Modern Paganism


Book Review of the first book by VIKKI BRAMSHAW, entitled “Craft of the Wise” ~ ‘A practical guide to Paganism and Witchcraft’.

By Agrotera, Mistress of the Wild Animals and Beasts

I wasn’t really in the mood for reading yet another book on Pagan Witchcraft and ‘spirituality’ so when I was given this book for review it remained at the bottom of my pile of ‘to do’ for some time!  It is endorsed by all the big names in Wicca, including the Queen of the Witches Maxine Sanders and teachers Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone.  Of course Janet Farrar was one half of a very dynamic author partnership with her late husband Stewart Farrar too, so she would know what works and what doesn’t.  Janet and Gavin said “There are very few good primers on Wicca out there.  We are pleased to say this one of the best ones we read”.   So a good endorsement and a good start then!

The book itself contains 16 chapters, these include chapters introducing The Craft of the Wise, Ritual and Magic in history, the Revival and the Tools.  Then there are all the usual things one would expect in a book on Wicca, and this is where I wished the author wrote about what she was actually passionate about, which seems to be a more natural and intuitive approach, rather than rehasing the same old, same old Gardnerian and Alexandrian material from the Book of Shadows for use in a different format with different words.  Likewise all the material before we get to Chapter 5 “Giving the Gods a name” might as well have been skipped, its nothing too exciting, a basic overview of magical and wiccan history, important for a newcomer, but not something I would want in a practical book either.  My other critisism is the authors mixed use of terminology, the cover says its the Craft of the Wise, practical paganism and witchcraft and then when you get down to it most of what she writes about is Wicca.  Something which is highlighted by the endorsements given to this book by Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone.  “Primers on Wicca”.  This is a primer on ecletic pagan Wicca, for those who want to go it on their own without a teacher or coven.

What is clear is that the author has a better grip on the concepts than what she herself is aware of at times, from which perspective I hope that she finds a good middle ground in her magical writing and steps her research and experimentation up.  I was very impressed by the grip she had on the concepts which are often times totally overlooked or ignored by other authors on the subject.

A better title for the book would have been “Crafting Wicca for Solitaries” or something like that.  Craft of the Wise yes, but I expected less of the Neo-Pagan.  A good introduction all the same and one I will, despite my reservations, recommend if I felt someone wanted something very general to introduce them to the key concepts of Wicca and Pagan Witchcraft.

Craft of the Wise, published by www.o-books.net and RRP of £14.99

Dragonswood Calendar 2009-2010
Gillie Whitewolf, 2009
http://www.Gaias-Garden.co.uk

~ A calendar of pagan days celebrating the wheel of the year from Samhain to Samhain.
~ Featuring folklore and customs from across the Northern Hemisphere along with monthly gardening tips, Nature watching and observations on the night sky.
~ Accompanied by artwork inspired by the changing seasons.

I am always on the lookout for a good Pagan calendar, but so far have found that either the content for each month is too prim and airy-fairy, or the festivals marked on the calendar only focus on Wicca, or that the artwork is unattractive. However, the Dragonswood 2009-2010 Calendar has none of these flaws, and is, in my opinion, the best Pagan calendar I’ve seen.

From the very front cover it is an aesthetic joy, with beautiful and detailed artwork that is also simple and symbolic. Running from November 2009 to October 2010, each month is illustrated by images from the same artist. These images are all set in the same place, with a tree on the right-hand side and a field in the background, but each changes throughout the months. So, in November a hole in the tree shelters a skull, candle, and empty spider’s web, a lantern shines in the darkness of the field, and ravens fly in the dark night. In May that hole is decorated by ribbons, surrounding a set of runes; the tree is decorated with clouties, bees and dragonflies abound, and a Bel fire burns under a blazing sun. And in August the tree’s hole carries a corn dolly and a sickle, the field is yellow and the corn is baled, and red ribbons and corn dollies hang from the tree branches in a pink-purple sunset. Not only do these images make reference to the main Wiccan Sabbats, they also highlight the changes in nature at various times of the year, as well as folkloric customs practised during these months.

Each month is also accompanied by a detailed piece discussing the history of the month, festivals and feast days occurring in it both today and in ancient times, the flowers, fruits, and animals that are around at this time, and what can be seen in the nightsky for star-gazers. In fact, there seems to be something for everybody, and I know that I’ll be inspired to go out and look for the Perseids shower described in August and the Orionoids meteor shower in October! A lovely feature of each month is the very bottom of the page – “The Vegetable Patch”. Only a few lines, but very useful information nonetheless, regarding what vegetables and fruits are in season, what can be planted, and what should be harvested at each month.

