Monday, September 16, 2013

Every Pagan Book I Own Part III

Decided since I've been neglecting this project a bit I'd better step it up:  Here are four Pagan books I won and my feelings about each of them.

Skin Spirits: The Spiritual and Magical Uses of Animal Parts by Lupa
This book is great for crafty people who are comfortable using animal parts.  It gives very good step-by-step instructions on how to make things from bones, leather, feathers, etc. as well as sourcing such things and caring for the spirits within them.  If you use animal parts regularly I strongly suggest this book.

Pros
So many books are squeamish about using animal parts in ritual because they're afraid of the response from the animal rights contingent of Paganism.  Because of this, books like this one are important.  The resources section is wonderful.  She gives a good run-down of the legal and ethical considerations we need to take.  And her instructions are very good.  Implies that furry-type garb can be used as skin spirits, which is cool.

Cons
If you believe using animal parts is unethical, this book will infuriate you and you should skip it.  Has a couple inconsistencies... one moment she suggests keeping skins entirely intact, but her instructions involve cutting them.  But honestly I'm kind of fighting for "cons" here.

Appropriation Level
I would characterize Lupa's work as "appropriation-aware" rather than lacking appropriation, which is honestly my own style of doing Paganism anyway.  There are practices in this book that are clearly inspired by other cultures, and if you are 100% against all appropriation at all times, it'll bug you.
History Level
There really isn't any history in this book aside from laws, and I don't have the experience to judge that.

Relativism Level
I didn't see any major problems.

Wicca Spellcraft for Men by A.J. Drew
I believe this is actually a grimoire-based sequel to Wicca for Men.  I do not own that book so I can't comment on that, but this is a shortish book that is pretty much dedicated to masculine mysteries within Wicca... specifically spellcraft.

Pros
This book is dedicated to the murdered trans man known as "Brandon."  Although I am seriously uncomfortable with Brandon being elevated in the trans male community (this is a complicated issue that I don't have time to address here), there is a very clear message that trans men are welcome in male mysteries, which is significant.  I use the oil recipes... a lot.  They're good.
Cons
Implies that feminism and outright states that a focus on Goddess worship are disempowering to men.  Implied MRA crap going on here.  Pulls the "you need a mother and a father" bullshit (but oh gays and lesbians are fine it's just symbolism yeah right).  Although I said I use the oil recipes a lot... there are so fucking many of them.  Why would you need this many oils in a general Wiccan spellcraft book?  Yikes.  Very snarky about other authors he feels are fluffy.  Justifies coercive love spells (although these are traditional and casting them doesn't make you "not a Witch" like some Witches would proclaim, casting them is indicative of an overall lack of concern for consent).
Relativism Level
Although I dislike the justification of coercive love spells, the fact that this is a popular Wiccan book that doesn't have too many hangups in the manipulative magick department is kind of revolutionary.
Appropriation Level
Has lotta-God syndrome (mentions lots of Gods without context).

History Level
I would ignore the history in this book merely because the author is kind of snarky about it.

Gay Witchcraft: Empowering the Tribe by Christopher Penczak
Oh.  Oh dear.  This is one of those books that I "reluctantly recommend."  It has good information in it and as far as I know is one of the first books to really delve into queer Witchcraft, but because of its age and other factors it has some really serious problems going for it.  Gay Witchcraft is meant to be a kind-of-inclusive book and doesn't exclusively refer to gay men... but more about that appears in the "cons" section of this review, unfortunately.
Pros
There are diverse pictures in this book, including people I am reading as transgender.  Has a good sex magick section for beginners.  If you're interested in queer-centered seasonal celebrations, this book has a good conception of that (although Penczak simultaneously pulls the same "hetero symbolism is like totally fine and queers shouldn't be bothered by it" bull everyone else seems to).  My favorite part of this book?  It has a ritual for exploring heterosexual sex.  This is significant to me because there are so many people who view homosexuality in terms of a hardline sexual-orientation-never-changes rubric that having something like this (especially back when this book was written!) is just wonderful to me.  It's especially important to me because I went through exactly that, having come out as a gay trans man who later learned he was not so gay after all.  I really appreciate that.
Cons
This book attempts to be inclusive of women, but it really isn't.  I wish Penczak had written a book just for gay men because that's clearly his comfort zone and what he should be focusing on.  There are a lot of other cons to this book.  But they are best detailed in the next sections.

Relativism Level
Bad.  Bad, bad, bad, bad.  Says "Witches don't curse."  Writes "Anyone who uses the world [sic] 'warlock' today is probably ignorant about Wicca as a religion" (laughably, one of his resources is Storm Faerywolf, who very openly identifies as a Warlock).
History Level
Bad.  He makes some really bizarre-as-fuck statements about Gods and Goddesses who allegedly preside over queer concerns.  While these statements might be fine on a personal level (I don't care, for instance, if you want to view Odin or Bast as queer deities), when you're writing a book like this it makes you an attempted authority on the subject, and I loathe that so many Witches are basically being tricked into believing bad history.  Don't trust the history.  Seriously.

Appropriation Level
Higher than average.  Uses stuff like chakras, but these are so genericized at this point it's almost not worth mentioning.  Calls The One/The All "The Great Spirit."

365 Goddess: A Daily Guide to the Magic and Inspiration of the Goddess by Patricia Telesco
This is one of those books I never would have sought out.  I found it at a thrift shop years ago, when I was still interested in The Goddess as a concept.  This book is basically a calendar that declares a special day for each of 365 cross-cultural Goddesses, (sometimes quite loosely) associated with cross-cultural holidays that are celebrated on those dates.  For instance, December 25th associates Christmas with Hertha, a Teutonic Goddess.
Pros
If you're looking for Goddesses or are the type who is into the lotta-God thing, this book might be a useful starting off point for you.  Has some interesting practices to try out.

Cons
Some of the "Goddesses" are not Goddesses.  Another one that is better explained in the appropriation category.
History Level
I can't comment on the whole book, but the Fourth of July entry is fucking weird and suggests to me that the rest of the Goddesses featured probably are peddled with inaccuracies.  She dedicates Independence Day to "Thmei," who she calls an "Egyptian goddess of law and mother of virtue."  This is clearly Ma'at, but for some reason she's using a ridiculously obscure Greek(?) name to describe her.  She doesn't really explain why in hell Ma'at has anything to do with Independence Day.  So I don't know that I'd trust the rest of the book.

Relativism Level
Not really applicable.
Appropriation Level
Oh dear.  Seriously.  This is a book basically dedicated to ripping off holidays and incorporating them into Paganism.  Many of the activities suggested are suggested without any real context ("Hey, try drumming while sprinkling corn kernels, that's what Native Americas would do on this day!!! No, you don't need a citation on whether or not that's true or to know why or anything.")  Most of the Goddesses are picked based on location and mythology, which is fine, but then you get weird ones like the aforementioned Fourth of July that she's somehow associated with Ma'at. It's actually really disturbing to think of the kind of person who would use this book in all seriousness.  Are there really people out there who get a lot from this?  I don't even know.