Dear Visitor,

This blog has 200+ interviews, reviews and other (hopefully) interesting blog articles dating from between 2000 and 2010.  The content here is an archive of material which was created originally for: Avalonia / WWL and the Esoteric Book Review.

Avalonia was a Pagan / Witchcraft resource website, which hosted an online community of around 1500 people during the same period, in two incarnations: Avalonia Forums, and WWL [Wiccans & Witches in London].  The community hosted monthly moots in London’s Bloomsbury; Summer Picnics in the Park; Creative Days and visits to Museums.  Lapis Companions, a monthly open ritual circle was also born from this community, and was hosted by Sorita d’Este and David Rankine between 2003-2006.

Sorita and David received a high volume of books for review as part of their work with the Avalonia online community, and it became increasingly difficult to manage by themselves.  Friends and other esoteric practitioners and scholars soon offered to take on some of the books and other interesting items which arrived and review them.

The old interviews and reviews were archived here, and the admin was handed to Nina Lazarus, an avid bookworm and academic who was keen to expand this project and make it a resource for the Pagan and Esoteric community.  Unfortunately, due to longterm illness Nina passed away soon after – and with her this project came to an abrupt end.

“And so when the first star of the night rises I honour you.  Mistress divine, Goddess of my sacred altar, with my naked body, I dance and sing… And when the offerings I make are accepted by your brilliance I know that I too am worthy of your love.  Worthy of your blessing. Queen of my beloved blood, I pour forth my life blood into your sacred stream, I lift my sword to the heavens and scream your name… And I honour you beloved of Zeus.

When every mortal man shuns your light and the women of the world fear your power, I shall remain standing and I shall remain the vessel for your holy blood.  When she who called your name in anger stands in fear, when they who speak your name without understanding no longer have your blessing, I shall speak words of encouragement and I shall give them pathways through which they can honour you.  Bright Goddess, do not strike the ignorant with Zeus’ thunderbolts, let them remain in the world of mortals for an eternity instead. Life upon life they will suffer amongst the mortals without knowing your true name, let them pretend, but Goddess I implore you to show me your true face so that my tongue may speak true words and my mind may find the pathways to wisdom and knowledge…  ”
– Dr. Nina Lazarus, in ‘Scary Dark Crone’, Hekate: Keys to the Crossroads, 2006

Thank you to David Rankine, Nina Lazarus, Kim Huggens, Payam Nabarz, Agrotera, Root Magician John and all the contributors who made this project possible.  Thank you to the publishers, authors and everyone else who encouraged us, and to all members of the WWL community who shared in a community spirit of learning, questioning and friendship based in knowledge, wisdom and creativity.

Many blessings on your respective paths, may we continue to know each other in friendship for the rest of this life,  Sorita d’Este

The Red Church

By C.R. Bilardi


~review by David Rankine (originally at )

When most of the books you read are for research, it is always a pleasure to read a good book which increases your knowledge of an associated subject which you have not had time to study.  Chris Bilardi’s The Red Church is an excellent example of this.  Subtitled “The Art of Pennsylvania German Braucherei”, this book is a fascinating study of Pow Wow, the American Christian folk magic which grew from German roots.

The first part of the book provides a detailed analysis of the different European (predominantly German) religious movements which fed into the Braucherei, setting the scene and providing the provenance for the material.  The historical analysis is a vital part of providing the context for magical systems, so it was a pleasure to see such a through treatise which covered all the ground whilst holding the reader’s interest.

As a tradition which draws on the grimoires and Qabalah as well as its Biblical core, the practices are heavily religious, and Bilardi is not afraid to emphasise the importance of being a good member of the local Christian community, something which was key to magical practitioners of the grimoires, cunning-folk and other traditions as well.  It is good to see the debt that the Western Esoteric Traditions owe to Christianity as one of the driving forces of modern magic being acknowledged.  It has become unfortunately trendy in some areas to ‘bash’ Christianity as being anti-pagan, whilst reflecting those same prejudices, and also ignoring the fact that there is an inherent magic in the Bible and Christian practice which continues to be one of the most powerful magical currents in the world.

However this book is not purely about hisotry and philosophy, it is also packed with numerous examples of the charms and practices of Braucherei, drawn from the old texts like The Long Lost Friend and also from practitioners, which show very effectively how quickly practices can evolve and change through personal use and experience.  (As an aside, Dan Harms is working on a definitive volume on The Long Lost Friend which should be a welcome addition to this field).

