Book review: Revealing the Green Man

Genre: Paganism

Title: Revealing the Green Man

Author: Mark Olly

olly-green-manOverview: Thin enough to be readable, but scholarly enough to be a resource, Revealing the Green Man is a book I wish had been written thirty years ago. I’ve long held the Green Man in special regard, and this slender volume is Olly’s attempt to explain the context from which awareness of him emerged.

There is some careful scholarship between these covers, such as tracing of links between metals like copper to the cults associated with this icon, which is widespread in medieval European art and architecture, even making appearances on Christian church buildings. Less careful — but equally fascinating — are the parallels the author draws among many vegetative gods around the world, from Dionysos to Denka to Tlaloc. There are many more plant gods than most of us realize, but Olly asserts without evidence that to precivilization humans, “the earth was regarded as one universal deity.”

It’s fun to speculate on the idea of an underlying “true” religion, but there’s simply no evidence that our ancestors were indeed all of one mind on that question. Olly does not need to make that unsupported claim in order to push the environmentalist agenda that underpins this book. I have always associated the Green Man with defense of the planet and the environment, yet I hold no illusions of a universal, matriarchal, goddess-revering humanity in the distant path. We do not need to desperately prove that all gods are one god in order to listen to the message of the Green Man.

Still, but for some instances of sloppy scholarship in pursuit of a thesis, this is a solid book built upon some excellent research. At just over a hundred pages, I recommend it as an introduction for anyone curious about the historical relationship between our species and this forest god.
Title: Revealing the Green Man
Author: Mark Olly
Publisher: Moon Books
ISBN: 978-1-78099-336-2

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Book review: Universal Heartbeat

Genre: Music
Title: Universal Heartbeat:  Drumming, Spirit and Community
Author: Morwen Two Feathers

universal-coverOverview: This collection of essays by one of the progenitors of the community drumming movement presents author Morwen Two Feathers’ views on the values and pitfalls of ecstatic drumming. Along the way, she explores thorny issues of cultural appropriation as well as the deeper benefits of participating in group drumming. Two Feathers and her husband, Jimi, founded the Earth Drum Council and ran it for decades. In short, this is a woman who knows what she’s talking about, and it would be worth your time to pay attention.

Buried in the back are the parts that I found most valuable: guidance on the council model of making decisions, as well as clearly-defined guidelines for drum and fire circles. That much of this guidance feels like common sense doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be laid out in writing; on the contrary, this is how to preserve it for people who don’t get it intuitively. I discovered several nuances that I had always seen but never observed, like not standing between the drummers and the fire. Keep moving like a planet: the closer the orbit, the faster the dance.

This is one person’s perspective on drumming, but such a perspective Morwen Two Feathers has! She has learned from some of the best, and that doesn’t just include how to hit the drum on the head, either. No, Two Feathers has absorbed wisdom about indigenous cultures and how members of the overculture can honor their practices; she has learned about the science and mysticism associated with drumming and applied it to her life; she has served as a leader in this movement and through her experience the reader can gain a more subtle and profound understanding of how all these pieces fit together.

Quibbles: If only words were enough to describe the power of the drum, this book would be a masterpiece. Even so, Two Feathers does a phenomenal job.

Quirks: I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I am an anti-capitalist. Morwen Two Feathers capitalizes far more words than I ever would. I would say that if e.e. cummings is 0 and SHOUTING is 100, Two Feathers is around a 70 to my 23. For example, I’ll grudgingly accept Neopagan, but she goes for Neo-Pagan. I’m fine with western civilization, but Two Feathers calls for Western Civilization. (It’s possible that the quirk in question here is actually mine.)

Title: Universal Heartbeat:  Drumming, Spirit and Community
Author: Morwen Two Feathers
Publisher: Twin Star
ISBN: 978-0-9817193-1-3

Fun with the ancestors

I walked past my ancestor shrine earlier this afternoon, and noticed that some of the objects had been rearranged.  The silver napkin ring in the center had last been seen on the left edge of the table, encircling the three coins I use for divination.  Those coins are now in a straight line, and from the edge they display tails-tails-heads.

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Yes, cats do walk here, and drink the water left as an offering.  It’s a good relationship; the cats remind me of my practice.  I’m fairly certain they had a paw in this.

