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Wondrous Strange by Lesley Livingston (YA fiction)



If you are a fan of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream, you’ll fall in love with this book.

Even readers who are not fans of old Bill’s works will be drawn into he improbable world where Titania and Oberon are real beings.

As the days draw close to Samhain, the door between the world of Fea and mundane New York City widens just enough to let all manner of fairy folk access to the mundane world from their other worldly realms. The hole in the wall between the worlds is guarded by human changelings. Human children stolen form their parents of ages past brought up in the Fea realms and taught to defend the gap in the gate.

Things get really interesting when the heroine, Kelley Winslow, comes face to face with the truth of her parentage. She falls in love with one of the changelings, Sonny Flannery, and as things progress from bad to worse realizes that the world she knows and even the people in it are not at all what the seem.

I completely enjoyed this fantastical tale. William Shakespeare’s tales are the basis for the story premise, but the author jumps off the deep end from there in her execution of a believable modern day explanation of old Bill’s plays.

Fans of fairy lore and old English plays will be well please to pick up this book.

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Blueberry Girl by Neil Gaiman

The story opens with an image of 3 ladies. The accompanying text says “Ladies of light and Ladies of darkness…” Both the text and imagery are things that a Pagan child can identify with.

The end of the opening page has the line “this is a prayer for a blueberry girl.” While Pagans don’t specifically pray, the story reads like an incantation one might find at a Paganing or Wiccaning ritual. That is why I am including it in this book review.

Fantasy artist, Charles Vess, illustrated the book with whimsical and colorful images. There are girls of all types who frolic and tumble on the pages.

Many of the short verses can be seen as having a connection to Wiccan ideals. I think this book would make a good welcoming gift to a newborn girl in many Pagan families.

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Goddess Guidance Oracle Cards

Goddess Guidance Oracle Cards Goddess Guidance Oracle Cards
By Doreen Virtue, Ph.D., H Life Styles (Hay House, Inc.) 44-card deck with 123-page guidebookTwelve artists contribute to the artwork displaying Goddess from many different pantheons, including the Christian mythos. The over-sized cards contain the name of the Goddess and her title/meaning above a unique artistic portrayal. Under each painting is a short quote from the Goddess to the reader. Even the quotes from the Goddesses considered “dark” like Pele are bright and upbeat. The deck has the “everything is right and good with the world”, New Age outlook.

The cards’ artwork is inconsistent throughout the deck, mainly because of the differing techniques among the varied artists, but that may add to its freshness or charm.
I was startled to find Mary, Mary Magdalene and Guinevere among the cards, but perhaps that is because of my non-Christian upbringing. I understand that some Pagans do worship the Christian women icons as forms of Goddess. I was also amused at the omission of Persephone and Hekate, but I suppose there are so many Goddesses that including more of everyone’s personal favorites would have been impossible.

The booklet is of a better quality than most guides included within a deck. It will stand up to the usage of regular readings without falling apart like a stapled pamphlet one usually finds with a tarot deck. Both the booklet and the cards come in a nice two-piece box that is also sturdy in its construction.

Inside the booklet is a table of contents making it easy to find the cards in your layout. Also provided are instruction on consecrating and using the deck, readings and variation on readings. The booklet includes “general meanings” on each card. The reader is encouraged to honor their intuition, something that is necessary to make sense out of any divination practice.

In all, the deck is friendly and the meaning and usage accessible to even a beginner. I would not recommend this deck for general use but it is nice to have as a secondary tool when using tarot in your daily meditations.

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Sea Magic: Connecting with the Ocean’s Energy by Sandra Kynes

Sea Magic: Connecting with the Ocean’s Energy $15.95 US ISBN13 978-0738713533 197 pages Llewellyn Worldwide

seamagicI grew up on the East Coast spitting distance from the Long Island Sound. Until my move to Missouri in 2000, I had always lived within the reach, sound and smell of the ocean. So when I saw this book I got very excited. One of the things about living in the Mid West I have never been able to get used to was not having the sea close by.

