Sex Magic For Beginners by Skye Alexander

January 1, 2012


I was recently sent a copy of Sex Magic For Beginners by author Skye Alexander. My blog is quoted several times within the book, and I’m listed in the works cited page.

Most of the books on the market dealing with sex magic concentrate on the sex aspect, and they usually ignore the magic aspect. Some of these books are nothing more than compilations of dirty pictures, and almost all of them seem focused on increasing sexual performance and enjoyment. I’m all for increased sexual performance and enjoyment, but if that’s all you want, you might as well just buy an issue of Cosmo.

I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Ms Alexander’s book isn’t about how to have great sex, but how to use sex inside of a magical operation. Some of what’s in the book doesn’t even directly deal with sex, but instead focuses on theories and techniques centered around energy manipulation and magic. That isn’t to say that the book doesn’t ever talk about increasing sexual pleasure, it does, but that isn’t the real focus of the book.

The book’s cover says that it’s the ‘Easy & Fun Way to Tap Into the Law of Attraction’, and that’s really the sort of magic this book tries to teach. This is a book about manifestation magic, or how to bring things into your life, whether that be material objects like money, or people like romantic partners, or even events, like winning a court case; and as the title suggests, the book’s method of producing this manifestation is through sex.

Ms Alexander has written several dozen books on a wide variety of topics, including Wicca, spellcraft, tarot, reflexology, and erotic fiction. This has made her somewhat of an expert on a lot of different spiritual subjects, and one of the cool things about the book is that she’s able to incorporate techniques pertaining to all of these other subjects into the realm of sex magic. Often times there’ll be a few paragraphs dealing with utilizing something like the tarot, or the I Ching, or reflexology.

She’s also managed to bring together techniques and ideas from a lot of different systems, including Western systems like Ceremonial Magic, Paganism, and Chaos Magic; and Eastern Systems like Buddhism and Taoism. She’s also included a lot from the New Thought movement. The New Thought Movement is a system that even many of the most open minded Ceremonialists and Pagans want nothing to do with, but it’s also one of the best systems to incorporate into this sort of magic. Manifestation magic is the thing that New Thought is centered around, and its the one kind of magic that it’s really good at.

Being an eclectic magician, I really love books like this that don’t solely concentrate on one system, but instead take the best parts from a lot of different systems and put them together into a workable, and more efficient, model.

This review’s probably too long already, but there’s one last thing I want to bring up. A good portion of the book is dedicated to different magical acts that you can try and different exercises to improve your magical abilities. A lot of books on the market are filled with theory, morals, spiritual speculation, personal accounts, and if you’re lucky some associations. The books I like, the books I find useful, and the books I think new magicians will get the most out of are books like this, which don’t just talk about magic, but give people instructions for real things they can go out and do after they’ve read it.

I don’t agree with everything in the book, but I agree with most of it, and the theory that the magic is based on is solid. It’s a great book for anyone interested in incorporating sexual acts into operations centered around manifestation magic. The book targets beginning magicians, but it’s also a useful book for more experienced magicians that are looking for some new ideas (I found a few things in the book I really want to try). My only real complaint about the book, and it’s the book’s biggest flaw, is that like sex, although there are some things that you can do by yourself, for the really cool stuff you need a partner.


Film Review: The Crazy Rulers of the World

May 1, 2011

I’ve been trying to find this film for over a year now. Unfortunately there are no entries for it on Amazon, Ebay, or Google Shopping. I don’t think it’s ever aired in the US either. I finally managed to obtain a grainy copy which someone in the UK recorded on to their personal PAL dvr. It’s low quality but I can watch it on my computer and so I’ve finally gotten to see this documentary. I really hope this eventually gets released in the US, especially since a lot of British documentaries with a lot less interest get released out here.

The movie, The Men Who Stare At Goats, is a fictional story but it’s based on facts about the US military and intelligence agencies which were uncovered by Jon Ronson and John Sergeant. Ronson authored a book detailing his research, also titled The Men Who Stare At Goats, and he and Sergeant produced the documentary film The Crazy Rulers of the World based upon the same research. The book and documentary were later used as inspiration for the George Clooney/Ewan McGregor film, and in fact the real life counterparts of several characters and events are seen in the documentary.

The documentary aired in the BBC and was split into three episodes of about fifty minutes with each episode exploring a different theme. The documentary featured Ronson as the presenter and interviewer who sometimes interacts with his subjects in a semi-gonzo style which is common among modern documentary films. As the name suggests, the documentary is meant to be critical of the Bush administration which, at the time of its release, was continuing to allow these unorthodox techniques to be used in military use and intelligence gathering. However the attacks against the Bush administration are rather weak and thankfully few in number. It seems as if Ronson’s original intent was to attack the Bush administration with this documentary, however during the course of his research he became more convinced about the effectiveness of the techniques being employed, which restricted his ability to attack the Bush administration for continuing to use them.

Episode 1: The Men Who Stare At Goats

The first documentary explores where these New Age military programs originated and how they came to be so embraced by several different parts of the US military. However in the course of this research Ronson hears about a special forces soldier who is rumored to have once stopped the heart of a goat by staring at it, and the episode then becomes focused on finding out as much information as possible about this soldier and determining if this even really happened or if it is just a rumor.

