Book Review: The Flowering Rod

April 30, 2010 by  
Filed under books, paganism, reviews

Kenny Klein
The Flowering Rod: Men and Their Role in Paganism
Megalithica Books (January 30, 2009)
ISBN: 978-1905713288
200 pages
Reviewer: Soli
StarStarNo starNo starNo star

Much discussion still comes from the role of women in neopaganism, and the fact that they have a voice which is still denied in many monotheistic traditions. Because of this, there is a more prevalent focus on women’s mysteries, while mysteries for men are largely absent from the conversation. Kenny Klein seeks to start adjusting that balance with his book The Flowering Rod, which was originally released in 1993.

The rituals included in the book cover the eight sabbats of the Wiccan wheel of the year. The rituals work with a variety of myths, from the Oak and Holly kings to Persephone’s descent in the underworld. Each follow a standard Wiccan format, but especially focus on the divine male. The rituals also encourage men to think about their roles in life and how they interact with the world. Emphasis is placed on those male qualities which do not fall in the limited ideas of what is “manly” behavior. For this, the book is a great reminder to men of what they can be. They are not limited to what society tells them is their role and what makes them real men. We need to encourage this mindset much more and make it more visible. For this, the book is a good tool.

Unfortunately, the spirit of the book for me was greatly soured by several points of inaccurate information. Klein spends a good deal of the first part of the book on the idea that the original peoples of Europe were all egalitarian and that the Indo-European invasion forced patriarchy on the once peaceful folk. Further, statements such a Tyr being the original master of the runes and Odin usurping that position, and that the Goddess Ostara was in fact Ishtar (I doubt Bede would have been familiar with Sumerian mythology) made me balk and put down the book for a while because I was so put off by such blatant errors. Then there is the rehash of the idea that nine million people were executed during the Inquisition, a number greatly overinflated and now the mark of very bad research. Apparently, Klein could update his book to include mention of Magical Judaism by Jennifer Hunter (published in 2006) but not to correct this falsehood. The claim that a British tradition of a Seven Year King, decided on by sports competitions, is the predecessor of the Olympics finally put me over the edge. When such basic history is tossed to the wayside, I have to wonder at the accuracy of the Welsh mythology he uses to make his points throughout the book.

I think that gender mysteries should make a comeback and support those who are developing men’s and women’s mysteries. This can be done without revisionist history. Take a look at the book if you are interested in the topic, but do keep a salt cellar nearby.

Two out of five stars.

©2010 by Soli.
Edited by Sheta Kaey.

Fear: The Practice Killer

April 30, 2010 by  
Filed under general practice, magick

Fear: The Practice Killer

Once upon a time, I was speaking with a friend online about some aspects of shamanic work, and the old axiom of “keeping silent” came up as a topic relevant for both us. Sometimes the things we see or experience in our Work can contradict what is generally accepted or acceptable among modern magical practitioners, and we keep quiet lest someone declare that what we are doing is wrong. I realized that I have internalized this attitude to a certain level. It keeps me from actually doing or trying different things, not just in trance work but in any sort of esoteric practice I might undertake.

Letting yourself be limited isn’t a healthy approach to spiritual work. When worry about things you cannot control, like potential failure or community censure, comes into the picture, it can quickly overshadow anything else happening in your practice. Fear can keep me from undertaking any sort of new or unfamiliar practice, which is probably the worst possible response.

First, on the matter of failure itself. It’s easy for me to sit here and type that if you tried and failed, at least you tried, which is better than not trying at all. I can also tell you that people doing their work for years or even decades, whether mundane or magical, will still fail sometimes. The key is how you handle that failure. Do you get up, dust yourself off and try again, or do you wallow in the feeling of failure? I know how hard it is to pick yourself back up when you’re in that moment — wondering if it’s even worthwhile to make the effort to continue or to simply keep replaying that failed moment in your head.

The only thing that seems to help is to learn from it. Don’t give up, and don’t feel sorry for yourself. Take an inventory: Is your failed magic based upon a technique you have previously used successfully, or is it something new? Is there some bigger reason for your magic not succeeding? Maybe you have doubts as to the wisdom of the work, or maybe you feel you don’t deserve success. Is it perhaps time to try a new technique, or a different practice entirely? Maybe you need to shift your perspective from, say, a particular concrete result to the efficacy of the process itself.

If you are in suffering a failed working, I would suggest not making any rash decision in the heat of the moment. Take some time to distance yourself from the event to gain impartiality, and work from there. If you let missteps keep you from walking, your only option is to stay in the exact same place, never progressing further. Rather than giving up, step back and look at things more objectively.

When the fear comes from a worry of being shunned, that is more difficult. I am well aware of the drive in most people to seek both approval and success. Positive reinforcement from others is a powerful motivator, and success means you live to see another day. But what do you do when you fall on your face? Or do not receive reinforcement? Or when people tell you exactly how you messed up? Are these people, the ones who’ll be judging, of any real consequence? Do their personal opinions really matter to you? Do you even need to share what you’re doing? Community is a wonderful resource for support, and it helps knowing that at least one other person has possibly tread this path before you. There is no substitute for learning from others, even if we are a community made up of people who most often learn from books. But when we worry for our reputation, often it’s a misguided need for validation that will enhance (or at least not undermine) our self-esteem.

