Review: The Journey Into Spirit

I have met Kristoffer Hughes numerous times over the past few years, mostly at Pagan conferences and gatherings. Kristoffer has always been full of life, humorous, playful, and a pure joy to be around. I had a vague idea of Kristoffer’s professional occupation, but never really equated that too much with the individual I have come to know. This book of his, showed me a completely different side of Kristoffer’s life, but not a different side of Kristoffer. I’ll explain a little more in a bit. In the meantime, I’ll try not to give away too much of what is written within those pages. In my opinion, it is best experienced by the reader…not through the reviewer.

I understand quite a bit of the cycle of life and death, my father was a hospital Pathologist. While his profession was more geared towards the study of diseases, the death of individuals from those diseases was a part of that life. I never got to be in on an autopsy, ethically that would just not be appropriate – particularly for a child of sixteen or younger (the time frame that I was exposed to my father’s profession). However, I did get to see some of the aftermath of such expositions in the skin and cell samples that were prepared for study. However, I never really placed the idea of the care of the body after death into my perceptual vision.

This book takes a rather candid, and surprisingly intimate, look at the pattern of what happens after death. And oddly enough, I completely understand quite a bit of the perspective that is laid forth in what Kristoffer has written. One of the major thematic points made is how death is set off to the side – not openly viewed in our modern society. For someone looking to find an inviting perspective on the process of dying, death, and burial – Kristoffer has indeed presented a very approachable perspective.

Perhaps the most shocking perspective for me was the extremely personal perspective that Kristoffer provides – particularly in the beginning of the book. More than once, I found myself empathizing greatly with what was written. Thinking back on what I have come to know about Kristoffer in the limited times we have met and engaged one another, I realize that this is not really all that surprising. Kristoffer has always been a warm, engaging individual who has a genuine smile, and a fantastic bear-hug for everyone. The off-kilter banter in conversation and in lecture shows affection for every single individual within earshot. Its not all that surprising, in retrospect, to find that same warmth and empathy within the written stories showcased in this book.

Do I recommend this book? Most definitely. Whether you are looking for something with depth and introspection towards the aspect of death, or are seeking something that might help you to understand the passing of a loved one — The Journey Into Spirit can provide that, in my opinion. Should you ever get a chance to meet the writer – take the opportunity and do so. You will find someone with a personality as large as the universe, and a heart four times that size.

You can find this book at Llewellyn or on Amazon….and perhaps even your local bookstore.

Review: The Art of Ritual

I started down my Pagan Path back in 1986, when I initiated into a Wiccan tradition. The concepts of being closer, more in touch, more connected with the Natural world were strong attractors for me. Some of the concepts of God and Goddess were difficult to completely comprehend, even with my own personal research into the Greek Gods and Goddesses. But the chasm to leap over wasn’t that wide, so it was a part of Wicca I understood well. Ritual, on the other hand, was an area I approached with great trepidation. This was completely unfamiliar territory – being a part of a ritual ceremony, playing a role, memorizing lines that just sounded odd to me. And to be honest, there wasn’t that much out there to help me, aside from my new coven-mates – most of whom I could barely remember their names. Damn, I really wish that Rachel Patterson‘s book, “The Art of Ritual” had been available then!

I love Moon Books, and their authors are folks that I tend to read a lot. I picked up this book because it approached an area that I still have issues with – thirty years down the Path. Most of my rituals are impromptu, and utilize very few of the “tools” that a lot of ritual ceremonies seem to. In fact, the only tool I typically seem to have on-hand is my staff. It doubles as a walking aid, as well as an impromptu weapon if the need arises. So when the Awen grabs a hold of me and has me calling Quarters and casting a circle, my gestures are punctuated by my staff. Most of the typical tools that most people associate with ritual are essentially foreign to me. Guess what?  There’s a chapter about that in this book! And the materials are explained very well, without going into ad-nauseum detail. While some of the descriptives are aimed towards a Wicca-centric knowledge-base, Rachel does a wonderful job of writing this in a manner that doesn’t have that overarching feel.

Then there’s the section about ritual preparation, as well as very well explained examples of some of the phrasing that is seemingly commonplace. What I wouldn’t give to jump into a TARDIS with this book in hand when I was first learning ritual concepts in my infant steps within Wicca. It would have saved many an awkward moment for me, not knowing if I was asking a stupid question about the way something was said. This would have been complete gold for me at that time. So I am envious of those newbies taking their first steps within Paganism with a handy guide such as this.

There’s also a detailed look at the Elements and the roles that each play within a basic ritual concept, as well as some conversation on energy working, calling the Gods and Goddesses, and preparing one’s mental frame of mind. The second part of the book focuses on an explanation of various types of rituals, the concepts behind each, as well as some advice on how to prepare one’s self for rituals. But that’s not all…. The section on ritual planning, in my opinion is worth double the price of the book, in my opinion.

Again, I wish that I had some of this written somewhere that I could have studied and worked with in my early steps on my Pagan Path. Instead, I am envious of those that will have this resource available to them, and will be happy that I will too. Even if it may be thirty years into my steps to where I am now. I can only hope that through my study at this late point on my own Path, that I will become a better ritualist – not only as a solo Pagan, but also in the future when I get the chance to work with groups. Rachel, thank you for writing this gem.

Review: The Path of Paganism – John Beckett

Before I get going too far, I do have to note – I know John in real life. I am also an avid reader of his blog. And while both of these provide some degree of prejudice when it comes to reviewing his book, I like to think I am capable of being more than just a raging fanboy. With that noted here at the onset, let’s take a voyage into The Path of Paganism.

First off, the cover depicts a forested scene, where a part of the upcoming pathway seems to be lit from the sun above. After reading this book, its apparent that this is an appropriate image for what John has written. We all travel a path through the forests of our lives. Occasionally, we come across something – music, books, lectures, experiences – that illuminate the Path for a moment. We cross through those moments of light, feeling the warmth and depth of the light in comparison to the denser parts of the forest where the same light struggles to penetrate to the floor below. This book, I believe, will be a moment where the light penetrates to the forest floor for many of those that read it, and take meaning and experience from it.

This book is a 101 Paganism book, but then again – its not. Instead of endless pages on the same rote concepts of the Wheel of the Year, how to perform ritual, or ways to meditate – John provides a bit more. Steps beyond those positions. Granted, in some of the instances, John does revert back to basic-level explanation to get the reader to a point where the next steps can be taken, thus my 101-sticker application. However, once that context has been exposed, and provided appropriate explanation, the next steps are taken on ground that is far more solid than it would have been without the lead-in.

