Monday, October 13, 2008

Both Hands on Deck
a review of Tarot and oracle decks
by Eva Yaa Asantewaa

Let's start with the radical theory that users of Tarot and oracle decks know those products better than their creators do. Or, perhaps, things don't start off that way but, rapidly, arrive there. Working with the images on your cards, forging an interactive relationship with them, is the path to profound and useful knowledge.

So, my universal advice to newbie deck owners is: Don't futz around with the guidebook—at least, not at first, no matter how resourceful and brilliant that book might turn out to be. Don't hold back. Pop the hood on that bad boy. Plunge right in. Get your hands dirty. The sooner you spring your new deck from its packaging, flip through its cards and do yourself a little test reading, the better.

Of course, it helps if the deck in question has that kind of draw-you-in appeal, and today, I want to tell you about a batch of three new decks that fit that bill and one that, although less charismatic, has its rewards.

Enchanted Oracle

by Jessica Galbreth (art) and Barbara Moore (text)
Llewellyn Worldwide, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-7387-1410-3
36-card deck (2-3/4” x 4-1/2”) with deck pouch, 217-page paperback book (Destiny's Portal) and fairy pendant necklace. Back of cards: Reversible, simple design

I must admit, I've never been a big fan of fantasy novels. But, without a doubt, fantasy illustrators really know how to work those covers. Galbreth brings that expertise to her irresistible Enchanted Oracle. The romantic, sexy, mysterious and soulful fairy-world characters who gaze out from her 36 cards will inspire your storytelling powers. And isn't that a large part of card reading?

This is a non-Tarot deck with simple titles for its archetypes—for instance, Celtic Witch, Crimson Moon, Dark Queen, Dragoness, Gothique, Green Man, Lavender Moon, Nemesis and Temptation. The art, although sometimes ornate, underscores the communicative nature of the being depicted. Faces are often the most prominent parts of the picture, rendered either straight-on, with eyes locked on the reader, or in beguiling three-quarter display. A handful of the characters are recessed into elaborate surroundings, or they direct their attention inward, towards another being or beyond the range of our understanding.

Shuffle this deck well, and draw one card to commune with and question. Or draw two cards and have them take up your question and discuss its possible solutions. Given time, these characters speak.

Moore's book offers a few simple one-, three- and four-card spreads. Keeping it simple with this deck is a good idea; Enchanted Oracle has a limited number of cards, after all, and the symbology and meanings are scarcely as complex as what you'll usually find in Tarot. But the beauty of Moore's text lies in her appreciation of both the visual and psychological atmosphere suggested by each of Galbreth's images. Each one has a chapter that directly relates the nature of the card to your psyche and issues.

Take Dragoness, for instance. Moore suggests that we all have a bit of dragon within us, a tendency to be a little predatory, on the one hand, or protective, on the other. She invites us to revel in the positive aspects and power of the dragon within and to ritually charge the fairy charm pendant (part of this unusual kit) with good dragon stuff that will carry us safely (and ethically) through any challenge.

Now, about that fairy charm pendulum/necklace: My wife took one look at it and exclaimed, “Tinkerbell!” If I had a child, I'd pass it along. It's a wee cutesy-tacky for my taste but—who knows?--it might be just right for you or your giftee.

The Mystic Dreamer Tarot

by Heidi Darras (art) and Barbara Moore (text)
Llewellyn Worldwide, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-7387-1436-3
78-card deck (2-3/4” x 4-1/2”) with deck pouch and 214-page paperback book (The Dreamer's Journal). Back of cards: Reversible, rather unappealing design

This Tarot deck, with its digital imagery of small figures within somber-colored environments, might take longer to warm up to than the Enchanted. However, it might be worth your effort—and the use of a good magnifying glass.

That's right; this is one of those decks with exquisite little details and murky coloration that seems to issue from some hazy, nether realm of the mind. Funnily enough, my actual dream imagery is usually, for better or for worse, crystal clear. But allowing for Darras's aesthetic fancy can take us to unexpected and often stimulating places.

