Priestesses, Pythonesses & Sibyls is the latest anthology to be released by Avalonia Books.  It is already causing a lot of excitement, so we are pleased to be able to include this announcement here on the Esoteric Book Review.

Priestesses, Pythonesses & Sibyls
Edited by Sorita d’Este, with 20 Phenomenal Women and modern day Priestesses

Available for order now at Avalonia Books (free P&P worldwide)

Priestesses Pythonesses Sibyls lifts a veil to reveal the mystery of trance as experienced by female magickal practitioners today. Through happiness and sorrow, myth and legend, art and poetry, through ritual and dance each woman expresses her own unique and personal transformative experiences of trance. Whether through trance possession, mediumship, Drawing Down the Moon, oracular or mantic states, dance, dreams or formal ceremony the experiences and knowledge gained during trance states can bring dramatic changes to one’s life. The practices represented in this volume are drawn from the experiences and research of more than twenty women from around the world, each providing a unique vision of their own experiences of the Divine.

The book begins with “Ecstatic Histories” a section of three scholarly essays. The first, Mantic Voices by Sorita d’Este provides an overview of the role of mantic priestesses in the major oracles of the ancient world, with a consideration of the resurgence of the role of the priestess in the modern Western magickal traditions. This is followed by Caroline Tully’s The Pythia exploring the history and role of the Oracle at Delphi and Kim Huggens’ Silent Priestesses which looks at female priests and prophetesses in early Christianity.

Then in “Sacred Utterances”, the second part of this anthology, eighteen modern day Priestesses, Pythonesses and Sibyls share their own personal experiences, wisdom and research on the practice of trance. These women come from a wide spectrum of magickal and pagan traditions, including Goddess Spirituality, the Western Mystery Tradition, Thelema, Wicca, Candomble, Voudou and Seidr. Sharing, sometimes for the first time, deep spiritual experiences and insights gained through the work they have performed as Priestesses serving in their own unique way, they provide the reader with insights into their practices which could not be found anywhere else.

This section includes essays by authors such as Janet Farrar, Naomi Ozaniec and Vivienne O’Regan, Wiccan Priestesses Galatea, Diane Champigny, Yvonne Aburrow, Emily Ounsted and Sorrell Cochrane, and Priestess of Avalon Jacqui Woodward-Smith. It also includes Seidr practitioner Katie Gerrard, Priestess of Apollo Bolina Oceanus, Cathryn Orchard a Priestess of the Gnostic Catholic Church, Voudou hounsi bossal Sophia Fisher, Healer and Psychic Medium Kay Gillard, Orixa devotee Andrea Salgado-Reyes, Teacher and Priestess Connia Silver, and dancers Mariëlle Holman and Nina Falaise.

Unique, powerful and insightful, this book expresses the liminal world of trance in an accessible way for the first time.

Available now from Avalonia Books

Review: The Enchanted Oracle by Jessica Galbreth
Llewellyn Publications, 2008
ISBN 978-0-7387-1410-3

Review by Kim Huggens

Anybody who’s been around the Pagan community for a while will probably be familiar with the fantastical, bewitching artwork of Jessica Galbreth. If not, you can check it out at her website. In Galbreth’s artistic vision,

“An enchanted place awaits, filled with gossamer fairies and haunting deities.
A place where enchantresses weave their spells beneath the light of the full moon, and faeries dressed in their finery stand pensively before gothic arches and twisted trees.”
(from the artist’s website.)

