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Monday, December 19, 2011

The Lebor Feasa Runda Should Go Through a Woodchipper: a book review

   Too often we simply avoid bad books without ever knowing why they are bad and to be avoided, but relying on friend's opinions or word of mouth reviews. I have read other reviews of this book, Akins' Lebor Feasa Runda, which took a highly scholastic approach and were very valuable, but I think that by arguing semantics of language and nuances of source material many readers may get lost in the details. So here I offer my simplified book review, an Idiot's Guide to Why This Book is Awful, if you will.
    To begin with Akin's appeals to people's curiosity and desire for genuine material to lure an audience in and draw interest for his book by claiming it is a translation of a previously unknown ancient book of Druidic teaching, which he has exclusively gained access to but cannot produce for others to view. In reality his book is nothing but a badly written version of commonly known Irish mythology followed by his own personal ideas and a generous amount of uncredited plagiarized material from known traditional sources.
    The psuedo-archaic writing style is painful to read, rather reminiscent of the King James Bible, and I can see no point to it beyond making the work look somehow either older or more prestigious. There is no reason for a text he claims to have translated himself to be written in this way except for effect.  Beyond that there is a lot of non-Celtic material mixed in which clashes with extant Celtic sources, and the clear threads of Celtic material are not credited. He invents a system of aligning the days of the week with different planets and gods which is exactly like any Ceremonial Magic compendium with Sunday ruled by the sun and Monday by the moon, etc.,. He also uses the Greco-Roman ideas about four elements, instead of a more authentic Celtic view, to give a few samples of the foreign ideas in the book that are passed off as Irish.
   Particularly troublesome to me is the use of charms and prayers from the first two volumes of the Carmina Gadelica slightly re-written to be pagan without any acknowledgement of the true source of the material which could not possibly be a "secret" manuscript that would predate the Gadelica by almost three thousand years. It is beyond belief that nearly three millenia later the charms and prayers would have translated the same from Scottish to English as they allegedly did from Irish to German to English in this book. Akin's alleged personal translation from German is word for word identical to Carmichael's from 1900. To give a sample of this on page 148 of the Lebor Feasa Runda "The wicked who would do me harm / May his throat be diseased / Globularly, spirally, circularly / Fluxy, pellety, horny-grim" now compare that to the opening lines of charm 193 from volume 2 of the Carmina Gadelica printed in 1900, page 155, "The wicked who would do me harm / May he take the throat disease / Globularly, spirally, circularly / Fluxy, pellety, horny-grim.". This clear, obvious, plagierism cannot be defended, and this is only a small sample of the many such occurances throughout this book. I might not care about the poor writing or random nature of the work if Akins had simply published this as his own personal inspiration with credit to his sources, but I think plaigerism is simply wrong and cannot be justified away with appeals to spiritual inspiration. A core Druidic principle is Truth.
   I also find it disturbing that in his recipe for "oil of enlightenment" he repeats a medieval witches flying ointement that includes toxic ingredients like Hemlock, Aconite and Belladonna. Were anyone to follow his recipe for this oil and use it they could easily poison themselves, yet at no point does Akins mention that any of these plants are poisonous or require special handling.
    In short the book is clearly a mish-mash of plagierized sources Frankenstiened together. A beginner who reads this first will find information that is both wrong, misleading, and in at least the one case potentially dangerous.
 Other reviews:

Thursday, December 1, 2011

the 12 Days of Yule - a holiday song parody

The Twelve Days of Yule-tide - sung to the tune of the 12 Days of Christmas

On the twelfth day of yule-tide, my kindred gave to me
twelve happy heathens
eleven rounds of sumble
ten bottles of mead
nine sets of runes
eight hammer pendants
seven hours of feasting
six songs to Sunna
five amber rings
four drinking horns
three ash spears
two viking movies
and a yule log carved with holly