The origins of the New Age military program trace back to a document known as the New Earth Battalion Field Manual which was written by Lt. Colonel Jim Channon who was portrayed by Jeff Bridges in the Men Who Stare at Goats. Unlike the movie though Channon never led a New Age based division of soldiers, although he was offered such an opportunity and turned it down. While serving in Vietnam Channon noticed that many of his soldiers in combat were intentionally firing high and missing the enemy. Channon believed that people who were attracted to US military service were typically noble and heroic individuals who lacked cunning, and that this was a major factor in the US’s defeat in Vietnam. Post-Vietnam Channon spent several years studying the California New Age movement in an effort to figure out a way to develop a better and more cunning soldier.

The documentary also explores how Channon’s New Age philosophies and theories came to be so well embraced by so many high ranking individuals within the US military. It has a lot to do with the psychological impact of the loss in Vietnam and I found the whole explanation to be fascinating. The entire New Earth Battalion Field Manual, once a classified military document, is now available to the general public. I’ve seen some reviewers claim that the book was a failure since the manual seems geared towards New Agers and Channon never took into account his target audience while writing it, and that typical military officers would not take the book seriously. This episode shows how completely ignorant about the military and full of crap those reviewers are as it shows how great of an influence Channon’s field manual had on the military and explores why so many officers were so quick to embrace it.

The best parts of the episode though are the interviews, the best being the two interviews that were done with New Earth Battalion soldier and martial artist Peter Brusso. At one point Brusso manages to psychically project fear into Ronson when he asks Ronson to strangle him. Brusso is a large man, a martial artist, and military soldier so its only natural that anyone would be intimidated and a bit afraid if asked to attack him. However Ronson is ridiculously scared, even after several reassurances from Brusso, and after having had attacks demonstrated on him by Brusso in a previous interview. After Ronson finally does strangle Brusso, Brusso just taps him on the upper chest sending energy through his body and causing him to tumble on to the floor. It’s a very cool video taped demonstration of energy manipulation by a man who has mastered it for combat situations.

Brusso is also the inventor of the predator. This is that weird weapon that Clooney uses on McGregor at one point in the movie. However despite what is implied by both the documentary and the movie, the predator is actually a series of similar weapons which work in a similar way all developed by Brusso (I learned all this from Brusso’s website where he sells these things, and I so want some of these now). The predator is actually used by deployed US soldiers, and it was developed to take advantage of both pressure points and the chakras in order to quickly debilitate and inflict the most amount of pain upon its victim. It’s also such an odd weapon that it isn’t covered by most existing weapon laws, so at least right now people are free to carry this thing wherever they want. Brusso is filmed giving some real life demonstrations of the weapon both on military soldiers and Ronson.

Episode 2: Funny Torture

I didn’t care much for this episode, and based on the subject matter I don’t really think it will be of much interest to practitioners. The episode deals with the military’s use of music for torture, interrogation, and to modify behavior. The episode was initially inspired by a news article that reported that Iraqi detainees were being forced to listen to Barney the Purple Dinosaur songs repeatedly as an interrogation method.

The episode traces the origins of the musical techniques being used by the US military, and once again this leads back to Jim Channon and research he did for his New Earth Battalion Field Manual. They then show how the technology was first employed against the Branch Dividians in Waco, and how it is now being used both in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay.

The episode also tries to draw a connection between the Abu Ghraib prison scandal and these unorthodox and experimental forms of interrogation. This is mostly speculation with the only evidence of a connection being that one of the soldiers convicted of the torture claimed to have been acting under orders from superior officers within the Fort Bragg psi-ops division, which is a New Earth Battalion influenced division of the military and also the division of the military which is responsible for these music experiments.

The episode of course uses these new forms of musical ‘torture’ as an attack against the Bush administration and US military for using them, but it’s really hard to get behind an attack like that. I can sympathize with the Iraqi detainees who were forced to listen to Matchbox 20 at normal volume over and over again, but at the same time I’ve worked in a retail store and I know exactly how horrible this sort of torture is. The whole point of these interrogation methods is that they’re trying to develop ways to get the information while not inflicting any physical pain or lasting emotional or physical trauma. At some point these coercive techniques have to cease to be inhumane, and once we’re employing a technique that will not physically hurt someone or result in any lasting emotional or physical effect, I wonder why is this something that is inhumane to use against an enemy captive? It seems to me like this is the perfect compromise where the military is able to get the intelligence information it needs in order to do its job, protect the nation, and keep soldiers as safe as possible, and meanwhile although the enemy may have been made discomfortable and mentally manipulated, no physical or lasting psychological harm was done to them.

The major failing of this episode though is that they never figure out what exactly the military is doing with these songs. It’s discovered that it can’t be sleep deprivation, at least not entirely, which was suspected in Waco. Although theories are offered up regarding subliminal messages and mind control, exactly what is currently being attempted in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay is never discovered.

The one really interesting part about this episode though is that it briefly looks at the development of the development of non-lethal weapons for military and law enforcement use, and once again this is traced back to those influenced by Channon’s field manual. Demonstrations are shown of several exotic non-lethal weapons, those demonstrations are just really cool.

Episode 3: Psychic Footsoldiers

The third episode deals mostly with the remote viewers which are currently being used by several US federal agencies, including the FBI and CIA. I was really hoping this episode would be as good as the first, but unfortunately it failed, and this was largely due to who Ronson chose to focus on.

