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Book Review: To Suffer a Witch by Claudia Hall Christian

April 1st, 2016

To Suffer a Witch by Claudia Hall Christian

sufferawitch

 

This book was written by Claudia Hall Christian. Now, I haven’t read anything by her before, but I can tell you right now that will change. I really loved this book. This is the first work of fiction that I have written a review for and I will make sure not to spoil anything.

To suffer a Witch has great characters that I came to genuinely care about. It’s all about some people that were hung during the Salem witch trials in 1692. But, twenty of them came back as immortal witches. You do learn a lot of what happened to them over the three hundred and twenty two years, but it takes place in 2015 in the city of Boston. You get to go into the past and read all about what they went through and how they came to where they are now.

The main character is Em. And she is a very strong female lead character. She is caring, brave, powerful and smart. Her love for her friends is strong and in general you can tell right from the start that she has a good heart and you want the best for her, and her companions. There are for sure moments in this book that made me sad. It took me to a place where I can’t even imagine what all those people went through during the trials. The pain and suffering they felt is overwhelming. You can tell Claudia did her research and she is very good at putting detail and emotion into this book. It made my heart ache thinking about all the innocent lives lost during that time. The first part in the book that made me super sad is when you learn about the loss of a young daughter. Thinking of innocent children also being killed just makes me sick. It seems so real and you feel their pain and misery in this book.

The book keeps you hooked on pure curiosity and excitement. If you start the book, there is no way you won’t finish it. Right from the start I found myself asking lots of questions. How did this happen to them? Will they find a way out of the danger they are in? Who are these witches and will they survive? Why were these 20 specifically chosen to be immortal when so many others died? And Christian does a great job of answering questions, and keeping you turning pages to find out more and see what happens. There is for sure a lot of suspense in here, and that’s one of the reasons I love it. I find some books have some major dull parts, but even when delving into the characters past and stories there isn’t a part in this that made me feel that.

This book is well written, and for once I don’t have complaints about the editing! The concept of the novel is great and I’m glad she put this story out there for all to read. I think it would be a good read for anyone. Whether you are familiar with the happenings of the Salem trials or not. Whether you want some suspense, some history, or even some love. More people need to discover this wonderful book and author. I find I don’t read as many novels anymore as I used to, but after looking at her website (http://claudiahallchristian.com) I know I have a few more to look forward to adding to my list.

Honestly, this 520 page book is unique and interesting. It’s a major page turner and I recommend you check it out. It’s an adventure worth going on.

Review:  The Clavis or Key to the Magic of Solomon


I guess I’m just may be too inclined to try and stuff things into categories and bins but it has always escaped me why ceremonial magic and Paganism are often tied together.  I understand that modern Paganism is a broad net that sweeps up all the little fishes it can find, but I do sometimes think we have to draw the line somewhere.   Given the recent debate about who is and isn’t and does and doesn’t want to be a Pagan, I think this is a valid question [1].  In my opinion, ceremonial magicians are inherently Christian, given that their originating materials are all focused on angels and devils and whatnot.  That does not mean we can’t learn from them, or even participate, but we should at least know what we’re doing.

This screed is relevant because I’m reviewing an original “talismanic grimoire” The Clavis or Key to the Magic of Solomon, by a late 18th century magician, Ebenezer Sibley [2].   Joseph Peterson [3] is a scholar of renaissance occultism who has been translating and publishing several of the grimoires of that time period.  His previous books, such as the Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses, Arbatel and the Lesser Key of Solomon, have been absolutely beautiful books [4].

Peterson’s version of Sibley’s Clavis is in four parts, an introduction outlining the history of the text, a facsimile reproduction that makes up the bulk of the text, a series of notes to the facsimile, and a critically established text that reproduces the text of the facsimile in regular typography.    What I am referring so breezily to as the “Clavis” is actually eight manuscripts bundled into one book.  The Clavis, or Key to Unlock the Mysteries of Rabbi Solomon makes up the bulk of the text.  It focuses on the manufacture of talismans and pretty much has all your talismanic needs covered, from being invincible to winning in games of hazard.  The Complete Book of Magical Science (by Hockley) concludes the book and focuses on conjuring spirits.  In between we find a series of “experiments” on the conjuration of spirits and a manuscript on magical rings (of the planetary, not Tolkien, kind).