The month itself is presented as a grid, beginning with Sunday, and a small box for each day. The main Sabbats are highlighted in pale yellow, and festivals from several different religions and traditions are written on the relevant days. I loved this multicultural feature, because it made me very aware of the holiness of each and every day, and gave me food for thought as I went through my daily activities. It would also be useful for parents who (like me, if I had children!) would like to raise their children with an awareness of other cultures’ traditions, and perhaps plan some activities relating to those holy days.

The first page of the calendar is devoted to given a short history of the calendar throughout the ages – very interesting reading! And the last page is given to poetry on the theme of Samhain. The back page informs us that the calendar has been printed on paper which has received certification from the Forest Stewardship Council, and the other eco-friendly steps that have been taken to ensure this calendar is 100% ethically sound! Fantastic!

I really am enamoured with the love and thought that has been put into the making of this calendar, and I know that when next October is over, I’ll be cutting out the beautiful images and using them on my altar as the following year goes by, and purchasing next year’s Dragonswood Calendar.

stellarmagicsm

Avalonia is proud to announce that STELLAR MAGIC by Payam Nabarz is now
available for pre-order from www.avaloniabooks.co.uk. This long-waited and very
practical Liber Astrum is being released on the Full Moon – 7 / 7 /2009.

More info & Order Information

————————–

STELLAR MAGIC

By Payam Nabarz

Avalonia 2009, RRP £12.99

PB, 208 pages, ISBN 978-1905297252

The stars have influenced mankind with their magic from time
immemorial, as evidenced by Archeoastronomy; instructing astrologers
and priests, guiding sailors and inspiring poets. For millennia,
cultures all around the world have told their myths and legends
through the canvas of the night sky. Yet despite the immense
significance of the constellations and stars in the ancient world,
stellar magic has been largely ignored in recent centuries.

In this inspirational and practical Liber Astrum, the author draws
together material from ancient, classical and medieval sources;
spanning East and West, fusing modern poetry with ancient magic,
mysticism with myth and ritual with recital to lift our gazes back to
the heavens.

The author’s breadth of scholarship is seen in the spectrum of
material he weaves together, from sources as diverse as the Hymns of
Orpheus and Plato’s Timaeus to the Zoroastrian Yasht hymns and Persian
Pahlavi Texts, the Sufi works of the Ibn Arabi and Rumi; from the
Chaldean Oracles and the Greek Magical Papyri to the Books of Ezekiel
and Enoch, from the Picatrix and the Sefer Yetzirah to the works of
John Dee, Rudolf Steiner, Gerald Gardner and Aleister Crowley. The
poetic inspiration of the stars is also expressed through material and
ideas by such luminaries as John Milton, Gerald Manly Hopkins, Sylvia
Plath, Robert Graves and W.B. Yeats.

Through the enchanting words and ceremonies provided to lead the way,
timeless journeys to the stars are woven around the participants.
Included amongst the rites are ceremonies with the constellations of
Perseus & Andromeda, Cygnus, Orion, the Pleiades, the Great Bear,
Draco, the twelve signs of the Zodiac, the star Sirius, the Moon, the
seven classical Planets, and the Stellar World Cave: the Mithraeum.

This is a highly accessible, succinct and practical book on a complex
subject, which will benefit anyone interested in the magic of the
stars, from the casual observer of the night skies to the dedicated
magician or mystic.

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http://www.avaloniabooks.co.uk/catalogue/titles/stellar_magic2.htm

The Flowering Rod: Men and their Role in Paganismby Kenny Klein

reviewed by Herbwoman for the Esoteric Book Review

In recent years it seems men have had some catching up to do.  Confused with their role in Wicca and Paganism, many are working to overcome conditioning and accept the importance of the feminine, be it divine, in women, or in themselves.  Although some writers like Robert Bly with his Iron John story and accompanying tales have sought to define male spirituality positively within nature, it really needs practising pagan and Wiccan men to come forward and express their feelings and insights.  Enter Kenny Klein and this very enjoyable book.

This book clearly defines its aims and then fulfils them – a worthy goal for any book!  The book divides into four sections.   The first is the introduction, where he introduces himself and qualifies his perception of Wicca and paganism, laying the foundations for the book – essential for such a topic as this.  Then he moves into the second section, entitled Living in the Circle, which is a slightly misleading title, as it would have been more appropriate to call it something like Male Myths and Magic in the Cycles of Nature, which is essentially what this section is about, covering the legends and folklore of European paganism. From the oak and holly kings to antlers and barley, this is all good, solid, in the earth paganism.