© M C Daimler

Thursday, November 17, 2011


  Tomorrow I head out to the changing times changing worlds conference up at Amherst in Massachusetts, which runs from Friday through Sunday. This is the conference's second year and I am excited to see how it has grown since last year. The main theme of this year is healing/wholing/holistic and the workshops cover a variety of topics under that theme. My own contribution is four workshops: healing magic and chronic illness, the shadow of death (how healers relate to the concept of death), the healing well and clootie tree (healing magic in the Celtic tradition), and Under Airmed's cloak (healing with Celtic deities). I am also on three panels: Otherworldly guides, Offerings and the modern practitioner, and teaching children. I'm pretty excited about all of this, but especially the two Celtic classes I am doing. And of course besides my own workshops there are many interesting workshops I would like to go to, so I expect the weekend to be busy and educational.
  After the conference I will blog about how it goes and also post my handouts from my classes along with an abridged version of the class itself. I have had a lot of fun researching the healing deities especially as I leanred about several that I had never previously interacted with at all.
  Have a great weekend everyone, I will be back to blogging on Monday, but I leave you all with a W. B. Yeats quote from 1902:
 “I believe when I am in the mood that all nature is full of people whom we cannot see, and that some of these are ugly or grotesque, and some wicked or foolish, but very many beautiful beyond anyone we have ever seen, and that these are not far away. I will not of a certainty believe that there is nothing in the sunset, where our forefathers imagined the dead following their shepherd the sun....If beauty is not a gateway out of the net we were taken in at our birth, it will not long be beauty, and we will find it better to sit at home by the fire and fatten a lazy body or to run hither and thither in some foolish sport than to look at the finest show that light and shadow ever made among green leaves. I say to myself, when I am well out of that thicket of argument, that they are surely there, the divine people, for only we who have neither simplicity nor wisdom have denied them, the simple of all times and the wise men of ancient times have seen them and even spoken to them.”

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Book review - Heathen Gods

  I'm doing my weekly book review on Thursday this week...
  I have a new book to add to my recommended reading for new heathens: Heathen Gods by Mark Ludwig Stinson. This book is a great way for anyone to get a feel for what heathenry is and not only learn the basics of it but get some good advice about starting out as a new heathen, starting a group, and living as a heathen.
  The book itself is a collection of short essays, each of which has a different topic. It is broken into roughly 7 sections: Essays for new heathens, Building a kindred or tribe, Maintaining a kindred or tribe, Living a heathen life, Personal and miscellaneous essays, Iceland trip journal, and Poetry by the author. It also includes a good recommended reading list at the back. Each of the first 4 sections contains around a dozen individual essays that fall under the larger section topic, such as "What is a Heathen?", "Differing Views within the Heathen Community", "Why Start a Kindred", and "Wyrd and Worth", to name but a few. The final three sections are much more personal to the author's life and experiences, including personal anecdotes and reflections as well as his journal about a trip to Iceland and provide a look at one person's journey living as a heathen.
  One of the main strengths of this book for me was the way that it touches lightly on many important topics without overwhelming the reader or getting bogged down in details or history. The writing style is engaging and interesting while still being informative and the author tackles difficult topics in a way that encourages the reader to think about the issues. It manages to present a workable modern heathenry in a way that is both understandable and often unflinching to the realities that people in community-based faith face, such as jump-starting spiritual practice and dealing with bad experiences in the community.
   Another thing that I really like about the book is the essay-based format. I admit initially I was unsure about it because I wasn't sure how all the short essays would flow together, but I found that it was perfect for reading a few a day, or skipping around to whatever essay seemed most appropriate each day. It made referencing specific ideas much easier and having the material organized the way it is actually does flow very well.
  All in all a good addition to any heathen's library and definitely a good starting place for a new heathen looking for a better understanding of what modern heathen practice is.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Green Faced Witches

   One thing that never changes about the larger pagan community is that there are always trends going around. When I originally wrote this in 2011 I kept running across a poem written in 1999 by "Angel" that talks about witches being depicted with green faces as a result of torture ( Halloween Witch if you want to read it). Written in 1999 it had been circulated for a while but around 2011 it seemed to have really gained steam and more than that people were believing it as factual and repeating the idea that witches were believed historically to have green faces and that the green color was actually a result of being tortured during trial. One site even went so far as to describe a very long theory about the green faces being the result of gangrene, while another had people linking it to Celtic mythology. At the time I was sufficiently annoyed by this trend that I decided to devote a whole blog to trying to educate people about the reality of where the green faced witch came from and why it has nothing to do with the witch hunts. Now, twelve years later, the concept has been untethered from its poetic root and is shared as a prose meme as well as by various social media sites, pages, and personalities as if it were an inarguable fact of the past. Every year I reshare this blog so this year (2023) I am updating it slightly, making sure all the links actually work, and adding some art history and Andrew Sneddon for spice. 

