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!

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