Monthly Archives: October 2012

Free Fiction Wednesday! Hallowe’en Edition

So I decided to prep for NaNoWriMo by seeing if I could write at least 1,667 words today, and it’s been a success! Hooray! I’ve always wanted to write dark fantasy, and I’ve had this idea in my head for a long time. This isn’t even the complete story, just part of it. If I get some good feedback, maybe I’ll write more of it. There aren’t really any warnings for this part, but if this becomes a serial thing it’s definitely going to take a more….sexual…turn (but NOT before the main character becomes an adult, because that’s just wrong, and possibly illegal, but mostly because it’s WRONG). Originally, I was going to write the whole thing (threesomes and kink included) but then I just decided to write up to 2000 words and see where I was at in the story, and ZOMG cliffhanger!

And before you ask, you might recognize a couple of references to a certain ballad, which was intentional, but the *ahem* creatures in this story are actually a different kind of fantastical race.

Also, no, this isn’t my NaNoWriMo thing, this is just something special I did because it’s Hallowe’en.

As usual, the writing is raw, I am literally cutting and pasting it directly from my unedited Word document.

And so, without further ado, part of a story (also make note of my EXTREMELY SUBTLE SYMBOLISM, IT’S EXTREMELY SUBTLE) Oh, and I have to apologize in advance for the lack of costume porn, I just can’t write descriptions of clothing very well, just picture something utterly ostentatious and you have the clothing down….

The Tithe-Boy

 

They come every year. Some travel in gilded carriages, others on horseback, but almost never on foot. The town has already been informed of their arrival. When the time comes, everyone gathers in the town square in two columns. The mothers clutching their young, and the fathers, some are stoic, others have faces reddened by tears or drink, all are powerless to stop what is about to occur.

They come and take the children, herd them into their carriages or place them astride their horses, and then they head back to their walled city upon the hill, and the children are never seen again.

Generation upon generation has asked Why. Why do they take the children away? Why does no one raise voice or fist against them? I asked it of my grandmother one night, as she sat tending the fire, and she told me the story that every child in the town hears at least once in their lives, that once there was a war between the glittering gods and goddesses and our kind. It has been a war that was bigger than our small town, fought by kings and queens on the field and rogues in the streets.  My grandmother couldn’t remember the cause of the war, only the outcome.

We had lost the war, and so now we paid the price.

“And so we pay, year after year, a tithe of flesh and blood,” said my grandmother. “Never the adults, only the children. The March tried to stop people from havin’ children the one year;, the fool!” And here she spat. “Can’t stop folks from breedin’, ‘an they know it, the bastards. They know it and they come, year after year. Sometimes they only take one, thank the Lady.” Her expression softened somewhat, and she smiled indulgently at me. “Oh, but don’t you worry, pumpkin, any of ‘em tries to lay a hand on you, and I’ll stab ‘em with my needle here. Got the March himself good one time, I did! He’s lucky I didn’t take out his eye, the bastard!”

“Mother!” My mother appeared, bowl and wooden spoon in hand. “Don’t say such things in front of Tom, he needs to learn to speak properly!”

“Bah! You weren’t speakin’ properly when you popped ‘im out! He’s heard it all already!” Grandmother snapped, patting my head. “There now, Tom, you’ve had your day’s fill of sad stories,” she set her needles aside and hugged me so tightly I was certain my bones would break. At the time, I thought nothing of the way she held me to her breast as if she might never see me again, I know better now. “Now run along and help your mother,” she ordered, finally releasing me, and I thought nothing more of stories of war or that curious glint in Grandmother’s eye.

**

My mother wanted me to gather parsley from the garden. She and Grandmother had taught me about all the plants that grew there and their uses: mint to soothe a sore throat, lemon verbena to banish colds, chamomile to summon sleep, lavender to calm the restless. The parsley grew in a corner of the garden. I had a small knife, one my father had given me for a birthday I could hardly remember, and this I used to cut the thin stalks. I took only a few plants; Mother abhorred waste and Grandmother insisted it would anger the Lady if we were too greedy. I did not understand how a few plants in a small plot of land could anger anyone, much less the Lady, but I dared not cross Grandmother, even the March feared her, and the March was the most powerful man in the town.

A cold gust of wind ruffled my hair as I headed back inside. The clouds were black and foreboding, a storm was brewing, I could feel it in my bones.

