Monthly Archives: January 2014

Fire Jewel is Out!

Fire Jewel: A Devotional for Freyja is now officially for sale on Lulu! It comes in three lovely formats!

 

Click here to buy the Paperback

 

Click here to by the ebook version (PDF)

 

Click here to buy the ebook version (ePub)

 

Link to Asphodel Press’ devotionals page

 

Synopsis, from the Lulu page:

 

“Freyja, the ancient Norse Goddess of love, fertility, and sorcery is one of the most popular deities of modern Norse religious traditions, and yet there is a dearth of devotional material dedicated to her. This collection of writings hopes to remedy that problem. Here you will find poems, prayers, rituals, songs, and more in praise of the goddess in her various aspects. To some, she is a goddess of love, others speak of her as sorceress and seidr-worker, some see her as the goddess who mourns for her absent husband, others as a mighty warrior, still others as her father’s daughter shining upon the sea. She is all of these things, and more. She is the Goddess who wears Brisingamen, the Fire Jewel, the most beautiful necklace in the world – and knows that she is worthy of its gift.”

 

It’s been a long time coming, but it’s finally here!

 

I’m so happy that I’ve set a 15% discount on the paperback version if you buy direct from Lulu. The discount will be in effect until Monday, February 3rd.

P.S. To my contributors (you know who you are), DO NOT TOUCH THOSE LINKS! Free copies for you!

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Review: Sailor Moon Vol. #1

Like many who grew up in the 90s, I regularly watched Sailor Moon on television and giggled with my friends over the way North American censors changed the show in an effort to shield us from terrible things like gays and lesbians (in my case, this ultimately backfired, so much) and cross-dressing. Take a group of girls, all with their unique strengths, and have them kicking ass and taking names? Hells yeah i am so there! I’ve watched plenty of magical girl shows since then, but I’ll always have a soft spot for shows like Sailor Moon and Cardcaptors despite the terrible, terrible dubbing.

One thing I never did get around to, though, is reading the Sailor Moon manga. As I’ve no doubt mentioned before, I don’t buy a lot of manga because they wreak havoc on the wallet and I tend to get through them in about a half an hour (although, considering the price I pay to go to the movies, that’s not bad at all).

Now that the new Sailor Moon anime is coming out (in July, hopefully), I thought that now would be a good time to actually read the manga, so I totally splurged and bought the two boxed sets of the new revised edition from Kodansha. Yeah, that’s more like a super splurge….

I’m allowed to splurge on occasion.

Anyways, here’s my review of Volume 1:

In case you’ve been living under a rock for a couple decades or you’re too young to remember the 90s, Sailor Moon is the story of Usagi Tsukino, a regular high school student until she meets Luna, a talking cat who tells her that she is Sailor Moon, Guardian of Justice, tasked with protecting the citizens of Tokyo from the forces of the Dark Kingdom, led by Queen Beryl, while also hunting for a lost princess and a magical crystal, said to give the one who possesses it extraordinary power. Usagi isn’t in this fight alone, however, and during her search for the princess she’ll meet other girls destined to be Sailor Scouts, and they’ll fight the forces of the Dark Kingdom together!

The first thing you’ll no doubt notice if you’re only familiar with the dub is that all the characters have their original Japanese names. Serena, Melvin, and Molly are Usagi, Umino, and Naru, respectively. If you’ve seen the anime, you’ll likely recognize a condensed version of episodes 1, 8, 10, 22, and 25, with the major difference that certain villains who had their own story arcs in the anime are reduced to “monster of the week” status (as there’s no need accommodate a season’s worth of shows like in the anime) and quickly killed off.

As first volumes go, oftentimes I’m left with the sense that nothing much happens except at the very end when it ends on a cliffhanger, and this isn’t the case here (although keep in mind that each chapter was once published separately). The action is fast and furious with the occasional break where Usagi crushes on boys (and even a few girls) and does normal teenage things like shopping or going to the game center, but I never found it dragged on in either case.

The art is, predictably, really nice, and the characters are very distinct from one another. I heard the artist actually redrew the interiors for this new edition, and it looks fabulous.

