Book Review – The Hawaiian Oracle

July 19, 2009 by  
Filed under books, cards, divination, other cards, reviews

Book Review - The Hawaiian Oracle


The Hawaiian Oracle: Animal Spirit Guides from the Land of Light
Rima A. Morrell; art by Steve Rawlings
New World Library (April 13, 2006)
ISBN: 978-1577315261
144 pages plus 36 cards
Reviewer: Lupa
Full starFull starNo starNo starNo star

It’s been a while since I’ve reviewed a totem deck/book set. I’ve had this one sitting in my personal collection for a while, and figured it was about time to take a break from my review stacks. I also wanted to give myself a fresh look at it, because someone I respect as a totemist gave it a pretty scathing review last year, and I didn’t want that biasing my approach.
There’s good and bad in the set, so I’ll give you some details in list form:

The Good:

  • The author emphasizes interconnection and responsibility to nature in the book. There are some valuable lessons for postindustrial cultures that often take the environment and its denizens (includes humans!) for granted. It’s obvious that she’s passionate about being a caretaker, and while she doesn’t include it quite to the extent that, say, Susie Green does in the Animal Messages deck, it was a nice touch. (In addition, she walks the talk, having set up a charity and refuge for rescued animals of various sorts, for which I give her major kudos.)
  • Morrell has a Ph.D. in Huna, a New Age mix of Hawaiian mythology and other elements. She’s pretty familiar with Hawaiian mythos, and includes mythological information on each of the animals along with her interpretations, to flesh out the meanings and give people more to ponder when working with each animal.
  • The cards themselves feature some of the most beautiful artwork by Steve Rawlings (who sadly only gets mentioned on the copyright page and the acknowledgment in the back of the book, instead of on the cover of the book or box). A lovely blend of realistic depictions of animals and brightly colored environments, the pictures make working with this deck extra delightful!

The Bad:

  • One of the first things that stuck out was the author’s dogmatic adherence to vegetarianism even in the face of historical facts. I’ve no problem with vegetarianism in and of itself; however, Polynesian cultures are not and never have been vegetarian, and they did not simply begin eating meat because of contact with the Europeans. Yet she asserts this very idea on the first two pages (6-7) of the introduction.
  • Lemuria and Atlantis: Arrrrrrgh. This is New Age stuff, pure and simple. Yet, like so many New Age authors, she tries to connect these fictional, completely unproven, conveniently lost continents to Hawaiian indigenous culture.
  • Related to my last point, her book is based on the aforementioned Huna — which is not traditional Hawaiian religion. It’s a creation from the latter half of the 19th century when spiritualism and other such things were all the rage, and while it (and this book) dabble in Hawaiian religious and cultural elements, they are not synonymous. The author (who as I mentioned has a Ph.D. in Huna gained from University College in London, U.K.) claims to have spoken to indigenous Hawaiian practitioners of this, but she doesn’t give any indication of what status they have in their indigenous culture(s) or where they learned their material. Given that even indigenous cultures can have their frauds (being indigenous in genetics does not automatically confer full understanding of indigenous culture if you are primarily white in culture), I have to question how verifiably indigenous her information really is. This looks more like cultural appropriation than indigenous Hawaiian religion and culture.
  • ”Land of Light”? This idealization of Hawaiian culture (and it’s definitely not limited to the subtitle) smacks of the Noble Savage stereotype.

Honestly, I’m leaning towards setting aside the book and keeping the cards. Unless you’re brand new to animal card divination and don’t yet feel you can interpret the cards based on your own observations (and the study of a species’ natural history, from whence its lore ultimately springs), it’s really not necessary. The information that is provided on cultural and other contexts is spotted with questionable content. Read through the book to get an idea of the author’s perspective and intent for creating the deck, but take it with a huge lick of salt.

Two pawprints out of five (though I give the art a 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.

Book/Tarot Deck Review – The Tyson Necronomicon Series

Book/Tarot Deck Review - The Tyson Necronomicon Series
  
  

Donald Tyson’s Necronomicon Series, including

Reviewer: Lon Sarver

Stars rating pending.

H.P. Lovecraft, a writer of weird fiction for the pulp magazines of the first quarter of the twentieth century, created for his fiction a pantheon of demonic deities and their debased cults. This collection of beings and lore are known today as the Cthulhu Mythos, and have been expanded, first by Lovecraft’s friends and fellow pulp authors, and also by later generations of fantasists. Lovecraft and the others did the job so well that even now there are still people who believe that Lovecraft was writing fact disguised as fiction.

