Books, Writings & Miscellany
- 350 pages of cutting edge magic and activism - straight from our witchcamps!
A History of Magic and Witchcraft in Europe - Six-Volume Series
Magic and Superstition in Europe - Michael Bailey's one-volume overview
Evolutionary Witchcraft - by T. Thorn Coyle
Direct Action Handbooks - free online resources
The Earth Path - by Starhawk
People's Park: Still Blooming - by Terry Compost
The Last Wild Witch - by Starhawk
Direct Action: An Historical Novel - by Luke Hauser / reviewed by Starhawk
Neo-Pagan Sacred Art and Altars - by Sabina Magliocco
Remedios: Stories of Earth and Iron from the History of Puertorriquenas - by Aurora Levins Morales
The Divine Right of Capital - by Marjorie Kelly
Webs of Power: Notes from the Global Uprising - by Starhawk
Modern Pagans - by V. Vale and John Sulak
Eternally Bad: Goddesses with Attitude - by Trina Robbins
The Knitting Goddess - by Deborah Bergman
Africa: Volume I (to 1885) - edited by Toyin Falola
Through the Gate of Dreams - by G. M. Jaron
The DaVinci Code - by Dan Brown
The Hero's Journey by Joseph Campbell
Six Tarot Classics
Six books that delve into the history and magic of tarot. These works address the question: "What is tarot?"
Cynthia Giles, The Tarot: History, Mystery & Lore (1992). A well-researched work on the history and lore of tarot. A serious yet readable book on where tarot came from, key writers and artists, how tarot "works," and the blossoming of tarot in the 20th century.
Aleister Crowley, The Book of Thoth (1944). Written to accompany the Thoth deck painted by Frieda Harris, this book might be Crowley’s most readable work. Although he devotes some pages to arguing for an ancient Egyptian source for tarot, most of the book correlates the cards with the Qabalah. Insightful, humorous, combative — and always entertaining.
Papus, The Tarot of the Bohemians (1896). A work of wild speculation. Papus maps tarot against the Kabbalah, sacred names, various geometric shapes, numerology, anagrams, and pretty much anything else the imaginative author could throw into the pot. What Papus lacked in research he made up in provocative guesses and impressive-looking diagrams.
Arthur Waite, The Pictorial Key to the Tarot (1910). Written to accompany the deck painted by Pamela Colman Smith, the book set the study of tarot on a new footing. The chapter on history laid to rest popular myths such as the Egyptian and/or Gypsy origins of the cards and set the direction for modern research, placing tarot’s birth at Renaissance Italian courts of the 1400s. Waite’s brief bibliographic survey of virtually every prior book on tarot shows the state of the "Art" prior to the Golden Dawn’s work.
Angeles Arrien, The Tarot Handbook: Practical Applications of Ancient Visual Symbols (1997). The author, a cultural anthropologist, uses her expertise to decipher Aleister Crowley’s Thoth deck by using ancient symbols and numerology. The book lends a feeling of having lived a day in each of the major and minor arcana. Charts and spreads pave a path to a better understanding of life’s hidden synchronicities.
Stuart Kaplan, The Encyclopedia of Tarot (1978). Compiled by the owner of tarot-deck publisher U.S. Games, this four-volume encyclopedia is fascinating and definitive. Each volume contains several thousand illustrations of virtually every known tarot deck up to the mid-1900s, from Renaissance treasures to cheap woodblock decks.
Compiled by George Franklin/RQ
A History of Magic and Witchcraft in Europe
Click here for a full-length review/overview of the six-volume Athlone/Penn series - the gold standard of pagan history.
By T. Thorn Coyle
Witch, peaceful activist, international teacher, dancer, musician with two albums of her own songs, Thorn Coyle has now penned Evolutionary Witchcraft.
While in process of publication, I asked Thorn what she was going to name her first book. When she told me, my heart stopped in joy.
Evolutionary — to evolve, to change from one level to another. The process of developing what is into what will be.
Through her 20 years of experience on the path, Thorn evolved from a young teenager exploring questions of why, and finding within herself the answers to spiritual and life directions.
Seeking knowledge and training under a Feri initiate who is also part of the Reclaiming tradition here in San Francisco, Thorn studied Sufi, worked in a Catholic soup kitchen where she applied the lessons in an everyday situation with the homeless, and closed the circle by studying with the late grand masters Victor Anderson and Cora Anderson.
Thorn not only was initiated in the Feri Tradition before Victor’s departure from this Earth, but shares the black wand (highest level) with another initiate.
What is the Feri Tradition, and why is it spelled differently than “fairy?” Is this something new? Why is Feri different and yet the same and yet different?
Within the pages of this book you will discover the answers to these questions, and also understand why this book was written at this time.
This tradition has the same basics of any Earth-based religion, but there is a firm emphasis on the alignment of the practitioner’s shadow and the growth of her/his power over time rather than on seasonal sabbats.
