Friday, October 31, 2014

PBP: Week 44- Variety of Soul Food

I'm one of those people who both likes and dislikes familiarity. There are some routines that I cling to. When my daily schedule gets interrupted too much, I need some unwind time...I have to submerge myself in something that brings me back to who I am...kind of like a child clinging to their favorite stuffed animal when put in a new situation. But I also love trying new things, especially learning new things.

I think that there is a balance there, between doing things that we feel are a part of us and pushing outside our comfort bubble. We know that nutritionally, a variety of foods is better than eating the same thing over and over. I think the same thing can be applied to feeding the soul. I have always felt a deep inner need for things that inspire me. For things that make me feel like there is so much more in this life than we can ever comprehend. That make me feel both insignificant and mighty at the same time.

And I find that the more different ways I feed this feeling, the greater it becomes. Wonder is not something that can be let to grow stale. If we want to keep seeing the world through fresh eyes, we need to look at new things. This is one of the reasons I love talking with other people and seeing how they approach things.

Everyone has things that just work for them. Things that make their world a fantastical place. And what works for you might not work for me...but I can get a glimpse of it by hearing you talk about it! And that can make me see the things that complete me in a new light. The more we share the more we all grow.

I think that pushing outside our comfort zone is something else that can feed the soul. Sometimes it is the things that terrify us that end up bringing us to new heights. There are a ton of things that I was petrified to do, and once I had done them I couldn't imagine not doing them again. I really try to work with my fear and look at why I am afraid of things. Fear can be a signifier that something is important. Even when there is a real reason for the fear (if something is dangerous), examining that fear and finding ways to work with it in a safe way (perhaps visualization or art therapy) can help us to see how these fears effect us and what we can learn from them.

Beauty is also something that feeds the soul. And not just traditional beauty. We can find beauty in wonderful places, by looking beyond the surface into the heart of a thing. I love pictures of elderly, I think that a person's face, their wrinkles and scars, tell a story and that story can be infinitely lovely. The more I look at things that may not be considered traditionally beautiful, the less I see standard beauty as a thing and the more I see the world around me as the magical, fabulous place it is. To me, perfection is an aberration, not a goal.

I can always tell when I am depleting my spiritual resources. I start feeling down, and tired, and just not enthusiastic about anything. I know that this means it is time to do something to build myself back up. And much like when you have eaten the same leftovers for a week straight, the more I have done the same spiritual work for a while, the less appealing it is..the less sustaining.

This doesn't mean that my practice doesn't involve staple workings. I guess I see this like drinking is the things you do because they are absolutely necessary. I shield, I ground, I meditate...these are the core of my practice, the water that I have to have. But I also find ways to stretch and grow. I love to try new exercises, to learn a new practice or to read about someone's spell or ritual. It's like going to a new restaurant and trying a dish I've never heard of before. Sometimes it is so great that I have to go out and learn how to make it myself...and sometimes it goes on the list of things I'll probably never eat again. But I would never know if I liked it unless I actually put the food in my mouth (or in the case of a practice, tried it out myself).

Monday, October 27, 2014

Book Review: The Optimized Woman

 (Link to Amazon page)

I have read a handful of other books about how a woman's body changes throughout the month, and I am always fascinated by the idea of this cyclical fluctuation and how it effects me. I found Miranda's take on the cycle to be very thought provoking. I really enjoyed reading about her Optimal Times, and found that the wording to be great. Sometimes I find books that talk about menstruation either end up very clinical or very woowoo (witch sometimes makes it hard for other people to take seriously). But the terms Miranda used were ones that I think I could easily use when talking to someone who hadn't read the book and they would understand me with a minimal amount of explaining.

The book starts off explaining the concept of Optimal Times: basically that your cycle can be broken down into four quarters and each one you have different strengths and weaknesses. As a woman, I know that I definitely have always thought of menstrual time as effecting my life, but I hadn't thought much about how I might change during the rest of the month. Each of the four Optimal Times is explained, and the strengths and weaknesses are explored. Miranda talks about why each time is good for certain things, using lots of easy to relate to examples. When a phase is weak in one area, but another phase is strong, she points out when certain activities would be better suited.