A great number of people love her artwork, so it should come as no surprise to discover that Llewellyn have this month released an oracle deck filled with it: The Enchanted Oracle. Sadly, most of the artwork for the deck was created well before the deck was even a twinkle in its creator’s eye, with only a couple of pieces being painted specifically for it. For me this is an instant turn-off in a Tarot or oracle deck, though less so for an oracle since there is less traditional symbolism and meaning to work around. However, as soon as I picked up the deck I realized that whilst the cards were beautiful and sumptuous, filled with beauty and splendour, they just weren’t speaking to me. I could sit and stare at “Celtic Witch” for ages and not get any divinatory meanings from the image or the card title. Luckily, Llewellyn’s stock-in-trade Tarot companion book author, Barbara Moore (also the author of books for the Mystic Faerie Tarot, Gilded Tarot, and Mystic Dreamer Tarot) has written an accompanying book. In this book she really squeezes symbolism out of the card images:

“The orange jewel of her headpiece is attached with many cords, showing that she intentionally weaves enthusiasm and joy through her life.”
~ pp.100, “Gypsy Rose”

The 36 cards of this deck don’t explicitly deal with the main areas of life like most other oracle decks do. Instead, they are given exotic, mysterious names that ooze fantasy: Dragon Witch, Dark Enchantment, Gothic Rose, Crimson Moon… The images are pretty, the titles very cool, but this deck really requires the book to read effectively.

From taking a quick look at the cards it is clear who the target audience of this deck is. There are no fat people, no old women (even in cards where crones should probably be present), and very few men. Every single faery, sorceress, and gothic mermaid is young, stunningly attractive, with huge breasts that defy both gravity and anatomy. These faeries may indeed weave their enchantments in a magical realm, but they’re doing it with extreme back pain. And here we have a supreme example of “fantasy artwork”.

As a set this deck would make a wonderful gift, especially for the younger female who is still in the dabbling phase of witchcraft and Paganism. The book is really an asset to the deck in this way: every card is accompanied by an enchantment, charm, journalling exercise, visualization, or spell. They are the kind of small magics you’d find in a teenage witch spellbook, with titles such as “A Little Glamour Never Hurt”, “Healing Waters”, and “What Colour is your Karma?” They are mere curios to a serious student of magic, but would be fun and positive for somebody just beginning. They are also all aimed at putting the power to change in the hands of the reader – again, something that can only be seen as positive.

The set comes with an “enchanted faery pendant” that can be (apparantly) used as a pendulum or charm. What it actually is, is a tiny metal pendant of Disney’s Tinkerbelle, with pink glittery wings. The deck is also accompanied by a silvery-grey organza bag for storage, which adds to the set’s beauty as a gift.

Overall, the Enchanted Oracle is very pretty, and is a great showcase of the artist’s work. It’s not a serious deck for study however, or for anybody with an allergic reaction to faery princesses. However you may criticize it for being too “fluffy”, though, we have to bear in mind that to do so would be akin to going to Burger King and ordering a Double Bacon Cheeseburger, then complaining because its’ not haute cuisine.

Reviewer Bio:

Kim Huggens is a 24 year old Pagan Tarot reader and PhD student in the Ancient History Department of Cardiff University. She is the co-creator of “Sol Invictus: The God Tarot” (recently published by Schiffer Books) and the forthcoming “Pistis Sophia: The Goddess Tarot”. She has had recent work published in Horns of Power, edited by Sorita D’Este, and is the Editor of online Pagan magazine Offerings. When not getting orgasmic about ancient voodoo dolls and Sumerian cunieform writing, she works in a vetinary clinic, plays Dungeons and Dragons, and practices Vodou.

Review: The Mystic Dreamer Tarot
By Heidi Darras and Barbara Moore
Llewellyn Publications, 2008
ISBN 978-0-7387-1436-3

Review by Kim Huggens

You can see images of the cards here (these images are pre-Llewellyn publication, so have different borders.)

For more art from this deck creator, see Heidi Darras’ Deviant Art page:

Some people say that Tarot exists in a world that is not quite as it seems; that it moves in mysterious ways; that it has a misty, ethereal, dreamy quality that allows more effective access to the reader’s subconscious and intuition. Everything in the Mystic Dreamer Tarot pulls the reader into that very world, where ravens fly at night beneath a lunar landscape, signposts appear blank, and the mists roll in around you. To some this may appear sinister, but the Mystic Dreamer Tarot takes you gently by the hand and guides you through the mists deeper into mystery.

