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Bookviews Book Reviews


 10-14-2005
 

 

The Witches’s Sabbats
by Mike Nichols

Many years ago, when the Internet was a path only traveled by the experienced “geeks” and witches and pagans were some of the few “outworlders” who posted websites dedicated to their “techno-magical”
paths, there was a wonderful website put up by Mike Nichols with information about the pagan “Wheel of the Year”.
   There was more to it than just the Wheel of the Year, but the way Mike Nichols approach to the pagan/witch holidays, his way of writing about it so anyone could understand or connect to the pagan calendar was unique and well thought out and put together.  So much so that many websites, including our own TWPT, linked back to his site, referenced it and rather than being redundant and trying to repeat an already well researched offering, used Mike's site as the standard.

Mike has finally put out a book that covers his original material. He has done an excellent job defining, tracing the history, and giving both the beginner and the experienced pagan a good resource for the Wheel of the Year outside the Internet experience.

Each of our eight Sabbats is covered here, from the traditional standpoint, including some history, some insights and some traditional pastimes that make each Sabbat unique from the pagan perspective.  There are some nice illustrations, though the bunny does look a little neurotic.  The nice thing is that this material does not run on and one, but does a very effective job in a minimal amount of space.  He discussed “High” and “Low” holidays, their Celtic roots, some modern day traditions, and their older counterparts.

The book, while focusing on the Sabbats, has some hidden gems.  The second part of the book covers other associated material.  There is a discussion on The Death of Llew in reference to the Sun God and the balance of power.

The Ever Widening Circle is observations and inclusion of material that Mike sees as new patterns developing and material he didn’t include in the Wheel of the Year.  Some really good observations, and worth the read.

Marking the Sabbats is a discussion on how the Sabbats are recognized.  Do we look to astrological signs, are we looking at the changing of the seasons, or is it a day marked on your calendar?  More interesting musings by Mike.

Rethinking the Watchtowers is an old argument which Mike brings up and adds his own keen sense of observations to.  A good read, and one which will spark much discussion in the pagan community. 

Ten Years Gone is a reflection by Mike on the Pagan Community and it’s growth over the years.  A little bit about Mike himself is offered and we find he has more to say than just what he teaches.  He has some keen insights here as he compares his previous experiences with the pagan community and new ones – ten years after.

The final chapter Two Witches is a very good fairy tale about how we perceive Divinity.  I will not spoil it for you, but it is a very good example of Mike's ability to teach while allowing the curl of a smile upon the lip.  Must read, folks!

The book contains a good bibliography, and is indexed for easy reference.

As Mike was when we first found him on the web, so he is today in print:  a wonderful teacher, a man who has some interesting insights, musings worth sharing and does his homework.  He also spells it out and makes it clear so anyone can understand.  This is the mark of a good author, one who has withstood the test of time, and he is now available to those who have never wandered into cyberspace, or touched the magical mouse.  boudica

 

An Ordinary Girl,
A Magical Child

by W. Lyon Martin

 

We do not have enough children’s books in our community that address the pagan child and their needs.  This book is such a book, and while it does present some material that will be “path specific” it is a good basic primer.

The book is well laid out.  It is fully illustrated with lovely artwork by Ms. Martin.  Very colorful, very bright and attractive to children.  We have a central figure, a girl child named “Rabbit”, the one whom the child reader can identify with.  We see her family, her animals and her toys. 

While there are folks who consider paganism a culture with every pagan having a personal spiritual path, Ms. Martin approaches paganism as a religion, and includes witches as being pagans and therefore witchcraft is a religion as well.  This will be an item that you will have to consider as a parent if you do not feel this way.

Rabbit explores some “Rites of Passage” in the pagan “religion”.  Rabbit discusses her “paganing”.  This is a child's introduction to the Gods/Goddess’ and is very well done.  Some good points are made, and it’s a lovely explanation.  Rabbit discusses her introduction to the God and Goddess.  Again, it may be Ms. Martin’s personal path and it may not fit all.  Knowing atheistic pagans and witches, it may not apply in all instances.  Parents may want to read through this to see if it fits their own ideas on paganism.

The discussion of “magic” left me cold.  It is almost like Ms. Martin wanted to skip it all together, then decided to treat it as a non-entity.  She starts with a good beginning discussion on energy and magic, and then side steps it. You may want to go further with your child, or you may want to leave this out all together, depending on your personal path.

The circle discussion is good.  I liked the way it was presented.  And it was very generic, which means it can be applied to most paths.