But she also explains how to work around these ebbs and flows for when you may not be able to do things in their Optimal Time. And I think that is a very important thing, because we can't all arrange our schedules as we may like to. Knowing how to deal with times where we may struggle with things is an invaluable tool.

Another thing I really appreciated was that she really kept the greater picture in mind. Each Optimum time was not only examined for what it shined at, but also for the role it played in the cycle as a whole. As I read, a fuller picture emerged, and I really saw how she was creating this flow over the course of the four Times that could be used to take a project from the start through to the end, with each Time supporting the others. I am definitely looking forward to working with this concept more.

Where this book shines is in the plan that is laid out for me to follow. It gives 28 days worth of activities in three different categories (well-being, goal achievement and work enhancement). Each day's description starts with an overview of how that particular day fits into it's larger Optimum Time. Then the three suggested activities are explained. These activities give several options for things that are particularly suited for this part of your cycle.

Miranda also addresses how to adjust the plan to match your own personal rhythm. As each woman is an individual, we won't all fit into a 28 day plan. And even more than that, some of us may spend more or less time in each of the four Time's (one woman may spend almost two weeks in one phase but only a couple of days in another), and she explains how to adjust the plan to accommodate this. Not only does this mean that every woman can hand tailor the plan to fit their own cycle, but also that if you find your times slightly off this month from where they were last month, you can adapt the plan to fit where you are.

I am really excited about trying out the plan and the activities contained in this book. I think it is very easy to understand, and yet has so much room for depth. I love how she keeps reminding us that the more we pay attention to how our bodies feel, the more we will be able to make the most use of the incredible talents we have at our very fingertips. I think that is one of the things I really find wonderful about the plan is that each month we can focus on a new project or goal and build towards it, so we don't feel like we are doing the same thing over and over.

I think that if you are a woman that is looking for more insight into your body and how to be happy and fulfilled in your life that this book is well worth looking into. I also thought it was great that she included a chapter for men who were interested in better understanding the women in their lives and how they might better interact and support them at different times.


Friday, October 24, 2014

PBP: Week 43- Vision

I read a book a bit ago: Steampunk Magic by Gypsey Elaine Teague. Definitely a book I'd recommend, it covers a whole style of magic based on the steampunk genre. One of the tools that was mentioned was goggles, with the idea that the goggles were worn as a way to see into the beyond. And it definitely got me thinking.

I wear glasses. I have since middle school. Both my parents wear glasses, and when I was little, I so wanted to wear glasses because they both did. Of course, not long after I ended up needing glasses, I realized they were a bit of a hassle! But I have been wearing glasses for a very long time now. My eyes are a bit tricky, one is more farsighted while the other is more nearsighted. Without my glasses, everything is in a kind of soft, fuzzy blurriness. I can see well enough to not bump into things, and I can read stuff up close (thought it is blurry), but anything much beyond arms distance I need glasses to see well.

I used to think I could see really well at night, because I never felt blind in the darkness. What I realized was that I was sort of used to being able to function with that level of blur, and so it didn't unnerve me. Nothing was actual in focus at night, but my brain ignored the soft edges and told me what was there anyways. And I rarely tried to read in the dark so sharp focus wasn't needed. I still have no problem wandering around my house in the dark in the middle of the night. In fact, I sometimes feel more at home in the dark when everything is fuzzy because I don't feel like I need to rely on my eyes as much....I feel more than I see.

So how does this relate to my practice? Well thinking back to the goggles, I had thought about trying to make a set, because I loved the idea. I had a lot of interesting thoughts about it: things that could be done with the lenses to change the way you saw the world (there are a lot of awesome things that can be done with camera lenses in the same way). You could make the light refract so there would be rainbows everywhere or tint the lenses so you see the world in shades of different colors. You could make different glasses or goggles for different workings (imagine a set of colored lenses for working with chakras).

For me, though, a lot of this 'stepping outside the mundane' can be established by simply taking off my glasses. My glasses form a shield between me and the world. I am constantly aware of them, either by feel or sight (I can see the frames). I have worn them long enough that most times they don't bother me, but if I am fighting a headache, I would rather have them off than on. But I definitely think I see things more intuitively without them on. I have taken my glasses off for ritual many times. Even if I need to read something, I can manage without them.