Jean Veber, Les Sorcières ou Tandem (1900); public domain

  So just to get this out of the way - as far as I have been able to find the earliest appearance of a green faced witch is in the Wizard of Oz movie - the movie specifically because in the book the character of the Wicked Witch of the West did not have a green face. It seems likely that this was a purely cinematic decision, based on a desire to show off the new technology of color film (Gerry, 2011). I suspect that the Wicked Witch in the movie was so scary and so memorable that after the movie came out the idea of green faced witches became embedded in our collective minds.

In early modern sources we find no reference to witches with green faces, or to the idea that a green face was the witches' natural appearance. Looking to artwork from the 15th century forward we find that wild hair, bare breasts, and debauched imagery were the hallmarks of witch depictions, positioning the female witch in contrast to the expected civilized behaviour of women (Sneddon, 2021). Witches in art were either depicted as very old women or as young beautiful women, but usually with those key features; witches hair was often red, connecting them to folklore around the danger or uncanniness of redheads (Sneddon, 2021). These depictions of witches also often incorporated anti-Semitic themes and concepts as well, playing into existing cultural prejudices to link imagery of witches with images of anti-Jewish propaganda, magnifying a fear of the other. Witches were most often depicted with human skin tones, and there are no examples that I am aware of a green skinned witch in pre-20th century European or American art. Rather than skin tone in art it was the witches wild, unbound hair and overt, even grotesque, sexualization that signaled their nature and separation from the community. 

  Now that we have that out of the way lets look at the idea - visceral and emotional - that victims of torture would have green faces and that people seeing this would think it was a sign of witchcraft. Everyone knows that older bruises turn greenish colored so at first glance this idea seems plausible. But lets stop and think about this for a minute. First of all is it possible to bruise someone's entire face - every inch of it? I don't think so; the shape of the face with it's curves and crevices would make such a thing very difficult and unlikely and the way blood pools would mean that you would never see any kind of even coloring that could be described as "green faced". Secondly this idea assumes that the people seeing the person would not realize that it was bruises turning green and I find that highly unlikely. People hundreds of years ago may have had less technology and a more primitive understanding of physiology but they weren't ignorant; they knew as well as we do about bruises and the colors they turn over time. These accused witches were members of the community, well known to friends and neighbors and don't think for a moment that everyone didn't know that the person had been tortured. Thirdly most accused witches were tortured in complex ways but not necessarily beaten - and remember the point of the torture was to gain a confession so beating the person around the face in a way that might limit their ability to speak would be counter-productive. Finally, this green-faced theory assumes a fairly quick turn over between confession and execution which is also unrealistic. In fact an accused person was involved in a long trial where witnesses spoke against them and they may be tortured but often with a week or more between each interview with the court (Kors & Peters, 1972).

    And since this sometimes was mentioned on some of the sites, I want to be perfectly clear that none of the Salem witches were tortured to obtain confessions. The only person who could have been said to be tortured was Giles Cory and that was because he refused to enter a plea either innocent or guilty; without a plea either way his land could not be seized and he could not be brought to trial (Giles was pretty darn smart, even if he was crushed to death under big freakin' rocks). Nobody was burned at Salem either - they were all hung or died in prison during their extended stay. Never trust any source that says different.

    As to the idea of gangrene being the cause of the green face - gangrene is not actually green. The word gangrene comes originally from the Greek gangraina which means an eating sore, and that says a lot right there. It is an infection that occurs when blood flow is cut off and tissue dies and there are multiple types of gangrene; however in this case wet gangrene is the only possibility. When caused by trauma it creates a tight red swelling that slowly turns purplish-blue and then black and can cause a secondary septic infection which is fatal. I'll spare you the visual and won't include pictures but trust me it doesn't include the color green that I have ever seen or heard of and large infections will kill you, especially if they happen to be on your face. If you don't believe me you can read more here:

   Now finally the Celtic mythology link. I have read stories that link the color green to fairies and stories about green skinned children that came from the world of fairy. I have read stories about "green" hags who lurked in rivers and ate children. And I am familiar with the idea of people wearing green, or described as wearing green, being connected to fairy. But I have never personally read anything or heard anything about green skinned witches in Celtic mythology; if anyone can point me towards any such evidence I would certainly be interested in seeing it, but until then I have to conclude that people talking about green faced witches in Celtic myth is a mistaken conflation of the two separate concepts. Green dressed witches, possibly, green faced witches, no.

