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 and RRP of £14.99

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.

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: (more…)

elementalsmThis review of “Practical Elemental Magick” by David Rankine and Sorita d’Este recently appeared in “The Equinox – British Journal of Thelema”  – so we thought we would share.  Check out The Equinox here

Practical Elemental Magick
Working the Magick of the Four Elements in the Western Mystery Tradition

By Sorita d’Este and David Rankine

“This is a very impressive book from two prolific and respected occult authors.  The concept of Elemental Spirits is encountered frequently in occultism, but there has been until now no comprehensive guide to working with them.  I say comprehensive advisedly, for one of the great virtues of this book is it traces origins and alternatives very thoroughly, rather than laying down dogmatic rules with no background.  At the same time as offering in-depth information the book also retains considerable clarity.  The range of sources consulted is astonishing, and the work thus provides an invaluable resource for further research by the individual reader.  The material is usefully synthesised into a thoroughly workable practical system of magic; while offering sufficient alternatives for the reader who is so inclined to evolve distinct methodologies based on their own preferences.”

Note* Practical Elemental Magick is a companion volume to “Practical Planetary Magick” by the same authors.  Both these books are available from Amazon (USA / UK etc) and directly from the publishers

The Pop Culture Grimoire: An Anthology of Pop Culture Magic

Taylor Ellwood (ed)

Megalithica Books Publication

PB, £10.99, 160pp

 Reviewed by Nina Lazarus for the Esoteric Book Review


I admit to being something of a purist, and pop culture magic is not a topic I am drawn to, as the term pop culture is one I associate with shallow and trivial superficialities.  From what I have seen, most of the time it just seems to be reinventing the wheel or getting excited about doing something many of us have known about for a long time. Rather than reinventing the wheel time could be better spent on looking at the sources and seeing where techniques and ideas came from.  Working through the eighteen essays contained in this work largely confirmed my views.  However it did also add another level of understanding, which is that much of the material within was just Chaos Magick by another name.  A ritual based on Narnia or worship of Marilyn Monroe or drawing down Elvis is not new, as such ideas were being bandied around in the 1980s on the Chaos scene.

I did consider going through the essays one by one, but a couple of them illustrate my points.  Break on Through to the Other Side is an entertaining short piece on the author’s decision to create what she terms a vampire godform based on the roleplaying game she was involved in that went bad, though to you and me this would be called creation of a thoughtform.  Popular Music as Ritual is essentially the author’s realisation that compilation CDs or tapes can be used to celebrate magickal occasions and states, something that many of us have been doing for decades anyway without calling it pop culture magic. For me the only really enjoyable piece in the collection was Nick Farrell’s The Alchemy of Bollocks: Turning Pop Culture into Something Useful, which was amusing and informative.  If ideas like using Pokemon characters or the addictive computer game World of Warcraft to develop your magick appeal to you, then you should buy and read this book.


Magickal Progressions

by Moonsilvered

Megalithica Books Publication

PB, £10.99, 160pp

Reviewed by John Canard for the Esoteric Book Review

If you want another introduction to neo-paganism which pulls together bits from all over the place, then this may be the book for you. This is not a bad book, inasmuch as it encourages the reader to take personal responsibility and to work on a balanced and holistic approach to spirituality which includes physical exercise and diet. However there is not really anything new, and for me it is a bit too much of a mish-mash. I accept that chakras seem to have become standard material for many pagan and wiccan books now, but the current trend to try and assimilate the work of Carlos Castaneda in a similar manner seems like a step in the wrong direction to me. The three pages on Stalking and Warrior Work (fast becoming buzz words these days) follow a single page which skims over the concepts of astral projection and lucid dreaming. There is no explanation how to perform these latter techniques, which are actually key to the practice of Castaneda’s system. The appendixes at the back of the book are the usual stock standard stuff, although I would suggest the author researches angels more thoroughly – Auriel and Uriel are in fact the same being, and Raphael is not commonly associated with the element of Water. As I said earlier, this isn’t a bad book, and for a newbie pagan they could do far worse, though would-be magicians would be encouraged to look elsewhere.  I am passing this one on.


365 Goddess: a daily guide to the magic and inspiration of the Goddess
by Patricia Telesco
HarperSanFrancisco, 1998
ISBN 0-060-251568-3

I picked this book up in Glastonbury because it looked like an easily accessible and handy method of being introduced to new female deities from around the world. I wasn’t expecting anything life-changing or academically sound, but even without those expectations I was appalled and slightly disgusted that 365 Goddess had managed to find its way into publication. But before I begin my shredding of this work, let me introduce it.

365 Goddess, by Patricia Telesco, who has authored 24 other books on herbalism, magic, and Wicca, is a daily guide that introduces a Goddess from world mythology alongside daily practices, affirmations, and short rituals that are designed to bring that Goddess’s blessings into the readers life. Each day is given one page, and is also assigned to a festival from around the world, such as Imbolc, Independence Day, Peppercorn Ceremony, and Daedala.