At the end of each section, John provides small statements of food-for-thought, or even questions for you to spend time on. Some of these have even made it into my daily journal entries, and were the stepping stones to even deeper questions that I posited to myself. For me, these ending aspects provided an entire cache of intellectual and spiritual fodder that I will be working my way through for quite some time. Or, as I said to myself when I realized I had seven pages of hand-written questions to work through:  “Thanks John. Just what I needed. More stuff to write about.” But I am kidding. All of that writing helps me work through concepts and issues in my mind that I had never thought of before. And I am grateful to have the chance to do so now and into the future. For that’s how I grow. Writing and thinking and doing and experiencing.

Writing and thinking and doing and experiencing. Well, if you were looking for a summative phrase for John’s book, this might be it. The material in the book is about more than just reading though. Its about doing. Its about experiencing. And sitting back and reading is only the measure of opening the door. Utilize what’s written there, take on the suggestions he sets forth, and improvise when he feel comfortable enough. In short, experience it, for real.

So, if you’re new to Paganism, this is not a bad starting place – though the concepts might be better handled if you read other books first, and then turned back here immediately afterwards. Just to have a good base to work from. If you are not new to Paganism, give the book a read. You never know, you might find something different to muse over. You may see things in a different light. And after all, that’s really what this book seems to be written towards:  seeing things on that Path with a different light. Hence, the gorgeous book cover.

In my opinion, biased as it may be, get it. Read it. Try it. Experience the world around you through some of the suggestions contained within its pages. Think about the concepts. Ask questions about those concepts with your friends. Discuss. Talk with others. Experience it together.

Time Stand Still – More Than Just a Rush Documentary

Last night, I trekked over to the Dallas suburb of Frisco to take in “Time Stand Still”, a documentary about the last tour of the band Rush. Between the physical ailments of guitarist Alex Lifeson and drummer Neil Peart, this past tour is likely the band’s last one. The footage to the documentary not only took in the band’s point of view, but also that of their tour management, the people that work behind the scenes for the band, the fans who come to the concerts, and that of some of their contemporaries. The entire show will come out on DVD later this month, and I will purchase a physical copy so I can watch again and again. But there was certainly a lot to process throughout the entire documentary.

Just about everyone is aware that I am a Grateful Dead fanatic. Literally, I have several gigs of music and concert video of the Grateful Dead and the many incarnations that have come about. The Dead have been a constant backdrop to many writing sessions. Their music inspires me to write my feelings, forge my thoughts against the anvil of the world around me. But I also have nearly as much Rush music and videos in my collection as well.

Where the Grateful Dead were a link to the past, Rush has always been a link to the present. This trio has always been a part of my musical lexicon. And much like the day that Jerry Garcia passed away, the closing of this last touring chapter of Rush is just as difficult to process. Peart’s lyrics have always played a huge part within my concept of spirituality. Not because I got spiritual essence from the lyrics, but because he eloquently stated a lot of what I feel. For instance, “Tai Shan”:

Clouds surrounded the summit
The wind blew strong and cold
Among the silent temples
And the writing carved in gold
Somewhere in my instincts
The primitive took hold
I stood at the top of the mountain
And China sang to me
In the peaceful haze of harvest time
A song of eternity

I have never experienced climbing to the summit of Tai Shan. But I have experienced that moment of calm and serenity looking down into the valley between the mountains in Glacier National Park. The misty clouds were above and below me. And standing there, on the side of a narrow road on a near cliff face, my fear of heights was overcome by how peaceful everything felt. If I could be a bird of some sort, this would be the valley that I gravitated to. And I could definitely feel the primitive aspect of myself as a human being coming forth. The feeling that the world around me was completely connected to me, and I to that same environment. Yes, to me that connectedness is not only an aspect of the sacred, it is also an aspect of the primal – instincts that we, as the human race, have taken the time to purge from our instinctive nature. Suppressing it deeper, so that we can feel separated from Nature rather than a primal aspect of it. The song Tai Shan did not help me to realize this. Study, meditation, and time brought me there. Joanna van der Hoeven deserves far more credit for assisting me in getting to that realization through her writings than Peart’s lyrics for this song. Peart only formulated what I had been thinking into a string of cogent words and utilized them in a song to describe his experience of ascending the 7,000 steps.

But this is what Rush has meant to me. Intelligent lyrics coupled to excellent musicianship. And as I watched the DVD, I listened to what everyone was describing about this band, as the trio marched towards their final concert date in Los Angeles. It was readily apparent that these people were also touched by their experiences with the band, particularly through the concerts that the band played. Many of the people were describing the number of times that they have been to a Rush concert. Fifty, Eighty, Ninety, One-hundred and eleven. And I felt envy for them. I have never seen the band live in person. But that does not lessen my connection to their music. That does not make me any less of a fan of their music. But seeing how these fans connected to one another through their concert experiences, I could see the invisible strands that tied them together as a community.

Yes, concert going fans made a community among themselves. They even created their own convention – Rushcon – which meets at one concert per year. These folks made the Los Angeles concert. After the show was over, you could see the emotions in their eyes. Something that they loved was coming to a close. And they were all going to need their own time to process. But their connections to one another had not changed. In fact, it had grown stronger. They had shared experiences of something that was not going to change. Something they could share between one another. I have seen that look before at the close of OBOD East Coast and Gulf Coast Gatherings.

Imbolc Retreat 2015 – photo by Amanda Godwin

Shared experience is a wondrous thing. I saw that after Shauna Aura Knight’s workshops at Pantheacon earlier this year. People walked out of the room knowing that they just experienced a wonderful, touching and compelling moment. Forged together, those shared experiences make people stronger. It links and binds them together as one. I enjoy most of my rituals alone. My shared experience is between myself and the Gods. I have attended a few of the Denton CUUPs public rituals, as well as one of the Imbolc Retreats that are graciously offered by the Hearthstone Grove (ADF). The connection that each of these groups have with their members is incredible to watch and experience. It is even more amazing to be a part of their rituals. Anyone out there nodding their head as they read this, understands what I am talking about. I am quite sure that anyone that has attended a Rush or Grateful Dead or Dead & Company concert show will be nodding their understanding as well.