They came the next day.

I did not see them arrive with their carriages and horses, but I didn’t need to, you could tell it was tithe-day by the furtive glances everyone was exchanging, by the way parents shepherded their children, dressed in their best clothes, as if they were heading to a funeral.

“Come, child,” said Grandmother. “You’re old enough to be a tithe-boy now, and you don’t want ‘em to come huntin’ for you.”

I shuddered. I knew parents who had tried to hide their children, but no one could hide from them, especially not from their sleek hunting dogs, black as a night with neither stars nor moon.

And so I went to the town square and stood with Mother and Grandmother, holding tightly to their hands with the feeble grip of a child, and it was then that I caught my first glimpse of the monsters that inhabited Grandmother’s stories, the ones who extracted their terrible price year after year.

Their carriages were some of the finest I have ever seen. One was of gold and ivory, another decorated in every shade of blue. A third was crimson and gold, a fourth was green and decorated with vines and flowers, a fifth was such a brilliant shade of purple that I decided it belonged to someone important, for surely only a king or queen would use such a regal color. Others were in alternating shades of black and white, one was the grey of storm clouds, and the horses! Never had I seen such fine beasts: black, white, chestnut, some with bells and others without any adornment at all.

But, for all the beauty of the horses, none could hold a candle to the riders who sat astride them.

I was certain they were illusory, or ghosts, but as I watched them dismount and emerge from their carriages, I was certain they were gods and goddesses who deigned to walk among the mortals of this town. They were pleasing to the eye in a way that I could not articulate then and I find difficult to now, a certain symmetry in their faces that appeared in every visage I glimpsed, regardless of their coloring. I saw hair so yellow it bore more resemblance to lemons than cornsilk, and red the color of freshly spilled blood, one lady who was clearly of the nobility (judging from all the pearls she wore) had locks the color of the summer sky! Their eyes were no less diverse in shade, from pale ice blue to the softest shade of pink, honey-gold and crimson, black as darkest night. They were clad in a diverse range of fabrics: taffeta, silk, satin, velvet, one wore a thick cloak of black silver and gold dangled from ears, rubies and emeralds adorned throats.

And then they began to move.

They moved like dancers, dancing to a tune that we could not hear. One of them, his hair the shade of the fuschia flower, cut close to his scalp, paced up and down the rows of children like a farmer inspecting cattle. Some found their tithe-boy or tithe-girl right away; others took longer, weaving in and out of the rows like snakes. You could tell when they found one that was to their liking, though, because their mothers would scream, or their fathers would cry out, and one or both would beg them to release the child.

But once chosen, they never relinquished a child, merely handed them into their carriages or set them upon their horses.

I was no less immune to inspection. Some preferred to keep their distance, sizing me up. Others stood so close I could smell their breath, scented like roses or peppermint or spring rain, or like ashes and burnt bread. One thing they all had in common was the way made much use of their sense of touch. They would reach out to grasp the hands of their peers and they walked, leaning in close to whisper something to their companion, a finger would graze my shoulder. There was nothing indecent about it, and later I would learn that sometimes one could only detect the presence of certain magics by touch, but we were unused to such frequent contact, and when one believes that they are surrounded on all sides by monsters, one cannot help but flinch even if the touch is chaste.

When it seemed as if most of them had returned to their vehicles, some with empty hands, I dared to hope that I was not one of those who would be chosen, that I could return home and be with Mother and Grandmother and gather parsley in the garden.

But then the door to the crimson and gold carriage opened, and I knew instantly that I would not be one of those lucky children.

His hair was the color of chestnuts, but his eyes were golden with—I noticed as he came closer—flecks of red. He wore a velvet jacket of deep purple with a white cravat. His breeches and stockings were black, and he wore no other adornment besides a ring on one finger and a necklace made of linked gold chain from which hung a blood red stone set in gold. He seemed subdued next to some of the others, who almost seemed to be competing to see who could wear the most outlandish ensemble. I would later find out that that was not so far from the truth.

I watched as he gazed at the columns of people, calm and focused. Someone brushed against my shoulder, but I paid them no heed. My eyes were riveted on him, I did not think I could tear them away if I had wanted to.

And then our eyes met, and I saw an emotion I could not name flicker across his face for an instance before he strode towards me.

