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.

Faith and Healing in Paganism – Premiere

Faith and Healing in Paganism - Premiere

This is the first in a series of articles in my column “Faith and Healing in Paganism.” I must say that I am eager to see where the discussion will go, and I hope you can share some of my excitement along the way.

The focus of this column will be on healing. The advantage of this focus is that it allows for articles on healing, pagan and comparative religious experiences, and cross-cultural perspectives on many pagan and magical practices. My specific approach as a healer is usually embodiment, or the experience of a person being inside their body, rather than being “in their head.” I am looking forward, in future posts, to writing on aspects of healing that seem to be problematic, but because of the larger debates going on, it is probably important to start with “faith” as a topic.

I feel some trepidation using the word “faith” in a pagan context. Certainly, I am unwilling to use it unexamined and undefined. That, then, will be the purpose of this first column: to look at the meaning of faith as a basic human experience of the numinous, and to look at what other meanings have been added to it, so that they can be stripped away, allowing the flowering of something that is more wholly pagan. In discussing faith in a pagan context, it will be critical to cut the core idea away from many of its associations and, in the long run, pagans will need to redefine “faith” to match pagan cosmology and theology.

Faith does not mean what we think it means.

An examination of the meaning of faith is, I believe, timely. In the news media, in current books and magazines, and on the internet, there are ongoing discussions of the meaning and importance of faith. The many authors all have different meanings for the word. Some imply belief alone, some mean unquestioning belief in a religious context, and others hold it to be an irrational belief in a system opposed to humanist rationality. While these may all agree with one another on some points, none of them reach to the core of the idea, or more accurately, the core of the experience of faith.

Faith is associated with the dominant monotheistic religions, as well as with “blind” belief. Just this week, as I was writing, Newsweek (February 22, 2010 edition) had two discussions about religion: one about Moderate Islam, and the other about the debates around teaching religion at Harvard. The cultural pitfalls that surround discussing religion and faith, the social dangers of disagreeing with someone else’s protestations of faith, and the general humanist vs. religious aspects of faith are all apparent parts of the cultural landscape. In short, everyone is talking about faith.

“Faith” is a dirty word in some circles, even, or especially, pagan circles. Yet at the same time, a religion free of “faith” would be a hollow thing. I believe that pagans should come to their own understanding of what faith is, recognizing the differences and similarities of their experiences to those of other religions. Faith is what happens to the human mind when it is confronted with spiritual presences that are vastly greater than us. For pagans, however, that is not some distant, solitary God. In my experience, there is an immanence to our spirituality, the awareness of the spirit in all things. This “spirit” is not somehow separate and directing, but interwoven and integral with the world. For pagans, such experience is not tied to removal from the world we live in, but rather it ties us more closely to this world. The clear experience of the “numinous other” does not have to happen only in some distant Heaven, but is just as valid as we stand here on the Earth.

Faith has come to mean many things, mostly as a result of our cultural exposure to Western Christianity. What has happened is that the simple, unclouded experience we could call faith has been redefined and informed by two thousand years of tradition based on different underlying assumptions of the universe — ones that, as pagans, we categorically reject. Perhaps the most important of these is the belief that the world of the spirit is remote, and somehow greater in power than the world in which we live. To hold the earth as sacred disrupts this separation; to hold the earth as inherently and simultaneously physical and spiritual is to begin to recognize that these divisions are not “outside” of us but “inside.” At the same time, as members of our culture, these are mental associations that we often unthinkingly accept. They are simply part of the way our culture and language are “shaped.”

For example, I would like to critique the idea that faith and belief are synonymous. This suggestion is not true, at least not as I am going to define faith below. Faith is a spiritual experience which can lead to belief, but it is not the same thing. Culturally, faith has come to mean “unquestioning belief.” Let’s look at the simple sentence, “I have faith in Sarah.” What does this generally mean? Well, if I read it, I would say that it means that the speaker has an unquestioning belief about Sarah. It probably does not mean that the speaker has had (or is having) a spiritual experience based on Sarah. This is a co-opting of the word “faith” for much more mundane reasons. It is this understanding of faith that I wish to escape. It might be easier, with all the associations that come with the word, to turn our backs on it, avoid it, and dodge the debate. That would mean that we have taken the easy way out. Instead, I suggest that we embrace the term, taking our place in the great intellectual and religious wrestling match that is going on around us. Some might argue that the specific word “faith” is not important. However, in the end, I cannot use a different term because faith is the best term for the experience I am discussing.

Faith is personal and spiritual.

What I would like to do now is momentarily step aside from the above debate and talk about what “faith” means, not so much as a word, but as an experience. Behind the many uses of the word, I would argue, there is a simple experience of the Divine. Faith begins in the moment that one travels the road from “I believe in higher powers” to “I have direct experience of higher powers.” That is what faith, as a word, means here. This is not about blind belief, but about beliefs that seem blind from the outside because the person who carries them has based them on experiences that are personal and cannot truly be shared. Faith is about experiences that are beyond words.