The translation (again, not having read previous editions) was decent, although some lines were very awkwardly phrased. For instance, one of the first lines of Usagi’s narration is “I’m a bit of a cry baby…./I admit to myself,” which just sounds very unnatural in English. There’s also the frequent use of honorifics, some of which seem unnecessary. For instance, Usagi calling Luna “Kitty-chan” (nekochan in the original) where it seems like the translators could have simply dropped the -chan because the English term “kitty” has a similar connotation of cuteness. I’m actually a little annoyed that they chose to stick to using the honorifics when there are rough English equivalents that would have made more sense, but I suppose the goal was to give it a more “authentic” Japanese feel or to stick closely to the original Japanese text, which, judging by the awkwardness of the translation, probably wasn’t the best idea. Even so, from what I’ve heard of the other translations (Tokyopop, I loved you, but godsdammit) this translation is an improvement. I especially appreciated the translator’s notes which explain some details that Western audiences might not understand (such as tabloids being called “Sports” papers in Japan). They’re not extensive, they’re just interesting.

So, yeah, the translation is easily the weakest aspect of the manga, but the rest is solid and, in all honestly, it’s not unreadable. Overall, well, it’s a classic, Sailor Moon was practically the West’s first exposure to the magical girl genre, and if you haven’t picked this series up yet and are waiting for the new anime, this is definitely worth your time.

My Paganism will not be Respectable

I mentioned I haven’t been writing serious posts on here because there’s only so much I can say on so many topics before I start getting repetitive, so, to break up my slew of endless reviews, I present this post on respectability.

It seems like PaganSquare (witchesandpagans.com) has become the place where a bunch of Big Name Pagans gather to write things that piss the rest of us off–not always, of course, and there are plenty of writers on there that I like, but for every post I like there are five that irritate me in some way.

The inspiration for this post comes from one by Kenny Klein about the intersection between fantasy and Paganism and folks that he feels take it….a little too far, and, you know, I think he raises some good points even if they are expressed in a condescending manner (and the sexist art on the page certainly doesn’t help).

What I definitely don’t appreciate is the way he manages to raise these points while simultaneously dumping on atheist Pagans, pop culture Pagans and otherkin, and I definitely think there are better ways that he could have presented his points without dumping on large (and growing) segments of the population. But you know, that’s not even my main sticking point with the article.

My main sticking point is the issue of respectability, as expressed in this quote:

However, if a person purports to be a Pagan teacher or leader, if they keep a blog on Paganism, if they offer insights into their practices on social media sites, if they lead workshops at an event, then that person represents Paganism and its practice. This is where reality needs to be considered.This is when a person needs to present the commonly held beliefs of Paganism, at least, perhaps doing so before diverging into their less accepted beliefs (and watch out, that coven who arrests vampires is watching you!).”

Note that, according to Klein, anyone who blogs about Paganism (ie. who isn’t just a leader or teacher who blogs) is expected to be respectable in this way. In fact, he says as much in the quote preceding this one:

What does this mean to us as Pagans? Well for one thing, if a person is a solitary practitioner, is not involved in a group where she/he represents Pagan practice to the group, is not in the public eye as a Pagan, does not blog, or comment on social media sites about their own practice of Paganism, then this is all irrelevant. Believe whatever you like. Believe that Wicca comes from the planet Wicky, or that you become a werewolf in ritual, speak like Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins, whatever. It’s all cool.”

Basically, in order to be exempt from not being respectable, a person should not talk about their personal practice, at all, but the minute they step into the public eye, suddenly WE NEED TO ALL LOOK PRESENTABLE BECAUSE THE PUBLIC!

I’m sorry no I’m not but fuck that!

I refuse to be respectable.

I refuse to sit down and cross my legs at the knees because you don’t like the way I’m sitting. This is my blog, this is my space, and I will be as weird as I like. I will blog about pop culture and fandom and writing and Paganism on my blog, all at once, and I don’t need the approval of the public, or some Big Name Pagan on their high horse, or anyone else, because this is MY blog, where I do what I like, and what I like to do is write about books and video games and Vanatru.

Do I find it ironic that someone who makes a snide remark about “Pagan police” then proceeds to police other Pagans? Yes, yes I do.

The Thirteen Houses Project: Jasmine

[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.]

The seventh House was going to be Heliotrope, but then I realized that Valentine’s Day is coming next month, and so I thought I’d save discussing Heliotrope until then.

