Posted by: Nyxks | June 17, 2008

Witch School Ritual, Theory and Practice

Witch School Ritual, Theory and Practice
by Rev. Donald Lewis-Highcorrell © 2008
Llewellyn Worldwide
ISBN 0-978-0-7387-1339-7
202 pages
Paperback
$19.95 (U.S.) $22.95 (Canada)
Reviewed by: Mike Gleason

This is the fourth, and final, book in the “Witch School” series. As the author explains, it was intended to be a part of Second Degree training in the Correllian Tradition. Indeed, within the Tradition, it still occupies that position. Therefore, certain assumptions are made about the level of experience of the reader. While you don HAVE to have read the preceding books, it would certainly be beneficial.

Unlike the Degree books, there is no glossary of unfamiliar terms at the end of each chapter, since the reader should already be familiar with the terms likely to be encountered.

This book provides a variety of rituals, many of which will be familiar to everyone and some of which are less common. They cover Esbats (both New and Full Moon) and the Sabbats. There is a short chapter on ritual theory to start the reader off and there is enough repetition of basic invocations and forms to generate a certain level of familiarity and comfort, along with reminders that they are intended as templates only.

Even if you haven’t read the preceding books (see my reviews at http://www20.brinkster.com/gleasonreview) you will find this an inspiring book. The author makes no attempt to limit the reader’s imagination. There are multiple forms of circle casting, as well as invocations, blessings, and “Acts of Power,” or central focus for each ritual, which are sure to inspire your own thinking.

Obviously, his Correllian training and orientation show through at multiple points, but that is to be expected. It is a pleasure to be able to say that he is not dogmatic in his approach. His eclecticism is of an ordered form. Although he draws from a variety of sources, he maintains a continuity within each ritual. This consistency gives a solid feel to the work being done, which is often missing in “non-traditional” rituals.

While I have no right to voice an opinion on the Correllian Tradition (I have not undergone its training curriculum), I feel comfortable in recommending this book and its predecessors. If you are interested in obtaining a solid foundation in ritual working, this book is a valuable addition to your library.

Posted by: Nyxks | June 10, 2008

Lucinda’s Web

Lucinda’s Web
by Dorothy Morrison © 2008
WillowTree Press
ISBN 978-0-9794533-2-8
284 pages
Paperback
Should be available October 11, 2008 from http://www.willowtreepress.com

I have read some of Dorothy Morrison’s non-fiction work and enjoyed her approach and style. But there is often a difference between “teaching” and “storytelling” so I was looking forward to this book. I was NOT disappointed. Ms. Morrison’s talents are equally at play in each genre.

I love well crafted (if you will pardon the pun) fiction by people comfortable with the Pagan life. Too many authors make a character’s religious belief the center point of an otherwise pedestrian story. That is not a problem on either count with this book. The religious beliefs, although important to the development of the storyline, are not dominating; and the story is anything but pedestrian. The pacing is excellent; the characters are thoroughly believable (and enjoyable); and the plot is not so outrageous that it is an insult to the intelligence of the reader.

I won’t comment on the few glitches I found in this book, as it is still undergoing revision and formatting (This review is based on uncorrected proofs). I also can’t tell you what it will cost you when it is published in early October, as the price hasn’t been determined at this point.

What I can tell you are the following items: First, it is a fun book. I don’t mean that it is sweetness and light. It definitely has a darker side, but it is not depressing. Second, it is obvious from the ending that this is only the beginning. There are more stories to tell involving these characters (and I am sure Ms. Morrison will be telling them over the next several years). And, finally, that whatever the price ends up being, it will be worth the cost. WillowTree Press consistently pr5oduces high quality books by authors who know what the reader wants and needs.

As noted in the header at the start of the review, this book is scheduled for release in early October 2008. Look for it in your local bookstore, or visit WillowTree’s website and save yourself a trip. And while you are there, you may want to look at the Rowan Gant Investigations series by M. R. Sellars, another excellent fiction series.

