Pagan and the Pit(bulls)

The political musings of a Pagan and her dogs.


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Influential Books: Rivers of London

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The last of my Influential book series: Rivers of London. If you can’t read the small print on the image, it says “what would happen if Harry Potter grew up and joined the Fuzz”. And this is 100% true. It’s awesome.

It’s full of the playful magic with a powerful undercurrent that I’m irresistibly drawn to. The next book in the series comes out in November, and let’s just say my body is ready. Not only is the cast fairly diverse and semi-aware (man-of-color and hero Peter Grant has to explain why he isn’t calling Thomas Nightingale “Master”, and the goddess of the Thames is a Nigerian immigrant), the description of how magic works is accurate in the real world (you practice the forms until it works, and some forms work better for different people).

It’s those goddesses of color in a traditionally white male sphere and the mechanics of magic that make the books worth the price of admission.

Through the course of the series, Nightingale explains that Old Father Thames (white dude, old, tons of sons) was the original god of the Thames River. After the Industrial Revolution, London becomes too polluted and Old Father Thames abandons the city. Mama Thames from Nigeria takes over the river in the 1950s and, with her army of daughters, proceeds to run London. The way that local gods are born and made out the environment is a theme that runs through the series. It’s delightfully polytheistic the old gods leave, the new take their place, and the new gods are reflections of the world they’re born into. The best example is Lady Tyburn, the lady of the river by the hanging tree. Each river goddess has a vestigia, a magical sense of what they are that appeals to one of the senses. Lady Ty is a new river goddess, born in the 1950’s. Her modern vestigia smells like wealth and money; but underneath that is the sound of creaking wood, straining rope, and a bloodthirsty crowd. The way that the Rivers interact with the world is philosophically intriguing, on several levels.

From a technical aspect, the magic lessons have useful theory. Our hero Peter Grant has a tendency to get sidetracked easily with new questions, but when Nightingale can bring him back to the point, there’s solid theory. Each spell has a hand movement and a word that goes with it. Nightingale explains he can do complex spells without the movement and words because he’s practiced them over and over and over again. This is very similar to casting a circle, there are movements and tools and words that make casting a circle easy. But if you practice it long enough and over and over, then you don’t need those things you can just cast a circle. Nightingale also harps on starting small and working up to complexity. To a degree, this is assumed in books where the hero learns something. But it’s stated explicitly clearly in Rivers of London.

I love this series, and I highly recommend it to everyone: to the people who learn magic from fiction like I do and to the people who just want a rollicking good read.


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Influential Books: The Serpents Shadow

mlserpshadAfter the discovery of my first Book of Shadows and the explosive fallout, I found it easier to just hide what I was reading and studying. This means that a lot of my standard magical cookbook comes from fictional inspiration, a trend that continues to this day. One of the most useful was The Serpents Shadow by Mercedes Lackey. Personally, I think the first 5 books of the Elemental Masters series moves through the full Wiccan initiatory cycle. The Serpents Shadow focuses on the element of Earth. Aside from the adventure and romance of the book, most memorable are 5 magickal acts: pulling energy from the earth, grounding the energy back into the earth, setting a protection around a house, pets as familiars, and an entertaining interaction with a selkie colony.

Now, the selkie colony isn’t hugely important magickally. It’s a cute addition to the plot, and after having gone through the full Wiccan initiatory cycle myself, it’s an interesting magickal layer. Which makes this a classic on my bookshelf for that reason, magickal books should always gain layers as you gain knowledge and understanding. The pets as familiars are similar, interesting as a Witch with 10+ years experience but something that I missed on my first read through.

What was more important was the energy manipulation, grounding, and setting a circle. With few exceptions (all of which prove the rule), energy shouldn’t be pulled from your own core being. The core of the earth is a much better place to pull from. Not only is it self-replenishing, it doesn’t exhaust the practitioner. Of all the energy in the core of the earth, I prefer the blue fire that grows like flowers. But everyone’s mileage varies, and some may find the silver rivers or the red iron that tastes like cinnamon better fits for their work and style.  And as many others (So. Many. Others. Like all of them), will tell you grounding is a crucial part of energy manipulation. Holding onto that is like holding onto a grenade with the pin pulled. It will blow up in your face.  All of this is explained in easy to use terms, and in fact is very easy to follow from the book. I still use that meditation from time to time, when I need to get back to my center point.

Since energy needs a place to go, Maya and Peter (the main characters) put it into crystals to create a barrier that doesn’t rely on Maya’s energy to sustain itself and protect the house. This is a common way to create house barriers, and since the barrier works with the earth and the energy of the earth, it’s self-sustaining. I have uses variations of this barrier in my house, my office, and the other spaces I spend a lot of time in. I find it to be a solid way to put magickal protection around my spaces, and if I use pretty crystals and rocks it’s easy to disguise.

Mercedes Lackey is an author I will always recommend as a metaphysical/magickal must read. Some of the series haven’t aged well: the Dianna Tregarde series, for example, are fantastic for their use of practical, real-life magick; but they are very 80’s. The Elemental Masters series, The Serpents Shadow is the second book, is classic and timeless. 10/10 would recommend.


