Are the Gods of Nature Male or Female?

July 8, 2012 by  
Filed under culture, featured

Are the Gods of Nature Male or Female?

I didn’t get to go to PantheaCon last year, for the first time in the past few years; however, I did get to hear from friends about their experiences throughout the weekend as they blogged and tweeted. And so it was that I heard about the CAYA1 Coven’s Lilith ritual and the kerfuffle surrounding it. In a nutshell, the description didn’t make it clear that the ritual was meant only for women, and according to the ritual organizers, only cisgender (as opposed to transgender) women. Several people, both men and trans women, were turned away at the door with much hurt and confusion.

I’ve been watching the discussion since then, though it seems to have died down with not much in the way of a resolution. There’s been a lot of talk about what criteria are required for someone to be considered a man or a woman, whether it has to do with the genetics or the genitals or with self-identity. And there’s been debate over whether woman-only space should be allowed when it only allows cisgender women, and whether transgender women are spiritually women or men according to Dianic standards.

This, of course, brings up the issue of the sex and gender of the deities. Most Dianics only view the Divine as female, or if there is a male deity, he is considered lesser than the Goddess. In a broader context, there has always been discussion in the pagan community, at least as long as I’ve been in it (since the mid-1990s) about what constitutes the bailiwicks of male and female deities, as well as gender and sex roles among neopagans themselves.

One of the most frustrating arguments, as far as I’m concerned, is the assertion that the female/male split is “natural,” and since many forms of paganisms are nature-based, the deities ought therefore to reflect “true nature.” We make the gods in our own image. Our religions are anthropocentric. This isn’t surprising. Spirituality is a form of meaning-making, and we find meaning in that which we can relate to. So our deities are largely humanoid, and mostly sexually dimorphic (being either male or female).

But is this really what’s most natural? If we take a survey of individual living beings, from the tiniest protists to the great blue whale, thee sexually dimorphic beings are actually outnumbered by those that reproduce hermaphroditically (like the earthworm) or asexually (amoebas). Because almost all of these beings are either invertebrate animals which barely get a mention in totemism and animal magic, or plants which are often seen only as spell components, they’re not given nearly as much consideration. And they resemble us a lot less than cattle, wolves, eagles, or any of a number of charismatic megafauna that are often venerated by pagans of various sorts.

Yet there are more living beings on Earth that are not sexually dimorphic than those that are. So wouldn’t it stand to reason that the “most natural” manifestation of the Divine wouldn’t be male or female, but a being that reproduces by splitting itself in two? Furthermore, this sort of splitting is reflected in our very own cells’ mitosis/cytokinesis and meiosis (the two forms of cellular division). So we even have the template for that crucial form of reproduction within our bodies on a microscopic scale.

If we’re going to insist that the deities of nature must reflect common qualities in nature, then we need to keep in mind that we human beings are not necessarily the center of that universe, as much as we might like to pretend otherwise. From an evolutionary standpoint, while we might have wrought a lot of change on this world with our big brains, advanced vocal apparati, and opposable thumbs, these remain the adaptations we developed through generations of natural selection, the process by which all beings have become what they are today — and will become through future generations. Which means that we’re really not that special — certainly not special enough to impose our particular brand of reproduction on the Divine as a whole.2

Conversely, those big brains of ours help us to move past the less desirable elements of our instinctual heritage. While we may have an instinctual response to a stimulus that involves violence, for example, if violence is not the appropriate response we can override the instinct with reason and free will, again using the unique properties of our brains. In the same way, whereas we can look at our physical bodies, how the individual’s genitalia may be formed, the chromosomes in the DNA, and so forth, we are also capable of transcending a strict sex/gender corollary. This may be something as simple as rejecting tertiary sex characteristics “traditionally” associated with male and female primary and secondary sex characteristics, and instead embracing whatever proportion of feminine and/or masculine properties one likes. However, it may also be identifying fully as one sex while possessing the genetic material of the other. And this isn’t even taking intersex people, those born with genitalia that are not strictly male or female (and sometimes divergent chromosomes as well), into account.