Although Ronson interviews several remote viewers that have worked for the US government, he focuses on Prudence Calabrese and Ed Dames. Calabrese was mentored by Courtney Brown who in turn was mentored by Dames. All three of them are a bunch of twits largely concerned with remote viewing aliens and involved with Art Bell, and its really the focus on these three which ruins the episode.

Dames was actually trained by the US military in a now defunct program to create inhouse remote viewers. Following the closure of the program Dames left the military and then broke his military confidentiality about the activities of the New Earth Battalion in order to gain publicity around himself and sell courses he taught on remote viewing. This may be the reason he jumped onto the alien bandwagon, especially considering the fact that Art Bell was one of his early promoters. Dames is not well regarded by other members of his military program and the New Earth Battalion and is seen as something of a traitor for exposing secret military information in order to promote himself.

Although the US government doesn’t currently employ inhouse psychics, since 9-11 individual agents have been authorized to hire psychics and remote viewers in order to gain intelligence. Prudence Calabrese is one of these psychics employed by the FBI, and she honestly has no right receiving tax payer money for her services and the only reason the FBI probably chose her is because of her connection to Dames. The incorrect remote viewing predictions of Calabrese and her mentor Brown were partially responsible for the Heaven’s Gate mass suicide, and other psychics Ronson interviewed warned him against Calabrese or assuming that she was a representation of all of them.

And Ronson did interview some other remote viewers, including one which was very well-regarded by all of the other government employed viewers he spoke to, and who had implied that he once managed to accurately remote view what the trigger mechanism on a Chinese nuclear device looked like. If I could have seen a demonstration of that man remote viewing, this would be a much more glowing review.

Instead the only demonstration we get is from Calabrese. Calabrese is tasked to remote view the answer to a question Ronson secretly wrote down which regarded the suspected suicide of a CIA scientist due to being experimented on with LSD against his will. It does seem as if Calabrese accurately answers the question, however Ronson’s later investigations reveal that the LSD had no effect at all on the scientist in question, and he was instead murdered by CIA members because he was planning to go public about the illegal and lethal torture he had been involved with in Europe.

Watching Calabrese’s demonstration and keeping a close eye on what is happening, Calabrese doesn’t develop the information herself but is actually getting some information from Ronson. Since the complete demonstration from beginning to end isn’t shown, it’s unclear how much information Calabrese gained from Ronson. It also isn’t clear if Calabrese was using cold techniques that Ronson just happened to be overly susceptible and oblivious to, or if Ronson was intentionally trying to lead Calabrese in order to get a successful demonstration for his documentary. It does seem as if it might be the later though, since when Ronson is leading Calabrese she seems to be trying to stop him and disagree with him. This may be a tactic which is employed to make the reading seem like less of a cold read, but it’s also very likely that Calabrese was trying really hard to make sure that her video taped demonstration didn’t look like a cold read to potential clients.

Another section of the film deals with project MKUltra and specifically a CIA scientist who mysteriously committed suicide one day. During CIA investigations following the Watergate scandal it was determined that the scientist was secretly given LSD without his knowledge and the suicide was then believed to have been a result of this bad trip.

This fits really well with the documentary’s themes of mind control and unorthodox experiments that end up going too far. However after investigating what happened it’s revealed that the LSD had no effect on the scientist, and his death had nothing to do with LSD and mind control experiments conducted by the CIA in the 50s. Instead he was involved in illegal torture in Europe, and was murdered by other CIA operatives because he was most likely about to go public with this information. It’s an interesting story, and probably worthy of its own documentary, however once the LSD and mind control angles are removed it no longer really fits the theme of this documentary, and was probably only included because the research was already done and Ronson inadvertently tied this story into his material on Calabrese.

The rest of the film focuses a lot on Calabrese and her claims that she has been threatened and now fears for her life after talking with Ronson. Calabrese’s confession about her involvement in the Heaven’s Gate suicides is treated as some major revelation and secret when its not. Calabrese’s involvement is fairly well known and easily verified, and although other psychics didn’t outright inform Ronson of this, they did everything in their power to help him make the connection. One psychic mentioned a scandal he didn’t want to talk about concerning Calabrese, that it had something to do with the Hale Bopp comet, and that she had, for publicity, been photographed wearing a Star Trek uniform. Does it take a genius reporter to get that information from someone and think that maybe they should try to research any connection Calabrese may have to Heaven’s Gate? Even as I watched the interview I thought, this has to have something to do with Heaven’s Gate, and I’m far from being a genius reporter.

A couple good interviews aside, the episode fails to provide anything of real substance for a magical practitioner. Once again I really would have liked to have seen a remote viewing session with one of the better remote viewers rather than just seeing the Calabrese session. In fact I could’ve done without the whole Calabrese story. Concentrating so heavily on this one bad apple that wormed her way into the system somehow takes the focus away from what really interested me about this episode, the remote viewing being done for the US government.


Review: The Big Little Book of Magick by DJ Conway

March 14, 2011

I was sent a free copy of this book, unsolicited, from the publisher in the hopes that I would read and review it on my blog.