Posted by: Nyxks | May 21, 2008

Wealtheow Her Telling of Beowulf

Wealtheow Her Telling of Beowulf
by Ashley Crownover © 20008
Iroquis Press
ISBN 978-1-59652-391-3
195 pages
Paperback
$13.95 (U.S.) $16.99 (Canada)
(www.iroquoispress.com)
Reviewed by: Mike Gleason

Over the past decades we have experienced retellings of classic myths both in print and on the screen; set in both ancient and modern settings; and told from a variety of perspectives. This book is another such retelling of a truly classic story. It seems especially timely, given the recent cinematic treatment (which I have not see, by the way) of “Beowulf.”

This story, Ms. Crownover’s first novel, has the advantage that it is, at least in broad outline, familiar to many people. What is truly different, however, is the perspective from which it is told. Like Mists of Avalon, it offers the feminine (not necessarily feminist) point of view. It presents a look at a familiar story from an unfamiliar angle.

I was a little unsure when this book arrived. After all, the story of Beowulf, although a true classic, can be a bit intimidating (after all, it is classed as LITERATURE – sure to frighten off many readers). The names, customs, and culture are all very different from the 21st century Western world. I need not have worried. Ms. Crownover has shown a deft touch with this retelling. The reader steps into a world which seems familiar, despite its differences. The only difficulty I experienced was in putting the book down so I could take care of things that needed doing in the here and now.

Tales of heroic valor are not uncommon, and the story of Beowulf and Grendel is well-known. What is little considered in the average saga of battle is the effect of the warfare on those who stay home, waiting for their warrior to return. This book addresses that concern, among others. It is a story of battles fought – with sword and invocation; with spear and offering; with martial strategy and feminine wiles.

This book was NOT what I expected. It was long enough to allow for character and plot development and short enough not to drag. As a first novel it is exceptionally well done. I dare to hope that Ms. Crownover may bring her talents to bear on other heroic tales. She may show us a side of our heroes and their loved ones long neglected in our society.

The Last Pagan: Julian the Apostate and the Death of the Ancient World
by Adrian Murdoch © 2008
Inner Traditions
ISBN 978-1-59477-226-9456
260 pages
Paperback
$15.95 (U.S.) $19.55 (Canada)
Reviewed by: Mike Gleason

Who was the last pagan emperor of Rome? When did he die? What did his contemporaries, and those who lived after him, think of him? These are all very basic questions. And they are ones that Mr. Murdoch (a fellow of the Royal Historical Society) answers in this enlightening and, more importantly, easily readable book. This is history told as biography, and relies less on dates and places and more on perceptions and actions – both those of the subject and those who wrote about him.

Although this is a book written for the general reading public, and not particularly aimed at Pagan readership, it contains a wealth of information concerning Pagan/Christian relations. It also shows a number of concerns expressed by Julian that are still valid today. As an example, on page 141 Julian is quoted as saying (in a letter to a pagan priest) “It is disgraceful that when no Jew has to beg and the impious Galileans support not only their own poor but ours as well, all men will see that our people lack aid from us.”

The author points out that Julian’s attempt to reinstate paganism as the state religion of the Roman Empire was an uphill battle – the priesthood had been decimated and fallen into a state of decline. No attempt had been made to set an example of proper behavior by the priesthood. And, by the very fact that Christianity stressed its exclusivity, it was far more unified than the multitude of pagan faiths. We need to remember that at that time, as now, there was not one “pagan” religion. There were various cults to manifold deities, but no one council or authority to settle disputes or organize a common response to a situation. To add to the problems, a follower of Christ could be found in any nation on earth, whereas most pagan religions were nationalistic or, at most, cultural in their basis and orientation. You would not find a native of Mesopotamia worshipping Jupiter, nor a Roman citizen worshipping Marduk.

To his credit, Julian forbade the use of violence against followers of Christ. He marginalized them, excluded them from teaching certain subjects, and ordered restitution for the destruction of pagan temples and shrines, but did not allow violence against anyone because of religious differences.