Even those who do not believe that Lovecraft’s writings are on some level literally true feel the dread pull of the Cthulhu Mythos, finding therein powerful symbols of strangeness, fear, and alien mystery. As with anything that grabs the attention and provokes the emotions, the Mythos has found its way into several serious works of magick.

Don Tyson’s Grimoire of the Necronomicon (Llewellyn 2008) is an attempt at one of these. Along with its companion volumes, Necronomicon: The Wanderings of Alhazred (2004), Alhazred: Author of the Necronomicon (2006), and the Necronomicon Tarot (2007), the Grimoire presents a new look at the Cthulhu Mythos as workable magickal system.

As such, the texts can be evaluated three ways: as contributions to the overall literature of the Cthulhu Mythos, as contributions to occult scholarship, and as a functioning magickal system.

Necronomicon: The Wanderings of Alhazred, the first to be published, presents itself as a version of Lovecraft’s Necronomicon, detailing the Mythos as discovered by Abdul Alhazred, a medieval Arab sorcerer. Alhazred: Author of the Necronomicon is a much longer work, describing the life and journeys of Alhazred in the form of a novel of adventure and occult mystery.

From his surviving letters and non-fiction writing, we know that Lovecraft believed in using fragments and hints to fire the reader’s imagination. Dread and horror would thus be created in the reader’s mind far more effectively than they could be in complete descriptions on a page.

Unfortunately, Tyson’s writing does much to remove that kind of mystery without replacing it with anything worthwhile. While Necronomicon could easily be excused as an occultist fan’s labor of love, perhaps, Alhazred could not. The novel would read and feel exactly the same if one were to change the names of the protagonist and the monsters so as to remove all allusions to Lovecraft.

Also, the attributes Tyson ascribes to the Mythos and its entities are so changed from Lovecraft’s work that it seems, at times, as if the author is writing about entirely different things, and only borrowing the more famous names. This would give the books a hollow feeling to any reader familiar with the other stories that make up the Mythos.

This is important to the magickal value of the Grimoire and the tarot deck. Insofar that the point of writing a work of Cthulhu Mythos magick is to tap the current of energy created by generations of readers of this kind of fiction, departures from that fiction weaken the link, and the power that can be drawn through it.

The Necronomicon Tarot suffers heavily from this. The descriptions of the various Mythos entities used in the deck frequently do not match their presentation in works of Mythos fiction, and often do not match the meanings of the cards upon which they appear. For example, Azathoth is described by Lovecraft as a blind, idiot god dancing at the physical center of the universe. The deity is generally understood by Lovecraft scholars as a metaphor for Lovecraft’s existential dread of a blind, uncaring universe far too large for humans to comprehend.

In the Necronomicon Tarot, this deity is used as the image for Trump 0, The Fool. While the traditional divinatory meanings of innocence, child-like wonder, and gullibility are kept for the card, the deity is described as a filthy, insane being squatting in its own excrement. Use of the deck for divination, or really for any purpose other than rounding out a collection of Mythos paraphernalia, would be impaired by such internal dissonance. It certainly was for me.

The Grimoire of the Necronomicon itself suffers on many levels. Stripped of all of Tyson’s Lovecraftian pretentions, it is a simplified system of planetary/astrological magick. In brief, particular beings from the Mythos are ascribed to the seven “planets” of classical astrology, whose energies are held to rule various aspects of life. Communing with these beings through ritual brings these energies under the magician’s control and perfects the magician’s soul. Additionally, Tyson created twelve beings to represent the signs of the zodiac, for similar use.

Stripped to its bones, the system isn’t bad, just incomplete. Much of the material is borrowed from other, better works of planetary magick, without the context or depth that the original systems provided. In place of this is a narrative which attempts to explain how the various deities of the Cthulhu Mythos are related to the planets, why they would work with the magician, and why such an alliance is a good idea in the first place.

The narrative begins with the creation of the physical world as the aftermath of a cosmic rape. Nyarlathotep, a malign trickster god, attempts to usurp Azathoth’s throne and rapes his daughter. Azathoth is blinded and driven insane, and his daughter flees the divine court and wraps matter around herself, becoming the Earth. Nyarlathotep and the other deities then vow to extinguish all life on Earth and destroy the planet, to “free” the goddess in order for Nyarlathotep to force himself on her again and complete his usurpation.