“The Wheel of the Year” discussion is inter-dispersed with a couple of little stories.  They seemed out of place, but I followed through.  The explanations of the Sabbats were generic and covered lightly enough so as not to bore a child.  However, if you do not follow the Wheel of the Year, or if your path is not “Wiccan” or “Celtic” these holidays may not be part of your path.

One little story is of conflict.  It is handled well enough, and is a good example of how to turn around a point of conflict your pagan child may have with other children.  However, again, knowing some atheistic pagans, this scenario may not apply to everyone.  You may also decide this is not the way you would want to handle a conflict situation involving your child.  Read through this first.

The House Blessing is a good story which draws the child into the character of Rabbit and shows how a child can be brought into the practice in the home.  The “Full Moon” story also does this, drawing the child in through the character and showing how a child can participate in our monthly ritual.  Again, good work at making the book interactive with the child.

“Banishing Bad Dreams” is another story about children who have bad dreams.  The story is about a child having frequent bad dreams, and how the parents handle it by doing a banishing spell with the child at the Dark Moon.  The spell is worked, the child is told there will be no more bad dreams, but there is no follow up to the story.   And there is no discussion about “what if the bad dreams continue”.

There is a small section on general information on paganism in the back of the book for the pagan parent, and a short bio about the author.  Both the front and the back of the book has testimonies for the book and the author.

While this is a good first attempt, it should by no means be considered the only pagan book for kids, and it should not be the only attempt made at providing our children with reading material that is focused on our path.  Just as there are many grown up books on paganism out there for the many paths, there should be books for children as well.

I liked the book, but I also had reservations about how certain issues were presented.  If this book reflects your feeling as a parent about how you see the pagan path, then this will be a fine book for your child.  It works well, and it is a delightful work that draws your child into the path we call paganism and explains it gently yet firmly.

I do recommend you read the book first before sitting down and reading it with your child.  There may be some things you will not agree with, there may be items you wish to augment, or change.  Or, it may not be suitable for your own particular path or beliefs.  Such is the way of the pagan community. We are all different, and it is our diversity that makes us what we are.  This is a good beginning which needs further exploration.  boudica

 

Natural Magic
by Nigel Pennick

This book was originally published in 2001 by Thorsons Publishers as Way of Natural Magic.  It has been picked up by Lear Books and reissued with a new cover and ISBN number. This is noted inside the book.   The new elements of this “revised edition” includes Pennicks own illustrations.   Nigel Pennick is a very respected English magician and has authored many books on magic.

This is a basic primer for those interested in magic and it’s associations with nature.  Using time, seasons, elements and “magic inherent in the natural world” this book gives you the basics to work meditations, make magical “artifacts” and use these for “personal empowerment”. 

Reading through this manual, I enjoyed Mr. Pennick’s style of writing to the reader and addressing them as knowledgeable.  He does not talk down to the reader, rather he treats the reader as one who knows what they want to do, and shows how to attain it.  He describes the background necessary to understand processes, and then works in the actual process using grown up language and assuming the person reading is intelligent enough to understand what he is saying.  The author assumes nothing but does not treat the reader like a third grader.

The material covered gives the reader a basis in magic, how to approach it’s natural values and work with those values to achieve success.  He covers the cycles of time and the seasons, the four elements, energy and how to recognize it in its natural places and how to draw the energy for magical workings.  There are parts that reflect Mr. Pennicks own preferred method of magic.

The basics are here, and he builds on them rapidly, taking you into specific kinds of magic, such as Mineral Magic or Crystal magic as we might call it.  Yes, this is English, but he has a point.  We don’t just use “crystals” we also use basic minerals when we use stones in our magics, so it should be referred to as “mineral magic”.  You should be able to make out the English idioms without too much trouble.  There is also Plant Magic, which is not restricted to just herbs and Magical Animals & Birds.  The sections contain small spells, descriptions of various stones, plants or animals & birds, and the descriptions are very concise.  He offers ways to connect to each and find their inner power and magic.

The Power Within looks at your own level of energy, how to draw it, use it and build it.  He offers some correspondences with different parts of the body, such as astrological correspondences or elemental correspondences, and how to make the most of our own person.

There is also a section on The Magic of the Land which looks at Holy Places, places of power and how to recognize them, and how to work with various land spirits and energies.  Crossroads, other landscape features, spiritual protection of the land are all given some discussion as to the magic that is drawn from each place.