Faith is a spiritual experience. The ideas attached to that experience, and used to interpret it, are actually a mental filter between the numinous and the everyday mind. Religion, in the context of numinous experience, is not so much a set of beliefs as an interpretive construct for understanding that which is purely spiritual — or perhaps more accurately, outside of everyday experience. Traditionally, in Western culture, religion tries to codify, interpret, and pass down to future generations these valued experiences. What the culture is less good at, in my opinion, is accepting that these beliefs are interpretations of something that was intensely personal and contextual. The words, and not the spirit behind them, are recognized as sacred. It is in this way that faith and belief have become entangled.

Faith is a key part of human religious experience.

What is faith, then? If it is not a set of blind, non-rational beliefs that we pass from generation to generation, then what? Faith, as I mean it here, is directly analogous to the Christian “state of grace,” the direct communication with something (usually represented as a god-figure) that informs and directs our experiences in the world. That sounds pretty heady, doesn’t it? Well, it is. This is not an experience that belongs alone to the Christian Charismatics, or the Sufis of Islam. It is a basic experience that belongs to all people. The religions themselves, the sets of beliefs that we share, are ways that we use to find meaning and relate these experiences in words. Faith, itself, goes beyond words. Faith does not belong to the part of the human mind that uses words.

Years ago, when I was being social with friends, a woman turned to me and asked, “Do you believe in witchcraft?” I looked back at her and responded, “Do you believe in rocks?” “But rocks exist!” “Yes, exactly.” My point then, as now, is that only ideas and beliefs can be analyzed for truth value, and that once we have experienced something, it is not a matter of belief. Moments of faith, therefore, are transformative. They realign our perceptions of the world. To wax metaphorical, belief alone can do no more than sow the fields of faith. That is not to say that belief is without merit itself, but it does mean that belief is not faith. Belief, however, does allow us to interpret and ascribe meaning to our experiences of the other.

With our hands, we reach out and touch rocks, and we know that they exist. Certainly, we can argue the implications of the idea of “exist,” and say that the meaning of “exist” that we use in our culture is probably horribly wrong, but we have no doubt that they exist. We can say that they do not exist outside of our own minds, and while that might be true, we can nonetheless pick them up, admire them, or make houses from them. By placing existence in our minds, we have simply changed the value of the word “exist.”

With our spirits, we can reach out and touch the numinous. With our spirits, we can look around us and see the effects of that spirit within the world. This is not something that is solely the purview of certain religions, but is instead something that is a part of all humans. Insofar as we are in touch with our own spirits, we are aware of the spirits of others. This recognition of the spirits of others is called “compassion.” This compassion is in fact a key aspect of healing work. It is important in Christian and Muslim faith healing, it is important in such modalities as Reiki, and is important in the practices of Buddhism. I am suggesting that these religions are all pointing to the same experience: the awareness, by means of our own spirits, of the existence of the spirits of others. But, let me throw in a word of caution. Compassion is not simply “being nice.” Compassion is not a weakness. And compassion is a virtue, but not the only one.

Like compassion, faith is an opening of a part of the human spirit to the outside. As a healer, I would argue that the opening to faith is a valuable part of being a healthy human. Faith is as much a part of us as “instinct” or “being grounded” (a term which I will argue in a later column has two separate meanings, depending on context). Of course, while we might like to be paragons of virtue, the purpose of virtue is to have something for which to strive, not berate ourselves and others for not living up to our beliefs.

Pagans will need to redefine faith to match pagan cosmology and theology.

For faith to be a useful thing for pagans, we must reexamine the foundational ideas out of which all other notions grow. These foundations will be different from those of the monotheistic religions of the world, but not unrelated. Faith should be a part of pagan religion, as should belief, but it need not be the sole foundation.

For this, we must remove from the term a belief that faith alone is the cornerstone of religion. With all this talk of faith, it would be very easy to slip into a position that it is the core of religion. But for pagan religious experience, it is important to relegate faith to a place where it is balanced with other aspects. Faith can be a guide, but reason, compassion, and grounded experience of both our culture and the world at large must be balanced as well. Faith offers one kind of truth, but that truth should be recognized for its value without being placed on an untouchable pedestal. The beliefs that come from faith must be recognized as personal and contextual. The experiences can be powerful, but it is sheer hubris to believe that they are more “true” or more “valuable” than other kinds of knowledge.

Pagan faith lends itself to being integrated into the wider, global world, without leaving us helpless to act in it. Pagan religions are, by their nature and creed, more accepting of a wider world in which there is a polyvocalism, rather than a single voice of Truth. For this, we must focus on living in the world as it is, not as we believe it should be.