Are their reactions knee-jerk? Are they responding from a place of concern for your well-being? This is one that is not as easily answered. I would hate to sound like a relativist and somehow allow my words to imply that if you’re doing something, it’s automatically okay. On the other hand, in my own Work I often find myself at the boundaries, which is not a regular space for most people, nor a comfortable one. Some of what I learn, I share — and some of it is meant to be shared. A great deal of my work is private and, at this point, meant for me first and foremost. I find that it’s a balancing act.

My best advise it to take a good look at why other people might not agree with the directions your magical work takes you. Are you ready to be taking this step? Could what you’re doing cause a great deal of hurt or harm? These are necessary questions to ask
yourself in this situation. Don’t shy away from the answers if they are not to your liking.

Hopefully, you are not in a position in which your choices are potentially harmful, and the fallout from whatever you’re doing will be minimal. If this is so, and you’re still feeling fear, and you’re not doing as a result, what can you do?

Perhaps a divination is in order, either cast by yourself or someone you trust. Or you could set this particular Working aside for the time being and focus on another project, or even on another aspect of your life, whether it be magical or mundane. You could throw caution to the wind and do it anyway, and see what happens. If you fail, so what? You’re not the first person to do so, and certainly not the last. That’s when you pick yourself up and learn from the experience.

And, perhaps, you’ll succeed.

What then?

©2010 by Soli.
Edited by Sheta Kaey.

Book Review – The Northern Path

January 26, 2010 by  
Filed under books, heathenism, reviews

Book Review - The Northern Path

Douglas “Dag” Rossman
Seven Paws Press (June 30, 2005)
ISBN: 978-0964911390
252 pages
Reviewer: Soli

At first glance, Norse mythology can be a daunting dragon. Rough living, the world coming into being from a cow licking an ice man and humans starting as trees, enough names with Thor as a root you would need a spreadsheet to keep track of them, and then the world ends and no one can stop it and even the Gods die. Not only can it be depressing, but finding a good starting place isn’t always easy. I regularly see people new to Heathenry inquiring about good books to start with in order to become familiar with the lore. Douglas “Dag” Rossman has provided one which I think should be in the top five list of Things to Read First In Asatru with his book, The Northern Path: Norse Myths and Legends Retold…And What They Reveal.

The first section of the book is Rossman’s retelling of several tales from the Eddas along with his take on Beowulf and the Nibelungenlied. His tales focus heavily on those involving Old One Eye, including a take on the tale of Odhreorir very much in line with my fellowship’s view of the relationship between Odhinn and Gunnlod. “Beowulf” and the Ring cycle have both been greatly compressed, and are a much less intimidating introduction to both tales. Finally, Dag shares stories of Thor, the theft of Idunna’s apples, how Skadhi came to marry Njord, Loki’s binding, and Ragnarok. Each of the stories in the book show Dag’s own style, and not all follow what would be considered the canon of the lore. I don’t think this is a drawback; since there was certainly no written canon a thousand years ago, it is easy to think of different skalds varying stories based on region and their experiences.

Part two of the book covers Germanic cosmology and gives insight into the mindset of the people. Among the topics covered are the relevance of mythology, how he himself came to be a skald, an introduction to the Aesir, Vanir, elves, the enemies of the gods, the significance of Ragnarok, and how the lore has survived into modern times. I was very interested to read about his own experiences of creating an initiatory experience using the lore for young men attending Sons of Norway campouts. The idea of teen boys learning about their ancestry by participating in mock adventures and having to fare out alone at night combined with the mythology would make the Gods come alive for these young men. Truly, I am surprised that Rossman did not identify outright as Heathen, though he does mention people worshiping the Gods in modern times and his own implementation of an old Germanic mindset in his life.

One line that stuck out for me when I was reading was this section where he describes his idea that the battle between Thor and Jormundgand as allegory for order and chaos in the universe.

“In the scenario just described, it seems clear that Thor acts as a representative of Order, and the Midgard Serpent a representation of Chaos. Their first two encounters are standoffs, a reflection of the dynamic balance that exists between Order and Chaos, and which I believe lies at the heart of the orlog. So long as this balance is maintained, the Nine Worlds will continue to exist. Should Thor finally prevail over the Serpent of Chaos, nothing could ever change, stagnation would set in, and all possibilities for future creativity would cease. Should Thor be slain, Order would totally disintegrate, and the Nine Worlds with it. Alas, the Eddas tell us of yet a third possibility, a final confrontation between the two adversaries at Ragnarok (the Doom of the Gods) in which both will be slain …and the Nine Worlds consumed by fire and flood.” (p. 194-195)

I don’t agree with the honoring of giants who are depicted as outright enemies of the Gods, mind, but I thought this to be one of the simplest and clearest explanations as to why they might exist.

This is an excellent book for any Heathen library. Not only is it perfect to hand to someone to introduce them to the mythology and worldview without overwhelming them with names and unfamiliar terms, for those who are well versed in the lore it’s a very entertaining spin on the mythology. One can easily imagine a skald coming around the community a thousand years ago, with tales both familiar and new, all having his own special spin and perspective threaded throughout. Rossman’s work is truly inspired.

Five stars out of five.

Review ©2010 by Soli.
Edited by Sheta Kaey.

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