It should be noted that this is original with Tyson. Except for the characterization of Nyarlathotep as a malign trickster, none of this appears in any Mythos fiction of which I am aware. Thematically, the story is entirely counter to original stories. What made the entities of the Mythos horrible in the original stories was that they were undeniable proof that the Earth is not special and that the powers that be do not care if humanity lives or dies. It is, so far as I can tell, a rather loose adaptation of certain Gnostic ideas about the corruption of the material world and the human spirit’s fall from grace.

The text of the Grimoire is ambivalent about the myth at its center. Sometimes, it seems to hint that the tale is about the redemption of a fallen world, and that the “good” magicians work to restore Azathoth to health and power. Most of the time, the text suggests that there is nothing one can do but go along with a bad system, repeating that those who will not serve Nyarlathotep will be destroyed with everyone else.

Perhaps the only saving grace of the Grimoire is that it does not pretend to be a revelation of the “real” magick behind Lovecraft’s fiction. The introduction is candid about the text being a fusion of fiction and bits and pieces of magickal systems. Despite this, however, it never quite makes a case for why a magician would want to choose this particular modern synthesis over all the other more complete, and less offensive, systems of planetary magick available.

So these four texts contribute nothing original or useful to the literature of either the occult or the Cthulhu Mythos. The question remains, though: Does it work?

Yes and no.

In order to test the system, I performed an evocation of Yig. In the original fiction, Yig was a snake-god in the American west who took horrible vengeance on anyone who harmed a snake. In the Grimiore, Yig is the god associated with Saturn, the keeper of forgotten and occult secrets. This seemed to be the appropriate entity of which to ask questions about a magickal system.

The ritual for contacting the Great Old Ones detailed in the Grimiore is not complex. One goes to a lonely place, preferably one at altitude and with a view of the night sky. A circle of seven stones is made, with four rods painted the colors of four of the Great Old Ones marking elemental directions. On a central altar, three more colored rods representing Azathoth, Nyarlathotep, and Yog-Sothoth form a triangle. Candles are placed at the points of this triangle.

The magician then sits or stands to the south of the altar, facing north, and recites the Long Chant. The Long Chant is a fairly standard invocation, customized to the narrative of the Grimiore. The chant is presented in both English and Enochian, for the convenience of the magician.

Once the chant is completed, one calls upon the chosen entity to appear in the triangle. Any offerings or sacrifices are placed on the altar inside the rods. The text does not provide invocations for the deities, though many of them have personal requirements of location or timing the magician must observe.

What is supposed to happen next is left vague. The magician is to meditate, and will, if all goes well, receive some kind of communication from the entity called. The gate is closed, the candles extinguished, and the rite is over.

For me, a circle of stones on a hilltop was not practical. I substituted a room on the second floor of my home, with a large, open window through which I could see the night sky. In the place of a stone circle, I created banners for the cardinal points according to the instructions in the Grimiore, and hung them in the appropriate directions. As the Grimoire stresses that the “true” circle exists on the astral, I felt comfortable in simply visualizing the standing stones.

I read out the Long Chant four times, first in English and three more times in Enochian. After, I improvised an invitation to Yig, praising his wisdom and asking for contact. In my mind’s eye, I saw a snake curled up in the triangle. Meditating on the altar, I did receive a vision of Yig and his realm, and heard the god’s answers to my questions about the system of the Grimiore.

To summarize the wisdom of Yig, the beings contacted by the magick of the Grimiore are not, in fact, the beings written of by Lovecraft and his peers — but they could be, given time and the effort of magicians using this system. In any case, the specific names and images of the system are only tools for achieving contact with whatever it is magicians are contacting, so it doesn’t matter whether or not the deities are fictional or historical.

I thanked the old snake and closed the rite.

So, did the magick work? Yes, in the sense that the ritual induced a vision. However, the ritual did not evoke any of the sense of dread or cosmic vastness associated with the Cthulhu Mythos. This is for the best, really. The folks who seek experiences with real-world magick based on the Mythos are most likely not imagining what it would feel like to be living out one of Lovecraft’s stories. Instead, they’re probably recalling what it felt like to read those stories, and seeking to tap into that emotional current.

While the system seems to produce results, it doesn’t actually do anything better or differently than any other system of magick I have ever worked. The Lovecraft pastiche doesn’t seem to interfere, but it also adds nothing.

