While books aren’t my sole source of information (talking shop with others is important, and of course personal experience is key) I wanted to share some of the books that have influenced my path over the years. This is not the sum total of books I have read, just some of the ones that have had a particular influence on me in regards to the formation of my spiritual/magical path. You can see reviews of these and other books (which still doesn’t cover nearly all my reading) at my book review blog. I’ll add to this as I get hit with amazing inspiration.
Animal-Speak and Animal-Wise, The Animal-Wise Tarot
Like so many people, Animal-Speak was my very first book on animal totems. Actually, it was my first book on animal totemism in general. I later picked up Animal-Wise to see what else there was to learn. While I don’t utilize the bulk of the material any more, both were formative to my early understanding of totemism, both the dictionaries and the practices included (especially shapeshifting dance).
I first bought the Animal-Wise Tarot shortly after it came out in 1998. I sat down with the deck, and we figured out a unique directional/elemental spread for working with totems, rather than the usual tarot readings. It’s a wonderful tool for suggesting tertiary totems, those that we invite into our lives for help with a specific problem. While I wouldn’t use it to help someone find their primary totem, I’ve had an excellent success rate with it otherwise.
I have Animal Speak, but need to sit with it and read through it properly
Bowra, C.M.: Primitive Song
This is an interesting book, if somewhat dated, on the structure and creation of song in indigenous societies today, as well as some speculation on how paleolithic people may have constructed music. (Anybody else having flashbacks to the “Caveman” movie with Ringo Starr?). At any rate, while I haven’t done a ton of composition, I do plan on integrating self-composed songs and chants as a method of achieving trance and honoring the spirits I work with (as well as for other magical purposes that may arise).
Campbell, Joseph: Primitive Mythology (The Masks of God series) and The Way of the Animal Powers (Part I)
Okay, okay, I know Campbell has his definite shortcomings and needs to be taken with a grain of salt. I’ve read some of his more sexist views, and I also realize that he does take some liberties with Jung’s material and the idea of an interconnected mythology. However, much of what he says rings true to me on a deep spiritual level, particularly his speculations about paleolithic religions and the possible roles of cave paintings and sculptures. So I embrace what he writes with a grain of salt, and find it quite useful for my own beliefs. I also compare it to what hunter-gatherer cultures today are doing, with the understanding that with rare exception they’ve been affected by industrial societies to one extent or another.
Carroll, Peter J: Liber Null & Psychonaut and Liber Kaos
These were my first two books on Chaos magic. I’ll admit that I had to read a basic book on physics before I could hash through the first chunk of Liber Kaos, but it was worth it. These really helped to give me a more organized and flexible perspective on magical practice as a freestanding phenomenon (as opposed to an auxiliary to a religion and/or culture).
Eliade, Mircea: Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy
Yes, I finally got around to reading this classic. I enjoyed it quite a bit, though chewing through hundreds of pages of pure vintage academia took two weeks. It’s going to be one of those books that I go back to every so often to re-read, and will probably get more out of with each time. It’s apparently withstood the years pretty well, too–while there’s obviously newer material out there, it hasn’t become obsolete. I can appreciate the comparative aspects of the book, though it’s also good to see how cultures have different cosmologies and traditions. A nice thorough resource.
Ellwood, Taylor: Pop Culture Magick, Space/Time Magic, Inner Alchemy
Taylor’s my husband/mate/sweetie/significant other/etc., and his writing was one of the things that attracted me to him (intelligence really IS sexy–so is innovation). He writes on oddball magical theory and practice; it’s effective, but incredibly unorthodox in a number of ways. He is one of the very few people I’m comfortable practicing magic with. While we aren’t two halves of a whole and have our individual practices, we share a number of magical philosophies in common (such as, Yes it IS important to know the process as well as the result of magic; and When it comes to evocation, you get better results with honey than vinegar, even with *gasp* Goetic demons). So while I don’t agree with him on everything, and I don’t utilize every single practice he writes about or works with otherwise, he has been a good influence and sounding board for me.
Endredy, James: Ecoshamanism
This is a very important book to me. Essentially it takes shamanism and plants it firmly in ecological awareness and environmentally friendly practices. While traditional shamanism isn’t all about environmentalism, therioshamanism is very much an environmentally active practice. It’s quite obvious that Endredy knows his stuff, both with wildcraft and shamanism, and it’s one of my favorite texts for reminding me of my focus on the Earth.
Gallegos, Eligio Stephen: The Personal Totem Pole
Hardly anyone knows about this book, which is a shame because it’s incredible. The author is a psychotherapist who combined his practices with chakras and totem meditations–basically bringing forth the totem animal of each of the seven primary chakras in a patient and having “councils” with them to help assess the patient’s issues. While it’s a case study rather than a how-to book, anyone with a basic understanding of meditation should have no trouble figuring out how to use the material. It influenced me not only as an excellent practice to use, but also inspired me to be more of an experimenter.
Gray, William G: Magical Ritual Methods
Another very important book, this one gave me some incredible insights as to how/why magic works–it’s basically the best book on magical mechanics out there. Gray goes through the traditional magical tools and practices and, step by step, demonstrates not only how they work (particularly on a psychological level) but also how they may be customized, and why it’s important to do so. It’s not an easy read, and it’s incredibly dense, but it’s well worth it.