The Clavis continues in the same tradition of Peterson’s previous books, but amps up the beauty by several notches.  The color facsimile is in itself a work of art, nearly flawless despite both its age and the fact that it was originally copied by hand.  It is perhaps the best-done grimoire that I have seen, even better than Skinner’s amazingly useful and well laid out books [5].   If you want to see how an 18th century magician executed the various seals, figures, and talismans you can’t do much better than this short of the original manuscripts.

So, basically, that’s my review.  If you care about Grimoires, or if you care about magic, you should be aware of both Skinner’s and Peterson’s projects to bring beautiful and meticulously crafted versions of them to us.  And Peterson’s Clavis is pretty much the zenith of the current art of reproducing such things.  So you should buy it.

But it is unlikely that I’m going to stop at one page for such an amazingly beautiful book.  Instead I’ll go on to tackle what I think are the important questions:  What is a Grimoire?  Why should you care?  And why should you care about this grimoire?

Ok, so what’s a grimoire? A grimoire is a book of magic, typically specializing in charms and protection as well as conjuration of spirits.  It is most likely, though not exclusively, western European and Christian in orientation.  Of course all these features are not exclusive, many of the earliest Grimoires were of Middle Eastern origin.  Christianity and Judaism are often rather oblique features of these books, as they focus on angels and daemons, not the baby Jesus.   They were typically written by cunning men or ceremonial magicians and date from ancient times to the present day.  Their zenith in terms of power and frequency occurred in the late middle ages where their authors, mostly men and priests, were busy not being burned at the stake despite their active practice of magic and conjuration of devils.  Because they were men and priests they got a pass on real demonology, while a bunch of poor hapless women got burned for, well, being poor hapless women [6].

These books were used as practical tools right up until the 1800s (and beyond).  Cunning men and women sold their services to find, protect, or heal by using symbols and knowledge they gained from Grimoires, or fragments of Grimoires.  Grimoires also form the basis of modern, ceremonial, magic.

The problem with these texts is that it is hard, if not impossible, to map their interrelationships.  Just reading Peterson’s exhaustive and fascinating introduction to the Clavis shows why this mapping is hard.  Sibley apparently had a series of manuscripts on magic that he referred to but never intended to publish.  These were copied in his own hand from even older source documents, probably in the late 1700s.  But not too old, as Peterson points out a lot of the symbology and material can be traced to other popular Grimoires, including Scott’s Discoverie [7].

A series of booksellers obtained the texts from Sibley’s estate, and eventually the booksellers asked Hockley, who was one of the foundational members of modern occultism and magic, to write some copies.  Hockley made several copies, but perhaps not the copy that is reproduced in facsimile in Peterson’s text [8].  These copies have all come down to us, but not the original that was in Sibley’s library.  Peterson goes into an interesting amount of detail in tracing all of the influences that went into Sibley’s Clavis, ranging from the Discoverie to Arbatel de Magia Veterum. These books all intertwingle with Francis Barrett’s The Magnus, Levi, and other occultists of the 18th and 19th centuries  [9].  All of this influencing and being influenced makes it tough to figure out the original source for a lot of this magic, was it Scott or did they have other sources from either England or the continent?  Who influence Barrett and Levi, and who, in turn, did they influence?  Just like today with our froth of Pagan groups, the early 1800s were awash in different occultists and beliefs.

Peterson addresses a lot of this in both his introduction and his notes, and the results seem to point to Scott as a major influence at least on this grimoire.  That is kind of disappointing.  Scott’s Discoverie was perhaps the first skeptic’s view of magic and witchcraft, written with the hope that reason would prevail over superstition.  Which is why King John I burned all the copies he could get his hands on in 1603.  The tie with Discoverie is disappointing because the book’s information was drawn from witch trials, which means that the information may have been obtained through torture.  And, if you believe the FBI, torture is not perhaps the best way to obtain accurate information, even today.