Section three is entitled ritual, and journeys through the pagan Wheel of the Year with ceremonies for men to hnour the god, themselves and nature.  The ceremonies draw from the same European roots which Wicca grew from, and that is a real plus here, there is no culturally acquires Indian chakras or Native American chants, which may be nice but are simply not relevant.  The final section is called The circle Continues, and provides resources and appendixes as well as looking at the role of the gay movement in devleoping male pagan spirituality.  This information is relevant mainly to an American audience, as this is the perspective of the author.

All in all an enjoyable and very useful read, which I thoroughly recommned to anyone wanting to explore and develop their perceptions of men and the masculine in paganism.

Dedicant: A Witch’s Circle of Fire
Thuri Calafia
published by Llewellyn
PB, 342pp, US$19.95
reviewed by John Canard

This book joins the ever-growing collection of books for newcomers, the first in a series to work through the four stages of initiation up to third degree (the fourth book). I started working through the book with an open mind, not wishing to be prejudiced as there are some very good introductory books on the market, and I wanted to determine if this was one of them. It quickly became clear that this is a book of what I would call neo-Wicca, i.e. the religious version of Wicca that has moved away from its ceremonial magickal roots and embraced the accreted material of Robert Graves and others. This was demonstrated by the reference in the first chapter to the Greek goddess Hecate as being the archetype of the crone. Moving straight into the beginning of the second chapter, we find that wicca comes from the root “to bend or shape”, another inaccuracy found in books by people who haven’t done their research. And Gerald Gardner did not bring the word Wicca to light as the author claimed, it was widely used for many centuries prior to Gardner. I had hoped that anyone setting themselves up as a teacher would have got past this sort of rehashed mistake by now, but it seems there is still a lot of education needed in the pagan world.
The author also makes one of the most outrageous and offensive heterophobic remarks I have seen in a book for a while, though it may appeal to some politically correct types. The author claims that many or indeed most homosexuals and bisexuals are naturally more balanced in terms of male/female energy because being with people of the same gender can bring out a strong sense of the opposite within. She notes here that she is a lesbian/bisexual – which is nonsense, if you are bisexual and have a relationship with a person of the same sex, it doesn’t suddenly make you homosexual, it just means you are bisexual!
Moving on to the section ongetting started we are told “In the Burning Times, it was customary to keep the grimoire in your own hand of write”. Please! The Burning Times is a bit of nonsense propaganda which has been disproved numerous times by proper research, and the people usually espoused as being the poor persecuted witches were usually illiterate! This is followed by the chakras, an Eastern accretion that has now seemingly become standard Wicca. Likewise the appendix which reproduces the Rede of the Wicca with the statement that there are many forms of the Wiccan Rede is perpetuating more nonsense – there is one Wiccan Rede, and only one – An it harm none, do as ye will.
As a general introductory book, this book does cover all the basics, and would be suitable for somebody new to paganism who wants to follow the religious polyglot that Wicca seems to have become for many. It is a shame that there are some glaring errors based on the reproduction of old mistakes amongst the text, requiring a discrimination that newcomers will not commonly have. Hopefully such errors will not occur in the subsequent books in the series.

DIY Totemism

By Lupa

Published by Megalithica Books

Review for the Esoteric Book Review by Nina Lazarus

“Are there totems beyond the Wolf, Bear and Eagle?” asks the author on the info on the back of this book.  Yes of course there is, any animal can be a totem and that is hardly a new idea.  We used to mess around with totems in the 1990’s from an indigenous to England point of view.  This book claims to be groundbreaking and it claims to go beyond the usual boundaries of working with Totems, so how does it measure up?  I like to test things against their claims to see if I can break them, so lets see.

In the foreword “Kelley Harrell” tells us that “lacking the grounding structure of a unified tribal tradition has set up a challing dynamic for the western seeker on an eclectic spiritual path”.  Yes indeed, and I would agree with Kelley here.  Many students seek a teacher, but because that is often a challenging path with difficulties in this modern world, they often end up turning to self-taught teachers who sometimes pass on misinformation and pop culture books, because that is a much easier option. 

The author starts the first chapter “Introduction” by drawing distinctions between “paganism” and “occultism” which are of course very different things and we agree with her.  Lupa goes on to say that it is her aim to reconcile these two philosophies.  Whether or not that is actually possible, I am not entirely sure, but that there is a middle ground to be achieved I would agree.  She is a very strong minded writer and that is clear from this book, and a strong mind and will is going to be necessary to bridge both these worlds, something I have only seen in a small group of magicians in my years.  And usually as they grow in knowledge in experience such people take one road or the other, learning that through specialisation they can gain a greater understanding of the world.