We stood there, him gazing down at me, I gazing up at him, boy and creature from the direst of tales.

“Come,” he said.

Mother dropped my hand as if she had lost a game of some sort and had to relinquish her prize, but Grandmother held fast to my hand. “You cannot take him,” she said, calmly but firmly, as if she were negotiating for a sack of flour instead of her grandson.

His gaze flicked to her. “You know we must,” he said.

They regarded each other for a long time, and then Grandmother let out a great sigh and released my hand. “Go with him, Tom,” she said, and then she drew me into an embrace, squeezing so hard I thought she would squeeze the air from my lungs.

Mother did not move. She did not speak, only glared at the golden-eyed god as if her gaze could cause him to wither and die where he stood.

“Come,” he said again, and this time he took my hand. His was gloved, but I could feel the heat of his body through it. The last thing he did before he took me to his carriage was to lean in and whisper something to Grandmother. It sounded like “I am sorry,” and then we climbed up into the crimson and gold carriage and he pulled the door shut behind us. It would be many years before I ever saw them again.

As soon as the door to our carriage closed, the host began to move. The golden-eyed god sat across from me, I looked down at my feet and fought the urge to burst into tears.

“I know you must be upset,” he said, and I heard compassion in his voice, though I had thought it impossible that monsters could feel compassion. “My name is Fulgaris, Lord of Blood and Ashes. You are safe now.”

I could not hold back my tears any longer, and I began to sob. “I want Mother, and Grandmother!” I cried. “Why did you take me away from them? What do you want?”

Fulgaris had a book in his hand. He had not had one before, and had not noticed one when we entered the carriage. “What is your name, boy?”

I looked up at him through my tears. “T-Tom,” I said. “Where—where are we going?”

“To the City “–and here he said a word that I did not know, the name of the city, I assumed—“where you shall begin your training at my estate,” he said it as if it was something I should have known, but of course I could not have known. By then, the story of the war had been told by so many tellers that the true purpose of the tithe had been obscured.

“Training?” I think my confusion must have shown on my face, for Fulgaris, Lord of Blood and Ashes, set down his book. I was later to learn that when Fulgaris set down a book he was reading, he was very annoyed indeed.

“Training, i-in what?” I asked, curiosity overcoming sorrow.

“Magic, my tithe-boy,” said Fulgaris.

Vampires!

Almost half an hour before Hallowe’en starts officially (as of this writing), so I thought that to get into the spirit (lol pun) of things I’d write a post on vampires, because I don’t like werewolves and zombies are getting old already.

I don’t think any other creature has undergone the number of image changes that the vampire has over the centuries. Waaaay back when you had monstrous formerly-dead people who rose from the grave to suck blood. Apparently at one point (according to one of my professors) Catholic and Orthodox churches competed with each other by assuring the public that their church could best protect them from blood-sucking fiends.

These days though, we’ve gone from seeing the vampire not as a super-powered zombie with a case of hematolagnia and more as a brooding romantic type who actively tries to avoid becoming a blood-sucking fiend. Some like to call them the Ricean vampire, but my first exposure to this type of vampire were the St. Germain books by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, which are more like historical fiction that just so happens to star a vampire, but I digress. I avoided Anne Rice’s books for years, and then I read both Interview with the Vampire and The Vampire Lestat and seriously wanted to introduce Lestat to a sunrise, a machete, and a meat-grinder in quick succession (I kind of think it would have been better if I’d read Lestat’s book first, and not Interview, but then I probably wouldn’t have understood what was going on) and apparently Rice herself can’t decide whether she wants to find Jesus or not. My friend read me the interesting parts of Memnoch the Devil, and that’s the extent of the Anne Rice I’ve read. (Oh, and I’ve seen the movie version of Queen of the Damned, but not Interview’s movie) I’ve heard her Sleeping Beauty erotica isn’t bad–and by isn’t bad, I mean so hilariously over the top that no one pretends it’s anything but smut.

Anyways, fast forward to recent years and now we have supervampires that can run around in broad daylight (oh wait, they can’t, because their sparkling will distract people–humans like shiny things) and don’t have weaknesses to much of anything.

