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Bookviews Book Reviews


 11-06-2004
 

 

Crone's Moon - A Rowan Gant Investigation
by M. R. Sellars

 

Rowan Gant is back, and this time it's a serial killer with a taste for the macabre. 

M. R. Sellars presents us with the fifth mystery in this series and this one is as spooky as a mystery can get. 

The focus this time is on the relationship between a witch and the subjects they can channel.  There is a connection between Rowan and his wife Felicity and those poor victims of the serial killer.  As they cry out to be rescued, Rowan and Felicity hear them, and are lead in a race against time and a chase to find the killer. 

Character development continues with Lieutenant Barbara Albright, or "Bible Barb" as she has come to be known.  We find her mind is still not changed regarding Rowan or Felicity.  And we have the rest of the cast to fill out the balance of the story:  Detective Ben Storm, his sister Helen Storm the psychiatrist and FBI Special Agent Constance Mandalay.  The events take place again in the city of St. Louis.  The victims this time are not witches, but that does not make any difference.  These poor people are dying at the hands of a sadistic killer, and all of them share a linking element: they are missing their heads. 

The interaction here is between Rowan and Felicity and their connections with the victims.  We are lead inside the experiences of these two as they "channel" the victim.  We view first hand what happens to these two as they experience the pain, the suffering and the hopelessness that each victim feels as they are tortured by their captor.  This gives the book the spooky, eerie settings and feeling and makes this one a real spine tingler.  

The Crone's Moon is that phase of the moon just before it goes to New Moon.  We, as witches, associate this with the aspect of the Goddess as the old woman, or crone, the elder who is on in years.  This book title deals with our image of the Goddess showing us that we are all mortal, we all die. This is explained in the book, but is not obvious from the onset.  And it plays a part in how Mr. Sellars explains the different aspects of Rowan's beliefs as a witch. 

This book also exaggerates some of the aspects of the Craft, taking artistic license to provide more atmosphere to the story.  We all do not channel dead or dying people, especially at the level described in the book.  Nor do we maintain constant connections to all our friends and families like suggested in the book.  But some of us do have such talents to varying degrees.  This is fiction, this is a scary story, and this is a mystery to be solved.  Mr. Sellars uses this very effectively in his fictional story and makes the most of this practice to provide us with the needed thrills and chills. 

The book is a real page turner with a well developed plot.  The effects are carefully orchestrated to maximize the terror and engross the reader in the thrill of the chase.  

Will the killer succeed in obtaining another victim?  Will "Bible Barbara" successfully shut down the involvement of the "satanic witches" and allow another poor soul to suffer at the hands of a warped, deranged killer?  Will Rowan, Felicity, Storm and Constance get there in time to prevent another killing?  

Again, I am not giving away any story line.  It is up to you to read and discover for yourself.  If you have enjoyed the other stories in the Rowan Gant Investigations series, then you will totally enjoy this one.

 

The Pagan Mysteries of Halloween
by Jean Markale
Translated by
Jon Graham

 

 

Jean Markale is described as a poet, philosopher, historian and storyteller.  His field of specialty is pre-Christian and medieval culture and spirituality.  He is a very well known French author of over 40 books and is a specialist in Celtic studies at Sorbonne University in Paris. 

It is not surprising then that Mr. Markale has written a most profound study of the Celtic celebration of Halloween or Samhain from the perspective of an actual historian and philosopher.  

The original of this book was first printed in France in 2000 and was translated and brought to the English speaking market in 2001.  

I must first congratulate Mr. Graham for his extraordinary translation of this book.  Not being fluent in French, I would never have tackled such a volume, but Mr. Graham has preserved, in my opinion, the poetic flavor of Mr. Markale's work.  It flows rather than reading dry and halting, like many tomes on this subject.  It reads eloquently, retaining much of what Mr. Markale is noted for in his original French, the flair to entertain and provoke images and ideas through his unique writing style. 

The book is composed of only four chapters: The Celtic Festival of Samhain, The Fantastic Night, The Festival of All the Saints and The Shadows of Halloween.  This is followed by a conclusion.  While the number of chapters is small, the content of each is enormous, giving page after page of facts, religious comparisons, philosophies and supporting evidence for the practices of this misunderstood holiday. 

I believe the best way to summarize what this book is about is to quote the author from his Conclusion: 

"It is a way not of "taming death" as Montaigne said, but of exorcising it by establishing a direct line between before and after, which will display the permanence of life in all its aspects and all its states.  This is the appropriate lesson to draw from Samhain and its survivals, whether the Christian All Saint's Day or the folklike manifestations of Halloween." 