When I first got this book in the mail and started flipping through it my first thought was that the book seemed disorganized. The way the book was split into different sections, and then the way the information was organized in them, seemed strange and disordered. For instance the first section contains lots of associations. But then there are also associations in the second, third, and fourth sections, sometimes covering the same subject matter. I had a suspicion about what was going on with the organization, which I confirmed on the Internet (and that was a waste of time apparently since what I found out is clearly printed on the back cover of the book). This book actually combines four different books by the same author which were written in a similar way. I would’ve liked this book better if the information had been compiled into a single edition, but instead what we have are four different books put together in a low cost collection, so I’m going to review each of these books separately and then come to a conclusion about the value of this edition as a whole.

A Little Book of Altar Magick

This is the book they decided to lead with, which surprises me because in every way this is the weakest of the four books. It’s a subject that I don’t think very many people are interested in, and even if they were it’s not something that needs to have an entire book written about it. An altar is simply a space you dedicate to something. If you want an altar, get a flat surface and put something representing what it’s dedicated to on top of it, or alternatively hang a picture on a wall. That’s really everything you need to know about altars. I guess you could talk about activating them, but half the time they activate themselves, and instructions on how to manually activate an altar shouldn’t take more than a paragraph, unless you’re an adept of the original Golden Dawn in which case you can probably stretch that paragraph to five pages.

Conway doesn’t really change my opinion either. The first dozen pages of the book deal with constructing an altar, and its all mostly filler. At one point Conway discusses dust accumulating on your altar and the need to clean it (this needed to be written down in a book?). At another point she discusses the steps you need to take to create an altar. To her this should be approached like any major life decision and involves four steps: thinking out your reasons, planning your project, acknowledging your reasons, and building the altar. I’ll reiterate my case: Flat-surface. Representation. Done. This isn’t a major life decision. It takes all of a few minutes of your time to make an altar, and if you don’t like it you can just as easily tear it down or change it. In my eyes all of this is just filler material so that the author could write at least a few pages on building alters, something that I’ve managed to break down to three one word sentences.

The second section of this book, and the bulk of it (coming in at about 75 pages) are lists of correspondences. There’s nothing wrong with that. I actually like books that are made up of lists of correspondences. Sooner or later I’m going to have to figure this stuff out, and the more sources I have to reference the better. However how good this book is really comes down to the value of the correspondences.

First of all I’d like to commend this author for realizing that the Greek and Roman pantheons are separate pantheons with different gods and not treating them as one single pantheon. Eventually the Roman empire did incorporate into itself large amounts of Greek culture which led to some gods being combined together, but prior to that these pantheons were separate, and the Greek gods were added into the Roman pantheon over a long period of time and they were not initially associated with their Roman counterparts but thought of as separate gods.

Secondly though I have to criticize this author for her beliefs that Dionysus and Bacchus are different gods. Bacchus was not the Roman god of wine, that was Liber. Bakchos was a second name given to the Greek god Dionysus, which eventually became more common than his original name. When the Romans incorporated Dionysus into their pantheon they took the name Bakchos because it was more common at the time and transliterated that name into Bacchus, which is what he was called in Rome. Oddly Conway even acknowledges Liber, but seems to have the impression that this is the same god as Bacchus. It’s a mistake regarding Bacchus I’ve seen all over the community, but when an author does it I can only attribute it to a poorly researched book.

As for the associations, I have three problems with them. The first deals with the organization. For instance there is a section dealing with herbs, with trees, with oils, and with flowers. A lot of these things appear on more than one list. For instance lavender is an oil, a flower, and an herb, and as one would assume the associations are the same. Other associations just become difficult to find. For instance if you want to know the associations for cinnamon and dragon’s blood the only place to find them is under oils. Everything would be a lot easier to find if these four lists were condensed into a single list, there wouldn’t be so many duplicate entries, and Conway would have more room to expand on each entry.

My second problem with the entries are that they’re short. Many of the sections just have a few one word associations. A few sections, such as trees and flowers, give some history, but still the associations are only a few words long with very little explanation. These one word associations are also the same one word associations given on most websites and found in most books, which makes me wonder if the author even understands these associations or if she just copied them from a source. The other issue with these short entries is that they’re too general and don’t adequately explain anything. For instance Rose, Jasmine, Lavender, and Ginger all have the association love. It’s true that all four of these herbs are used in love spells, but they’re all used for different purposes in love spells. These aren’t interchangeable herbs, they all have different love associations that do different things in spells. You’ll never be able to figure that out based solely on the one word associations given though.

My third problem is one I have with a lot of Wiccan authors who do association lists. Conway does not give the associations that would likely be used in negative spellwork, or spellwork that breaks the Wiccan Rede. I have huge issues with trying to enforce spiritual morality through ignorance, and trying to force a person to be what is perceived as good by limiting their potential to be evil. I also think anything can be used for good or evil, and it doesn’t matter what a thing does, what matters is the situation and the intention of the user. It’s a huge ethical and moral debate, one that I’m not going to fully expand upon in the scope of a book review.

More importantly though it’s irresponsible not to print this information, especially since most of these things have other harmless associations too. For instance cinnamon is associated with energy amplification. It amplifies or raises energy in a spell. It actually amplifies emotions too, which isn’t usually mentioned but is implied by the fact it amplifies energy. Because of this cinnamon is often times used as an addition to every spell in order to make them more successful and powerful. Unfortunately though many authors don’t mention the fact that cinnamon is also used to incite lust. In fact it’s really good at inciting lust and desires of the flesh. A problem arises when you add cinnamon to a love spell to strengthen it. The cinnamon amplifies all of the emotions being manipulated by the spell, not just love but also lust and carnal desires. The end result is usually a recipient that is overly obsessive and far more horny and wanton than usual. Yes it’s immoral to use cinnamon in this way, but if a person doesn’t know this association a perfectly innocent and moral love spell can turn into a very messy situation.

