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Bookviews Book Reviews


 10-08-2004
 

 

 

Incense Crafting & Use of Magickal Scents
by Carl F. Neal

 

We use it every day and we probably take it for granted.  Incense is part of our everyday lives.  We use it to make our house smell nice, we use it for meditations and we use it for rituals.   

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 use. 

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 blends. 

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.

 

Essence of the Tarot
by Megan Skinner

 

 

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 Europe.  The Minor Arcana is not discussed any further. 

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 Mysteries.  

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 specifics.  

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 smaller. 

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 totally wacky.  

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.

 

 

Self-Initiation for the
Solitary Witch

by Shanddaramon

 

 

 

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

 

 

Angels, Demons & Gods of the New Millennium

by Lon Milo DuQuette

 

 

 

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

 

The Outer Temple of Witchcraft: Circles,
Spells, and Rituals

by Christopher Penczak
 

 

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 it later. 

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

 

 

Light from the Shadows: A Mythos Of Modern Traditional Witchcraft
by Gwyn

 

 

 

 

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 England. 

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 Plantation", 'The Secret Granary" and "The Book of Cain" all of which would be hunted by modern practitioners. These grimoires according to GWYN were books owned by "cunning folk" who were mainly country practitioners like modern rural Witches and southern Hoodoo Conjurers. 

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 Wiccan traditions. 

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

 

 

Natural Magic: Potions and Powers from the
Magical Garden

by John Michael Greer

 

 

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 backyard. 

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 further. 

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