His book weaves these final thoughts into understanding as he unfolds the various aspects of this philosophy.  I will only attempt to outline the book by its chapters, as it is difficult to take any of his material out of context without it suffering.  The need to read, meditate and appreciate the written word as presented by Mr. Markale is one of the wonderful plus' of this book.  To read it with all the footnotes as well as endnotes intact is to grasp the full appreciation of well researched work that pieces together the myths and stories and history with solid evidence.  He creates a very balanced approach to defining what the origins and mysteries of Samhain were how it survived forced evolution and he brings it all into modern day understanding.  There is a very extensive bibliography and one worth exploring if you wish to cover this topic further. 

The Celtic Festival of Samhain examines the Celtic origins of this holiday.  It examines the Celtic calendar, the division of the "Light of the Year" with the "Dark of the Year", compares the myths with evidence derived from recorded stories and histories and supports it with the culture of the Celtic people.  He makes good arguments for the holiday occurring at the date assigned it, and then explores the practices or Rituals of the holiday.  His conclusions are hard to argue with, as he produces some very strong evidence for his work.  There is some wonderful material here, quoted from some common as well as obscure sources, and is both a pleasure to read and easy to understand. 

The Fantastic Night explores the actual Celtic practices and meanings of this holiday.  This chapter explores the philosophical aspects as evident from Celtic cultural practices.  The meanings of "Other Worlds", or how time has no meaning on this occasion, and how this is supported by actual recording of cultural ideas and ideals of the Celtic peoples; all is presented here for you to savor, meditate upon and draw deeper understandings.  

The Festival of All the Saints traces the evolving holiday, how it was forced into a mold created by those who failed to understand this holiday but could not remove it from the cultures of the areas.  He traces how it was adapted and remade.  But it is not a story of destruction but rather how the origins survived, maybe a bit worse for wear, and continued to thrive in spite of change.  This is a very good look at the Christianization of the Celtic culture and how it created a very unique presence as "Celtic Christianity" and how it then proceeded to influence the rest of the Christian church. 

 Finally, in The Shadows of Halloween we see how this holiday has come down to us today, how it has survived the ravages of time and continues to be a time when we remember those things of old and incorporate them into our new.  The outward signs are reminders of the old philosophies and beliefs and we cling to them because it sparks recognition of values that are not just Celtic, but universal ideas that cross many cultures.  

His conclusions are very philosophical in nature, and are profound in the revelations he makes regarding our perceptions of life, death, time and rebirth.  He uses many literary examples of how we have continued, over the course of time, to experience, again and again, the understanding of our basic need to acknowledge death and in the same breath, life.  To quote again: 

"Everything is contained within the apparent masquerades of Halloween.  The sacred is inseparable from the profane, and popular memory, still rebelling against the dominate ideologies, has preserved within its most intimate depths and restored on certain occasions a state of nature that was so dear to the Utopian thinker Jean-Jacques Rousseau -- to wit, outside of time and space, the universal fraternity of beings and things." 

Probably the best book on the subject, for its ability to successfully tackle the true meaning and origins of this very often misunderstood and sometimes feared holiday.  A must read for anyone not afraid to expand their understanding and give more than a passing thought to the significance of Halloween.

 

 

The Pagan Book of Halloween
by Gerina Dunwich

 

 

 

Published by Penguin Compass in 2000, this book follows the same kind of format as the Halloween book by Silver Ravenwolf published by Llewellyn in 1999.  The research for the history differs a little as is from some different sources, and focuses on the Celts in Briton and Ireland to the present.   Ms. Dunwich then examines the symbolism of Halloween, Divination, magic spells, rituals and recipes. 

In the history section, the retelling of the myths, legends and actual historical background of the holiday we know as Halloween is much more cut and dry than other volumes previously presented.  There is, however, some spin placed on events.  I did find some questionable conclusions and some errors in facts.  The mention of a pagan deity "Muck-Olla" is not accurate, as this is a bull from Welsh legend, not a pagan god.  Just one of many examples. 

The bibliography that Ms. Dunwich draws from appears to be quite extensive, and covers much folklore, some pagan sources and some actual historical sources.  She puts the history together in a timeline, weaving the lore with the history.  While some of it is extracted from what we know of history and what we have from lore, such as Druidic practices, she brings the celebration from the Irish roots to the United States.  Again, some questionable conclusions are drawn, in my opinion, as well as confusing or misrelating some facts. 

