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.

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Wiccan Mysteries: Ancient Origins & Teachings

Raven Grimassi

published by Llewellyn

PB, 294pp, $16.95

reviewed by John Canard

When I started to read this book I resolved to keep an open mind, even though the author quoted some expert sources like Robert Graves and Marija Gimbutas, the former being a notorious revisionist, and the latter also known for her agendas and tendency to rewrite the evidence to suit her theories.  He then begins by explaining that Wicca was essentially a mystery tradition derived from the Celtic religions, though often this passed down as oral (and thus conveniently unprovable) teachings.

Sadly in his eagerness to prove his point Grimassi makes statements which are quite frankly wrong and can be easily disproved with a minimum of research.  E.g.  he informs us that the ancients called the elementals by the names now commonly used, i.e. gnomes of earth, sylphs of air, salamanders of fire and undines of water.  In fact most modern concepts of elementals, including the ones he expresses, are derived from the classic work by Paracelsus, The Book of Nymphs, Sylphs, Pygmies and Salamanders and Kindred Beings, published in 1616.  The words Undine and Sylph were certainly not used in the ‘ancient world’, where there was no concept of the elementals beyond the elemental daimons suggested by Proclus.

The book does have some interesting ideas, and Grimassi clearly wants to expound on the theology and philosophy of Wicca as a mystery tradition, which is to be applauded.  However his tendency to rely on unreliable sources, and then start bringing in ideas like chakras and ley lines as being relevant due to their presence in mystery traditions, means this becomes a case of sorting out the wheat from the chaff, of which sadly there is quite a bit.

The chapter on the Magickal Arts has some interesting snippets, discussing ideas like odic force and informing, though his attribution of reduction sigils to the twentieth century magickal artist Austin Spare is a few centuries out, as they can be found in Agrippa’s sixteenth century Three Books of Occult Philosophy.  It is a shame that this tenth edition, published in 2008, did not take advantage of work that has been published since the book was first released in 1997, such as Triumph of the Moon by Hutton, Wicca Magickal Beginnings by d’Este and Rankine and Hidden Children of the Goddes by Clifton.  The research contained in such volumes does invalidate much of the material in this book, which is a shame because I wanted to like it, and could see that there are some good ideas in amongst the misinformation presented within.  The reason to read this book would be to test your ideas and knowledge, and provide a sounding board as to where you are at, with a few ideas that might be helpful thrown in, but for the beginner the level of faulty information means it should be avoided.

The Magickal Beginnings of the Practices – an introduction to the book Wicca, Magickal Beginnings

By Sorita d’Este and David Rankine

More information available from www.avaloniabooks.co.uk

Over the last few months, many people – some of whom have not yet read our book Wicca Magickal Beginnings have written to us, or asked us in passing why we wrote it. This is a complex question and one which can probably in part at least, be answered by this extract from the introduction we wrote for the book.

All books have a moment of conception, and this book was born out of a discussion on the origins of the Wiccan Tradition as known today, with some of our students in late 2001. Whilst debating the possible starting point of this magickal tradition, we realised that all the evidence being presented was focused on the people who were the early public face of the tradition and their contemporaries. Yet this is a tradition which is also called a ‘Craft’ and which is an experiential tradition where personal experience is paramount for the understanding of the practices and beliefs. So why were we debating the origins of the tradition in terms of who said or did what?

Has Wiccan history tied itself into knots of personalities in an effort to conceal its true origins? Was there something we were missing? Why was it that whilst some people claimed that the tradition was the continuation of a very ancient Pagan religion, others stated that it was created (or compiled) in the 1950’s or 1940’s in England? Why was it that Gerald Gardner was greatly respected as the ‘Father’ of the modern movement and simultaneously viewed as a charlatan? Could it be that in an effort to cover up the ludicrous and unsubstantiated claims that the tradition originated in the Stone Age (or thereabouts) the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction and got stuck? We agree that an academically sound historical foundation will provide more credibility to a tradition and its practitioners, but did that come at a price? What was being sacrificed in order to lend credibility to the tradition? What really made Wicca, Wicca?

Having asked ourselves all these questions again and again over the years, sometimes obtaining different answers to the same questions based on changes in our perspective, we found that ultimately Wicca remained a mystery tradition at its heart. The practices and beliefs could only be fully understood through direct experience thereof and it was through this that the tradition could be best defined, not through the endless debates about lineages, initiations and personalities!