All in all this is an excellent volume which should be of interest to a wide range of people, from magicians to folklorists, healers to historians, psychologists to pagans.  Chris Bilardi is to be congratulated on producing such a fine work.

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 and RRP of £14.99

The Fairytale Tarot
By Lisa Hunt
Llewellyn Publications, 2009
ISBN 978-0-7387-0866-9

Review by Kim Huggens

There is something inherently magical and wondrous about the Fairytale Tarot, something that enchants and draws you in, something mysterious yet enlightening about the artwork and stories… In this, her second solo deck and her fifth deck in total, Lisa Hunt has seamlessly merged fantastical fairytales from around the world with traditional Tarot archetypes to provide a deck and book set that is not only readable but beautiful, insightful, and original.

You may have seen Lisa’s artwork in decks where she collaborated with author D.J. Conway: the Celtic Dragon Tarot, Shapeshifter Tarot, and Fantastical Creatures Tarot. Having used these decks extensively over the years, I was excited to see Lisa’s Animals Divine Tarot (which she both painted and authored, her first solo Tarot deck) to see what kind of an author this wonderful artist was. I was pleased, and this magical combination of award-winning paintings with an open, informative, and relaxed writing style make the Fairytale Tarot arguably her best work. The artwork, although brilliant in her earlier decks, has improved to near-perfection, and her style is instantly recognizable. The artwork, executed in watercolours and soft pencils, is attractive and open, making the cards easy to read and symbols easy to identify. Every card image is expressive, evoking the feelings and emotions of the card perfectly.

The Fairytale Tarot bears a traditional Tarot structure of 78 cards, 22 Majors and the 56 Minors and Courts. In places the titles of the Major Arcana have been altered to fit the deck’s theme more accurately and express the meaning of those cards in relation to fairytale conventions. So:

Fool – Innocence
High Priestess – Sorceress
Empress – Fairy Godmother
Emperor – Wise Old Man
Hierophant – Mentor
Strength – Courage
Hanged Man – Entrapment
Death – Transformation
Devil – Temptation
Tower – Deception
Judgement – Redemption
World – Happily Ever After

It is delightful to see how these new titles not only add extra layers of meaning to a traditional understanding of these cards, but also how they link nicely with the work of Joseph Campbell, a famous mythologist whose work on the Hero’s Journey is – in my opinion – invaluable reading for any Tarot student. These new titles put the Major Arcana into a context of the Hero’s/Fool’s Journey more clearly, showing how the innocent Fool (or protagonist of a myth/fairytale) progresses through experiences to meet his Happily Ever After.

The Minor Arcana bear traditional suit titles of Cups, Pentacles, Swords and Wands, and unlike the Celtic Dragon and Shapeshifter Tarot the elemental attributions are for Fire – Wands and Air – Swords, symbolism I personally find preferable and which became a slight stumbling block in my reading of earlier decks from Lisa and D.J. Conway. Further, these Minors are not just the afterthought of an artist such as is found in so many other decks, but rather they are equally as considered, beautiful, and evocative as the Majors. The Court Cards have retained their titles of Princess, Prince, Queen and King (although some readers will be more familiar with the Rider Waite-style Page, Knight instead of the Thoth-style Princess, Prince), with only one change: Princesses are not the Page, and Princes are not Knights, a convention most Tarot readers are familiar with. Instead Lisa has switched them round so that the Princesses correspond to the traditional Knight/Prince and the Princes correspond to the traditional Page/Princess. At first this annoyed me and I got confused, but found it very easy to remind myself to read the Princesses and Princes “the other way round”.

As the title of the deck suggests, every card in the deck has a fairytale from around the world associated with it. Thus, the card images evoke not only the card meaning and interpretation, but also the events and characters of the story as well. It is always difficult for an artist to find the balance between portraying the story and the meaning in such decks, and in the cases of certain cards I feel that Lisa presented the story more than the card meaning, but overall I think she maintained a healthy balance between the two. Luckily, for any images one is unsure of, there is a companion book to refer to for the story!

One of the best things about the stories that Lisa has attached to the cards is that they are all very well chosen. There’s not a single card that I looked at and disagreed with the story choice for. Each story evokes perfectly the card meaning and symbolism, yet also add extra layers of meaning that speak more personally to the individual. Thus, even an experienced Tarot reader may find themselves pleasantly surprised at the insights revealed by the stories that accompany the cards they are otherwise so familiar with – I had an experience with the Five of Cups that left me reeling (in a good way)!

