Book Review: The Divine Feminine in Ancient Europe

Book Review

The Divine Feminine in Ancient Europe: Goddesses, Sacred Women and the Origins of Western Culture

      by Sharon Paice MacLeod

Review by Karl Schlotterbeck

Cover for Divine Feminine in Ancient Europe.This work is an exploration of the presence of the Divine Feminine throughout European history in all her diversity. The book is intelligent without being dry, uses image without falling into fantasy, and is factual without boring the reader. Rather than some cold piercing gaze of analytics, Sharon Paice MacLeod embraces her subject with clear-eyed warmth.

She works through the first half of the book deconstructing our popular modern mythologies about the Feminine Divine by taking us through Paleolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic, and Bronze-age periods, describing what we can know of history based on burial practices, architecture, artistic creations, implements and other artifacts. She shows us a much richer tapestry of European development than would be evident in many popular accounts. In so doing, she restores the beautiful diversity and depth of the Feminine Divine by exposing modern myths promulgated by empire builders and cultural biases – such as myths about the singular basis of our culture in Greek and Roman civilization, and the reductionist notion of a pervasive Mother Goddess tradition. Goddess-based religions, she shows, were not uniform nor based only on fertility or mothering, but arose everywhere, in many different forms, reflecting every aspect of life.

Most chapters begin with a brief narrative story of how things might have been, given the information she then explores. She gives the reader a feeling of being inside the subject, from a place where the people lived out the things she discusses. She provides enough data to give us a feel for the times without getting lost in minutiae.

Recognizing that history is connected to the present, without being preachy, she calls attention to parallels between our own time, climate changes in the Paleolithic and Mesolithic times, and enriches her text by using quotes from indigenous peoples who still have a close relationship with the Earth as did our ancestors.

The Divine Feminine in Ancient Europe is a firm but gentle call to restore our ancestors’ place in history, which was shaped by the land, with recognition of the interactive relationship among humanity, the Earth and its cycles, and the wide spectrum of roles play by the Divine Feminine.

She helps us to remember – not just remember history, but to honor the breadth and intelligence of our ancestors’ lives and their spiritual relationships, as well as calling us to restore our own relationship with and responsibility to the world around us. I hear in her writing a call to heal our “collective soul loss” and recognize that our land, our culture and our interaction with the Divine all exist in living interactive relationships.

Highly Recommended.

Published by McFarland, Jefferson, NC, 2014.

Available at Amazon.com.

(On the basis of the intelligence, readability, perspective and depth of The Divine Feminine in Ancient Europe, I’ve purchased the author’s previous work, Celtic Myth and Religion: A Study of Traditional Belief, with Newly Translated Prayers, Poems and Songs.)

 

Edge of November

Edge of November

by Karl Schlotterbeck

[Archdruid Karl provides inspiration in a poem/song called “The Edge of November.”  There is an on-line version of the music at http://www.keltria.org/Sounds/The_Edge_of_November.mp3 where Karl provides both voice and accompaniment (guitar).] 

He’s things to do in his work-a-day world,
Entranced by computer screens.
Flat images show him another flat scene
But they are not what they seem.
So he says good night to his co-workers there -
For a moment he actually cares;

Then off he drives in his fashion machine.
He’s got places to go and be seen.
He makes his way home on the crowded flat road
Absorbed in his thoughts and dreams
Till he comes to his house and parks his car
And hears the whispering leaves say:

Chorus

Everything’s alive
And dressed in its disguise;
There’s light within the dark
And masks that hide the eyes.
Each one with a tale to tell:
Our friends and kin beyond the veil.

But he’s things to do and he turns away
And walks to his house alone.
Unlocks the door and checks his phone
Lights the pumpkin on the sill
He turns on the light to invite them all in
As something stirs within.

The children come, he shares their joy
His worries they all die.
He sees the shining light in their eyes
Behind the shadowy masks.
As he turns to the flickering light in the glass
The voices come and ask: Isn’t. . .

Chorus

{Bridge Spoken}

As the rays of the rising moon
Penetrate his lonely gloom
He surrenders to the voiceless choir
And once more feels that spirit’s fire.

He went next morning to his work-a-day world
On the first day of November.
He hummed a strange uncanny tune
And decided to remember:
He has friends in the fire and a light in the dark
And a sister in the Moon.

