Monthly Archives: December 2013

Review: To Walk a Pagan Path: Practical Spirituality for Every Day

It’s been awhile since I reviewed a “Pagan-y” book, hasn’t it? I think it’s time to fix that, so the book I’m going to review today is To Walk a Pagan Path: Practical Spirituality for Every Day by Alaric Albertsson.

As you may have guessed from the title, this book is all about living as a Pagan, not just on holidays, but every day of the year. It’s a short book (at least, compared to many other Llewellyn books) packed with practical suggestions: from creating your own sacred calendar to growing a portion of your own food. You won’t find complicated ritual scripts or spells that call for the hair of a live shedding wolf in this book. Instead, you will find tips on making your own ritual candles and incense and (on the more complicated end of things) raising chickens and beekeeping, all with the end goal of bringing you closer to nature’s rhythms. The topics Albertsson covers are: making a sacred calendar that is meaningful to you, daily devotions/offerings and what is realistic for your circumstances, connecting with animal familiars, growing a portion of your own food/dedicating Pagan “Mary Gardens” to specific deities, an entire chapter on trees, raising chickens and beekeeping, cooking and recipes, Pagan crafts, and an entire chapter on Yule.

I think the Pagan 101 market is inundated with books that give you a lot of ritual scripts and suggestions for celebrating the holidays, but few of them actually tackle the more practical aspects of Pagan traditions. In that sense, this book is much more (literally) down to earth, you won’t find a whole lot of discussion about communicating with deities and spirits and altar-building 101, and that in itself is kind of refreshing. Albertsson stresses that the reader should, of course, feel free to adapt the material within to fit their specific tradition and circumstances (for instance, you probably aren’t going to be doing a lot of beekeeping if you’re allergic to bee venom and you obviously can’t keep chickens if the laws in your area forbid it) but there are so many different suggestions that there’s likely something everyone can do even if they have limited space and time. The author stresses that you need to be realistic as to what sort of commitments you can and can’t make, for instance, stating that if you can only meditate for fifteen minutes each day due to your circumstances, then that’s the commitment you make.

I do think that there is a definite audience for this book, like newcomers to Pagan traditions looking for small things they could do to keep their faith from being a “holiday” phenomenon but maybe aren’t sure where to begin. I also found the book to be very approachable, for lack of a better term, the ideas in the book are suggestions, not Rules Which Must Be Followed, and, as I said, you’re encouraged to adapt them as you see fit. This is a small thing, but I also like that the book is written by an author who is not an eclectic Wiccan (which is often the case in “Pagan 101” books, especially Llewellyn books) which exposes the reader to a perspective they might not see a lot of in Llewellyn’s catalog.

I do have a few nitpicks, however, and the first one has to do with the sentence above. While Albertsson does make an effort to reference other Pagan traditions in his book, he’s coming from the perspective of a Saxon Pagan, so the rituals and much of the suggestions will be slanted towards what he does as a Saxon Pagan (although, again, he encourages readers to adapt the suggestions as they see fit). I also found the book to be kind of short (although I suppose there are only so many practical things you can do) and I also found the author has a tendency to jump from topic to topic with little warning. I also think there were some sections that might have been a little too detailed (particularly the portions involving care of animals, especially since the author only has his own experience to go off of and doesn’t appear to have any sort of qualifications or certification to back up the things he says). There are also a couple points where it felt as if the author was subtly shaming folks who could not obtain their own beeswax or grow much of their own food, in the vein of “but your rituals and such will be so much more personal if you make these things yourself” and while that may be the case, there are ways to say it without it sounding like you’re putting down people who can’t do these things (on that note, not everyone has the means to make constant trips to the farmer’s market).  Also, since much of the book is focused on connecting with nature/seasonal cycles, those of you who are more “gods-based” won’t find much of use unless you’re specifically looking for more practical, not heavily-ritualized stuff.

In sum, I think this would be a great book to give to newcomers who aren’t really sure how to do the whole “living the faith” thing, more experienced folks might want to pick it up to mine the book for ideas–even though I don’t think there’s that much here that you haven’t already read, in any case, it’s good to brush up on the basics every now and then. I would tentatively recommend it if anything I’ve said in this review has piqued your interest, but I’d recommend looking through the preview on Amazon and reading a couple of other reviews first to make sure it’s something that would benefit you. I think we definitely need more books like this one, but your mileage will definitely vary in terms of how much you take away from it.

Fire Jewel is Coming….

Fire Jewel is almost ready to be made available for purchase. You’ll just have to hold on a little longer so the proof copies can be checked.

I know it’s been a long time coming, peeps, but it’s ALMOST here! Just be patient and I’ll have a link for you.

The price will be $16 USD + S&H and will be available via Lulu in case you need a head start on saving those pennies.

The Thirteen Houses Project: Eglantine

[Once a month for the next twelve months, I will be doing a post on the 13th of each month based on one of the Thirteen Houses of the Court of Night-Blooming Flowers from Kushiel’s Legacy.]

Happy Friday the 13th! This month’s House is Eglantine. The motto of Eglantine House is “To create is to live,” and the House canon is creativity. They hold that when Naamah lay with the King of Persis, she “charmed him with the sweetness of her song.”

Eglantine is the house of the artist and performer, and adepts of this house, we are told, are often called upon to perform at fetes. One of the more notable Eglantine adepts in the series is Favrielle no Eglantine, who had to stop working as an adept due to an accidental (though some say it wasn’t an accident) fall in the baths that left her scarred (as she was then considered “imperfect” she couldn’t serve as an adept anymore, and had to pay off her marque through other means). Fortunately, Favrielle’s story has a happy ending, as Phedre pays off her marque in exchange for making her all the pretty outfits she wears throughout the series, and Favrielle becomes quite well off indeed.

