewed on my library shelves, which is one reason I am glad that this book is coming out as a “real book” in the near future.

While I don’t agree with all her recommendations about tools to use (I am a purist in a lot of ways and dislike the idea of a metal mortar and pestle), I have no disagreements with her safety recommendations or the techniques for use that she puts forward. She is practical and that counts for a lot, in my opinion.

She provides two systems of measurement for each recipe she gives – by volume [tablespoons/cups] and as “parts” of the whole, which makes it convenient for those who are mathematically challenged. And her recipes include smudges, offerings, element evokers, inhalants and immersants. She explains the differences among these types of uses for those who are unfamiliar with them.

She provides basic data on more than 60 herbs and lists a few books and websites for further information. It is not a comprehensive source of information, but it is a useful, basic start.

Posted by: Nyxks | August 24, 2008

Llewellyn’s 2009 Witches’ Datebook

Llewellyn’s 2009 Witches’ Datebook © 2008
Llewellyn Worldwide
ISBN 978-0-7387-0725-9
144 pages
$10.99 (U.S.) $12.50 (Canada)
Reviewed by: Mike Gleason

I doubt that there is anyone out there who doesn’t know that Llewellyn brings out a line of annual publications. Some people like them and some don’t.

This year’s Datebook (for 2009) contains five articles – Clearing Your Unwanted Attachments; Tools of the Trade; First Nation’s Autumn Magic; Scents to Effect Magic; and Tarot Card Applications – and half-page recipes, articles, and poetry scattered throughout the 144 pages.

Each daily entry has a bit of space for notes, some basic astrological data, as well as observances and indications or whether it is a “planting day,” a “harvesting day,” or neither.

This is the 10th year the Datebook has been published and I suspect it will continue for quite a while.

The poetry contained within the spiral-bound covers of this book is inspirational, the Sabbat information is as well, and even the daily notes can make one stop and think. Being spiral-bound makes it easy to use, since it will open flat; the two pages per week make it easy to check upcoming dates, and the price is easily affordable. All of the preceding make it one of the valuable additions to my annual collection, and should do the same for you.

Posted by: Nyxks | July 23, 2008

Way of the Druid

Way of the Druid
by Graeme K. Talboys © 2005
O Books
ISBN 978-1-905247231
272 pages
$29.95 (U.S.)
Reviewed by: Mike Gleason

There are two things this book is NOT and one that it is (appropriate given the use of triads in Celtic learning)). It is not a scholarly work, full of arcane references and dense footnotes. It is not a lightweight, fluffy treatment of the Druids as an autonomous phenomenon. It is an extremely readable, well-integrated presentation of Druidic functions as a part of overall Celtic culture.

Before the author, himself a Druid for more than three decades, even begins to tackle the subject of the book, he takes the time to explain (in broad, general terms) Celtic society. He also makes it clear that most of what we “know” about it is from second-hand sources in many cases. A thorough grounding in the Celtic view of the world is impossible at this point, due to a lack of first-hand sources to give us that understanding. The best we can hope for is an approximation based on what we can tease out of history, folk-lore and mythology.

I am sure that many modern-day Druids will be offended by parts of this book. While acknowledging that there was no one “Celtic” culture the author makes statements which could be taken to mean that “all Druids” share certain beliefs, traits, and attitudes. He also makes it clear that “Druids” as a separate class of Celtic society did not exist. By and large, Druids were integral members of their clans and tribes, and were expected to work in the fields, be a blacksmith, or fill any other function which needed doing, in addition to the roles as genealogist, law-givers, healer, or whatever their specialty was as a Druid.

This is, without a doubt, the most informative book I have read on Druids in many years. It is not the be all and end all on the subject. There are many other books available on the subject, but most of them tend to be at one or another end of the spectrum when it comes to approaches – they are either intensely dense scholarly works, or fluffy “white light” treatments. This one steers a middle course, and thus may be even more valuable because of that.