The last short section of this book deals with the different uses of altars, some of which are almost spells in their own right. Some of the ideas expressed in this area are interesting, and it’s definitely the best part of the book. Unfortunately it’s short, and not enough to carry the rest of the book, which consists of a bit of filler and so-so associations.

The Little Book of Candle Magic

This is probably the book they should have led with. Out of the four books, subject-wise this is probably the one that most people are going to be interested in, and for good reason too. Candle magic is not only practical magic, but its very effective and useful, and not very difficult to do either. The only problem with candle magic is that there are already a lot of really good books on the market dealing with it, and so to stand out a book has to be something exceptional.

The book opens with quite a bit of the theory surrounding candle magic, along with explanations of the different types of candles and how they’re usually used. Keeping in mind that everything discussed here is fairly basic, there is a lot of good information in this section. My big gripe about this information is that a lot of it is buried in the text and not easily accessible, which again comes back to a problem of poor organization. The text also contains quite a bit of Rede morality, and time and again the author goes back to preaching about how we must never use magic for this or that, or she discusses ways to use magic without technically, at least in her view, breaking the Rede.

Not being Wiccan, the morality aspects of this book are like someone telling me I should or shouldn’t do things because the bible says so and if I don’t listen I’m going to burn in hell. I could sit here and argue the validity of the Rede, or I could talk about how Conway’s technical loopholes are actually breaking the Rede, but I won’t because arguing Wiccan dogma is really outside the scope of a book review. To a non-Wiccan though it is at its best filler material, and at its worse a minor annoyance.

The book also again and again comes back to fire safety. To me, at least as I’m reading it, it seems like filler material that was thrown in to pad out the book a little. Unfortunately though I know first hand that Pagans, and really the entire magical community, has a very poor track record with fire safety and it’s probably necessary for a book on candle magic to state these common sense tips for not burning down your house, and Conway probably saved a few homes and apartment buildings by doing so.

The book then has some associations. Unlike the previous book though, many of these are done backwards. For instance under incense, a single word association is listed and then all of the incenses associated with that word are listed. I don’t like this for a few different reasons. First off many things have multiple associations, which means you have to read every association to make sure that what you’re using isn’t going to counter what you’re trying to do. It also uses one word associations, which are too general to fully and specifically explain what something does and what it is used for. Conway also refrains from listing any negative associations that would be against the Rede, for instance there are no associations for death, harm, or manipulation. Oddly enough though there is an association for binding, but I’m not going to start that argument here.

The book also contains a section about planetary days and hours which is poorly done. There isn’t any new information on the days and hours, and the author doesn’t explain the concept and theory behind it very well either. Normally I’d say this was a so-so explanation, but Conway makes a huge omission, she never explains how to determine the hours of the day. It’s a simple procedure that would’ve taken all of a paragraph to explain, but Conway never does. Not knowing anything about the days and hours, by her explanation I would assume that I’m just supposed to use a clock to determine what hour it is.

The final part of the book is the best part, and those are the actual spells. First off, there are a lot of spells, which is good. The spells are also sound and they should work, at least when done by a magician who is experienced enough to make spells work. I really only have two minor issues with this section.

My first issue is that I wish more time would have been spent explaining each spell and not just how it works, but why. The magic involved is fairly simple, and it’s very easy for me to figure these spells out, but as a beginner’s book I think it would have benefited a lot by having more theory about how and why these spells work.

My second issue is that Conway uses a lot of candles in her spell work. There are only a few spells that need only two candles, most need at least three, and some require as many as fifteen candles. That is a lot of candles. I really wish Conway would have taken the time to rework these spells so they use less candles, or at least so they could be done with cheap tealights. It’s not that huge of an issue, since the spells are still solid, but having to use that many candles for every spell can get expensive, and it also creates an additional fire hazard.

All in all I’m rating this as an okay candle magic book, and that’s due largely to some good beginner information and a large selection of spells at the end. Unfortunately it has some very serious flaws, and doesn’t fare well when compared to other, better, candle magic books on the market.

The Little Book of Pendulum Magick

I was cautiously excited about this book. I was excited because there are very few books available on pendulum magick, so there was a good chance this book would contain some useful and new information. On the other hand, despite what the book claims, pendulum magic is not a popular and growing form of magic. Personally I rarely use a pendulum. For the longest time I didn’t have one, and after my first pendulum broke I was in no rush to replace it, and only did so after a friend made one especially for me. I think most magicians feel the same way. It’s a neat toy for a few weeks, but most of us quickly become bored and never play with it again.

The book opens with a history lesson on pendulum magic, which normally I would like since I don’t really know much about pendulum magic history, but unfortunately the author’s Wicca shows through out. The early sections are as much about the history of pendulum magic as it is about the Catholic church persecuting and burning witches, witches who used pendulums. The more modern history isn’t much better. Part of it deals with different scientific studies and uses of the pendulum through out the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries. I have an open mind and I was really interested in the scientific work Conway talked about, but unfortunately Conway is a bit too biased and open minded to accurately present the information. In Conway’s retelling there were some great scientists who did some great work with pendulums, but they were ridiculed and dismissed by their peers. Common sense tells me this is a biased view of what happened and not nearly the full story. I can probably figure out the full story of these experiments and why they were dismissed on Wikipedia, but I would like to have that information in the book I’m reading and not have to do research on the Internet to figure things out.

