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Occult America by Mitch Horowitz

Occult America is a fascinating look at a part of American history that is largely unknown. It focuses on a variety of spiritual and religious movements and experiments and leaders. Some of these you have likely heard something about (Edgar Cayce, Madame Blavatsky) but many that are likely new to you, as they were to me (Andrew Jackson Davis, Frank B. Robinson), and some whose names you might know but never knew their connection to the mystical (Abner Doubleday, Henry A. Wallace). Most interesting to me were the sections on early America and some of the movements of the early 20th century.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, but I think it might have been better titled “Mystical America” than “Occult America.” This is because there is much that is not covered that relates to Paganism, magic or some of the darker aspects of the occult. Many of the paths discussed have at least a veneer of Christianity. For example, in the 20th century, Gerald Gardner and Wicca constitute less than a page and there isn’t anything on any of the other (Neo-)Pagan paths. Anton LeVay isn’t mentioned at all. Aleister Crowley pops up in a couple of paragraphs. While these are subjects with which I have some familiarity, most of mainstream America does not, and it is mainstream America that is the target audience for this book. That seems to be the constraint on what is covered here, subjects and paths that may be palatable for the mainstream. Having said that though, there is much of interest for the Pagan or magician as well. In the first couple of chapters, there seemed to be an interesting nugget of information on every other page. Andrew Jackson Davis’ mystical insights, in which he describes an idyllic afterlife he called the “Summerland” made me perk up. Some of the books Horowitz mentions gave me the context for works that our coven has in its library but that I didn’t really know much about (moving them higher up in my reading list).

I do recommend this book, it is an interesting read with some off-beat information that I will follow-up on with research of my own. As long as you aren’t expecting hard-core occultism, I think you will enjoy it.

The Wiccan Minister’s Manual by Kevin M. Gardner

I recently started thinking about putting together a clergy curriculum for my teaching coven and therefore started looking for resources I could recommend. The Wiccan Minister’s Manual definitely fits the bill. In the first section, “Making the Connection,” Gardner talks about ways we can facilitate individual’s search for the connection to divinity. Some of this is very practical, such as suggestions on how to help someone who does not visualize be able to do guided meditations. Other sections of the book cover “How to Live a Spiritual Life,” “Healing Mind, Body, and Spirit,” “Psychic Self-Defense and Rituals of Protection” (which includes the only example I’ve seen of how to perform a Wiccan exorcism), and “Spiritual Support Roles and the Many Hats We Wear.”

Gardner has been clergy for many years and clearly has dealt with many situations personally. That knowledge and experience comes through as he gives examples of how he has dealt with various situations. I do recommend that you take his approaches into consideration but use your own judgement or research. For example, the section on the laws for being able to perform marriages has some out-of-date information, as laws change. I will say that nothing in this book raised alarms with me, unlike A Handbook for Wiccan Clergy by the same author. In the Handbook, some of the materials included suggestions on how to help a couple through a divorce, including some activities that I think are better suited to a lawyer or accountant. I suggest you tread lightly in areas where you don’t have expertise. That approach is more prevalent in the Manual.

I do recommend the The Wiccan Minister’s Manual as it covers a good amount of material I haven’t seen elsewhere and does so in a responsible and compassionate manner.

Sanctuary of the Gods by Nathan Cate

Sanctuary of the Gods is a novel wrapped around a theory. The novel is well-written and entertaining and the theory is an interesting one, especially for anyone interested in Pagan history or the Tarot.

I’ll start with the novel itself. The story begins in 1350 AD when a young man makes an assassination attempt on a member of the church and, fleeing, finds himself in a valley with a 900 year old secret. Without giving too much away, I will say that the novel begins there, but the story does not, and we are led back through time to 900 BC, 347 BC and 400 AD. We find ourselves facing the question of how the ancient Pagans of Greece and Rome, faced with the coming takeover of Christianity, might have tried to preserve their beliefs for a time when the old gods would again be recognized and worshipped. Sanctuary of the Gods manages
to provide us with a thoughtful answer in a story that involves religion and philosophy without overwhelming us with the headiness of it. In the process, Nathan Cate gives us the birth of the Tarot.

Sanctuary of the Gods really has two sections, the novel and the appendix. The lengthy appendix describes the Tarot from the context of the underlying theory of the novel and, for all I know, may have pre-dated the novel. The Tarot is a lesson in an ancient belief system and a map, figuratively and literally, to our Pagan history. While I haven’t completely accepted the information laid out in the appendix, it is well though-out and quite interesting. It will certainly add another dimension to my Tarot readings.

I recommend this book for both its entertainment value and its ability to make you think outside the box.

Prime Chaos by Phil Hine

There are a fair number of books available on chaos magic, some of them brain twisters and other a joy to read even if you aren’t specifically interested in chaos magic. Phil Hine’s books, Condensed Magic and Prime Chaos, fall into the latter category. Prime Chaos, subtitled “Adventures in Chaos Magic” is more than an introduction to chaos magic, it’s a good primer on magic in general and I highly recommend it.