This is all to say that just because historically people have generally seen the Divine as male or female doesn’t mean that this is the automatic most natural way, especially when one purports to follow a nature spirituality. If you’re going to worship nature manifest in archetypal beings, and especially if you’re going to feel compelled to impose your dogma on others, then be consistent about it. And if you continue in your inconsistencies, then be prepared to defend your chauvinism.3

Footnotes

  1. Ironically, this stands for “Come As You Are”.
  2. And there are plenty of phenomena in nature which do not reproduce—stones may fragment, but they are not properly reproducing.
  3. I asked my partner whether there were any Lovecraftian deity-forms that were known to reproduce asexually, since I couldn’t think of any amoeba gods, and the Elder Gods were about my best shot for having among their ranks some amorphous being of about deity status that split itself off every so often. While there wasn’t an exact match, I for one welcome our new Shoggoth gods and their unspeakable eldritch powers of regeneration.

© 2011-2012 by Lupa; edited by Sheta Kaey.

Lupa is the author of Fang and Fur, Blood and Bone: A Primal Guide to Animal Magic, A Field Guide to Otherkin, and co-author of Kink Magic, among other works. You can read her blog at http://therioshamanism.com and see her website at http://www.thegreenwolf.com.

Lupa’s Den – In Defense of BINABM

Lupa's Den - In Defense of BINABM

If you’ve read much of my writing, either online or in books (especially DIY Totemism), you’ll know that I have a tendency to advocate working with totems other than the Big, Impressive, North American Birds and Mammals (BINABM) that so often show up in totem animal dictionaries. I’ve worked with extinct totems, microscopic ones, and even the totems of “food” animals that we commonly think of only in terms of eating their flesh. And I’ve done more work, since starting on a specifically shamanic path, with the totems of local species.

However, I do believe there is a certain cultural value to the BINABM. As I’ve developed therioshamanism, my own non-indigenous, non-core shamanic path, I’ve paid close attention to how my cultural context — white, middle-class, college-educated American — has affected my approach to shamanic practice. And I’ve also paid attention to how other shamans in my culture, core shamans and otherwise, are informed by that culture.

The animals that are the most common totems in a given culture are animals that are important to the people of that culture. In indigenous cultures, these are often the animals who are most commonly hunted for food and other resources, though this is not universal. In our culture, we actually often vilify the domesticated animals we rely on for food and resources, and even the wildlife we hunt is seen less as a living being, and more as a rack of antlers to be turned into a trophy of one’s supposed prowess. (What sort of prowess may be left to the imagination.)

The animals that are valued as totems in this culture are generally the BINABM. They’re big and impressive, noticeable and showy, and generally are strong (and usually predatory). These limitations have often been criticized, and I’ve been a frequent critic. It’s not that these animals don’t deserve attention, but there are others besides the few dozen BINABM that keep showing up in the dictionaries. However, when trying to construct a cultural shamanism in a culture that doesn’t really have a cohesive shamanic path, you have to meet the culture where it is.

By this I mean we’re going to introduce shamanism into a culture that, while it may be influenced by cultures that have had some form of shamanism, has never had a shamanism of its own, at least not recognized as such. Animism really isn’t a central, recognized part of what is thought to be mainstream American culture. This is why I sometimes question the wisdom of trying to be “a shaman” in this culture, at least if the goal is to try to work for people besides white middle-class New Agers with a lot of money to throw around. There are a lot of American demographics where that just won’t fly.

But besides that, we can be pretty confident that a lot of the wild animals that are valued by this culture are also the most common totems in this culture — Wolf, Brown Bear, Eagle, etc. So if we’re going to weave any sort of animistic practices, whether shamanism or otherwise, into the culture at large — or at least connect with more individual people — then the BINABM can be an excellent gateway, as it were. The charismatic megafauna already do their part to introduce concepts of ecological preservation to people who might not otherwise even think of themselves as environmentalists, so why can’t the BINABM function in a similar way with animism and spirituality in general?

I honestly think this is a big reason why, even with my work with lesser-known totems, as I’ve become more involved in shamanism I’ve had more of the BINABM wanting to work with me more deeply. A lot of my work is going to be with people who may not consider themselves animistic in any sense, but who could still benefit from, say, the imagery of animals, and who may find the BINABM to be familiar and comfortable due to cultural connections. I have, for example, a deck of Susie Green’s Animal Messages deck that I’ll have available as an icebreaker once I start my counseling practice — if a client is having a hard time getting started talking, I can have them pick a card out of the deck and then tell me why they feel like that animal that day. The deck is mainly BINABM, which should help more than a deck of obscure animals a client may not know how to connect to.