Music brings us together. We sing, play musical instruments, and dance around campfires into the night. It is no different than a concert setting. Well, except for the fire. That’s never a good idea in an indoor arena setting. Every Rush song has its own energy, its own feel, or if you prefer – its own vibe. And if you pardon my over-stretching of the concept, each song can literally be considered a mini-ritual. “Red Sector A” has its own energy and feel. Compared to the very politically charged and angst-filled song “The Trees”, the energy is quicker, the feel is more akin to a run than it is to defiantly standing with a raised fist aimed at the corporate machine.

I entered into the theater, thinking that I would see something closer to a DVD. What I was treated to was an exploration of Rush – the band, their road crew, their fans, and their music. At the end, the entire showing was exactly what it should have been – a gift from the band to their fans. A piece of who Geddy, Alex and Neil are, seen through the lens of their perspective; and just who their fans are. The band and their management left the door open for the occasional live performance, or even the occasional recording. But there was a definitive moment of closure at the end. It had the feel of a “last goodbye” from the band. Lighthearted, uplifting, starkly open and honest; “Time Stand Still” is a tender hug and kiss from the band to the fans who buy their albums, fill the concert venues, and purchase the related books, poster and other materials.

 

Book Review: Creating Change Through Humanism

cover_final_web2Earlier this morning, I reviewed a book on interfaith dialogue – Celebrating Planet Earth. It was a delightful read on how people from diverse backgrounds and points of view can come together for a discussion, and locate common ground.  “Creating Change Through Humanism” by Roy Speckhardt, which I was reading at the same time – is nothing of the sort. However, before I get any further, let me make this one statement: the intended audience for this book is most assuredly not me. I am a very religious Pagan. Mr. Speckhardt is a very anti-theist individual. We will approach topics from a very different point of view.

Anti-theist. Not Atheist. No, this book is definitely geared towards the individual who does not have a spiritual or religious bend to their nature. Furthermore, this book BARELY addresses the idea of creating change – unless that change is to drop whatever “superstitions and imaginary beliefs” you may have to embrace the anti-theist point of view. Outside of that, there’s some nods towards aiming towards a political recourse to effect change, but the author spends the other 99.5% of the book railing against the concepts of theology and religious belief.

Some of the credit for this shift in thinking is due to those we’re less inclined to thank. We’ve seen Religious Right leaders like Pat Robertson and Ralph Reed in the ’90’s, followed by right-wing politicos like Tom DeLay, Rick Santorum, and the anti-intellectual George W. Bush, followed by new creationist/intelligent design advocates like Ken Ham and Sarah Palin, followed by tea partiers like Rand Paul and Michelle Bachmann. Each of these people, by shoving their extreme beliefs in our faces at every turn, made a contribution to galvanizing our struggle for a more humanistic view.  (p. xi)

In this quote from the introduction, I notice that the author tends to lean towards holding up more extreme elements as the primary examples of the “enemy of the cause”. The reality is that most Christians (his primary target here) are not really like this particular loud, cartoonish examples. Each would believe that they are a leading element of ALL of Christianity but are really leaders of more radical, far louder, far smaller groupings of individuals who twist their own theology to accommodate their own personal hatred. Interestingly enough, the author also engages in an insult by referring to former President George W. Bush as an “anti-intellectualist” in order to add another glossy coat to his own thinly disguised point. Let’s be clear — these “pillars” that the author holds up as examples, are the same people that would have no compunction towards having me swinging from the end of a rope draped over a high tree branch. So I have no real interest in defending these particular people. However…this type of attack does nothing to bolster one’s argument — particularly when trying to hold yourself and your cause up as a shining example of “something better”.

The large majority of the book is a treatise on why Humanism and Anti-theism are what society should choose – complete with more thinly veiled insults and attacks against the Christian belief system in much the same manner. And that’s a shame. There are elements of Humanist thought that could be excellent vessels towards creating a more tolerant, and understanding society. In the end, the author chooses to utilize the book as an attack vehicle and as an odd Chick-like tract evangelizing his particular brand of non-belief. The title is certainly misleading in this regard. A real shame….

Rating:  one-half (reluctant) star out of five

Book Review: Celebrating Planet Earth

Celebrating Planet EarthI am a big fan of causes that cross faith lines. After all, we all live on this massive floating rock in space, there has to be something that we can all agree on — aside from killing one another in pointless battles over whose religion is right/wrong. The human race can certainly agree that pointless actions such as this are certainly the “vogue” moment in time. No, setting the sarcasm to the side, I have just finished an interesting title from Moon Books – Celebrating Planet Earth, a Pagan/Christian Conversation: First Steps in Interfaith Dialogue. Unlike many interfaith dialogue titles that I have come across, the point of this book is not to solve a problem and provide a conclusion that sets the steps towards a solution. Rather, the point – as I discerned it – was to seek that rarest of positions: common ground. And to achieve this, the individuals who are involved start by discussing the negative perceptions that each area of belief has towards the other. There’s no debate. There’s a lengthy discussion of how negative perceptions come about, an honest acknowledgement of where differences are, and an offering of where common ground can be achieved. Once this is established, a discussion of how each side of the discussion sees the environment is made.

Perhaps the most interesting part of this – for me – was that this took place in the physical sense. The event started as a face-to-face meeting/discussion between Druids and Christians in Somerset, UK. Then, the event was widened considerably to include more Pagans into the conversation. I certainly wish that I had been included in a discussion like this. As a book read, it was a very interesting, and compelling discussion. I can only imagine how dynamic it was when it happened in person!

I’m quite a bit biased when I say that this is definitely something to pick up and read. The topic – the natural aspect of this planet we all inhabit – is one that is near and dear to my own heart and beliefs. The idea – an interfaith conversation between Pagans and Christians in order to find common ground – is a concept that I have been championing for many years. Plus, there’s no debate held here. Each side acknowledges and understands that we have a role as a caretaker of our environment. Its the first steps of a dialogue – a conversation. And if I may be so bold to say – its not only rather ambitious, but also spot-on!

Rating: Five enthusiastic stars out of five!

