Old Teen Essays
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Article ID: 4552
Age Group: Adult
Posted: March 10th. 2002
Uh-Oh! Wren's Been Reading Again
We're at that seasonally awkward time of the year. You know the one. Many of you Northerners can already feel it in your blood. Spring is right around the corner! Trouble is, that corner is many blocks away from where you happen to live. It's still too cold to plant any herbs or flowers. You can feel that pent up energy though and it's driving you crazy. You really want to be OUT there. ARGH! Unless you have a southern vacation planned -or are one of those very odd people who appear to actually enjoy winter sports (and yes, Duncan, I'm talking about you, sweetie)- you're stuck indoors for a few more months. Well, after you're done cleaning out your underwear drawer, picking those last wayward strands of Yule tinsel out from the carpet, checking to see if the dust bunnies under the bed need a pep talk and washing the windows, you can always catch up on some of that reading. Or you could just do what I did and forget about all of that productive stuff and go straight for the books. (I hope that my dust bunnies will be okay for a while on their own.)
I do a lot of reading. Every day I spend hours online looking for news items and just keeping up with what's going on in the world. I've also been researching my family tree of late and that naturally leads to place names that then lead to cultural references that lead to historical sites and... now I forgot what it was that I was actually looking for again. I also have to file all of those darn bookmarks somewhere. But I'm always reading something. The urge to read books though seems to come in spurts. The urge to buy books however never leaves my bloodstream. I'm a book junkie. A bookstore for me is like reaching into a bag of potato chips. I can't have just one. So they've been piling up waiting for a spurt to hit. This past week, I spurted. I guess the following sections could be labeled: 'What Wren Read When She Really Should Have Been Dusting'.
Wicca/Witchcraft Related: I have to be honest here. I was rather skeptical about this book when I first saw the title, Nocturnal Witchcraft: Magick After Dark, by Konstantinos (Llewellyn; ISBN 0-7387-0166-1; pbk-$14.95). I take back any reservations that I might have harbored. This book very much reminds me of some of the more 'classical' occultist literature that sadly seems to have fallen out of favor these days. The 'lesson plan' presented in Nocturnal Witchcraft is in much the same style as one of my own personal favorites, 'Initiation into Hermetics' by Franz Bardon. So when I checked the 'suggested reading' list in the back of the book, I wasn't surprised to see that very book listed there. And besides, Kostantinos has such nice things to say about Anubis! Don't let the title scare you away. While there are some exercises in mental thought projections and mind reading, the ethical questions are addressed as well. Probably not for young teens, but nothing in Nocturnal Witchcraft is going to jump out and spook older teens and adults. You can always whistle softly to yourself while you read it if that makes you feel any better.
You might want to take a little mental respite after reading Nocturnal Witchcraft and do something a bit more physical. Well, what should hit my mailbox this week but, Witch Crafts, by Willow Polson (Citadel Press, Kensington Publishing Co.; ISBN 0-8065-2247-X; pbk-$18.94). Now you'll really be glad (and satisfactorily justified) that you didn't clean out your closets after all because there just might be something in there that you can use. (Check way in the back. Next to those old boots that you just can't bear to throw out.) Included with the simple instructions for such items as Water Castle Candles (These look so cool!), Coven Banners (Now you can cut up those old boots and use the leather in your banner. How magical and personal is that, huh?), Woodworking and Herbal Crafts (Gourd rattles for everyone!), Willow also (You're gonna love her for this...) includes ingredient and supply source references. There is some Witch Craft project in this book that anyone in the family can do. Now, where did I put those boots again?
While waiting for your new Coven Banner to dry, you might want to start wading into Demon Lovers: Witchcraft, Sex, and The Crisis of Belief (Walter Stephens; University of Chicago Press; ISBN 0-226-77261-6; hdc-$35.00). I say 'start' because this one is going to take you a while to get through. Demon Lovers is not so much engaging as it is detailed. As a scholar, Stephens uses footnotes and quotes from the material that he is analyzing in a way that sometimes seems too detailed. However, his premise that the Witch Hunts occurred not because biblical theologians feared that the land was infested with Witches, but rather because they actually feared that it wasn't requires just such an in depth treatment. The 'proof' that Witchcraft existed in a physical form proved that the devil and his demons also had to exist in physical form. And as the Church was undergoing its own crisis of belief concerning the actual existence of god and angels at this time, theologians- perhaps subliminally- used a reverse engineering technique. It was not magic that they were concerned about; it was physical proof of a devil that they were looking for. And what is more physical an evidence than that of sexual relations? Stephens theorizes that far from being the knee jerk women haters and superstitious heretic hunters that these inquisitors have been made out to be, they rather were operating under an entirely different impetus altogether: They weren't trying to destroy Witchcraft; They were trying to save the Christian faith. And their own. Stephens' analysis of the infamous Malleus Maleficarum is particularly intensive and his conclusions are quite surprising. If you have ever suspected that some fundamentalist Christian 'occult experts' of today are looking for Witches in order to do the same thing, you'll find plenty in Demon Lovers to back up that theory. It might explain their obsession with Harry Potter, too.