Pretty soon though Conway expresses her theory of pendulum magic, that it taps into your subconscious in order to get information. At this point I sort of lost interest. It became clear to me that this wasn’t going to be a book that dealt with things like pendulum mediumship or energy sensing. I figured the book wouldn’t work with divination either, at least true divination, but Conway does deal with divination under the theory that it’s possible because of a collective subconscious.

Surprisingly the book also deals with dowsing, but unfortunately this information is muddied by Conway’s belief that the pendulum taps into ones subconscious. Dowsing is actually based on the belief that energy can be physically measured with rods or a pendulum when conducted through the human body, and that certain things like bodies of water create abnormal energy conditions which can be sensed with these tools. Conway though believes that this is all a product of divination via tapping into the collective subconscious, and as such she sees no difference between actual dowsing, which is energy sensing, and dowsing on a map with a pendulum, which is divination. At one point she even talks about dowsing for energy and even how to find a nexus point with a pendulum, but she never manages to make the connection between dowsing and energy. Conway also points out that dowsing with rods is easier in many situations than with a pendulum, however she never really talks about how to use rods and instead talks about the extra effort you have to go through to make the pendulum work in the same situation. That is one of the major flaws I see in the style of all four of the books, that she focuses on techniques which are far more complicated and difficult than they need to be in order to stay on-topic.

The book also deals with divination, and a lot of other subjects which are connected to the pendulum. The problem though is that all of these other subjects are really just divination. For instance healing with a pendulum comes down to passing the pendulum over a person’s body and looking for a yes or no answer in order to diagnose the area where the person is having problems, and that’s really the most complicated of the techniques. Reading auras is similar. Instead of using the pendulum to react to the energy, Conway suggests asking questions about the aura. Finding out about your past lives involves asking questions about your past lives, when they were, and when you were born. All of this just seems like filler to me, because it is all divination. I can sum up all of these sections with the instructions: ask the pendulum what you want to know, and get an answer. The last section is the weirdest by far. At this point Conway has us asking what kind of planetary energy we need the most right now and what kind of totem animals we should concentrate on to aid us in our goals.

On the plus side, the book does have some solid exercises for learning how to use a pendulum. That’s really the best part of the book, but unfortunately it makes up less than half the book. I actually would recommend this book to someone looking to learn the pendulum just based on the exercises, and in fairness even though most of the sections are about divination, sometimes Conway does have an interesting idea.

The Little Book of Healing Magic

This is the book that I was thinking might be the book that makes this whole collection worthwhile. There are not many introductory books on healing magic on the market, and of what is available, very few approach the subject from the perspective of a ritual magician. Unfortunately though I found this book lacking.

To start, a lot of the information is just plain confusing, and this is because Conway confuses things by not adhering to established theories and vocabulary. For instance she talks about her theory of aura layers, which is fine. However she labels these auras things like the astral body, the mental body, and the emotional body. At least in terms of the astral body she seems to be talking about a person’s actual astral body (although I’d say her knowledge of astral theory is limited). Unfortunately though when she talks about a mental body or emotional body she is not talking about what most authors mean when they talk about a mental body or emotional body. She is talking about a person’s mental state and emotional state and not the actual bodies which exist seperately and independently of the physical body and usually do not occupy the same space as it. This is a problem that could have easily been fixed by Conway using new terms in presenting her personal theory on aura layers. It’s possible Conway is actually confused and doesn’t understand what the terms mental body and emotional body mean, but that doesn’t speak well for her book either.

As for the actual information, and I’m intentionally keeping the rest of this review short, there are some interesting parts and some interesting ideas. There are sections on using tuning forks, energy healing, mantras and affirmations, poppets, and talismans. Certain popular Eastern practices though, like acupuncture and reflexology, are never talked about, and this is probably because they are too complex to get into. Conway also, unfortunately, comes back to beliefs about magic being about working with a person’s subconscious and affecting it through the collective subconscious, and she even goes so far as to redefine what sympathetic magic to include the fact that it works through the collective subconscious.

My main issue with this book though is you’re not going to be able to learn a complex system of magical healing through a short book like this, regardless of how phenomenal the author may be. In order to become good at systems like reiki and reflexology, not to mention near impossible stuff like psychic surgery, a person not only needs to study a lot of material, but they also have to have a lot of hands on experience. Like medicine, healing magic is a very complicated subject, and like medicine you have to have practical experience doing it for a while before you’re able to do it well. Masters of healing magic spend years, sometimes decades, training themselves to be able to heal others with the power of their hands. Even a good reiki massage therapist is going to have several years of training in massage therapy and reiki before they ever do their first real massage. Becoming a magical healer is not something you’re going to learn how to do from a short book like this, especially one that covers so many different subjects.

As an introduction to healing magic or concepts of healing magic this book also fails. As I mentioned the book is incomplete and doesn’t cover a lot of popular forms of magical healing. It also doesn’t explain what it does cover very well and is often times confusing and incorrect.