Chorus

[Ed note:  An audio of this song is available here.]

-------------


Books by Karl Schlotterbeck

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Review: Ensouling Language

Ensouling Language: 
    On the Art of Nonfiction and the Writer’s Life

by Stephen Harrod Buhner

Review by Karl Schlotterbeck

TEnsouling Language Book Coverhis is a marvelous that is remarkable in a number of ways. I was excited by the title when I first heard about it. When it arrived, I was dismayed at its heft (463 pages); amused at the irony of its cover illustration of a quill; and sorry when I came to the end of it. In the first pages, I was captured by the little story he told so well to demonstrate the affection and meaningfulness of words, books, and experience. My expectation had been of a formulaic how-to book of which we see so many, but it was itself a journey into the place of perception and creativity where words are as alive as we are, and reveal their sacredness as containers of soul and of meaning – and how to get to that place. Buhner pulled me deeper and deeper into the subject – stacking up meaning behind the words like water behind a dam, as he would say.

In fact, Ensouling Language called me back into myself, a reminder to write for what might be communicated about the interiority of my subject in its meaningfulness, and in the fact writer and readers’ communication occur well beyond (or deeply within) black text on white page, deeper than the dictionary definition of words. Rather, it occurs in the heart of the matter – where creation and some spirit of the nature of things seek to express themselves through the human heart and tongue and hand, and to result in something larger than either.

I struggle to find a descriptor for what he does. He nudges us out of a little ego’s perspective with its petty needs for common currency and approval, out of our humanocentric viewpoint, and out of any illusions of being objective. Perhaps it is this very difficulty in trying to “reduce” his effort to an easy few words that affirms the beauty and depth of his work.

I found him sometimes speaking as a shaman, sometimes as an analytical psychologist, sometimes as a prophet or Druid – and this is the work’s most direct relevance for us. For Buhner, words are not just things to be used to fill the space around us, nor are they something we use to avoid our fears by yakking about superficial things. Nor are they a tool to try to bridge our loneliness as human beings; but they have the capacity to take us to a place of discovery, where our fears are created, where our loneliness is rewarded and relationship is intimate – whether that be with a tree, a dolphin, another person’s experience or our own. As he says:

These moments of touch with the nonhuman world are what the ancient Greeks – the Athenians – called aisthesis. The get to aisthesis, those moments when we are touched in return, our nonphysical touching must go deeper than merely feeling the world. It must go to the place where touching travels both ways. And this, very definitely extends awareness a great deal further than our society wants it to go. It involves a living exchange between the human and the nonhuman world, eventually, with the world itself. By engaging in that exchange, we break a very powerful cultural injunction that is present in many Western cultures. We abandon the view of life that does not allow us to extend interiority to dolphins or trees or stones. (p. 143)

His writing was, in many ways, watching a deft psychoanalyst pay attention to a person’s utterances and what they reveal about the speaker, how they may fall short of their purpose and thereby shows the hidden baggage of the writer. He notes how one’s unresolved and unreflected upon personal issues become revealed and how hiding those issues flatten the work. Facing then directly gives depth and richness. It’s like my own work as a psychologist: not just listening to what people say, but how they say it in terms of the words they use, the tone of voice, facial expression, body language and context.

Something in me found a home in this book or, perhaps I should say, several aspects of me found a common heart through his writing: Druid, shaman, psychologist, writer, poet.

This is an easy book to recommend for its meaningfulness, its intelligence, depth, and genuineness in practicing what it is prescribing. He challenges the readers’ ways of perceiving and relating to the world, meanings put into words, framing of propositions and need to beware of the inevitable hidden baggage. But it’s not directly about a philosophy of genuineness, depth and presence: it’s a how-to manual (as he reminds us). He addresses the tension between “proper” grammar and writing for impact, dealing with editors, publishers and contracts; getting help and the whole business of delivering one’s words to the readers who hunger for them.

This is a book I can highly recommend, not only for aspiring writers, but for anyone who wants to engage the world deeply and recognizes the value of words in the exchange.