Instead of working with the basic four directions and the elements, the Feri practitioner works with seven directions/elements to complete a circle that is within and without.
The book features beautiful illustrations of dance movements/meditations that Thorn developed to correspond with the Iron Pentacle, Pearl Pentacle, and other tools of Feri.
Released with the blessing of Cora Anderson, this book makes the teachings of the Feri Tradition available to those souls who want to step into a new paradigm of Witchcraft.
Take a look at Thorn’s website, www.thorncoyle.com, to discover how to expand your knowledge of the Feri Tradition.
Reviewed by Cerridwen.
The Earth Path
In between her writing ventures, I forget why and how much I admire Starhawk’s work. Then her next book or essay is released, and I am reminded all over again of the reasons her philosophy grounds me in the profoundly sane dream of a better future.
Her most recent book, The Earth Path: Grounding Your Spirit in the Rhythms of Nature, serves as a guide to developing awareness of the most basic (and, as such, perhaps most elusive) elements of the natural world. Retreating somewhat from the frenetic pace of the streets in Webs of Power: Notes from the Global Uprising, The Earth Path takes us to Starhawk’s home in the Cazadero Hills and through a journey of observing earth, air, fire, water, and spirit — the elements that sustain all life.
The opening chapter uses the fairy tale of the Isle of Birds to illustrate the author’s desired outcome for this journey. In the story, a king sends his beloved son to learn the language of birds. After twenty-one years, the prince learns to hear, to understand, and to respond. For some inexplicable reason, this angers the king (perhaps he expected his son to learn marksmanship?), but the moral of the tale (and subsequently the entire book) is the importance of deep awareness and the simple fact that such awareness requires time and attention.
Readers who have followed Starhawk since 1979, when she published her best-known work, The Spiral Dance, will delight in watching her evolve in her spirituality and its application. The Earth Path will not disappoint her fans and students. It remains as accessible and unpretentious as her previous writing, with the honesty and emotional vulnerability that has always left her readers feeling we know her. Of course, it also includes the insightful, ironic, and sometimes piercing wit for which she is known and loved. Don’t pick up a Starhawk book if you expect to come away smugly comforted in your personal righteousness!
One key to expanding the imagination, according to Starhawk, is ceasing to care what others think, creating a space with the freedom to think about anything at all. As Pagans, we are in a privileged position to do this since we already exist on the fringes of the “respectable” institutions of Western society, such as academia.
I found myself both disagreeing and feeling challenged by this idea. On one hand, many Pagans have worked hard to bring earth-based religion under the umbrella of “respectability” — establishing Pagan traditions as legally-recognized churches, securing seats on various ecumenical councils, organizing Pagans in military and police ranks, educating the courts, employers, and general public as to the relatively “normal” lives of most Pagans, right down to changing the dictionary definition of the word “Witch.” Cultural behemoths, like academia, are, indeed, slow to change. But they do change, and I don’t believe we’re as far removed from academic respectability as Starhawk suggests, especially considering that many of today’s Pagan leaders are highly educated. I see academia as similar to the places Starhawk talks about where two ecosystems meet and their diversity creates a mutual benefit and richness for both.
On the other hand, this question of respectability is a good reminder not to compromise what sets us apart from our predominantly alienating and exploitative culture. Religious movements tend to start out loosely organized, culturally marginalized, and socially radical. As they gain numbers, prominence, and respectability, a vicious circle of compromise to gain acceptance is set into motion (usually with a hard lurch to the political right; the Mormons are America’s most recent example of this phenomenon). Starhawk’s words challenge us not to compromise our values or who we are for public acceptance.
Overall, The Earth Path gives us a practical ethos of questioning how any given action will impact the whole, using deep attention to each element as a guide. Interwoven with this ethical paradigm are some treats new to Starhawk’s readers. The text includes the clearest explanation of grounding and anchoring I’ve ever heard. The author’s courage in defending meat-eating (is there a hotter topic anywhere in Pagandom?) is testament to her honest and principled character — the reader may not agree with her, but after taking such a risk, it’s impossible not to trust her.
At times, the book’s intended audience is a bit unclear. Much of the language and ideas seem aimed for the Pagan community. However, at other times, the text slips into explanations of the simplest Pagan history and theology — the basic explanation of the Sabbats is probably redundant for most readers. For anyone needing that basic information, the rest of the book will likely be confusing.
In the end, such minutiae is inconsequential. This is easily the best nonfiction I’ve read in 2004, and I encourage readers to find their favorite outdoor spot to curl up with The Earth Path and allow it to open their attention to the life cycle around us that is so important and so pervasive that it is too easily forgotten.
