Book Review: Encyclopedia of Spirits

Encyclopedia of Spirits
by Judika Illes
HarperOne (January 27, 2009) $29.99
ISBN 978-0061350245
1072 pages
Reviewer: Sheta Kaey
Full starFull starFull starFull starFull star

I encountered this tome in my local library, which is nothing short of miraculous given the religious climate hereabouts. It was not only in my local small-town-outside-a-big-city library, but it was also in the new nonfiction books section, right up front. I don’t really believe in coincidence – “coincidence” went from being a term created to describe an event to being a term used to dismiss synchronicitous events that people find difficult to consider. In fact, I think Ms. Illes may even venture this opinion within these pages.

I was breezing past the new book shelf without a glance when I spotted “Spirits” on the cover and did a double take, and when I looked back I figured it’d be a bartending book or a book from a Christian point of view. Nope, pure occultism, and at its finest. As an encyclopedia, which have been churning out of Llewellyn regularly on various topics for the last several years, I expected something fluffy and/or droll. But this book is actually published by HarperOne (an imprint of HarperCollins), so right away that was a point in its favor. Then I started to read. And was, quite frankly, blown away.

I know there isn’t exactly a plethora of books available on spirits, and of the few available, I’ve read even fewer. (I do seek to change that.) While most books have their strengths and weaknesses, I can’t find anything to fault with this book. I even ordered a copy rather than wait to see if I could obtain a review copy, and I buy precious few books anymore. Ms. Illes knows her stuff. She covers much needed information that I’ve never seen anywhere else except my own manuscript work in progress, but I feel no sense of competition. I’m pleased to recommend this volume to anyone who takes spirit encounters or spirit work seriously, and that includes any work with pantheons, fae, or any other type of spirit being.

The first 108 pages are devoted to general, easy to understand, and to the point information about dealing with spirits. Not a word is wasted. In my line of “work,” it made for very exciting reading. I consider myself a mystic, a spirit worker (I won’t quite allow myself use of the word “shaman”), and I found nothing I disagreed with that couldn’t be explained by the fact that it was general information and not necessarily geared toward my specific practice. It’s very good material.

Her encyclopedic entries are equally impressive, based on the ones I’ve read. Her entry on Kali, my matron goddess, sent chills down my spine and, in fact, inspired me to take that relationship to the next level – something I’ve hemmed and hawed about for years. The entries cover everything from spirit types (e.g., “Djinn”) to specific gods and goddesses (e.g., “Diana”) to spirits with a purely regional flavor, such as the “Dragon Goddess of Borneo.” Listed alphabetically, the individual descriptions include (but are not limited to) country of origin, mythology, standard correspondences (such as animal, flower, color, etc., each of which may or may not be included for a particular spirit or type), iconography, attributes, favored people, sacred sites, offerings to make, and manifestations:

“Sometimes her appearance is consistent to her iconography: she has jet black or midnight blue skin and a fierce or loving expression. Her hair may form one-hundred locks. She may dance or twirl. Kali is described as appearing in the form of brilliant light or a deep black void. She may manifest in the form of cholera or a jackal-headed woman (Kali entry, pgs. 542-543).”

An alphabetical appendix listing spirits by their specialties is included, and an extensive bibliography, ten pages of small print in itself, wraps things up.

I will be consulting this book often, and I recommend this volume to anyone who takes spirit work, or pantheons, seriously. An enthusiastic five stars out of five.

Review ©2009 Sheta Kaey

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