I love the dancing energy of the horn-blowing Judgement angel. I don't know that I have ever specifically read joy in that card but, for me, Darras has discovered Judgement's joy. Even the angel's upright carriage energizes me. Moore describes it as ”quiet power and strength.” I also enjoy the fact that The Fool is shown dancing with Tarot cards.

Moore's manual—The Dreamer's Journal—includes pages for journaling and suggested spreads (some of them traditional, some new). Each card has a brief, fairly sketchy interpretation with a tacked-on “use your intuition” note offering prompts such as, for the Three of Swords, “The woman lies on a blue blanket. How does this affect the meaning of the card? Although the heart is pierced, no blood drips from it. Why not?” (Well, why not, indeed!) Some readers—beginners or others--will find Moore's suggestions to be fruitful exercises; if not, you can safely ignore this feature of the book and launch your own exploration of Darras's images.

The deck follows traditional Major and Minor Arcana structure and labeling. Darras's imagery might not lend itself to perfect understanding by absolute Tarot newcomers, but readers with prior exposure to conventional Tarot decks should be able to pick it up and find their way through it very easily. But will they take the art to heart?

Sacred Geometry Cards for The Visionary Path

by Francene Hart (art and text)
Bear & Company, 2008
ISBN: 978-1-59143-092-6
64-card deck (3” x 5”) and 145-page paperback book. Back of cards: Elaborate, mesmerizing design called “Sunset Activation”, not reversible

I hope you have Francene Hart's Sacred Geometry Oracle, published in 2001, so that you can do as I did: Take a quick look at the box for this follow-up companion deck. Think, “Hey, don't I already own this?” And finally, take a closer look at the images and exclaim: “Wow!”

It's as if Hart put a big injection of charm into this new model, a quality that a number of the SGO's more abstract cards lacked. This is a beautiful deck that deftly integrates imagery of nature with the geometric structures and patterns underlying Earth and cosmos. In her introduction to the deck and book, Hart explains that she has continued to learn and to upgrade her understanding of sacred geometry and how it stimulates and nourishes evolving consciousness. The gracefulness and graciousness of her art has certainly blossomed beyond all expectations.

The book includes imaginative spreads as well as enlarged, black-and-white versions of every card plus interpretations for right-side-up and reversed draws. It's a testimony to Hart's artistry that the black-and-whites look almost as magnificent and powerful as the full-color images.

Check out One Drop, The Kiss, Wild Orchids, Mountain Apus, New Beginnings, Night into Day, Pele's Summons, Gentle Spirits...and I could go on and on. You can tell, just by the names of these cards, that Hart's is no ordinary vision.

Adventurous beginners should find this deck a treat and a good energy boost, although it will not teach them much about conventional Tarot. On the other hand, this is the type of deck that can add a touch of higher wisdom, positivity and deep spirituality to any traditional Tarot reading. Draw a card at the beginning or end of your reading to represent the overall, higher message.

The Anubis Oracle

by Nicki Scully and Linda Star Wolf(text) and Kris Waldherr (art)
Bear & Company, 2008
ISBN: 978-1-59143-090-2
35-card deck (3-1/4” x 5-1/4”) and 165-page paperback book. Back of cards: Pleasing, simple design combining two ancient Egyptian symbols--the Eye of Horus and the Nile lotus, or Egyptian lily, not reversible

As a big fan of Nicki Scully's books on journeying with animal spirits, I eagerly embraced this deck, created with her clairvoyant colleague in shamanism, Linda Star Wolf, and artist Kris Waldherr. Its art has all the soft, open color and popular appeal we've come to expect from Waldherr, known especially for her Goddess Tarot. This is a lovable oracle.