This deck, by Heidi Darras, is a photo-manipulated deck. At times this art style is used to great effect, and the deck reminds me of Ciro Marchetti’s Gilded Tarot and his Tarot of Dreams. At other times however the images do not flow as seamlessly into one another and they becoming jarring to the eye. Throughout the cards recurring symbols can be seen in the periphery or background: ravens in flight, the moon, mist, signposts, and more. These recurring symbols allow the reader to make links between the cards, and highlights similarities and differences as well. The choice of clothing for the figures in the cards is interesting: at times it is inspired by traditional Tarot imagery or medieval costume, at other times it seems more appropriate to a nightclub (such as the Fool in his chain shirt and flared trousers!) or a Gothic fantasy.

The Mystic Dreamer Tarot is heavily influenced by the Rider Waite Smith tradition, both in card meaning and imagery. At times the card images are almost the same as those in the Rider Waite Smith, but at other times the creator has not shied away from creating something different, or adding a twist or something extra to an image. Her Hierophant is no longer a Pope holding the keys of the tradition, while two altar boys pray at his feet: instead he is a handsome young man in a cathedral setting, surrounded by books. Justice is no longer seated in stone but instead stands at the edge of a precipice, looking over creation. In places there are also tantalizing symbols that you have to look closely to see: the ascending stairway behind the High Priestess, the sword in the chalice beneath the Lovers, and the raven bearing the lucky clover in the Four of Wands. Unfortunately however, these images have been done an injustice by being scaled down to fit the standard Tarot pack size. The detail and colours, the carefully placed little symbols, all get consumed by the images at such small size. I found myself continually squinting at the cards as I looked through, and am tempted to employ a magnifying glass next time!

Figures in the cards make this deck undeniably aimed at the younger market. Everybody is beautiful, young, and striking in appearance, from the rather sexy Hierophant with his knee-high jackboots, to the scantily clad female warrior on the 7 of Wands, who seems to be working on the Armour rules for female Dungeons and Dragons characters (the less Armour, and the more cleavage shown, the higher the Armour class). I am also very curious and slightly non-plussed about the outfit chosen for the Knight of Wands, who seems to have constructed his clothing out of belts and coloured tape.

However, the images themselves are for the most part easy to read, pleasing to the eye, and well-executed by the artist. In places I was extremely pleased to see cards that really showed the meanings. These cards were mostly in the Minor Arcana however, such as the 3 of Pentacles, 5 of Wands, and 6 of Cups. It seems that the Major Arcana are indeed very beautiful, but they suffer from the illness of many Tarot decks in that they are too abstract. Judgement, for instance, has become simply a female angel blowing a trumpet and The World shows us a woman flapping a veil whilst standing upon the globe, with various animals floating around her. Some Majors are fantastic and evoke meaning brilliantly, but cards such as these left me cold, and would no doubt make the already-difficult concepts of such cards even harder to grasp for beginners. In places I also found that the facial expressions of some of the figures were all wrong for the card: such as the 9 of Cups, in which the figure looks really, really sad, instead of joyous and happy as she is described in the book. This seems a definite flaw in a deck that the creator wanted to be emotional:

“I knew my dream deck would be emotional. I wanted to reveal the hidden emotions in each card.” ~ Artist’s Note, xvi.

Another thing that the artist wanted for her deck was to eliminate the Biblical symbolism from the cards to make it more modern and up-to-date. Firstly, I think many people would disagree that it is the Bible imagery that keeps Tarot away from the modern world. Secondly, Darras has managed to keep an awful lot of Biblical and Christian imagery in the deck despite all this: the titles have not been changed, Judgement’s trumpet-blowing angel is still there, a crucifix and pope’s scepter appear in the Hierophant, the Trees of Life and Knowledge appear in the Lovers, a stained glass window of a parable from the Bible is a major feature of the Four of Swords, and more. Personally I don’t mind, but the creator probably should.