©2010 by Christopher Drysdale.
Edited by Sheta Kaey.

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: 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: Longing For Wisdom

June 5, 2009 by  
Filed under books, hellenismos, paganism, reviews

Book Review: Longing For Wisdom

Longing For Wisdom: The Message of the Maxims
by Allyson Szabo
CreateSpace (June 27, 2008) $15.99
ISBN 978-1438239767
154 pages
Reviewer: Lupa
Full starFull starFull starFull starFull star

“Know Thyself.” This is one of over a hundred maxims carved into a stele outside the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. More than empty platitudes, these simple sayings not only guided Greek society, but were also instruments for teaching and learning Greek language and culture. While many people know of the importance of myths of the Olympians and others in Greek religion and culture, not as many are aware of the crucial role that the maxims play not only in a historical context, but the potential applications that they have to practicing Hellenic polytheism today.

Allyson Szabo couches her exploration of thirty-four of the maxims within the context of their origins and their historical uses, having done thorough research. However, rather than leaving them in the past, she shows ways in which they are relevant to our time today, whether we’re pagan or not. She’s very clear in explaining that interpretations – and even translations – lead to a great deal of subjectivity, and so the maxims, despite having been carved into stone, are far from being fixed in stone, metaphorically speaking. So she offers us an excellent context for the remainder of the book.

The bulk of the text involves her discussion of the maxims she’s chosen to highlight. Anywhere from one to three pages may be dedicated to her really thinking about what each maxim means and what lessons may be drawn from it. Very quickly it’s apparent just how relevant these are to our society. For example, when discussing “Control anger,” Szabo offers some solid, basic psychological advice on how to control – not repress – anger, and why it’s important. “Obey the Law” isn’t just a blind following of whatever’s on the books, but also a call to examine and criticize unjust laws (which also can be tied to “Shun Unjust Acts”). And, perhaps one of the most relevant to our busy society, “Consider the Time/Use Time Sparingly” is a much needed prompt to examine how we do use the limited resources of time we’re allotted. At the end of each maxim’s section, Szabo includes an exercise or things to contemplate to further incorporate the message of the maxim in one’s life.

I also have to commend her for her excellent footnotes. She goes into great detail with supporting information, historical and otherwise, which just adds to the thorough contextualization of the material as a whole. As with all the Bibliotheca Alexandrina titles I’ve read thus far, the research is among the best available, particularly for pagan publishing standards, and I was not at all disappointed in this regard despite my own pickiness.

This book has a few notable potential audiences. Students (and teachers!) of philosophy should take a look, particularly for seeing a modern application of the maxims rather than only as relics of a culture long past. Hellenic pagans, of course, will want to thoroughly study this text to get a better understanding of the roots of the culture from whence their beliefs came. Neopagans in general, even if Hellenismos isn’t their path, may find this to be of great interest as a solid example of taking ancient “artifacts” and making them relevant to the 21st century. And anyone who likes well researched nonfiction dealing with a particular topic in great detail will find this to be a highly engaging and informative read.

All in all, another wonderful text from Bibliotheca Alexandrina that will appeal to the scholar and practitioner alike!

Five 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.

Invoking the Dragon: Musings Upon Magical Shields

Invoking the Dragon: Musings Upon Magical Shields

By the dragon’s claws, I crush the hex.
By the dragon’s wings, I dodge the hex.
By the dragon’s breath, I burn the hex.
Dragon-Shield Chant by Grey Glamer

As a student of witchcraft, I endeavor to understand not only the practice itself, but also the reasons why witches do what we do. For myself, I find my magical practice much more meaningful when I reflect upon my actions. By meditating upon the nature of my spells, I gain deeper insights about my Craft, and even more crucially, a greater understanding of my unique place within our shared cosmos. Know thyself! This maxim — carved by the ancient Greeks upon the stones of Delphi — rings just as true today. Consequently, whenever I design or develop spells for my own use, I endeavor to shape those spells around my penchant for introspection.

For many witches and magicians, one of the first magical experiments to be undertaken is the crafting of magical shields. Magical shields are essentially defensive thought forms which turn aside or otherwise disable all the harmful energies that might come the caster’s way. While I persist in the somewhat controversial conviction that the number of genuine magical assaults is generally overstated — and those curses which do occur are rarely effective — in fact there are psychic and spiritual dangers out there, including curses and bindings cast by others, malicious and dangerous spiritual entities, and all manner of life-negating energy patterns. (I don’t deny there are real threats, mind you. I do believe that by searching for the obvious demon, we miss the soul-draining pessimism of our workplace, or the broad malaise of clinical depression. Most of the bad things out there don’t speak backwards or writhe when splashed with holy water!)