She covers some of the traditions of this Holiday and how they became incorporated in today's modern celebration.  She looks at Trick or Treating, Day of the Dead and shows the incorporation into today's customs.  She then goes into the modern practices of Wicca and how this holiday has some mistaken associations, none of which are associated with Wicca, and gives her brief accounting of where this misinformation may have originated. 

These areas are covered briefly, not delving into much detail and gives an overview of the topic.  Ms. Dunwich refrains from spinning too much of this into an issue, which is, in my opinion, good but could have been better.  

The Symbols part of the book covers the usual: bats, skeletons, jack-o'-lanterns, cats and cauldrons and more.  Some interesting historical and mythical background on the cauldron is provided,   But for the most part, it is the usual information, nothing new is uncovered. 

As if not enough legend and lore hasn't already been added to the material already presented, Ms. Dunwich includes more in a section entitled Legend and Lore, focusing on the fire, astrological and fairy associations as well as others.  Irish and Briton lore is included, making for some interesting stories and reading. 

She then takes a brief look at some herbs.  She examines some herbal associations to flying ointments, as well as magical properties of some herbs associated with the holiday. 

We come to some Superstitions and Omens, which covers such items as weather, candles, blood, cats, venturing off into old wives tales.  Ms. Dunwich retells some common ones, and some obscure ones.   It is believed that if a person lights a new orange-colored candle on Halloween and lets it burn until the sun rises, he or she will be the recipient of good luck.  or  If the moon at Halloween is new, this indicates that the coming year will be fertile ground for new beginnings to take place, such as the start of a new project, a new career, or even a new way of thinking.  Further examples are given.  

She also covers Divinations and Incantations, or magic, such as crystal balls, love spells, apple magic, fire scrying, nut divination (the food) and much, much more. 

Ms. Dunwich also includes a ritual which can be adapted by both covens and solitaries and offers a list of Gods and Goddesses connected with Halloween. 

She offers some actual spells, for everything from keeping evil spirits at bay with garlic to blessings for the dead.  And finally some recipes for food for that day's celebrations including Colcannon, mulled cider and soul cakes, to mention a few. 

The book is a small one, pocket size, approximately 5 inches by 7 inches.  The paper is typical paperback paper used commonly by Penguin books, and the cover is coated, giving it texture and making the lovely print of John Waterhouses The Crystal Ball stand out.  The book is peppered with some small woodcut prints in black and white which have associations to the chapter contents.  There are a couple of Ms. Dunwich's poems relating to Samhain opening and closing the contents of the book.  And it has an index for easy referencing. 

For a small paperback book, it is neither a bad nor a good book.  The material is fair, slanted towards the pagan as in all these books tend to but not as bad as some.  But I also did not find anything new or exciting to talk about.  The book makes a fair presentation of the holiday of Halloween but does not generally offend.  Ms. Dunwich tells her stories in an easy to read fashion. 

The fact that it mirrors the same kind of content as the Halloween book by Llewellyn from a year earlier makes this book almost redundant, except for the fact that Ms. Dunwich does add some of her own material here and there.  But she covers similar ground, and the appeal here would be if you were a Gerina Dunwich fan rather than a Silver Ravenwolf fan you would find this book more appealing. 

But if anyone wanted to go into more of the history, or wants a book that is more substantial, there are other books that cover the specifics in much more detail.  This book offers a simple overview on the various topics. 

A good book overall, but nothing to get excited about here unless you are a Gerina Dunwich fan.

 

 

Halloween: Spells, Customs
and Recipes 

by Silver Ravenwolf

 

 

 

The first page in the book suggests you make a Porch Protection Turnip by hollowing out the turnip.  Have you every tried to scoop out a turnip?  It's not as easy as it seems.  Fresh turnips are very solid and can be hard to scoop out.  There is some truth to having a light on your front porch to protect against the lengthening fall nights darkness, but not necessarily in a turnip.  It is the same with the rest of the book.  There are truths and spins scattered throughout the book, and it is up to the reader to scoop it all out, difficult though it may be. 

The introduction to the book tells of the purpose of this book.  In 1997 Llewellyn wanted to write a book about the myths and truths of Halloween.  They enlisted the aid of their most popular author, Silver Ravenwolf.   This book Halloween is the result of this work by both Llewellyn and Silver Ravenwolf and it also births the first book in the very successful series of Sabbat books by Llewellyn. 

Much of the reference material quoted is of works done by mostly pagan authors.  There are a few actual historical references throughout the book.  These references are footnoted in each chapter, a very good move on the part of the publisher, which documents the quotes and sources of some of the information.  The books and materials referenced are also noted in the Bibliography, which is not skimpy either.  And it is all cross referenced in the index.  