Posted by: Nyxks | July 22, 2008

The Secret History of the World

The Secret History of the World
by Mark Booth © 2008
Overlook Press
ISBN 1-59020-031-5
415 pages
$29.95 (U.S.)
Reviewed by: Mike Gleason

Unlike a number of histories as seen through the eyes of secret societies, this one is not predicated on the assumption that this is the authentic, or even the most probable, version of history. Rather it asks “If any of this is true, how can you trust the official version of anything?” That is a refreshing change of approach.

It is also important to note that, although concerned with the idea of secret societies, this is a look at the history of the world in general, and not a history of secret societies. If you are looking for conspiracy theories and other staples of secret society lore, you will be disappointed with this book.

The author makes certain assumptions which may cause some readers to wonder about his perceptions of the world. He sees a world in which, much like the scientist seeking proof of the unified field theory, everything is connected, whether or not any obvious connections can be seen. His view is just as difficult for the average reader to grasp, and as difficult to prove. This difficulty, however, does not invalidate the premise.

Do I agree with his view of the universe? Possibly, in some ways. But my agreement or not is irrelevant. He presents his case; shows his reasoning; puts forth his conclusions, and allows the reader to decide for himself if the conclusion reached is valid.

He warns at the outset that his view includes an upside down, inside out take on history as it is usually taught and perceived. He certainly makes good on that claim. Whether you agree with him or not, the book is an intriguing look at a subject which is at the very base of our civilization.

This is a book devoted more to personalities and interior refelctions than to dates and events. It seemingly flies in the face of conventional perceptions of history, while shining light into some of the little explored corners of human existence. It is not a fascinating reading experience. It IS an interesting exploration of possibilities. How accurate it is will only be determined by the reactions of its readers and the results of future reseach into the topics disclosed herein.

Posted by: Nyxks | July 21, 2008

The Mystery of the Crystal Skulls

The Mystery of the Crystal Skulls
by Chris Morton & Ceri Louise Thomas © 2008
Bear & Company
ISBN 978-1-879181-80-9
389 pages
$20.00 (U.S.) $22.50 (Canada)
Reviewed by: Mike Gleason

“The Crystal Skull” (the Mitchell-Hedges skull) was first brought to the attention of the general public in the 1970s, although it had been discovered decades before. Until recently it had faded from the popular memory. Then came the production, and release, of a major motion picture with the crystal skulls (yes, more have been found) as a major theme and interest was resurrected. Technology has advanced and so has the level of information distribution. No longer the exclusive domain of fringe science, major players (including the BBC) expressed an interest in the background, discovery and investigation of these unusual artifacts.

This book was first published in 1997 and, while more than a decade has passed, it remains one of the best books on the subject. Gathering, as it does, input from scientists and archeologists, native storytellers and religious leaders, as well as UFO researchers, it presents a much broader, more in-depth look at a fascinating subject than many previous works.

This book has been re-issued at this time to tie-in to the release of the new “Indiana Jones” movie, although there are minimal actual connections between the two items. The authors are not making outlandish claims and expecting the reader to accept them on faith. They carefully lay out the trail of the skulls and do*****ent the events surrounding them.

The length of time since this book was originally issued shows through in places, especially in Chapter 8 which deals with channeled information. Attitudes toward, and understanding of, channeling have changed in the past decade. This doesn’t invalidate the information contained in this chapter, however.

The authors have assembled an almost unbelievable amount of information concerning the skulls – both “hard, factual” information and largely unverifiable information obtained through non-traditional sources. They are careful to differentiate between the types and are not given to hyperbole.

There is a great deal of space dedicated to the cultures which produced (or may have produced) the crystal skulls. Unfortunately, most of what we know of these cultures has been recorded by their conquerors, and this information may be presumed to be biased in at least some degree. The authors take the time to examine what we believe we know of these cultures as well as what the descendants of these cultures believe may have been the truth.