Once deployed, these magical shields interact with the surrounding energy patterns, and with a little introspection, the reflective witch acquires a deeper understanding of the cosmos as streams of energy. Do your magical defenses flare up brightly in the presence of certain people or situations? An instinctive activation of shields could signify unhealthy or harmful configurations of magical energy flowing from the circumstances, information which subsequently allows you to consciously protect yourself from harm.

Is your significant other yelling at you? Shields keep your emotional center from taking the verbal lashing personally, which enables you to approach the underlying issue constructively. Is your workplace draining your reserves, so that when you get home you crash in front of the television? Shields protect your personal sparkle of enthusiasm, even when you’re surrounded by drudgery or stress. Properly understood, magical shields guard against much more than formal curses and full-bore demonic sieges.

The process of developing magical shields itself teaches several valuable lessons. For one, the aspiring witch learns to raise and direct power towards magical ends. Moreover, the manifestation of effective shields demands good visualization skills; even the relatively simple egg of white light suggested for beginners encourages the caster to hone his imaginative focus. And as we’ve already seen, deployed shields teach us much about how energy flows through our immediate environs.

Beyond these immediate benefits, I believe the study of magical shields can teach us something more, something important about how we approach magic. The crafting of psychic shields can be a deeply creative endeavor, insofar as we employ different visualizations to effect specific ends. The basic shield deflects harmful configurations of energy, which is already a monumental leap over the alternative of getting struck. In my experience, however, very few witches and magicians cease experimenting once they achieve the basic egg-shaped shield formed from white light. Rather, they experiment with different forms, which deal with harmful patterns in unique ways. I suspect most practicing spellcasters who read this have implemented porous shields which selectively allow in positive or beneficial energy patterns. More exotic shields are possible, though. One may design and deploy thought forms which catch and hold the harmful patterns like flypaper. Adopting the opposite extreme, one may cover one’s shields with psychic grease and watch harm slide away harmlessly. Visualizing mirrors can even turn harm back upon the sender!

For some months, my usual pattern of shields followed my training in Aikido — accept the force of the strike as gift, then redirect this force towards the ground, where the energy can be recycled into healing forms. I still find this visualization extremely helpful when confronted by threatening circumstances. Still, my inner witch has been eager to experiment of late, and especially with the intersection of shielding and invocation.

Invocation is something which many people — many witches included — find intimidating. To invite another presence into one’s very being takes courage, and perhaps some small degree of insanity. On the other hand, I don’t believe we should fear the process of invocation, when we consider everything — everything which ever was and ever will be — already exists within every individual’s soul. The Goddess — by whatever name you call Her — exists inside you now, whole and healthy, patiently waiting for the mystical moment when you acknowledge Her presence. Likewise, every possible Form exists — in potential — inside your imagination. Invoked beings don’t arrive from without; they awaken from within! Once you grasp the whole complexity of the cosmos lies before your fingertips, genuine magic becomes possible.

With this paradigm in mind, I set out to develop protective invocations which could function as magical shields throughout the day. This experiment requires some rethinking of the traditional paradigms. Most purposeful invocations occur within some defined space and time, usually marked by a magical circle or some like means, even if the experience itself takes on the mystical transcendence of space and time. Shielding, upon the other hand, engages the proverbial back of the mind throughout the day. To hybridize the two practices, I needed to invoke my chosen Form, and then “set” the Form into a defensive posture for my daily activities, much like programming a burglary alarm and then arming the system. I’ll touch upon this process again momentarily.

For my first such experiment, I elected to invoke a dragon-like pattern of shields, emphasizing three particular aspects of the dragon — the claws, the wings, and the breath. The choice of a complex pattern was deliberate. I think one potential pitfall confronting those who consciously shield is the tendency to create one extremely powerful response for every problem. The issue here is plain: There is no single ideal response for every harmful pattern which may come our way. The deflection provided by an egg of white light is very effective against a wide range of threats, which together with its simplicity makes the bubble an ideal place to begin shielding. To borrow from the cliche, hammers are good at solving several construction-related problems, and they’re fairly easy to wield, yet when you possess nothing but the hammer, everything else begins to look like so many lengths of galvanized metal! Applying the metaphor back into my endeavors, I’m looking to broaden my magical toolbox.

The first aspect I invoked was the claws of the dragon. I envisioned my hands and feet sprouting razor sharp talons backed by inhuman strength and speed, which would then shred harmful energy patterns before they could reach my emotional core. Some threats require the witch to challenge magical force with magical force, though unlike the generally passive bubble-shield, this layer of defense actively seeks out and crushes those things which would bring harm. Moreover, I would add as caveat, the destructive element here severs harmful connections and influences, rather than wreaking havoc more directly upon the sources of such malign patterns. Often the author of some hex or other invests some significant portion of their focus or power into the negative patterns which they send out: When they lose their investment, such enervation is upon them.