Book Review – Druidry and Meditation (Nimue Brown)

19251333Druidry and Meditation — Nimue Brown
Published 2012 by John Hunt Publishing/Moon Books
ISBN: 1780990286
ISBN13: 9781780990286
ASIN: B00719WGTQ

I meditate. Quite frequently, in fact. Its my way of finding my center when life tosses me an unexpected curve ball. Its my way of de-stressing after 45 minutes to an hour or more in traffic. Its my way of connecting to the world around me. Its my way of communing with the Gods and the Spirits of the Land. Meditation is a useful tool for me.

I also follow a personal Spiritual Path of Druidry. So Nimue’s book was of interest to me. I was not sure what I was expecting. A self-help book? A how-to on Druidry? A how-to on Meditation? What I found was a very useful tome on how to approach meditative techniques from a perspective of Druidry.As Nimue points out several times in the book, Meditation techniques are different for each individual. For instance, I do my very best meditations when I am walking in the forest. Not sitting, but actively moving. For others, sitting in the classic lotus position works best. And so on. But taking a Nature-based approach requires some fine tuning of the mind, and the attitude prior to starting. Nimue presents a wonderful approach to the inner Sacred Grove, as well as a splendid chapter on facilitating group ritual – which requires a far different mindset and approach. She also adds some wonderful little exercises in the book that I think are wonderful starting points for those interested in meditation techniques, but unsure of how to start.

Review: Talking to Spirits

The first time I ever heard of an “Unverified Personal Gnosis” or UPG, I was responding to a post on John Beckett‘s blog. After a little back and forth, I realized I needed to get to know a bit more about the term, as well as the underlying definitions – especially since it seemed to apply directly to me. Some short searching on Amazon’s website turned up the title: “Talking to the Spirits: Personal Gnosis in Pagan Religion” by Kenaz Filan & Raven Kaldera. The price was affordable as a Kindle book, so I downloaded it. And it sat on my reader for nearly a year before I finally started reading it.

The first two chapters satisfied my desire to understand the definitions surrounding the area of Personal Gnosis, as well as showcasing some of the differences between Verified and Unverified PG. But shortly after this, the book took a massive turn into the area of overkill. Concepts were presented which revolve around the area of VPG and UPG, particularly in trying to determine what was “real” and “correct” concerning the area of verification. Adding to this was the endless parade of material from other people on the various topics. I’m quite sure that this works for other folks, but for me it was quite the distraction. In fact, the material did nothing to answer questions, and only raised the question of why the authors had chosen to write the book this way. Until I came to the very last chapter of the book.

The Rocky Road to Intrafaith Dialogue” was honestly the meat that I needed to get. One particular passage has now been added to my little book of quotes:

Discussion involves an exchange of ideas and discourse about their ramifications. It may get intense, even heated at times, but this is fine so long as everyone remains respectful and the questions focus on ideas rather than individuals. Smiling, nodding, and saying “Everyone’s truths are true for them, and every belief is just as good as every other belief” is not interfaith discussion. Rather, it is a way of avoiding questions about the substance and foundation of your beliefs and about the level of your commitment. Instead of sparking conversation, it shuts it down or reduces it to polite superficialities.

This one little passage has me rethinking a particular part of the way I approach discussions about my beliefs with others. That the focus could be narrowed or widened as necessary. And its statements like this – throughout the book – which had me reading at a pace far slower than I am accustomed to. It took me nearly two months to finish reading this book. I kept putting it down, and thinking about what had just been presented to me.

If you are looking for a book that will not only challenge the way you think about beliefs of others, as well as challenge the way you approach discussing that particular touchy area of individual life – this is definitely the book for you. If you are wanting to find out more about the concept of Personal Gnosis, as well as understanding the differences between verified and unverified PG — this is definitely a good starting point. While others may appreciate the infusion of other perspectives from various individuals – I thought the book would have been far better without these interspersed throughout the chapters. Instead, I would have preferred these to have been confined to an Addendum of some sort, but that’s my personal preference.

Review: Paganism 101: An Introduction to Paganism by 101 Pagans

Paganism 101: An Introduction to Paganism by 101 Pagans
Paganism 101: An Introduction to Paganism by 101 Pagans by Trevor Greenfield

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Goodness, but it took me a really long time to finish this particular book! But, that was not because the material was boring or uninteresting. Yes, this book is an Introduction to Paganism. Yes, I have been a Pagan for nearly a quarter of a century now. But that does not mean that material like this would be something I could not learn from. And learn I did. Written from many different perspectives, the book covers the realm of what Paganism is about, and what Pagans do (in general). Extremely accessible for both the newcomer and the old-hand, the information in here starts with various authors covering the topics – and then other Pagans from various Paths chiming in with their thoughts. The material is not only thoughtful, but also thought-provoking. For me, it helped me to clarify some of the manner of approaching the inevitable question: “What is Paganism?” In the past, I have always recommended Margot Adler’s tome “Drawing Down the Moon” as an introduction for newcomers. That does not change in my mind, but “Paganism 101” will be handed over with that as well, with the directive that “Paganism 101” should be the starting point – and Adler’s book the immediate follow-on. If you are curious about what Paganism is about, and are looking for a way to see which of the many Paths might be interesting and/or appropriate for you – this is where you should start!

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Review: Journeys of the Soul

Journeys of the Soul by Philip Carr-Gomm
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A combination of a biography on OBOD founder Ross Nichols – along with some of his writings, correspondence, and travel diaries that he wrote during his lifetime. Honestly, when I finished this book, I felt that I not only knew more about a man who died shortly after I was born – but that my world is far more enriched by both his contributions and my reading about him. There were a few instances were it was mentioned that Nichols could be considered as “not fun” in comparison to some of the more eccentric contemporaries of his time, but I found the opposite to be true. Nichols certainly sounded like the kind of individual I would enjoy sitting around his kitchen table, drinking some tea and discussing any topic that came to mind over the course of an evening. Or taking a stroll through the woods, discussing some of the more obtuse philosophies of Life. I started this book knowing some vague aspects of who Nichols was – I finished this book with a far greater understanding and appreciation of who he is.

