Saturday, January 13, 2018


Secret Medicines from Your Garden – Plants for Healing, Spirituality and Magic, Ellen Evert Hopman, Healing Arts Press, Rochester, VT, 2016, 338pp, $19.95.
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There’s a lot of information in Secret Medicines from Your Garden. As the cover says, it weaves together “ancient wisdom, mystical folklore, and modern plant research.” Ms. Hopman is a master herbalist who “explores the many uses of flowers, trees, common weeds, and ornamental plants for food, medicine, spiritual growth, and magical rituals…drawing on American, Celtic and Egyptian traditions.”
        I am not an herbalist, nor do I do much gardening, but I found the book fascinating and informative. Where some books include drawings of plants, Ms. Hopman provides full color illustrations that are incredibly helpful.
        Warnings are issued throughout, which is vital in this type of book. Those using herbs and plants should seek the assistance of a competent health professional, and be aware that any medications (prescribed or over-the-counter) can cause serious harm when interacting with certain herbs. 
        The book is divided into four parts, making it easy to find what you’re looking for. Part One is a primer explaining which herbs are best harvested and used during each season, what to use for a cold or flu, and what naturally repels mosquitoes, ticks and fleas.
        Part Two is a bit deeper, exploring the invisible dimensions of the planet world. It deals with animal spirit medicines, herbal astrology and plant spirits. The table listing the astrological nature of selected plants is useful. Cinnamon, for example, is related to the Sun and its zodiac affiliation is with Leo. This means cinnamon can bestow positive ego strength, enhance personal will, and it helps with heart, back and spine.
       We’ve all heard about people talking to plants. It does help, both the plant and the person. Have you tried singing to your plants? There are suggestions for blessing and using water, using a copper pyramid, and using intentions.
        We all love honey, and it has a lot of uses. Part Three teaches how to enjoy nature’s bounty. Hedgerows are for food, medicine and magic, and deciduous trees and conifers are for healing.
        Part Four, which teaches how to make herbal formulas, is short, but incredibly detailed.
        Ms. Hopman provides two useful tables that help in choosing plants to prepare formulas for specific needs. I was amazed at the amount of information provided in the list of plants that can improve the functions of your body’s organs and systems. The second list provides information on plants for common conditions, such as allergies and fevers. Most helpful of all, I think, is the Glossary of Herbal Contraindications. We read on the internet that a certain herb will help (or cure) a certain ailment, but do we know how to properly use that herb? Do we know what it will (or won’t) do? For example, some women use black cohosh for menopausal symptoms, but most don’t realize it can cause nausea, headaches, vertigo, impaired vision, and it should not be used if you have high blood pressure.
        Secret Medicines from Your Garden is a must-have, and should be required reading for anyone who wants to use plants and herbs for healing, spirituality and/or magic.
- Jane Lewis


The Alchemy of Self Healing – A Revolutionary 30-Day Plan to Change How You Relate to Your Body and Health, Jeannine Wiest, CMT, CST, New Page Books, Pompton Plains, NJ, 2015, 218 pp, $15.99.

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There are a lot of things you can do in 30 days, and healing yourself is probably the best and most beneficial. 
        The Alchemy of Self Healing is broken down into weeks. In Week One you’ll learn how to become an Inner Alchemist. How do you connect with your body? Do you see only your flaws? Do you listen to your body? Are you willing to change habits and reconnect with your creative resources? Let me tell you – the Alchemy Quiz is a real eye (and mind) opener. After the 30 days, I did the quiz again and was amazed at the change in my score.
       In Week Two I learned that my body was following a script I’d written long ago. I was limiting myself with thoughts like, “I’m too weak for this” or “I can’t do this”. I had to change that script, and in changing my own script, I found it extending to the way I related to other people so I didn’t inadvertently “help” them write their own limiting script.
        In Week Three I learned to “listen to my gut”. What is my body telling me? Am I listening? Really listening?
        I looked back on relationships I’ve had and examined whether they were styled by social conditioning or by my authentic preferences. 
        I learned to let go of attachment to outcomes. Could I learn to benefit from (as the book says) “shifting perception and remaining energetically available to respond to situations”?
        During Week Four I worked with music and sound, which was incredibly interesting.
        I’d love to tell you all about my experiences with The Alchemy of Self Healing, but it’s a journey you must take on your own to fully appreciate it. The exercises are easy; the explanations are clear. And the journey is different for each of us.
        Think of what you do in a month. How much time do you waste surfing the internet or watching mindless TV shows? How about putting that time to changing how you relate to your body and health?