Not everything is amenable to sheer force, however, even when such force is applied with the utmost skill. Sometimes the best solution means stepping out of the way and letting the negative pattern sail past harmlessly. This is fundamental to the soft martial arts — when the strike arrives, be somewhere else! Adopting a psychological mindset for a moment, this can mean rising above the fray and not taking a verbal assault personally. The dragon is a deadly predator precisely because he’s out of reach until he wants to close. Thus I envisioned the dragon’s leathery wings emerging from my back and bearing me aloft, above the realms where negative patterns dwell. Magical assaults generally don’t possess power over us unless we give them such power. So teaches the dragon!

The third aspect I invoked was the dragon’s fiery breath. The breath is perhaps the most emblematic element of the thought form we call dragon. We should take note the breath is something closely connected with spirit. Within the language of ancient Greece, the two words are one and the same! To conceive the dragon’s breath — or pneuma — to be laced with flames also acknowledges something important about his spirit. The flames are transformative, the powerful element of alchemical fire which converts one substance into another. By invoking the breath of the dragon, our own spirit takes on this transformative character. Sometimes the proper response to magical assaults isn’t outright destruction, or even evasion. Rather, with our thoughts and our words we can transmute harmful patterns of energy into something positive, spiritual ashes from which the flowers may blossom or the phoenix may rise. Energy itself is morally neutral, only the configuration of energy renders some particular pattern either life-affirming or life-negating. By taking the energy of the magical attack as a gift, we can transmute deleterious patterns into something more beneficial. This process isn’t always easy — Flames do burn, after all! — yet transmuting woe into weal can make for some of the most fascinating and satisfying magic.

The process that I’ve outlined here is an ongoing magical experiment, but one which has met with some success so far. Establishing shields by invoking a thought form does require practice. The visualization itself requires imaginative focus, and I find such shielding requires somewhat deeper reserves of magical power than relatively simple eggs or bubbles. Having shielding which not only dispatches the harmful pattern, but also recognizes and implements the best approach for each threat, requires somewhat more subconscious activity. Still, I think this price is well worth paying. Engaging the broader world with informed and creative magical tools requires intense personal effort, and I’m willing to give some to approach the cosmos more constructively. After all, this same cosmos provides all the magical power we could ever want! Thus we give some and we take some, always learning more creative ways to channel the goodness of the world.

I hope my notes here offer you, my readers, something to consider whenever you design your own shielding spells. Be creative, and don’t be afraid to broaden your magical toolbox!

©2009 Grey Glamer
Edited by Sheta Kaey

Book Review: When God is Gone, Everything is Holy

December 30, 2008 by  
Filed under books, paganism, pantheism, reviews

Book Review: When God is Gone, Everything is Holy


When God is Gone, Everything is Holy: The Making of a Religious Naturalist
by Chet Raymo
Sorin Books, 2008
ISBN 978-1933495132
148 pages
Reviewer: Lupa
Full starFull starFull starFull starFull star

This is another one of those “Why is this important to pagans, anyway?” books. At first glance, it would seem that a balancing act between Catholicism, agnosticism, and strict scientific interpretations of reality would be of little interest to your average neopagan. This is exactly the kind of book that I like to bring to my readers’ attention, however. It’s full of interesting little surprises, and I got quite a bit out of it as far as brain food goes.

Raymo presents a series of arguments towards a materialistic interpretation of Nature as sacred. Nature is not sacred because it is filled with spirits, but rather because the very processes which science is uncovering are endlessly fascinating. With this perspective, he skewers dualistic worldviews which separate Sacred from Profane, and the idea that Earth is just a waystation to be used and abused before we go off to some afterlife. However, as a dedicated agnostic, he proceeds to toss the idea of a personal God, along with numerous religious trappings (emphasis on “trap”) out and instead explains the Divine as the ongoing “I Don’t Know.”

It is this emphasis on admitting that we don’t know everything (and that’s okay) which I think really makes this book worth reading. Neopaganism as a whole lacks a healthy dose of skepticism. Raymo presents a nice alternative to the more militant atheist voices at the table; healthy skepticism (as opposed to outright debunking) is paired with the admission that, removed from its fundamentalist, harmful roots, religion and spirituality can still serve healthy purposes in the evolution of humanity.

Do be aware that Raymo tends to shove animism, pantheism, polytheism, and other mainstays of (neo)paganism into the same category of useless superstition, while admitting aesthetic preferences for certain aspects of Catholicism. This bias may not have been intentional, but it is glaring. If you are easily offended, you’ll probably end up unhappy with this (of course, if you’re easily offended the entire book may come up with the same result). However, I still found his concept of Nature as sacred (in his own interpretation of the idea) to be one that I could resonate with on numerous levels, even if I believe in spirits and he doesn’t.