I feel that when I take away the sharp focus, the clarity of vision that my glasses provide, that I pull back my attention on the physical. If I can't make out the details on a thing, I don't typically try to force it into focus. Instead, I look beyond it's material characteristics and see the essence behind it. I definitely think I rely more on other senses when I am not seeing clearly (especially at night, I rarely am vision primary at night), which works for me because I am not a visual primary person to begin with (although sometimes I think I try to be because so much of our world is based on sight).

When I was little, before I learned about meditation, visualization or aura perception, I used to daydream all the time. And I had a vivid imagination. I created and lived in worlds of my own making. And I could 'see' those worlds over the waking world, even with my eyes open. But I would drop all focus on the material world. If you have ever tried one of those 3-D images (the ones that are all made of dots, but if you shift your focus the image appears), it was like that, except the image that appeared was in my mind...the rest of the world just blurred out behind it. And even though I say image, it wasn't a picture. It was simply a knowing. Like when you read the word chair, and your brain pulls up an amalgamation of different examples of chairs. You may or may not have an actual chair pictured, but you definitely know what the meaning of chair is.

I have found this type of visual refocusing to be very helpful. While I do meditate and visualize a lot with my eyes closed, I find a different type of experience when I do it with my eyes open. I can move through the world and still see another world entirely.

We use all kinds of tools in our practice, and yet this mention of goggles in Steampunk Magic was the first one that I recall that focused on shifting vision (not counting things like the black mirror which are scrying focused). I think that there is a lot of potential in using tools to help facilitate a visual shift, or to help us step into other worlds. The tool doesn’t' even have to be glasses or goggles, you could use a veil (which is great for creating a separation from the physical), a mask or even makeup.

Friday, October 17, 2014

PBP: Week 42- Understanding

Understanding is a different thing, in my mind, than knowing. Knowing is more related to facts and book knowledge: memorization. Understanding goes much deeper than that. One way I like to put it is that it is when something becomes internalized...or when it picks up personal meaning to you. I can read an article and come to know something, but I don't typically understand it until I can apply it to my life.

Understanding is very important to me. I consider something learned until it is understood. And understanding isn't static, but made up of all kinds of plateaus. I think that anytime you start to study something, you gather knowledge, and then when you think about, practice or try to apply that knowledge you may reach a level of understanding. That understanding may change or even dissolve, if you later uncover new knowledge. The process starts over, as you work to bring the knew information into a different level of understanding.

There are things that I have studied for decades now. Some of them have grown and the understanding I have now is multi-layered and deep. Other things I have shattered my old understanding of them and developed a completely different understanding. Typically, I find that my understanding is challenged more by other people's experience than by uncovering new facts, although both can create room for growth.

There is a word, used in science fiction, that I heard when I was a child and loved. Grok: to understand intuitively or so completely that something becomes a part of you. This is pretty much what understanding is to me. I don't consider something learned until it is so familiar to me that it is like my own self. It is when you can do something without thinking about it, when it becomes instinctual. To me, this is the start of working with a skill. You practice it, study it, live and breathe it, until it becomes a part of you, and then you can really start to develop it.

I also like another word: kenning. There are a lot of different meanings for the word ken. It means to know, but it can also mean vision, as in how far can you see. And I think that vision is a part of understanding. The more open your eyes are, the further you can see, the deeper your understanding will be. If your eyes aren't open, you can think you know something and be very mistaken. Another meaning of ken is to teach. And I think that in order to teach effectively, you really have to understand a subject. While anyone can pass along facts, to share understanding requires a much more thorough grasp of the subject. And, as many people who teach know, often the act of teaching helps deepen your understanding of a thing. The teacher learns from the student through the questions and discussions they share.

One of my favorite meanings of kenning though is a metaphorical description of something. For example, Yggdrasil can be referred to as Odin's horse. On the surface, this doesn't always make sense, but as you explore the meanings, you uncover the reason behind the association. Hanging from a tree could be referred to as riding the tree, and as you ride a horse, the tree becomes the horse. Odin hung himself from Yggdrasil to learn the runes, and so Yggdrasil becomes Odin's horse.