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Influential Books: The Body Sacred

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CONTENT NOTE: body dysphoria, eating disorders

 

In high school, I was taken to visit an elderly aunt in Cleveland, Ohio. I don’t remember what my family was doing, but I snuck out to the library saying that I had to  “work on homework”. I didn’t actually work on homework, and my grades can prove it. I sat in a room with the zodiac on the ceiling and plowed through several books on magic and paganism. I couldn’t get any of them at home, it was a troubled time and my first book of shadows was found and thrown out by my mother, so I devoured them in a library several states away from where I lived.

I had a lot of body image issues in high school. Deep in my black heart, I wanted to be thin. I wanted to not eat, but I liked food too much. I would go long stretches where I would only eat orange juice and rice krispies for lunch, and binge on good food when I got it or eat when someone was watching. I was a size double zero for a while, and I felt great. Except the problem with not eating, is it feels like you’re not eating. On this particular day, I had actually eaten breakfast of luxurious honey nut cheerios. And I was wrestling with the guilt when I read The Body Sacred by Dianne Sylvan.

At one point in the book, Sylvan explains why loving your body is a radical act of magick. She goes into detail about how amazing the body is, just in its everyday functioning. High on sugar and carbs, I had to take a moment to digest what I just read. I looked up at the ceiling and saw the Virgo with sheaves of grain. I almost broke down and cried.

That day I started to learn to love my body and see it as a magickal thing I could love and adore. It’s a (slow) work in progress, and on my fat days, I re-read the book. It’s not a huge dramatic story, and it’s not a philosophical or technical book. But I can’t avoid how The Body Sacred let me see my body as something amazing and worthy of love and magick. It was a hugely magickal gift, and one I have to be thankful for.


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Influential Books: xxxHolic

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Yesterday, I was brutally ill. Like, thank all gods my bathtub is next to the toilet ill. Like, vomiting on the kitchen floor trying to get a ginger ale ill. The pit bulls tried to “HALP”, and were not actually helpful. Which is why this particular post is a day late according to my schedule, and although I feel worlds better today I don’t feel bad about it being late.  As I lay miserably on the sofa, I decided to turn on some TV; coincidentally xxxHolic. Now, I 100% love the anime adaptation of xxxHolic; and I adore the live action adaption of the anime as well. But between the language translation and the switch from one medium to another, a few things get lost and nothing will replace the original manga in my book.

xxxHolic (pronounced Holic, and written by the fabulous collaborative group CLAMP) follows the misadventures of Kimihiro Watanuki as he works off a debt to Yuuko Ichihara, a woman known as the Time-Space Witch. Yuuko runs a shop that grants wishes (for a price!), and often granting wishes to people who accidentally made magical problems for themselves. The first volume immediately jumps into musings on the nature of fate, the nature of names, and the weight of lies and addictions. That might seem like a heavy start, but the comic relief is excellently timed and the series moves at an excellent pace.

Yuuko’s dialogue is something that ended up being a large stone in my magical and philosophical foundation. Her approach to inevitability and fate is something I use to this day. Her discussion of Will in the second (third?) story is a cornerstone in my philosophy on how magick works. I genuinely can’t stress enough how much this character influenced my philosophy.

In a physical and stylistic sense, she is who I want to be when I grow up. Yuuko is a delightful ball of dualities: she’s a gourmand and borderline alcoholic who is yet exceptionally active and healthy. She wears a glorious wardrobe with an impossible ease, even for manga and anime standards, but with a playfulness that is absorbing. Yuuko can deliver a striking speech about Will, yet turns around in the next panel and uses a red aluminum t-ball bat as an athame.

I think in some ways I got very lucky, or maybe it was inevitable, that I would pick up xxxHolic when I was in high school. At the time, I was a hot mess; not only was I blundering my way through puberty but I was really struggling with the dualities of my own nature. Yuuko and xxxHolic came at just the right time for me to sort through all of that and start to get on the right track.


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Influential Books: If Wishes Were Horses

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It’s really appropriate that I’m writing about If Wishes Were Horses by Anne McCaffrey today. Yesterday I did my 3rd-degree initiation, and in some ways, If Wishes Were Horses follows a concept that was brought up during my preparation before the ritual. But that isn’t how I was introduced to the book.

I talk my way through my thoughts, so when I was grappling with what I believed and my philosophies, I talked my way through it. The problem was, instead of talking my thoughts out to my dogs, I talked them out to the people around me. And that wasn’t the best idea, and I was often bullied because I didn’t know when to stop pushing. I can honestly say I was a terror, and I retreated to the library.  If Wishes Were Horses is a short coming of age story, that follows Tirza from 14 to 16 as the family survives a war. Tirza watches as her mother works magic and miracles to hold the community together. At the end, Tirza receives her first magic crystal necklace as well as the wishes she for as she works throughout the book.

This book really kickstarted my basic magical practice. I started selecting my jewelry with thought to the magical potential: what was I doing that day? what stones would augment and supplement my plans? I also started to see small acts as magical, the small things I do every day that become spells and witchcraft. Salting a dish becomes a spell. Lighting a candle before a bath is a spell. The bells on the door are a spell everytime they chime. Blowing dandelions on the walk home is a spell. Brushing my hair is a spell. If Wishes Were Horses really opened my eyes to basic hedge magic and folk magic.