Despite my enjoyment of the book, I’m still not convinced that animism isn’t a good theological choice for me at this point, so his argument against it wasn’t as effective as he might have hoped. And, as with anything, take what you read with a grain of salt. This is a book to digest over time, not simply to read and discard after first impressions. If you find things that you disagree with (and if you’re like most neopagans, you will), don’t disregard the text in its entirety. Give it time to percolate in your mind, and see what you think after a second read a few months down the line.

Five pawprints out of five.

Review ©2008 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 Goat Foot God

December 29, 2008 by  
Filed under books, paganism, reviews

Book Review: The Goat Foot God
The Goat Foot God
The Goat Foot God
by Diotima
Bibliotheca Alexandrina, 2008
ISBN 978-1438233666
104 pages
Reviewer: Lupa
Full starFull starFull starFull starFull star

This is my first review of a Bibliotheca Alexandrina title; I’ve been anxiously awaiting my chance to dig into the promising line of books that this small press has been producing in the past year. I’ve been familiar with Diotima’s work through essays, but this is the first book of hers I’ve been able to give a good read. BA is one of a tiny handful (I think a total of two, if I’m not mistaken) of small presses that have specialized in producing nonfiction works specifically devoted to individual deities. The Goat Foot God, of course, is entirely about the Greek God Pan. Unlike the more common devotional texts, which often feature a variety of writings by multiple authors, this is entirely penned by Diotima herself.

I wasn’t quite sure what approach she would take with her subject; would this be a book of personal experiences, or of ritual observances? Neither, in fact; this slim volume is a wonderfully well-researched exploration of the primary sources (and derivatives) that give us the basis of our understanding of Pan. Starting with Homer, and including works all the way up to Tom Robbins’ delightful Jitterbug Perfume, Diotima has scoured the corpus of knowledge to offer up a concise but thorough text. Along the way she answers some critical questions about Pan himself: Why do some sources speak of Pan’s sexual desires, and others omit it? How may a feminist approach Pan? How accurate are pop culture depictions of Pan? And just what is up with the infamous statue with the goat? (On second thought, her answers raise their own set of questions and things to ponder… which is not entirely a bad thing.)

I also very much appreciated the context she provides at the beginning of the book. Additionally, her tone is never overly authoritarian, allowing room for interpretation and discussion, as well as those murky areas punctuated by “We don’t really know for sure.” She is also careful not to privilege ancient texts over unverified personal gnosis, which creates a lovely balance to her solid research.

No one should be able to criticize the scholarship of this text. Diotima’s done her homework, and has the citations to prove it. While her writing style does have an academic flavor to it, it’s quite readable for a variety of audiences. About the only complaint I have about the book in its entirety is her excessive use of parenthetical statements — not including the in-text citations. There are parts of the book where there’s literally one in each sentence.

Still, that’s a tiny quibble in the face of what should be considered an exceptionally important text. Greek-inspired pagans, whether Hellenic recons or more eclectic practitioners, should look to this as a superior source for information on Pan, as well as for a thought-provoking perspective on what “Greek religion really was/is.” The publishing industry should see this book as an example of the sorts of texts that need to be brought into print — well-researched, in-depth explorations of specific deities (which can also be applied to other topics) that can quell the cries for advanced works. This also would offer readers something besides [insert flavor of the week here] Wicca rehashes and poor scholarship.

The Goat Foot God has more than accomplished its goal. Pan is presented in all his goaty glory, yet unfettered by conventions and strict definitions. Diotima has done him honor with this book, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. I am definitely looking forward to reading more both from this author and publisher.

Five hoofprints out of five.

Review ©2008 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.

The Witches’ Pyramid #4/4 – To Keep Silent

March 21, 2007 by  
Filed under magick, paganism, theory, wicca

The Witches' Pyramid #4/4 - To Keep Silent

Silence is golden, according to the old saying. Remaining silent seems to be one of the hardest things that anyone can do, especially in the face of different pressures.

It’s human nature to want to brag about the accomplishments and choices that we make. I believe this stems from the desire for approval from others and validation of those choices. This desire is normal, but in magic it can be dangerous and counterproductive.

The major component of any spell is the willpower of the caster. Just about everyone can agree on that. Belief in yourself, your spell, the magick you raised, the inevitable outcome of the spell – all have to be absolutely trusted in to ensure success.

So why would anyone want to voluntarily give away their power and the success of the spell by talking about it to others? That’s the core of this corner, staying Silent – not to hide the spells from others, but to keep others’ disbelief from affecting the belief of the spellcaster.

I mean, the very act of casting a spell sounds ridiculous on the surface, to the layperson. I took this power out of the universe and tempered it with the knowledge with the goal that I would get what I desire. I lit candles and chanted words – basically, I did all this ritual stuff, and I will get what I want. Sounds nuts, right?

Well, it is, and it is all based on a faith that our Will cannot be denied. No matter how open minded some non-magickians are, they will refuse to see that they do the same thing (perhaps in a different way) with their rituals and religions. It is nothing but believing in something that cannot be proven. This comparison tends to make most people very uncomfortable.