   During the period of the witch hunts witches were not seen as ugly or scary to look at. In point of fact they weren't seen as only being women; both men and women were suspected, accused, and tried. The Malleus Maleficarum has an entire section on male witches, for example. That same text makes a point of noting that witches could be anyone, young or old, and would often use their beauty to lure good men into sin (it's considered a glaring example of misogynistic writing for a reason). That was part of what drove the hysteria, the idea that absolutely anyone could be a witch and that there was no easy visual cue to indicate who was a witch.

   So basically there is no basis for believing that the green faced witch is anything but a modern 20th century invention. While there certainly are several stereotypical images used historically of witches, as discussed above, they relate to hair and nudity not to inhuman skin colors. We can blame Hollywood for the green faced witch, not the witch trials. 

   I also think that we need to seriously consider how disrespectful we are being by creating this false history of the green faced witch as a sort of emotional touchstone for modern pagans. Real people, men, women, and children, died during the witch hunts and those people deserve to be respected and remembered not exploited as yet another thing for neopagans to hold up as a symbol of modern "persecution".

 Gerry, D (2011). The Secret Symbolism of a Witch's Wardrobe.
  Kors, A. and Peters, E. (1972). Witchcraft in Europe 1100 - 1700. University of Pennsylvania Press
Rodriguez, L., (2014) Why Are Witches Green? Retrieved from 
Sneddon, A., (2021) 'Bad Hair: Folklore Witches and Hair'; online lecture

Monday, October 24, 2011

Book review - 21 Spells for Assured Sucess

 And now for something completely different.... 21 Spells for Assured Success by Boudica
   This book is written by a Facebook friend of mine and while it isn't my usual genre I found it to be both interesting and useful so I decided to put a review of it up here on my blog.
   I really enjoyed this book, being fond of spellwork that is pragmatic and intended to be useful. It is a thoroughly modern, Hoodoo style take on practical folk magic that is non-denominational and could be worked by anyone. I enjoyed the writing style which is personal and engaging, as if the author was sitting down to chat with the reader, and the little personal anecdotes that were mixed in were a nice touch. You definitely are given the impression that the author has experience with her subject and is looking to pass that experience on in the most helpful possible way. The spells themselves cover a good range of possibilities under the topic of "success", from job interviews to office blessings and winning in court to removing writer's block, and are all geared at real-world usefulness, which is nice. I also liked the section on magical symbols that can be used for sucess. I would definitely recommend this book for anyone interested in learning magic to be used, as opposed to just reading about theory, and for anyone trying to draw success to their lives. My only complaint about it would be that I wish it was longer, but that is really just the sign of a good book - I wish it didn't have to end!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Book review - Freya, Lady, Vanadis

 For this Monday's book review I am going to look at the book Freya, Lady, Vanadis: an introduction to the goddess by Patricia Lafayllve.
  This book is an excellent resource for anyone wanting to learn more about the Goddess Freya. This is an indepth, academic look at her which goes beyond the surface examinations found elsewhere. Each chapter deals with different aspects of the mythology and how they shape our understanding of this goddess in relation to sex, love, war, death, magic, wealth, other gods and more. What I particularly liked was that the author uses a wide array of traditional material to look at who the Goddess was in antiquity but also brings that information forward in a useful, viable way and includes a modern look at Freya, resulting in an academically and spiritually sound understanding of this goddess.
   The text itself is fairly short, only 91 pages, but is well researched and documented, including end notes for each chapter, four appendices, and a bibliography. The first 7 chapters look at the historical attributes of Freya as we understand them from mythology and secondary sources, and the final 8th chapter looks at different personal gnosis that people have had relating to Freya in a modern context. The appendices discuss the sources in lore, modern practice, offer an example of a blot to Freya, and a selection of modern poetry to her.
   I especially liked the final chapter which looks at modern interactions with the goddess as interpreted through a selection of different peoples' personal gnosis, something that is often lacking in books that are this scholarly in tone. Overall, while short, the book is an excellent resource for learning about the goddess Freya and really does encompass what is known about her as well as giving a view into modern ideas about her. This would be a good book to have on hand whether a person is interested in worshipping this goddess specifically, or is just seeking to better understand the goddesses of the Northern pantheon.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Book review - Faery Wicca 1 and 2