But why should modern Pagans care about any of this?  Well, as I said before, Sibley and Hockley both had significant influence on the people who started the Golden Dawn movement: Israel Regardie and AE Waite.  They, in much the same fashion that the shinbone is connected to the knee bone, influenced Crowley in return who influenced Gardner.  This means that these late 18th and early 19th century grimoires are some of the foundational documents for modern magic, if not Paganism.  They don’t quite look like it, but they are.

Much of what passes for “standard Wicca operational plan 100” comes from these sources.  The elements, the circle, calling and evoking, all stem from ceremonialist influences.  The wands, the swords, the Athame, the magical writing also all were inspired or directly derived from these influences.  Not to mention that much of modern Masonry, Rosicrucianism, and Thelema hark directly back to these gentlemen and their influences.

But why should you care about this particular grimoire?  If you are the kind of magician who cares whether their instrument kit’s “little green stick of [hazel] wood” is from a year old branch or not (pp. xx and 31 Clavis), then you are already going to buy this book and there is nothing extra I need to do to convince you.  If you are not that guy, and you probably are not, then you may wish to pick up a grimoire just for the fun of it.  Typically the Lesser Key of Solomon is pretty much the standard baseline grimoire [8].   But, if you have special interests in manufacturing talismans, rings, or in conjuration then you may want to pick up the Clavis.  Or if you just really want to see what a “real” 18th century grimoire actually looked like in facsimile, you may want this book.

But, lets be honest, if you are a guy like me who collects magic books and loves the lore of ancient texts and magical tomes, then you need this book.  In fact, I’d say you need all of Peterson’s books.   It won’t be cheap, but it will be worth it.

[1] Of course this whole terminology thing is a hot topic this month, see my column and the Pagan portal at Patheos (http://www.patheos.com/Religion-Portals/Pagan.html).  Not much discussion of this issue by the ceremonialists, however.  Though I suspect that the traditional Witches problems with the term Pagan could also extend to them.

[2] Joseph Peterson (ed.), Ebenezer Sibley and Frederick Hockley, The Clavis of Key to the Magic of Solomon, Ibis, 2010.  Joseph Peterson is responsible for putting the book together, and writing an extensive introduction and set of notes.  I suspect he also transcribed the facsimile reproduction as well.  Not to mention that he is a Chemical Engineer, which certainly recommends him as someone who is both careful and capable (not to mention highly intelligent – perhaps you can tell my profession).

[3] His web site explains a lot: http://www.esotericarchives.com/

[4] This is not just me Amazon shopping as I review, I happen to own all of them except the Grimorium Vernum and I’m fixing that right now based on the Clavis.

[5] Skinner’s books are quite similar to Peterson’s, including a version of the Clavis.  However Peterson’s Clavis totally beats Skinner’s as Skinner tends to rely on black and white and lacks Peterson’s graphical pizzazz.  http://www.amazon.com/Stephen-Skinner/e/B001HOA5US/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1

[6] The best history of grimoires is:  Owen Davies, Grimoires:  A History of Magic Books, Oxford 2009.  It is a remarkable history because it is factual, readable, well organized, and make sense.  I have not found this to be a common feature in books on this subject.  Davies is mentioned in the Clavis, but his book in turn does not mention the Clavis, though he does mention Sibley.  He emphasizes Sibley’s role as the pre-eminent astrologer of his time.  This is logical if the Clavis was taken from Sibley’s unpublished papers since it would not have been part of his public persona.

[7] Reginald Scott in 1584 published The Discoverie of Witchcraft.  This text has been very influential, from being cribbed in later grimoires and cunning men’s materials (including Joseph Smith who was perhaps more of a cunning man than Mormon’s would admit).  In another section of the text Scott also tries to show how some of the things conjurers would do were actually slights of hand, making it one of the earliest books of magic (See Robert Kaufman’s forward to the Kaufman and Greenberg edition of Discoverie.)  Reginald Scott, The Discoverie of Witchcraft, Kaufman and Greenberg, 1995 (a beautiful hardbound version by a stage magic publishing company).