The black iron knife on the right side of the image was forged and owned by a Witch friend of mine who recently passed.  I’ve been moving the knife closer in with the other objects day by day.  The reason I’m being gradual is because she represents an entire community of the dead that I have come to serve.  That community is comprised entirely of Pagans who have died in my lifetime, although I did not know them all personally, and I suspect that they are now livening up my ancestor work.

It is not my practice to put pictures of my ancestors on the shrine.  They are instead represented by objects.  The black mirror is to allow me to look into their eyes through my own.

I’d use the coins for divination to ask about this, but there they sit, tails-tails-heads, apparently in response to a question already asked.  That response suggests that they mostly feel the answer to the question is in the negative.  Sure would be nice to know what the question was.

Review of The Book of Practical Candle Magic

candle-magicGenre: Magic

Title: The Book of Practical Candle Magic

Author: Leo Vinci

Overview: There comes along every once in awhile a Pagan book that includes an example ritual so insanely intense that, as a reader, I must question if the author had ever personally attempted it. Donald Tyson’s Rune Magic has incredibly detailed requirements at every turn, and Advanced Circle Magick by Kirk White includes a high magic ritual with such precise choreography that it might require the services of Cirque de Soleil to execute. The novena ritual in Leo Vinci’s Book of Practical Candle Magic, however, is the stuff of legend. Whether or not Vinci ever tried, the novena is the sort of ritual some people will take on as a challenge. In its most intense form, the practitioner must maintain a series of candles, each lit at a precise time, continuously over 49 or more hours. It’s probably going to be more, because the candles should be allowed to go out on their own.

This is either hardcore ritual magic, or utter BS. There is a lot of information here about how to actually make one’s own candles (which can be verified by simply following the instructions) and about magical correspondences (which can be verified through experience or consulting of other resources); the author could well have tried this marathon working, but I’m unlikely to discover more about it firsthand. From a purely hands-on perspective (lighting and extinguishing candles, laying them out, the times of day and week and month which are best for particular kinds of candle magic), this book is chock-full of information. It also includes an explanation about the nature of symbolism which I could have used when writing essays in high school.

The Book of Practical Candle Magic is a re-release; the book has a copyright date of 1981, with 2015 marking the first Red Wheel/Weiser edition. While this may not ring true, 1981 was a long time ago in the minds of a great deal of people; to those in the millennial generation and younger, that’s indistinguishable from the days of Blavatsky’s Theosophistical Society. One of the ways this book shows its age is in the fact that it was titled before it became popular to spell “magic” with six letters, resolves no confusion whatsoever, because it both leaves the pronunciation unchanged, and has led some authors to unfortunate word choices such as “magickian.” However, that’s enough digression for now.

Bottom line, this slender volume is packed with a lot of information about candles and their magical uses. Much of it corresponds to information I have gleaned elsewhere, or simply resonates as true. That’s good, given its lack of sources (see the quibbles section below). Much of it can be verified by experience: there is an entire section on how to make one’s own candles, and that technical information alone makes this book worth owning. The esoteric information would certainly benefit from some footnotes; if not to cite sources, at least to place it in context. Personally, I’d rather see it written, “I heard this information from a guy named Frankie I met on the Jersey shore,” rather than nothing at all.

To follow through on all the example rituals will be a costly affair: candles are only to be used once, and most of these rituals use a lot of candles. If you’re not making your own, buy in bulk. That’s no crack on the author; it’s just the cost of working magic.

Quibbles: There is no section about the author, to explain from whence his expertise springs; the reader will have to judge that by the text alone. That wouldn’t be an issue if Vinci made even a passing attempt at citing sources. Perhaps readers in 1981 were more trusting than I am today, or less curious about how knowledge is passed around.

While I very much appreciate that there specific instructions about making candles herein, the author asserts that coating white candles in the relevant color is generally okay. With that detail, I generally disagree; Vinci does provide specific cases wherein I do not dispute the value of the technique, e.g. dipping the tip of a colored candle in black to focus its negative qualities.

Quirks: The Abrahamic influence is a bit more overt than one might find in a good Hoodoo book; references to angels especially can be found every few pages. There is no doubt in my mind that this system can be adapted to align with all manner of beings not contemplated in Christian or Jewish mythology, but the frequent references may be jarring to some Pagan readers. Refreshingly, the wording throughout suggests that the author is aware of this fact. It also suggests he is unapologetic about his own beliefs, as well he should be.

Title: The Book of Practical Candle Magic
Author: Leo Vinci
Publisher: Weiser Books
ISBN: 978-1-57863-578-8