The book is divided into four parts. The first, “Chaos is Everywhere” talks about such generally useful topics as the differences between initiation by a group and self-initiation, and approach magic with a beginner’s mind, that is, approaching magic with an open mind is one of the keys to success. He also discusses experiments in belief and the way belief structures reality, a key to the chaos magic approach.

The second part, “Dynamic Ritual,” breaks down the components of ritual in great detail. Hine includes a description of ritual as theatre, breaking it down into style, timing, spatial elements, body-mind components, visualization related exercises, and the interpenetration of magical reality.

Part three, “Group Effects,” discusses group dynamics and the formation of a magical working group. I strongly recommend everyone have some idea of how group dynamics work, whether you read this book or Judy Harrow’s Wicca Covens or Amber K’s Covencraft. Hine briefly discusses the stages of forming, storming, norming and performing and how they relate to the members’ levels of self-disclosure.

Part four, “Liber Nice and Liber Nasty,” is in two sections. Liber Nice talks about Discordianism. Liber Nasty discusses the Cthulhu mythos. Even if neither of these appeal to you, the discussion is entertaining and may give you some ideas for your own approach to chaos magic.

Making Magick by Edain McCoy

Making Magick covers a lot of information in an understandable way. McCoy provides an introduction to Magick without giving us yet another “spell book” or pap designed for folks who have seen The Craft too many times. It also goes beyond the “intro” level and gives us something to work with and from.

This book contains the best description of grounding and centering I’ve seen. McCoy describes why, when and how to ground and center and what the differences are. Her method is simple and useful (I’ve adopted it myself).

McCoy also goes into a lengthy discussion of the elements and how being out of balance with them affects our lives. What, for instance, are the symptoms of having too much or too little fire? And what do we do to increase or decrease the fire in our lives? She covers these questions for each of the elements.

McCoy also discusses the steps to making a spell. Remember the phrase Give a man a fish and he eats for a day, teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime? McCoy is doing the equivalent of teaching us how to fish. She lays out the process for us, so we can create our own spells and rituals. Since these things tend to be a lot more effective when we create our own (investing our own energy in them) than what we copy from a book, this is empowering information.

Other topics which are covered include psychic self-defense, using tattwas, natural magick and pagan ritual magick.

Making Magick is an excellent resource for anyone looking at the magickal side of life. I highly recommend it.

Lord of Light and Shadow by D.J. Conway

Lord of Light and Shadow is an excellent book for learning about different aspects of gods from many different cultures. This is a good book for reading for its insights and then using again as a reference book for researching a particular god or type of god.

In Lord of Light and Shadow, Conway describes many different gods and groups them together into several archetypes or categories. Her chapters include “The Sacred or Divine Child”, “Lord of Forests & Animals”, “The Healer”, “The Warrior”, “The Trickster”, “The Magician”, “The Sacrificed Savior” and others. Many gods appear in more than one category. For example, Odhinn appears in “The Magician” and “Lord of Judgement & Prophesy” and a few more. In the chapters and in “Appendix II, Gods & Their Attributes”, Conway discusses gods from many different cultures. Conway does a good job of showing us the similarities and differences across mythological systems. For instance, the chapter on “The Sacrified Savior” discusses Osiris, Odhinn, Mithras, Quetzalcoatl and at least a dozen others.

This is a well researched book, but the author manages to not hit you over the head with it. There is an extensive bibliography and a healthy supply of end-notes to help you find the relevant information in the bibliography. In addition to the gods and their attributes section, the appendices also have a cross-reference (looking for a list of sky-gods or metal-smiths? this is where to search), suggested meditations to help you connect with diety, and god symbols.

This book is more accessible than Janet & Stewart Farrar’s The Witch’s God. The Farrar book is a great reference and includes rituals for each of the eight or so gods which have a chapter to themselves. The writing style is a bit stiffer than Conway’s.
The Witch’s God has a longer god list in the back and after reading the whole book, I tend to use the list more like an encyclopedia reference, whereas with Conway’s book I seem to still be using both the appendices and the text after having read the book through once. I actually suggest that you pick up both books if possible.

The Goddess Path by Patricia Monaghan

This book is divided into two main sections. The first discusses general information about goddesses and the second describes twenty goddesses, including Artemis, Athena, Isis, Inanna, Kwan-yin and Kali.

The general information section discusses whether the Goddess is immanent (internal) or transcendent (external), and whether there is a single goddess or multiple goddesses. Monaghan also talks about the different goddess aspects of maiden, mother and crone,
and adds the fourth aspect of lover.

The second section describes each goddess in about 12 pages. For each one, there is information on the goddess’ story, her symbolism and feasts, ways to invoke her and questions you might want to ask yourself or exercises to perform related to the aspects
of your life which relate to that goddess. For example, the Lithuanian goddess Saule and her daughter Saules Meita are appropriate goddesses to invoke to help restore mother-daughter relationships and recover from family violence, since the story for these goddesses involves the rape of Saules Meita by her father and her mother’s vengeance upon him. Monaghan provides a ritual for re-enacting Saule’s protective actions in order to help women’s healing today.