So please don’t think I dislike the BINABM. They definitely have a place, and I’ve become more aware of that in a cultural sense. It’ll be interesting to see how this develops.

©2009 by Lupa.
Edited by Sheta Kaey.

Lupa is the author of Fang and Fur, Blood and Bone: A Primal Guide to Animal Magic, A Field Guide to Otherkin, and co-author of Kink Magic, among other works. You can read her blog at http://therioshamanism.com and see her website at http://www.thegreenwolf.com.

Lupa’s Den – Thinking About Dead Animals

Lupa's Den - Thinking About Dead Animals

Over on my LiveJournal, I have a significant number of furries on my friend list; I’m not a furry myself, but I enjoy the artwork folks post, and we tend to have other things in common as well. (Lots of pagan furs, for one thing!) Something that got posted a few weeks back was some controversy over “soft taxidermy.” Basically, there are a handful of artists in the furry community who take whole pelts and stuff them like plush toys. (There are also apparently people who stick bows and other cutesy things on them, but I haven’t yet seen these pics.)

This has caused somewhat of an uproar, even among folks I know who have various hides, bones and other animal parts in their possession. Even folks who are okay with traditional taxidermy have found the real-fur plushies to be creepy, especially as they sometimes seem to be treated like toys (as though being a trophy is any better . . ?). And it’s brought about one of my periodic assessments of my own use of animal parts in my spirituality and artwork.

For those who don’t know, for over a decade I have been creating ritual tools and other artwork from hides, bones, feathers and other animal remains. It’s been an integral part of my spiritual practice because an animist, as I work with the spirits of the animals who once wore those remains. And it’s something I’ve always struggled with, ethically speaking, because I know and understand that by buying some of the things that I do, I’m directly supporting the fur industry and the deaths of numerous animals. Granted, I also support the deaths of animals by eating meat, though that’s due in part to a metabolic condition in which I need to have meat protein to maintain my health.

I always have a few options to choose from when I do this periodic questioning:

  • Keep doing what I’m doing: Obviously, this has been my choice up to this point. When I talk to the spirits of the animals themselves, they express appreciation that someone has actually taken the time to work with their remains in a respectful manner. This is especially true of things I’ve “rescued,” such as old fur coats and taxidermy mounts. What I create is intended to be respected in a spiritual manner, to include the gravity of the fact that yes, these were once living beings, and they didn’t have to die this way. I really ought to emphasize that latter part more.
  • Only use secondhand and found animal parts: In some ways, this would be a more ethical choice, because there’d be less of a direct impact overall, and I’d still be recycling. Honestly, the majority of what I work with is either old coats and other reclaimed remains, or things that other people have gotten rid of. I actually buy very little of anything new. But still, there are animal parts that I do buy new, and I do own up to that.
  • Use up what I have, and then quit: I have a lot of things I saved up over the years. When I lived in Pittsburgh, I went to one of two huge flea markets on a daily basis, and almost never came home empty-handed. Plus I do a lot of barter, and occasionally people will just give me furs and other things that they don’t know what to do with because they figure I can make something neat out of them. So I’d still have enough to keep me busy for quite some time.
  • Quit entirely: Or I could just sell off everything I have that can’t be safely buried (hides, for example, are generally tanned with nasty chemicals that we don’t need concentrated in the soil).

But the thing is — and this is the selfish part, and perhaps the biggest motivator — I enjoy my artwork. I can’t paint worth a crap, nor can I draw, or sculpt. This is really the only visual medium that I’m any good at. It’s one of my biggest stress-relievers, and it’s also a small stream of income for me. But mostly it’s the enjoyment I get out of it.

Also, it is a significant part of my spirituality, and has been since just about the beginning of my paganism over a decade ago. I have some personal skins and bones that are in my own set of ritual tools, and I work with those spirits as well as their corresponding totems on a regular basis — from the skins I dance in, to my horse hide drum, to the bear skull rattle, and then some. Maybe it’s all in my head (and maybe all spirituality is wholly subjective and used to justify personal preferences), but the spirits enjoy working with me as much as I enjoy working with them. When I dance a skin, it gives its spirit the chance to ride my body. When I create something out of remains that would have ended up incinerated or left to hang on a wall as a trophy, the spirit gets a chance to be a part of someone else’s practice — or maybe a participant thereof.