Kennings give a lot of ways for us to explore and go beyond the facts and numbers. I have seen kennings all over. Many of the more fanciful names of herbs (things you might find in old spells and recipes) are kennings. Eye of newt is thought by many to refer to mustard seed (because it looks like a small yellow eye) rather than the actual animal body part. I also have found kennings in many games. Brain box being used instead of skull, whale road for the ocean.

I think that creating kennings of our own is a great way to challenge our own understandings. My favorite kennings are not too obvious, but if you know the lore or subject, then they make complete sense. In a lot of ways, kennings remind me of alternative alphabets and other codes. And I love those, and always have. There is something fantastical and wonderful about communicating in ways that are not immediately obvious.

Friday, October 10, 2014

PBP: Week 41- UPG

Upg is an acronym for unverified personal gnosis: things that we have experienced that are not based on historical or universally accepted consensus.  Upg is a phrase that has been used more and more, and often in a somewhat negative light.  

There is the tendency to discount personal experience in favor of historical accounts.  Modern society teaches us that fact and history carries more weight and this has more value.  And even in the Pagan community, where we value personal expression, we often deny the validity of a person's experience when it is in direct opposition to what is generally accepted to be true.

But I think we forget that ours is a living and evolving tradition.  In fact, I think this is one thing that sets us apart from most other religions is that we do not have a static set of practices.  Instead, our beliefs are constantly changing and growing.  And this is all based on the experiences of the people practicing.

Every single one of us contributes to the body of work that is Paganism.  It is our experiences, shaded through the lives we have lived that future Pagans will turn to as they work through their own path.  Each of us will experience the world in our own way because we are all individuals.  This is why our experiences are so varied.

If you ask ten people to describe a situation, you will get ten different descriptions.  If you ask a hundred people, you will surely get a consensus, a common thread that runs through the many stories, and yet there will always be outliers.  And yet, those people who have different stories, are not wrong.  They just lived through a different experience because of their unique life experiences.

There is a lot of discussion about who is right or wrong.  Which in turn often leads to discussion about whether or not the Gods themselves can evolve and change.  Can they appear differently to each of us, and if they can are they still the same Gods?

I don't feel like this diminishes our beliefs at all, rather I think this gives our beliefs depth and complexity.  Instead of being a simple flat picture, it becomes a sculpture with texture and volume.

But what about when someone's Upg is completely contradictory to the general consensus?  I think sometimes it can be a matter of perspective, like those pictures that are so close up that'll you can't tell what they actually are.  Perhaps we are simply not able to see from far enough away to see how it fits.  I also don't discount the human error.  There have been plenty of times when I thought I understood what has happened and then later realized I was completely wrong in my assumptions.

And let's not forget too that some people do create their own versions of things that are meant to be provocative.  They want to create strife and stir things up by insisting that their experience is both real and valid.  It is my experience that people who insist their version is the true one and other people's are not are often blind to the greater vision, either through choice (when someone decides to keep their blinders on) or fear (like covering your eyes so you can't see the truth).

Ultimately, I celebrate Upg because it adds depth and clarity to my path.  Even when someone else's Upg is different from mine, I learn about how other people see things and sometimes about how I my own visions define me.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Voices of the Sacred Feminine (book review)

 (Amazon link)

I found this book to be very moving, although not exactly what I had thought it was going to be. I'm not a very politically minded person, and typically I don't follow a lot of the political debates and struggles, so some of the book was pretty alien to me. But even in the parts I was completely out of my element in, I found myself learning about things and hearing the reflections in my own heart.

I think that some of what makes this book so very powerful is that the viewpoints expressed in it are so varied. While I do try to expose myself to views different from my own (and almost always find that I learn so much when doing this), it is not always a comfortable place to be. There were parts of the book that I didn't identify with so much, and parts that I felt very connected to even though the author and I were very different people.

What really broke my heart was that the many descriptions of the ways in which women (and men) are struggling with gender roles and stereotypes is something I see every day. What I found very inspiring was the many ways that people, all over the world, are working to fight against these long ingrained perceptions.