I like the clarity of definition in her writing.  She makes it clear early on in the book that it is a book about neopagan totemism.  This is great as it helps avoid confusion in the reader between the techniques, philosophies and ideas put forth in this book and the cultural totemism of some of the indigenous people of the Americas from which Pagans often draw for their ideas on these practices.

Her approach is similar to a group of Welsh Witches I know who research their animals themselves, rather than using “dictionaries” of animals and their meanings.  Something she advocates against (with the exception of the original book on this subject by Ted Andrews) and this is refreshing to see.

The approach to magic in the book borders onto Chaos Magick which was huge in the 80’s and 90’s making me wonder if Lupa is from that era, or whether she was born too late, or maybe that she is able to take the ideas behind it and run with it into the new millenium?  Certainly her approach is anything goes, try it and see – which I can live with.  She is also responsible in her approach, which is rare amongst some of the modern writers on magic, so for that I also applaud her.

DIY Totemism does what it says on the cover.  It is a new way of approaching the subject and as such I would recommend it to anyone interested in exploring the topic from a practical  perspective.   Likewise it would be a great introduction to the subject of working magic with animals for those new to the idea. 

A great find and a definite “keeper” which I hope to experiment with myself in the Summer.

Primordial Traditions Compendium 2009

Primordial Traditions Compendium 2009, Editor Gwendolyn Toynton, Twin Serpents Ltd, Paperback, 240 pages, Price £19.95.  Available from all Amazon sites for  £18.95/$31.45  with free postage: click here

 

This is an Aladdin’s cave of treasures, a comprehensive anthology covering material from numerous spiritual traditions and magical systems.

It is best used as a source book where you can dip in and out. I found most of the articles excellent and well researched.

The book cover itself is beautiful and it can probably be used to meditate on.

This latest offering by Twin Serpents Ltd  has something for everyone:

*The primordial tradition(Philosophy)
*Does practice make one perfected: The role of gTum mo in the six yogas of Naropa (Buddhist Tantra)
*Clarifying the clear light (Buddhist Tantra)
*Mara and the vinaya: A comparison of references to Mara in the Mahavagga and the Mahavastu(Buddhist)
*Monks and magic – The use of magic by the sangha in Thailand (Buddhist)
*Divine mortality: Nataraja, Sankara, and higher consciousness in the imagery of Shiva (Hindu)
*Seats of power: How does the body of Sati relate to the geographic locations of Sakta pithas? (Tantra)
*The lord of Kasi (Hindu)
*Draupadi and Kali in the Mahabharata (Hindu)
*Aesthetics of the divine in Hinduism (Hindu)
*Tantra: Fifth Veda or anti-Veda – Part I (Tantra)
*Tantra: Fifth Veda or anti-Veda – Part II (Tantra)
*Invincible sun: The cult of Mithras(Middle Eastern)
*Islamic tradition and the Muslim Hadith (Middle Eastern)
*The Yezidis: Angel or devil worshipers of the near east? (Middle Eastern)
*Dyadic approaches to the divine: Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, religion, and gender (Philosophy)
*Mayan ceremonial astrology (South American)
*The Black Sun: Dionysus in the Philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche and Greek Myth (Ancient Greek)
*Of wolves and men: The berserker and the vratya (Hindu/Teutonic)*Contemporary shamanism(Asatru/Shamanism)
*Knowledge is power: Rune magic in Germanic culture(Asatru)
*Ancient goddess or political goddess? (Wicca)
*Athena (Poem)
*Raising Apollonius (Occult/Esoteric)
*Cúchulainn, the wolfhound of Culann (Celtic)
*Communing with the dead in ancient Greece(Ancient Greek)
*Dead but dreaming: Oneiromancy and dream incubation (Ancient Greek/European)
*The sacred state: The traditional doctrine of state legitimacy(Traditionalist)
*Tempora mutantor: The deterioration of men and the aristocratic principle (Traditionalist)
*Ars regia: The royal art revisited (Alchemy/Tantra)
*Son of the sun (Poem)
*The age of darkness: prophecies of the Kali Yuga (Hindu/Traditionalist)
*Mercury rising: The life and times of Julius Evola (Traditionalist) 

For more info on Primordial Traditions and their regular journal: 

www.primordialtraditions.com (more…)

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