Yet I do realize the physical, real-world implications of what I do. Which is why I still mostly stick to second-hand remains, and why I donate a portion of the money I make from artwork sales to the Defenders of Wildlife and other nonprofits. I know that none of these choices will have as much of an impact as if I were to quit entirely. But I have my reasons for continuing, and I follow those reasons with the understanding of the consequences.

I’m not going to go and criticize the soft taxidermists, or the people who wear fox and coyote tails as a fashion statement, or those who wear fur coats, because in the end I know that I don’t have room to talk. My spiritual and personal reasons for what I do don’t make me a better person for it. But they do add value to my life, and I balance that out with the knowledge of the impact of my choices.

©2009 by Lupa
Edited by Sheta Kaey

Lupa is the author of Fang and Fur, Blood and Bone: A Primal Guide to Animal Magic, A Field Guide to Otherkin, and co-author of Kink Magic, among other works. You can read her blog at http://therioshamanism.com and see her website at http://www.thegreenwolf.com.

Book Review: The Balance of the Two Lands

Book Review: The Balance of the Two Lands

The Balance of the Two Lands: Writings on Greco-Egyptian Polytheism
H. Jeremiah Lewis
Bibliotheca Alexandrina; CreateSpace (June 3, 2009)
ISBN: 978-1442190337
372 pages
Reviewer: Lupa
Full starFull starFull starFull starFull star
 

Heh — the review I wrote about just before this one, incidentally, was about the blending of multiple religions! Go figure. However, whereas ChristoPaganism was about modern mixing of neopaganism and Christianity, The Balance of the Two Lands is a different critter indeed! It would seem that among some (not all!) reconstructionists and other highly scholarly pagans, there’s a deep bias against mixing traditions — if you’re a Celtic reconstructionist who happens to get a calling from one of the Lwa of Vodou and answer it, then you can’t really be a Celtic reconstructionist any more according to some folks. Worse yet, you might be considered — an eclectic! Horror of horrors!

Yet eclecticism is a very different concept from syncreticism, which is what this particular book deals with. Syncreticism is a much more deliberate and researched effort than the buffet-style picking and choosing of eclecticism (which can still work quite well for some people in its own right, for the record). Lewis (aka Sannion), over a period of years, found himself courted both by the Greek and Egyptian pantheons and their respective traditions, and spent time in each religious community independently — with each telling him that he couldn’t go to the other and still be genuine. But he found a definite precedent for Greco-Egyptian syncreticism, most famously in the Ptolemies of Egypt — and this book is the result of years of research and practice to that effect.

There’s not a whole lot about modern Greco-Egyptian polytheistic syncreticism out there, and much of what does exist has been written by Lewis himself, as well as other folks, particularly through Neos Alexandrina. If you want a good dead-tree textbook to have on hand both for theory and ideas to formulate practice, this is a great option. Lewis’ essays run the gamut from hard research about the original syncretic practices, to what it is that modern Greco-Egyptian syncretists can do in daily practice.

As with the other Bibliotheca Alexandrina texts I’ve reviewed (and you’ll find all of the current titles on my review blog except for Unbound and Echoes of Alexandria), I found this to be a breath of fresh air when it comes to the research. So many pagan texts today are based on half-assed “scholarship”; Lewis has most thoroughly done his homework, both in finding information and in interpreting it in a practical manner. You don’t need to worry about squishy-soft polytheism or claims of ancient Greco-Egyptian UFOs here. Bibliotheca Alexandrina, as a publisher, has represented itself well with its high standards of research, and this book is no exception.

In short, if you want to study and/or practice Greco-Egyptian syncretic polytheism in the 21st century, this will be an invaluable text to you. Highly recommended.

Five pawprints out of five.

Review ©2009 by Lupa
Edited by Sheta Kaey

Lupa is the author of Fang and Fur, Blood and Bone: A Primal Guide to Animal Magic, A Field Guide to Otherkin, and co-author of Kink Magic, among other works. You can read her blog at http://therioshamanism.com and see her website at http://www.thegreenwolf.com.