We set about systematically researching the origins of the practices and beliefs which were passed to us through our initiators and colleagues. Our preconceptions were constantly challenged as we explored the origins of the practices and beliefs from different angles in an effort to find possible solutions to the question of when and where the tradition may have originated. We separated the rituals into their component parts, then looked at each individually and even divided them up into smaller parts, before finally putting it all back together creating a colourful mosaic with our findings.

Faced with several possible interpretations based on the evidence we correlated, it became clear that although it remained possible that Gerald Gardner may have created the tradition, it was certainly not that plausible in comparison to some of the other conclusions that we reached. In fact, at this stage of our research we feel that it is most likely that Gardner was not that much of a charlatan after all, but that his accounts of initiation into an existing tradition, upon which he later expanded, were truthful. When stripped right back, without the many additions and evolutions it has undergone since the 1950’s, Gerald Gardner’s ‘Witch Cult’ appears to predate him by at least some years.

We did of course realise from the outset that this would be a controversial conclusion for some readers and as such we present the practice-based evidence in this volume in a way which allows for individual interpretation. We also focused on the component parts which were common to all the traditions, both esoteric and exoteric, that we have personal knowledge of. This means that whilst we touch on the subject of deity, it is important for the reader to understand that theological debate is not within the scope of the work presented here. The individual beliefs in the Goddess and God vary, in some instances significantly so, between traditions in existence today. Additionally, we have not included evidence or debate on the inclusion of many of the folk practices which are found in some Wiccan groups today, such as May pole dancing at Beltane or making Brighid crosses for Imbolc. These practices were well known throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as the countless books and magazine articles published in those eras attest to. As such their inclusion might be incidental. Moreover, they are not considered relevant by all of the traditions and as such, though of extreme importance to some, are not even considered by others.

The bulk of the material presented in the book is aimed at practitioners, be that of the esoteric (ie. initiatory) or exoteric traditions of Wicca. The book does not aim to cover in detail all aspects of Wiccan history, in fact we have for the most ignored the modern developments. The material presented can be used in a variety of ways, but will benefit those who are seeking to deepen their understanding of the practices the most as knowing more about their original context can of course help deepen the symbolic understanding of their place in our ceremonies today. It is possible that practitioners of other related pagan traditions who draw their inspiration for rituals by incorporating circle casting, the invocation of the elemental guardians at the four cardinal point and drawing down the moon, might also find this book of interest.
For more information, as well as for examples of some of the reviews this book has already received, visit www.avaloniabooks.co.uk

Sol Invictus : The God Tarot

Kim Huggens & Nic Phillips

Deck and Companion Book

Review by Sorita d’Este for Avalonia.co.uk
Reviewed January 2008

Sol Invictus (The God Tarot) comes nicely packaged in a box with its companion book, in fact the packaging is more like what I would expect from a high quality board game in comparison to the boxes tarot decks are most often sold in recent years which seem to fall apart before you even open them! Likewise both the book and the cards are produced to a high quality and standard, which is always nice to see. What isn’t so great is the price tag that comes with it – the RRP of this deck which is a whopping £49.95 on Amazon.co.uk! (Though to be fair it can be gotten for less through marketplace, Amazon.com or directly from the publishers, Bushwood Books). Personally I would have liked to see this deck at a price which can compete with other decks currently aimed at the “pagan” market, as the price certainly limits its appeal.

The artwork by Nic Phillips reminds me a bit of Chesca Potter’s artwork, especially that of the Greenwood Tarot (which is so rare and desirable now that it exchanges hands for more than £300!), though Nic’s style is definetely more naive than Chesca’s. I like the simple red solar design on white which backs the cards, as I found it to be a focus point, rather than a distraction (which some of the busier designs which are sometimes used on the back of tarot / oracle cards sometimes do!) when doing readings.

For me the strength of the deck is in the fact that it focusses entirely on the masculine divine, though like another review published here on Avalonia of this deck, I feel that the inclusion of heroic (And otherwise famous) men from history at times lets the deck down – I expected to see a deck entirely dedicated to male deities. Maybe this is my own selfish desires for such a deck though, as I often use one of the “Goddess Tarot” decks for group meditations, workshops and lectures to provide astral doorways or meditation foci for participants. I am quite partial to working with male deities and as such would have loved to be able to do the same with this deck, though to do so I would have to remove several of the cards to enable me to do so in the same way. However, what was nice to see was the inclusion of deities from a wider spectrum of pantheons than what one usually finds with modern pagan writings. The “Ace of Coins” presented Huitzilopochtli, the Aztec Sun God who was also the tutelary god of the Aztec nation – a god I have rarely heard reference to in modern pagan circles, but whom I am partial to on a personal level.