I think one of the things I found most relevant was the point that women tend to turn a blind eye to the way that other women treat women. And this is something that I find to be very true. I think that there is definitely value in banding together, but that in doing so we must keep our eyes open, we must be brutally honest and call out the limiting attitudes we see all around us, even when those attitudes come from other women. It is something I have personally struggled with for a long time, and have always felt more at home with men than women because of the aggressive and often two faced nature that many women have taken up. If we don't recognize that nature for what it is (an unhealthy way of interpersonal interaction) how can we move beyond it?

A couple of the chapters talked about the archetype of the Queen. I am a big fan of archetypes, and I really like the inclusion of the Queen into the more traditional trinity of Maiden, Mother and Crone. I loved how the Queen was described, not only as a decision maker but also as one who receives. I think that many women can benefit from working with the Queen inside and feeling that sense of self worth.

I also appreciate the many ways that this book includes men, not only in the celebration of the Sacred Feminine in the women in their life, but also inside themselves. I think that gender issues face us all, and that trying to separate them builds walls that only hurt us. By accepting all the parts of the self, especially when they don't fit into traditional categorizations, we open ourselves to true unity within, and that type of unity leads us to deal with others from a balanced place instead of one of insecurity.

But I also think that things like the Red Tent are great tools for women to learn to know and love the women within. Building a space where women can be and love and receive is something that many of us simply do not have in our lives and something we so desperately need (though I do think that men need their own tent to spend time in as well). What I have always thought was truly magical about the concept of the Red Tent was that it was a time for to step outside of the roles and responsibilities we bear every moment of every day and just be.

There is a beautiful meditation in the book, where you are led through a method of healing in order to bring about change on the DNA level. I think the medical community is just now starting to really open up to visualization and energy as tools to augment traditional medicine. Meditations like this are really exciting for me. I think we all have things to heal, and that by learning to look within for answers can help us to heal ourselves.

I think that this book does a fabulous job of addressing a huge part of the schism that divides us as a people. And it approaches this issue with the goal of working with each of our strengths to move forward instead of pointing out reasons why we are built to have certain frailties that hold us back. I think we are poised on the precipice of a huge upheaval in the way society views itself and the people that make it up, and that gender issues are going to be a huge part of that. In order to grow and move forward, we need to examine who we are and where we came from, and this book does a lot to highlight the many ways in which the Sacred Feminine has been treated.

As much as I tend to not like to be involved in political issues, one thing that I walked away from this book with is that avoiding things like politics (or gender issues) because we don't like the face they take just leaves them to run rampant. The political issues discussed showed me that there is a lot of crazy stuff going on out there that I was ignoring and that by not being a part of it I was giving it permission to do what it wanted. I do think we need to all make ourselves a little uncomfortable and face the things that we feel aren't right in the world if we want to make it a better place.

This book gave me a lot to think about, and that is one thing I highly value in a book. Some parts I agreed with, and some I didn't, but I learned so much about issues I either didn't know much about or wasn't paying attention to. This is the kind of book that I think that everyone should read and be aware of, and that we should start discussions on the ideas it broaches. The more we bring these issues to light, the more we talk about them, the more we work to change what we feel is broken, the closer we come to having the type of society and world that we dream about.

Friday, October 3, 2014

PBP: Week 40- Temple of the body

Ours is (typically) a path that doesn't have established temples, and so often instead you hear the phrase “your body is your temple”. We are reminded that we are sacred and that our body is holy. I think this is a reminder that is very necessary in today's society where we are often told by media and the like that bodies are not desirable unless they are perfect (and photo-shopped!), that the physical is messy and somehow less than the spiritual and that if we don't like something that makes it bad (and somehow makes us bad as well).

I am not perfect by any means. And I don't just mean that fantasy perfect of the girls in the magazine (because they are all young too....age is just another flaw, or so we are told). I don't always love myself as much as I should. There are days where I just am really angry at myself for the way I look (for things I have control over, like weight), or wistful and wishing I looked different (for the things I have no control over, like height).

Now it's time for some brutal honesty. I am female, 36 years old, 5'10, and last time I weighed in I hovered around 230 pounds (we don't have a scale at the house). I have a lot of bad habits. I am not nearly as active as I should be. I spend way too much time on the computer (playing games as well as just loosing braincells to YouTube or other time killers).