One might wonder how useful it is to make contact with a fake snake god. To quote Alan Moore, author, magician, and worshiper of the late Roman snake god Glycon; “If I’m gonna have a god I prefer it to be a complete hoax and a glove puppet because I’m not likely to start believing that glove puppet created the universe or anything dangerous like that.1

Approached this way, the Grimiore of the Necronomicon might be useful in maintaining a healthy skepticism about one’s magickal work. Those seriously interested in planetary magick with an old-school feel would be better served to study the systems of the Golden Dawn or the The Key of Solomon The King: (Clavicula Salomonis). Those seeking to evoke the mood of the cosmic and alien in their spiritual lives would do very well to track down a copy of The Pseudonomicon, by Phil Hine2 .

Footnotes

  1. Quoted from an interview, “Magic is Afoot,” published in Arthur magazine in May 2003
  2. New Falcon publishing, 2004

Review ©2009 Lon Sarver
Edited by Sheta Kaey

Book and Cards Review – Animal Powers Meditation Kit

January 27, 2007 by  
Filed under books, cards, reviews

Book and Cards Review - Animal Powers Meditation Kit

Animal Powers Meditation Kit: Spiritual Guidance from Your Totem Teachers
by Monte Farber and Amy Zerner
Zerner/Farber Editions, Ltd., 2006
43 pages, 12 cards, 1 CD, 12 pendants
Reviewer: Lupa
Full StarFull StarNo StarNo StarNo Star

I have found the totemic answer to the “Teen Witch Kit.”

There has been a recent fad ever since Silver Ravenwolf came out with her kit in 2004. A number of authors have come up with similar prefabricated spell kits, meditation kits, and similar “everything you need in one box!” kits since the TWK came out (despite the fact that the reviews on it were largely negative).

Farber and Zerner have found their own niche in this fad with the Animal Powers Meditation Kit. It includes a small booklet, a number of cards with pictures of the animals on them, a CD to go along with your meditations, and twelve pendants, one for each animal covered, with a cord to hang them on.

At first I thought, “Hey, this is a great idea!” The authors don’t claim that this is the do-all and end-all of totemic work; it’s their own system that they created, based on their own meditations. It’s obvious that they put a lot of thought into it, and that it’s very personal to them. They also avoided the bulk of cultural appropriation that so many totemic authors fall into.

The artwork is absolutely beautiful; woodcuts by Zerner’s mother, and Zerner’s own collages, illustrate the kit with vibrant colors and vivid representations of the animals. And the idea of the kit it self isn’t so bad: a book to help you learn meditations while focusing on the card that represents a particular animal whose qualities you want to emulate, listening to a CD with music and affirmations associated with that animal, and wearing the pendant of the animal to help remind you that you do have those qualities.

Unfortunately, the actual execution wasn’t all that great. The booklet is only 43 pages long, and while the material is good, I was left wanting to know more. How did they develop this system? Do they have any anecdotes as to how it has helped them or other people? Has the kit been “road-tested” by other people?

Additionally, because of the structure of the kit, it’s limited to only 12 animals, and most of these are more “popular” ones — bison, horse, cat (cougar), etc. Only one insect (butterfly), and dolphin represented all aquatic life. While there’s variety compared to, say, the books that try to be more Indian than thou, it’s still pretty limited. Their writings on those animals are decent, but I think they could have gotten away with about 30 animals in this format. If making the pendants was an issue, they could have done 15 double-sided ones.

And that leads me to the “extras.” The CD, while well-intentioned, didn’t impress me. I was enjoying the music — until the people (I’m assuming the authors) started talking. Gods love them, I’m sure they put a lot of effort into writing just the right affirmations, but the only thing I could think of was “New Age Animal Totem Spoken Word.” I don’t know if it was just the way they recited them, but it did not work for me at all.

The cards that you contemplate during meditation are quite lovely, and I like the concept. Part of the cardboard packaging is designed to stand up and display an individual card, which is a nice way to keep from wasting even more cardboard and plastic (these kits tend to require a lot more packaging than you’d think). The pendants had nice little designs based on the woodcuts, but the plastic used was incredibly cheap. They’d look a lot less tacky if good quality resin had been used.

This is why mass-manufactured “kits” aren’t really my favorite thing in the world. I like handmade spell kits made by individual pagans and shops, because the items inside are of a good quality and are often given blessings by the creator. This, and all manufactured kits, falls far short of that level of quality.

All in all, as I said, the idea was a good one, but the execution could have been so much better. Two pawprints out of five.

Review ©2007 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 Dictionary Dilemma

The Dictionary Dilemma

Animal magic always has been and probably always will be my favorite form of esoteric study and practice. I’ve been fascinated by critters since I was barely old enough to toddle around on my own; I’ve had many pets, and I was always the kid out in the woods catching garter snakes.