For those returning to Starhawk’s work, The Earth Path will be a welcome addition to their collection. For those who have not yet had the pleasure, I encourage you to run, not walk, to introduce yourselves to the challenging work of one of the most important philosophers of our time.
Reviewed by Jennifer Martin-Romme.
People's Park: Still Blooming
Edited by Terri Compost • Published by Slingshot Collective
This book is for those that hear the name “People’s Park” and know deep down that the park is theirs and something to defend. And create.
People’s Park: Still Blooming is our family heirloom, our memories, our scrapbook, the story of the courage and hope that freed and tended this sacred piece of Earth. It is for us to remember, but mostly it is for the next to come. This book is an attempt to capture the spirit and story of the Park.
The book was published with the hope that, like seeds, copies will find fertile ground in the hearts of young people and encourage them to try again. We are connected. The land wants to live. Let a thousand Parks bloom.
Available at www.whoopdistro.org
Bulk copies: slingshot.tao.ca
Also available at Long Haul Infoshop, 3124 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, CA 94705 — and at many independent bookstores.
The Last Wild Witch
by Starhawk • illustrations by Lindy Kehoe
An eco-fable for kids and other free spirits. In the heart of the last magic forest lived the last wild Witch. This is the story of how the children of the perfect town let a little wildness get inside of them, find their joy and courage, and save the last wild Witch and the last magic forest from disappearing.
“Thoughtful, moving and beautiful” — Alice Walker
NOTE - this book is increasingly difficult to find. Here are two links from Meg:
Origins of Reclaiming
Direct Action: An Historical Novel
by Luke Hauser
Reviewed by Starhawk
In Direct Action, Luke Hauser writes fiction so steeped in reality that he reproduces an era for us, with all of its excitement and frustrations.
Although the 1980s are generally thought of as a kind of dead zone for progressive activism, in the San Francisco Bay Area the early part of the decade was a time of fervent activism around nuclear issues.
Hauser's novel, set in that era, recreates the emotional and political milieu of the anti-nuclear blockades at Livermore Lab, Vandenberg Air Force Base, and the San Francisco Financial District. The nonviolent direct actions of the 70s and early 80s against nuclear power and nuclear weapons were the forerunners of a style of organizing that came to fruition in the blockade of the World Trade Organization in Seattle in '99. Many of the assumptions about nonhierachical organizations, the power of nonviolent direct action, and many of the tactics and strategies that inform the movement today were pioneered at that time.
Hauser was one of the organizers of the Livermore Action Group, which focused attention throughout the early eighties on Livermore Lab, run by the University of California - one of the two places in the U.S. where nuclear weapons were designed and developed. Livermore Action Group was born when organizing against nuclear power expanded to include nuclear weapons.
New Models of Protest
In the 1970s, as nuclear power plants began to be brought online, the dangers of nuclear power were becoming highly evident. The near melt-down at Three Mile Island in the Spring of '79 increased opposition.
On the East Coast, a group called the Clamshell Alliance pioneered a new mode of organizing in direct actions against the Seabrook Nuclear Plant at Seabrook, New Hampshire. Movement for a New Society, a Quaker-based social action group in Philadelphia, had conducted trainings in nonviolence and helped mold an organizing style. Instead of a central committee making decisions, the actions were organized by affinity groups, small groups of like-minded people that included both activists willing to risk arrest and those who would offer support. The affinity groups made decisions by consensus, and sent representatives to spokescouncils that made decisions for the whole action.
In California, Pacific Gas and Electric had begun building a nuclear plant on the ocean at a place called Diablo Canyon, just west of San Luis Obispo. Huge public opposition was aroused - especially when it came to light that the plant was being built over an earthquake fault. After a long campaign of legal challenges, the plant was finally ready to be licensed in the summer of 1981. As legal modes of opposition were exhausted, a group called the Abalone Alliance formed, modeled after the Clamshell Alliance. They held a huge rally in 1980, and a small blockade, but their major organizing effort went into a call for an emergency response, to blockade the plant and prevent the operators from loading the fuel rods, once the license for testing was granted,
The Diablo blockade took place in September 1981, and lasted about three weeks, during which over 5000 arrests were made. For everyone who took part, the blockade became a life-changing event. Three weeks of collective decision making and shared leadership gave us a strong sense of our own personal and collective power. Getting arrested, confronting authority, surviving custody, and often getting out of jail and returning to the blockade gave us ample opportunities to test our power, courage, and commitment, and come out stronger. While in jail, we used our time to hold workshops, talent shows, and meetings, and to discuss strategy. Reagan was pushing to build up our nuclear arsenal, characterizing the Soviet Union as the "Evil Empire," and talking about how to make nuclear war winnable. Nuclear war seemed a real possibility in the immediate future. Our new mode of organizing, combining direct democracy and nonviolent direct action, was so empowering and powerful that some of us decided we should expand and organize in a similar way against nuclear weapons.