His reign was cut short (around 2 years) by his death in battle against the Persians. The cir*****stances have never been clear regarding that event.

How the world would have been different if he had lived long enough to make his changes more permanent we will never know. His reign was marked by tolerance (in general) and could have inspired a more tolerant attitude among all his subjects.

This is an excellent book, and I highly recommend it to everyone.

Posted by: Nyxks | May 19, 2008

Wisdom of the Woods

Wisdom of the Woods
by Katie Scott © 2008
Lulu.com
108 pages
Download $6.25 (U.S.)
Hardcover $30.95 (U.S.)
http://www.lulu.com
Reviewed by: Mike Gleason

The author sent me a heads-up about the fact that she is dyslexic (and I am passing that on to you). Her spell-checker program caught a lot of her goofs (I am sure), but some still slipped through. Having dealt with “inventive” spelling over the years, this was not a problem for me. And, as I went through the book, I found very few errors (mostly homonyms).

The poems cover a variety of topics – love, earth and animals, and Holidays among others and all are relatively short. The topics are all introduced by a few remarks which reveal some of Ms. Scott’s thoughts.

I found this collection of poems to be thought provoking in some instances, and a pleasant relaxing interlude in others. There is a little something for everyone in this collection. I have no hesitation recommending it to folks who enjoy traditional forms of poetry.

Posted by: Nyxks | May 18, 2008

Blue Moon

Blue Moon
by Cindy Lynn Speer © 2008
Zumaya Publications
ISBN 978-1-934135-72-3
305 pages
Paperback
$15.99 U.S.)
Reviewed by: Mike Gleason

Dragons interacting with humans – not too uncommon; dragons interacting with humans in the modern world – uncommon; dragons interacting with humans, in the modern world AS humans – okay, now we’ve moved from uncommon into unique. Dragons, for whatever reason, seem to be the mystical creature of the 21st century. They far outnumber unicorns, centaurs, or any other non-humanoid in books. I’m not sure why that is, or what it says about the human psyche.

Have you ever wondered why “science” triumphed over “magic”? Why the fae faded from common knowledge and experience? Well, this book presents one answer. Oh, it is fiction, so it isn’t “real,” but it is an interesting perspective for all of that.

What then happens when two worlds (literally) separated but physically identical are forced apart, each to develop their own destinies for centuries and then brought, physically, back together? What could happen when the Rome of our technologically dependent world and the Rome of a magical world try to occupy the same space and time? The populations are very different, but the land masses are identical. Well, we never find out in this book, but it would be an interesting speculation.

There were occasional editing glitches in this book (dropped words, mostly), but unless you are looking for them, you probably won’t even notice them. They in no way detract from the quality of the story. Zumaya is one of the newer publishers and, I am sure, will be around for a long time to come, assuming that readers who value quality and support them.

Posted by: Nyxks | May 8, 2008

Book of Chants

Book of Chants
By Lady Edenbolake © 2008
19 pages pdf file only
$ 15.00 (U.S.)
available from dryw_s@embarqmail.com
Reviewed by: Mike Gleason

I’ve commented before that I am a print kind of guy. I have had an aversion to on-line books simply because I have been known to forget that I have them on my hard-drive waiting to be read and reviewed. Having said that, I also realize that pdf files are, at least, a significant wave of the future. Therefore I eagerly looked forward to this book

This is an extremely short and very personal book and contains about 30 chants and a half a dozen poems by the author. I did see a few problems with the formatting (missing spacing between instructions and chants in some instances, and inconsistent line length in the instructions), but considering the very nature of the work, this wasn’t too surprising.

The chants are divided into a number of topics – Love; Prosperity; Healing; Protection for Family/Self; Protection for Hearth and Home; and Poems. Each section contains about a half a dozen entries and, if they had been formatted at one per page could easily have doubled the length of the book.

The author intends to bring out a series of books in the future and I look forward to seeing them as they come out. They represent one person’s view and practice and are valuable if for no other reason. Add to that the fact that there are a few real gems in the chants and poems, and you have more reason to add this book to your e-book collection.