Book Review: ChristoPaganism

Book Review: ChristoPaganism

ChristoPaganism: An Inclusive Path
Joyce and River Higginbotham
Llewellyn Publications (February 1, 2009)
ISBN: 978-0738714677
336 pages
Reviewer: Lupa
Full starFull starFull starFull starFull star
 

Hoo, boy. This book is bound to stir up controversy. There are plenty of pagans who seem to have no qualms with drawing inspiration and practices from other religions — pretty much all of them, except for Christianity. You have Jewish witches, and those who draw on indigenous religions (despite the protests of some indigenous practitioners!) Yet try mixing Christianity and paganism, and you get all sorts of complaints from those who say it can’t be done (no doubt many of which are speaking from a history of bad experiences with Christianity — or at least Christians).

However, for those whose experiences in such blending do undeniably work, or for those who wish to give it a try, this is an invaluable text. The authors have a strong understanding of the theological concepts that go into blending such a seemingly difficult interfaith blending, and make a good case for it. They start out by giving good foundational explanations of neopaganism and Christianity. Some may balk at the “unconventional” approach to Christianity they present, which challenges a lot of assumptions that casual Christians may have, and goes back to a variety of historical research that shows a very different origin and growth of the religion than is popularly understood. (No, I’m not talking about the various grail mythos thingies that talk about Jesus and Mary Magdelene in Europe — it’s much better scholarship than that.)

In making the case for interfaith blending, they draw on a variety of contemporary sources, not the least of which are the writings of Ken Wilber as well as spiral dynamics. I will admit that I thought that occasionally the general message of a broader perspective being more evolved read like it translated into interfaith = more evolved, but a closer reading without this kneejerk reaction gave me a better sense of what the authors were trying to say — that a more evolved perspective allows for the existence of, but doesn’t necessarily include personally, such things. This sounds controversial, but this is a controversial book to begin with, so in for a penny, in for a pound!

There’s also a nicely substantial section of personal testimonies from folks who have done various combinations of Christianity and neopaganism. This may be really helpful to those who feel alone in their path, as well as give ideas on how-tos without dealing with dogma.

Ultimately, many people are going to come to this book with their biases intact whether I advise them to or not; needless to say, I still recommend approaching it with as open a mind as possible. Of all the ways this combination of faiths could have been presented, this is probably one of the sanest and best thought out. While it’s not my personal path, for anyone who has been wanting resources on the topic of mixing Christian and neopagan religious beliefs and practices, this is a great text to have on hand.

Five pawprints out of five.

Review ©2009 by Lupa
Edited by Sheta Kaey

Lupa is the author of Fang and Fur, Blood and Bone: A Primal Guide to Animal Magic, A Field Guide to Otherkin, and co-author of Kink Magic, among other works. You can read her blog at http://therioshamanism.com and see her website at http://www.thegreenwolf.com.

Book Review: Seeing in the Dark

October 22, 2009 by  
Filed under books, mysticism, reviews, shamanism

Book Review: Seeing in the Dark

Seeing in the Dark: Claim Your Own Shamanic Power Now and in the Coming Age
Colleen Deatsman and Paul Bowersox
Weiser Books (May 1, 2009)
ISBN: 978-1578634439
224 pages
Reviewer: Lupa
Full starFull starFull starHalf starNo star
 

I think I’m reaching the point with (core) Shamanism 101 books that I hit with Totemism 101 books a few years ago — I’m getting tired of them, and want to see something besides rehashes of the same stuff. I had really hoped, when I read the first few pages of Seeing in the Dark, that it would be something different: the authors spoke of the many ecological and social injustices that we face today, and hinted that shamanism could be a tool for counteracting these destructive forces. Instead, what I got was the usual core Shamanism 101 material: journeying without risk, lots of nice helper spirits, medicine wheels, and healing techniques. While these things certainly can be used in making the world a better place, the emphasis was mainly on self-help and other core shamanism standards.

Mind you, it’s good core Shamanism 101 material. The book is a pretty complete guide to the basics. Granted, it’s the same thing you’ll find in any of a number of other core shamanism books, albeit with the authors’ own unique way of describing it and the reasons behind it, but this would make a good beginner’s book with a lot of material. And the authors have a keen sense of the human psyche and how to use shamanic techniques to heal it — again, standard core shamanism fare, but they present it in a nicely written fashion, backed up with a decent assortment of practices.