To tell you the truth, I still like the romantic vampire, even though yes, it’s been overdone, and plenty of people have expressed how creepy it is that you’re technically cuddling up to an animated corpse. There’s that whole inner struggle that you don’t get with monstrous vampires, which usually aren’t given much of a personality, and honestly, if it’s a choice between ten more reiterations of Lestat versus another Edward, I’ll take the Lestats, thank you.
Or better yet, can I get another Legacy of Kain, game? Kain is just fucking awesome. Except I still haven’t figured out how Zephon evolves into an egg-laying spider queen when he’s, you know, a guy, on the other hand, one of the main characters can still speak without a jaw, and devours souls, so I guess…video game logic?

Oh, and in case you missed it, I wrote my own vampire story awhile back. Check it out if you haven’t already.

Review: The Privilege of the Sword

I know I said I wouldn’t do another review for a bit, but…..

ZOMG THIS BOOK IS SO AWESOME!

*ahem* I mean, please proceed immediately to your favourite purveyor of literary indulgences and purchase this delectable volume.

Okay, that didn’t come out quite right. Here, I’ll say it without the bad attempt at purple prose: BUY THIS BOOK RIGHT NOW!

It seems that everywhere I look, people are comparing various fantasy novels to Ellen Kushner’s works. The most recent one I read was Kari Sperring’s Living With Ghosts, which I hated (for various reasons). But then I saw a glowing review of this book on Good Lesbian Books (link to review, BEWARE: contains spoilers) and decided that, well, better late than never to check out Kushner’s novels.

But before I get into the book itself (which is awesome) a little background. The Privilege of the Sword (hereafter abbreviated as PotS) is a next-generation sequel to Kushner’s first novel Swordspoint (and set before The Fall of the Kings). I hadn’t read either of the books before this one, so the story is self-contained enough that a new reader can understand it, but with enough direct references to Swordspoint that the interested reader might want to pick it up before reading this one). Kushner is best known for writing in what has been called “mannerpunk” or “fantasy of manners”. In short, this is a fantasy novel for people who don’t like fantasy (more specifically, who like more politicking and less magic). You won’t find anyone slinging magic around in this book at all. In fact, if you changed some of the place names, this could probably pass for historical fiction that’s just reeeeally inventive. This was one of the reasons I wanted to read this book–I wanted to see if a fantasy novel without magic could manage to hold my interest (and no, Kushiel’s Dart does not count, because the world isn’t completely devoid of magic).

PotS  is the story of Katherine, a country girl (who is nonetheless versed in the rules of civilized society, A.K.A the city) who is sent for by her uncle, Duke Tremontaine (known as the Mad Duke) to learn swordplay in exchange for forgetting about debts owed to him. The book follows Katherine (and a few other characters, more on them later) on a journey of self-discovery, with secrets and scandals aplenty.

I know what you’re thinking. Yes, yes, it’s a coming-of-age tale, one of the oldest ones in the book, but one thing I really liked about this book was the way it neatly subverts your expectations. You might, as I did, imagine that Katherine is the sort of heroine who is sick to death of her boring life in the country and yearns for excitement, only to take to the sword as if she were born wearing one. You know the kind of heroine I’m talking about.

Katherine is not that heroine.

At the beginning of the book, all she wants is what every girl raised in her restrictive society wants: to make a good match, marry, and start having children. When she learns that her uncle wishes for her to take up the sword (including dressing in men’s clothing), she doesn’t get excited, she’s scandalized. Women just don’t do that sort of thing. The reader gets to watch her gradual transformation from scandalized to accepting of her strange role in society, and (most importantly) it doesn’t feel forced, it just feels like another part of growing up.

But Katherine’s story is just one thread of the web of plots that Kushner weaves. The book also follows Alec, the Mad Duke Tremontaine (some may recognize him from Swordspoint) whose story is no less important (and, in some ways, perhaps more important) than Katherine’s. At the beginning of the book, the Mad Duke’s personality is hard to pin down. Is he mad, or is he merely pretending to be mad in order to appear non-threatening, or is it somewhat of both? He’s a very interesting character with more secrets than WikiLeaks. Oh, here, just see for yourself with this quote from the book:

‘Nice try,’ the duke was smiling with the pleasure undoing a knotty problem gave him. ‘But a couple more questions, asked of you independently, and your whole story would unravel. You see”–he crouched down so he wasn’t towering over us–“it’s not street dirt, for one thing; it’s whitewash and garden mud. Your palms are scratched, and this is Robertson gingerbread, with the cinnamon, and that is not sold on the street.’ (p. 201)

PWNED.