 There are some bad books that just never seem to die, even after being pulled from publication for plagiarism issues. I was at a pagan conference in my state over the weekend at one of the workshops I taught someone asked about the book Faery Wicca (volume 1) by Kisma Stepanich, and I was actually rendered temporarily incoherant. I did recover and explain some of the issues with the book, but as I thought about it later I realized this might be a good time to post a book review of both of the Faery Wicca books here on my blog, since these were originally published in 1996 and 1998 respectively and all the melodrama about them went down so long ago that perhaps many people aren't aware of it anymore.
     Faery Wicca Book 1: Theory and Magic: a book of shadows and light. This one was pulled from print years ago but can still be found easily used; however it's not even worth the money to buy used. Her information is so inaccurate it makes me wonder if she read half the sources she lists in her bibliography. She relies on several authors which have been largely discredited, such as Robert Graves ideas about the Celtic tree calendar, or Seamus McManus's archeologically inaccurate idea that the Fomorians were Scythian or the Fir Bolg Greek. Beyond the shaky references, there are the author's rampant self contradictions - in one section she states that Cu Chulainn is Lugh reincarnated then two paragraphs later refers to Lugh coming to Cu Chulainn's aid, without ever explaining how that could be possible if they were the same person. Her information in general, but especially relating to any mythology, is so off it leaves a reader wondering what she is talking about. She inaccurately refers to the Fianna as members of the Tuatha de Danann and says that Badb was the main Celtic war goddess who "contained" three aspects including the Morrigan. She fall sinto the common trap of seeing moon and sun deities everywhere, despite the fact that Celtic deities did not fit a classical mold. Her text is full of Kabbalistic and Biblical references which have no place in the fairy faith, for example she states that Dana is GOD, in the Christian sense of the ulitimate deity that contains both male and female, the source of all, and quotes a Bible passage that she says shows that Macha was a also a biblical goddess/queen. And for someone claiming the title of Ollamh - the highest rank among the Fili, or poets of Ireland - her Irish Gaelic is atrocious. She mangles the language mercilessly (if only because she includes no accent marks), both in spelling and her pronounciation guide reducing it to meaningless gibberish, making it very plain that she does not speak the language at all - it seems to be included for no other reason than to make her book look more "Irish" and authentic, when it is in fact neither. Anyone who reads this at the least needs to be aware that it is not genuinely Irish in any way, and should skip right over any Irish Gaelic included in the text. The information about the gods and faeries is blatantly wrong and often contradictory. In short I would never recommend this book as it only spreads a lot of misinformation. There are much better books on Celtic Wicca, if that is what you are interested in, such as Celtic Wicca: Ancient Wisdom for the 21st Century by Jane Raeburn, or Lora O'Brien's book Irish Witchcraft from an Irish Witch
   Faery Wicca Book 2: The Shamanic Practices of the Cunning Arts (the Ancient Oral Faery Tradition of Ireland). As with the first book some of her information is simply wrong, such as her assertion that Cu Chulain was a shapeshifter who could take on the form of a wolf, hound, eel or bird, and her confusion of the Daghda with his harp. This occurs in that same section where she states he could take the form of a harp whose playing changed the seasons. In reality it was one of his famed possessions, not himself - in point of fact in one tale it is stolen and he must go with Ogma to reclaim it which would be rather difficult if he and it were one and the same. Those details aside though my biggest issue with this book is that the author takes Christian charms from the Carmina Gadelica, Vol. I & II: Hymns and Incantations (Forgotten Books), alters them slightly to be more appropriate for her "Faery Wicca" by changing references to God and Jesus to Danu, and calls them traditional Faery Wicca charms, without ever citing the real source she is drawing on. Not only is this misleading to people reading the book who are not familiar with the source material, but it is unfair to the source material itself to fail to credit it. Her faery faith is not old or traditional - it is clearly her own invention based off of altering genuine traditional material without ever admitting that is what she is doing. If you want to practice faery faith magic just read the Gadelica for yourself - you can rewrite the charms your own way and know where they came from. The author also falsely says that the term Ollamh means "faery shaman" and was traditionally used to describe those who mastered the faery shamanism she describes, when in reality Ollamh was the term used for the highest ranking poet and translates to "master-poet" or just "master" in modern Irish dictionaries.
  Effectively the author has made up her own tradition, which is fine in and of itself, although I don't agree with many aspects of it myself; currently she has new books out using the name Kisma Stepnaich-Reidling and a website called the Irish-American Fairy-Faith. The website also has some serious issues with using common domain, out of copyright, materials without credit to the sources while implying Mrs. Stepanich-Reidling wrote the material. Where the real problem lies with her books and tradition is the way she did it - by plagiarizing from many other sources including RJ Stewart and the Carmina Gadelica, and by asserting her own often contradictory opinions about mythology as if they were facts and generally accepted. The result is that people who read this material will either have a massive amount to unlearn later or will be buying into the lie the author is selling that her tradition is the modern face of the ancient Faery faith.
   Some links further discussing the books:
When Is A Celt Not A Celt
Open Letter from Former Student
Discussing the Plagiarism