The material sometimes contradicts itself. For example, when talking about helping spirits, on p. 101 the authors quote another writer who essentially says that if you meet a hostile spirit, it always means there’s something wrong with you and your approach that you’re projecting. But then on pages 113-116, the authors’ own material describes spirits that are hostile in and of themselves, particularly those that are reluctant to or incapable of passing over to the next life. On page 10, they say that modern shamanism isn’t about taking things from other cultures, and then on page 132 openly encourage people to borrow freely from other cultures with no caveats. The authors decry the “I” culture of the modern United States, and then describe a form of shamanism that is mainly about the individual shaman getting things from the spirits — teachings and gifts — with almost nothing about giving back to the spirits, making offerings to them, or seeing what it is they need.

I won’t get into my standard disagreements with core shamanism. What I will say is that, contradictions aside, this is a good intro to core shamanism. It didn’t knock my socks off, as it were, but I’m also hard to impress. If you want the basics, and this title’s convenient to you, pick it up. Just be aware that there’s not much to differentiate it from any of a number of other similar titles.

Three and a half pawprints out of five.

Review ©2009 by Lupa
Edited by Sheta Kaey

Lupa is the author of Fang and Fur, Blood and Bone: A Primal Guide to Animal Magic, A Field Guide to Otherkin, and co-author of Kink Magic, among other works. You can read her blog at http://therioshamanism.com and see her website at http://www.thegreenwolf.com.

Book Review: Egyptian Revenge Spells

Book Review: Egyptian Revenge Spells

Egyptian Revenge Spells
Claudia R. Dillaire
Crossing Press (June 23, 2009)
ISBN: 978-1580911900
192 pages
Reviewer: Lupa
Full starFull starFull starFull starNo star
 

It’s no secret that the original pagans were no stranger to curses. From tribal shamans to priests to everyday people utilizing folk magic, part of most magic-workers’ arsenal was curses and other maleficio. The Egyptians weren’t an exception to this, and contemporary examples of magic that would make white lighters’ toes curl can still be found today. Of course, “black magic” being antithetical to the Wiccan Rede and many other neopagan ethical guidelines (or, at least many neopagans’ interpretations of said ethical guidelines), curses can sometimes be a subject that gets skirted around — or subjected to flame wars.

Kudos, then, to Claudia Dillaire, for writing a book on something new for a change! In this case, it’s revenge that’s the topic of the day, whether dealing with a jilted lover (including those with stalker-like tendencies), ruining someone financially, or simply messing with someone who has already messed with you. There are dozens of incantations, spells and rituals for multiple uses — and while some of them are most definitely for revenge, there are also some for more benign forms of protection, reflection spells, etc.

This isn’t a book of old Egyptian spells, but is instead a collection of modern Wicca-flavored spellcraft with some Egyptian influence. There’s a decidedly Wiccan feel to them, with the common inclusion of candles, crystals, common “witchy” herbs, and incense, and the fairly standard spoken portions. While they do incorporate calling on Egyptian deities, in some ways this could be any of a number of spell books.

I’m not entirely sure how the author interprets Egyptian neopaganism in the first few chapters, where she’s establishing some context for the spells. Sometimes it seems like she’s comparing “Egyptian magic” to Wicca (in particular, as opposed to general neopaganism); other times, it’s as though she’s trying to differentiate between them. Given that the spells themselves are pretty heavily Wicca (or at least witchcraft) flavored, I would have hoped she’d be a little clearer about how much Wicca and witchcraft influenced the unique brand of Egyptian magic she compiled from research and practice. In fact, if there’s anything seriously missing here, it’s a better explanation of where, exactly, she’s coming from. I was left a little unsure as to where the connection is between ancient Egyptian religious practices that spanned several millennia, and her personal practices today.

I’m also not a Kemetic pagan, and Egyptian religion and culture aren’t things I know a whole lot about, so I can’t speak too much to the quality of research. There was nothing glaringly wrong, and the bibliography had a mix of scholarly and practical source material. I could have hoped for in-text or other citations, especially for the historical information, but it’s a bit late for that now!