Greer, John Michael and Clare Vaughn: Pagan Prayer Beads
I first encountered this book when I reviewed it for Facingnorth.net. Later on, the Animal Father hinted that it might be a useful resource. Upon completion of my first six months in March 2008 I’ll be creating my own set of prayer beads, which I foresee as being a useful tool in daily meditation.
Harner, Michael: The Way of the Shaman
It’d be kinda tough to study neoshamanism without reading this book. Harner isn’t teaching “genuine Native American shamanism”; rather, he did to shamanism what Carroll did to magic in general–boil it down to its bare-bones components, sans cultural context, and present it as a working system for modern practitioners. Unfortunately, he only presents a partial perspective on what shamanism is, and leaves a number of cultural elements in there that can lead people to believe they’re doing it “just like the Indians”. I think the misunderstanding people have is that this book–or the weekend seminars that have ultimately derived from core shamanism–will automatically make you a shaman. I think it’s more accurate to say it can make you a practitioner of shamanic techniques, but one book a shaman does not make. Still, this is a useful handbook for said techniques, and as long as it’s taken in the proper context it’s an okay resource.
I have this book and need to analyse it
Harpur, Patrick: Daimonic Reality: A Field Guide to the Otherworld
It’s tough to describe this book without seriously shortchanging it. Written from an academic viewpoint (though not in a dry voice), it’s an incredible book that covers everything from the Anima Mundi (compared with the Collective Unconscious) to UFOs and cryptozoology, and Imagination-with-a-big-I (necessary for ritual success). He explains how “literal” and “metaphorical” aren’t so dualistic as initially thought, and postulates some amazing theories about the nature of Reality. A wonderful way to shatter your tunnel vision and reconsider the way things work, particularly in relation to the way the various layers of reality interweave.
Harvey, Graham (ed): Shamanism: A Reader
This is an awesome anthology with a great collection of primarily academic perspectives on both traditional and neo shamanism. While I didn’t like every essay, I did learn quite a bit from it, particularly on some of the more interesting niches, such as Siberian shamanic gender roles, the aesthetics of Korean shamanism, and Russian documentaries on shamanism. I wasn’t as impressed by most of the essays on neoshamanism, but it was nice to see them included instead of ignored. The writing on some of the essays is somewhat tough to chew through if you’re not used to academic writing, but this didn’t hinder me too much.
Leiber, Justin: Can Animals and Machines Be Persons?
This slim philosophical volume is crucial to my view on consciousness. It’s a fictional dialogue on the rights of animals and machines to exist, based on whether they count as ‘conscious” or not. The author brings up some fascinating arguments on both sides. My favorite quote is “The multicellular organism is just an extreme example of [a collective individual]. Each cell carries on a miniature life, but the collective is so obviously the subject of biological generalizations that we see it as an organism much more than we see the individual cells as organisms.” (p. 48)
Levi-Strauss, Claude: Totemism
This is a classic anthropological text on animal totemism in indigenous cultures. While it’s a bit dated (1960s) it’s a great improvement over earlier anthropological work, and many newer texts on the same topic refer to it. Levi-Strauss (no relation to the jeans people) does a great job of exploring the practice and beliefs of totemism in a variety of cultures around the world, showing how moeity/exogamy are exceptionally important in many of these cultures, and how totemism was initially a group-based rather than individual-based concept.
Lopez, Barry Holstun: Of Wolves and Men
Lopez has offered an incredible work (first published, incidentally, the year I was born) that explores not only the natural history of the wolf, but the complex and often antagonistic relationship humanity has had with wolves of all species. This book marked a turning point in how we relate to Canis lupus and hir kin, and is besides a telling examination of how we treat nature in general. A must-read for anyone.
Madden, Kristen: The Book of Shamanic Healing
I haven’t put much of the material in this book to use just yet, but once I’m at the point where I can start some preliminary shamanic practice, this will be a useful guidebook to the healing end of things. It’s an exceptionally practical toolkit, and rather than being a rehash of 101 material it has more advanced material, both on the spiritual and physical ends.
Morris, Brian: The Power of Animals: An Ethnography
This is an ethnographic study of the people of Malawi in Africa, who still live a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to an extent. While it doesn’t go into strict spirituality as much as Morris’ companion book, Animals and Ancestors (which I have but have not yet read), it’s a fascinating look at how animals are perceived by these cultures on a practical, everyday basis. Morris lived alongside the people he studied for a number of years, immersing himself in the cultures and lifestyles rather than running in fear of “going native”. While it’s a relatively dry academic text, it’s well worth reading, and is a good model for understanding the hunter-gatherer mindset a little more, specific to one particular set of cultures.
O’Neill, Claire: The Oracle of the Bones
This is actually a new discovery of mine. While it’s not the most detailed book, it’s the companion to a divination set (the set to this particular copy has long since been lost) based on the bone-throwing divination of a few African tribes. There’s some background information given, enough to demonstrate O’Neill’s authority, but the bulk of the volume is dedicated to interpretations of particular throws involving four bones and a triparte casting cloth. I made my own casting cloth out of leather, and used four fox and coyote bones, and have gotten good results thus far.
