Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Pagan Portals--Runes by Kylie Holmes

There is an old saying that there is only one book about the Tarot and that each writer only publishes a few pages from it. I feel the same way about books written about the Elder Futhark--the so-called Norse runes. (Actually, the runes used by the Vikings were the abbreviated sixteen rune--Younger Futhark.) And just like one encounters the same information over and over again in Tarot books (or for that matter, books about the Golden Dawn), one reads the same material over and over again in books about the runes. Therefore, when one reviews a book on one of these subjects, one tends to only focus on the few pages of unique material that the writer includes (because the base-line is almost always the same--as in if you have read one book on the subject, you have read them all).

Pagan Portals--Runes by Kylie Holmes is your typical book on runes--containing historical information on the runes, runic divinatory spreads, how to make your own rune set, basic meanings of the runes, and suggestions of how to use the runes in magic.

So ignoring the standard stuff that finds its way into every book on the runes, what sticks out?

The book is written in a conversational tone, which is common with all the books that I have read so far from this particular publisher--Moon Books. I will admit that I spent too much time in academia to be completely comfortable with the style when it comes to regular books, despite the fact that I spend a lot of my time in the blogosphere (both as a reader and a lunatic with a soapbox). Think of the style as a conversation or a letter to a friend--some people will like the tone; others won't.

In the historical section, the author includes a diagram that shows the graphic difference between the Long Branch (Danish) and Short Twig (Swedish-Norwegian) Younger Futhark runes. That is a plus. And she mentions a few historical figures who studied and kept the lore of the runes alive--figures in rune history that I was not aware of. That is also a plus.

But she also mentions the myth of Odin as if it is historical and not mythical--which touches upon a bugbear that I wish authors would not do, and that is the mixing of mythology with historical fact. And in the section where she talks about the basic meanings of the runes, she mentions on more than one occasion what the Norse ("our ancestors") believed about the runes...without ever stating her source. I suspect that her source is intuition and not a document (because I have never heard of a document covering this information--the field of runelogy is made up of best guesses)--if it is an actual document, I wish that she would have came out and cited it by name and number. The fact that I think that she is playing fast and mixing her opinions with the historical facts is a negative. (Remember that I suffered though a Bachelors in both literature and history--it tends to make me frown at the mixing of personal belief and historical facts without the writer coming straight out and stating which is which.)

Holmes also includes the Anglo-Saxon, Norwegian and Icelandic rune poems (both in their original language and their English translation) in the historical section (this is important and/or nice if you are just want to read a single book on the runes, and not have to collect rune books like I do). And I will admit that she is the first writer on the subject of runes that I can remember coming out and stating that we do not have a poem for the Elder Futhark itself (the aforementioned poems deal with the Anglo-Saxon and Younger Futharks.

Overall, if you are after one book on the subject of the runes, this book is a four out of five stars. If you are like me and own two boxes of books on the subject, it will depend upon on how important the unique bits are in filling holes in your knowledge base.

[This review was based on a pre-publication e-file copy given to me by the publisher for review purposes.]

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Goetia Workbook by S. Connolly (book review)

One of the customs that most working magicians have been taught is the keeping of a magical journal, a record of one's magical experiments and experience. The custom goes back to Dee and Kelley--or at least, that is the point in history that the custom seems to originate from.
Most of us, including myself, just buy a blank composition book or a blank journal and proceed from there. A few suggestions on what to record have been published over the years. In my case, I was using a template that Donald Michael Kraig published in his Modern Magick book for a long time. (My template has moved away from his example, and now looks more like Dee's and Crowley's style than it does Kraig's example.)
Parts of the magical journals of Dee and Crowley have been published. In the case of Dee, there are large sections that are missing because Dee destroyed a lot of his journals to keep them out of the wrong hands (fortunately, some of the sections that he attempted to destroy survived, including a large hunk of the Enochian sessions). I have watched a couple of other working magicians destroy parts of their own magical journals; and over the years, some of my own records have been lost in various moves from residence to residence (it is what happens you do not move everything personally all by yourself).
Given the examples available to us and the cheap option of blank journal books, I never thought that I would ever give a shout-out to any blank magical journal--even a pre-formatted one, considering that the only viable publishing option is the print-on-demand route. (While a traditional publisher could print a pre-formatted blank magical journal cheaper, the truth is that a large part of the print-run would just sit in a warehouse, due to the extremely low demand for such an item...seriously, are there more than a thousand working magicians in the world at any given time?)
The Goetia Workbook by S. Connolly is a pre-formatted blank magical journal for those magicians working their way though the contact process with the Four Kings and the seventy-two Goetic Demons (or Daemons as Connolly prefers to call them--yes, they are a demonolator [daemonolator], one of those magicians who view the traditional spirits contained in the grimoires more as helper spirits than evil gone amok).
The pre-format is nice, simply for making sure that you remember to include all the important bits in your notes. And I like the fact that it has pages for each of the Four Kings and the seventy-two Goetic spirits (yes, I prefer the term "spirits"...which makes me a ?!?!). There is a space provided for any additional sigils that the spirit gives the magician, and a space to note if blood was offered (I personally use milk mixed with certain herbs as a substitute), et cetera. There is also a brief description of the powers and precautions for each spirit--my favorite being "Sitri is a lust demon and causes men and women to be passionate and get naked around one another."
But let's be honest the pre-formatting alone is not enough to justify a shout-out, so why am I suggesting that a working magician might want to consider shelling out money for something that they could do cheaper? The simple fact that you can get it as a paperback from Amazon and a hardcover from Lulu--the latter being what I would prefer. And why would that be important?
Quite simply because it has been my experience that the most important and significant encounter that one has with any given spirit is the initial contact. The basis of your entire relationship with a spirit can often be determined (typically with a lot of hindsight) from that first initial working. Therefore, with something like a run though the seventy-two Goetic spirits, one wants to make sure that the record of your working is going to be as permanent as you can get it.  
Yes, this shout-out is based simply upon the fact that I think that a working magician needs to ensure that their notes with certain operations, such as the initial contact with the Goetia, is set in as permanent form as one can accomplish. Did you really expect more from me? After all, I am a blogger who uses other people's work as an excuse to talk about things that I consider important (if you did not catch what this review is really about, re-read it again looking for the sole sentence that the entry is built around).
[This review is based on a preview file that the author lent to me.]