Ms. Kynes has penned a thorough guide to connect with the mystical magic of the deep salt waters of the world. With chapters titled such things as “The Call of the Ocean” and “The Moon, Meditations and Everyday Life,” she has shifted the shore inland to any one who hears the siren’s song.

The chapters are broken down into manageable bits that include journaling exercises, meditations and facts and fiction about all things oceanic. Deities, mythological creatures, seashells and sea animals are all in this small but fact-filled book. And for those of us – like me – who are days away from the nearest seashore, she has included instructions for bringing the coast to our daily existences.

My only complaint about this book is the endless lists of correspondences or items without any break. It really is a personal preference, because I am sure some people find these things very useful, but for reading purposes, they can become tedious and dull. I’d love to see more anecdotal passages included in these sections to liven them up. In the back matter are a couple of appendices (one for ‘mind mapping’ and one for runes and ogham) and a bibliography for further study.

Recommended.

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Nine Designs for Inner Peace: The Ultimate Guide to Meditating with Color, Shape, and Sound by Sarah Tomlinson

ninedesigns.jpg Nine Designs for Inner Peace: The Ultimate Guide to Meditating with Color, Shape, and Sound
$24.95 US
ISBN13 978-1594771941 192 pages
Destiny Books (Inner Traditions)

Nine Designs for Inner Peace is a wonderful introduction to Yantra drawing, painting, chanting and meditation. Everything is clearly described with instructions that are easy to follow for even a non-artist.

Part 1 of the book explains the why and how of creation of Yantra art and meditation. The nine Yantra designs each have their own chapter in the mid section of the section. Color plates through out the book clarify the instructions on drafting and painting each design. And for those who don’t feel up to the challenge of starting the designs from scratch, line art templates are provided in the appendix.

Part 2 delves into the background of Yantra practice. History and personal practice are both touched upon briefly. There is also a chapter on where and how to bring the Yantra colors into your daily life, such as the best day to wear red and where to hang the finished art in your home for best effect.

As an artist, I am very visual and think mostly in pictures and colors. Meditation has always been a bit of a struggle for me. Until this book came along. What was once a mystery has moved into the realm of possibility. Creating and coloring a Yantra design for a specific meditation has been a spiritual awakening. Daily meditation is no longer a chore but an anticipated retreat from the cares of daily life.

My only complaint is the discrepancy between the written word and the color plates in some of the color descriptions. Perhaps as an artist, I am being too fussy, but I found it confusing when the suggested color materials didn’t always match up with the sample pictured. In the long run, I suppose it doesn’t matter. The practice of drawing and painting with the prescribed chants more than makes up for such slight errors in color matching.

If traditional meditation has always left you with a feeling of frustration this book may open up new avenues for quality time with your Higher Beings.

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Priestess of the Forest by Ellen Evert Hopman

priestessforest.jpgPriestess of the Forest: A Druid Journey by Ellen Evert Hopman
$18.95 US $21.95 CAN
ISBN13 978-0-7387-1262-8 360 pages
Llewellyn Worldwide, Ltd. www.llewellyn.com

A masterful written, fictional, love story based in third-century Ireland, this book animates the basic life style of the ancient Celts. Penned along the same lines as The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley, Priestess of the Forest examines historical class systems, symbols and life passages as seen through the eyes of the Druid class.

The author, Ellen Evert Hopman, currently the co-chief of the Order of the Whiteoak (Ord na Darach Gile) masterfully moves from writing non-fiction to this historical fantasy. Her aim was to engage the reader while teaching the ways of Druidic practice, ancient Celtic daily life, rites and rituals.

The story begins with the main character, Ethne, alone in her woodland hut. Her peace is shattered when a seriously wounded Fennid warrior is brought to her for healing. As she battles to keep him from death, she falls in love with him and he for her as he regains his strength. Unfortunately for them, the world they know is being invaded by a new religion, one that demands they leave behind their own beliefs and practices.