I don't eat the way I should. We don't eat out that often, but partially due to budget issues, we definitely eat out of the freezer more than I would like (pre-packaged freezer I should say). But I also struggle a lot with serving size. I'm a grazer, and I know I have food issues that I haven't worked out because I don't just eat often, but I have a tendency to eat more at a sitting then I should. If there is half a serving of something left after everyone is done, I'm more likely to eat it then to put it away. My brain and body don't typically communicate well, so my body doesn't send a signal of being full.

I have some other mixed signals. In some ways I cross the pain/pleasure barrier. I can push through pain to reach that endorphin high. My stubbornness feeds into this, and I feel like I have to prove (mainly to myself, though a little to the world) that I can survive the pain, whether it is mechanical (like a bruise or scrape) or internal (like a headache).

All of this factors into my self-image, which in turn effects my path. I definitely struggle with feelings of self-worth, and so being able to fully commit to working towards a goal can mean starting in the hole. It's like having to fill in that gaping place of empty inside yourself, just to get on an even keel...and then you have to build up to where you want to be. Some days it just doesn't happen. What I have learned is to accept those days. On those days, I try to work on being with those feelings instead of trying to block them out. Sometimes that doesn't happen either, and at the end of the day I will realize that I have spent the whole day doing things who's whole purpose was to distract me from anything I might be thinking or feeling.

I don't think this is necessarily a bad thing. If it was frequent, I would worry, but most days I am good. And I think those darker times help remind me that there are places in myself that are not strong or stable or happy. And those slightly broken places emphasize the good in the rest of my life. When you stand on the other side of the pit, you can look back into the depths and see how far you have come. If everything is on the same level, then nothing looks up.

When I was first starting my path, I was in high school. I was definitely in a lower place then. I think, like many teens, I was struggling coming into my own, finding my place and figuring out who my friends were. Add in all those lovely, turbulent teen dating issues, and you end up with a roller coaster of emotions. I was very much a tomboy, and so any emotions I thought were girly were not something I was comfortable with. I tried to distance myself from it as much as I could. I embraced the harder emotions: anger and pain. I drew a lot of my power from those.

It took me a long time to break out of the cages I built around myself. I had worked so hard to deny my own emotions that when I started to let them back in, they weren't there. I had to go searching for the things I had run from.

I have scars, both physical and emotional. I am proud of my scars, for one reason or another. Some of them I am proud of because they were gotten when I was fearless and pushed forward even though I knew I might get hurt. Some I am proud of simply for having lived through the experience and not letting it destroy me. I think that our scars tell the story of our lives, and though we may look back and cringe, every mark we bear has built us into the person we are today. Without them all, we would be different.

The temple of my self isn't a huge gilded building with stained glass windows and marble floors. It doesn't gleam in the darkness and it isn't so clean you could eat off the floor. I've been in these kind of temples, and it is intimidating. You feel like you can only talk in a whisper, and like someone is watching you just waiting for you to mess up. You are afraid to touch anything because you might break it or leave a smear or fingerprint. You feel under-dressed and somewhat shabby no matter how nice your clothes are and how smartly you are done up.

I don't think that viewing the body as a temple means that you should strive for perfection. I do thin that it means that you should do your best to do what works for you. This might be very different from what society says you should do.

I don't diet. I don't tell myself I can't eat particular foods. In fact, I give myself permission to eat whatever I want. What I do is remind myself that every single time I eat more than is reasonable, I feel miserable, and I feel that way for hours. If I eat too much sweets or salt (I am more inclined to eat salty foods than sweet), then my tongue hurts (it's kind of wacky, but I will have a single taste bud get swollen and achy).

I do try to work out. And I tend to push myself too hard sometimes (it's that stubborn thing). And when I do it too many days in a row, something will smack me upside the head and make me stop. Last month it was my knees. I overdid the workout (with a lot of higher impact stuff than I should be doing), and my knees felt swollen for about two weeks. On the flip side, if I go for several days without doing anything physical, I just don't feel as good.

I am learning how to cry, and how to be okay with that. I find that the more I try not to cry, the more it feels like it is building up in my head. I am working on not being embarrassed with myself when I cry over crazy things (like commercials or hearing certain songs).

The temple of my self is well worn. The chairs are patched but comfortable. The carpet is stained, but thick. You take your shoes off when you come in, not because you don't want to track dirt in but because it lets them breathe.

