Bookviews Book Reviews
But what most of us don't know is how it is made, how to
make it ourselves, what is involved in making it and do we want to get into
making our own.
Carl F. Neal has put together a book on the basics of making
incense and mixing together the scents that make it attractive to our every
The book is very well laid out, with an exact Table of
Contents, a good index, a very light bibliography and a good glossary of
terms. While I would have liked to see
more of a bibliography, I believe Mr. Neal's personal experiences make up the
bulk of the book, so I can live with the few references he has provided.
The introduction is interesting. His How To Use This Book even tells you where
to concentrate your reading in order to produce your first batch of incense...
read this chapter, skim over this chapter and so on. He is eager to have you get into the actual
making of your own incense.
Mr. Neal has a good overview of the final products, what
they are, what their differences are and what you can use them for. I like his easy to read and clarity of
writing. He works a simple basic
introduction for the reader, assuming that we do not have a good working idea
of the product. And for the most part,
those picking up this book probably will not.
I like his treatment of the topics. The Importance of Form is a good overview of
the different types of incense and I found his advices to be good. Incense Composition gives us the basics of
building our incense; what makes them smell, and what science is involved in
our being able to make them smell as good as we choose. Even the How To Use Incense part, which
seemed silly at first (we all know how to use incense, or do we?) explained how
to achieve the best results when we use incense. Pay special attention to the Hazards part of
this&ldots; some people do not realize that while we are considering
incense to be a representation of air, we are actually dealing with fire. Mr. Neal makes this point very clear.
Mr. Neal gives the same kind of careful considerations to
the chapters on Selecting Materials, Tools and Workspaces and Making Incense,
walking you through step by step to help you select the best materials for your
special purposes, the best tools to achieve your final product and the
procedures for actually making the incense.
Clear instructions, easy to understand and no mysterious terms makes
this easy to follow. In the Recipes
section he provides simple recipes and complex recipes for those who want to
advance to the next round, and the recipes are broken down in to mixes named
for specific magical workings you may have in mind. The recipes contain a base, binder, liquid
and aromatic so you understand the composition process. He also provides various styles of incense so
you can work with them all and decide which ones you prefer to make.
There are also Experimentation and Troubleshooting sections
and then Appendices which give you ingredients chart, help with locating
materials and Mr. Neal's philosophies on incense and suggested ritual uses. A very interesting section on Listening to
Incense: The Japanese Approach to Incense is an insight into how the Masters of
incense production, the Japanese, look at the creation, burning and treatment
of incense. A brief overview, but it is
meant to allow for the individual to explore the topic further if they feel
they want to.
I like the idea of the book.
While I personally would not go through all the work and expense of
making my own incense, I liked the idea of being able to understand the incense
process. For those who feel that they
would like to explore the topic "hands on", it provides two
things. If you are curious, this book
can help you make a decision about this being the kind of craft you would like
to get into. Do you feel this is something
that you can devote the time, effort and interest to? Do you feel this work is
worth it for your use of incense?
Secondly, if you are a person who has decided on making your own
incense, this is a great beginners handbook and will allow you to follow, step
by step, the process of making basic incense to creating your own special
On the down side, there are no pictures, so those who need
images will be left out.
Mr. Neal's magical associations are general, non-path
specific and a good basic starting place for those who are not familiar with
using incense in magic. His associations
of types of incense with magic (like a combination of pine, clove, benzoin, oak
moss and sage for an incense for Air) are from the basics with a touch of
inspiration in blending. Nice
combinations for the most part.
My opinion of this book being well written, easy to understand and nicely put together makes this a good recommendation for anyone interested in the topic.
Megan Skinner is probably better known for her weekly
astrology column for ABCNews.com and has been interviewed on television and
radio. She is a professional Tarot
counselor for the last 15 years.
In this book Ms. Skinner traces the meanings of the Major
Arcana (arcane has its roots in the Latin for "mystery") and then
reflects on the modern meanings of the same.
Ms. Skinner attempts to trace the roots and history of the
Tarot in the first parts of her book.