Every card is detailed and highly symbolic, with over-the-top occult symbolism completely removed in favour of more naturalistic images. Where before one might have seen a particular Golden Dawn staff, one now finds carvings in trees and faces reflected in moonlit pools; where one might have needed to refer to the Tree of Life before, here we see the card’s general theme portrayed instead on the character’s face or in their posture. Such symbolism speaks more readily to beginners, to younger readers, and to those who would rather read the cards intuitively than have to remember dozens of different occult systems to gain interpretation. Further, Lisa’s trademark – the almost-not-there faces and figures hidden in trees, mountains, smoke, lakes, and rivers – portrays the natural world as alive, a constant reminder of the childhood imagination manifested in fairytales.

These stunning images are made all the better by the fact that the cards are borderless, allowing you to step right into the images and more freely link them in readings as connected rather than as isolated events. The images are more open this way and seem so much bigger, despite the size of the cards themselves being the standard Llewellyn measurements (2 3/4″ by 4 3/4″). The card backs are completely reversible, bearing a simple yet striking image of a two-headed old-fashioned key that reminds me of the key that opens the door to Frances Hodgson Burnett’s Secret Garden.

The companion book, entitled “Once Upon a Time…” is a complete joy to read. Lisa has retold every single fairytale for our enjoyment and benefit, then described the symbolism in every card and the way the associated tale represents the card meaning and how it might reflect our selves and our lives. It also features an impressive and extensive bibliography that would be an excellent resource for anybody wishing to research further the fairytales themselves. The book is also introduced by a succinct explanation of how fairytales are food for us: the same reasons why Tarot is good for us! In this short section, Lisa manages to demonstrate that the two are most definitely symbolically related and serve the same purpose.

The book presents a couple of new spreads, but I was hoping to see more spreads and perhaps some exercises or ways of using the deck that were more in keeping with the fairytale theme. However, anybody with a little time on their hands would be able to consider their own methods of using the deck. For instance, if you had children you could ask them to pull a card from the deck each night and read them that particular story, using it as a basis to discuss the image and the child’s feelings about the story. (This technique, I have found, works just as well for “grown-ups”!)

My first thought upon looking through the deck was that it would be especially good for children and families, and I also wondered if the deck was perhaps a little too “girly”, since it shows more female figures than men. However, upon showing my two best friends (who are both men in their mid 30’s), the positively gushy and enthusiastic response from them indicated that my initial judgement was incorrect: this deck is, in fact, a deck for anybody. Beginner or advanced reader, young or old, male or female, the card images and the associated fairytales speak to themes and feelings that are beyond all these transient states.

Thankyou Lisa. The Fairytale Tarot is utterly delightful.

Dragonswood Calendar 2009-2010
Gillie Whitewolf, 2009

Review by Kim Huggens.

~ 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.

Dear Readers,

We would like to welcome you to our new home here at – you may have found us by following a link to our old website, or maybe your browser redirected you here.

The Esoteric Book Review was created by the occult author Sorita d’Este as part of her Avalonia website which was founded in 1997.  It moved to its own seperate website about two years ago during some reorganisations of Avalonia by Sorita.  At that time she appointed me as the Reviews Editor and with her help I have been able to learn more about internet technology and gain the confidence to be able to now take on the massive task of administering this website by myself.

The Esoteric Book Review is a peer review.  The reviews you will find here have been written by people who have many years worth of experience as practitioners of magick, devotees of the old gods, readers of tarot and weavers of the webs of sorcery.   They include amongst them esoteric scholars and academics, authors, writers, teachers of wicca and members of large and prestigious magical organisations and traditions.   They share their genuine opinion on the books they review, good or bad.  They are volunteers who share a passion for the occult, for magick, paganism and spirituality, for witchcraft, voodoo, root magic and the old gods.

So if you are with us now, in the words of Aleister Crowley:

“Beauty and strength, leaping laughter and delicious languor, force and fire, are of us.”

156, 93, BB, LVX and all the fraternal and sororal blessings

Nina Lazarus


PS. Please note, the reviews previous to the this message have all been imported from the original reviews website.  They are all posted as “UnicursalStar” though they were written by a variety of authors over the last few years.  In most instances the name of the author is contained within the message body itself.