Anyways, the third character whom we see a lot of is Artemisia Fitz-Levi, who, like Katherine, has aspirations of finding a noble husband and giving him heirs. For now, what you need to know about her is that she attends a lot of parties and has many “Upper Class Problems”.

Half the fun of this book is watching the characters deal with the demands of Society. In a nutshell, Society is very restrictive. As a “proper” woman, you are expected to marry (a man) and have children and to rely on your male relatives for protection, those same male relatives are expected to defend *their* honor (it’s all but said that women have no honor of their own) when a member of their family is threatened. In the old days, matters of honor were settled by swordfights by trained swordsmen that nobles would keep on retainer, but has since fallen out of fashion somewhat (as you might expect, this is a huge part of the novel). Oh, and homosexuality is scandalous, but no one much cares if you have money and power (especially if you are a man, who generally have more freedom to pursue other men discreetly–or openly, if you have a reputation as the sort of person who enjoys a good scandal).

Actually, let’s devote some time to talking about the sexual aspects of the book.
For starters, most of the characters are bisexual, and when I say bisexual, I don’t mean “I had a fling with a member of the same sex once, but now I’m completely heterosexual” I mean characters spend equal amounts of time with (and even prefer) their same gender partners to their opposite gender ones.

And there is at least one gay character.

That might not seem like such a big deal, but seeing as many settings where “everyone is bi” usually just make everyone bisexual (no exceptions) the fact that there is a character who is specifically referred to as someone who has never liked women is significant. Oh, and yes, there are heterosexual pairings in this book, but most of them are SO. FUCKING. ADORABLE. that you will forget about the bits that each partner has.

Notice how I said most of them….

*sighs* I wish I didn’t have to do this, everyone. I wish everyone could read this book and not have to risk being triggered by it, but I told myself I’d be honest about this, so the next bit may be triggery (re: rape)for some.

In case you didn’t see that:

[trigger warning: rape]

Okay, so basically what happens is that Artemisia is raped at a party. Wait! Wait! I know what you’re thinking. “Let me guess, they mention it once and then they drop it, right?”

Fortunately, I’m happy to report that the incident is definitely not dropped and Artemisia behaves in a way that I would expect the survivor of such a traumatic experience to react. She cries, she rages, before all this, she was engaged to marry the man, but now she is adamant that she will not marry him despite the wealth and prestige he could bring to her family–a family who, btw, is completely ignorant of what actually happened, and attributes her sudden change in demeanor to pre-wedding jitters. Why doesn’t she tell them the truth? Embarrassment, the perception that she’s “damaged goods” (and no one in Society wants “damaged goods”).

What I really like about this plot is while Artemisia is technically powerless to move against her rapist, she isn’t a passive victim. She smuggles letters (written as if they were two characters from a popular book who are in love) to Katherine (who immediately appoints herself defender of Artemisia’s honor and vows to kill her rapist if Artemisia’s family doesn’t kill him first) and is, as I said, absolutely adamant that she refuses to marry such a monster. You’re free to see this as lesbian subtext or simply two friends looking out for each other.

One other incident of note involves a character who had a really rough childhood (involving, yes, things of a sexual nature) who is obviously still affected by it (so much so that he’s actually triggered by something he witnesses in a brothel, and needs a moment to puke his guts out).

There are other sexual situations, but they’re the kinds of scenes where you know exactly what’s going on but it’s not explicit (hence why some feel the book is appropriate for young adults) and delivered in Katherine’s matter-of-fact way of speaking “The duke’s room was full of naked people….”) that they actually become humourous rather than dramatic. I’d say more on this but then I’d be venturing too close to spoiler territory. Her reaction to feeling desire for the first time is absolutely priceless, as are her reactions to almost anything sexual (apart from the rape, which is definitely not played for laughs). After all, she is a young teenager, and she hasn’t had much exposure to things of a sexual nature.

In short, this book is awesome, and if you can handle the problematic aspects I mentioned above, I’d encourage you to pick this up. I’m definitely getting her other books now.

Stormy Weather

First of all, if any of you are in the path of Hurricane Sandy, STAY SAFE AND DON’T DO ANYTHING STUPID!