She covers a very brief history of the Major Arcana. She dates the creation of the cards to BCE
(general comment, no specific date), of Egyptian origins, which she believes
was closely associated to the Gnostics and she goes from there. She traces the Minor Arcana to 14th century
Europe and repeats the legend of the Gypsies bringing the Tarot to
There has been much speculation on the origins of the Tarot,
from being channeled by Atlantian Lords to cave paintings. Much of it has been debated, and is
debatable. Ms. Skinner skims various
theories, such as Tarot decks being precursors to modern day playing cards,
repeating some very general material.
For the most part, she states some conventional theories and sometimes
briefly adds her own belief. She
presents nothing new here nor does she give us any real new insights into the
history or origins of the Tarot.
What she does say that I can agree with is that the Major
Arcana was, and still is, a teaching tool for those being initiated into the
She then touches on some important elements of the Tarot,
namely Numerology, Astrology and the Qabalah, but in my opinion not nearly
enough in her introductions for you to get a grasp on the topics. She provides a chart of correspondence for
cards/astrological signs and an astrological wheel (for John Lennon) with Tarot
correspondences, but again presents only superficial information.
She even mentions Joseph Campbell, to her credit, albeit
briefly, presenting him as a master story teller of mythology and focusing on
his masterful ability to associate the wisdoms of these myths with the
present. She seems to feel she is doing
the same with the Tarot in this book, bringing the wisdoms of the Mysteries of
the Tarot to the light of modern day meanings for the reader.
On the other hand, she also references Dan Brown's The
DaVinci Code in her discussion of the High Priestess card by pointing out that
Brown's book mentions that the Goddess is experiencing a modern revival. Imagine that!
After this history she discusses how the cards work and how
to choose a deck. Again, this is a brief
section, and she covers the material as an overview and does not delve into any
She also gives an overview of divination in card spreads and
again, is brief and does not go nearly into depth about the types of spreads
nor of the divinatory process.
She then ties this superficial information into her short
discussions of the "Ancient Wisdom" of each of the 22 cards. Each card is pictured in large black and
white graphic (from the Rider-Waite deck).
Each card has a quote from a famous person which she considers an
association with the card, she attaches a path, planetary ruler and element
when appropriate (repeated from her brief astrological chart) to each card and
then skims over her ideas on the ancient meanings of these cards.
She does not follow the conventional interpretation of The
Fool on a Journey that many of us may be familiar with. Rather she focuses on each card having its
own specific attributes, leaving the idea that the cards are not interconnected. She takes them one at a time. Taking the Fool card as an example, she
presents an older controversy about The Fool's number, being zero; he is first,
or last in the Major Arcana? Again, this
has been bantered about and discussed to great lengths by many experts. The author, however, offers no new insight
into this controversy, but is merely repeating older material.
Her discussions are, again, brief as she wanders through the
Major Arcana. She then follows with her
own "Modern Reflections", repeating the Major Arcana again, looking
at each individual card and including the picture again, but this time a bit
Those of us who read cards have what we believe are modern
associations or reflections on the Major Arcana. As I read through her material, sometimes I
could agree with her, sometimes I didn't, and sometimes I was left with a very
distinct feeling that the author was being vague.
But what I did not particularly like were some of her
examples. She is fascinated and
enthralled with Aleister Crowley's The Book of Toth and seems to believe he was
the master of the Tarot and quotes him throughout the book even though she
thinks him The Fool (as stated in her description of The Fool). She also makes a note that Mick Jagger (yes,
of the Rolling Stones) is a modern day Fool.
I have covered The Fool here as an example from both parts
of her examination of the Major Arcana.
You can go back and forth with her associations and examples with each
of the cards. I found some of the
author's associations mostly common while some of her examples struck me as
Her interpretations of some of her reading examples leave
room for confusion as well. An example
of a woman with physical hip pain that the doctors thought unusual was,
according to her reading, because this woman was out of balance. Using a reference to the book You Can Heal
Your Life by Louise Hay, the author quotes that the hips "carry the body
in perfect balance" and this woman was not in balance. The author then suggests this woman was out
of balance because of her job and suggested she balance her job with her
life. No mention if the woman took this
to heart or if this cured the physical hip pain.
She does a lot of name dropping in this book. The chart is for John Lennon, yet, was this
done for Mr. Lennon, or did she do this for the book specifically to impress
with a big name? Why use Mick Jagger's
name for that matter, other than to attract attention? The author felt here was a need to splash
some big names here, but it seems to me to be the need to impress, rather than
to educate or inform.