[8] In reading about the various copies and Sibley and Hockley you get an appreciation for life before laser printing technology and the ability to easily copy words and documents.  If you wanted a copy back in 1825, you got out a pen and wrote yourself a copy.

[9]  Arbatel de Magia Veterum is another Peterson book, http://www.amazon.com/Arbatel-Concerning-Ancients-Joseph-Peterson/dp/0892541520/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1307312039&sr=1-1, and there are many versions of Barrett and Levi’s books out there:  http://www.amazon.com/History-Magic-Eliphas-Levi/dp/0877289298/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1307312089&sr=1-1;

http://www.amazon.com/Magus-Complete-System-Occult-Philosophy/dp/0877289425/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1307312114&sr=1-1-spell

[10]  Of course Peterson has come out with a wonderful version:  http://www.amazon.com/Lesser-Key-Solomon-Joseph-Peterson/dp/157863220X/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1307315567&sr=8-2 but the standard text is Waite:  http://www.amazon.com/Lesser-Solomon-Arthur-Edward-Waite/dp/1163064300/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1307315640&sr=8-1

The Weiser Field Guide to Vampires

by  J. M. Dixon

© 2009  Weiser Books

ISBN:  978-1578634491

Paperback        192 pages

$14.95 (U.S.)

When people in the modern, Western world encounter the word “vampire” certain images spring immediately to mind, most of which center on Eastern and Central European perceptions – think Dracula in  all his many permutations.  But there is a lot more to the topic of vampires than that narrow perception admits.  They range from Papau New Guinea to Grenada; from undead relatives to modern day Strigoi Vii; and from those who subsist on blood to those who “merely” siphon off energy.  Although all of these are touched upon within the covers of this book, most are given only a passing mention.

Before I had really started this book, I began to run into difficulties.  I have never before seen the word “Sidhe”, translated from Gaelic, to mean “vampire.”  It seems as though Mr. Dixon presumes that all “evil creatures” are vampiric by nature, and I am not sure that is valid.  He writes as a member of the vampire community (with the expressed intention “…of being the first person in history to live for ever…”), and as such he accepts as proven fact that which others make take as theory only.

Since I don’t claim to be a vampire, or know any personally (that I am aware of), I can’t comment on Mr. Dixon’s assertions regarding “feeding tendrils” or types of feeding.  On a personal level, it reads like fiction (and low-budget, horror-film fiction at that), but I could be wrong.

The first 40% of the book is devoted to the type of vampire commonly referred to as a “psychic” vampire – one who does NOT drink blood, but merely siphons energy – and avoids the topic of the blood-drinking variety.  It isn’t until the fifth chapter that the topic of the blood-drinking variety of vampires is actually addressed.

From there on Mr. Dixon moves on to topics which are of interest to those who are not members of the vampire community itself exclusively.

Throughout this book, Mr. Dixon concentrates upon those differences which set the modern, living vampire apart from the masses of humanity with which they share the world, as might be expected in a field guide.  Very little space, however, is devoted to helping “normal” people identify vampires.  The descriptions he uses – fair skinned, soft hair, full lips, and white teeth – really don’t help much in terms of differentiating vampires from humans.  Instead, reliance is placed on “feelings” which often amount nothing more than a sense of unease in the presence of certain individuals.  His assertion that vampires don’t have an aura (the possible source of the no-reflection myth?) seems highly unlikely to me.  More likely their auras are tightly contained and thus hard to see, in my opinion.

He sees the vampire as beneficial to mankind in general, as their draining of energy encourages increased energy production and flow in the average individual, thus preventing and relieving blockages which may result in disease and illness.  I’m not sure how I feel about that idea, but if it is true, then it would appear that ethical vampires would almost feel obligated to work in the healing arts.