Magic in Action now takes what you have learned and applies it.  Ceremonial costume, talismans, magical tools, recipes for magical food and drink are all discussed, how they can empower you for magic and how to make the most of them.  The recipes are not what you think but rather suggest what we commonly call “cakes and ale” that you make from scratch.  There are recipes for mead, beer, “soulcakes” and more. 

The final chapter is entitled Precautions and Remedies and covers how to not mess up what you intend to achieve magically.  Be sure of where you practice, keep to the rules, build on your own personal skills and be sure of what you are using.  There are also some explanations of terms, like Herbal Bunch or Weird Plants.   There are warnings about using plants you are not familiar with.  And there is some advices about working with certain plants and minerals.

The diagrams and illustrations are very well done and add information as well as beauty to the book.  Mr. Pennick is an accomplished artist.

In the Appendix there is a list of Books Authored by Nigel Pennick, and other a couple of other contributions.  The list of his work is extensive and shows how well versed he is on the topics he chooses to cover in this book. 

If you are looking at working magic specifically in a natural environment and being as earth friendly as possible, this book is a wonderful introduction to the concept.  It also has much to offer in the way of guidance to the natural practitioner.  The roots of this material come from Old English traditional magic and are carefully preserved and explained for the reader.  This is a nice book, one which offers the basic building blocks as well as practical guidance.  A nice addition to a working magical library.    boudica

 

Tarot of the Secret Forest Artwork by Lucia Mattioli

As I quickly scanned through the deck, I thought – oh, it’s a fairy deck.  No, they are not fairies, they are insects.  They are bugs!  Upon closer examination, I also saw salamanders, and owls and bushes and foxes… there are even people on some of the cards.

So, I sat down to really understand this deck.  The little booklet included with the deck is in five languages.  There is an opening comment from the artist “In the ancient Japanese wisdom of contemplation and listening, insects were born from the decomposition of the vegetation that ferments in the earth.”  The artist took from her garden her own visions of the traditional Tarot meanings.  

This deck can be worked as two decks, as each side of the card has a similar design, one in “color” and the other in black and white.  There are subtle variations in the designs, and in some cases they are opposites, in others they are the same.  I pulled the Major Arcana first and explored it.

Let me say that this deck is very similar to other Lo Scarabeo decks in it’s lack of use of bright color.  I think it was supposed to be “earth toned” but the colors seemed drab.  The artwork, watercolor and wash, is “suggestive” in some areas, yet very well defined in others.  For the Fool, we have a moth, with a pixie body, and there appears to be a “stick” in one had that travels across the back of his/her shoulder.  There is something below the pixie moth, but not clearly defined, as the features are not clearly defined on the pixie face, and there is a bee (?) to the right of the pixie moth.  The reverse black and white shows another insect next to the pixie moth, and there is now clearly vegetation below the pixie moth, but the pixie moth is now much more indistinct than the one painted in color. The card is numbered 0, but there is no text indication that this is the Fool.  The little booklet says 0 – The Fool – Unawareness Chaotic emotions – Loss.

I looked at another Major Arcana card – the Lovers.  That seemed much more familiar.  Two flying insects, one very female, one very male, in flight and working on an embrace.  The reverse seemed to give the same impression.  IX was the Hermit, a lone flying insect, appeared to be an old man, contemplating an illuminated piece of something in his hand.  The reverse showed the piece of something not illuminated.  XII was the Hanged Man, a flying insect-person upside down, but wait, there is a pin through the back of the insect-person and the insect-person is spread as though on display.  Very clever.  XIII is Death, obvious by the deaths head moth-person.

Some are obvious, and some need careful consideration.  Others are not obvious and I couldn’t make out where they were going. 

The Minor Arcana are four suits, differentiated by color hues more than by content.  Each suit is 10 numbered cards, and four court cards.  Fire is a dull brick-ish red, and there is what appears to be a piece of wood (wands?) on the bottom of each card.  Cups are a drab olive green, there is a cup on the bottom of each card, earth is muddy brown, represented by a coin on the bottom of each card, and air is blue in hue, mostly, and there is a sword on the bottom of each card.

Again I looked at the deck for familiar designs.  The Two of Cups, usually the minor Lovers card, is a flower on a branch and a small figure on a flying insect with an orb on a stick.  The reverse gives pretty much the same design.  The Four of Coins, usually a card which means keeping what one has, or something that will come to you, usually abundance, is presented as a darkened house.  The little book calls the small coins pentacles, but I see more of an association to coins in the design.  The little book also agrees with usual meaning of this card, possession, but I didn’t see it obvious in the design of the card.