She also gets into using imagery from Lord of the Rings and
Harry Potter as well as other sources (The Ugly Duckling by Hans Christian
Anderson) and it can get muddied, as the author appears to go off on tangents
in some instances.
Finally, part of what Ms. Skinner includes in her book is
her advice. She gives advice about how
to approach each situation that may be uncovered by the cards as they turn up
in readings. I found her approach to be
positive affirmations, sometimes with mild cautions. This would be in line with her use of the
cards as a counseling tool. But, this is
her personal path, and may not apply to everyone.
And that is how this whole book comes across; it is her tool
for personal counseling. She is very
general, never getting into much depth here either, which is surprising, being as this book was
supposed to be about her method of using Tarot as a spiritual counseling tool.
The focus here is her use of the Tarot cards, rather than a
handbook for the novice or the experienced reader. What it lacks is serious content. We are given just a glimpse, a brief
overview, common knowledge and nothing more.
If you are looking for an introduction to the Tarot, or a
book that explores the Tarot as a true divinatory tool and examines in depth
the meanings of the cards then this is not the book for you. There are many good books out there that are
researched better, giving more depth and detail than this book. The history, the meanings of the cards and
use of the traditional Tarot deck is not here.
There are even books available that give a better overview of using the
Tarot for your own spiritual enhancement that are more in depth than this one.
However, if you are looking for a book about Ms. Skinner using the Tarot as a personal and spiritual counseling tool, then this may have interest for you.
If you're a newbie and need a set agenda on what to practice
to get you to a decent level of magical and initiatory attainment, this book is
a nice place to start. The idea is to take you thru the five elements and give
you an opportunity to both follow a system yet give you enough flexibility to
allow yourself to grow at your own pace.
One of the smallest (thankfully) sections is on the subject
of ethics and frankly I think the author has heard the cry of the well seasoned
practitioner to get on with the business of Witchcraft and forgo all the
regurgitated arguments on how ethical a Witch needs to be. Sadly though the
author does follow parrots favorite comparisons at how the ethics and belief in
karma are intermarried but again it's a brief regurgitation so the bile does
not rise up all that far in one's throat.
One of the other sad parts of this book is how the author
continues to pass on misinformation regarding colors and in particular the
color "black". In here the author seems to jump on the karma
beleaguered bandwagon with this color being 'absorption'. Ugh! Why can't the
author simply explain that black should be reserved for when one has to do not-nice
things to someone and to use your best judgment before resorting to using it?
Leave it up the discretion of the reader to make that distinction and not give
out duck billed platitudes as guidelines. Frankly by watering down the color
black by naming it for such useless thing as 'absorbing negativity' when in
fact, White is best for the transformation of such energy, the author is
passing along erroneous information.
Conversely beginning on page 157, we see the burgeoning
seeker is taught the rudiments of opening their psychism in 'The First Steps of
Psychic Work'. I have to applaud the author on his choice of methods to
introduce the neophyte into the realm of psychism. Too bad though he did not
include as many exercises as I would have liked to have seen in the book
The best thing I liked about the book is his section on
Group Dynamics. Now this is a section that everyone who wants to start a study
group or egads a coven should be forced to read! The section does mention that
differing personalities can be conflicting within the group as well as how to
deal with conflict and how to advise properly.
All in all, I give this book a rating of three stars as it does offer some decent material that's very well worthwhile for the Novice to learn from as well as some rudimentary basics on running a group be it for discussion or working. While the index is fairly comprehensive, the Suggested Reading List suffers from the same old books mentioned in every Wicca 101 book and most of the books mentioned are just that, 101 books themselves. Maybe one day the author will wake up to the fact that there are other books that are more advanced and on the intermediate level.
Reviewed by Moloch for TWPT
DuQuette has offered both a theoretical and pragmatic view
of the Thelemic worldview for the would be Occultist. He begins with a brief explanation of his own
Thelemic ideal in chapter one appropriately entitled "Confession" and
as he progresses thru the book, each chapter subsequently offers his own
opinion on how he has assimilated these theories into a workable and reliable
form of personal Occultism.