Speculation is the basis for this book, as it must be. The topic is one which has been overlooked/ignored by mainstream academics since it falls, potentially, in the realm of religion (or even worse, possible extraterrestrial origin). Religion is a subject which evokes very strong emotions, while extraterrestrial topics invite derision. Even the most vocal “atheistic” scientists often express their conclusions in terms of how they refute religious perceptions.

Since nothing can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, it falls to the authors to present a plausible case for their arguments, and this they do in a fair and reasoned way.

In the talks the authors had with various indigenous peoples, as well as a couple of “channelers” they, and we, are reminded of the interconnectedness of all life in the universe. It is not “us” and “them” or “it”. It is “we,” and we can’t afford to forget that. The natural world does not exist to be conquered, but to be experienced and enjoyed.

This book is not intended to be a proponent of Pagan thought, although it accomplishes this goal as a consequence of its balanced approach and fair reporting. The authors tell us what their interviewers said, not what the authors think they might have meant. They make no attempt to force “facts” to fit their preconceptions. In stepping away from that attitude they give the subject, and their readers, the respect which is deserved.

There are no hard and fast conclusions in the end, merely possibilities, and that is fine. The book should find an interested audience, and not just among fans of Indiana Jones.

Posted by: Nyxks | July 20, 2008

The Real Witches’ Handbook

The Real Witches’ Handbook
by Kate West © 2008
Llewellyn Worldwide
ISBN 0-978-0-7387-1375-5
198 pages
$15.95 (U.S.) $15.50 (Canada)
Reviewed by: Mike Gleason

How do you react to title like this one – The Real Witches Handbook? Does it sound pretentious to you? How dare Ms. West insinuate that hers’ is the REAL way to do it? Actually, that isn’t what she is insinuating at all. What she is saying is that this is a book for those Witches who live in real world – the world with fulltime jobs, families to raise, and bills to pay; the world where a temporary altar is far more likely than a permanent, dedicated one; and the one where you don’t have the luxury of spare time and money for elaborate rituals.

If you are looking for elaborate rituals accompanied by deeply profound thoughts, you will likely be disappointed with this book. The rituals are designed for the solitary practitioner who is not inclined to ceremonial observances. They represent decades of involvement in various forms of the Craft, and the realization (too often lost on the newbie) that intent is far more important than form and format. A Sabbat may be celebrated as movingly by a walk through the countryside as by a formal ritual.

The thoughts and wisdom expressed by Ms. West are really quite profound, no matter that they are homey and “common place.” Far too many people today assume that “everyone knows” certain “common sense” things, and thus fail to pass that information along to their students. I have lost track, over the decades of my Craft involvement, with the number of “aha” moments when something has suddenly crystallized for me and a companion has said “I thought everybody knew that.” Everyone has different life experiences, so don’t hesitate to look for the obvious answers, and don’t over-think things.

I can find points to disagree with (“.magick, making changes by force of will.”), but find far more to agree with. In the above example, I would probably change “force” to “use,” since “force” seems to indicate one can cause change simply by brute strength. On the other hand, I fully agree that “.self-initiation, or more correctly, self-dedication” is a good description of the individual’s decision when dealing with the newbie who has no formal coven training.

While not necessarily a great book, this is without a doubt a well-written book and it definitely deserves to be on the short list of books which should be available to loan to inquirers and those who care about the seekers.

Posted by: Nyxks | July 18, 2008

Witch School First Degree

Witch School First Degree
by Rev. Donald Lewis-Highcorrell © 2008
EAN 978-0-7387-1301-4
240 pages
$19.95 (U.S.) $22.95 (Canada)
Reviewed by: Mike Gleason

I am from the “old guard” BTW branch of Wicca, so I was basically unfamiliar with the Correllian tradition. I hit a couple of stumbling blocks in the Preface and Introduction, but nothing too serious. The first was the use of the term “Nativist” as equivalent of “Pagan,” and the second was their dating system (1579 Piscean is equivalent to 1979 C.E.). On a personal level those simply strike me as unnecessary affectations, but they have effect on the actual teachings, so they aren’t a major concern.