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Review: Pagan Visions for a Sustainable Future

Pagan Visions for a Sustainable Future
Pagan Visions for a Sustainable Future by Ly de Angeles
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An interesting book of essays, focusing on questions relating to Paganism, animism, environmental concerns/causes, and a response to anthropocentrism. While I did not find a lot to relate to in most of the essays, there were a few stellar standouts for me:

“The Ethics of Paganism: The Value and Power of Sacred Relationship” by Emma Restall Orr
“Of Worms, Snakes, and Dragons: Can Magic Lead to an Ecological Worldview?” by Dr. Susan Greenwood
“I am the Mountain Walking: Wombats in the Greenwood” by Dr. Douglas Ezzy
“Wild Spirit, Active Love” by Dr. Sylvie Shaw

Each of these essays provide not only a perspective on ecology, ethics, animism, and Paganism that I had not considered – each also sculpted even deeper questions that I generated as follow-ons for myself to answer, while I was reading them. For me, these four essays were the meat of the entire book for me.

A word or two of caution for the reader though… The material presented here is in written (for the most part) in academic style, thus the readability can be some really rough terrain to pick through at times. Also, if you are looking for a Paganism 101 or Ecology 101 or Animism 101 book – this ain’t it. The writers make some really large assumptions as to the knowledge base of the reader – and thus another rake edge to potentially step on while traversing this territory.

Recommend? Highly so. This is a book that you need to take your time with – much like a strong conversation on topics concerning ethical perspectives…its worth your time to read it. Just set aside the time to do so, where you are not trying to race through the material.

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Review: Pagan Portal-Zen Druidry

Pagan Portal-Zen Druidry
Pagan Portal-Zen Druidry by van der Hoeven, Joanna
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I picked this up from Amazon’s Kindle bookstore, thinking that the small 74-page size, and the relatively low-cost of the book would make it something close to a pamphlet rather than a book. Was I ever wrong. While the 74-page size made for some really quick reading, the material is extremely deep and powerfully full of meaning. The start of the book steps into the concepts of Zen and then walks the reader through the concepts of Druidry. Neither are extremely detailed, but rather very well thought out introduction into the concepts. Once past this point, Joanna spends time showing how Zen and Druidry integrate quite well, mapping out how the five Noble Precepts can be utilized within the framework of Druidry.

One of the most powerful parts that I came away with from this book was the idea of “living in the moment” – embracing that each moment in life is unique within the ever-changing, ever-shifting environment that we live in. Many of the meditation techniques that she detailed here, I had already been utilizing in my own personal belief structure and druidry exercises in my Bardic Grade for the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids. While the terminology was a little strange to me, the concepts were the same familiar ones that I have been embracing and utilizing for years.

Not only am I happy to have this particular book in my library, I whole heartedly recommend it to others looking for new Paths to explore in their own personal spirituality. It may be 74 pages in length (and as such is the only qualm I have with the book), but it will certainly open up new ways to view your spirituality, yourself, and the world around you.

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Review: The Power of Myth

The Power of Myth
The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The book is the written version of the DVD of the same name. There is material in the book that is not in the DVD, just as there is material on the DVD that is not in the book. As Moyers explains in the foreword, the two are meant to be companions of one another. The premise is that these encompass a series of discussions between Moyers and Campbell on how myths and mythology are conveyors of Life and its meaning within the lives of people, eve in today’s society. Campbell points out that today’s myths and mythology are brought along through the movie industry, where actors and actresses portray the myths on the screens people watch them on.

Throughout the book, Campbell comes back repeatedly to one theme: “follow your bliss” – which had a resonance for me throughout. When one follows their bliss, their dreams, their hopes and desires – one tends to achieve a center of happiness in what they do. They may not find monetary gain to achieve success in today’s modern, consumer-centric world, but they find a center of happiness and contentment in what they are achieving through their bliss. In my own personal estimation, if people would follow their bliss – rather than being sucked into the perception that “happiness” is achieved through consumer consumption patterns – the world would be an environment of far less strife, sarcasm, and scorn.

At the very end of the book, Campbell makes the following point: “That’s what people are doing all over the place – dying for metaphors. But when you really realize the sound, “AUM,” the sound of the mystery of the word everywhere, then you don’t have to go out and die for anything because its right there all around. Just sit still and see it and experience it and know it. That’s a peak experience.” (p. 286). I believe that this point sharpens the focus of following one’s bliss, that the bliss is not only attainable, but one merely needs to turn off the distractions of our modern world for a short time, and open up to the natural world around ourselves to truly find it. And that moment of bliss, the moment of being attuned with the AUM, is well worth the experience – no matter how long it is held.

Lastly, I do believe that this book and its companion DVD should be required material for students in High School. Campbell continually points to literary works as footsteps towards the concepts he brings up in these conversations. Not only is he a signpost to these mythological and spiritual concepts, but he serves as a gateway towards literary classics that are worth the exploration of students in the high school environment.

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My Best and Worst Reads for 2013

So I decided to name my top five and bottom three reads for the year (2013), along with my GoodReads review for each one.  I’ll start off with the crappy stuff…

3. Cloud Atlas (D. Mitchell) — “Most of the time, when I see a movie and then read the book – the book is by far the better choice. Sadly, that’s not the case here.”

2. Cyberhenge (D. Cowan) — “Written in 2005, many parts of this author’s perspective are far outdated here in 2013. However, even in looking at the social and technical concepts of the internet as brought forward – the author’s disdain for many of the online aspects of Paganism at that time are quite evident. At the start of his book, he picks out a particular online coven – IOW, a coven that practices their teachings and rituals solely online with one another – and proceeds to utilize that as an anvil to pound his points upon. From my own perspective (and I was around and active on the internet as far back as the mid 1990s), I do not see how a Nature-based practice can be properly brought forward in an environment that lives inside the routers, servers, and connective wiring of the internet. However, that’s solely my own perspective – if it works for someone else, who am I to downgrade that individual’s experience. I would suggest that this particular attitude of my own may have been the primary factor in poisoning my understanding of the cynical (my impression) stance of the author. Considering how out of date this particular book is with today’s internet, and with today’s online Pagan community (which I have personally found to be quite vibrant), I would note recommend this book for anyone looking for an understanding of today’s online Pagan community. Nor would I recommend this book as a good perspective of the online Pagan community of yesteryear, due to my very different perspective of that time frame as well. As a piece of social History on a very narrow window of the online community, its much akin to peeking through a set of closed curtains while standing outside of the house.”