Fans of Tarot will notice similarities to Tarot archetypes. For instance, the Anubis team clearly correlates the goddess Nephthys with Tarot's High Priestess and Isis (“Holy Queen—Mother of Us All, Embodied Manifestation of Love”) with Tarot's Empress. Therefore, if your primary orientation is Tarot, you should be able to find your way around Anubis with little trouble, learning wonderful new “old” things as you go. What's quite different, however, are the composite cards--the bunching up of three, four or five neteru (god/desses/spirits) on one card. For instance, Bast, Anubis and Osiris appear together in the Tree of Life card; Ma'at, Thoth and Khephera adorn the Cosmic Influences card. Tarot doesn't do that with its Major Arcana archetypes. But the unusual structure—cards for 22 individual neteru, four elements, and eight groupings of neteru--shouldn't really throw you.

The magickal images are framed in teal blue—restful and spiritual.

The guidebook offers ways to understand and call upon the salutory energies of the neteru and elements of air, fire, earth and water from the Egyptian perspective. Various layouts are proposed—for instance, “Right Timing and Direction,” “Sacred Purpose” and “Alchemy”--and sample readings given.

If you are not familiar with the ancient Egyptian deities, it might take you a bit longer to start telling stories with this deck, and the book will help. I would stongly recommend augmenting your knowledge with a good basic book of Egyptian mythology. But, after you get a feeling for these archetypes, simply meditate and call them in, one by one. Readers of Scully's Power Animal Meditation and Alchemical Healing books, especially, should have no trouble reaching out to the neteru with respect and love. They will teach you everything you need to know.

©2008, Eva Yaa Asantewaa, As The Spirit Moves Me blog
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Saturday, August 30, 2008

Angelic communication
I am not one who believes that angels and archangels are warm-and-fuzzy friends or anything like most of the saccharine images that filled the religious literature of my youth in Catholic school. If I looked forward to Rose Vanden Eynden's book "Metatron: Invoking the Angel of God's Presence" (Llewellyn Worldwide, 2008, ISBN: 978-0-7387-1343-4), it was for the possibility that this--the most exalted and remote and perhaps the least familiar of angels--might somehow be presented in all his (its?) strangeness and cosmic magnitude.

Instead,Vanden Eynden--a Spiritualist minister, medium and founder of Cincinnati's United Spiritualists of the Christ Light Church--has given us a Metatron who sounds no more profound or specific than most of the spiritual pets of the New Age movement. There's simply little here that you have not read, countless times, in the numerous books about angels or channeling flooding the Spirit Lit market over the past few decades.

To Vanden Eynden, Metatron is about balance, the unity of opposites, especially the masculine and feminine energies, and has some relationship to sacred geometry. The fascinating Metatron's Cube--containing all Platonic solids within is truly a wondrous object for meditation on the interlocking layers and realms of all reality. However, beyond that, Vanden Eynden's Metatron seems to be, like many of the angels as conceived by New Age authors, to be a highly accessible, generic buddy to talk to, to tap for advice and support and timely assistance. Getting cozy with Metatron, in particular, is, I think, like getting cozy with an animal in the wild. This book fails to take into consideration the unknown, the vast, the wild dimension of such a being.

But here's the Metatron-related crystal infusions, the aromatherapy, the corresponding candles and the herbs, the dream work and ceremony. If you need to read any of this familiar and tame stuff one more time, it's all here.

Find out more about this book at www.llewellyn.com.


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Are you extraordinary?
Author and clairvoyant Debra Lynne Katz has exceeded expectations for the follow-up of her popular guidebook, "You Are Psychic: The Art of Clairvoyant Reading and Healing." Her latest publication--"Extraordinary Psychic: Proven Techniques to Master Your Natural Psychic Abilities" (Llewellyn Worldwide, 2008, ISBN: 978-0-7387-1333-5) delves deeper into her philosophy and methodologies and helps readers overcome fear and resistance. This is a looser, more generous and far more persuasive book.