So it was no surprise that the very first book I picked up was Ted Andrews’ Animal-Speak. While it wasn’t the first animal totem dictionary (being predated by Conway’s Animal Magick, Sams’ and Carsons’ Medicine Cards, and a few other books by several years) it was by far the most complete book on the topic at the time. It, and the later sequel Animal-Wise, covered the totemic and magical meanings and uses of numerous animals from around the world in great detail. Andrews also provided the reader with substantial material for finding and working with animal totems.

Ten years later I’ve read most of the books out there on totemism and animal magic. I’ve picked through some really horrible animal magic cookbooks of prefabricated spells, and I’ve enjoyed seeing some really innovative twists, too. However, overall I’m disappointed at where this particular field of study and practice has gone in the past decade.

The primary problem is that it seems that just about everyone is trying to be Ted Andrews. His totem animal dictionaries were so popular that other authors have since then tried to cash in on the format. These days the standard book starts off with historical information on totems, then goes into methods of divining and working with your totem(s), and after that includes a series of entries detailing specific animals and their qualities. The order and exact execution of these may change, but they’re almost universally present.

Of the twenty-five books I’ve reviewed on Amazon concerning animal magic, nineteen of them contain dictionaries. Of the six books that lacked dictionaries, only one, Yasmine Galenorn’s Totem Magic, was specifically tailored to the neopagan crowd. Of the rest, one was an early 20th century treatise on serpent worship, two were anthropological studies of animal symbolism in indigenous cultures, one was a book of meditations based on the spirituality of various First Nations, and the last was a psycho-therapeutic system combining totems and the seven primary chakras.

These are just with the books that are specifically about totem animals. This doesn’t include several books on Neoshamanism that included very abbreviated power animal dictionaries. There are also a number of animal totem divination decks out there, most of which are purportedly designed to identify your totem. The books are again dictionaries with prefabricated information, often with even less detail than the dictionaries without cards.

Admittedly, there have been some improvements. Thanks to Andrews’ inclusion of many different species, writers on totemism no longer seem to limit their study to big, impressive North American mammals and birds. I am seeing more books that avoid cultural appropriation of indigenous cultures. Where in 1988 we had the Medicine Cards, which lumped all First Nations people into one group of noble savages (apparently the progeny of Atlanteans), in 2006 I’ve managed to find at least some books that avoid trying to be more Native than the Natives, though it still happens.

In the past couple of years, a few authors have started covering new territory. Galenorn’s Totem Magic is a notable example, as is Animal Spirit by Patricia Telesco and Rowan Hall, both of which go beyond the usual “This totem means this, and this one means that, and now stick a feather on your altar and light some incense,” etc. The latter book particularly perked my ears because it had a chapter touching on the uses of animal parts in magic, breaking a bit of a Pagan taboo. For my own part, my Fang and Fur, Blood and Bone covers a number of topics in animal magic, including a unique look at totemism, practical magic with animal parts, and even a chapter on animal sacrifice.

But that’s really about it. Eight and a half years after I picked up Animal-Speak, nearly ten years after I discovered Paganism, I read Steven Farmer’s Animal Spirit Guides, published in October 2006. I was hoping for something new. Instead I found… just another totem animal dictionary.

This is my challenge to animal magicians, whether you work with totems or power animals, familiars physical or spiritual, animal parts or animal sacrifice: Stop doing the same old stuff! There’s a lot of potential in animal magic, even within a neoshamanic format. For example, try combining totemism with the eight colors of chaos magic to do some inner pathworking. Or do as I did and create new species on the astral plane to help you with your magic. Try working with pop culture-based animals, too, and utilize the mythology in our own culture.

And if you are doing something different, speak up. Share what you’ve discovered with the world. You don’t have to write a book; even an article or a website would suffice. But there has to be something available besides totem animal dictionaries. We don’t need any more. The only reason I’ve kept as many as I do is so that I have some introductory material for the people I lead on guided totem meditations, just to get them started. I’ve stopped keeping the newer ones I acquire once I’ve read them — one backpack full is enough. The rare book I do keep is the one that shows me something new and innovative.

I have 24 books or book-and-deck kits on my Amazon wish list that are related in some way to animal magic, plus one or two books on my shelves I haven’t gotten to yet. About eight of them are more along anthropological lines and another eight or so are book-and-deck kits. Of the ones that are written for a pagan audience, I’m hoping at least one will show me something new. Here’s to that hope.

©2007 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.

47 queries. 1.430 seconds