1. Green Energy War (J. Geesman) — “Perhaps one of the worst “books” I have read all year. I was expecting something that moved along the lines of dialogue concerning political directives and policy towards (or even against) Green Energy technologies, philosophy and/or discussion. What I found, instead, was a mishmash collection of blog posts and links to Geesman’s podcast. This, in itself, would not have been so bad if he had written his blog postings on a level that didn’t require a Doctoral degree to interpret his usage of vocabulary. There’s certainly nothing wrong with someone flexing their vocabulary muscles in their writing, but when it hides the meaning of what you are trying to relate to the reader – what you essentially churn out is a bunch of shit. And sadly, that’s what this treatise of Geesman’s devolves to – a huge pile of confusing, nonsensical shit that could have desperately used the assistance of an editor. There was one good aspect to this eBook – it was free.”

…and now for the ones that I actually liked.  These five books were the true pinnacle of my reading for the year. I HIGHLY recommend these books to anyone…

5. Sleeping Where I Fall (P. Coyote) — “Peter Coyote documents both the time he spent in the counter-culture communities of the Diggers and the Free Family — as well as the colorful, endearing, and sometimes contradictory individuals that traveled along that Path with him. The book also documents some of the successes and failures of the intentional communities he helped organize and participate within. While some may consider much of the book as a cautionary tale about drug usage and free-sex…that doesn’t seem to be the case to me as a reader. I see the contents of the book as a celebration, a re-telling of a time frame in our (Americans) History that is continually trivialized in the press, and swept under the rug in the newer History texts. The book helps to chronicle some of the cultural and social struggles our country went through, as well as some of the racial issues — all of which we (Americans) continue to face today in on measure or another. Instead of talking the ideals of the Hippie movement, Peter lived those ideals. For better and for worse. For me, I step away from this book with a greater understanding of the time frame – not a perfect understanding, just a better one. Plus, I was provided the chance to not only get to know Peter, but all of the people that he details from within his life.”

4. Neither Wolf Nor Dog (K. Nerburn) — “Quite honestly, this was one of the most uncomfortable reads that I have ever undertaken. The author takes on the task of telling the points of view of an Indian elder. The topics range from religion to the brutality the Indians faced in the colonization (and that’s not even the right word) of the Western frontier and even into religion, spirituality and racism. Many times, I found myself challenged over my own individual perceptions – and even found some of my perspectives lacking in what was described. I will highly recommend this book to anyone wanting to read about those topics -a dn more – from the perspective of an Indian elder, as well as the internal feedback of the white author.”

3. Facing the Darkness (C. Treadwell) — “Everyone has had those moments of internal darkness. Those moments where it feels like the entire world is looking down their nose at you. Those moments where you think the Flintstones character Schleprock was written about you (the character that always has a rain cloud with lightning following him around). And rarely is there anyone who seems willing to just sit and listen and UNDERSTAND without judging. Well, here’s someone that will – and since she cannot clone herself millions of times over for the world (though I like that idea) – Cat Treadwell has written “Facing the Darkness”.

The book is essentially broken into three parts that are in nearly every part of the titled areas. Regular typeface describes an issue or feeling or emotion – helping the reader to reflect how this particular area may or may not help them in working through their current state. The bolded section has simply worded lessons and/or activities that are there to help the reader with a proactive moment to start the process of dealing with their internal dragons. The last – but not in all sections – are italicized comments and examples of how others have worked with issues within their own lives. Taken together, the material provides a starting point in dealing with one’s dragons (my term for one’s personal issues). You don’t need to slay your dragon – just learn how to get that dragon to calm down and be more house-trained in your world – so to speak.

Much like Cat’s “A Druid’s Tale” the material is warm and inviting. In many places, Cat reminds the reader of such mundane tasks as “making a cup of tea.” The charm of both “Facing the Darkness” and “A Druid’s Tale” is that you can actually feel yourself having that cup of tea with Cat. And with a topic such as this – its that warm feeling of having a cup of tea and chatting with her that brings the experience of spending time talking with someone – even if its all just in your mind for the moment. Many of her exercises and meditations in this book, I have utilized in slightly different forms – many others, I have not. And while I hope not to have an experience where I would need to use those exercises – I am comforted to have this book in my library. Or even have it there for a friend who may have need of it in the future. An absolutely wonderful book on a very difficult topic.”

2. The Path of Druidry (P. Billington) — “This is a fantastic book full of information and lessons to help the reader understand Druidry from a daily and practical level. Its not designed to be read through like a novel – which is the way I read it. So, I will be spending a second time through, taking each of the chapters very slowly and handling each lesson as intended. This is a very well thought out and extremely well written book. If you’re interested in Druidry from a practical application perspective – I would suggest to start here with Penny’s book.”

1. A Druid’s Tale (C. Treadwell) — “Its really difficult to sit back and just give this book five stars. But since that’s the only choice I have for a top-score…I’ll have to settle with that.

Before I start on how Cat’s book was for me – I find it a little necessary to elaborate on who I am (trust me, this figures into part of how the book was for me). At this moment, I am on the path of Druidry myself – in the Bardic Grade lessons for the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD). I have been on a Pagan path for nearly thirty years of my own life – and I share some similar background to what Cat shares in terms of personal Life. Thus, this book really spoke to who I am, as well as what I believe. Cat’s style of writing comes across as a pleasant, warm conversation shared between you (the reader) and her while sitting at a campfire in the middle of the night. At least that’s my impression of it. Sharing cups of hot chocolate and talking about how Druidry has impacted and addressed aspects of our lives. There are questions at the end of each section that Cat seems to be asking of the reader. I took the opportunity to set the book down from time to time and answer these questions in my own personal journal. I wrote until I felt that I had answered the question. Sometimes it was a couple of lines, and for others it took a few paragraphs. Its not a requirement for reading the book – but Cat does state in the very beginning that the book is intended to be digested in smaller chunks, rather than read straight through.

Perhaps the most interesting part in reading the book, I found a perspective that mirrors my own. Rituals, spellwork, robes, staves, wands, crystals, etc etc…all are nice items to have in one’s toolset…but in the end, its about embracing your beliefs and living them. Respect for others, accentuating the positive aspects of the day, and embracing the fact that Life isn’t always that ray of sunshine you hope for. The key isn’t all the aspects of a toolkit as I mentioned previously – its about the relationships one has with others, with the environment, and with yourself. Cat discusses how she approaches all of this (and more) — and I honestly wish I had read her book long before I had started down the path of Druidry. Not because it would have warded me off the Path – because it would not have. However, I would have had a much different approach in the beginnings. I can’t change how I started down the Path, but I can apply a lot of what I read in a more meaningful walk down the Path for me.