This month’s house is Jasmine. The motto of Jasmine House is “For pleasure’s sake,” and the House canon is sensuality. They, naturally, hold that Naamah slept with the King of Persis for pleasure. The House cultivates a very “exotic” image, and its adepts are said to have Bhodistani [Indian] blood in their adepts’ lineage. (D’Angelines have a bit of a bad habit of being Orientalist.)

That aside, pleasure and sensuality are both very much the province of the Vanir (not that non-Vanic deities don’t include it in their purview). As beings who are so closely tied to the well-being of the land and material prosperity, it seems natural to associate them with sensual pleasure, which may or may not be sexual, although it often is where the Vanir are concerned. I’ve also heard it said among Vanatruar that the Vanir are definitely deities of “the good life”: good food, good company, good sex, good things all around.  In fact, one of the best pieces of advice I was given when I was worried that the Vanir weren’t interested in me was to bake bread, sing, and just generally enjoy life, if they wanted something, they would let me know, and I think that’s pretty good advice, especially since, in my experience, the Vanir tend to be pretty relaxed (this doesn’t mean that they can’t be absolutely ferocious or that someone else won’t experience them in that way, just that I experience them as pretty chill deities).

Personally, I find this approach to pleasure, with deities who accept (and in some ways embody) the “good” in life to be a refreshing change from a tradition that labels many pleasures (especially sexual ones) “sins”, especially if you are a woman (although, yes, men are also expected to curtail their desires).

Alao, you know, you don’t need to experience sensory overload to get the most out of pleasurable feelings, sometimes simple pleasures are best, like this delicious lemon tea I’m drinking.

Image: “Night Jasmine flowers (at night)” by SergioTorresC (via Wikipedia)

Game Review: Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney

There’s this idea in the gaming industry that games can make anything fun. The Harvest Moon series makes farming fun (although I tried Harvest Moon and I found it to be kind of boring, Papers, Please (review forthcoming) shows that, yes, even being a border patrol officer who spends all day doing paperwork can be fun.

And then there’s Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, which has taught gamers that, yes, being a lawyer can be fun.

This is one of those series that my friend has been into for so long but which I refused to try because “You play as a lawyer? My brother’s a lawyer and his work is BORING!”

I just want to go back in time to when I said that and smack myself.

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney could probably best be described as a hybrid of an adventure game and a visual novel. You play as rookie defense attorney Phoenix Wright as he investigates crime scenes and metes out justice….in court! The game is divided into five cases (four cases that were part of the original game plus a fifth case that was added to the DS remake after the first three games in the series were released). In each case, a crime has been committed and its up to Phoenix to prove his client’s innocence (you know, in court).

Gameplay is divided up into two distinct segments: the Investigation phase and the Trial phase. During the Investigation phase, Phoenix investigates crime scenes, gathers evidence, and talks to witnesses. Basically the sort of thing you would find in any detective story. I should note that you can quick save whenever you want (in case you need to go in the middle of some lengthy dialogue) but the game lets you save normally at the end of each individual trial and investigation phase.

The game changes a bit when you get to the trial phase. During the trial portion of the game, witnesses are called to give testimony. During your cross-examination, your job is essentially to point out the contradictions between their testimony and the evidence you’ve collected. You can either press a witness for more information (by pushing the button or yelling “Hold it!” into the DS’s microphone) or object (“OBJECTION!”) to the statement and present evidence to back up your claim. Be careful, however, if you present the wrong evidence at the wrong time, the Judge will penalize you, if you screw up five times, your client gets a guilty verdict and the game automatically ends. The most difficult part of this game is figuring out when it’s appropriate to submit which piece of evidence (for instance, submitting the record of a blackout to prove a witness wasn’t hearing a TV at the time of a murder). Sometimes you will get options to press further or answer questions posed to you by the judge or the prosecution.