If you’re looking for some inspiration to unleash some wicked magic — or at least vent some frustration creatively — this is a good book. Don’t pick it up as an example of historically-based Kemetic paganism, however; it’s rather too eclectic for that. It’s a unique creation of the author, and gripes aside, I think it’s a nice change from the usual strict adherence to “Harm none.”

Four pawprints out of five.

Review ©2009 by Lupa
Edited by Sheta Kaey

Lupa is the author of Fang and Fur, Blood and Bone: A Primal Guide to Animal Magic, A Field Guide to Otherkin, and co-author of Kink Magic, among other works. You can read her blog at http://therioshamanism.com and see her website at http://www.thegreenwolf.com.

Book Review: Real Alchemy

October 22, 2009 by  
Filed under alchemy, books, magick, mysticism, qabalah, reviews

Book Review: Real Alchemy

Real Alchemy: A Primer of Practical Alchemy
Robert Allen Bartlett
Ibis; 3rd edition (May 1, 2009)
ISBN: 978-0892541508
224 pages
Reviewer: Lupa
Full starFull starFull starFull starFull star
 

Most of the books you’re going to find on alchemy these days talk history, metaphor, or other theoretical concepts. This is one of the very few that goes into the actual practice of alchemy, step by step. Originally self-published by Bartlett, it’s now available more widely through Ibis, part of Weiser. You’ll have to look twice to tell the difference, though, at least at first glance, since the cover (which I happen to like) is the same. I haven’t read the first edition, so I can’t speak to the differences between the two, just so you know.

I’m not particularly well-versed in alchemy; it’s one of those topics that I think is interesting, but I haven’t had a chance to real sink my teeth into. So as an almost complete novice, I set up the challenge that the book was going to have to give me at least a basic understanding of the practice of alchemy. Thankfully, it delivered! From the brief historical treatment, to the explanation of what all that talk about sulfur, salt and mercury is about, I was able to get the jist of the very basics. However, the book doesn’t stop there!
Beyond the basic theoretical concepts, Bartlett goes into detail discussing what you actually do with all the arcane terminology and the processes they describe. Want to create a tincture or elixir? The directions are here. The author does make it clear that this should not be your only text on alchemy, but the instructables in this one should make it invaluable.

There are some interesting crossovers between alchemy and other disciplines. Astrology and qabalah are the two most notable examples of this, and those who are interested in either of these disciplines may well want to pick up this text for the relevant material. Additionally, as the book does give a basis in alchemy, astrologers and qabalists who were previously unfamiliar with the main topic should have little trouble finding context.

Overall, I found this to be a good way to give myself enough of an understanding of classic alchemy, particularly European, to get what the fuss is all about. Thorough understanding does require actually utilizing the practices, so armchair magicians and the merely curious will no doubt miss out on a lot. But it’s clear even from my novice perspective that this is an essential text.

Five pawprints out of five.

Review ©2009 by Lupa
Edited by Sheta Kaey

Lupa is the author of Fang and Fur, Blood and Bone: A Primal Guide to Animal Magic, A Field Guide to Otherkin, and co-author of Kink Magic, among other works. You can read her blog at http://therioshamanism.com and see her website at http://www.thegreenwolf.com.

Book Review: Afterlife

October 22, 2009 by  
Filed under books, mysticism, religion and spirituality, reviews

Book Review: Afterlife

Afterlife
Guy Smith
G3 Media (May 12, 2009)
ISBN: 978-1439237434
114 pages
Reviewer: Lupa
Full starFull starFull starFull starFull star
 

I think I just found one of the best works of fiction I’ve been sent since I started my review blog — and I’ve reviewed everything from self-published works to mass-marketed offerings from major publishing houses. In just over 100 pages, Guy Smith managed to captivate me with a story that grabbed me more firmly than most of the novels I’ve read — and that takes talent.

What happens when you die? In Afterlife, you either go to the Light, or you hang around here if you have a compelling enough reason. The story follows one soul who had that reason, and through his eyes I got to find out the intricacies of the afterlife imagined by Smith. The nature and experience of being a ghost, the limitations being dead gives you in this world, and even pondering what the true nature of the Light in this fictional Universe is, are all explored in the context of a fast-paced, gripping plotline. Make no mistake — it’s a highly streamlined book, and every word counts for a lot. I read it in less than an hour, but it was definitely time well spent.