As with all good narratives, there are good guys and bad guys. Ethne is asked by the high Priest and Priestess to become the King’s bride. As Queen, they hope she will keep the Druidic ways strong in the land. Since we know the book is a historical fiction, the new religion of Christianity will win out in the end, but I kept hoping for a different conclusion. In the end the bad guys win, but Ethne’s personal story has a happy, if bittersweet, finale.

I was fascinated by the brief author interview, which followed the story. Ms. Hopman goes into detail about historical Druids as well as their modern day counter parts. She hopes that this book will be used to further teachings of the rites and passages she included as samples throughout the story line. Also included in the book’s back matter is a very useful recommended reading list of books divided by various categories.

If you are looking for some light reading, but want more than a bit of fluff, this is the book for you. This is a masterfully crafted tale that teaches as well as entertains.

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The Metaphysical Book of Gems and Crystals by Florence Mégemont

metagemscryst1.jpg The Metaphysical Book of Gems and Crystals
$24.95
ISBN 159477214-2 (ISBN13 978-159477214-6) 312 pages
Healing Arts Press (Inner Traditions) www.healingartspress.com

This book is beautifully presented with full color images of each crystal or gem on its own description page. The book is divided into three sections. Part one lists chemical composition, color, principle deposits, hardness and density immediately under the image. Following that are brief paragraphs with bold headings of ‘Etymology and General Description,’ ‘Therapeutic Uses,’ and lastly, ‘Zodiac Correspondences.’ These listings are generally between two and three pages. Some include additional images of the rock being discussed. This section makes up the bulk of the book. Also in this section are chapters on the use of, and care of crystals.

Part Two is devoted to correspondences of the charkas, colors or zodiac. Part three is devoted to the treatment of specific conditions be they physical, emotional or spiritual.

For the most part I found the images, although beautifully presented, useless. Some show raw crystal, some show finished stones and others are very tight shots of the striations of the stones, more like modern art than useful in identifying that particular specimen.

Some entries contained contradictory information. For example in alabaster under therapeutic uses one paragraph says “The calcium contained in alabaster would be as effective as talcum, but because it’s often impure and can contain other, more toxic substances, it’s better not to use it.” In the paragraph immediately following, powdered alabaster, diluted in water, is recommend as a daily dosage for a week to relieve mood swings.

I found the book difficult to use unless one is already familiar with each stone or gem. Part three lists each entry by condition rather than by stone, so if you have a stone but don’t know what its particular uses are, you need to read each entry to see if your stone shows up under a particular condition.

The portion of the book devoted to charkas was interesting, as were the color language and zodiac entries but at almost $25 for this book, aren’t enough to justify the expense of a purchase.

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Composing Magic by Elizabeth Barrette

Compsoing Magic Composing Magic: How to Create Magical Spells, Rituals, Blessings, Chants, and Prayer
This is the first book I have had the pleasure to read which really gets into the nitty-gritty of putting words to paper for ritual and ceremonial uses.

As a children’s book writer, I have read my fair share of writing manuals, including books on poetic forms. Many of them left me scratching my head and wondering if I had any grasp on the English language at all or if I should just throw in the towel and let someone with a Masters degree in English Lit have all the fun.

Ms. Barrette’s book wasn’t one of these. Her descriptions of the differing forms of poetry and prose was accessible to anyone in plain, sraight-forward description. Each form was demonstrated by an example, many of which were the author’s own creations, as well as examples from more famous authors’ writings. What I especially liked was the inclusion of the historic and cultural explanations of each form of writing. The author also commented on how the form could best be used in a Pagan setting.

Each chapter examines a particular topic or form of writing, followed by a series of exercises meant to encourage the reader to use the knowledge from the chapter in a constructive and practical manner. Each chapter builds on the ones previous, with the suggestion to return to earlier exercises with the newly acquired information.

The final chapters in the book encourage the writer who wishes to become published with practical and down-to-earth advice on this tough but rewarding occupation.