The game’s strongest point is probably its cast of characters. To say they’re “colourful” is a bit of an understatement. You have Phoenix’s friend, Larry Butz (yes, the localization team went to town with character names) who has a bad habit of getting into relationships with models that don’t work out, to Phoenix’s assistant, Maya, a spirit-medium in training who is his mentor’s younger sister, to sexy beast snappy dresser Miles Edgeworth, a prosecutor who serves as Phoenix’s main “opponent” in the game, to witnesses like Redd White, a CEO (of Bluecorp) who would just like you to know how splendiferous he is. There are a ton of characters in this game, and each one manages to be memorable in some way. The trial segments can be very tense and there are plenty of unexpected twists. At one point I was literally biting my nails with nervousness wondering how Phoenix was going to bluff his way out. All things considered, it’s not a very difficult game, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be prepared for a wild ride filled with courtroom antics. There’s a great deal of genuinely funny moments as well, particularly Phoenix’s constant inner monologue. Some of the characters’ “angry” faces (particularly when a witness finally snaps) can be kind of creepy though (Wendy Oldbag’s was of particular note for me, it’s the eyes, definitely the eyes).

I didn’t have very many gripes with this game, but one major one is that the game is extremely linear, which I suppose makes sense, since if you don’t collect all the evidence you’d be screwed during the trial portions. It’s also pretty short, I finished the first three cases in couple hours, though the fourth and fifth cases (especially the fifth) are longer. The music also tended to be a bit repetitive, although there were some tracks (particularly “Cornered!” and “Telling the Truth” that I really liked). At times it seems like the game gives you too many hints, while at other times the cases seem to require slight leaps of logic, and sometimes Phoeniz knows where the case is heading, but the player might not have figured it out yet. Also,  for those of you who are concerned about epilepsy triggers, the game can sometimes get flashy (particularly when a witness has a breakdown or Mike Meekins gets excited during the last case).

Overall, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney is short but sweet. Despite it’s linearity, the quirky cast of characters and a heaping helping of courtroom drama kept me hooked, and now I’m just wondering when the postal worker will come with the next game. If you like your adventurey/visual novel games with a murder mystery theme or you just want some anime-style graphics with your courtroom drama, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney is a great game despite being criminally short.

Tarot Review: The Dark Goddess Tarot by Ellen Lorenzi-Prince

As you know, I collect tarot decks, you may also know that I have a sub-collection of goddess decks, so when I heard about the Dark Goddess Tarot by Ellen Lorenzi-Prince (the same lady behind the Tarot of the Crone) and saw the Moon card, I knew I had to add this one to my collection.

First, a little clarification as to what is meant by the phrase “dark goddess”, by, “dark goddess” Lorenzi-Prince means goddesses and mythical figures who are “beautiful or horrible, loving or wicked. What they share are powers that are disturbing, or considered disturbing when in female hands. These are the powers of suffering and shadow, of sex and sovereignty, of magic and mystery, of death, violence, and transformation”  (p. 4). As you can see, this definition is pretty broad and not all the goddesses in this deck are what most people would think of when they hear the term “dark goddess”, but I suppose there are more than a few “goddess tarot” decks and this is a good way to differentiate from those even if I don’t think the label “dark goddess” applies to every goddess in this deck.

As usual, some more technical details. The deck is in the RWS tradition.  The cards measure 5.5 x 3 inches (just large enough to make shuffling difficult for my small hands) and are glossy. They come in a sturdy box with a 27 page full colour LWB. The cards themselves have a gray border with the card title at the top and the name of the goddess depicted in the image at the bottom. The backs are a blue “fish scale” pattern that is non-reversible. Some of the majors have been renamed: The Emperor is Sovereignty, Temperance is Alchemy, the Devil is Corruption, the Tower is Destruction, and Judgement is Liberation. Strength is VIII and Justice is XI. The suits are Fire (Wands), Earth (Pentacles), Air (Swords), and Water (Cups), and the court cards are Amazon, Siren, Witch, and Hag.

One thing I really like about this deck is how Lorenzi-Prince tried to depict the goddess in the style of her home culture. Ishtar, for instance, wouldn’t look out of place on a Babylonian temple relief, whereas Gaea is depicted in the same sort of style and pose that resembles one I’ve seen on a Greek vase (and yes, some of you will be delighted to hear that Hekate is depicted as a young women, not a crone). While many of the cards are stylistically different, the artwork is still very consistent. It’s also a very colourful deck, but the colours definitely aren’t as bright as, say, a deck like the Mythical Goddess Tarot). They’re a bit more muted.