Do I recommend this book to someone investigating the path of Druidry? Wholeheartedly, YES! The book, along with the questions contained within each section, will provide a lot of self-answers for people, in my opinion. More so, I would also recommend that you read her excellent blog – the Catbox – as well. ( Located at: http://druidcat.wordpress.com/ ) You will find a witty, charming individual who is not only willing to talk about how she has and continues to walk her Path, but also is willing to talk with you about yours. When you have finished the book, you will literally feel like it would be the most natural thing in the world to just flop down next to her on a grassy hill on a Summer afternoon – and talk, talk, talk. (grin) And in my opinion, its that particular feeling that makes this book a cherished item in my own collection. Get it. Give it a try. See if you feel the same way when you’re finished.”

Review: Facing the Darkness

Facing the Darkness
Facing the Darkness by Cat Treadwell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Everyone has had those moments of internal darkness. Those moments where it feels like the entire world is looking down their nose at you. Those moments where you think the Flintstones character Schleprock was written about you (the character that always has a rain cloud with lightning following him around). And rarely is there anyone who seems willing to just sit and listen and UNDERSTAND without judging. Well, here’s someone that will – and since she cannot clone herself millions of times over for the world (though I like that idea) – Cat Treadwell has written “Facing the Darkness”.

The book is essentially broken into three parts that are in nearly every part of the titled areas. Regular typeface describes an issue or feeling or emotion – helping the reader to reflect how this particular area may or may not help them in working through their current state. The bolded section has simply worded lessons and/or activities that are there to help the reader with a proactive moment to start the process of dealing with their internal dragons. The last – but not in all sections – are italicized comments and examples of how others have worked with issues within their own lives. Taken together, the material provides a starting point in dealing with one’s dragons (my term for one’s personal issues). You don’t need to slay your dragon – just learn how to get that dragon to calm down and be more house-trained in your world – so to speak.

Much like Cat’s “A Druid’s Tale” the material is warm and inviting. In many places, Cat reminds the reader of such mundane tasks as “making a cup of tea.” The charm of both “Facing the Darkness” and “A Druid’s Tale” is that you can actually feel yourself having that cup of tea with Cat. And with a topic such as this – its that warm feeling of having a cup of tea and chatting with her that brings the experience of spending time talking with someone – even if its all just in your mind for the moment. Many of her exercises and meditations in this book, I have utilized in slightly different forms – many others, I have not. And while I hope not to have an experience where I would need to use those exercises – I am comforted to have this book in my library. Or even have it there for a friend who may have need of it in the future. An absolutely wonderful book on a very difficult topic.

View all my reviews

DFW Pagan Pride Day – 2013

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Mid-day ritual with the foggy mist coming off the lake in the background

For the past five years – everyone has heard me bitching and moaning about the need for cohesive community here in my local area.  I am extremely envious when I see photos of what other local Pagan communities are doing.  I am thrilled to read the wonderful stories that come out of other Pagan Pride Days.  I can no longer be envious and watch other communities holding wonderful Pride Days…and continue to wish for it to happen here in my local community.  BECAUSE IT HAPPENED HERE YESTERDAY AND IT WAS AWWWWEEE-SOME!

As I had mentioned in the last post – I was a late-comer to the Planning Committee for this year’s Pagan Pride Day.  I was welcome with open arms and made to feel like I had been part of the event planning from the very beginning.  The group of people I have had the distinct pleasure of helping to make this event go with – they have been nothing short of a fantastic pleasure.  There were bumps along the way, but nothing that was insurmountable.  And when those moments occurred, everyone rolled up their sleeves and helped to push the sled over those hills.  From the beginning, the purpose of the event was to bring something to fruition for the Community.  And it happened.  I cannot tell you the joy I have in my heart to have seen all the volunteers – both with the Planning Committee and with other volunteers who offered their time to assist in making this event go…the joy I have in my heart to have seen those people laughing, meeting friends that they had not seen, working together to make things go…seeing all of them (myself included) enjoying themselves…that was an awesome sight.

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Closing ritual – “Cernunnos” by Denton CUUPs

But that was nothing compared to what I saw from my local community.  I talked with total strangers who came to the Information Booth – some multiple times – to tell me and the others located there that this was a fantastic event.  I witnessed (and shared in) hug after hug from people who came from all over for the event.  The happiness I saw on their faces was an immeasurable thing.  The three of us that were in and out of the Information Table area were riding high on the glowing, positive energies we felt from these folks.  It was amazing.  And from the Information Table location, we witnessed all three of the rituals (we were just up the hill from the location) – and each of them were just astounding.  We could hear the rituals all the way up the hill – even over the sound of the Carter Blood Mobile that was located on site ( I will get to that in a moment).  The energies coming off those rituals was amazing – particularly the closing ritual which was a Cernunnos oriented ritual performed by the Denton CUUPs group.  The mid-day ritual had a tinge of mist coming off the lake, as the weather cooled considerably faster than the lake did.  The effect was astounding to witness.

There were many charities on-site, and my heart was completely melted by the generosity that I witnessed.  A canned food drive was in progress at the Information Booth – and I watched as donation after donation went into the rubber-maid wheeled bucket.  *UPDATE*  110 Pounds of Food Were Collected for the Soup Mobile This Year!”  The Carter Blood Mobile was also nearby, and I watched several folks go in and give a pint of blood.  It was truly fantastic to watch my local community give so much.  *UPDATE*  From the DFW Pagan Pride Day FB page:  “A total of 51 people will be helped because 17 blood donors stepped forward yesterday!”  AWESOME!!!!

As I was working the event as a volunteer, I did not get a lot of chance to do the things that I had wanted – attend workshops, attend the rituals, or run around with my hand-held recorder asking for impressions of the event for the podcast.  That’s alright though.  I saw folks I have not seen in many, many years.  I saw friends who I had lost touch with.  I made new friends from complete strangers.  I even saw a few of the podcast’s listeners (who came all the way to the event from far Ft. Worth!).  Next year’s event (yes – there will be another one next year!) will be in Fort Worth – and I plan on being a little more into the events.  But I really enjoyed playing my self-described role as “foot soldier for the cause” – it allowed me to be in multiple areas throughout the day…where I had a chance to interact with so many more people.

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The program from DFW Pagan Pride Day. Check out the very crisp folding!! (Inside joke there folks!!)