The book contains footnotes, a bibliography and an index. At less than 300 pages, the book is small, but jam packed with tons of useful advice and examples for the person who wants to create truly magical ritual form.

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Magickal Connections by Lisa McSherry

Magickal Connections: Creating a Lasting and Healthy Spiritual Group
I have found that once a novice witch has settled into the Pagan path, the next thing they look for is community. Many a new witchling yearns for a coven to call home. Many try and start one on their own, thinking that all they have to do is show up and –whala- instant coven. Sadly, most of these fledgling covens never make it past 6 months when the real world work of running a religious organization becomes apparent.

Ms. McSherry has succinctly taken her own experience as a coven leader and put it in an accessible and wonderfully complete book. This book covers all the essentials to forming, running, maintaining and even dissolving a coven. The author’s voice is pleasant and informative, making the material in this book easy to read and understand. Many books of this nature tend to be on the dry side, but Ms. McSherry has an upbeat manner, which includes spells and rituals designed to further the coven’s aims and purpose. Pitfalls and things to be aware of in forming and running a coven are briefly touched upon and explained. Solutions and alternative examples are provided for many situations that can arise.

The only drawback to this book that I can see is that the work is aimed to the cyber-world coven. Little is said of the real life duties of a High Priest or Priestess in regards to counseling or midnight phone calls for help. As a former roommate to a coven’s High Priestess, I can tell you, her duties never ended. There was many a time when she was called away to help a covener with only a moment’s notice. Aside from this, I found the book to cover most aspects of running a spiritual group.

The book also has several appendices taken from JaguarMoon, the author’s own coven. They are the various application forms sent out to prospective coveners to weed out the less serious applicants. They are an excellent jumping off place to coming up with your own requirements for membership in your own coven.

I would recommend this book to anyone considering forming a coven, whether online or in the real world. There are many things brought to a reader’s attention to consider before taking the leap into a leadership role.

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Essential Asatru by Diana L. Paxson

Essential AsatruEssential Asatru: Walking the Path of Norse Paganism by Diana L. Paxson

When I received this book, I racked my brain trying to figure out why the author’s name was so familiar. By the time I got to the acknowledgements, I had the light bulb go off in my head. Ms. Paxson is the very same author who penned those wonderful fiction books with Marion Zimmer Bradley. These very books were my introduction into the worlds of magic back in my 20s. I settled in for what I was sure was to be a very enjoyable ride.

Each chapter starts off with a scene from a Heathen ritual. From this scene the chapter goes off into small segments of history, customs or mythology based on Norse Paganism. The chapters are divided into three sections called “Rounds” and follow the lines of a typical Heathen ritual. The first section (Round one) is dedicated to Heroes and Ancestors, the second is for Gods and Goddesses, and the final one is entitled Toasts, Boast and Oaths. Following these sections there are some pages with resources, a bibliography and an index. I’m not sure an index is necessary though, as the main body of the book is barely 200 pages long.

This book is a basic introduction for a non-Heathen. It is very lean and briefly touches on many topics. It was an easy read and did not require much effort from the reader. I would have liked to see more of Ms. Paxson’s story telling ability in evidence in the mythological sections instead of a bland recounting of the facts related to each personality.

Although I have been to several boasting rituals in the last few decades, I really wasn’t aware of many of the backgrounds behind the rites. This book cleared up many of my misconceptions and some of my ignorance on this fascinating branch of Paganism. The book sheds light on the kindred for the non-heathen, but it is so short and only touches on the surface of so many topics, I doubt anyone but a non-heathen would get much out of it. I would classify this book as an appetizer only, but a tasty tidbit non-the-less.

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Fang and Fur, Blood and Bone

Fang and Fur, Blood and Bone: A Primal Guide to Animal Magic by Lupa
Lupa tames the animal kingdom for magickal workers. In a no-holds barred manual, the author explores all aspects of utilizing animals in ritual and life works. She is a brave writer, not shying away from even subjects that are politically incorrect such as ritual sacrifice. In seven concise and informative chapters, the book takes the reader from the mildest form of animal magic – Totemism, to the most extreme and possibly controversial form – animal sacrifices.