Ensouling Language: On the Art of Nonfiction and the Writer's Life
Paperback: 480 pages
Publisher: Inner Traditions

Kindle Edition available!
File Size: 754 KB
ASIN: B00462RVFK

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Review: Pagan Astrology

Pagan Astrology: Spell-Casting, Love Magic and Shamanic Stargazing

by Raven Kaldera

Reviewed by Karl Schlotterbeck, MA, CAS, LP

There are two worthwhile gems at the heart of this work. One is the author’s insight that we can be more than a passive recipient of cosmic cycles. In fact, we can be an interactive and creative participant in the unfolding drama of our relationship with those forces personified as gods and goddesses in astrology.

The second gem is in the set of practical ideas he presents to give us the tools to show us how to be active participants with the forces. These tools include rituals, altars, stones, colors, icons, invocations, prayers, and associated magical objects. In fact, his general approach could be used without reference to actual astrological data, but as ways of affirming and balancing the various energies operating in all of us. And so I see here the potential of a psychological development program.

That being said, some of his assertions are not equal to the brightness of these two gems. (As we look at some of the shortcomings of this book, however, they do not invalidate the value of his central thesis: that we can participate with cosmic forces represented in astrological figures in a way to maximize beneficial aspects and to ameliorate afflicted ones.)

He makes reference to a “Celtic solar calendar of eight holidays” even though there is no evidence that the Celts celebrated anything but the four “cross-quarter” holidays (which are not really solar). In addition, he would place these cross-quarter days “exactly between” the equinoxes and solstices, which would place them not at the first of the month on which they are now celebrated, but around the 6th of the month in the case of Samhain. (He makes no mention that Samhain, like Beltane, is a month name and would hardly begin on the 6th.) Even if the cross-quarter holidays were placed at the full moon near that time, they would seldom fall exactly between the other holidays.

I found his “Astrology of Magical Tools” interesting since those associated with my own Sun, Moon and Rising signs have always attracted me. He also recognizes the eight phases of all planetary cycles – common in reference to the moon but generally forgotten for the other planets and pairs of planets. He makes a significant error, however, in describing the quarter phases of the moon as falling in particular signs, given the starting position of the New Moon. His description implies a static cycle when, in fact, the sun also advances during the cycle and, if the New Moon is late in a sign, the subsequent phases may advance to later signs than he suggests. Thus, one would do better to check a calendar for the moon phases than using this particular system.

A hefty book at about 350 pages, more than half of it consists of tables of associated implements, colors, stones, invocations, poetry, spells and actions for signs, planets, events and combinations thereof.

I’d never considered that astrology might be sectarian and therefore to be Pagan or otherwise (although some Christian sects decry it). Even with the Pagan deities’ names for signs, planets and asteroids, the Pagan connection seems irrelevant unless one identifies the planet Mars with the god Mars. The breadth of the book’s value is larger than its title and its basic thesis can be applied by anyone of any persuasion. However, Pagans and those with a New Age background may find the concepts more accessible than many mainstream readers, for sure.

Again, these very real shortcomings still do not erase the value of the author’s realization that we can take an active, participatory, and interactive role in addressing the forces in our lives, whether they come from deities, cosmic forces or mundane challenges.

I recommend this book for all readers who can keep their eyes on the prize here (the possibilities in interacting with the forces of our “fate”) and not take Pagan Astrology as a source book for Celtic studies or history.

  • [amazon_link id="1594773025" target="_blank" ]Pagan Astrology: Spell-Casting, Love Magic and Shamanic Stargazing[/amazon_link]
  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Destiny Books; 1 edition (September 28, 2009)
  • ISBN-10: [amazon_link id="1594773025" target="_blank" ]1594773025[/amazon_link]
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594773020
  • List Price: $18.95

[amazon_image id="1594773025" link="true" target="_blank" size="medium" ]Pagan Astrology: Spell-Casting, Love Magic, and Shamanic Stargazing[/amazon_image]

Review: The Seeress of Prevorst

The Seeress of Prevorst: Her Secret Language and Prophecies from the Spirit World, 
by John DeSalvo, Ph.D.

Review by Karl Schlotterbeck, MA, CAS, LP

This is a mixed bag of a book. To be sure, there are interesting sections, particularly those about the life of the Seeress (Frederika Wanner Hauffe) and her physician (Justinus Kerner) who, though initially skeptical, became convinced of her genuineness and took her into his family for the last years of her short life. The Seeress was an interesting character, with her prophecies, visions, communication with spirits, idiosyncratic language and script, beliefs about the world and her strange illness. In addition, there is a chapter on Mesmerism, which was used as a treatment for her illness.