Since the Correllian tradition, like many other systems of Wicca, is structured around a three degree system, and since it is anticipated that each degree will take a year (more or less) to complete, this book is comprised of twelve lessons (one per month). If you work through the lessons in an honest and focused manner, at the end of a year’s study you should be ready for initiation as a First Degree Correllian. How honest you are with yourself will determine how much you get out of your studies.

Each monthly lesson is composed of multiple parts consisting of the actual lesson, exercises to develop your skill, a basic spell (for practical experience), a deity (to expose you to the multiple facets of divinity), a glossary (to explain words which may be unfamiliar), and study questions (13 for each lesson).

I would strongly suggest that you obtain a notebook or two (depending upon your personal preference) to house a handwritten copy of each lesson’s glossary (I know a computer and printer are more likely to produce a crisp, clear copy, but if you take the time to hand write it, you will remember more of it) and you answers to the questions. And for your sake, don’t just copy the relevant answer from the book. Think about it, and put the answer in your own words, in detail. The more effort you put into it, the more benefit you will derive from it. It isn’t about getting the “right” answer. It’s about getting your answer. Your concept of deity (for example) most likely won’t be exactly the same as anyone else’s. That doesn’t matter. You are expected to make these lessons a part of your life.

The lessons are extremely basic (after all, this is a “Wicca 101” book) and for that reason may be boring to more advanced students. They are, however, presented from an Aradian point-of-view, which is often neglected in today’s community. There have been few mentions of their beliefs in general circulation; fewer public exponents of the system; and even fewer well-known public personalities. All of this makes this book (and the upcoming ones in the series) a valuable addition to the public knowledge.

The lessons progress from extremely theoretical (the meaning of magic) to the practical (basic energy work) to the very practical (herbs, stones, oils and incenses). Each of these lessons is carefully thought out and well presented.

At the conclusion of the lessons is a little background on the Correllian tradition and its evolution from a family-base (Scots-Cherokee) to a public organization, through a merger with the Aradian tradition in 1904. Beyond that there is a “Self-Wiccaning” (“Dedication”) ceremony which will grant you membership in the Outer Court of the tradition, as well as Correllian versions of the Charge of the Goddess and the Charge of the God.

Posted by: Nyxks | July 17, 2008

Seekers Guide to Harry Potter

Seekers Guide to Harry Potter
by Dr. Geo Trevarthen © 2008
ISBN 978-1-84694-093-4
261 pages
$24.95 (U.S.)
Reviewed by: Mike Gleason

What’s this -another book about Harry Potter? Well, yes and no. Although it draws its inspiration from Ms. Rowling’s stories of a certain young wizard, it is an open-minded exploration of the symbolism and meaning (intended or otherwise) contained in those writings.

Is Dr. Trevarthen a Pagan? Probably. Is she magically trained? Obviously, if only from her presentation of the functions fulfilled in a magic ritual and her understanding of magical symbolism. From comments in the book, it would appear that she does come from a family involved in various forms of magic, but that is incidental to the philosophical discussions contained in this book.

I must warn you that if you are a Potter fan, but haven’t finished the books yet, do not read this book yet. Dr. Trevarthen discusses topics and themes as well as specific incidents from all seven books, including a large number of “spoilers” for those who haven’t reached the end yet.

She brings together themes from various religions and magical traditions, and thoughts from the Bible to Joseph Campbell. Her goal appears to be simply to show how JK Rowling can bring out the best in everyone and inspire greatness in everyone.

If you have ever felt that the Harry Potter books speak to you, and you feel like there may be more to them than “just” a good story, this book will explain why you have those feelings. As Dr. Trevarthen says, if you read the books one right after the other, it is more like reading one continuous book than a series.