Why? Most of us are raised in modern Western Society to be rational. We are encouraged to give up pretending and fantasy play at an early age, and encouraged to start living in the “real world.”

But even though the world of magick is a rational one, with rules and laws that need to be obeyed and which can be bent in very specific circumstances, it looks from the outside to be a world of fiction. Mummery, blue smoke and mirrors, wish fulfillment, hope and coincidence is all magick looks to be.

First, convincing yourself that magick actually works and that you can do it is a huge step, one that is absolutely necessary. This leads me back to this corner of the Pyramid.

Casting a spell, putting yourself in that mindset where you Know to the bottom of your soul that you will have this outcome is a major accomplishment and a critical step. Talking to your best friend about that is likely to lead to a conversation in which your friend questions your sanity. He will probably quiz you long and carefully to make sure that you haven’t slipped a cog in your brain.

This, then, will possibly make you question your own sanity. Maybe you really are just living in a world of fantasy? Perhaps it is possible that you dreamed it? Was there something in that ritual wine? Were you drunk?

This trend leads directly to you starting to doubt your own spell, and thus canceling your own power in the magick.

Honestly, it is incredible that any spell works when people often completely counter the spell by doubting it after the fact. One of the most common pieces of advice that I have heard given to new practitioners of arcane and esoteric paths is that you must continue to believe in the spell and the process of the spell after you finish.

Therefore, talking to a friend and discussing it with them will erode your belief. In fact, simply wanting to get their input can be a subconscious need for their approval, and thus their Will as part of your spell. If that approval is not forthcoming, it can have a tremendous effect and possibly cancel the spell entirely. You should strive to need nothing outside your own conviction.

Additionally, their belief (or doubt) now becomes a direct component of your spell, not just as approval. Their disbelief is now warring with your belief and it will cause problems for you in attaining your desires.

You will be setting yourself up for failure by inviting them and their opinions into your spell. It’s much easier to simply Keep Silent and not put yourself (or them) in that position.

One more thing to think about in this corner of the Pyramid: Think about every time you knew a secret or something that your friends didn’t. Remember how it gave you a sense of power, of control, of being better than everyone else? That’s an altered state of consciousness. Walking around knowing a secret about your spell puts you into that altered state of consciousness and keeps you there. This effectively puts you permanently in Sacred Space, in the same frame of mind you are in when casting the spell.

This makes any simple act of life a magickal act and a sacred act. Living in a state where everything is a magickal act is the very core of Crowley’s definition of magick, “Magick is the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will.”

Holding a secret from everyone means that you will automatically be in that altered state. While in that altered state, things taken on a different hue, and you can see patterns you never noticed before. Everything changes around you, and you begin to see the interconnectedness of all.

When the mundane becomes the sacred and everything is an act of Will – that’s when magick is most effective. That is when the promise of “change in conformity with Will” becomes the tool to cause the world to move.

Knowing when to start the changes is paramount.

Willing the change into being is the next step.

Daring to begin effecting those changes to occur and then remaining Silent about those changes until they are fulfilled is the means of having Magick in your daily life, inseparable and one with you completely. Attaining that point is the alchemy of life, the way to transmute the base metal we start as into the Gold of a spiritual being.

The old magical masters knew this. The Magician’s Pyramid promised this, but like most of their advice, they had to hide it in common sense sayings that could mean anything to those who stumbled across them, hiding in plain sight the essences of magick.

It is only when we see that advice from the perspective of knowledge that we realize the hidden message in it.

A pyramid is a perfect shape for these corners. Each corner or point is dependant on each other, and each supports each other, none higher than any other and no part more important than any other part. The pyramid can be turned on any side, and it still supports itself and supports us.

I have enjoyed writing this examination of the Pyramid. I hope I have given you something to think about with regard to this old piece of advice.

©2007 Eric “Daven” Landrum. Edited by Sheta Kaey.

Eric “Daven” Landrum is a Seax Wiccan and the author of Daven’s Journal.

Magical Aftercare

Magical Aftercare

Okay, you prepared your space. You sat and raised the Circle. You called your allies and astral entities to help. You have called the Quarters, done the Middle Pillar, communed with the Spirits, traveled to the Akashic Record.

You cut the Circle and dismissed the elements. You sent the energy off to do whatever that Power does to cause your spell to work.

Now what?

What happens next? Most individuals will start putting away the trappings of their ritual and get on with their life, but I think there is a time here that is more important to the magician than simply cleaning up.

This is the time of magical aftercare.

In most sexual practices and relationships, there is a time when after the deed is done and you and your partner are lying together, when you simply exist in each other’s arms for a while. You lay with each other, commune with each other and just be. There is no pressure to do anything, no real discussion of anything; you simply exist in the after glow of an incredible experience, mutually shared.