When we arrive in chapter two - "Qabalah, Zen of the
West" - we shown that one can
indeed feel not only comfortable with using but also with applying the Qabala
to our daily lives by one who is as Western as it gets. What will help the neophyte
is how DuQuette explains the complex arts of Gematria & Notariqon &
Temura. These are Occult techniques whereby the student can take a word and
translate it into a number and by doing so, see how it is related to other
words that add up to the same number. Notariqon has to do with generating words
from the beginning letters of a passage of scripture and Temura has to do with
substituting one letter for another. While I have read the methodology from
other authors, DuQuette does a fine job of explaining in simplified terms.
One of my favorite chapters is the third one wherein
DuQuette discourses on the nature of the Holy Guardian Angel that each one of
us allegedly has. Interestingly enough, the author shares his thoughts on how
some non-Occultists have apparently achieved success without any Occult rites
or practices. In fact, DuQuette gives his own theory as to how the individual
can make the necessary contact with his/her own HGA purely thru constant
thought and desire. His logic is well founded and workable.
Finally the last chapter I truly enjoyed was "Demons
Are Our Friends"! Here again this from a man who has DONE the requisite
work and experienced first hand accounting of the Spirits. He is not a sit-by
type of armchair theorist whose only pretending knowledge of the Goetia Spirits
is purely speculative. And he confirms my own belief that "the whole
technique of summoning and evocation is purely a matter of artistic
taste." One can venture into the realm of needing pentacles of protection,
robes, wands, etc., and vocalizing all of the conjurations by rote memory
because they're romantically enflamed by that mindset OR the practitioner can
use Occam's Razor to cut to the quick of the matter and use only what is
absolutely necessary to call for such Spirits.
All in all, this book is excellent and well worth the investment. I give it five stars as it does include a nice bibliography and an index.
Reviewed by Moloch for TWPT
I was very disappointed in this work on the whole and the
reason for that is the book offers virtually nothing new to the Neophyte
Wiccans out there that they have not found in previously released Llewellyn
books on Witchcraft and Wicca.
Penczak offers this book as a follow up to his "The
Inner Temple of Witchcraft" and if you're of the mind to have a couple of
101 books that take you thru some of the bare bones basics plus a fair amount
of supportive material such as planetary correspondences and what-not, then
this book and its predecessor are the ones you want.
Frankly if you're not tired of reading 101 Witchcraft
material, then you could do no worse than Penczak's material. The material
covers the usual - grounding, altars, ethics, karma, etc., etc. Chapter 8
begins with the "science" of spell craft where he gets into theory.
He dichotomizes spell craft thru petitions and he claims on page 256 that it's
"proper witch etiquette suggests you do only three spells per circle"
and only one circle per day. Now nowhere prior to this reference have I ever
heard of this restriction before.
As he discusses the Planets and their functions in spell
craft, Penczak does give a minor explanation about each individual deity after
which the planet is so named. Frankly I preferred his discussion on the Zodiac
Signs from pp. 271-279 as it's material that's rarely put forth in your typical
Wicca 101 book. The Ritual Record Sheet 288 is nicely done though the lines are
spaced too close together for my sloppy handwriting to be able to legibly read
With his definition of "Sorcery" on page 295,
Penczak makes me wonder if indeed he's been lurking on one of my Sorcery groups
as he nails it right on the head. Then I was impressed with his explanations of
Talismans and the art of making Sigils. This is a rare thing for a Witchcraft
101 book and I applaud him for introducing this art to his students.
Finally Penczak goes on to discuss the wheel of the year,
the gods and how to form a coven in the last few chapters to help round out the
101 curriculum. Sadly the bibliography only includes the typical Llewellyn fare
of experts (sic) and frankly if you have most of the books listed in the
bibliography, I see little reason to buy this book for its pricey tag.
Penczak has penned a decent follow up to his previous book and together they make an excellent set. In fact, if you're of a mind to give two books that'll take someone from knowing nothing to being a 101 Newbie in the Craft, then these would be the ones you'd want to consider giving them.
Reviewed by Moloch for TWPT
This is one of the better books on Witchcraft I've had the
pleasure of reading in some time. Fully footnoted and annotated it also offers
a comprehensive bibliography that draws on non-standard authors - which is rare
in the publishing world of Wicca. There is much meat and potatoes in this book
although if you're looking for a how-to-do-it approach, you'll have to look
elsewhere. GWYN's approach is more of informational and background material
much of which covers how traditional Craft workers do things in merry old
Some of the sources GWYN draws from include authors of
articles found in past issues of Mike Howard's English magazine, The Cauldron.