I was going to talk about writing in this post but honestly I’ve talked about writing a lot, so I’m just going to talk about art.

Recently someone on Facebook told me and a few other folks that we didn’t understand art. This was due to an article on a sex-themed park (NSFW) in South Korea which didn’t have any depictions of same-sex couples. There were plenty of disembodied penises and masturbation, but no same-sex couples.

To be fair, there aren’t that many legal rights for queer folks in South Korea.

Anyways, the point is that this person said that we obviously didn’t understand art if we were complaining, because art is art and it’s supposed to offend people and something something, I kind of stopped paying attention.

The thing is, though, that you don’t need to be an artist to understand that art isn’t created in a vacuum. Art is influenced by so many factors: politics, religion, what everyone else is painting, even the artist’s mood affects their art. (Oh, hello, Goya, I didn’t see your (tw: dark) Black Paintings there, you feeling okay?) You don’t need to know about the rule of thirds to figure this out, and despite what The Da Vinci Code says, art really isn’t that esoteric (although if you are an artist or have taken art history, you probably know a few interesting things artists have sneaked into paintings, or all those dirty jokes in Shakespeare’s plays). It’s just kind of baffling to me how people can talk as if art falls out of the sky when it’s overcast.

I guess art does kind of imitate life, in that regard. (Or does life imitate art?)

So, yeah, art, very important, not created in a vacuum, I am totally running out of juice for tonight.

This is what happens when I’ve been trying to write smut all day.

“Rosa eglanteria” by Henryhartley (via Wikipedia)

 

Movie Review: Frozen

At first I was dead set against seeing this movie. I didn’t like that Disney took The Snow Queen, a very woman-centric story, and was like “LOOK AT ALL THE BOYS WE’RE ADDING TO IT!” and the head animator thinks that animating women is hard because women are SO EMOTIONAL and I was just like “movie, I am so done with you.”

But then I read someone else’s spoiler-tastic review, and suddenly I was just like “O_o really?” and I said “Okay, I’ll give it a shot.”

Frozen probably won’t win the “most faithful adaptation of a fairy tale ever” award, but it’s still a great movie.

This promo art is so much better than the actual poster.

The story centers around two sisters who are princesses of the Kingdom of Arendelle, the older, Elsa, has the power to create ice and snow. After accidentally injuring Anna while playing one morning, their parents have a troll seal away all of Anna’s memories of Elsa’s magic, and resolve to isolate Elsa from the rest of the world–including her sister. When the king and queen die and Elsa accidentally reveals her powers, she flees into the mountains, and it’s up to Anna, the mountain man Kristoff, and a lovable snowman named Olaf to find her and free Arendelle from endless winter.

Let’s start with the good, shall we? I shouldn’t really even bother with discussing the animation because, it’s Disney and Disney does animation like no other except when it comes to animating multiple female characters, apparently but oh my gods the snow and ice is just so shimmery and sparkly and I love the landscape shots. If you like the colour blue, you will love this movie, because there’s lots of blue.

In terms of characters, the most obvious comparison is between Anna and Rapunzel from Tangled. They spend the beginning of the movie cut off from the outside world, but I found Anna to be much more “whee!” than Rapunzel, she’s very awkward and bubbly and hopelessly naive, you know, like Rapunzel, but in the end I found her way more likeable than Tangled’s lead. In fact, Frozen has a cast of likeable characters. I usually loathe the obligatory non-human comic relief character, but Olaf is just adorable (“I like warm hugs!”) even Sven, Kristoff’s reindeer companion, is likeable even though Disney has this annoying habit of making all animals act like dogs for some reason. Seriously, Disney, kids know what reindeer are, knock it off.

Thematically, the movie is about sisterhood, self-acceptance, and, well, being yourself, and the power of love, love is very important. Elsa’s song “Let it Go” is Oscar bait an epic number that charts Elsa’s journey from self-loathing to “I AM SO AWESOME WHO CARES WHAT EVERYONE ELSE THINKS!”  it can also be re-imagined as a coming-out song in the space of a few minutes. It’s one of the most magical moments in the movie. I also liked “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” which started off being really sweet and then took a turn for the sad.

I also liked how it poked fun of and utterly subverted common romance tropes (and, for a Disney movie, this is pretty big). An early example is of Anna accepting a marriage proposal from the dashing Prince Hans after only knowing him for a day. Elsa is, shall we say, less than pleased, and Kristoff milks it for all it’s worth. Frozen isn’t afraid to throw the viewer a few curve balls either, and there were a couple of times during the movie where I was kicked squarely in the FEELS.

SO. MANY. FEELS.

Now onto the not-so-great parts. We do have POCs–as crowd members who have no speaking parts–and Kristoff is apparently Saami….except you wouldn’t know that from the movie itself and apparently his costume has garnered some ire from actual Saami so I’m just going to go ahead and say that he doesn’t actually count as representation. I’ve already mentioned the sexism and the reindeer-as-dogs thing. Some reviews have stated that the romance feels shoehorned in at the end, and it kind of does, but on the other hand, I kind of expected as much. Seriously, it’s like Disney implodes if they don’t stick a romance in somewhere.

Overall, if you don’t mind the racefails, the sexist animators, and think of it not as “Disney mangles the Snow Queen” but “Disney tries something original” Frozen is a pleasant surprise with great musical numbers, lovable characters, and outright subversion of seriously annoying romantic tropes.  Also you can read Elsa’s ice powers as a metaphor for being queer.