Apparently, my area will be getting a bit of a taste of it. It won’t be too serious, rain, wind, the power might go out, but that’s why I have my trusty flashlight and water to keep the toilet running.

Also, apparently, guess who’s to blame for the Frankenstorm? (incredibly homophobic). Yep, that’s right. it’s an accusation that is no surprise to anyone. I wasn’t aware that I had that kind of power. WHY THE FUCK DO WE STILL HAVE SNOW IN MY AREA IF I CAN CONTROL MAJOR WEATHER SYSTEMS WITH MY SUPER VELVET-TIPPING ABILITIES?!

The wind’s howling outside my window. It’s kind of soothing, in a way.

I just found out most of my region is without power. I’m still okay, though.

Anyways, stay safe, don’t do anything stupid.

A New Spread?

So, I was just using the “scatter” method to shuffle my cards when I noticed a few of them ended up in an interesting pattern:

=     I/I

Okay, that looks silly. Basically, it looks like two cards on their sides (like an equal sign) and beside them, two upright cards with a third card placed diagonally over them, like the Hagalaz rune:

I have no idea what it’s supposed to mean (although, a card placed over top of another is usually talking about something that influences or immediately happens after whatever the cards its covering signify). I don’t know, use it for whatever you want. I just thought it looked cool.

Now, since I “discovered” it, I get to name it, so I will call it the “I Have No Clue” Spread, for when you need a clue.

Argh!

I want to tell someone about my NaNoWriMo project SO BADLY but I JUST CAN’T UNTIL NOVEMBER! I’ll say this: It’s not one of the projects I’ve talked about writing which I haven’t started, the setting is a bit more “conventional” for fantasy (by which I mean Medievalesque), the plot involves at least one war and possibly the search for an Artifact of Dubious Reputation, and religiosity (or lack thereof) is a very important element of the world, and now I’m shutting up.

So, um *looks around desperately for a distraction* Hallowe’en! What is everyone doing? I probably won’t be giving out candy because our front steps are ruined (unless someone in this house wants to stand outside, possibly in the rain) so it looks like it will be another year of staying inside and playing scary video games, maybe doing a reading or two with my Bohemian Gothic Tarot (2nd edition), and possibly eating candy, none of which I mind at all.

Why Do You Even Have Deities? A Rant.

I hear this a lot, I’ve talked about it before in other posts, but there’s this idea among certain groups that (to put it bluntly) deities don’t care about you. I don’t mean “care” as in “every deity loves every single person” because I don’t think that’s true, I’m talking about the attitude that “unless you are an Important Person (like a king or whatnot” deities don’t care about you, they’re too busy doing important deity things, like maintaining order in the cosmos. Go to your ancestors or land spirits if you want help, otherwise you’re S.O.L.”

And I just have to wonder what’s the point of laying out offerings and doing rituals and whatnot, what’s the point of even having deities in the first place? After all, if my ancestors and my land spirits give me all I could ever want, why would I waste time praying to deities who just don’t care? After all, they don’t care, right? So it really makes no difference if I do something for them at Midsummer (or whenever). They don’t care, too busy maintaining cosmic order, etc. etc. I mean, it just doesn’t make sense.

What really bugs me about people who pull the “you’re not important enough” card always mock those who (sometimes without any exposure to the myths in question) claim to talk to these deities, because it’s clearly unpossible. They can’t accept the fact that a deity (who they, as hard polytheists, presumably believe in) could ever have their own agenda, or could ever *gasp* change with the times! No, no, deities are static entities, they don’t change, ever. To quote the show Touched by an Angel (which I used to watch a lot when I was younger) “Why is it when you talk to God you’re praying, but when God talks to you you’re crazy?” (substitute the name of your favourite deity).

I also have to wonder why the heck we have a deity who is specifically called a “god of the common folk” if he doesn’t talk to the common folk he’s supposed to be representing. It seems very counter-intuitive to me. “Oh, yeah, I’m supposed to be watching these farmers, but kings have more money.” All this despite evidence that regular people did pray to deities and get something out of it. Maybe deities have selective hearing? Or maybe this is what happens when we take as Gospel sources that (at best) represent a fraction of the ways people actually practiced, written by outsiders to that religion centuries after the time that those people were actually practicing.