Conclusions

On their own I don’t think any of these books are all that great. As a collection there might be just enough material to make this book worthwhile to some people. There are a few good ideas here and there, and the main selling points of this book, in my eyes, are the pendulum exercises and the collection of candle magic spells, but even the candle magic spells seem like they could be a lot better. Unfortunately I cannot recommend this book. After having read it, there’s no way I would spend money on this book. There are too many flaws through out the book and the few good parts aren’t all that great. It also constantly preaches Wiccan morality and the author is pretty much married to the belief that a lot of magic comes down to affecting the subconscious, which unfortunately makes her ability to understand and explain magical theory limited. It’s probably the only book I know of with good basic exercises for learning how to use the pendulum, but I don’t think very many people will be interested in that, and due to the flawed theories surrounding pendulum magic, and the fact that it never deals with mediumship, one of the most common uses of pendulums, it’s hard for me to recommend it even for that purpose.


REVIEW: The Faeries’ Guide to Green Magick from the Garden

October 18, 2010

I recieved a free copy of this book, unsolicited, for review purposes. This is the first time I’ve been given a free thing to review on my blog! I’m doing a fairly detailed review, if you just want to see what I thought of the book then scroll down to the section marked conclusions and read that.

Going into the book I know quite a bit about Fae, next to nothing about gardening, and a little bit about magical herbalism and herbal remedies.

As far as herbalism goes, I consider the best modern books on the subject to be Cunningham’s two works (Magical Herbalism and the Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs). However even Cunningham’s two books tend to be far from complete and at times are even incorrect. I’ve yet to find any herbalism book on the market that I would consider a complete source, or one I would consider an infallible source.

Because of this, herbal research tends to be a process of cross-referencing as many works as possible, considering the validity of each source, and finally applying practical research to the gathered information to come to some conclusions about the magical properties of an herb. So I was a little excited to have a new book to use as a reference in my own herbal research.

By the book’s title I was a little worried that it might focus either on Faerie Wicca (which I know little about) or the Fae Otherkin Movement (which I know too much about). Luckily the book doesn’t seem to be directly connected to either of these movements, although it is very faerie centric.

The book is pretty much split into two parts. The first part is a short thirty three pages covering various aspects of magick, faeries, environmentalism, gardening, and herbal remedies. The second section, the bulk of the book, is a description of thirty three different herbs.

The First Section

The majority of this section deals with various ideas about fae. I was a little worried that this, like most fae-centric books, would portray fae as something far beyond their station; as great, powerful and beneficial spirits worthy of exaltation and worship. Although the book is pro-fae (which I have nothing against, I think they are mostly wonderful, amusing, and at times helpful spirits) and casts fae in the best possible light, it never tries to elevate them beyond what they really are, and at times it honestly deals with the negative side of working with fae and fae energy (like having your keys stolen). My one main gripe with the portrayal of fae is that the book seems to confuse them with the individual spirits of plants. But fae isn’t just the name used for the spirits of plants by this particular author, at times what is described is clearly a fae spirit. Fae tend to be drawn towards beautiful areas of nature, like forests and gardens (and some specific types are drawn to less beautiful places like swamps), and they tend to like and even protect these places, but I don’t subscribe to the belief that they are plant spirits.

One of my major gripes of this section is its views on enviormentalism. This is a common gripe I have about authors who infuse their spiritual books with their political beliefs. I’m not really interested in politics, and as I’ve said before my personal political beliefs tend to be in opposition to most pagans on most subjects. I didn’t find any of the environmentalism to be enlightening or insightful, it was just something I had to put up with. I suppose if I was into that I might have found it more enjoyable, but it still would have just been preaching to the choir.

The worst part is when this environmentalism starts to tread upon the spiritual beliefs being expounded on in the book. For instance the author repeats a common yet naive spiritual belief that in ancient times people were more closer and friendly towards nature, and as such were more spiritual. This goes against the historical record and it’s continued accounts of man trying to control, civilize, and adapt nature to his needs through out history and across nearly every culture. It also dismisses out of hand many theories concerning urban spirituality, and that urban life, although different, is as spiritual and natural as anything inside so-called “nature”. Later it talks about how fae dislike urban life and what we’ve done with the planet. Yes fae like natural places like forests and tend to protect them, but they also like certain urban environments too. They love theme parks and are frequently found in them for instance, and they even tend to be particularly drawn towards certain malls.

Knowing nothing about gardening, I actually found a lot of the gardening information to be interesting. There is a rather long explanation on how to make compost I found particularly enlightening. But most of it I found too short to be truly useful, rather it just opened my eyes to the fact it existed if I wanted to do further research. For instance there’s a paragraph explaining companion planting, but the book only gives one example of this (garlic and roses). I suppose if I wanted to plant roses this would be useful information, but otherwise I’m not going to be able to use companion planting in my garden unless I research it more with other books.

Probably one of the most interesting sections though is the chapter which goes over the various systems that use herbs medicinally. Not only do I think that the information is a good introduction to the different systems, but this section cites the different books and authors which these systems are based on making it very easy for someone to do additional research on these subjects.

The first section actually has some really good and interesting parts concerning practical magic. There are some cool ideas and some cool new things to try hidden in the text. My only real gripe is that there is some boring and useless stuff (like the enviornmentalist issues) that you have to trudge through to get there. I’d rather these parts were replaced with more useful information, or even cut out completely so I can get right to what I really want.