The companion book, “The Dreamer’s Journal”, written by Barbara Moore, who seems to have become Llewellyn’s stock-in-trade companion book author, is better than expected. It begins with chapters ideal for a beginner, covering topics of how to read the cards, choose a suitable spread, keep a Tarot journal, and the basics. The section on Dream Work with the deck is particularly interesting even for more advanced students of Tarot, and has some excellent ideas for specific use with this deck. I would also recommend pages 8-10 for anybody wanting to learn how to perform a reading, and pages 12-14 for excellent advice on learning the Tarot, complete with useful exercises that will not only stand a beginner in good stead but also help an advanced reader improve and renew their knowledge. The Tarot spreads given in the book are varied, with some standard spreads such as the Celtic Cross, but a wide variety of new spreads that can be used for many different readings. They are excellent spreads, and I particularly liked the relationship spreads and the “Message from the Universe Spread”.

The card meanings are split into sections of Major Arcana, Minor Arcana, and Court Cards, and although the notes for each card are brief they serve to highlight the symbols and what they mean – particularly useful for those of us who find the images too small to identify correctly! However, each card also has a “Use Your Intuition” section at the end, in which the reader is asked a few questions about the card. Obviously this is intended to get the reader using their intuition and thinking, leading them to new perspectives of the cards, but instead it reads like a child’s exercise book (Can you see the cat? What sounds does it make?), and asks questions about some things in the cards which are, as already mentioned, too small to see!

The cards themselves are Llewellyn’s standard size, with reversible backs that have a striking lunar design. Both the card backs and the card fronts have parchment-like borders, with a scroll in the bottom border bearing the card name and number. The titles have remained the same as the Rider Waite Smith deck, as has the numbering of the Majors and the elemental attributions of the suits. The deck is presented in an attractive box with the companion book and a black gauze drawstring bag for storage, and overall it is nicely presented.

Generally speaking this is a beautiful deck to look at, and will hit the spot for many readers out there who want a nice alternative to the Rider Waite Smith, and something in a more modern style. Except with reference to a couple of the Majors, the Mystic Dreamer Tarot would make an excellent first deck, and the recurring symbols and symbolic additions to many of the cards would intrigue a more advanced reader. As usual, I would have preferred a companion book written by the artist herself, but not all artists are writers! I recommend the Mystic Dreamer Tarot to beginners, people who want something a little fantastical without the usually accompanying faeries, unicorns, and mermaids, and readers who want something a little different but not too wildly so.

Reviewer Bio:
Kim Huggens is a 24 year old Pagan Tarot reader and PhD student at the Ancient History department of Cardiff University. She is the co-creator of recently released “Sol Invictus: The God Tarot“, and the forthcoming “Pistis Sophia: The Goddess Tarot“. She has had work published in “Horns of Power”, an anthology edited by Sorita D’Este, as well as a paper forthcoming in the Mithras Reader edited by Payam Nabarz. She edits Offerings online magazine, and runs workshops of Tarot, world mythology, and Pagan crafts in South Wales, as well as being a regular speaker at Witchfest Wales, UKPagan moots, and the Mercian Gathering.

Rune Cards
Brian Partridge & Tony Linsell
30 cards, with 96 page booklet
Published by Anglo-Saxon Books

Ever the skeptic I did not expect much from this (yet another!) deck of cards, but what a surprise!

The Rune Cards are beautifully illustrated, with exquisite black and white images. 29 of the cards contain images which correspond to one of the 29 runes using in the Anglo-Saxon “Rune Poem”. The additional card is described as a “Wyrd” card which is optional when using this deck for divination or inspiration.
It is written in a clear and precise way, containing useful background ifnormation and an introduction to the use of the cards.

In addition the booklet also includes a useful table of comparison for the Anglo-Saxon Runes towards the Old English and modern English rune names. The introductory Rune Ritual guide will be of great help to people unaccustomed to working with these powerful magickal symbols, and the introduction to casting lots and rune casts invaluable to those who have not done much divinatory work.

Recommended to everyone with an interest in Runes or Saxon Magick which they would like to explore. The cards also make excellent meditational aids, for use as Astral Doorways into the various landscapes.

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