Review: Every Man’s Tarot: Tarot and the Male Experience

Okay, this is it, one more review and then I’m going back to do normal posts on Vanatru and writing and stuff. I just HAD to give you my impressions of this book, I HAD to! (You’ll see why in a moment.)

It probably doesn’t bear mentioning that many books on tarot (much like many Pagan books) are written by women, primarily for an assumed female audience. The point of this book (in case the title wasn’t a clue) was to make tarot more relevant to men and male concerns. For each card of the major and minor arcana, Mangiapane has upright, reversed, and “Worst case scenario” situations for each card.

It’s really unfortunate that this book could also be titled “John Mangiapane’s Ego is in Overdrive” because this could have been a great book (although, IMHO, a great tarot book wouldn’t assume the audience is a particular gender at all).

For one thing, the author insists that his tarot is (to quote the text) “revisionist” not-so-subtly implying that other tarot decks on the market rely too much on traditional interpretations of the tarot. This is especially hilarious when the reader realizes that the interpretations of the cards are about as “traditional” as one can get–with a side order of patronizing. Men, if you really like being talked down to, you will love this book, because the author does a lot of it! Most of the images that he drew for a might-be-published deck are just the standard RWS images with extra beards (and a heavyset man as the Knight of Pentacles).

What I find terribly ironic about this hot mess is that he critiques conventional interpretations of the tarot as claiming to be universal when they aren’t….and then states that his deck aims to capture the “universal male experience” as in these quotes:

“After a lot of work, rethinking, calling on my years of experience reading and teaching Tarot, and living the male experience firsthand, I have created this Tarot book for men, written by a man…..” [bold mine]

“I also wanted to create a universal interpretation for men to use.” [bold mine]

What is this “male experience” you speak of? I’m not a man myself, but I’d hazard a guess that Mangiapane’s experience as a gay man (I believe he self-identifies as a bear) is different than my straight brothers’ experiences, or a trans* man’s experience, or even a gay man who isn’t a bear’s experience. In short, I suspect it’s about as useful to men as “women’s experience” was (and still is) to anyone who wasn’t a white, middle class woman when second wave feminists started talking about it.

If I didn’t know any better, I’d also make some pretty crazy assumptions about men based on some of the statements that are made in this book, for example:

Men are all ‘Mighty Hunter’ types:

This [the High Priestess] is a card about that much-maligned word sensitivity. Since this book is aimed at those with male chromosomes and this card is one of those undeniably ‘female’ cards, how do I keep your male attention? (There are no lions to hunt anywherearound here…)

Men aren’t intuitive:

After all, men don’t ‘get into’ intuitive processes [not that a few of the most famous diviners of the past weren’t men] and these writers didn’t address the male percentage of the population.

Men are lazy:

However, left to their own devices, men can be pretty lazy, especially if they are unchallenged in what they do.

No men are ever romantic/dreamy types:

[On the Knight of Cups] Here is one of the cards that are the reason I decided to write this book! In female-oriented Tarot books, this Knight is oftentimes described as (are you ready?) “A romantic dreamer… if the Querent is a woman, she may be falling in love with such a young man…” GAG ME WITH A SPOON! “He may be bearing a token of his affection for you.” BARF-A-RONI! Do real women really still believe this shit about a white knight that is going to come out of nowhere and sweep them off to Camelot? Nowhere do these books mention anything if the Querent is a male … that is where I come in.

and other stereotyping.

Also, the Celtic cross is WAAAY too complicated for a MANLY MAN tarot:

“The standard Celtic Cross layout (included in this book for those interested in trying to use it) is just too many cards to read using my revisionist methods.”

Some of the passages in this book are just insulting:

There are many readers who feel that the World is such an excellent card that even in reversal it is almost impossible to read negativity in it. If you want to be a Pollyanna your whole life, don’t let me stop you from the wealth of my experiences. After all, Tarot is mostly subjective.

OH GOODNESS GRACIOUS WHATEVER SHALL WE DO WITHOUT YOUR YEARS OF EXPERIENCE!? SOMEONE GET ME MY FAINTING COUCH! I HAVE VAPORS!

Oh, and he also assumes that you don’t know how to shuffle a deck, because he gives extremely detailed instructions on how to do it (because….men can’t seem to figure out how to shuffle bigger cards, I guess?).