The first three chapters deal with the History of Halloween, the origins, customs, myths, traditions, symbols and superstitions.  While there is a lot of actual history quoted here, there are also some minor errors.  

The discussion of "Constantine the Great declaring the Roman Empire a Christian one" is not accurate (page 11).  Constantine made Christianity a legal religion in Rome thus allowing his mother, Helena, to practice her new chosen religion in peace.  This allowed the foothold for the rise of Christianity in the Roman Empire and the mess that followed.  Also, further along (page 16) the comment is made that "it was the Roman Empire that produced the popular slave trade - conquering vast communities, killing the men, and taking the women and children" .  Umm; no.  The slave trade was already in full swing by the time of the Roman Empire.  The Egyptians, the Greeks, the Phoenicians (and many more) all practiced slavery, conquered vast communities (see Alexander the Great, a Macedonian) and the practice of killing men and taking the women and children was done way before the Romans (and way after them as well).  But, to be honest, yes, the Romans also practiced this, so there is some ring of truth, just not as stated. 

But this is exemplary of much of the material presented in the history in this book.  The material is either taken from the writings of current pagan sources, or is given a very definite pagan spin when adapted from established historical sources.  Yes, the history, for the most part is accurate, but be careful of the spins.  

Her recap of the American Halloween is good.  She presents a lot of the early roots to our holiday.   She covers a lot of the myths and urban legends that have come of late from those trying to demonize the tradition.  Again, lots of facts, a lot of good research and there is the pagan spin.  She traces the roots of many of the traditions we currently have for our holiday: skeletons, candy, costumes, trick-or-treating and many more. 

Having said my peace on the historical part of the book, I also want to note that there are statistics that either Silver or Llewellyn have added that have no source.  In her recap of  The Burning Times, while to her credit she does not quote the 9 million number that is so often bantered about in regards to the number of persons murdered as witches, but she does give a number of 1.5 million (page 17) with no source of the figure other than "historians believe;".   It's a more conservative number than usually quoted, but it would have been nice if the source or sources were given.  Also her count of witches (Wiccans) practicing in the United States (1.2 million - page 63) has no reference.  It would have been nice, as it would have given some substantiation to this statistic used in the original printing of this book in 1999.  But, alas, no reference is given. 

She does well with her origins of some of the symbols and superstitions of the holiday.  To her credit she takes on the myth of the poison and razor blades in the candy, quoting the myth's origins and pointing out that there have been no random injuries due to food given out to trick-or-treaters, but rather the injuries and deaths were deliberate and "Halloween Candy" was an excuse to blame others and remove suspicion from the perpetrators of the actual crimes themselves, which turned out to be relatives of the victims.  Excellent references here and well pointed out.  There are more like this, and deserves attention as well. 

The rest of the book is typical Silver Ravenwolf material.  The chapters cover Divination, recipes for the kitchen and recipes for Halloween Magick, as well as honoring and speaking with the dead.  Emphasis is placed on both the Holiday as being our New Year, a time to honor our ancestors and those we know who have passed through the veils.  There are some rituals presented and the holiday is summarized.  There is also a list of those Condemned at the Salem Witch Trials, 1692.  

There are instructions, with pictures, for making corn dollies, as well as illustrations to either picture what is being discussed or to enhance the material. 

The divination material is standard.  Casting of lots, apple divination, water divination, nut divinations (the food, not the fools), use of Runes for divination, mirror magic; all of it usual material well explained. 

The recipes, both for the kitchen and for magic, are standard, nothing exceptional here, and the focus of much of the magic is Silvers usual love spells or spells for prosperity, with a few assorted protection spells or blessings scattered between.  The recipes for the kitchen also are usual:  pumpkin bread and pie, baked apples, roasted corn, sometimes with Silvers twist on how to present them (as in Candied Love Apples). 

The material is written in a very clear and easy to understand manner.  Ms. Ravenwolf includes little poems, quoted from various sources, as well as her own material.  They are a pleasant addition to the book.   Some of the material is almost cute, but that is typical Silver Ravenwolf, and her style dominates the book.  

This is Silver Ravenwolf's Black Forest Clan brand of Wicca and her take on the holiday of Halloween.  If you are a big fan of Silver Ravenwolf, this is the Halloween book for you.  If you can sort through the spins of the history, there are facts presented that can be worth while.  The book does what it set out to do, present The Truth about Halloween in true Llewellyn/Silver Ravenwolf style. Not a bad book, but it could have been much better if presented in a more non-bias format and the historical facts checked just a little better.