The Second Section

Here’s the best part of the book, and what I think most people are buying the book for. I think the author and publisher agree because it makes up about four fifths of the book. It contains entries for thirty three different plants. The entries are limited to things you’d realistically grow in your garden (so commonly used herbs like dragon’s blood are missing) and, as far as my understanding of various herbs go, the section seems to have omitted any potentially toxic or dangerous herbs. Even Nutmeg, a common cooking spice which is actually toxic in small quantities, is missing.

The section consists of a short description of the plant starting with a general description and then going off into other topics which usually goes on for about a page and a half. Then we usually get one or two recipes that use that plant. Most of these are cooking recipes, but there are also recipes for things like floor cleaner, deodarent, and skin lotion.

Each entry starts out with the most common name of the plant, followed by its latin name, followed by other names, and finally which parts of the plant are used. The best part is that the book lists the Latin name. This is so important in these types of books because often times plants go by so many different names that it can be impossible to cross-reference one work with another or find the plant in stores unless you know the latin name. Also sometimes more than one plant shares the same name, and the only way to get the exact plant described is to check its latin name.

Next comes a general description of the plant, and sometimes (but not always) there is some gardening information included, like what tempetures and climates the plant grows best in. What you get from there is really a potluck. It almost seems like the author is just throwing in random information about the plant in a stream of concious way. This can be folklore about the plant, mythological information, magical uses, or medicinal information. Sometimes there is information on how to make teas or baths from the herbs, and there are actually a few rituals hidden in the text (which are really cool). In fact in the Dandelion section there is a page long meditation ritual described. Sometimes the sections just go completely off on a tangent, such as the section with Basil in which several paragraphs are spent describing the goddess Bridget.

There really is no consistancy of what you will or will not get with any particular plant. Sometimes it might mention the Greek mythology of the plant. This isn’t always the case though, even in instances where I know the plant was mentioned in Greek mythology. In the entry on Fennel, some time is spent talking about its Kabbalistic association. But no other plant has a Kabbalistic association mentioned, and in fact Kabbalism isn’t mentioned in any other part of the book. With Damania for instance (a shrub native to Central and South America) there is a short descriptive paragraph and then a short paragraph talking about its traditional use as an aphrodesiac, and then the rest of the entry discusses the Norse goddess Freya.

You never really know what you’re going to get out of any of these entries. It makes reading the entries fun, like searching for hidden treasure, but it also makes them all seem incomplete, like there was so much more the author could’ve gone into but didn’t. With each entry I felt like there was at least a page or page and a half of more of information that could’ve been included. How come only certain entries list the magical uses of the plant, or the mythology, or the historical uses?

The recipes are actually one of the coolest parts of this book. It’s another thing that gives the book value after you’ve finished reading it. There are dozens of different recipes to try. Most entries have either one or two recipes following it, but a few don’t have any recipes, and if you read the entry sometimes you can find a recipe in there. I can sum this entire book up in a sentence, “What it has in variety it lacks in consistancy.”

My biggest problem with the book though is that there are no citations and no bibliography. A lot of the information comes from folklore, mythology, and herbal medicine. I know this sort of information was not independently developed by the author, they had to of gotten it from a source and put it in the book. This sort of information is the stuff that is most valuable to me. But in order to know how valid that information might be, I need to know where it came from. Also if I knew where it came from, I could easily do more research on my own by reading the original text and intepreting it for myself. Ideally in a book like this every bit of unoriginal information would have a notation that would point me to its source. I really can’t stress how important citations are in a work like this, or how they make the work infinitely more valuable.

There are also the pretty pictures accomponying the entries by Lisa Steinke. Normally I would ignore this part of the book, but these pictures seem to be an important selling point in the press release.

These pictures have no practical value (like drawings of the plants would, for instance). They’re pictures of faeries. Not real faeries though. Essentially they’re drawings of pretty women in gowns with wings, each one supposedly related to the plant. I found these pictures to be typical of the faerie genre of drawings in popular culture (not something I’m at all into), and as paintings to be rather timid and boring. Even the women depicted, although pretty, were boring.

Conclusions

I’m actually surprised by how much I liked the book. My initial thought was that I would consider it to either be a good reference book on herbalism to use as a supplement with better books, or it would be completely useless. I thought it might be a useful gardening guide, but I found it rather lacking in that regard.

As an herbal reference book, it’s an okay supplemental reference. It has enough little details that I’ll probably look through it in the future when I’m researching different herbs. However it’s so varied and eclectic and at times limited that I’d hardly say it was a must buy. In fact I’d have trouble recommending the book solely on its merits as an herbal reference.

Where the book really shines though is with its practical information. There are cooking recipes, tea recipes, how to use plants medicinally, how to make wine, how to make floor cleaner and how to make skin lotion. There are also quite a few magical rituals you can practice hidden through out this book which I really didn’t expect to see and which is so totally awesome.  These are the things you can come back to and use again and again after you’ve already read the book. And this is really where you get back your investment in a book, both the money you spent to buy it and the time you spent to read it.

Overall I wouldn’t rate it as a title you have to own, but still the book would make a positive addition to anyone’s magical library. There’s more than enough good stuff in the book to warrent spending the money on it. More importantly though there’s a lot of fun stuff in this book. There’s a recipe for making lavender chocolate truffles. How is that not totally awesome?