Men, you can do so much better than this book. Really, you would probably do better not using any books, but please, you deserve better than this patronizing BS trying to pretend it’s revolutionary.

 

Review: Naked in the Woods: A Guide to Spiritual Nudity, and Talking About Nakedness

[Note: This post is about nudity, which is not necessarily sexual, still, just to be safe, this might delve into NSFW territory.]

You knew my reviewing good books couldn’t last, right?

Naked in the Woods: A Guide to Spirtual Nudity by Storm Moon, who self identifies as “two-spirited” despite being white (as I was always told that this term is specifically used in reference to Native peoples), is, well, what it says, about being naked….in the woods, and spiritual stuff.

Continue reading Review: Naked in the Woods: A Guide to Spiritual Nudity, and Talking About Nakedness

Review: Vs. A Collection of Essays on Duality and Conflict in Magick, Mythology, and Paganism

This is one of those books that I kept putting in my shopping cart at Amazon and then taking it out when I found something that I was more interested in reading. However, thanks to the amazingness that is Amazon offering a bunch of Kindle books for free every so often, I was able to read it and save money at the same time. Isn’t it nice when you can have your cake and eat it too?

Anyways, the title of the book is pretty self-explanatory. It’s a collection of essays on the subjects of polarity and duality in well, magick, mythology, and Paganism. The essays in the book cover a wide variety of topics from the concept of the “Divine Twins”, to a fascinating piece comparing Hephaestus to Ares, to a scathing feminist critique of Crowley fictionalized as a conversation between Florence Farr, Crowley, and a lesbian magician (that ends up being something else entirely by the end of the piece). Here’s a quote from it:

[Florence said] “You like your Scarlet Women with initiative but still subservient, wildly creative but unstable, intellectually swift but in their place. Never in a position of Magisterial superiority. That is what I was, Aleister, and I saw right through you the day you applied for the Second Order…..”

But all you really need to take away from the book is this:

As all such fruits [pomegranates, dates, etc.] are symbolically associated with female genitalia, one could read the entire sequence: “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband…”[ xix] as: “Eve performed cunnilingus upon Lilith, and then showed Adam how.”

Best. Interpretation. Ever.

Okay, in all seriousness, the essays are written from a variety of different perspectives (theologically, at least), from Wiccan to the Western Mystery Tradition to practitioners of Haitian Vodou on a variety of different topics, some of which I’ve already mentioned. It’s rare that you find an anthology that discusses the finer points of (East) Indian philosophy one moment and then the story of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (one of my favourite stories) the next, but you’ll find both of them in here. Individual articles have bibliographies and (surprisingly extensive) endnotes are included, but this is definitely not an academic book by any means, so keep a salt shaker handy. I’m not at all familiar with some of the traditions in this book, but I did find myself raising an eyebrow at times at some of the claims made in the essays.

Unfortunately, while I don’t hate this book, I don’t exactly love it either. Some of the essays seemed too brief, others seemed exceptionally long-winded, although in retrospect, this is probably due to my own biases. I’ve never really “grokked” Kabbalah or anything related to Aleister Crowley, so some of the essays flew right over my head (that quote about Eve and Lilith came from one such essay) and the one essay I did get (Katie Gerrard’s piece on Freya and Frigga) didn’t have any information in it that I didn’t already know (except the story about Frigga tricking Odin into supporting her favourites over the Vandals). In general, I think the usefulness of this book will hinge upon whether you find the concept of polarity (particularly heterosexual, male/female binary type polarity) to be in any way useful or relevant. If you’re like me and you don’t think it’s really that relevant at all, than this book will probably just be a curiosity of sorts, a glimpse into how other people grapple with the question of “self” vs. “the Other” in an incredibly narrow, non-inclusive way (which, in all honesty, could be the subject of another anthology entirely).

So, in a nutshell, it’s an interesting collection, but it ultimately (perhaps due to the very nature of its subject matter) has a very narrow viewpoint and never really stops to wonder whether that viewpoint is still useful in a society where not everyone sees themselves as being a part of a gender (or sexual) binary. The one book I’ve read that does this reasonably well is Gender and Transgender in Modern Paganism (cover is NSFW) but it’s about gender in general, not polarity specifically (although a couple essays do talk about polarity and duality).

Right, now, Lilith/Eve smut, someone get on it!