Music Review: Wide Awake

Wide Awake
Canon
2006 Mercy Records
4.5 out of 5

Let me begin by pointing out that music and literature are twin arts, and thus I feel that it makes perfect sense to review music here.

Let me follow up by saying that this has already, after only three listens, become one of my favorite albums. I think that the easiest way of getting across the sound and style is by comparison, although I cannot make just one here or I’ll be leaving out a lot of interesting features. Imagine a marriage of …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, Jamiroquai, and early Kansas. For lyrical style, combine Trail of Dead with Kansas. If you’re familiar with any two of the aforementioned bands, that ought to give you a pretty good idea.

If it weren’t enough that the music is brilliantly composed and beautifully executed, the lyrics are both simple and meaningful. Included are several anti-authoritarian songs, some celebrations of life, at least one critique of modern society, and a song about sacred geometry. That ought to get your mouth a-waterin’, and if it doesn’t I’m not really positive why you’d be reading one of my blogs in the first place.

Anyway, check it out. I haven’t been as pleasantly surprised by an album in months.

Published in: on September 13, 2007 at 4:52 pm  Comments (2)  

The Greek Qabalah

The Greek Qabalah
Kieren Barry
1999, Weiser Books
4.5 out of 5

The history of Kabbalah has been shrouded in a great deal of mystery for centuries, really since it emerged into the mainstream of Jewish thought in 13th century Europe. Numerous erroneous assumptions have been spread around in New Age and occult literature, such as the idea that the Hebrews introduced using letters as numbers, or that they originated gematria and other numerological techniques and the doctrine of emanations into Western thought. The facts, of course, are far different.

Barry convincingly proposes instead that the process was the reverse. Greek philosophy, especially the systems of Pythagoras, Plato (and his student Aristotle), Empedocles (the Elements), Ptolemy (astrology), the Gnostics (pre- and post-Christian), and Hermetics (Hellenized Egypt and the Near East), were the sources of these and other ideas no identified with Kabbalah in Judaic, Christian and Hermetic circles.

Barry’s work is scholarly and in-depth, with ample in-text citations and extremely useful bibliographies. What perhaps improves Barry’s work in this regard is that he does not visibly support any one religion or philosophy. Instead, he presents an objective and factual analysis of the history of these ideas and is not afraid to point out the flaws in certain works.

A final point of importance is that Barry’s writing style is clear and flowing. Many serious scholars have difficulty in this area, presenting history and philosophy in dry terms that make them tortuous to read.

All in all, Kieren Barry has provided historians and occultists alike with a valuable historical perspective on some of the most important ideas in Western history and in modern spirituality.

Published in: on September 12, 2007 at 11:51 pm  Leave a Comment  

Magical Ritual Methods

Magical Ritual Methods
William G. Gray
1980, Weiser Books
4 out of 5

William G. Gray, as I’ve said many times before, is one of the unsung heroes of modern occult literature. Magical Ritual Methods is his magnum opus to be sure. Where one of his later books, Inner Traditions of Magic, presents a “high school education” in the construction and use of magical rituals, MRM provides a veritable college-level course.

Gray shines in his exposition; he makes very clear the essentials of ritual design in a manner which makes the presented exercises immediately useful. The exercises themselves are brilliant. They are useful on their own, but build one off of the other to form a synthetic method of ritual design. The universality of the book lies in the fact that Gray does not present a system, his own or anybody elses, except by way of an example to be easily followed. He makes use of Kabbalah and Hermetics as concrete displays of powerful and practical ritual construction, but always insists that the topic at hand is one of global application for both groups and individuals.

While I do not agree with every detail presented, I can find only two flaws in Magical Ritual Methods. First of all, I must take issue with his frequent condescending attitude toward shamanic, aboriginal, and folkish systems. While his ritual design techniques are plainly workable within any such system, he makes comparisons between the “primitives” and the “moderns” and almost universally sides with the latter in everything from theology to ethics to simple matters of cultural presentation. If the reader can ignore this fact, the book will provide food for thought for years, even decades to come.

The second flaw is perhaps less obvious and really less vital. Gray does not cite his sources. While he only directly references a handful of books, he never lets the reader in on which books those are! It is clear that nearly all of the material in the book is from personal experience, but a bibliography of books which he himself took as inspiration and education may have made MRM more complete.

Despite those two flaws, William G. Gray remains one of the greatest occult authors of the modern age with Magical Ritual Methods standing apart as his most important book. No magician of any system can be said to have a rounded occult education without it.

Published in: on September 12, 2007 at 11:32 pm  Comments (1)  

Real Magic

Real Magic
Isaac Bonewits
Weiser Books, 1989
1 out of 5

I had first read this book a few years ago and really didn’t like it then. After it was recommended to me recently by a fellow author, I decided to give it another try. After all, it had been so long that I didn’t really remember anything about it, so there was no reason to hold anything against it until I tried again. Well, now I know what I can hold against it.

