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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...