There are themes of alchemy which run from beginning to end – in the names of some of the characters, in the appearance of dragons and phoenix, as well as in the experiences of Harry, Ron and Hermione. While the vast majority of readers may well be unaware of these influences, they will have an effect regardless. For those who are “in the know” the effects will be even more pronounced.

This is a book which deserves to be on your book shelf. Even more importantly, it deserves to be studied and integrated into your world-view.

Posted by: Nyxks | June 27, 2008

The Psychic Adventures of Derek Acorah

The Psychic Adventures of Derek Acorah
by Derek Acorah © 2008
ISBN 978-0-7387-1455-4
230 pages
$14.95 (U.S.)
Reviewed by: Mike Gleason

This is the first U.S. printing of a book which was originally brought out in the U.K. in 2004. Having seen Derek on “Most Haunted” I was familiar with his work (in fact, that is why I got the book for review). I wasn’t familiar with his off-camera work, however, and that was another reason for reading this book.

This is Derek’s second book. I have not seen The Psychic World of Derek Acorah, but based on what I have read in the current book, and on the fact that it deals with sites in Hollywood, I am sure that it is as entertaining a read as you could hope for.

His narrative style is concise, almost brusque, and lacking in the self-aggrandizement common in many “personalities.” It feels as if the reader is walking by his side and listening to Derek explains what he is seeing and feeling. Perhaps the one bad thing about Derek’s descriptions is that he never reveals any of his “misses,” and thus comes across as being “dead on” every time. No one is that good!

Unfortunately for modern Pagans, Derek associates most ancient Pagan practices with “the black arts,” and “Satanism.” This colors his perceptions and must be taken into account when dealing with his impressions and descriptions. Fortunately, little of that shows through in this particular book (although I kept expecting it to creep in).

This is an enjoyable book, and a pleasant way to spend some relaxing time. It won’t teach you anything. It won’t reveal any great secrets. But that isn’t a necessary part of all books.

Posted by: Nyxks | June 26, 2008

The Real Witches’ Craft

The Real Witches’ Craft
by Kate West © 2008
Llewellyn Worldwide
ISBN 0-978-0-7387-1374-8
288 pages
$18.95 (U.S.) $21.95 (Canada)
Reviewed by: Mike Gleason

While this is, in essence, a “Wicca 101” book, it also contains a lot of information that the typical “101” book doesn’t. It is an expansion of The Real Witches’ Handbook (see my previous review), and it gives a great deal more substance to work with. There are plenty of practical exercises (ones where you can actually judge your success rate). There is also a lot of encouragement to persevere. Our Western society appears fixated on quick solutions, but it takes practice and determination to learn a new skill. Ms. West reminds the reader frequently of that fact.

As I have mentioned previously, Ms. West’s use of “The Real Witches’.” if the title of her books does not indicate that they are the “only” or “right” ways to do something, simply that they are the way people who live in the real world of crying babies, overdue bills, and homes to clean accomplish things. These books are written for the “average” magick-worker (all of you ceremonial magicians, public “look at me” Witches, and teens trying to upset your parents will find this information either boring, useless, or incomprehensible).

This book, according to a statement made by Ms. West (on page 180) “.is intended for Witches who have already been practicing a while.” and as such tends to skim over some topics. But even that skimming does not make this a light-weight book. There are plenty of ideas, and more than a little guidance along the way. Although she points out the path and calls attention to some of the pitfalls along the way, she does not coddle the reader. She sets targets and goals, and suggests ways to get there, then gives the reader a pat (or is it a shove?) on the back and says “Get on with it!”

I’ve always been impressed by the writing style of Ms. West. She makes it seem as if you are sitting across the table from a friend and talking about things that interest you. She sets a tone which is relaxed and positive. It is not lightweight or “fluffy” in any way. Her attitude is predominantly upbeat, although she does deal with the darker aspects of magickal workings, without dwelling upon them or making seem more common-place than they are. She covers them as the unusual things they are, without being dismissive of the fact that they do, in fact, occur once in a while.

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