I think where the author has his greatest strength is in the running commentary that his first-person protagonist offers. Dialogue in general can be really tough to make believable, but Smith hits it dead on, if you’ll forgive the pun. Not only was I emotionally engaged in the travails and experiences of a snarky dead guy, but the ending just wrenched the hell out of my heart. This writer’s good at what he does, let me tell you. (Though I’ll admit I got a little green around the gills when he described the effects of a car wreck in detail!)

If you want a brief break in your day to day routine to have a good read, or if you want something to really make you appreciate being alive, or you simply appreciate a well-written piece of fiction, then I would strongly recommend Afterlife. It has a lot going for it on multiple levels of awesome.

Five pawprints out of five.

Review ©2009 by Lupa
Edited by Sheta Kaey

Lupa is the author of Fang and Fur, Blood and Bone: A Primal Guide to Animal Magic, A Field Guide to Otherkin, and co-author of Kink Magic, among other works. You can read her blog at http://therioshamanism.com and see her website at http://www.thegreenwolf.com.

Book Review – Ancestral Airs

July 20, 2009 by  
Filed under books, mysticism, reviews, totemism and animism

Book Review - Ancestral Airs

Ancestral Airs
Verda Smedley
Dim Light Books; 1st edition (2008)
ISBN: 978-1934703304
700 pages
Reviewer: Lupa
Full starFull starFull starFull starHalf star
 
As I was reading this book, I was trying to figure out where to fit it into the categories on my blog. On the one hand, it’s purportedly a reconstruction of a culture 6,000 years old; this includes extensive research into botany, mythology, history and other scholarly studies. But, when you get right down to it, it’s also a fascinating set of stories with well-developed characters, settings, and plots.

Beyond a certain point, we can really know only so much about cultures prior to written history in a region. The stories supposedly tell about the people who lived in the British Isles 6,000 years ago, well before there were any written records; while the author draws from texts about the Celts and other older cultures, these are still newer peoples than what Smedley describes. Whether the people of 4000 BC lived in ways the book described is unknown; nonetheless, the author does a lovely job of weaving together a solid description of her thoughts on the matter, and we get a good picture of what it is they did and believed.

So I chose to primarily read this for its storytelling value. Similarly to my experience of reading MZB’s The Mists of Avalon, it didn’t matter whether the story was literally true or not. I found myself sinking into a world where animism was the central belief, where the plants, animals and other denizens of nature were so important to the people that they took their names from them. I read about the rituals these people performed, as well as the participants’ feelings about them. I witnessed the interactions between individual groups of people, and how they wove into the greater overarching culture of the time. It didn’t really matter whether this was the way things “really happened”; it was a great journey anyway. Even if seen only as a novel, it’s a worthwhile read.

I can’t entirely vouch for the validity of the herbal information; the author knows more about that than I do. A lot of the information about plants peppering the stories dealt with magical uses; however, there were some medicinal uses mentioned as well. For those intrepid enough to backtrack the author’s research, there’s an appendix with the common and Latin names of all the plants (numbering in the hundreds) mentioned. Additionally, she included a thorough bibliography for further research and fact-checking.

This is a book I had to read in bits and chunks over time; at 700 pages, it’s a lot to read! The formatting left a bit to be desired, most notably the complete lack of page numbers which, in a book this length, is frustrating when trying to find where I left off, or where I found a piece of information or a snippet of story I wanted to go back to. Also, I can’t for the life of me find information about the publisher, the owner of the publishing company, or the author.

Ancestral Airs is a thoroughly enjoyable read, regardless of how much salt you choose to take the research with. Whether you choose to read it as I did, in little pieces, or simply spend several hours going from cover to cover in one fell swoop, I hope you like this unique combination of research and narrative.

Four and a half pawprints out of five.

Review ©2009 Lupa
Edited by Sheta Kaey

Lupa is the author of Fang and Fur, Blood and Bone: A Primal Guide to Animal Magic, A Field Guide to Otherkin, and co-author of Kink Magic, among other works. You can read her blog at http://therioshamanism.com and see her website at http://www.thegreenwolf.com.

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