Questions of Hierarchy
And so the Livermore Action Group was born. LAG, as it was familiarly called, organized its first blockade in February of 1982. It was followed by a larger blockade that June, on the Summer Solstice, billed as the International Day of Nuclear Disarmament. In these days of computers and the internet, when international organizing is easy and expected, it seems quaintly archaic to remember that we organized across borders by using regular mail and occasional long-distance phone calls. We had allies in the German anti-nuclear movement, and later developed allies even further afield, in Kazhakstan and Palau, wherever weapons had been tested and toxic residues left behind.
LAG soon acquired an office in Berkeley and a small paid staff-underpaid, but paid. There was always a tension in the organization between the paid staff and those who identified with the affinity groups, between a pull toward some centralization and core leadership, and an outward push into more direct democracy. The tension was mirrored by the emergence of a new group, the Vandenberg Action Coalition, which formed to oppose missile testing at Vandenberg, in Southern California.
The Vandenberg Action Coalition was more 'pure' in its devotion to nonhierarchical organizing, with no paid staff, no coordinating council, only representatives from affinity groups and working groups. LAG and VAC planned two actions in 1983 - a fixed-date action in January, noteworthy because almost all of us contracted dysentery from the camp food, and a floating date action that was planned to interfere with the actual testing of the MX.
Arrest at a military base meant Federal, rather than state, charges. After the January action, everybody was "banned and barred" from coming back to the base, but most were not charged. Repeat trespassers, however, faced greater risks in the Spring action. We planned a jail solidarity strategy - that we all would stay in jail to keep pressure on the authorities to drop or reduce charges, or at least to insure that second-timers were not treated more harshly. Part of that strategy was to withhold names, to keep them from simply releasing some protesters and singling out others.
Hauser's novel traces the tensions and conflicts, and also the creative interactions, between the groups and the different approaches to organizing. He recreates the feelings, the issues, the controversies, with great fidelity. The novel goes through arrest and jail, and the central part of the narrative takes place during the extended jail stay after the June of '83 blockade. LAG had also planned for a jail solidarity strategy, which proved vitally important when the courts attempted to give us all (in addition to jail-time) a long period of probation, which would have prevented us from civil disobedience for months or years.
We ended up staying in jail for nearly two weeks, until the authorities gave in and dropped the idea of probation. Hauser does an excellent job of recreating the experience, the frustration, the waiting, the high points of mutual support and solidarity and the low points of depression in our unexpectedly long sojourn in custody. He brought back the experience so vividly that I could smell the unwashed bodies, feel the cold and the rough wool of the blankets, and taste once again that inimitable combination of spam and fruit cocktail the guards called "The Empire Strikes Back!"
The book continues through the following Summer, with a series of San Francisco protests at the 1984 Democratic Convention that were direct precursors of today's urban protest movement. The story ends with the dissolution of LAG, but stirs embers of hope among the ashes.
Anyone interested in the history of social movements or the antecedents of the global justice movement kicked off by Seattle will find this book fascinating. Hauser tells a good story, and creates characters that live and breathe. But he does more - he brings alive a part of our history that might otherwise be forgotten, and offers its lessons and legacy to the present.
Reviewed by Starhawk
Neo-Pagan Sacred Art and Altars: Making Things Whole
by Sabina Magliocco
With grace and tact, anthropologist Sabina Magliocco’s short book provides an intelligent introduction to the material culture of neo-pagans. Each sentence gives the reader keys to better understanding the history and social context of not just pagan art, but paganism in general.
Lovingly and meticulously researched, Magliocco’s book combines her knowledge of modern paganism with anecdotal experience. The result is a perfectly distilled anthropological work that tempers readability with intellectual rigor — and a gorgeous series of photographs for good measure. For those with a keen interest in art, folklore, history, or spirituality in general, this book is a gem not to be missed.
Reviewed by Arcadia
Remedios: Stories of Earth and Iron from the History of Puertorriquenas
by Aurora Levins Morales
This is a strange and wonderful book. I’m not sure any simple description can do it justice. This is the global history of humanity from women’s perspective. A native of Puerto Rico, Morales was inspired by the multicultural background of her homeland and the enduring power of women, whose historical voices are rarely heard. Morales attempts to give voice to her ancestors by going back through time, to all the corners of the world, considering the various paths of humanity that led to the population and character of Puerto Rico.
The format is unusual, but perfectly suited the content. The text takes the form of a series of vignettes that are fictional, but historically accurate. Or rather, they are meditations on points in history, richly visualized and deeply felt. She starts at the beginning, in Sub-Saharan Africa 200,000 years ago and from there imagines various places at various points in time, moving forward through history.
The throughline of these histories is our connection to the Earth, punctuated by descriptions of various medicinal herbs and foods. Not your average apothecary’s excerpts but funky, Witchy descriptions that tell it like it is.