Posted by: Nyxks | May 7, 2008

The Witch School Second Degree

The Witch School Second Degree
by Rev. Donald Lewis-Highcorrell © 2008
Llewellyn
EAN 978-0-7387-1302-1
480 pages
Paperback
$24.95 (U.S.) $28.95 (Canada)
Reviewed by: Mike Gleason

This book is a little different from the first one in the series, as is to be expected. It is designed to follow the same basic pattern, but has variations because of the subject matter. It constitutes a “Wicca 201” book, as opposed to the more familiar, and basic, “101” books so commonly available in the market today. I am still not really impressed by the use of their own dating system, but I accept it as a given when it comes to internal events. Its use for dating mundane events seems unnecessary, in my opinion.

Once again, the book contains 12 lessons, based on the assumption that the average student will take “a year and a day” to complete each level (“degree”) of training. Each chapter is composed of the lesson itself, some exercises intended to help you expand your comprehension of the material, a spell to impart practical experience in the use of the information, and a short glossary of unfamiliar terms. Unlike the first book, however, there are no questions at the end of each chapter.

The topics covered in this book are very different from those in the first book. They cover everything from divinatory methods (the tarot, Astrology, and Runes among others) to Sex Magic to Group Dynamics. This is in keeping with the Correllian position that by the time an individual has completed First Degree training, the basics should be well integrated and understood and he or she should be ready for more complex concepts.

In the Correllian Tradition Second Degree initiates are expected to be competent ritualists and should be able to answer questions on most topics. They should be able to function as temple or shrine leaders with occasional assistance from the High Priest/esshood. Therefore the information in this book is aimed at developing those abilities as well as expanding the individual’s general knowledge. The information is extensive, even if it is not comprehensive. It gives a good foundation for further exploration.

Obviously, as a text book, it is not intended to be read straight through. There are exercises to do and spells to perform on your way through this book. Nonetheless, I would recommend skimming through it and reading the first page or so of each chapter, just to familiarize yourself with what will be covered. Then go back and work through each chapter, taking as much time as is needed to make the information contained within it a part of your world. Do not rush this process. Allow at least a month per chapter. And don’t assume that a single reading is enough (especially if a topic is unfamiliar). Don’t hesitate to re-read a paragraph (or an entire chapter) if needed.

The lesson on chakras is the longest in the book and is far more extensive than any treatment I have seen outside of a book devoted specifically to the topic. Most authors treat chakras in a rudimentary manner, if at all, but by the time you work through this chapter, you will have a significant grounding in chakra lore.

The more effort you put into the exercises and spells, the more benefits you will gain. Your goal should be to become competent in the various areas covered in this book, to expand your knowledge, so as to be able to help others along the path.

Some of the beliefs and attitudes expressed by this series of books will offend people, and not just those outside the umbrella of paganism. While some of their statements may come across as dogmatic, it is necessary to remember that being non-judgmental is stressed in the early lessons. The reader is intended to make what use they may of the information provided. It should also be remembered that these works are intended to present the “official” position of the tradition. Your understanding and position may vary.

The chapter on Group Dynamics is almost worth the price of the book in itself. It is well worth taking this book off the shelf and reading this section at least once a year.

At the end of the book is an appendix which discusses many non-Wiccan Pagan religions. Some get a short background and some are more extensively covered. All of these religions are ones which are either currently a part of the Pagan mindset, or are major components of current Pagan religions. While I don’t completely agree with everything that the author has written, it is useful as a jumping-off point for further, personal, research.

There are two more books to come in this series (Witch School Third Degree and Witch School Ritual, Theory and Practice) and they will address topics (I am sure) which will benefit the entire Pagan community. You don’t need to plan to join the Correllian tradition to make use of the information they are presenting in these books. Unless you are fortunate enough to live near a major training group or seminary, you will find these books an invaluable resource even if (or especially if) you disagree with some of what is said.

