Book Discussion: The Tree of Enchantment by Orion Foxwood (Part One)

So, this isn’t going to be a book review so much as…a book discussion. Because this book is…

Difficult? Complex? Dense? A little…strange?

All of the above?

The Tree of Enchantment is by (“a conjurer in the Southern folk tradition, a traditional witch, and founding elder of the Foxwood Temple of the Old Religion…”) Orion Foxwood. I’ve heard him mentioned several times on various podcasts, and the shopkeeper at Ancient Mysteries recommended the book to me when I asked for something with more structure.

Well. Boy howdy.

The book details Orion Foxwood’s Faery Seership tradition.  He posits that we, humans, are each three different ‘walkers’ operating with one soul, in three different planes of existence. They are all separate (the Dream/Surface/Star Walker and the Sea/Stone/Star Worlds), but they all interact at different levels. He maps out personal, spiritual, and magical development on a Kabbalistic-like grid called the Tree of Enchantment.

Ugh. I already feel like I’m writing in circles.

It would be wrong to categorize Tree of Enchantment under typical Wicca or Witchcraft books. This isn’t a new Wiccan ‘tradition’ with Celtic and Southern magic white-washed on top. However, there are numerous influences from all sorts of esoteric teachings, including Kabbalah, neo-Celtic, neo-Native-American, Appalachian Folk, and even some Christian symbolism.

Faery Seership and T.o.E. comes across as a personal or individual-coven-based system, one that is very well-developed and thought out. Obviously, it’s had personal success with Foxwood, and he’s decided to elucidate the concepts for the rest of us.

(Here’s a more in-depth review of all of the book’s influences, if you’re interested.)

My major annoyance was the fact that it is a personal tradition, but it’s written about as if this is the way it is. As if Faery Seership is the best, or only, way to get in touch with the Fay, the Underworld, the spirits, ancestors, whatever. Kind of weird, given his admission of syncretism and synthesis of many different traditions.

Now, all that said, it is a well-developed system. I actually took notes on the text just to keep it straight, something I’ve never done (or had to do!) with a Pagan book. It’s highly structured, and there are numerous practices, meditations, and exercises. He writes in a style that is redundant but ever-evolving to the next “ah-hah” moment.

The book contains much food for thought. Much of it is poetic, obviously written with passion and dedication. Also, unlike most of the tripe chucked at the Pagan audience, T.o.E. is composed by someone who has actually spent a good part of his years developing, practicing, and experiencing his tradition. It’s definitely not another gussied up book of correspondences.

Still, I can’t really get into it. A part of me would like to–and I probably will do some of the exercises, just because they seem well thought out–but, so far, I think this is a case of a spiritual tradition that I’m glad is out there for those who like it, but is ultimately not for me. The most use it has had so far is illuminating things that I don’t want (at least, right now) in a tradition. If I even want a tradition. Who knows?!

I will finish it though, and return for Part Two.

Have any of you read it? What do you think?

Book Review: A Discovery of Witches

It’s not hard to imagine how the publishers felt when they happened upon Deborah Harkness’ book (however that mysterious kind of thing happens, I honestly have no idea). Well, I suppose it could have happened two ways. Either exasperation–more vampires, really? Or glee–smart vampires, finally!

Well, kind of.

A Discovery of Witches is a complicated first novel in the All Souls Trilogy. It begins by a reluctant witch and science historian, Diana Bishop, finding an enchanted manuscript during her work on ancient alchemical texts. When the manuscript surfaces it draws witches, daemons and vampires to begin lurking around Diana. The text is wanted by all, purported to hold the secrets of their evolution, destruction and powers. Chief among those intrigued by the text (and by Diana herself) is Matthew, a highly esteemed scientific researcher and geneticist who also happens to be a 1500 year old vamp.

I can’t help but liken A Discovery of Witches to…well, Twilight. I just can’t help it.  Possessive male vampire? Check. Girl that doesn’t seem special but just IS (rather, the narrative never seems to say why she is so special besides the blasé SHE HAS TONS OF POWER!…but…why? Maybe that’s forthcoming…)? Check. Well written..ch–wait, what?

Therein lies the primary–and most important–difference between A Discovery of Witches and Twilight. ADOW is well written. There are many lyrical passages, cozy settings, a whimsical, secrets-in-the-dusty-library atmosphere. The world-within-a-world structure (a palimpsest, if you will) is clearly drawn and evoked. The characters are (mostly) likeable. Harkness deftly weaves in scientific theory, fantasy genre elements, historic minutia. There are funny moments, tender moments, romantic moments. The plot clips nicely along. When I turned the last page of the book I wanted to know more, and I’ll be back for the sequel.

But…Here are my quibbles.