Morales has the ability to inhabit these times and places, and to speak from these perspectives in a convincing way. Thus, she does more than provide glimpses of what it might have been like to be a Meso-American woman 5,000 years ago, or a woman being tortured into false confessions in the witch hunts of 15th-century Germany. Morales forges for the reader a visceral connection to the past that is exciting and inspiring. These vignettes come together in a tapestry that impacts the reader on all levels.
Published by South End Press. Review by Lothlorien.
The Divine Right of Capital
Dethroning the Corporate Aristocracy
by Marjorie Kelly
In feudal societies of Europe, Japan and other areas, a small minority of the population lived in comparative luxury by the sweat and toil of their fellow man. They lived this way until near modern times, firmly believing in a single assumption: that those who benefited from the feudal order did so by divine right. They believed that it was God’s will that they should benefit from the efforts of others without providing significant effort of their own.
In our modern society we have established a new feudalism. A small minority of wealthy individuals lives in comparative luxury by the sweat of their fellow man. The single assumption: corporations must maximize shareholder value above all other goals.
Marjorie Kelly, the co-founder and editor of "Business Ethics," has written an excellent, accessible description of what she believes are the fundamental flaws in the way capitalism is practiced today. By ignoring other stake holders, including employees, the community, and the environment, large corporations are able legally to make decisions that harm these other constituencies. If employees, the community, and the environment were represented in the boardroom, it is unlikely that a large corporation would lay off hundreds of workers, move its business out of the city that fostered it, and harm the surrounding natural world.
Kelly tells the history and the legal story of how corporate charters left their original purpose of "benefiting the common good" and were transformed into entities that do all they can to maximize the value for shareholders — shareholders who, like the feudal lords of old, do little to directly help or impact the daily value of the company. The shareholders grow wealthy by the efforts and at the expense of those who do impact the value of the company. She also offers suggestions as to what can be done to bring about a more equitable system where all who have stake in a business have a say in the business.
Published by Berrett-Koehler Publishers. Reviewed by Jim Negrette.
Webs of Power
Notes from the Global Uprising
I have long been amazed and delighted by the clear, creative thinking of Starhawk’s writings. No less so with her new book, a must-read for all who would understand the revolution of our time: "a transition from a suicide economy to a life-sustaining civilization" (Joanna Macy).
In Part I ("Actions"), Starhawk takes us into the streets, from Seattle to Washington, D.C. and on to the ramifications of 9/11. These are dramatic stories taken from on-the-run dispatches emailed to supporters, and they speak with riveting immediacy. She frequently mentions being 50 and middle-aged in the book, a nice way of bonding with readers.
Part II ("Visions") grapples with key questions confronting the global justice movement: the need for diversity, imparting strength and health by the inclusion of all strands of society; the issues of violence and nonviolence, from the classical nonviolence of Gandhi and King to the present day. She is wary of violence as a political tool, believing that the movement’s strongest tactic is to model the kind of world we want — to live it in our actions.
In that "a better world is possible," Starhawk believes we already know the kind of world we want: enterprises must be rooted in communities and be responsible to communities and future generations; there is a commons to be protected, resources are too vital to life to be exploited for the profit of a few; we have a collective responsibility for the well-being of others; democracy means having a voice in the decisions that affect us, including economic decisions.
On diversity, she compares social diversity with nature: a prairie with many kinds of plants growing together can weather pests or storms that would devastate a uniform field of hybrid corn. She reminds us that the global justice movement may be white in North America, but it is a movement "inspired and rooted among people of color around the world, from the Zapatistas of Mexico to the insurrectionists of Bolivia who retook their water supply from privatization" — people who, in the fight against global corporate capitalism, "have faced torture, prison, and death, and have also joyfully pioneered new tactics and new forms of struggle."
Starhawk speaks strongly about the need for humans to bond with nature. Our separateness from the environment — seen as "out there"— has allowed despoiling and the idea that everything exists primarily for human use. She quotes an Okanagan elder who says, "our most essential responsibility is to learn to bond our whole individual selves and our communal selves to the land." The "whole system we call ‘globalization’ is predicated on the destruction of this bond," she writes. The "whole idea of ‘efficiency’ and ‘integration’ is aimed at shoring up an economic system in which no region is self-sufficient, in which the resources of the entire globe are available without restraint to corporations... Corporations and enterprises are displaced as well — they are no longer tied or responsible to any local community."
In the chapter called "Rethinking Nonviolence," Starhawk thoroughly examines every aspect, especially in relation to direct action. "Empowering direct action," she writes, "looks for ways to embody our vision in the face of power, to get in the way of its workings...This requires great creativity...(it) aims at being more than symbolic; it looks for ways to interfere with and delegitimize the operations of injustice."