I strongly identify with Katz's emphasis on the transformative aspect of psychic work, particularly the use of visual archetypes as a mode of helping to heal clients. In fact, Katz argues that this is the primary difference between a clairvoyant reading and a healing session utilizing clairvoyance, which is powered by the intention to transform. Readers will be advised to pay close attention to the images that pop into consciousness without succumbing to the temptation to interpret them (which can quickly lead to misinterpretation).

"You Are Psychic" presents a systematic approach to clairvoyance that not every reader will find sympatico (for instance, Katz's standard visualization of a rose whose changes will offer answers to a client's questions). "Extraordinary Psychic" draws upon the same methodology but affords ample opportunity for readers to find their own best ways to approach clairvoyance and other psychic tools. Working my way through Katz's numerous examples and exercises, I readily created new tools that paralleled hers but fit me best and worked fine for me. Moreover, I felt nothing but permission from this book to be my happy, creative self and just go for it.

Her material on remote viewing practices is excellent, and she takes exceptional care to help developing psychics set a good psychological foundation for their work as professionals. If you're like me, you might take her discussion of "demons" and "dwarf tree spirits" and the like with a grain of salt. Personally, my sense is that such disturbing phenomenon can be explained as the mind's interpretation (and fleshing out) of negative energy sourced in human behavior and thought patterns. That source can be the reader, the client, or someone affecting either of the reader or the client. Katz's belief system is her own, and one does not have to swallow it whole in order to benefit greatly from her book. What's more, the methods she suggests to rid oneself or one's clients from so-called negative entities are quite clever and, once again, might prove to be effective transformative psychological practices.

"Extraordinary Psychic" is a well-written, resourceful book to read with pleasure and to keep handy for frequent reference. Learn more about it and its author at www.llewellyn.com.


(c)2008, Eva Yaa Asantewaa
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Thursday, July 24, 2008

All you need is Aphrodite
Some months ago, Laurelei Dabrielle--High Priestess of Dragon's Eye Coven--sent me an invitation to review her book, In Her Service: Reflections from a Priestess of Aphrodite (Magic Woods Publishing, 2007). I was in the middle of one of the busiest times in both my personal and professional life. It was sent in the form of an e-book, which usually makes me leery--quality being a gamble there. I took a look at the stack of pages emerging from my printer, took a quick flip through ("Chapter 1: Priestess or Prostitute?") and thought, "Right...I'll get around to this someday..."

Someday--coincidentally?--turned out to be July 22, which is the Great Lady Mary Magdalene's day and, as I learned from Dabrielle's text, deep into Hekatombaion, the first month of the Athenian calendar, during which fell the bathing feast known as Aphrodisia. I also discovered that there was much to admire and enjoy in Dabrielle's well-written account of this little-publicized aspect of pagan practice.

Raised a Baptist in the Midwest, Dabrielle began to explore neopagan paths through the Internet and some covens and eventually felt most called to service of the One she calls "the violet-crowned Kyprian" and many other expressive honorifics. She interprets and honors Aphrodite in a way that makes sense to her, and she's not out to convert anyone to her particular approach. She is, by her own admission, a "hodge-podge," and I can certainly identify with her eclecticism and avoidance of dogma. She does not take herself too seriously, and her voice, throughout the book, is conversational even when authoritative.

If you have never considered Aphrodite (a.k.a. Venus) a serious goddess, then read this book, and the scales will fall from your eyes. I remember once hearing someone opine that the reason so many ancient statues of Aphrodite are armless is because they were deliberately ordered de-armed by the testosterone-fueled, but highly threatened, powers that be. I can't say if that's historically accurate, but Dabrielle underscores the formidable power of Aphrodite as more than a beneficent, even lightweight and easily-trivialized, goddess of romance and sensuality. The Lady should be understood as a Great Goddess archetype--Mother Creator, Majestic Harlot and Fierce Avenger. In Her Service relates the interwoven myths that show Aphrodite in all of these powerful roles.