This book reminds me of “The Witches’ Goddess” by the Farrars. Both books give fairly detailed attention to individual goddesses, but I prefer the methods Monaghan suggests for invoking the goddesses. Monaghan is not assuming you are enacting rituals
as part of a full coven. Her rituals usually require, at most, three or four people, and most are designed for you to perform on your own or with a few friends. Her approach strikes me as more adaptable and more personal. The Farrar book does include a lengthy appendix which lists a large number of goddesses from many different cultures. It serves as a mini-encyclopedia.

I would say this book is worthwhile. It is well organized. Monaghan’s writing has feminist leanings, but it is not overwrought. She’s chosen a good cultural cross-section of goddesses, including African, Buddhist, Hindu, and Finnish in addition to the more well-known Celtic, Greek and Egyptian.

Covencraft by Amber K

Covencraft by Amber K is one of the most thoroughly researched, well-written books I’ve run across. She covers every aspect of forming and running a coven, from group dynamics to how to write by-laws to filling out a form to obtain non-profit status.

The book includes a description of the forming of a coven, suggesting different ways that folks can find each other. This then develops into a description of group dynamics. This is important when you think about how people in any kind of group interact and, considering that a coven is a melding of energies, it’s especially important for a group of this type. Anybody who has been in a circle of folks with divergent, strong personalities will appreciate this section of the book.

Amber K also talks about the Covenstead and supplies, finances, and so on, as well as coven organization. She includes several examples of ways to organize the group. She discusses rituals, esbats and sabbats and her appendices include sample rituals.
These samples include initiation, handfasting, wiccaning, etc.

Anyone who is thinking about forming a coven, is in the process or forming a coven, or is already in one and is looking for ways to improve their organization will find this a valuable read.

The Magician’s Companion by Bill Whitcomb

What I thought:
This book truly is the Physician’s Desk Reference for the Magician. I really like this book. I highly recommend it to everyone involved in paganism, witchcraft, or the occult. In this one volume, overflowing with information, you find data on Runes, the Tree of Life, Yoga, Enochian Magic, I Ching, Symbology, many magical alphabets, and more. What is great about the usfulness of this book is that it is arranged in a numerical encyclopedia, Model(Chapter) 0 being the Void, 1 being the One, 2 being Duality…etc. This is definitely a must have no matter what type of magic you practice, or even if you just study it, it is an indispensable book with a wealth of useful intelligence on all Eastern and Western forms of magic. I love it for the wealth of information about different magical paths. Any serious student of magic can appreciate the expense of research time, and this book will help minimize the research, thereby allowing more time for your workings.

Bright Blessings

Thalos Ravenwind, The Wiccan flame

A Field Guide to Otherkin by Lupa

A while back, I was perusing some forums and ran into the term Otherkin. Otherkin, as described in this book, is “a person who believes that, through either a nonphysical or (much more rarely) physical means, s/he is not entirely human.” My reaction was a mix of “that’s intriguing,” “you’ve got to be kidding me,” and “hmmm, I wonder if any of this applies to me.” As I continued to read, I recognized some things that seemed to describe a few friends. Then I discovered Lupa’s book A Field Guide to Otherkin. I thought it would make for some entertaining reading. It did. It also is well-researched and well-written. Lupa is writing as a member of the Otherkin community and manages to avoid the trap that some folks fall into when writing about themselves/their beliefs/their lifestyle/etc. She provides a perspective from the “inside” without losing objectivity. There is an understanding that it is rather hard to prove (to yourself or others) that someone is indeed Other, but at the same time there must be honest self-exploration, including research, and that in-depth exploration is not a quick process. I think the sections discussing psychology are likely to be very useful for folks, as there are some litmus tests to help differentiate being Otherkin from concerns about psychological issues.

The book covers the theories on how someone might have become Otherkin: reincarnation, physical explanations, walk-ins (souls entering a body after birth), multiplicity, psychology, personal mythology and metaphor, energy resonance, and magic and spirituality. There is enough depth to the explanations of these various theories that you can get a feel for how comfortable you are with the different approaches, and there is no rule that says only one approach may apply to someone.

There are chapters on some of the different categories of Otherkin. Therianthropes are those whose Other (the non-human part) is an earth-based animal, such as a wolf or cougar. There are also Otherkin with dragons, elves, gryphons, and many others.

Much of the research in the book is based on surveys collected by the author. These provide a lot of information in the form of quotes from Otherkin. It’s interesting to hear the different voices and opinions on a subject like this that doesn’t have “experts.”

I have one small nit to pick. The font used to print web addresses jams all the letters in the URL together and makes it darn hard to read. Give all us near-sighted folks a break and please come up with something more legible next time.

I recommend this book for anyone interested in Otherkin, but also for anyone interested in self-exploration who has an affinity with non-human spirits.