Raising Hell: Subversive Spirituality, Insurrectionist Witchcraft and Black Magic
by Kali Black
reviewed by Nina Lazarus for the Esoteric Book Review

This book is not really about black magic, rather it is another offering about Chaos Magic dressed up with different thrills (or is that paradigms?).  The initial material on behaviour patterns and how to ensure you are not influenced unduly by the media and others is reasonable.  It presents an interesting précis of much that is worthwhile and gives many leads and insights.  However the terminology is clearly a sign of the times, as in the 80s we used to call the ideas portrayed here cultural terrorism.  The chapter arguing against the consumption of meat and promoting vegetarianism was heartfelt and the sort of thing more books on magic should discuss.  However none of this material is really black magic, it is simply magic!

The NLP material emphasises the author’s preference for deprogramming and taking control, which is never a bad thing.  However the Toontra and anarchashamanism material both indicate the chaos magic roots of this material.  It seems there is a trend with some writers to present the ideas of chaos magic as if they were something new, which they aren’t, and they weren’t when chaos magic first appeared wearing its new clothes and championing eclecticism.  For example, as this book and many others seem keen to declare, the principle of reduction sigilisation invented by Austin Osman Spare, a favourite of Chaoists – yet this technique may be found centuries ago in Agrippa’s Three Books of Occult Philosophy.

So although this book is not really as radical or new as it would like to present itself, it is nevertheless worth reading, as it brings together a good range of ideas and material which should give the reader food for thought.

Aleister Crowley: A Modern Master
by John Moore
reviewed by Nina Lazarus for the Esoteric Book Review

This book is an attempt to place Crowley in the context of modern ideas and older traditions.  That this should be attempted is not surprising when we recall that Crowley was number 73 in the recent poll of the top 100 Britons.  The biographical details given for Crowley are supplied to justify or clarify points of view, and as such this work is not, nor does it claim to be, a biography, providing only such piecemeal references.

Unfortunately this has resulted in sections of the book where you forget it is even about Crowley, as his name disappears for eight or ten pages at a time in places whilst the author discusses philosophy.  Whilst these discussions are interesting and demonstrate the authors breadth of knowledge, they often seem tangential and not directly relevant to Crowley and his context.  From this perspective the absence of Richard Kaczynski’s Perdurabo from the bibliography suggests a worthy source missed, whose treatment could have provided more useful ideas for the author.

This is an interesting work, but more as a background work for someone wishing to expand on their ideas of material that may have influenced Crowley, rather than Crowley the man, the mage or the modern master.

Mastering the Art of Ritual Magick Volume 2: Grimoire
by Frater Barrabbas
reviewed by Nina Lazarus for the Esoteric Book Review

The back cover of this book informs us that Frater Barabbas has almost four decades of practical experience of the occult arts.  I therefore assume that he is in his fifties, as anyone claiming to practice magick seriously before the age of twelve or thirteen in my experience is usually a deluded fantasist.  Let us continue with the outer cover. The subtitle of the book is somewhat misleading, as the use of the term grimoire here is indicative of the current trend to use the word to somehow validate books as being more genuine or of greater provenance, when they are in fact completely unrelated to the Medieval and Renaissance grimoires, which form a distinct tradition of their own.

So to the material contained within.  The book should perhaps have been called “Reinventing Wicca by making it more ceremonial with bits of Qabalah, psychology and the Grail thrown in for good measure.”  It is not terribly exciting, original or innovative, and in some places the material has clearly not been thought through, or is simply completely off the mark.

Considering the nine ritual components of the book, what is good or bad?  Well the first section on the consecration of the magick temple has a slightly revised version of Wiccan circle casting – salt and water, engraving of circle and summoning the four wards.  The latter includes the words “to manifest and appear” for the summoned watchtower guardians, which seems incredibly optimistic.  Then four emissaries of the deity are invoked, which seems somewhat superfluous, not to mention a little crowded!  Why do people always assume that spiritual beings want to come and watch their rituals anyway when they offer no incentive for them to do so, but I digress.  The proliferation of So Mote It Be’s in the opening and closing make the Wiccan origins of this material clear.

Then we come to the consecration of the magick grove.  This was of similar ilk, however summoning the spirits of the elements into the cakes, oil, milk and honey and wine, and then burying them in the earth and putting a stone over them is not in my opinion a very smart move.  Other elemental spirits will know you are the one who trapped their compatriots and have no desire to help you with anything – why should they?

