Book Review: Yule by Susan Pesznecker (Llewellyn’s Sabbat Essentials)

Yule by Susan PeszneckerLlewellyn’s Sabbat Essentials series contains eight small books, one for each Sabbat in the pagan Wheel of the Year. The author varies by the Sabbat with no author having more than two books in the series. Yule: Rituals, Recipes, and Lore for the Winter Solstice was penned by Susan Pesznecker and is one of the best books in the Sabbat Essentials series.

The standard sections in the Sabbat Essentials books are: Old Ways, New Ways, Spells and Divination, Recipes and Crafts, Prayers and Invocations, Rituals of Celebration, Correspondences, and Further Reading. There is also a Series Introduction that is the same in all eight books, so I won’t review it aside from saying that it is worth reading over annually. It also has two really beautiful Wheel of the Year illustrations, one for the Northern Hemisphere and one for the Southern Hemisphere, which is worth copying into your book of shadows immediately.

The Old Ways section is extremely interesting and has a lot of helpful information. The section covers the origin of December as a month, the Yule log, traditional festivals, the gift giving tradition, the solar new year, as much more. The New Ways section discusses basic activities, different traditions in their modern form, and details important correspondences and activities. This section also addresses the living vs. artificial tree debate that seems to be an inevitable part of the pagan household, as well as what to do when only one half of a couple is pagan. Happily enough, so many ‘Christmas’ traditions are actually pagan in origin that you can openly celebrate Yule and still stay in the ‘broom closet’ without a lot of effort.

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Book Review: Ostara by Kerri Connor (Llewellyn’s Sabbat Essentials)

Llewellyn’s Sabbat Essentials Series contains eight small books, one for each Sabbat in the pagan wheel of the year. The author varies by the Sabbat with no author having more than two books in the series. Ostara: Rituals, Recipes & Lore of the Spring Equinox was penned by Kerri Connor; this is one of the strongest books in the Sabbat Essentials series.

The standard sections in the Sabbat Essentials books are: Old Ways, New Ways, Spells and Divination, Recipes and Crafts, Prayers and Invocations, Rituals of Celebration, Correspondences, and Further Reading. There is also a Series Introduction that is the same in all eight books, so I won’t review it aside from saying that it is worth reading over annually. It also has two really beautiful Wheel of the Year illustrations, one for the Northern Hemisphere and one for the Southern Hemisphere, which is worth copying into your book of shadows immediately.

The Old Ways section in many books can feel rambling, but this one is brief and covers some interesting information. Ostara – the Vernal Equinox – was traditionally the New Year, even in cultures that didn’t celebrate Ostara. In fact, we are unsure who did celebrate Ostara at all, the holiday is one of the most pieced together of all the pagan sabbats and the one most open to debate. The New Ways section gives advice on activities for the Ostara season. Yes season, not just sabbat. This is so important and often ignored: the sabbats are seasons, six week long periods, not eight days spaced six weeks apart. Connor suggests day trips, egg activities, herb gathering, and gives a little history on the egg hunt. There are a lot of useful tidbits in these small sections.

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Book Review: Samhain by Diana Rajchel (Llewellyn’s Sabbat Essentials)

Llewellyn's Sabbat Essentials: SamhainLlewellyn’s Sabbat Essentials series contains eight small books, one for each Sabbat in the pagan wheel of the year. The author varies by the Sabbat with no author having more than two books in the series. Samhain: Rituals, Recipes, and Lore for Halloween was penned by Diana Rajchel, who also wrote Mabon. At the risk of being a downer: those are the two weakest books in the Sabbat Essentials series.

One of the reasons that I don’t particularly like this volume is that it’s so heavily Wiccan, and I prefer these books to have a general pagan path. This is because the books are presented as “essential” guides to the Sabbat, so I feel that they have a bit of an obligation to be more general. The other complaint, which is far more important, is that the rituals included in the Rituals of Celebration are quite weak. Generally, a good book in Llewellyn’s Sabbat Essentials series has a ritual for a solitary, a couple, and a coven; this is a great formula. This volume’s solitary ritual is “A Solo Ritual to See Beyond the Veil,” complete with a full page list of supplies, which is just excessive. The ritual feels excessive, too, with all the anointing and chanting that pushes me away from Wicca. Then, if that’s not enough, she invokes Christian angels to assist. Seriously? Finally, it’s not really a ritual for Samhain, but more of a pseudo-Christian ritual. I was so insulted when I read it that I was beyond words (temporarily, obviously). The two person ritual is the Wiccan “great rite,” which I guess is so great because you have heterosexual sex in the circle, and which I also find very troubling. Are you alone and doing a handfasting? Great, go for it, and for some Sabbats this is very appropriate (though I do think it should be private). Wiccans seem to advocate (public) sex as an integral part of pagan worship, which I could not find more off-putting. Finally, the group ritual is an underworld maze, which isn’t a full Samhain ritual by any means, and is again endowed with all the hokey theatricality you’d expect.

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The Lunar New Year 2016: The Year of the Monkey for Pagans

2016 the Year of the Monkey

The Lunar New Year was on February 8, 2016 this year, though technically, this is the 4,713th Lunar Year. As a Monkey (metal) myself I welcome all the new Monkeys (fire) born this year. Many pagans don’t know much about the Lunar New Year (also called the Chinese New Year), even though so many of us follow a Lunar cycle. I believe that there are lessons for us in it regardless, and as an eclectic Pagan-Taoist, it’s a holiday that is especially important to me.

Monkeys are a sign of laughter, goofiness, intelligence, and a lack of self-control. For me, some of it seems to make no sense because it am not indulgent in vices and I work hard, but if you look closer you’ll notice I have lots of hobbies and interests which removes the ability to focus on just one. I am a very sarcastic person, always joking, and was the class clown in High School, but I’m also also a teacher. As with all signs balance is key, so this is not necessarily going to be an easy year for us Monkeys, as we are the ones whose issues come to the forefront. That being said it has the potential to be amazing because happily our strengths are here as well! Physical health, good communication, and temperance must be kept in mind this lunar year. It is a year of activity, creativity, and harnessing those things, if you can make them work to your benefit, is a very good thing. Monkeys are smart but they can also be dishonest, so spend the year experimenting with honesty, it can be freeing (see Pamela Meyer’s “How to Spot a Liar” TED Talk). The Tao says not to try and eliminate your weaknesses, but to make them into your strengths, excellent advice for this lunar year.

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