Again, there were designs I got right away, and some that I failed to see the association.  Working with the cards also proved to be a “challenge” and I found myself referencing the book and looking at how to interpret the designs rather than having the usual flow and ease of working with a deck.  Even after a few readings, some of it clicked, some did not.

If you really want to work with this deck, there will be a learning curve.  The images are interesting, intriguing for some.  The meanings can be found, but for some it will require digging.  Some of the designs are clever and unique and well thought out.

But the deck lacks consistency in my opinion.  And color.  Some of the insects could have been rendered a bit more colorfully and maybe with a touch more detailing.  The figures are mostly abstract, and I understand that in many cases.

I also think that using this deck for my clients would be dependent on the client.  There are some of my clients who I know would prefer something else and would not associate with this deck on any level.  I showed this deck to some friends who liked the two-sided designs, but found the deck lackluster.  Some elements were interesting, others left them cold.

You should look at this deck completely before purchasing it.  It has pros and cons, and that is probably the biggest issue with this deck.  It does not seem to be consistent in design or content.  And again, my own issue with the color choices which diminishes its interest value even more.  It might appeal to a small market but overall it is a curiosity and not a practical, working deck.  boudica

 

Qabalah for the Rest of Us
by Lon Milo Duquette

Lon Milo Duquette is an “Occult Studies Expert” and his specialty is Qabalah.  His books cover much in the way of learning the Qabalah and how you don’t have to be Jewish to study and learn the Qabalah.

The basics of Qabalah are the foundations for the Ceremonial Magician and part of the roots of today’s magical practices.  Much of this has been absorbed into our day to day practices, and for many, going back to this material and understanding it leads to a fuller understanding of where we are today.   If you are seriously studying magic, ceremonial magic or the history of the Craft, understanding the place of the Qabalah in our practices is essential to complete understanding who we are today and how we got there.  This is the Qabalah, and not a course in magic.  But it is a course in spiritual understanding.

This video covers the basics of Qabalah.  The Four Worlds, The Four Parts of the Soul, The Tree of Life, The Shemhamphorash and then A Qabalistic Fairy Tale are the five parts that Mr. Duquette has broken this DVD down into to help us gain a basic understanding.  

Mr. Duquette is a very good teacher.  His approach to learning is to have fun doing it.  He takes everyday events and draws the reader/watcher into the material via familiarity and sometimes humor.

In The Four Worlds Mr. Duquette connects the Qabalah to our modern day images by painting it as an “operating system” for the spiritually inclined.  He discusses the old traditions of who could study and what was required and brings it into perspective; it is Western Mysticism.  While the Eastern mystic goes within to empty himself to find pure self, the Western mystic draws connection with all things in the universe to find pure self.  So simple, so easily explained, and so easily understood.

He then goes into basic Qabalistic concepts.  Again, the experienced teacher shows in his own way the basic four worlds and our connections to all.  Again, he draws the audience in by using modern day concepts and good visuals, help you understand what could be confusing, boring or misunderstood because of perceived complexity or if taught by a lesser teacher.  Good production and teaching methods makes this video a great learning tool.

In The Four Parts of the Soul he examines the connection between The Four Worlds and their counterparts in the soul.   Again, he connects these mysteries to modern day concepts and makes the intangible very real and very accessible.  We look at the soul as something more than just a part of us, it is us.  And it provides us with much more than we seem to realize or utilize.  He examines the number four and how the Qabalah relies on this number for much of its connections. Exploration of four leads to the number ten.

This takes us to the Tree of Life, a product of the number ten.  Exploration of the Tree of Life has some very lovely depictions, and Mr. Duquette does this eloquently and develops the Tree of Life for the novice to understand.

The discussion leads to The Cube of Space, built from words into creation and from there to space.  Then he progresses into Games Qabalists Play, a discussion on achieving enlightenment through connection.  One such game is The Shemhamphoras.   Connection becomes very clear here, and is beautifully illustrated by Mr. Duquette.

It is hard for me to take this apart and try to explain as Mr. Duquette does.  If I could, then it would be me in this video rather than Mr. Duquette.  But to say that I understood his concepts, got the idea about what the Qabalah is all about, and enjoyed the learning experience as presented by Mr. Duquette is to say that he is a good teacher and the material was broken down into a simple yet elegant concepts.

The Fairy Tale of the Qabalah wraps the entire lesson up, via the Tree of Life.  Our awakening to spirituality is cleverly covered in this story and shows the involvement of the cycle of life.

