The Red Church

By C.R. Bilardi

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~review by David Rankine (originally at www.ritualmagick.co.uk )

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.

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This is an exciting new release due out from Avalonia and David Rankine:

treasurespirites

THE BOOK OF TREASURE SPIRITS
With Introduction & Commentary by David Rankine

Conjurations of Goetic spirits, old gods, demons and fairies are all part of a rich heritage of the magical search for treasure trove.  During the Middle Ages and Renaissance the British Monarchy gave out licenses to people seeking treasure in an effort to control such practices, and this is one reason why so many grimoires are full of conjurations and charms to help the magician find treasure.

Published here for the first time, from a long-ignored mid-seventeenth century manuscript in the British Library (Sloane MS 3824), is the conjuration said to have been performed at the request of King Edward IV, with other rites to reveal treasure, to have treasure brought from the sea, and to cause thieves to bring back stolen goods.  Conjurations to call any type of spirit are also included, recorded by the noted alchemist and collector Elias Ashmole, as is an extract on conjuration practices from the Heptameron, transcribed into English for practical use by a working group of magicians, before its first English publication by Robert Turner in 1655.

These conjurations demonstrate the influence of earlier classic grimoires and sources, with components drawn from the Goetia, the Heptameron, and Reginald Scot’s Discoverie of Witchcraft. The material includes spirit contracts for the fallen angels Agares and Vassago, and the demon Padiel, as well as techniques like lead plates for binding, and summoning into a glass of water, which hark back to the defixiones of Hellenistic Greece and the demonic magic of the Biblical world.

This material forms part of a corpus of conjurations all written in the same hand and style of evocation, linking Goetic spirits and treasure spirits with the archangels and planetary intelligences (Sloane MS 3825), and demon kings and Enochian hierarchies (Sloane MS 3821), making it a unique bridge of style and content between what are often falsely seen as diverse threads of Renaissance magic.

Soon available from www.avaloniabooks.com

The Drums of Legenderry by John Orlando

Review by Herbwoman for the Esoteric Book Review

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This book is available from http://www.legenderry.com where you can also find more information on the author, his writing and his drumming.

It took me forever to read this book, even though it has been sitting waiting for me to read I just didn’t for one reason or another.  So when I finally picked it up over the past weekend I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was a very enjoyable and very much an unputdownable read!

The author’s style is quite naive in places, but that is part of the joy and besides this book is all about the story which is magical and mystical, mysterious and fun.

“The Rhythm Maiden bestows a marvelous gift upon the villagers of Legenderry, but mankind doesn’t seem to be ready.  Her son Jocco has special powers using illusions that he brings into play in resourceful ways.  Jocco’s brother, Shaedo, is a clever manipulator of shadows.  Together they trick people and also a destructive, young giant, but sometimes the tricksters get tricked themselves.  They ask Cornelius Pinty, a university graduate with a doctorate degree in elfin anthropology, to record the highlights of their adventures.  This written record, left in a time capsule, is the Drums of Legenderry”

This is a unique work of fiction which transports the reader into another world.  As such I would recommend it to all lovers of magical fiction!

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.

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 http://avaloniabooks.co.uk/catalogue/titles/elemental_magick.htm

Review: Rootwork: Using the folk magick of black america for love, money, and success
By Tayannah Lee McQuillar

Review by Kim Huggens

Rootwork (otherwise known as Hoodoo) is a subject that is quite difficult to find decent books about. A lot of the available literature is amateur and brief, giving the budding rootworker very little by way of intellectual resources. Sadly, “Rootwork” by Tayannah Lee McQuilllar is a prime example of this.

Numbering 141 pages and split into three sections, it took me just under an hour to read, so at least it wasn’t too much of a waste of my time. Luckily the book is also written in an easy, simple and approachable style, so “Rootwork” can be read without too much concentration. The three sections of the book are “Rootwork Basics”, “Elements of Rootwork”, and “Understanding Spells for Love, Money, and Success”. The first section deals with the history and development of Hoodoo, the nature of magic (yes, note my insistence on the lack of a ‘k’ at the end of the word…), and the beliefs of rootworkers. It is this section that I have the most problems with – firstly, McQuillar’s so-called history leaves much to be desired. She continually reminds the reader how important it is to understand the roots of Hoodoo and how it developed, yet only touches upon it briefly, giving absolutely no references for further reading or study. This leads me to believe that the historical account given in this book is over-simplistic and possibly inaccurate. McQuillar’s explanation for how magic works will also turn many a reader blue:

“No form of magick is based on logic – if it was, it would cease to be magick. There is no explanation for why spells work, but they do. All that is needed to work successfully with spells is patience, confidence, and faith. It is a completely illogical process that must be allowed simply to be. As soon as you try to analyze it, its power is lost.” ~ pp.11

Well, I read this paragraph to an Hermetic magician and he just laughed out loud. I have no doubt any magic practitioner from a wide variety of other traditions would have a similar reaction. I also have no doubt that another Rootworker would have a similar reaction. By virtue of the very fact that McQuillar has managed to write a book on the practice of magic in the Hoodoo tradition, she has contradicted her own statement! If it were a completely illogical process, it would be impossible for her to give the tables of correspondences that later form the second section of the book. And don’t even get me started on the nature of sympathetic magic – I have an overwhelming desire to beat McQuillar over the head repeatedly with the unabridged version of Frazer’s Golden Bough, not to mention the vast array of excellent studies on the nature of magic throughout history that highlight the logic in which magical practice moves. It is true that magic does not work in the same logic as science, but it nevertheless possesses its own very unique kind of logic.

The second section of the book, “Elements of Rootwork”, may come in handy for some people, depending on how much they already known about Rootwork. It covers the main items used in the practice, splitting them into the four elements of Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. As such, some of it will undoubtedly be familiar to those who have spent some time working in the Wiccan tradition or Hermetic tradition – subjects such as using coloured candles, incenses, and moon water are covered and seem to be the basic stuff of $ilver Ravenwolf books. However, there are certain things covered that I found very useful and interesting: the use of earth taken from various locations (graveyards, courthouses, prisons, mountains…), how to interpret the flame of a candle as it burns, and (perhaps the most useful part of the whole book) recipes for various waters and baths.

This section also includes a list of commonly used talismans, herbs, and miscellaneous objects in Hoodoo practice, and – of great interest to me – the use of substances from the human body in magic. Such a practice goes back to the earliest examples discovered of a spell (ancient Mesopotamia in the 3rd millennium BCE), so it was extremely interesting to read how this is used in Rootwork. I was also surprised to find how similar the practice was to that as it was used originally all those centuries ago. Finally, divinatory methods of Rootworkers, including cartomancy, are covered, as well as communicating with the spirits of the dead and ancestors.

The third section is more of a grimoire than anything else – it gives dozens of Hoodoo spells for use by the reader. They are simple, and McQuillar says they have been slightly modified to better suit the lives of those who will be reading the book. Luckily she hasn’t dumbed the spells down, and they seem pretty traditional in most places. There are a couple I raised an eyebrow at, however, such as the “Pay Me Now!” spell to get back money owed to you. The effect of this spell is that the person who owes you money will lose things until they give that money back to you. Now, surely their losing items precious to them will do nothing but aggravate the cause of their not returning your money?!

Throughout the book there are references to black heritage and culture, and the author often refers to “we” and “our ancestors” from black Africa. “We are the descendants of the strongest [black African slaves], the ones that made it.” No, I’m not. I’m as white as they come, English, with fair hair and green eyes and I probably don’t have an ounce of black blood in me. I just happen to be interested in Hoodoo. I appreciate that we should understand the cultural heritage of the magical traditions we work with, but I really would also appreciate it if the magic was taken in its own stead, not simply as a way to big-up one’s heritage and oppressed culture. You don’t see books on Runelore and Seidhr magic talking about blonde haired, blue-eyed Aryans and the blood that we share with them, do you?

I also found there to be a great deal of conflicting information given in the book. On one page, for instance, we are told that when interpreting candle wax we should base our interpretation on our own personal feelings about the symbol – that it should not be interpreted by anybody else for us. Yet on the very next paragraph McQuillar recommends using a dream dictionary for symbol meanings, and on the next page gives a list of interpretations for the “ten most common” symbols!

Overall, I found this book extremely disappointing. My skepticism regarding it is heightened even further by the worrying minimalism of the bibliography – a grand total of four books grace the list. I greatly value the recipes for the waters and baths given in the book, and have no doubt that some of the spells and mojo bag recipes will come in handy, but frankly I could have got them for free off the internet. Which I hope is NOT what the author did.

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 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.