Part of that creativity is in modeling a revolution. Starhawk asks a number of questions, and offers: "What if we ceased to locate the revolution in the future, and embraced it now? Revolution is what we are, not what we will become. What we do, not what we will do someday. An unfolding, evolving, enlivening experiment, something we continually reinvent as we go along, a living process happening now." Wow!
Published by New Society Press. Reviewed by Lea Wood.
by V. Vale and John Sulak
I’m what you’d call a "Peripheral Pagan." Many of my friends and loved ones are active, practicing Pagans of various traditions. I have an awareness of and respect for Paganism, but no formal education. So I was slightly apprehensive when an advance copy of the new RE/Search book, Modern Pagans, fell into my possession, expecting it to be either an oversimplified, watered down "Witchcraft 101," or conversely, an inaccessible, heavy-handed tome on archaic theories and rituals. I was pleasantly surprised to find neither.
The authors have managed to present an intelligent, comprehensive overview of numerous theologies laced with poignant commentaries and anecdotes from almost 50 practicing Pagans, never interfering with the interviewee’s own voice and story. The stories, reasons, and paths each of these people tell and follow is as varied and unique as the ways they’ve managed to incorporate their beliefs into everyday life.
Topics range from Pagan parenting to polyamory, from fire dancing and sacred sexuality to community service. Many aspects of the metaphysical and mundane as they relate to Paganism are covered. Paganism is defined as any polytheistic religion within this book, so beliefs not usually considered Pagan exist comfortably here. Topics explored include the roots of Gardnerian Wicca, and a stunning interview with Starhawk explaining how Reclaiming was founded and works. Other interviews include Beat poet/Buddhist Diane di Prima, and Santeria practitioner/body-piercer Raelyn Gallina (who was also profiled in RE/Search’s Modern Primitives).
My favorite interview was with Joi Wolfwomyn, a Pagan/Mother/Radical Faerie. Drawing on the isolation and "otherness" she felt as a bi-racial adopted child in a conservative Christian family, and the time spent in a mental institution as an adolescent, she tells how she transcended her painful past and has been performing death rituals for loved ones and strangers for over a decade. Her forthright insights on life, death, and dying, culled from years of firsthand experience, are refreshing and inspirational — especially in a culture predominantly focused on avoiding death.
With an extensive glossary and an exhaustive recommended reading/resource list in the back (in addition to the ones scattered throughout the book), Modern Pagans is a priceless addition to any well-read theologian’s collection, and a fascinating, approachable introduction to Paganism for the novice. I was never bored; every page provided new information, every interview a fresh perspective. I hope Modern Pagans finds a home in every bookcase.
Published by RE/Search. Reviewed by Kathleen Le Chair.
Eternally Bad: Goddesses with Attitude
by Trina Robbins
Eternally Bad: Goddesses with Attitude is an irreverent look at Goddesses from many cultures. Trina Robbins is trying to reclaim what she calls "bad girl" goddesses, and points out that, "there’s a little bit of bad goddess in all of us."
These short retellings of old myths can make you laugh and may introduce you to Goddesses you don’t know. But the book doesn’t give you much information about any particular deity. It includes feminist re-interpretation of 22 Goddess myths ranging from the Norse Goddess Freya, to the Sumerian Queen of the Dead, to Grizzly Woman (a Native American mythical figure), to the Japanese Goddesses Uzume and Amaterasu. It even includes women from the Bible.
Written in modern language with modern references, the book may strike sticklers for the traditional as inaccurate and annoying. But I found it fun and funny, especially to read aloud to others.
Published by Conari Press. Reviewed by Jade Paget-Seekins.
The Knitting Goddess
Finding the Heart and Soul of Knitting Through Instruction, Projects, and Stories
by Deborah Bergman
The title says it all. Bergman plumbs Goddess lore for its rich metaphors related to that most delightful occupation, knitting.
Bergman opens every chapter with a well-told Goddess story related to fiber-craft. Grandmother Spider’s gossamer webs save the First People. Arachne’s weaving-hubris transforms Athena from teacher to rival. Theseus betrays Ariadne and her magic skein. Bergman reaches into these stories and pulls out spiritual lessons that grow from knitting. We learn from Biblical Rachel’s wild patience, waiting for Jacob to complete his double indenture, that while knitting we’ll learn the creative patience that builds beauty. Just as Penelope weaves and unravels while Odysseus negotiates his adventure-fraught journey home, we knitters rip out rows that went wrong to regenerate our chosen design.
My favorite is the story of the Three Fates, the Moirae, today ensconced in a Greek diner in Las Vegas owned by one sister’s husband — the kind with Greek travel posters taped to the wall. They spin, they knit, they gossip about Plato, Orestes, and Richard Wagner. The oldest cuts her yarn whenever she finishes a stripe of her endless afghan. The pattern Bergman pairs with this story is a lesson in stripes and color blending, increasing and decreasing, when to carry the yarn, and when to cut.