Monday, September 12, 2011

Book review - Taking Up the Runes

    If you can only afford to buy one rune book I recommend Taking Up the Runes by Diana Paxson. Not only because the author includes a wide variety of valuable information and suggestions, but because she extensively quotes and references many of the other most often recommended rune authors including Aswynn and Gundarsson. Because of this through buying this book you get the advantage of the knowledge contained in the other authors' books as well. This is a wonderful advantage for people on limitied budgets who can't afford to buy all of the indivudal books on their own. Although ultimately I do think getting a variety of different rune books is the best way to go, when that isn't an option, especially starting out, this is th eperfect book for you.
     I liked the set up of the book very much, finding it both easy to use and easy to break down into small segments for an effective rune study program.  Each chapter featuring two paired runes and including the Icelandic, Norwegian, and Anglo-Saxon rune poems, as well as suggestions for divinatory meanings and magical uses. Reading the original rune poems is wonderfully enlightening and allows the individual to get a feel for what the runes might mean on their own, without the modern filter of current authors' interpretations. I found it very useful to go over the rune poems for each rune and then mediatate on them for a little while and form my own opinions before reading further and seeing what the modern ideas about each rune was. As I said before Paxson includes not only her own ideas but also the highlights of the interpreations for each rune by the other major rune authors which provides a very well-rounded view of the meanings. While the ritual and meditation suggestions might not be to everyone's taste they do serve to illustrate the possibilities, and could easily be tailored to suit the individual. This is not a historical a study of the ancient runes, but rather a modern exploration of the uses of the runes in the world today and it serves that purpose very well. The magical applications are often aimed at very modern needs like car travel, and should be points of interest even to those who don't intend to use the runes magically.
     The book  was designed based on a series of classes taught by the author and lends itself very well to study groups, particularly those structured (as the author suggests) over a longer period of time. Ideally I would suggest reading it in small segments, either one, or possibly two of the paired runes, at a time so that you could get the most out of each section. Personally I have read it through, used it for a study group, and keep it on hand as a convenient reference. It is generally the first book on runes that I recommend to anyone and the first I go to to check anything.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Catching up...

 So I have been offline now for a while thanks to hurricane Irene. We were very fortunate in that we didn't lose power or water but our phone and internet were out. Being forcibly unplugged was a distinctly odd experience - I didn't realize how much time I had been spending online, both with my college classwork and my random socializing. That is something I do want to address and cut down on...
  In the past week and a half I was able to get out into nature and even travel to the local seashore several times. It was refreshing and invigorating to spend time by the ocean and to be outside in nature in general. I had a chance to reconnect with the living world around me and I think that was definitely a good thing; I was also inspired on several fronts and have a couple new projects in mind.
  Those who read my last blog before the storm may remember that I was getting ready for pagan pride day here in Connecticut on August 27. Although we did have rain on and off throughout the day it was still a good turnout all things considered and people seemed to have fun. I was able to see many friends there, although only briefly as the day was rather hectic. I also taught two workshops which both seemed to go well, from my end anyway. I taught one on Celtic Magic that ended up focusing mostly on practical Irish and Scottish folk magic and a second that was aimed at more a more advanced audience titled "Rites of Passage". The second class was a look at the practical side of officiating at pagan rites. As usual I cna't wait until next year's PPD.
  Now it's time to gear up for the next event I am teaching at CWPN Harvest Gathering where I am doing workshops on Faeries (one of my fave's to teach), Intro to Druidism, and Animal Magic. Then it will be on to a handfasting, speaking at a pagan spiritualist church, and finally the  Changing Times, Changing Worlds conference in November. The theme for the conference this year is healing and I am very excited both about my own classes and to get to as many of the others as I can manage before I fall over!
   Well, I think that catches everything up to this point - tomorrow I will try to return everyone to the regularly scheduled blog...