Egyptian/Religious Thought: I love this book! Daily Life of the Egyptian Gods (Dimitri Meeks and Christine Favard-Meeks, G.M. Goshgarian translation; Cornell University Press; ISBN 0-8014-8248-8; pbk-$19.95) is one that I plan on reading again and again. Not only does this work explore the familial relationships existing within the Egyptian pantheon itself, it demonstrates just how much those relationships influenced the formation of the religious lives of the Egyptian people. Treating the Egyptian pantheon as a society unto itself- far removed, fundamentally alien, and completely separate from that of human beings- is a sociological approach that might just change how you view this ethnic group of deities. If you want to read this book for that and nothing more, you'll enjoy it. But Meeks and Meeks go even further. Egyptian religion was complicated. At least, it seems so to Westerners. Egyptian religious beliefs have long been saddled with a label that you might recognize: relativism. Accused of idolatry by those who have studied them, the Egyptians themselves seemed to have had no problem whatsoever in living quite happily within a mind set that those trained in Greek thought find impossibly contradictory. How could the Gods be said to dwell, to actually be, in statues and objects and yet not be the actual statue or object? And that both concepts can be -and to the ancient Egyptians, were- equally true? Rather than a 'this God does this and this Goddesses does that' run-down of the pantheon, the Meeks's reveal the world of the Old Egyptian Gods as a very fluid dimension of alternative reality- a place where They both exist in reality and yet at the same time, are beyond what we could ever comprehend.
Another book ostensibly about the Egyptian Gods is Concepts of God in Ancient Egypt: The One and the Many by Erik Hornung (John Bates translation; Cornell University Press; ISBN 0-8014-8384-0; pbk-$17.95). This one too tackles the concepts that lie behind the complexity and sophistication of the Egyptian pantheon. Originally written in 1970, this book is perhaps more timely now. As modern societies struggle with issues such as diversity and mono-vs. poly-religious thought, Concepts of God may be considered a premonition of what was to come. Even among their contemporaries, the ancient Egyptians and their unique belief system were held up to ridicule and scorn. The images of 'dog headed gods' were simply too much for the Greeks and Romans, with their intrinsic love of the human form, to handle. Much more were the old Gods criticized when Christianity came along. Not only did they have the form of 'devils', they also had one other thing that made their entire pantheon a big, big problem: They were highly successful. Their 'reign' lasted for thousands of years. The Egyptian culture reached heights in art and literature and religion that may never be seen again. Thus one of the first things that Christians set out to do was to 'prove' that the Egyptians were not polytheistic, but actually worshippers of 'One Unknown Great God'. This book disputes that theory intelligently and also delves, once again, into the mysterious consciousness from which the Egyptian Gods both sprang and lived. Not a beginner's book by any means, Concepts of God would be a good starting point for anyone interested in the religious thought processes of the non-Greek/Roman ancient world.
Another reclaimed classic is The Lost Language of Symbolism (Harold Bayley; The Book Tree; ISBN 1-58509-070-0; pbk-$19.56). Written in 1912 (Yep. You heard me right.), this work is reprinted in the old style typeface reminiscent of a lot of the Theosophical books of that time. I really like that, but some might find it hard to read. You could say that Lost Language is the equivalent of a Joseph Campbell type primer on symbols. Focusing on "letters, words, names, fairy-takes, folklore and mythologies, " Bayley follows these concepts and symbols as they travel through the legends of the times. This might be too Christian-oriented for some Pagans as Bayley does spend a lot of time focusing on expounding upon Gnosticism and the "Great Wisdom, " but if you are already familiar with Theosophy/New Thought that won't put you off. The tracing of certain proper names throughout the centuries is particularly interesting. It's quaint, but it has a spot on my bookshelf right next to Isis Unveiled.
On-line: If I didn't get to you in time and you have already spent all of your money on Lemon Pledge and vacuum cleaner bags, do not despair. (Your place looks great, by the way!) You can access The Internet Sacred Text Archive anytime. Just say that you're cleaning the cat fur out of your keyboard. (I use this one a lot.) Here you will find a Wicca/Neo-Paganism section that includes a Book of Shadows and a few Grimoires, the text of Aradia, Gospel of the Witches, The Golden Bough and The Public Contents of the Gardnerian Book of Shadows as well as historical documents like Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft by Sir Walter Scott. There are sections on classical Greek and Roman works, Buddhism, Shinto, and much, much more. You can purchase the entire web site collection on CD-rom for $50.00. I think that's a bargain (and would make a great gift for that special scholarly someone), but if you can't swing that much, do consider sending in a donation to help keep the site on-line. As they say on the site, "Donations to sacred-texts are non-refundable and (currently) not tax deductible. However, they are very good for your karma!"
And speaking of karma, I'd best stop here and go check under the bed. I think that the dust bunnies are growing restless.
Walk in Love and Light,
Co-Founder - The Witches' Voice
Monday, March 11th., 2002
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