Seeress of Prevorst

Seeress of Prevorst

Some of the interesting features of the story of the Seeress are:

  • Her physical frailty
  • Her descriptions of  the deceased
  • A practice of scrying using a mirror or glass of water
  • Speaking in an unknown language as well as a form of German she hadn’t learned
  • Her tendency to sometimes speak in verse when in a clairvoyant state (as Bards would have done)
  • Her practice of psychometry
  • Her magical use of numbers (each human being having a personal number)
  • Healing with herbs that were used both as medicine and as amulets
  • Diagrams of circles that she used to express some of her prophecies
  • Philosophical statements such as that

o    Soul is the bearer of everything

o    Animals are less isolated from the spiritual world than human beings and more sensitive to the presence of spirits

o    “The world of nature, as seen from within, changes itself thus into a spiritual one. . .”

Despite these interesting features, there is much extraneous material apparently intended to prove the value of séances and spiritualism, including Abraham Lincoln’s séances in the White House. The first chapter of the book is about “The Language of the Spirits” in which DeSalvo asserts the existence of a secret wisdom found in the “Primal Language,” the knowledge of which allowed people throughout history to perform magic or display unusual wisdom. His thesis is full of speculations and leaps of faith that go well beyond logic, rationality and known history. He too often crafts his thesis with questioned possibilities such as “could it be. . .” or “perhaps. . .,” assumes a positive answer, and then goes on to additional speculation as if something has been proved. Thus, he builds one speculation on top of another. It was not convincing to this reader.

Furthermore, he says he does not believe all the stories in the Bible, but then goes on to use numerous Biblical statements as support for his theories. And, where he used Biblical statements as support, he often seemed to make errors in his reading of the Bible, as well as accepting it as historical – even where it is contradicted by well-known history. [For example, he suggests that this Primal Language was possessed by the early Hebrews and taken into Egypt by Jacob; and he accepts the myth that humankind had only one language before the mythical Tower of Babel. The facts of history tell us that the Hebrews did nothing unusual until after their stay in Egypt where Moses (whose name is Egyptian for “child”) apparently absorbed “the wisdom of the Egyptians” along with the monotheism of the pharaoh Ikhnaton. Also, the Tower of Babel myth was invented as a teaching story, which used the by-then ruined temples in Babylon as the foil for their tower story. He also asserts that we are not told why the God of Eden did not want Adam to eat of the Tree of Good and Evil when, in the story, God explains that they (people) “will become like us. . .” (Note here the plural form for deity.) He also claims that Adam and Eve lost their original state of cosmic consciousness when they “willingly” left the presence of God – while the text actually says they were driven out of the Garden by God for having eaten of the Tree.]

Dr. DeSalvo’s naiveté about the history of Egypt is curious as he also authors a website regarding the pyramids of Giza and is the director of “The Great Pyramid of Giza Research Association.”

Among his unsupported and unreferenced claims is that one of Columbus’ motivations for seeking out the New World was related to his presumed Primal Language. Another was that Leonardo da Vinci was a recipient of this mythical secret language who, the author asserts, may have also been the author of a mysterious yet-untranslated manuscript. A final example is when he claims that Carl Jung attributed “the origin of all his ideas” to a series of séances with his cousin. There is no doubt that Jung was deeply interested in “occult” matters, but such a bombastic assertion as this demands its reference. In DeSalvo’s bibliography, there are no books referencing Jung, and several that bear little relevance to the topic.

Although many interesting anecdotes and factoids are scattered throughout the book, it is tainted by its unreliable versions of history, narrow Eurocentric religious perspective, speculation misused as facts, and too many detours for this reader.

Not recommended.