The companion book is great and the information on the figures used for the tarot deck is brilliantly researched and presented. In fact, I felt that by itself it would make a great little reference book. In fact, I would go as far as to say that I would love to see something like that from these authors in future as for me this was definitely one of the strong points of this project.

Personally I would probably not use this deck for divination, but then that is not a reflection on the quality of the design or production, simply a personal choice. I am set in my ways and prefer sticking to the Thoth Tarot which I know and love! This deck will however be joining a small selection of other cards which I do use to illustrate workshops, or as astral doorway (meditation journeys) etc. I hope that the artist may consider producing some larger prints of some of the images, especially of the major arcana as I think they would make excellent altar pieces, gifts (I am always stuck for interesting gifts for friends!) and would look lovely in a nice frame on my wall!

A great big well done on an ambitious project, which has come into fruition in this beautifully produced book and deck! Sol Invictus “The God Tarot” is a must have for any tarot collector and an interesting deck to use to explore the different manifestations of masculine energy and divinities, whilst learning a great deal about different world pantheons.

Available from http://www.bushwoodbooks.co.uk

Sol Invictus : The God Tarot

Kim Huggens & Nic Phillips

Deck and Companion Book

Review by Sorita d’Este for Avalonia.co.uk
Reviewed January 2008

Sol Invictus (The God Tarot) comes nicely packaged in a box with its companion book, in fact the packaging is more like what I would expect from a high quality board game in comparison to the boxes tarot decks are most often sold in recent years which seem to fall apart before you even open them! Likewise both the book and the cards are produced to a high quality and standard, which is always nice to see. What isn’t so great is the price tag that comes with it – the RRP of this deck which is a whopping £49.95 on Amazon.co.uk! (Though to be fair it can be gotten for less through marketplace, Amazon.com or directly from the publishers, Bushwood Books). Personally I would have liked to see this deck at a price which can compete with other decks currently aimed at the “pagan” market, as the price certainly limits its appeal.

The artwork by Nic Phillips reminds me a bit of Chesca Potter’s artwork, especially that of the Greenwood Tarot (which is so rare and desirable now that it exchanges hands for more than £300!), though Nic’s style is definetely more naive than Chesca’s. I like the simple red solar design on white which backs the cards, as I found it to be a focus point, rather than a distraction (which some of the busier designs which are sometimes used on the back of tarot / oracle cards sometimes do!) when doing readings.

For me the strength of the deck is in the fact that it focusses entirely on the masculine divine, though like another review published here on Avalonia of this deck, I feel that the inclusion of heroic (And otherwise famous) men from history at times lets the deck down – I expected to see a deck entirely dedicated to male deities. Maybe this is my own selfish desires for such a deck though, as I often use one of the “Goddess Tarot” decks for group meditations, workshops and lectures to provide astral doorways or meditation foci for participants. I am quite partial to working with male deities and as such would have loved to be able to do the same with this deck, though to do so I would have to remove several of the cards to enable me to do so in the same way. However, what was nice to see was the inclusion of deities from a wider spectrum of pantheons than what one usually finds with modern pagan writings. The “Ace of Coins” presented Huitzilopochtli, the Aztec Sun God who was also the tutelary god of the Aztec nation – a god I have rarely heard reference to in modern pagan circles, but whom I am partial to on a personal level.

The companion book is great and the information on the figures used for the tarot deck is brilliantly researched and presented. In fact, I felt that by itself it would make a great little reference book. In fact, I would go as far as to say that I would love to see something like that from these authors in future as for me this was definitely one of the strong points of this project.

Personally I would probably not use this deck for divination, but then that is not a reflection on the quality of the design or production, simply a personal choice. I am set in my ways and prefer sticking to the Thoth Tarot which I know and love! This deck will however be joining a small selection of other cards which I do use to illustrate workshops, or as astral doorway (meditation journeys) etc. I hope that the artist may consider producing some larger prints of some of the images, especially of the major arcana as I think they would make excellent altar pieces, gifts (I am always stuck for interesting gifts for friends!) and would look lovely in a nice frame on my wall!

A great big well done on an ambitious project, which has come into fruition in this beautifully produced book and deck! Sol Invictus “The God Tarot” is a must have for any tarot collector and an interesting deck to use to explore the different manifestations of masculine energy and divinities, whilst learning a great deal about different world pantheons.

Available from http://www.bushwoodbooks.co.uk