Some of the daily activities are rather nice, and I could see myself introducing them in a group setting as icebreakers, simple ways of working with the group, or with a little change they could be used as larger ritual activities. However, these activities are largely nothing to do with the actual practices and worship given to the Goddess concerned. For instance, January 20th (festival: “Aquarius begins”) is given to Oya, the Nigerian spirit of death, cemeteries, hurricanes, tornados, and the Niger River. Interestingly enough, Telesco has chosen to completely ignore Oya’s main (and most important and culturally significant) associations and instead has depicted her as a “mother goddess and spirit of the river Niger”. The daily activity for her is to “enjoy a glass of water when you get up.” No. Oya tears down houses, ushers the dead spirit to the afterlife, raises storms and hurricanes, and destroys what needs to be destroyed. Her lessons are harsh and difficult – a glass of water will not please her. Similarly, Telesco seems to have assumed that, because Christian saints often have holy wells to their names, the female saints in her book were all once Goddesses who ruled over fresh or spring water.

Throughout this book, Telesco has made the mistake of turning some quite dark and terrifying Goddesses into beautiful, loving mother Goddesses. In fact, it’s hard to turn the page without finding the words “loving” and “mother”, “bosom”, “fertile”, and “birth”. Reading 365 Goddess you’d think that the Goddesses’ only qualities were in their reproductive organs – a conclusion that would undoubtedly turn off a wide variety of people who would otherwise benefit from finding out about the various Goddesses in the book. Indeed, it seems that as long as you’re a woman with the ability to bear children, this book is for you.

Worse still, however, are the glaring factual errors and inaccuracies that occur frequently throughout the book, errors that could not have got there if the writer had bothered to research beyond perhaps one page or one article on the Goddess in question. Erzulie, for instance, (April 24th, “Peppercorn Ceremony”, Bermuda) is said to “extend her springlike energy whenever we need it, especially when our pockets and hearts are empty.” No. Anybody who actually serves Erzulie (Freda, Dantor, Ze Wouj…? Telesco is obviously not aware that there are many spirits named Erzulie, and they are definitely not the same!) knows that she does not just give without getting something in return. Her sacred colour is not blue either, as this book declares.

Even better is her entry for May 19th, which is associated with the Welsh festival of “Hay on Wye”. *Headdesk* And the Goddess Damara: “Throughout England, Damara is celebrated as intimately connected with May…” According to Telesco, “English children believe that Bringing in the May also conveys Damara’s blessings.” Yes, because all of us English-born and bred people went gathering flowers in May, making garlands from them, skipping merrily hand in hand to the castles which we all own. Well, I’ve never even heard of Damara, and I’ve certainly never brought in the May as a child.

As I read further into the book (yes, I actually finished it: but then, it was so hilarious in places that I was actually looking forward to turning the pages to find out what other stupid mistakes had been made) I got the distinct feeling that Telesco had simply flicked through a few book indexes to get names of Goddesses and read a Wikipedia entry or a couple of pages (max, maybe as little as a few sentences) about the Goddess concerned. This would certainly explain her acknowledgements page, which thanks the service department of Amazon Books and the marketing department of ABC-Clio for obtaining reference material for the book. Surely, if you have spent a long time and effort writing a book about the Divine Feminine you’d be thanking a loved one, family member, or a particular Goddess? This just suggests that 365 Goddess was a simple marketing ploy either by the author or the publisher, which makes the entire work seem bitter and very unspiritual. Further, this research method obviously didn’t work, as during her extensive research Telesco failed to realize that the two separate Goddesses named Nepthys and Nephthys (note the tiny name spelling change, caused simply by the fact that ancient Egyptian does not transliterate entirely into English so has words sometimes spelled differently in their transalation) are in fact one Goddess. If this weren’t a book review, I’d swear a lot now.

The introduction of the book is brief and leaves a lot to be desired, purporting the inaccurate and frankly un-useful idea of “The Goddess” being worshipped as a single entity all over the world, in a form of Maiden-Mother-Crone. I could spend page after page criticizing this out-dated, academically disproven, and harmful view, but this is not the place.

Overall, I could have possibly tried a few of the exercises in the book, but the obvious lack of care taken in its creation doesn’t make me comfortable in doing so. Further, the shocking number and nature of inaccuracies found throughout 365 Goddess makes this book completely untrustworthy even as a source to find new Goddesses to do further research on. Beyond their names it is clear that Telesco’s information is largely wrong, and at times even their names are questionable.

Sadly, this book represents the absolute worst in New Age and Pagan publishing, and it angers me that people can make money from such work whilst excellent authors with factually correct information and original ideas remain unpublished.

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