Mr. Dixon seems to assert (page 104, “…most modern vampires maintain strict workout regimens to keep them healthy and fit.”) that the modern vampire must not be overly thin nor overly heavy.  Coupled with his earlier physical descriptions, we are left to assume that the ideal modern vampire (and the archetype to watch for) would best be symbolized by the “surfer” culture, and that the odds of encountering an ugly (or even a “plain”) looking, anorexic or obese vampire are almost non-existent.  Nice job description, but somewhat limiting and unrealistic, I feel.

To an extent, this book comes across as a self-serving promotional tool (read “recruiting tract”) trying hard to look like an unbiased investigation into a phenomenon which has fascinated mankind almost from it’s very emergence into civilization.  Whatever it is, recruiting tool or investigation, it is well-written and interesting.  I’m not sure it will appeal to everyone, but that is really too much to expect in any case.

The perception that vampires are inherently different from mankind in general seems (to me) to border on the delusional.  Mr. Dixon acknowledges that vampires are physically nearly indistinguishable from humanity, while asserting that a few characteristics are enough to place them in a separate class of beings.

Regardless of my personal feeling about the subject matter and/or author, Weiser has a reputation for producing high quality books, and this continues that tradition.  You will not likely go wrong when you purchase one of their books.

Dalai Lama’s Little Book of Wisdom, The

by  His Holiness the Dalai Lama

© 2010  Hampton Roads

ISBN:  978-1-57174-628-3

400 pages

Paperback

$10.95 (U.S.)

Tenzin Gyatso, His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama, has won the Nobel Peace Prize (1989), but even more importantly he has won the hearts of millions of non-Buddhists world-wide.  Many who have heard him speak, whether in person or through the media, have been struck by his accessibility and his ability to relate to the human condition – which is rare for a religious leader, let alone one who is also a world leader in political matters.

This book is composed of teachings and advice gathered, if you accept the basic premise of reincarnation, over the course of many lifetimes (in this case, 14).  These lessons and advice are NOT couched in platitudes and generalities, but are related in concrete ways.  Its small size (4.25 inches by 5 inches) and abundant use of white spaces belies the importance of many of the statements and ideas contained within its 400 pages.  Do not allow either of these considerations to lull you into a belief that the contents are light-weight or unimportant, they are neither.

This book is a re-print of the 2002 The Spirit of Peace published by Thorsons (which was assembled from The Dalai Lama’s Book of Wisdom; The Dalai Lama’s Book of Transformation; The Dalai Lama’s Book of Love and Compassion).

Unfortunately, multiple republications have not eliminated one of my pet peeves – editorial glitches.  To be honest, such glitches are minor (dropped spacing between words and such), but for someone who spends as much time reading as I do it can throw off the rhythm established.  I rely on that rhythm to help me get through anywhere up to 100 pages of reading a day.  I seldom resort to skimming, as I don’t want to miss anything important, but if the glitches are frequent enough, I sometimes do so.  That was NOT necessary with this book, fortunately.

His Holiness stresses that attitude is very important in all aspects of life.  If there is a way to overcome difficulty, there is no need to worry; if there is no way to overcome it, there is no use in worrying.  Or, to sum it up in the words of a sometimes forgotten icon of American life, Alfred E. Neuman (the cover figure and representative of “Mad” magazine) – “What, Me. Worry?”  It may seem simplistic, but it is a viable approach.

His Holiness presents his lessons in the form of lectures.  Each of them is relatively short, which makes it easy to absorb.  He continually stresses the fact that, unlike what we have come to expect in the Western world, enlightenment and progress do not occur instantly, they take time and other things which are not currently in favor, like effort and repetition.

This is not a book about Buddhist teachings.  It is a book about world teachings, couched occasionally in Buddhist terms.  Without a doubt, this book offers the reader a great deal to think about.  Even more importantly, it offers goals to work towards, and methods to do the work.

 

City Magick

By Christopher Penczak

© 2012 by Christopher Penczak

ISBN: 978-1-57863-521-4

283 pages

Paperback $19.95 (U.S.)

 

I was not sure how much I would find of use in this book as I do not live in a city. It was a very pleasant surprise to find information that can be easy adapted to suburban or country living. I have found myself looking at my surroundings in a new way.