One, I’m sick and tired of the possessive vampire schtick. In the beginning of the book, Matthew, our vampire-hero-anti-hero, is an interesting, if aloof, character. In fact, I wasn’t clear that he was the romantic hero of the novel for a bit. I liked that. I felt that it gave me a little room to get to know more about the guy. But as soon as he falls for Diana he becomes…you know. Edwardian, and not in the historical sense. Harkness, the author, does a credible job of explaining why this is but it still doesn’t alleviate my irritation. Because as soon as that happens…

The heroine gets much less interesting. It never fails. In a novel where you have a possessive hero, the heroine is either defiant and stupid, or submissive and meek. Somehow, Diana manages to be both. I’m not sure how it happens, but it does. Diana goes from becoming kind of interesting to dull, very fast. The plot seems to be happening to her, instead of by her own agency.

The only other problem I had was the pacing. Towards the end the action became disjointed. Plot points seemed to happen for the sole purpose of moving the story along, rather than generating from the characters. The Matthew and Diana in the beginning of the book didn’t match the Matthew and Diana in the end, which was a real shame. I liked M & D in the beginning.

I’ll read the next book. The premise has a lot of potential. The writing is smart and whimsical. The weaving in of genetics, evolution, biology, ecology and history is fascinating and well done. I’m happy to see the fantasy genre being taken seriously for what it is–a medium on which many different genres can come out and play.

Rating: 3.5/5

Publisher: Penguin

Cost: $9.79 at Costco

Read With: Strong black tea (cream and sugar, please) and a scone. With clotted cream. Mmm.

Book Review: Angelology by Danielle Trussoni

Angelology is a multi-character narrative about an academic society that has studied angels throughout history. Their main goal isn’t academia, however, but to protect humans from the ruthless Nephilim, a class of angels that are responsible for pretty much every bad thing that has ever happened on Earth.

We meet Evangeline, a young and pretty nun, living in secluded convent in upstate New York. She leads a quiet life surrounded by her sisters until one day a man happens into their library asking about some letters she had just unearthed. Unknowingly Evangeline and the man, Verlaine, have become pawns in an ancient treasure hunt to find a heaven-made lyre, reputed to be able to heal the ailing Nephilim population.

My only quibble is with the most generic of thriller plot devices, the chase. I found those 20 or so pages the least interesting in a novel that is atmospheric and clever.

Overall, this is a wonderful and suspenseful novel. It’s everything Dan Brown wishes he was, but isn’t: erudite, fast-paced with a strong grasp of language and plot. Even though the plot devices certainly aren’t original–mysterious numeric sequences, an old librarian with a monocle, nuns, Nazis, etc.—the book never feels contrived. It’s a fresh take on old tropes and a pleasure to read.

Rating: 4/5

Publisher: Penguin

Price: $9.79 at Costco, paperback

Read with: A nice whisky. Mmm.

Book Review: Magic of the Celtic Gods and Goddesses

I like this book because I’m on the cover.

…I kid, I kid. Seriously though, that might be as close to a photo of me this blog ever gets. I just don’t set fire to my hair when I’m having my picture taken.

So, this book. I bought it over the holidays and read it in about two days/two car trips. It’s an easy read.

Magic of…(henceforth known as MOTCGs…) never aspires to be anything more than an introductory book for the pan-Pagan. I’ve seen a lot of Celtic-Reconstructionist (CR) reviewers complain that it’s not very accurate, not precise, that it has a Wiccan slant and oh–that godawful title.

Yes. The title sucks.

(That’s the publisher’s fault, most likely.)

The authors state in the beginning that this is an introductory text for newbs, meant to give an introduction to all sorts of people with an interest in the Celtic deities. This includes (gasp!) Wiccans, witches, CRs, druids, eclectics…whoever! So when the authors comment that so-and-so deity could be associated with Yule, and then CR-based reviewers complain that ZOMG! This book is for Wiccans! I find that criticism to be a bit disingenuous.

In the second chapter, the authors of MOCG set out their goals:

  • To introduce you to a variety of the most important and interesting Celtic deities.
  • To present the deities through story and lore associated with them
  • To offer ideas and suggestions about how you can foster a more intimate connection with them
  • [The authors] offer no spells, magical attributes or correspondences
  • [The authors] are not providing an academic approach (though one ‘informed’ by scholarly work)
  • [The authors] don’t tell you what to believe

All in all, MOCG accomplished what it set out to do. I am more familiar with the Celtic pantheon. I feel inspired to seek out more knowledge. I don’t feel condescended to, but, on the flip side, it isn’t particularly challenging. It is completely 101. The information wasn’t redundant, and now I have more of a grid for seeking more resources.