Through the entire production, Mr. Duquette’s voice never irritates.  He draws the audience in by holding a one on one discussion with the audience, and tells a story rather than recites text and facts.  There are good visual aids, very nicely incorporated into the production, and there is lovely, gentle ambient music in the background that is never overpowering but occasionally emphasizes either the visual aids or Mr. Duquette’s points. 

I enjoyed this production, found clarity and understanding on a topic which is not always taught well.  I think if this is something you want to touch on as a basic understanding, this DVD production is a good primer course.  It is very professionally done, incorporates good teaching methods, and has a lovely and intelligent host to guide us through the material.   boudica

 

Witchcraft : Rebirth
of the Old Religion

by Raymond Buckland

Llewellyn is placing some of their older VHS titles on DVD.  First I want to discuss production quality.  The DVD portions that are newly recorded look very good.  We see Mr. Buckland as he appears today, along with some included footage of some folks doing a traditional celebration.  The older material looks like it was transferred direct from tape to DVD.  A bit fuzzy, not as clear as we are accustomed to from direct to DVD recordings.  Some areas of the recording show the old “tracking lines” from the tapes. Sound recording quality was poor.  None the less, it was viewable.

As for the content, this is the original VHS Witchcraft:Yesterday and Today, produced in 1990.  Mr. Buckland uses the terms witchcraft and Wicca interchangeably, and  witchcraft is a religion.  He then goes through some interesting “history”.  He references some archeological evidence and anthropological theories to give some credence to his version of what was going on 2,500 years ago to the present day.

Some of his information is based on actual research; some of it may be his own interpretations of some customs or events.   There is definitely a "Wiccan" spin.  This is typical of Llewellyn, as they have taken much time and effort to inform and educate the public about our ways and the ways of witchcraft and Wicca.  Raymond Buckland was chosen as the “ideal star” for this production, as he sounds and looks like the atypical professor in a college classroom.   But his delivery was not all that “magical”.

There are visual aids included in the work to give the viewer a basis from which to work; pictures of what is being discussed, tables referencing the discussion and many enactments of various modern day rituals.  There is some history of Gerald Gardner.  He also makes note of his own linage and how he introduced Wicca to the United States.

Buckland takes the “us and them” approach to how witchcraft has been defamed.  This needs to be taken in context of why this production was made to begin with.  The ultimate purpose was to give outsiders an idea of who we are, via a “documentary” style production, sounding official, and providing information against misinformation.

There is a section on practices that is based on Traditional rituals and practices.  There is a discussion on clothing, clothing optional and “skyclad”.  Then we have jewelry, tools, altar setup, calendar, Wiccan Rede, initiation, self initiation and more.  Mr. Buckland presents himself as an expert on the entire matter.  Well, yes, he is, of his own Seax Wiccan Tradition.

The material is dated and the practices presented are not of all witches, pagans or Traditions, the ideas are not of all practitioners and there was way too much material here for most of the general public. It is an overview of a particular segment of Wicca and it got very detailed where it didn't need to be.

To be honest, the whole production was too long, painfully tedious in some parts and I found myself wanting to cut Mr. Buckland short.  But I sat through it for the reviews sake.

There is extra “new material” on the DVD.  There is a making of the production: rehearsals and shoots.  Buckland gives an “update on Wicca” discussing how many folks have found their way to this new path.  There are also deleted scenes, picture gallery, “Music Videos” and a Raymond Buckland biography.  To be honest, the music was not all that great to begin with and the recording quality took away any redeeming qualities.

Sorry, but there was not much here of real interest.  It is very dated and only of interest if you were actually in the video, in my opinion.  I had hoped the bloopers would be funny.  Tongue tripping and reading issues was all that was presented and nothing really worth mentioning, unless you want to gaze at Mr. Buckland's “deer in the headlights” face as he fumbles his lines.

If you are curious about the original production, or if you are a collector of this material, or maybe a real Raymond Buckland fan, this will be of interest to you.  I found it to be a piece of history, of a time period and of an attempt to shed some light on the mysteries of “Wicca” and witchcraft for general consumption.  But much of the material is now dated, the original attempt was not as good as it could have been, and Mr. Buckland, while a prominent figure, part of Llewellyn’s well known authors group, and a founder of a Wiccan Tradition, was not a very good choice for this documentary in my opinion.  The whole production lacks an upbeat and friendly feeling, is spun very pro-Wiccan and whatever was left is wasted by bad production.

Fifteen years later, the face of the Pagan Community has changed dramatically, and this is but a recorded footnote.   boudica