The author starts with the basics or what he calls the three R’s of magick – reality, rapture and ritual. Each of these concepts is described in detail and exercises to the help each are listed. Some of the exercises covered meditation, chakras, shielding, trance work and more.

The section on City Totems is where I started seeing the world around me differently. The author lists City totems as those animals that have adapted to city life. These include some that are to be expected such as cats, dogs, squirrels and pigeons. Added to that list are rats, mice, ants, cockroaches, doves and seagulls.  The author does not stop with animals. Just as some cultures personify trees and rocks, the same principle can be applied to the city. Spirit helpers can come from piles of steel and chrome such as cars, subways and streetlights. This section opened my view of the world around me.

City archetypes were also discussed. As the author described it, just as Venice has the goddess Venus as patron, so can modern cities have archetypes such as buildings, construction, music and art, computers, or electricity. This led into a comparison of a city to the concept of the world tree with its’ three levels. Just as the world tree has an upper, middle and lower level, so can a city. In this case it would be Sky city, those buildings that reach into the sky; the middle city which is the city which is visible on ground level and finally the lower city, that which is hidden below street level.

Further chapters introduces the idea of a television alter and using a television for projection or scrying. Added to this is techno tools as opposed to traditional tools. These techno tools can include drum machines, synthesizers, walkman, television, VCR, city plants and stones. There is also information on finding magick words in streets signs, sigils in graffiti and maps. I particularly l liked the information on creating and using modern runes.

This book contains much more information than can be described in this book review. The information is valuable not only to the City Witch but to all on the Path. It offers an abundance of information that can be adapted to any residence.

Start Where You Are: A Journal for Self-Exploration

Start

 

By: Meera Lee Patel

Paperback: 128 pages

Publisher: Perigee Books (August 11, 2015)

Language: English

New on the shelves this August past is Meera Lee Patel’s book Start Where You Are.

Start Where You Are is a skillful combination of beautiful and playful watercolors, inspirational quotes, and exercises or prompts to help express yourself. The art is cute and kept simple, working perfectly in combination with the selection of quotes. Ranging from Ayn Rand to Yogananda, I found some of the quotes to be rather bland, but even then Ms. Patel’s brushwork succeeded in elevating the words to the height of their sentiment.

It is in this way that Start Where You Are is very much more than the sum of its parts. While I could summarize it as an engaging cross between a cute calendar and a self-help activity book – or perhaps an artist and a therapist – this would miss just how well the book is executed, how skillfully those parts combine. The whimsical illustrations of Patel’s watercolors encourage a doodling creativity and a freedom of expression. In fact, Start Where You Are is a great introduction to visual journaling itself. It would work well as a gift for someone who likes to express themselves visually, or someone who wants to but does not know where to begin. The exercises are perfect to break the ice when the empty page has become too intimidating on its own.

But the questions posed in the exercises can work as profoundly as you want them to. Subtitled a Journal for Self-Exploration, the book’s exercises work well as prompts for introspection and self discovery when taken with honesty. In this way, I really had to pause and think at, “Think of something you lost recently. What are two positive insights you gained from the experience?” As ‘loss’ can be a profound word and ‘recent’ is in relation to the loss, ‘keys’ seems like an dishonest easy answer. When loss is profound, insights that are positive may require seeking.

While there are drawing, coloring, and free writing exercises, most of the activities consist of lists of one type or other. This kind of self cataloging, “Write down ten big dreams that haven’t come true yet” and “What are your three most frequent thoughts? What do you wish they would be?” can endear this book to younger adults still defining themselves or the habitual magazine survey taker. Conversely of course the questions, when taken seriously, become more profound with age. Who did I think I would be at this age? Who do I think I am now? How do my values match up with my daily choices and where I actually spend my time.

These questions are as difficult as you allow yourself to get away with. But with color, maybe disguised in casual drawings, maybe they can be less threatening. We are all in the process of charting our own inner landscape, and Start Where You Are is a great tool to document the journey and an encouragement to smile.

 

 

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