Rating: 3.5/5

Publisher: New Page

Price: $15.99, $7.05 used on Amazon

New Year’s Resolutions

Some people think they’re corny. Others think they’re essential. Some make ’em and forget ’em in less than a week.

Me? I’ve done all of the above. Last year I made some New Year’s Resolutions on the fly, but they ended up working well:

* Move towards the adage ‘waste not, want not’. Actions: made broth out of all the bones I could, washed and reused plastic bags, composted, recycled, kept and re-purposed glass bottles, canned and preserved produce when able…Hopefully, even more next year.

* Consistently work on the garden. Until the drought killed everything, I did. Now we have a successful cool crop going.

* Finish NaNo 2011. Check!

* Lose weight, increase functionality, find a way of eating healthy that I like. Lost 20 pounds, steadily increasing fitness by using the Lift Heavy, Sprint and Walk model, and Primal/Paleo.

Check! All four.

This year, though, I’d like to give it some more consideration. So, I’m planning on using the month of January to amend the soil, so to speak. For once we have no plans (!) for any of the weekends, and nothing beyond the usual for any of the weekdays–perfect for 31 days of meditation and consideration.

January 1-31

* 31 days of clean, strict Primal

* 31 days of prayer, devotional, divination or ritual work. My intention is for this to be time set aside, apart from my regular morning prayers.

* Blog about it as much as possible–whatever rhythm it takes

Then

In time for Imbolc, evaluate the month and consecrate resolutions.

I’m looking forward to it! I have a week of meals planned out and received some great Yule gifts for thought-fodder:

Well Fed: Paleo Recipes for People Who Love to Eat by Mellisa Joulwan

Magic of the Celtic Gods and Goddesses by Carl McColman and Katherine Hinds (the title [especially the rest of it] is awful, and I’m aware that there are some reservations with this book–but! I’ll review it when I’ve finished)

Celtic Devotional: Daily Prayers and Blessings by Caitlin Matthews

The Witches Almanac, 2012

Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs by Scott Cunningham

Do you have NYR’s? Do you like them, hate them, meh? Set resolutions at a different time of year?

A Dash of This, A Pinch of That

* I went to church today. Trinity United Methodist, for all you Austinites. And…they celebrated the Summer Solstice. No joke. With drums and a calling of the elements. They even talked about the Wheel of the Year. Yes, my circuits fritzed. Completely.

* I watched all four seasons of True Blood in two weeks. I’m not sure how it happened. I kind of hated it by the end. Like, Sookie? She’s annoying. Lafayette and the 3,000 year old dude (now encased in concrete…) were/are the only reasons to watch that show. Though, they are featuring witches for season 5. So that’s interesting. Seeing media portrayals of witchcraft and Wicca are always…interesting.

* For Father’s Day, J and I went out on a *real* date Friday night. Drinks and dinner. It was lovely. We had drinks at Péché and dinner at Congress. Both were terrific and a perfect way to celebrate. This morning, J woke up to a mimosa and crèpes with dulce de leche and whipped cream. Spoiled? Just a little.

* I have writer’s block. Intensely. I’m debating on giving up a story that I’ve worked on (on and off) for over two years. It’s just…I’m not that person who started the story, and as the story evolved it’s not really the original story anymore…I don’t know. It also has some major structural and plot problems, as well as just being an overall bitch to write. But when do you say when? Any writers have advice on this?

* To help with the writer’s block and generate ideas I’ve being drawing a Tarot card and just writing with it. Sometimes it’s a character sketch, a situation or a simple description. Anything to keep the juices going. If I take long breaks from writing I gather inertia so quickly. It becomes hard to even type. Gotta keep chuggin’.

* I have no idea what I’m doing for Summer Solstice. I’ve thought about Sun Salutations at dawn, which seems okay. But I’m also feeling this draw to do a magical working of some sort. I picked up a new book titled Embracing the Moon by Yasmine Galenorn. At first I was thrown off by the dated cover–a woman’s hands embracing a green-tinted moon (thank you, Llewelleyn). Turns out though, it’s a very good beginner book. While I’ve been researching this path a long, long time I still consider myself a beginner, especially with magic and energy working since (besides observing the Sabbats and occasionally the Esbats) I don’t actually do the stuff a ton. I think. I read. I contemplate. But doing…not so much.

Which, leads me to want to start doing. Going to church today also lit a fire under that desire. This leads me to…

* Fear. I have a lot of anxiety and fear stemming from a pretty creeptastic experience I had a few months ago. This could be a post on its own, and it might become one. Hmm. A Litha ritual to bring light into the places of dank, of fear? I don’t believe that shadow or darkness is bad, at all. It’s neutral like the light is. However, fear—fear and anxiety live in a dank, cold, awful place of the soul. A place that could use some warming light. Hmmm.

That’s all. Enjoy the week, everyone 🙂