Posted by: Nyxks | April 13, 2008

Good Fortune and How to Attract it

Good Fortune and how to attract it
by Titania Hardie © 2008
Quadrille Publishing
ISBN 978-1-84400-577-2
304 pages
Hardcover
$22.50 (U.S.)
Reviewed by: Mike Gleason

The basic concept of THIS book is simple – update the 3,000 year old classic – the I Ching (Book of Changes). After all, that is the foundation of the original work – change. Ms. Hardie has eliminated many of the assumptions inherent in ancient Chinese life. The author has included three uniquely designed coins to be used with the book. She has taken a classic method of providing insight into one’s life and made it more appealing to the modern reader.

The sixty four forecasts in this book, while still quite broad in their basic interpretations, have been additionally fine-tuned by the addition of family position and a personality profile modified by the season of birth.

The symbols have changed (suns and moons instead of simple lines) but these are merely cosmetic changes. The method for determining the symbols remains the same, as does the method of transmuting the moving lines.

It goes without saying, but I will say it anyhow, that this is a book which is designed to be used, not read. You won’t gain any benefit from sitting down and reading it, without putting in the effort to use it.

This book is filled with color. Each page is vibrant and eye-catching. Fortunately, the text is set in a basic black format, which makes it easier to read. Each forecast is given, and is then followed by the meaning of the moving lines (if any).

Each explanation of the moving lines is preceded by the relevant instructions, reminding the reader that the first line is on the bottom while the sixth line is at the top. Although this may seem overly repetitious, it serves a useful purpose since (in the Western world) we tend to think top to bottom. This repetition helps to avoid confusion.

Each forecast has two images, relating to family position, associated with it. The lower trigram image is in the lower left, while the upper trigram is in the upper right. A glance at these can reveal extra significance if either (or both) matches the symbol of your family position.

Each forecast image page also contains a representation of the coins which compose the trigram, which is a nice reminder.

Overall, I was impressed by the quality of this book on multiple levels. In terms of the format – it is easy to use and understand the layout. In terms of its appearance – it is a convenient size, nicely bound and (with its distinctive plum-colored cover, easy to spot. In terms of its content – it captures the wisdom of its ancient predecessor while taking into account the necessary evolution caused by changing cultures (ancient Chinese thought is very different from modern Western thinking), our understanding of familial relationships, and other varying factors.

If you have never used the I Ching system before this is an excellent introduction to it. If you have used the original system, this may help you expand your understanding. In either case, I strongly recommend this book. It offers new insights coupled with advice which has stood the tests of time.

Posted by: Nyxks | April 12, 2008

The Dream Ender: A Dick Hardesty Mystery

The Dream Ender: A Dick Hardesty Mystery
by Dorien Grey © 2007
Zumaya Boundless
ISBN1-934135-62-4
224 pages
Paperback
$14.99 (U.S.)
Reviewed by: Mike Gleason

Dorien Grey began as a pseudonym and evolved into an alter ego for a lifelong book and magazine editor who wasn’t comfortable putting his real name ob books bridging the gay and straight communities.

This is the tenth book in the Dick Hardesty series. While I haven’t read the preceding books, I did dead (and review) the Western Novel Calico by the same author. Like Calico this book has no occult theme, but it is a well-written mystery novel which should appeal to all fans of the genre.

Considering the large numbers of GBLT folks in the Pagan/Craft community, I felt it would be worth the effort to review this book and include it among those I review for my usual posting sites. It is an erotic mystery revolving around a modern-day plague (AIDS) which was largely unknown and unacknowledged in the beginning. Sometimes it is hared to remember that only a generation ago AIDS was an “unmentionable” disease, inspiring fear in the medical community as well as among the gay population (civilization-at-large was safe, since everyone knew that it was a “gay” disease).

It is, most definitely, an adult novel. Although there is no explicit sex, there is a healthy dose of sexual innuendo, as well as an emphasis on the varieties of love in the gay community. It is, in the final analysis, a well written mystery with a gay slant. It isn’t (primarily) about being gay, but about helping to determine who was responsible for deliberately infecting the community, and dealing with the after effects.

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