Why can’t we do that with our spells? Why can’t we use that time to commune with the Gods and to exist with Them? Taking time to revel in the energies raised and to exist for a little while in that sacred space that you spent so much time creating and getting into — why must you destroy it by immediately starting the cleanup?

Some activities to think about in this period after the spell and ritual for you and your group include:

  • Divination — Do some tarot readings for everyone, for yourself, and to see how successful the spell is going to be. After all, you spent all that time and energy getting into the mood and working to get into an alternate state of mind to do the magick, so why not use the time while you are in that state to do some related workings that aren’t as labor intensive?
     
  • Reinforcing the Wards on your place of worship — It has always confused me: you spend all that time raising power, getting it to do what you want, making it move in certain specific ways, just to send it all into the Earth when you are done. Why? I understand that loose energy is a danger to the practitioners and to those in the immediate area, but why waste it? Spend a few minutes pulling that Power together and using it to shore up your personal defenses or your group Wards. The Power won’t show up anywhere except in your protections and it won’t be attracting things that should not be there. It will be helping you keep safe and it’s not just sitting there like a patch of tar on a white carpet.
     
  • Grounding — Instead of grounding the energies into the actual ground, why not ground the energy into a “power sink,” i.e. a metaphysical battery? By doing this, you recharge the battery from what bleeds off and you put that grounded energy to a good use. You can do this with any enchanted object you possess and it thereby becomes another source of Power for you to draw upon next time you do a ritual or spell.
     
  • Partying — Here you are, you invited all these spirits to you — your ancestors, your allies, your Gods, possibly even some angels. And once you are done you just dismiss them and move on with your life? How crass can you be? Calling them out of their warm homes to give you some power and then you say “KTHXBY!” Oh, you may tell them thank you, you can even say “stay if you will,” but what about saying, instead, “okay, go if you have to, but we are going to have a party and you are invited to participate!” Then commune with them. Allow them to be part of your life, and be part of theirs. I know your ancestors will be interested in finding out what has been going on, how you and your children are doing, and even finding out how your parents are. Most ancestors are gossipy old things, and they need news, so share it with them. Talk about your family to them, tell funny stories, and make it an event.
     
  • Creation — Once again, you are in a ritual mindset. What’s wrong with using that mindset to create something? You already started with the ritual and the spell, because isn’t that just creation of a set of circumstances you desire? So why not go the next step and actually use that mindset to create amulets, talismans, sacred art, ritual tools, or just to write in your ritual book (whether you call it your grimoire or your Book of Shadows)? How about taking that mindset and using it to write down your impressions of the ritual, so that the event is preserved for future magicians? It doesn’t have to be elaborate, it just needs to be what you saw and felt. If everyone in the ritual does this, think of the group mind that can be built from that spiritual consensus.
     
  • Gardening — I know it sounds nuts, but why can’t you spend a few minutes hugging a tree and letting that tree absorb some of the extra energies, or planting a seed that has to be planted at night? Some plants do better if planted in the light of the Full Moon, and the Gods know there are enough potions and spells that call for components from plants harvested at night. So mark those plants while you are out one day with some nice wide colorful ribbon and go out looking for them after your ritual. You won’t have to get into a sacred space again to harvest the herbs, since you already are there.
     
  • Reinforcement — I know that once you have cast your spell you aren’t supposed to think about it anymore, but there occasionally comes a time when you have to do reinforcement of a spell you already cast. It can be as simple as giving it extra energy or as complex as re-targeting it to another changed goal. But those spells usually have to be helped along by the caster’s active participation.
     

As with any exercise or activity, use your head. It will be massively counterproductive if you do a ritual to create a servitor for your group and then do another major ritual which involves the creation of Wards after everything is pulled down, dismissed and put up.

Maintenance is the key word here. If you would normally do a small ritual to maintain a spell or process that already exists, this time after another ritual would be perfect to maintain and repair it. It’s a small use of power that pays out immensely when you have the time, and you can avoid doing a whole new ritual for the purpose (which is what most people do).

Once you feel tired and like you are coming down from the high that the ritual has put you into, simply stop and move on with your life. But you have to do something to dismiss those extra energies or they can stay and pull in even more energy to it, and those new energies aren’t always the nicest of effects. Frequently, they cause far more problems than they solve.

Eating food, drinking a sports drink, grounding the energy into the Earth — all these are the classic ways of getting rid of excess energy after a ritual. Try to see if you can’t come up with other means of using that extra energy and focus the next time you do a major ritual. If you can, then that’s one more rite you won’t have to do later.

And Time is always at a premium.

©2007 Eric “Daven” Landrum. Edited by Sheta Kaey

Eric “Daven” Landrum is a Seax Wiccan and the author of Daven’s Journal.

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