 


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Influential Books: D’Aulaires Book of Greek Myths

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So, in the previous post about The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe I mentioned that the diversity of mythical creatures and beasts in Narnia was really inspirational to me. And I went looking for more information about these creatures. Today I have several books of myths on my shelves, from children’s editions to academic (and sometimes very dry) editions, and not all of them limited to the Greek. But D’Aulaires Book of Greek Myths stands out among all of these because it was the first one I sought out on my own, and some of the illustrations have stuck with me throughout my life. 

In hindsight, I realize that D’Aulaires is mild enough to be acceptable for the evangelical Christian school I was sent to. The layout mimics the biblical layout, and there are some notable artistic similarities in the illustrations of the Pandora myth/Deucalion flood and the Garden of Eden/ Noah’s Ark illustrations in the same library. All said, D’Aulaires isn’t a groundbreaking myth anthology, and sometimes reads like a severely diluted Edith Hamilton. But that is Adult Me talking. Child Me loved(s) it.

D’Aulaires was the first book of myths I looked for on my own, which made it more precious to me than the myth anthologies my family gave me because I liked to read. But it’s the illustrations that really stuck with me. Particularly this one: Screenshot 2018-08-08 at 1.25.17 PM.png

That illustration and caption broke my heart. I remember I was inconsolable for weeks after I read that. Even into my teens, when I learned that there were other Pagans and Witches out there, just remembering that page would send me into a days-long depression.

As I grew and reread D’Aulaires, I developed my perceptions of what the gods are. The gods may seem flawed in their stories and myths. They may seem petty and venal and cruel, and many of them can be harsh masters. But. But, they haven’t always been treated well by incoming conquerors, so many times their myths should be read with a grain of salt and thoughtfulness. We have the time and resources to be thoughtful about our myths, so we should be.

I also came to another conclusion, the gods are more human than human. They are the purest distillation of what it means to be human, in all its messy glory. To run with the distillation metaphor, if the gods are the Heart, humans are the head and the tail: we are both the first to be separated at the beginning and part of which is attained at the end of desire.  Not a bad set of conclusions from a children’s book.


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Influential Books: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

I suppose that this is a weird place to start my list. But this list is a chronological one, and since my parents sent me to an evangelical Christian school 

LionWitchWardrobe.jpgand the approved list of fiction was limited. Honestly, LWW isn’t my favorite out of the Chronicles of Narnia. I like The Horse and his Boy, and the Voyage of the Dawn Treader a million times better. And I still refer back to some of the philosophies mentioned in The Last Battle. But LWW influenced me as a witch hugely in two ways: first the diversity of

mythical creatures in the series, and second The Problem of Susan.

 

To start, I never fit in particularly well at my elementary school. I was a little too much of a dreamer, with a little too much of a temper, and a little too much of a smart mouth (a trend I’ve noticed in the backstories of my other witch friends). I loved fantasy stories, but it broke my heart when my teachers told me that was how the Devil lured you in. It starts with fantasy stories with magic and swords and sorcery, and then BOOM you’re in Hell roasting over a bed of coals. Girls like me were supposed to be especially susceptible because we weren’t clever enough to see how the Devil entrapped you. Yeah, there’s a lot of baggage there that I’m not going to unpack right now.

But C.S. Lewis was allowed reading because he was a good Christian man. He had authority to write things, he knew what he was doing. And what he was doing was using a faun, Mr. Tumnus to introduce Lucy to Narnia. As the story progresses we’re introduced to centaurs, satyrs, fauns, naiads, dryads, and all sorts of nymphs. All the staples of myth and fantasy are there, fighting against the evils of the White Witch and then being accepted as full citizens of Narnia in the Golden Age. At the time, that kind of diversity was the hope I needed. If these mythical creatures can be accepted, then so can I. It also really firmed up my love of the mythical creatures, and inspired me to go on an adventure through the public library to find out all I could about them; I’ll get to where that led in a few days.

I recently designed a series of lesson plans that centered LWW. I read the whole book again to get a sense of how I would handle it, and I was really confronted with The Problem of Susan. I’ve always been drawn to Edmund and Susan, even as a child the darker and more complex characters appealed to me. As an adult, Edmund is still a favorite; but Susan. Susan is something more. She is a delightfully difficult character for a children’s series, it takes 4 books to start to get to the heart of her. And then she’s done dirty. Nylons and lipstick, indeed.

C. S. Lewis admitted that Susan takes on a life of her own, a more adult life than what would fit in with the childlike wonder of Narnia. When a fan wrote to him, deeply concerned about Susan’s fate, he tells them ‘why don’t you try [writing a story for her]?’. As an adult woman and an adult witch, that resonates hard. Why don’t I try to write a story for the Problem of Susan? And while I’m at it, why don’t I write a story for the Problem of Me? I can do that now. I can write that story. I can make my own magic. The Problem of Susan and the Problem of Me don’t have to be problems. They can be initiations into Greater Mysteries, we just sometimes have to be reminded of it.