The Pyramid of Power contains the first occurrence of the “Mantle of Glory”, which is a straightforward derivation of the Qabalistic Cross, minus the visualisations which actually empower it.  And the author also tells you to assume the Osiris position, not making it clear whether he means the Wiccan crossed arms or the actual position of Osiris on statues, which is holding the arms vertically upward and parallel to each other in front of the chest with hands in front of breasts.

The use of the forty qualified powers is not a bad idea, though calling it the Concourse of Forces (another Golden Dawn borrowing) is not very original.  Basically this is the use of the Tree of Life through the Four Worlds to sub-divide types of rite and assign them to the 40 minor Arcana of the Tarot, being Ace to 10 of the four Suits.  Unfortunately the author’s knowledge of Qabalah seems somewhat rudimentary, and when I reached his attributions of the angels this was made very clear.  He has mixed the traditional grimoire orders of angels with the Qabalistic ones, resulting in some bizarre attributions and the introduction of new orders of angels not seen in either – the Benefactors and Intelligences!  The latter term is sometimes used interchangeably with Angels, as seen in the Planetary Intelligences, but that would not fit here.  Neither would the Aralim (should be Binah) with the Ten of Swords, Dominions should be Jupiter and Four, not the Three of Swords, and the list goes on.

The Rose Vortex Ritual brings in the Maiden Mother Crone with the Amazon/lover to make up four, for a bit of pagan chanting and fantasy role play (or internal psychological magick if you want to be generous), which will apparently enable you to “create a wave-form causality effect that is stealthy, ultimately potent and irreversible.”  You too can change the world with a bit of bad chanting (allegedly).  The Grail Spirit ritual continues more of the same flavour, and by this point you may wish to give up.  However, amongst all the patchwork of mismatched bits, suddenly there is a gem, when the author gives a very good discussion of assumption of godhead.  If the rest of the book were up to this standard it would indeed be a treat.  Sadly however it lapses back to the flavour already indicated.

I was slightly puzzled by the bibliography, where “The Qabalah of Aleister Crowley”, “Liber 777” and “777 and Other Qabalistic Writings of Aleister Crowley” were listed as three separate books, when they are basically all the same thing (ok Liber 777 doesn’t contain Sepher Sephiroth but that is a minor quibble).  However perhaps this is thrown in to see if you are still paying attention.

If the author wrote a book around assumption of godhead to the standard of that section I would buy it, however unfortunately the rest of the book is sadly lacking and likely to confuse rather than illuminate.

Alchemists, Mediums & Magicians: Stories of Taoist Mystics
translated and edited by Thomas Cleary
reviewed by David Rankine for the Esoteric Book Review

This is an extraordinary book whose contents range from the humorous to the bizarre to the profound, demonstrating the nature of the material within it – the lives of Taoist sages.  Thomas Cleary is well known as one of the foremost translators of classical Taoist and Buddhist works, and here he once again demonstrates his scholarship and understanding.  His very helpful footnotes elaborate on terminology, and the names of places and individuals mentioned, making the material more easily accessible to the reader.
The book is a translation of a collection of sketches by the fourteenth century Taoist priest, Zhang Tianyu, and portrays more than one hundred characters from a two thousand four hundred year period covering the eleventh century BCE through to the thirteenth century CE.
The poetry and quotes from many of the illuminated Taoists within provide food for the spirit and the mind.  If you are inspired or moved by lines like “Stillness and silence are the house to safeguard virtue; purity and calm are the garden where the spirit may roam” (Yang Xiong), or “Roaming in the void, I escape the high winds; Walking in the miraculous, I have no form or place.  The experience of completeness lights the dawn haze; Nine phoenixes sing in the morning sun.  Spreading their wings, they dwarf the Milky Way” then this is definitely the book for you.
Although it may be viewed superficially as a collection of sketches of lives, ranging from a paragraph to several pages for each of the sages, there is so much more here.  The collection is itself an illustration of the magic and mysticism of Taoism in action.  From this perspective even the shortest life sketch may be read as a doorway to open the horizons of the mind and allow the spirit to soar.  This is a book to dip into with joy, to inspire and even to guide, and the Thomas Cleary is to be congratulated on his excellent work in making it available.