This morning….my body HURTS.  I carried lots of stuff.  I ran all over the place taking care of things.  I even wore a yellow-canary tshirt which identified me as a volunteer for the event (yellow is NOT my color).  It was an amazing event.  The people behind the scenes were completely amazing.  The people who attended the event were astounding.  In front of my eyes…I saw community happening!  I watched people from different Spiritual Paths not only interact with one another, but completely enjoying those interactions.  And I cried.  I cried tears of joy and happiness.  If you scratch hard enough – just beneath the surface, we found that community we all have wanted.  Its been there all the time…and its a real joy to see it flourishing out in the open.

The little seed has sprouted again.  Now, we nourish it and help it to flourish.

Review: The Celtic Shaman: A Handbook

The Celtic Shaman: A Handbook
The Celtic Shaman: A Handbook by John Matthews
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Not exactly a riveting body of work. It certainly had the feeling of something that had been hastily cobbled together for publication. Some of the exercises in the book are nothing short of brilliant. However, that brilliance is overshadowed by exercises and material that are shoddily put together. Overall, I was quite disappointed, considering the reputation that Matthews has in literary circles.

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Review: Coyote’s Council Fire: Contemporary Shamans on Race, Gender, and Community

Coyote's Council Fire: Contemporary Shamans on Race, Gender, and Community
Coyote’s Council Fire: Contemporary Shamans on Race, Gender, and Community by Loren Cruden
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Loren Cruden queried a wide variety of Shamanic practitioners on the topics of Race, Gender and Community – and then compiled their answers (along with her own essays on the topics – and some exercises of working through each issue). The result – Coyote’s Council Fire – provides an insight to the many differing perspectives around the circle that the practitioners encompass. There were a few folks who provide amazing insight – Brooke Medicine Eagle, Ed McGaa, and Medicine Hawk Wilburn. Some of the other respondents provided single sentence responses, which did not delve too deeply into the subject – which was disappointing. The section on community – and the responses of Brooke Medicine Eagle and Medicine Hawk Wilburn are well worth the retail price of the book, in my opinion.

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Review: The Mount Haemus Lectures: Volume One

The Mount Haemus Lectures:  Volume One
The Mount Haemus Lectures: Volume One by Ronald Hutton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Thanks to the generosity of the Order’s patroness, Dwina Murphy-Gibb, who helped to establish the award in its first decade, the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids grants a scholarship each year for original research in Druidism and related subjects. We have called this scholarship the Mount Haemus Award, after the apocryphal Druid grove of Mt Haemus that was said to have been established near Oxford in 1245. Each research paper is published online here, and is also delivered as a lecture at a Mount Haemus Award day held every four years. In addition, every eight years, the papers are gathered together and published in a book.” (http://www.druidry.org/events-projects/mount-haemus-award)

Thus reads the description for this particular volume of essays and research papers. Much of the work presented comes off very dry and academic in its nature – which is partly what this is about: academic-level research. For me, there were three papers that were not only outstanding in content, but left me wanting to read even more. Gordon Cooper’s “Druidry: Exported Possibilities and Manifestations”, Caitlin Matthews’ “Question, Answer and the Transmission of Wisdom in Celtic and Druidic Tradition”, and Dr. James Maertens’ “Entering Faerie: Elves, Ancestors & Imagination”. These three papers not only provided information for me on topics of interest, but also helped formulate even deeper questions that I have begun to explore in my own meditations and journal entries. While I did not find the other papers to be nearly as engaging or hold my interest as close – others may find those papers to provide deeper thought for them.

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REVIEW — A Druid’s Tale – Cat Treadwell

REVIEW — A Druid’s TaleCat Treadwell

Its really difficult to sit back and just give this book five stars. But since that’s the only choice I have for a top-score (on GoodReads)…I’ll have to settle with that.

Before I start on how Cat’s book was for me – I find it a little necessary to elaborate on who I am (trust me, this figures into part of how the book was for me). At this moment, I am on the path of Druidry myself – in the Bardic Grade lessons for the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD). I have been on a Pagan path for nearly thirty years of my own life – and I share some similar background to what Cat shares in terms of personal Life. Thus, this book really spoke to who I am, as well as what I believe. Cat’s style of writing comes across as a pleasant, warm conversation shared between you (the reader) and her while sitting at a campfire in the middle of the night. At least that’s my impression of it. Sharing cups of hot chocolate and talking about how Druidry has impacted and addressed aspects of our lives. There are questions at the end of each section that Cat seems to be asking of the reader. I took the opportunity to set the book down from time to time and answer these questions in my own personal journal. I wrote until I felt that I had answered the question. Sometimes it was a couple of lines, and for others it took a few paragraphs. Its not a requirement for reading the book – but Cat does state in the very beginning that the book is intended to be digested in smaller chunks, rather than read straight through.

Perhaps the most interesting part in reading the book, I found a perspective that mirrors my own. Rituals, spellwork, robes, staves, wands, crystals, etc etc…all are nice items to have in one’s toolset…but in the end, its about embracing your beliefs and living them. Respect for others, accentuating the positive aspects of the day, and embracing the fact that Life isn’t always that ray of sunshine you hope for. The key isn’t all the aspects of a toolkit as I mentioned previously – its about the relationships one has with others, with the environment, and with yourself. Cat discusses how she approaches all of this (and more) — and I honestly wish I had read her book long before I had started down the path of Druidry. Not because it would have warded me off the Path – because it would not have. However, I would have had a much different approach in the beginnings. I can’t change how I started down the Path, but I can apply a lot of what I read in a more meaningful walk down the Path for me.

Do I recommend this book to someone investigating the path of Druidry? Wholeheartedly, YES! The book, along with the questions contained within each section, will provide a lot of self-answers for people, in my opinion. More so, I would also recommend that you read her excellent blog – the Catbox – as well. ( Located at: http://druidcat.wordpress.com/ ) You will find a witty, charming individual who is not only willing to talk about how she has and continues to walk her Path, but also is willing to talk with you about yours. When you have finished the book, you will literally feel like it would be the most natural thing in the world to just flop down next to her on a grassy hill on a Summer afternoon – and talk, talk, talk. (grin) And in my opinion, its that particular feeling that makes this book a cherished item in my own collection. Get it. Give it a try. See if you feel the same way when you’re finished.

–Tommy /|\