Pike, Sarah M.: Earthly Bodies, Magical Selves
This book is one of the better academic approaches to magical people, and the neopagan festival subculture in specific. Pike attended a number of festivals over several years, getting involved as well as observing. Her coverage of the events and the underlying themes and currents is sensitive and respectful rather than appropriating, and it was this book that first really got me interested in cultural appropriation within neopaganism. Well written and highly recommended.
Samorini, Giorgio: Animals and Psychedelics
This is a unique book in that it solely explores the practices of nonhuman animals that deliberately seek out drugs in order to get high. Elephants and slugs that drink both natural and manmade alcohol, caribou that eat amanita, and all sorts of critters that eat fermented fruit are covered here in detail. This book inspired some experimentation with chemognosis and legal drugs (such as caffeine and alcohol) in conjunction with the totems of species that were known to intentionally ingest those substances. (Incidentally, I have a chapter on my experimentation in my forthcoming book DIY Totemism–not that you have to buy the book, of course, but if you’re interested it’ll be one of the topics covered.)
Shepard, Paul and Sanders, Barry: The Sacred Paw: The Bear in Nature, Myth and Literature
This is an excellent work on the relationship between bears and humans, particularly in our mythology throughout the millenia. I like it particularly for its tracing of the evolution of the emphasis in the motif of the Bear Mother and Bear Sons from the Mother as the cyclical force of the seasons, to the Sons becoming heroes and eventually losing their ursine qualities altogether. It’s a good reminder of the mythical and spiritual relationships we have had with animals in the past, and something to work on rebuilding if at all possible.
Starhawk: The Earth Path
I was never a huge Starhawk fan, but this book is a nice exception. Rather than a how-to book of environmental activism, it’s aimed at changing the fundamental attitudes and views we have of nature, and our interactions with the elements. In fact, I’ve used the chapters that are specific to the four traditional elements as reading material for the beginning of each of my elemental months. It’s a realistic look at how we can shift ourselves to a greener perspective, but rather than being all guilt ridden, it instead purports a positive method of figuring out what we each can do as individuals. It’s a great companion book to James Endredy’s Ecoshamanism.
Vitebsky, Piers: The Shaman
I like this book because it’s a good anthropological introduction to shamanism–primarily traditional, but with a brief mention near the end of neoshamanism. It’s a nice blend of text and illustrations, and the author covers a lot of ground. He seems particularly interested in altered states of consciousness, and the involvement of the shaman in both the community overall, and politics (including conflict with large governments–shamanism as subversive!).
Walsh, M.D., Ph.D, Roger N: The Spirit of Shamanism
This is a superior academic text on the psychology of shamanism. Unlike earlier academic works, though, the author is careful to not allow Western bias to color a negative picture of the topic. Rather, he explains in great detail (and with in-text citations, even!) about how shamanism differs from schizophrenia and other mental illnesses, the psychology behind shamanic healing (such as the placebo effect), and the psychological states involved in initiation and journeying. I took away a much better understanding of the internal mechanics of shamanism from this book, as well as some good arguments against “shamans are crazy”. One of the most recommended books on this list.
Webb, Hillary S.: Exploring Shamanism
This is pure neoshamanism–and the author gets points for admitting it up front. It’s a great guide to making shamanism relevant to mainstream postindustrial societies, and is a nice, down to Earth exploration of the concept. It’s got a good mix of theory and practice, too. 101, but it gave me some good ideas for integrating my practice into everyday life.
Wetzel, Joshua: The Paradigmal Pirate
This book really fleshed out Chaos magic for me. While the first half is basically a re-presentation of Carroll’s material, the second half gets into some really fun new territory, including personality changes on a fundamental level, using children’s games as magical rituals (in practice), and, of course, paradigmal piracy. This one gave me some great inspiration for expanding my understanding of what magic could be used for.
Wilson, Robert Anton: Prometheus Rising
Want to break your brain in a good way? This is a fun book for doing so. Wilson combined Leary’s Eight-Circuit model of consciousness with Lilly’s metaprogramming and a nice dose of transactional analysis to create a user’s guide for human psychology. It’s not the do-all and end-all of the human being, but it is a good way to understand the surface of how we get conditioned and why we sometimes do the weird things we do. I used it for consciousness expansion and getting a better grip on parts of myself I was unfamiliar with. It’s not the deepest plunge into the psyche, and it has its shortcomings, but it’s definitely a useful tool.
Ziff, Bruce and P.V. Rao (editors): Borrowed Power: Essays on Cultural Appropriation
This book helped to answer some of the questions and solidify some positions I had on cultural appropriation, as well as how I approach indigenous cultural artifacts. It’s an academic anthology on topics surrounding the borrowing–or theft–of aspects of minority culture by dominant ones, most notably the appropriation of Native America/First Nations cultures. It also inspired me to put out a call for essays about cultural appropriation in the pagan community.
Replicated in its entirety from Lupa’s blog’s Bibliography page – Written Source Material
Later, I will edit this as I acquire/discard the books
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