For the most part the book is well written and to the point. I was fascinated by the recounting of the author’s own experiences of invocation while dancing in a wolf pelt. I often use found feathers in creation of magical tools so the chapter on using animal parts was also personally interesting for me. The author suggests deep communion with the animal spirits left behind in the parts, something I had never considered before. It does make sense to me, although nearly all the feathers I have worked with have been molted and as far as I am aware have little in terms of residual energy clinging to them. On the other hand, I have two turtle shells that I have been holding onto for years, not knowing what to do with them. Perhaps the ritual explained in this book to ask the original owners what they wish to have done with the remains would be a good avenue to pursue in this instance.

I have worked with animal imagery in the past both in forms of totems and animal nature. I often call animals to represent the Quarters when I cast circle. For a long time my favorite tarot deck was the Earth Medicine Deck, which features animals on most cards with some left blank for the reader to fill in as needed. But I never considered invocation of my totems into myself, never considered creating new animals to suit my needs and never tried shape shifting, either in my mind or in actuality. The author claims to feel “other” and to feel a kinship with her totems something I have never felt. This book contained many passages opening new ideas to me. Even if I fail to use their wisdom, I feel that my outlook when it comes to animal magic has been greatly expanded.

On the technical side of the book, I have two small issues. One was the page layout. I found the margins in the book to be too small forcing me to open the book’s spine more severely than I am accustomed to. In a hardback book this would not be an issue, but with a soft cover, I am afraid the binding will soon become cracked and damaged causing the book to have a short lifespan. The other thing I have issue with was the author’s attempt to be non-gender specific with her own word of “hir” replacing his, hers, him and her. It really is too bad that the English language has no gender-neutral words in these instances, but at best I found the replacement word to be distracting and at worst was that it was used inconsistently throughout the text. In places the common language of his and her was in evidence only to be replaced in the following paragraph by the “hir” usage.

In all this is an excellent book for people wishing to delve into the worlds of animal magics. It is far better than any other book I have read on the subject, avoiding the rote use of listing animal correspondences and getting down to the nitty-gritty of actual rituals and meditations fully accessible to even a novice.

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The Mysteries of Druidry: Celtic Mysticism, Theory, & Practice

Mysteries of DruidryThe Mysteries of Druidry: Celtic Mysticism, Theory, & Practice by Brendan Cathbad Myers

I was disappointed in this book. The promo material I received from the publisher has the lead line of ‘An ancient spirituality; a mystical order – crucial to healing the earth?,’ so I was expecting something along the same lines as Mr. Myers’ previous book. It just wasn’t so. Still, I suppose that’s the oversight of the promotions department at the publisher and not the author’s doing.

I found the author to be well versed and knowledgeable on his subject matter. The book is a well-done, scholarly accounting of Druidry, both historical and present day. The text is well annotated with footnotes to back up the author’s assertions and to help a reader place the many quotes from other scholars that frequent the pages. There are also many black and white photographs of places and architecture mentioned in the pages of the book.

There are many ritual enactments throughout the pages, allowing those who wish to delve into Druidic worship to jump right in. There are also retelling of classic Druid mythologies with thorough explanations of the whole cast of characters. If you ever wanted to know who’s who and what they did this is a good book to read.

Overall, as a relative neophyte when it comes to Druidry, (I have attended several workshop presented by Isaac Bonewits, who wrote the forward for this book) I found the book to be hard going and somewhat difficult to follow in places. I do not have any problems with the facts as presented, given the amount of research and experience the author has accumulated over the years spent in Ireland studying the Druidic culture and history, however the prose themselves are for the most part very dry reading. I feel a serious seeker of Druidic ways and knowledge will get a lot out of this book, but for someone like myself, with only a passing familiarity of Druidry, the book’s knowledge wasn’t as accessible as I would have liked.