Okay, so what about the nervous-making "prostitution" angle? Dabrielle includes an extensive discussion of the historical practice of "temple prostitution" or "sacred sex" and its problem for modern sensibilities and United States law but argues that "sex is only one aspect of Her service" and, indeed, an aspect that can be omitted if does not suit you. Priestesses did then and do now invoke, contact and often embody the Goddess, enabling supplicants to benefit from Her energy, whether it be through simple, compassionate acts of warmth and kindness or through actual ritual copulation as in the neopagan Great Rite (physically uniting the embodied Goddess and God). While Dabrielle notes the many ways in which Aphrodite worship may be expressed, she has her personal limits and counsels readers to decide what's best for them and respect their own boundaries, too.

"At its essence," she writes, "the force at work is that of Love," and goes on to speak about the priestess (and Goddess) as healer in a way that reminds me of the wonderful role Ann Margaret played in the movie Grumpy Old Men! Really! Rent that very funny movie, and you'll see what I mean!

Besides the personal and historical material, Dabrielle offers examples of ritual procedure, a mytho-history of the Venusian idea, some lovely description of the Three Graces (considered by some to be daughters of Aphrodite and ideal models for us) and the Oreads, mountain nymphs (who gift Aphrodite with unpolished gems and wildflowers, appealing to Her wilder side). She previews a book she's working on which should please potential lesbian and bisexual fans of The Goddess who might otherwise wonder what all of this has to do with them.

Dabrielle also lists and translates numerous names for Aphrodite, breathtaking in their diversity. Some of them are:

* Eurynome: Creatress who rose from Chaos and danced all creation into being
* Moira: Fate
* Ambologera: Postponer of Old Age
* Chrysheie: Radiant Like Gold
* Euploios: Fair Voyage
* Praxis: Action
* Epitymbria: She of The Tombs
* Callipygos: Beautiful Buttocks

and the inevitable

* Porne: Goddess of Lust and Patroness of Prostitutes

The message of Aphrodite meditations and rituals seems always to be thus: Find beauty within oneself and love it fiercely. I certainly can't argue with that!

You can find In Her Service on Amazon.com.

(c)2008, Eva Yaa Asantewaa
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Monday, July 14, 2008

Sarah Avery's
"Closing Arguments"
a novel by Sarah Avery
Drollerie Press, 2008
114pp. E-Book
http://drolleriepress.com

Well, what would you do if you were a couple of Wiccan-oriented siblings, and you discovered that your deceased Theosophist parents had been living among a clutter of household toiletries (enough to fill a mall) and stolen art, and they communicated with you, incessantly and insistently, from the Great Beyond via a snowstorm of Post-It Notes? Huh? Well, I don't know either, but if you're at all curious about how Bob and Sophie Baines handled it--and have patience--you can follow them through their wacky journey of discovery, all the way to a realm of multiple post-life existences.

You won't understand the title of Sarah Avery's cleverly-conceived and executed--yet strangely unaffecting--"Closing Arguments" until the slam-bang showdown at the end. But here's my verdict: While I was amused by the Post-It gambit (at least, at first) and the winking references to Madame Blavatsky being celebrated in songs with bawdy lyrics (none of them shared with us, unfortunately), I'm disappointed that this novel doesn't really take off until its final scenes. Nor does it pass my standard and ultimate challenge: Make me care. Avery's publisher--Drollerie Press--describes itself as specializing in "quality transformative fiction celebrating myths, legends, and fairytales." But for each of those forms of story, readers or listeners must become interested and invested in the fortunes of the lead character(s). That did not happen for me here.

In the last 15 or so pages--past some distracting soap opera stuff about substance abuse and domestic violence--the book bursts into life and actually becomes more grandly mythic. We finally learn what the heck's behind the story's central mystery, and we meet a villain who should be played by Jack Nicholson--and, hence, given a lot more screen time--if Avery's book is ever grabbed up by Hollywood.

Yes, Nicholson in "Closing Arguments." I could certainly see that, and the story has plenty of sophisticated dialogue and lots of visual elements that make it a good choice for adaptation to a movie. But the character thing? Make me care.
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