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Hurricane Irene

  So I am sitting here preparing to head out to Connecticut's pagan pride day, a great event that I think it's important to support. This year I am teaching a couple workshops at PPD as well as helping out by making posters of four of the neopagan wheel of the year holidays and an intro to Druidism poster. And you can't even imagine how hard it is to try to describe what Druidism is in a single poster, especially in a fair and objective manner, but that can wait for another I'm sitting here getting ready to head out in the back of my mind I'm thinking about Irene, the hurricane that's headed my way.
  We haven't had a hurricane (that amounts to anything) hit here since 1992, I think, with Hurricane Bob. In a practical sense I have bought supplies - water, batteries, non-perishable food - and come up with a Plan. Actually, being me, I have several Plans in a real practical sense of what I can do to keep myself and my family safe. I have done everything magically that I know how to ward and protect my home and strengthen what I already had in place. But still, I keep looking up at the large White Oaks that tower around my house and thinking that it won't hurt to appeal to powers beyond myself to help out here.
  This may be one of the few instances were my spiritual worlds collide, because I am making offerings to both sides of the aisle, as it were. I am asking Odin, who I often see as the Storm Rider, and Thor, God of Thunder, to ward the area of my home. I am asking Manannan to let the ocean be gentle here. And, of course, I am asking Macha to ward my home and family because I tend to ask either her or Odin, as the two I am dedicated to, for aid any time things get very serious. This time I don't think it's going to hurt to ask everybody....and of course I am asking the spirits of the land here to work with me in protecting my home and I am calling on my ancestors. My father especially has been very much in my mind with all of this; my whole childhood he used to spend each hurricane season with a dry erase map plotting the courses of each storm...
   At this point I feel as prepared as I can be, mundanely and spiritually, for this storm. It makes me wonder though for my other esoteric friends out there in Irene's path - are you doing anything "extra" to preapre for the storm?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Book review - The 21 Lessons of Merlin

I've decided to dedicate Monday's blog to book reviews. These will be fairly short and to the point, and try to focus on books relating to CR Paganism, Druidism, and Heathenry.
  To start, here is a basic book review of the (notorious) 21 Lessons of Merlin  by Douglas Monroe:
   21 Lessons is allegedly based on the secret teachings of Merlin, as revealed through the Welsh Book of Pheryllt; however this is nothing but a ploy to draw the reader in - the Book of Pheryllt is a well known forgery and there aren't any existing "ancient" lessons of Merlin. Rather the author seems to use these claims to set up his own authenticity as a teacher of true ancient Druidry while actually inventing a system almost whole cloth. I say almost because the author does include at least one "ancient" chant stolen from the 1981 movie Excalibur; anyone familiar with the movie should recognize it right away.
   I found this book was not worth reading as well because it was poorly researched and is full of historical inaccuracies and anachronisms. There is little to no actual Celtic mythology or material in the book at all, which is clearly a problem. Monroe at various points asserts that the ancient Druids were vegetarians and that Easter was a Druidic festival to the Goddess Ishtar, neither of which is either true or even possible. He mentions pumpkins as if they were a native European plant when they aren't and also talks about using pumpkin flowers at Samhain, long after the plant has stopped flowering. Worse than all of that though is Monroe's deep-seated misogyny which is displayed throughout the book. For example in 21 Lessons the Druids are divided by gender based on the theory that men generate magical power but women can only gain it by taking it from a man, something that not only makes no sense but goes against basic Celtic cosmology which says that all beings have their own power and which tends to see women as specifically holding the keys to sovereignty and the power of the land.
   It may well have spiritual value for some people - as does The Mists of Avalon, another Arthurian novel - but it loses credibility with me for trying to pass itself off as nonfiction. The argument put forth by some supporters of the book that anyone who criticizes it is not enlightened enough to truly understand it is typical of books that can't back up what they claim - since there is no "ancient" document or tradition of Merlin's lessons, which are entirely the author's invention, the only possible defense is to denigrate the spirituality of the books detractors.  It might have been alright as an Arthurian novel except for the fact that by passing itself of as legitimate "ancient Druid" teachings I feel that it is actually hurting modern Druidry and Celtic spirituality by misleading people who are new to the spirituality. This book, in fact, has little to do with any actual ancient Druidry and even less to do with modern Druidry, and is worth reading only as a poorly written novel.
     If you like Arthurian fiction I'd recommend the The Mists of Avalon series and for studies on ancient Druidry try Hutton's the The Druids or his Blood and Mistletoe or Markale's  The Druids: Celtic Priests of Nature. For modern Druidry Brendan Meyers' Mysteries of Druidry, Bonewit's Bonewits's Essential Guide to Druidism or Carr-Gomm's Druid Mysteries: Ancient Wisdom for the 21st Century would be a good start.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Familiars and why I don't believe in them