Bonewits combines the worst of Aleister Crowley’s arrogance with the worst of Pat Robertson’s judgmentalism in one compact green-covered paper package. Just like Crowley, Bonewits insists that there’s only one correct approach, and he’s got it. Like Robertson, he makes himself out to be a spokesman for an entire and diverse religious group making the frequent insistence that he has so much experience that his opinion is the same as a fact. This, shockingly, isn’t  even the most opinionated of his books; it’s just the most well-known.

To make matters worse, there’s little-to-no useful information in the book. The closest to useful is the section on the “laws of magic” (which Bonewits claims to be the first to have codified). These laws, however, are mostly rehashings of the same few ideas which have been previously put together by anthropologists and occultists and given several new names apiece.

Mostly, the book is full of untestable theories and dogmatically asserted opinions coated in a thick layer of witless sarcasm. Read at your own risk.

Published in: on September 7, 2007 at 8:50 pm  Leave a Comment  

God is No Laughing Matter

God is No Laughing Matter
Julia Cameron
2000, Tarcher/Putnam
3.5 out of 5

I picked this book up for $5 (a bargain bin discount from its normal $20 price tag) at a local Books-A-Million. I liked the cover art and the title, and that’s basically all I needed to get me curious. For $5, how can you say no?

We’ve been trained to think by Amazon.com, magazines, and so on that anything below a 4 is abysmal; a 4 is “ok” and a 5 is “reasonably good”. Not me, friends. If I say “5”, it’s a must-have (for the topic, of course); a “4” is really very good, while a “3” is worth reading.

This book earned it’s 3.5 with wit and humor on a topic too often taken deadly serious. Julia Cameron provides some lovely insight into numerous different topics of spiritual interest. Her experience is mostly colored by her Catholic upbringing and her New Age sensibilities, so be warned going in. Those factors do not discolor the experience, but instead make it more vibrant and lively. She does not hide her perspective, but puts it front-and-center for context. Everything from too-stern spiritual teachers to learning to relax in God, this book covers a lot of ground.

There are three issues I have with this book. Only two of major, but the minor one is a bit of a pet peeve.

First, while I liked the fact that she put her own spiritual background on the line, it at times becomes a problem because she assumes that everybody shares her Catholic “God-as-Big-Cuddly-Parent” theology. While I feel that the Divine can manifest in this way, to paint everybody else’s spiritual experiences in this way is to miss a lot of depth.

Second, the exercises she provides are… pretty much the same every time, and not terribly deep or revealing. “Answer five questions” or “fill in some columns on a chart” and *BOOM!*, your relationship with God is fully defined and your work here is done.

The pet peeve is, as and have pointed out, endemic to occult, Pagan, and spiritual literature: they don’t cite their freaking sources! Cameron makes references to numerous books, poems, films, and so forth but never actually tells you which book she’s referring to!

In general, this book was a worthy purchase and a good, quick read. As the 3.5 attests, I enjoyed it thoroughly, but look for it used or in the bargain bin.

Published in: on September 3, 2007 at 8:45 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Isaiah Effect

The Isaiah Effect
Gregg Braden
2000, Random House
4 out of 5

I didn’t know what to expect out of this book, but I ended up being very pleased with it within the first chapter. Braden writes with sincerity and from experience. His discussion is straight-forward, but often poetic in feel.

Writing style aside, the book itself is primarily about prayer and prophecy. The prophecies are the standard fare: 2012, Earth changes, consciousness changes, and so forth. Everything from Nostradamus to the Bible, Braden pretty well covers all the biggies. He treats them, however, as more of a thought experiment than inevitable doom. Braden is emphatic about the fact that the job of a prophet is not to tell people what will happen, but to tell them what could happen; they are to serve as human warning bells so that we can change our course before it’s too late.

The prayer section is both the practice and the shining gem of the book. Braden presents an approach to prayer rather than a system or specific technique. That approach is intended to be workable for anybody, of any religious system or mystical tradition. The only caveat is that the reader must be willing to accept the view that we are ourselves divine (or at least directly connected with the Divine) and are capable of choosing our own reality in a conscious fashion. In other words, Braden asserts that not only are we capable, through prayer, of unleashing our divine Right to Choice, but that choosing our physical reality is a spiritual act.

The greatest flaw of the book is Braden’s misinterpretation of quantum mechanics. While I doubt that it’s on purpose, it’s definitely done in such a way as to try to provide a scientific foundation for prophecy and prayer (as if they need one). I took off a full point for this because, frankly, I’m sick of seeing it in New Age and occult literature.

Beyond that one problem, I loved the book and would recommend it to anybody interested in the relevant subjects. Peppered with entertaining anecdotes and enlightening insight, Gregg Braden’s The Isaiah Effect is a great spiritual read for a quiet weekend.

Published in: on September 3, 2007 at 8:40 pm  Leave a Comment  

Welcome!

Welcome one and all to Sheshat’s personal library, where the Egyptian goddess of books and the written word stores the best of the best. Here I’ll provide reviews of books on all manner of topics, though primarily nonfiction occult and spiritual in nature. Please feel free to comment, leave suggestions, or whatever else. I hope that you enjoy!

Published in: on September 2, 2007 at 10:27 pm  Leave a Comment