These stories are quirky and thoroughly enjoyable, with a related pattern for each. For Isis, she designs a pleasant fluffy stole in a luxurious color mix. Brigit’s story includes a circular baby blanket knit in the round. Bergman’s patterns, although rather shapeless, are original and good for first efforts. They may not satisfy more expert knitters.
This probably isn’t the best beginner’s book, but the world is jammed with excellent beginning books and yarn shops are full of patient instructors.
The beauty of The Knitting Goddess is how it speaks to those timeless moments when you have the knitting rhythm, fingers flying, strands of soft color slipping by, the garment growing inch by inch. Your alert and lulled consciousness floats away on unbroken timeless thread to the swirling stories embedded in the origins of our religion.
It’s a fresh look at knitting, and it passed the ultimate test; I pulled out my rusty needles and carefully stored yarn, to knit again for the first time in years.
Illustrated by Jenny Rideout and Aydika James. Published by Hyperion. Reviewed by Diane Baker.
Africa: Volume I (to 1885)
edited by Toyin Falola
Volume I of this compelling history of Africa carries the narrative to 1885, when the European powers partitioned the continent. In 18 chapters, the authors reconstruct African history one region and one era at a time.
The book opens with the geography of Africa. Part II covers the earliest known cultures through ancient Egypt.
Part III offers eight chapters on different regions of the continent. The final section examines the slave trade and the coming of colonialism.
Designed for college courses, this book is worthwhile reading for anyone interested in Africa and world affairs.
Published by Carolina Academic Press. Reviewed by George Franklin.
Through the Gate of Dreams
by G. M. Jaron
Prepare to be uncomfortably entertained. Mr. Jaron takes chances, pushes buttons and manages to redeem himself.
Through the Gate of Dreams enters one Lamont Corazon, a teenage prodigy with a Christian fundamentalist father. A shy bookworm with a gift of intense lucid dreaming, worlds open up before him until the dream is more real that the "waking" world.
Enter Basha, two years older than Lamont, another prodigy with a Jewish fundamentalist father. Divorced, her mother, Miriam, runs a Goddess bookstore in San Francisco. All are lucid dreamers. At this point we need to change the dream terminology to "virtual dreaming," because all meet in full awareness of who they and each other are. They dialogue and engage in collective activity. It’s a dream world fantasy come to life.
Enter one "Tezcat" an Old One, a vampire force from the stars, leading a "hermit crab" existence taking on the "shell" of Aztec God "Smoking Mirror." Tezcat goes about in drag as voluptuous Goddess clothed only in smoke to turn Lamont on and it works. Tezcat declares to Lamont that "hearts are sweet like melted chocolate and She desires to eat many." Here Mr. Jaron takes a risk by taking on a Meso-American God/Dess and presenting the energy as ancient beyond time and amorally sinister.
So, hero, heroine, villain are in place, we need to put the players in motion. Enter Jon and Lana, a teenage "muggle" couple walking through Golden Gate Park. Tezcat sucks Jon out of this world into the dream one. Lana is terrified and lost. Lamont sees this in his dreams. He meets Lana in person and wants to help. The ball is rolling. Lamont meets Tezcat in a series of dreams and Tezcat promises to help Lamont find Jon. The rolling ball is getting bigger. Basha (her locker’s next to Lamont’s in school) meets Lamont in her mother’s bookstore, and in dream world. Basha gets pulled in to Lamont’s quest to find Jon. The rolling ball is now up to speed. The rest is all momentum and discovery.
Listening to Basha and Lamont dialogue is hilarious. It’s like watching Woody Allen and Diane Keaton. When they spar, it’s like two old college professors going at it. It is preposterously delightful. I’ve got to warn you that sometimes their quibbles will make your head hurt from synapse overload. These dialogues are core to Mr. Jaron’s philosophies and work. It’s apparent the author has three obsessions: fantasy, Witchcraft and Judaism. Through the fantasy he explores the other two, trying to make sense and looking for continuity.
The book’s high point is a dream where Basha goes on a mystical ride to "The Orchard" (The Judaic Heavenly paradise) with four famous rabbis: Ben Zoma, Akiva, Ben Azzai and Ben Abouya. They watch the universe unfold like the Sefirot of the Kabbalah and then shatter like an obsidian mirror. This chapter is brilliant and stands out as a great piece of thinking.
So the review is: If you can climb the mountain the story sets up, the view is rewarding, something quite unique, gripping and sometimes wondrous.
Reviewed by Doug Orton.
From Closet to Community
A Quest for Gay and Lesbian Liberation in San José and Santa Clara County
by Ted Sahl
When the topic of gay liberation in the Bay Area comes up, the focus of attention is almost entirely on San Francisco, and to some extent rightly so.