This is from a response I wrote to a question on an email group.

     Do Wiccans and neopagan witches have familiars? It really depends on who you ask. There are plenty of people that will say that a familiar is an animal who is bonded in some way with the witch and that helps them with their magic. Familiars are often beloved pets, are said to choose the witch, and seem drawn to magical workings ( It seems like everyone has a familiar these days and people will talk about theirs with little reason to - and show pictures. New witches will wring their hands and worry about why they don't have one and how to get one, and be offered sage advice from those who do claim to have them. Familiars are a hot commodity.
    In all honesty I am in the other camp, which is the minority; I do not believe that familiars exist in the sense of pets we bond with. The idea of familiars is medieval, based on accusations that "witches" were assigned a demon to serve them and that this demon took the form of a common animal to blend in - the word familiar itself is shortened from familiar spirit, as in "she hath a familiar spirit". Obviously since Wiccans don't make pacts with the Christian Devil or work with demons they don't have familiar spirits, ergo no familiars. There is a secondary approach that views familiars as faeries that attach themselves in animal form to specific people, especially those who practice cunning craft or are closely allied with the Fey, but this concept is not as well known or widespread and would apply on in very specific cases. In either case the historic views of what a familiar was are not often understood in a modern context.
    The modern idea tends to focus on familiars as closely bonded pets who are sensitive to magic workings, but historically a familiar would actually be used for a variety of magical purposes such as carrying messages, enhancing magic, delivering spells to their targets etc.,, effectively making the animal a source of magical energy and an energetic servant. How many of us actually want to use our beloved pet as a magical battery? Others will argue that a familiar is an animal that is not a normal animal but has a special spirit, sometimes even the spirit of a person or guide within it. Do you really want to believe your cat is possessed or overshadowed by a secondary spirit? Because the alternative is to believe that the spirit has permanently bound itself into flesh for the lifetime of the animal which is very limiting to the spirit and would reduce its ability to effectively guide you.
    To me it seems like some people who are very very close to a particular pet choose to view that pet as a "familiar" because it sounds special and important, not because the pet is actually serving the traditional role of a familiar. I would not want my cats to "serve" me magically, or to be possessed, or to be anything but happy kitties living happy kitty lives; maybe that's my bias showing ; )  I do think there may be certain cases where an animal actually is a familiar or at the least is bonded to the person in a way that is genuinely unusual, but I think these cases are far less common than the ones that are just pets. And there's nothing wrong with that. I can love my pets as they are without needing them to be anything but pets.

Davies, O., (2003). Cunning-Folk: Popular Magic in English History. London: Hambledon Continuum.    
Thomas, K., (1973). Religion and the Decline of Magic: Studies in Popular Beliefs in Sixteenth and Seventeenth Century England. London: Penguin. 
Wilby, E., (2005). Cunning Folk and Familiar Spirits: Shamanistic Visionary Traditions in Early Modern British Witchcraft and Magic. Brighton: Sussex Academic Press. 
Massello, R., (1996). Raising Hell: A Concise History of the Black Arts and Those Who Dared to Practice Them. Perigee Trade