Still the sources are both eminent and scholarly and she (I'm presuming GWYN is
a 'she' - the book does NOT offer anything about the author's background) uses
them to validate her points.
One of the best chapters is the 12th which is on
"Making Traditional Magick". (Interestingly enough, for a
traditionalist, she hops onto the modern bandwagon of spelling Magic with a
"k" which is just irritating to the rest of us who use the
traditional spelling) In this chapter, GWYN discusses a wide variety of folk
practices including one of the most abhorred by modern Wiccans, Necromancy.
An interesting note from chapter 12 is that there allegedly
was a magazine published in 1791 called "The Conjurer's Magazine" and
it had articles on ceremonial magic, astrology and alchemy. Now this would be
an interesting find to come across in our modern day if one could discover an
issue or more of such an old magazine. GWYN also mentions the home-grown grimoires
with titles like "The Devil's
In other chapters, GWYN pulls in a LOT of information on the
more traditional aspects and roles of the Goddess, the Horned God, the
Crossroads and it's functions in the Craft PLUS she even goes so far as to mention
what types of tools are used and how they differ from the more Americanized
I have to give this book four stars and would've given it five stars had it offered a background on the author.
Reviewed by Moloch for TWPT
Over the years, I've run into Hermetic Magicians, Ceremonial
Magicians, Enochian practitioners and etc., all of whom have told me that they
wish they had a modern compendium of herbal lore and data to use for their
practices. The result had been to resort to "low magic" traditions
such as Wicca or Santeria to obtain valid herbal lore and techniques. Truth be
known, the answers they often sought were found available in their own
The idea of "Natural Philosophy" as discussed by
the Medieval magicians and philosophers has often been overlooked by modern
magicians due to the idea that much superstition was underlying that magical
paradigm. Truth be told, much of "magic" had its origins in
superstition and it is amazing how later that modern science has confirmed many
old superstitions to have some validity. Natural Philosophy is Natural Magic or
the understanding of the physical world and how it relates to the universe thru
various means such as the law of sympathy.
Greer has done an "ok" job. While his book is not
"in-depth" or encyclopedic, still it is a source that the modern
magician can reference. Sadly the drawings of the plants themselves are little
more than mere illustrations or line drawings which are hardly enough for one
to take with them out in the wilds and choose the exact herb, stem or root
alone. In Medieval times, a student may take a nature walk with his teacher and
be shown first hand the flora and fauna thus the line drawings would then serve
only as a reminder of the shape of the plant. Today however, a nature guide or
botanist is almost needed for someone to find the plant in the wild. Preferred
would be color photos of the herb as it is growing wild in its natural
environment. After all, this is the age of Kodak.
The herbs are indexed alphabetically and that is helpful in
itself. A cross reference index to the Latin names of the plants would be
helpful as well. The Tables of Correspondence are very helpful in that they can
help when one is looking for like attributes in different plants. He does give
some folklore usually from European sources and none from other traditions such
as Latin-American ones. The dire warnings about Part 3, the Natural Magic Workbook is better in that it does
give one a small dose of "how to use" the plants in magical workings.
This is illustrated thru sachets, dream pillows, amulets and the like. Greer
also gives due credit (a rare thing these days from book authors) to Franz
Bardon, author of _Initiation Into Hermetics_, on how to make Fluid Condensers
which are magical elixirs involving the use of gold tincture.
Finally the book ends with discussions on gardening whether
you live in the country or city and a "brief" discussion on Alchemy.
In fact, if he's so inclined, Greer should consider a second book to expand on
what he's presented as Natural Philosophy and Alchemy to take the material
I also would have liked to read some of his own personal
anecdotes mixed in with the book. This is a trait that many Llewellyn authors
seem to share. They show up and throw up information all over you without
conversationally explaining how they used such material in their own lives and
how it turned out. But books that try to be "textbooks" are often
lacking in that aspect. Too bad the textbook approach by such authors really
isn't much of a textbook, rather a mere overview.
Unfortunately, this book doesn't fill in the gaps for a greater understanding of Natural Philosophy like Greer did for Golden Dawn style ceremonial magic with his previous book, _Circles of Power_.
Reviewed by Moloch for TWPT