However, even in the Bay Area, San Francisco was not the only breeding ground for an active gay and lesbian community. Ted Sahl’s book From Closet to Community goes a long way toward showing how the Silicon Valley community came into being.
The book is organized unusually for a history. Instead of a strict chronological retelling that runs the course of the book, each chapter is itself a full history of a particular aspect of the community. There are chapters that cover the early years from Stonewall to the mid-70s; the Imperial Court system and its many South Bay incarnations; the growth of political involvement; and the concurrent growth of the women’s community. Sahl also includes two powerful galleries: one with profiles of activists, and another of prominent community members now gone.
In addition to the structure of the book, Sahl has made an interesting departure in the text. The bulk of the text comes from historical documents of the time, such as community newsletters, editorials and articles from the local gay newspapers, and personal interviews. Sahl ties them all together with brief passages of explanatory text to give additional context. It’s a refreshing chance to hear the growth of a community in its own words, an appropriate choice given the historically recent nature of all the events in the book.
The final gift of this book is the great quantity of community photographs. As a photojournalist for Our Paper (a longtime San José gay newspaper) among others, Sahl documented the growth of the South Bay community over several decades, and has been generous in his selection here. There are photos of many political events, social occasions, and a complete gallery of all of San José’s royal courts, among many others.
I had only one small quibble with From Closet to Community. The narrative structure, while interesting, feels a bit disjointed. Each chapter effectively starts back at "the beginning" for its topic, and getting a sense of how different parts of the community overlapped was sometimes difficult.
However, the overall arc makes it clear that the community was built on a strong foundation of service, political action, and grassroots organizing that continues into the present.
Reviewed by Carol Gunby.
The DaVinci Code
by Dan Brown
(2003 review by Urania)
Do you know what the Knights Templar, Leonardo DaVinci, Sir Isaac Newton, the Priory of Sion, the Goddess and the Catholic Church all have in common?
The DaVinci Code. And something else, too, but you have to unlock the secrets of the code to find it. There are riddles, secret codes, hidden information in paintings and mysteries upon mysteries in this story. What a great romp!
The story of Robert Langdon, a Harvard symbologist, and Sophie Neveu, a cryptologist for the French Judicial Police, takes one on a grand tour of the Goddess as she survived hidden throughout Europe for the last two thousand years — all in 48 hours, book time.
The tale begins with the murder of the Louvre’s curator. Our Professor Robert is drawn in by the police because his name is in the curator’s planner and written within a clue the curator has left behind. Is this a clue about his murderer or is this a clue about something bigger? Sophie, the cryptologist, thinks it’s the latter and teams up with Robert in an attempt to clear his name. The events leading up to the murder lead both of them to believe that the curator is trying to send them after something, but what? This is the question Robert and Sophie ask as they are sent on a wild ride through Paris and into Britain, seeking answers to one clue after another, pursued by the French Judicial Police and someone else, too. The clues surround a great mystery, a mystery held sacred by secret societies and one that certain members of the Church want kept hidden at all costs.
Dan Brown has done his homework. He knows about DaVinci, his proclivities, his feelings towards the Church and his paintings. He knows about the Knights Templar. He knows about the Goddess, her symbols, her worship, and her mysteries as they are hidden in plain sight. Is he Pagan or is he just smart and enjoys studying such things? I can’t say, but my hat is off to him. I found in the Goddess references only two things that I might argue with. Maybe you will find more and maybe not.
The pace is fast, the tale so much about secret societies and the like that it is easy to believe in otherwise unbelieveable plot twists. The end is sweet and the final riddle’s answer sublime.
My friends tell me this book is a bestseller. While I am not much given to reading bestsellers, this one was well worth my time. Truly, I had a blast. I liked these characters and really appreciated their (Dan Brown’s) thoughtfulness and seeming care in not maligning Herself.
Reviewed by Urania.
The Hero's Journey
by Joseph Campbell
How long have we heard about the great mythologist Joseph Campbell? Some years ago I saw the Bill Moyers interviews, and was quite underwhelmed. But finally I decided to read him for myself.
Seriously - this is a trivial and vastly overrated book.
Campbell is well-read, but this book is a trivial Freudian reduction of all global mythology to the dominant Western psychological paradigm. Campbell draws worthy attention to the basic structure of myths (hence his value to writers), but his overriding concern is to cram every myth into his pre-conceived model.
Too often Campbell's examples don't obviously illustrate his points, and seem chosen mainly to show off his wide reading. Many of the myths seem forced into pigeon-holes rather than read and explicated in their own right. Myths are unique. living entities, not exemplars of a universal (Freudian) structure.
The introductory chapter, which lays out the Freudian paradigm Campbell employs, is actually a very honest and open revelation of his (simplistic, reductionist) method. Read that chapter first, and then see if you think this book is so brilliant.
Reviewed by Bill Dewey.