Perhaps surprising for a deck that includes a wide variety of goddesses. the LWB doesn’t contain a whole lot of information, just where the goddess is from and a short phrase that I’ve taken to be the “message” of the card. (Note that there is apparently a full companion book in the works.) The LWB includes two spreads, a two-card “Substance and Shadow” and a five card “Goddess Be With You” spread as well as some more general information on the deck itself.

It’s actually a shame that this deck didn’t come with a more informative book, because this is definitely one of those decks where you need to know a bit about the goddesses in order to see how each one corresponds to the traditional meaning. For instance, the Banshee is appropriate for the Nine of Air, as the Banshee’s scream, which heralds death, is certainly the cause of much anxiety! But others might definitely throw you for a loop if you aren’t familiar with that goddess. The other problem is that the images tend towards simplistic, just the goddess and maybe some symbols or a simple landscape, pretty as the art is, I don’t really get a sense of movement from this deck (with a couple of exceptions) although, as I said, the art is very pretty. The fact that this deck does require some knowledge of the goddesses in order to really see how they “fit” the RWS meaning probably means it wouldn’t be the best fit for beginners.

However, when used as a non-tarot oracle deck, this deck is fantastic.

To test this deck, I decided to enlist the help of my followers on tumblr. I did a series of readings using the simple “Substance and Shadow” spread. I would choose two cards, make a note of the phrase accompanying each card in the LWB, and interpret using the phrases as a jumping off point for my intuition. I did occasionally refer to the goddess’s story when I was familiar with it, but I was much less reliant on traditional tarot meanings.

The result? Well, I’d originally thought this was just going to be an “art” deck, but it’s been so scarily accurate that it’s now earned a place as a reading deck. All of the responses I received back ranged from “pretty accurate” to “wow that’s so accurate how did you do that?” The individual cards seemed to take on personalities. Lethe, the figure on the Four of Water became a card associated with lethargy and being stuck in the past, whereas Thyone (Semele), the Ten of Fire, became a “check” for desires that were expressed in other cards, not really a “burden” which is the most common interpretation of the Ten of Wands. I usually don’t have that much interest in my “tarocle” type decks, but this one does such a good job as an oracle that I feel the need to keep reading with it. For those of you who are looking to use this as an actual tarot deck, though, remember what I said above. I would say it’s definitely possible, but I’ve had amazing success using it as if it were just a regular oracle deck.

I’ve already touched on some of the issues I have with this deck, but I would have loved to see more goddesses who are actually “dark” as opposed to the very broad definition that the creator uses. What about more goddesses associated with the night, like Nott or Nyx, or, since the deck includes “monstrous” women as well as goddesses, what about Angrboda or Gullveig? What about depicting Hellenic deities in their chthonic aspects?  For instance, depicting Persephone as Queen of the Underworld instead of showing her more popular transition from the underworld to above ground). Certainly, they wouldn’t fit as well into traditional tarot archetypes, but I’m actually a bit disappointed that the deck emphasized more “popular” aspects of certain goddesses.

For those who are concerned about such things, the deck does contain some nudity. A particular offender in this case is the Fool, Sheela Na Gig, who has a disembodied vulva, it definitely wasn’t the first card I was expecting to be staring up at me when I opened the box! While I do like that this deck is very diverse, those of you who are sensitive to cultural appropriation might wish to give this one a pass on principle (although the art itself does not appear to be problematic, but some may take issue with a goddess like Oya as the Witch of Air (as I’ve seen similar complaints in the past).

Overall, as a tarot deck, I would say the Dark Goddess Tarot definitely requires further study to be useful in that capacity, as an oracle deck, however, it worked fantastically for me and it really is a lovely set of cards even if there’s not a lot of information in the LWB and the images are a bit static. This is definitely not a deck I’d recommend to everyone, but if you like goddess-y things and you’re okay with the criticisms I mentioned above, this deck might be of interest to you. You can buy it and view some of the art here.

Just so You Know….

I have a ton of books and games and a couple tarot/oracle decks to review, so expect lots of those. (This is what happens when Gef’s birthday happens right after the holidays.)

My goal is to write/publish lots of stuff this year, so watch out for that too.

I’m trying to do more “serious” posts, but TBH often I feel like others have already said everything that I want to say on any given subject, The Thirteen Houses project will be continuing as usual.