Review: Weather Samanism

REVIEW: Weather Shamanism:

Harmonizing Our Connection with the Elements

By Nan Moss, with David Corbin

Review by Karl Schlotterbeck

Book Cover Weather Shamanism

In our Celtic mythology, weather working was one of the “magical” activities of the Druids. As Moss and Corbin note, humankind has had an interest in influencing weather well into history and they give many examples of weather workers into modern times. The format of their book is a description of their discovery through their shamanic work of what the spirits expect of us. “Weather dancing” is how they describe their method and, for them, “the path of weather dancing is necessarily about your unfolding relationship with yourself and your soul, in partnership with compassionate helping spirits.” Thus, weather shamanism is not about the wish to command or dominate nature but, rather, about the development of relationship with the spirits behind the forces of nature. They note the cross-cultural recognition that “the forces of weather are spiritually alive and sentient,” and have their own lives, personalities and purposes in the world.

They build upon the idea of interaction between our psyches and emotions, and the natural world. Moss and Corbin give considerable time to addressing the issue of our conditioned view of the world and how that view shapes the way we perceive, what we think of the world, and what we believe we might do. They present messages of their own spirit teachers as well as many participants in their workshops over the years.

Weather Shamanism is much less about formulaic technique than about the quality of our relationships with the natural world. Ritual is a support to this relationship, but it is not a defining element. Rather, ritual is a means of reciprocity and honoring those who work with us. Those looking for quick pointers of ritual magic will be disappointed at the call for the development of one’s perceptual habits, preconceptions, and capacity for relationship with the spirits of the natural world.

I found this a mature, valuable, and enjoyable rendition of what it means to be in relationship with the spirits of nature – and how we’re all in this together.

Highly recommended.

Weather Shamanism: Harmonizing Our Connection with the Elements, Published by Bear & Company, 2008, ISBN 978-159143074-2, $16.00

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Review: The Spiritual Practices of Rumi

REVIEW: The Spiritual Practices of Rumi:

Radical Techniques for Beholding the Divine

by Will Johnson

Review by Karl Schlotterbeck

Book Cover: The Spiritual Practices of Rumi

In popular writings, Jalaluddin Rumi is often seen as the enigmatic “whirling dervish” and Sufi mystic who, infatuated with his teacher, produced vast amounts of ecstatic poetry, and also gave rise to a sect known for its whirling dances. Some have interpreted his writings as metaphoric references to Allah, while others have suggested a deep human love relationship between Rumi and Shams-i Tabriz. Will Johnson, however, asserts that much of Rumi’s writings refer to a specific practice in which he engaged with his teacher/partner Shams: the simple but profound act of gazing into one another’s eyes.

This concept of the practice of the gaze puts many of Rumi’s verses into a new light for they refer not just to a soft-headed romantic staring, but an open-hearted discipline. Thus, at least some of Rumi’s verses are not just about an infatuation between two mystics but, rather, a practice that, when surrendered to, creates a delicious union and a spiritual otherworldly experience, while awakening sensations in the body.

Again and again Johnson circles back like a spinning dancer to the theme of union. He encourages this practice not just for exploration with a “great friend,” as he calls it, but also with one’s consort (in a Tantric manner), as well as with nature, and even in the city because, as he says, everywhere you look - if you look properly - you will see the face of God. This gazing practice is intended to help us wake up to the fact that union is available and “free for the taking.” Johnson, further, suggests ways to prepare for gazing with the beloved, such as practicing with a candle, with one’s own face in a mirror and breathing practices.

There are some interesting parallels to the Celtic worldview. The physical world and physical body are not to be transcended here, according to Johnson. Rather they are the door that grants entry into the invisible world. As one learns acceptance and surrender, Johnson says that one begins to look not just with the eyes but with the whole body. “Presence is the key that opens divinity’s door,” he says. Also, a few years ago, I presented some workshops on Celtic Spirituality in which I read passages from the writings of John O’Donohue while participants sat looking into one another’s faces. In just a few minutes, many were deeply moved – showing the power of gazing receptively and without judgment into the eyes of another.

Since meditation is so often seen as a solitary practice, and since so many of our human interactions are superficial avoidance of genuine intimacy, I wholeheartedly recommend this book. Because of its meditative nature, and because of its promise of opening the heart and vision to the deeper nature of all around us, it seems especially appropriate for those engaged on the Ovate and Druid paths.

[amazon_link id="1594772002" target="_blank" ]The Spiritual Practices of Rumi: Radical Techniques for Beholding the Divine,[/amazon_link] by Will Johnson; ISBN: 1-59477-200-2; pp 192; Inner Traditions; $14.95.

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