The Witch's Eight Paths of Power (review)

I just got done reading this book, and I was extremely impressed. Let me start off by saying that Lady Sable has a wonderful writing voice. The book was simply enjoyable to read! She writes as if she were talking to you, with bits of humor, and without sounding like a lecture. There are plenty of technical terms where appropriate, but it never became hard to understand.

Lady Sable lays out the Eight Paths in a progression, from the ones that form the foundation to pretty much all magical practice, to the more advanced arts that many might not have worked with. She includes instructions and exercises with variations for both men and women, solitary and group work. If you follow the course laid out in the book, and work with the exercises as suggested, this book would definitely build a strong practice.

I wouldn't call this a 101 book, though I think this is what many 101 books wish they could have been. I think that someone fresh to the practice could take up this book and work through it and build a solid core practice. The things that aren't in this book that are often in other beginner books are things that I think most people would research more on their own anyways, like deity lists. There are some very nice charts at the end which cover a lot of the correspondences. She doesn't cover Sabbats in the traditional way (there is no section for them, though there is a chart that shows the basic essence of the Sabbats), so if you aren't already familiar with them, then you will need to research those on your own as well. What she does cover is how to build a ritual, so that you can create your own. In my eyes it is the difference between the types of lessons you got in grade school (here is the information: memorize it) and the type you got in college (here is the structure of how to write a paper, pick a topic and do your research).

I really loved the exercises. There are just under a hundred and thirty in the book, and many of them have different variations. The exercises fit with the content well, and often build on earlier exercises. Some are core practices, such as shielding and grounding. There are a lot that are tools that will be used again and again, like the exercise for dealing with anger or the one for processing grief. The exercises really focus on looking inward, on processing how you think and react to things, which put them a step above many other books that include exercises but only talk about the physical actions and don't point you inward to reflect on them.

Lady Sable doesn't hold back. She talks about difficult subjects that aren't explored in a lot of books (besides very specialized books that only deal with one particular subject). Things like using mind altering substances, sex and pain are explored, and she not only explains how they are often used, but shares her own personal experiences (or reasons why she chose not to work with certain things). She takes a very balanced approach, sharing very solid cautions as well as the main reasons why these practices are used.

One of my favorite topics was Channeling. I have read a lot of descriptions of drawing down or invoking, and often it feels more like authors are talking about the process rather than explaining how to do it. Lady Sable not only gives an excellent explanation of many different types of Channeling and what you might expect, but also shares a lot of her own experiences and tips for how to have a safe and productive session. I very much appreciated her thoughts on non-traditional gender bound channeling. I think that there is still a pretty big assumption that women will channel Goddesses and men will channel Gods and if two people are channeling it will be a God and a Goddess. Lady Sable talks about ways to use channeling in same-gendered pairings as well as channeling deities that do not match your biological gender.

I also had the opportunity to check out some of the companion videos she has made to accompany the book. I haven't watched them all yet, but I loved that she made videos for the 5 Tibetan rites and Dance. One thing that is often very hard to get across with writing is movement, and having a video that you can watch to show you how to do the different movements is much easier for me to learn from than just text (although her written instructions are very good, and the book includes excellent pictures to help illustrate).

She also has a video where a nice selection of chants are demonstrated. I am a huge chanting fan! I absolutely love learning new chants, and I know dozens of them already. She has some on her chant video that are new to me which is lovely, as well as many that are extremely well known. Chanting is another thing that I think really needs audio, I am always frustrated when I find a new chant I really like, but it is only the wording and I can't find the tune for it.

I am definitely going to be re-reading this book many times, and working through a lot of the exercises. There were a ton that I was excited about while reading through the first time. I think that this book makes a lot of things really approachable, whether you choose to add them to your practice or not, you will walk away with a much deeper understanding of the practices. While there is plenty of 'how to' in the book, I think what I appreciated most was that there was an equal amount of 'why' answered as well. I think that is something that a lot of books don't explore as much as they should.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the Eight Paths (intent, trance, spellwork, intoxicants, movement, control, the scourge, the great rite). While I do think that this would be a good book for someone just starting out, it has such great depth that I think it would appeal to a more experienced person as well.