- Carrie Nixon


Rupert’s Tales – Learning Magick, Kyrja, Illustrated by Tonia Bennington Osborn, Schiffer Publishing, Ltd, Atglen, PA, 2016, 50pp, $16.99.
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We’ve met Rupert before when he learned about the Wheel of the Year. Our little furry bunny friend is back to learn about the tools used in magick, and that intention and imagination are two very important ingredients.
      Learning Magick is written in rhyme and geared for readers age 5 to 8, although older children (as well as adults) may learn a lot as well.
      This time Rupert watches a family gather to teach the children about the tools used in crafting magick. The children ask questions and express doubt, which helps Rupert overcome his own trepidation about magick. Some answers are given by the adults, and others by the older children, showing how much they have learned as they help their younger siblings understand.
      In addition to the physical tools, such as the athame, cauldron and Book of Shadows, Learning Magick teaches how to create a sacred space and how to use your Magickal Imagination. Rupert is uneasy, and a bit afraid, that he doesn’t quite understand some of the lessons:

         Rupert didn’t like what he heard, not even a bit,
         They were making a Circle with him inside of it!

      Kyrja addressed that uneasiness by having one child explain it quite well:

         “Think about it for a moment, and take the time to think it through,
         If you’re scared and think of some place safe, you make safety come          to you.”

      The lessons seem so easy, but as an adult, I can see how deep they really are. As we read, I’m teaching my children about tolerance for others’ beliefs:

“Magick, intentions and imagination are ours to use each day.
       It is up to each of us, I think, to choose which will be our own way.”

      Kyrja also teaches that it’s okay to ask others if you don’t understand, something I encourage my children to do so they don’t blindly accept someone else’s truth as their own.
      After finishing the book, we discussed how each of us visualizes the elements: our sprinklers for water, our garden for earth, our summer campfire for fire, and the wind that blows our flag for air.
      The illustrations depict the families and the tools they use. My kids loved the drawings of Rupert, who has become one of their favorite adventurous animals.
      If you’re ready to teach your children about magick, I urge you to introduce them to Rupert.
- Keya Michaels

Wednesday, December 27, 2017


What Is Magic?, Bob Makransky, Dear Brutus Press,, 2014, 202pp, $17.95.
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This is the first volume in Bob Makransky’s Introduction to Magic series. Beginning with the Magician’s Creed, it serves as a primer to introduce the reader to Magic as an art versus magic as entertainment and offers an overview of its theory and practice.
        Makransky’s background in computer programming and systems analysis, coupled with his career as an astrologer, is a fascinating foundation for someone introducing Magic to the lay person. The dichotomy of those career paths seem to indicate a pretty balanced right and left brain perspective, which helps to view things in a more three-dimensional way. There is a certain no-nonsensical feel to his presentation that is both refreshing and a bit disconcerting.
        What Is Magic breaks down the study of Magic into familiar elements such as spirits, demons, spells and spell casting. It also explores white and black magic, stalking, and bewitching. Makransky explains how all of these things exist in our everyday world whether we believe in them or not. Good things happen, evil exists, and you can participate on either side of the line between good and evil. Almost everything we identify as magical ‘spookiness’ occurs to us on a day to day basis. We are bewitched by people and things. We are demonized by those who treat us badly. We just don’t recognize that things we see, say and do might actually be influenced by magical thinking.
        The information is broken down into categories like the ones noted above, and then dissected to show how magic is interwoven into our daily interactions. It’s interesting to view some of the most commonplace things we encounter with magical eyes – that we create our circumstances by wishing for them. The concept isn’t really new and has been explored many times and in many ways. Makransky’s offering simply takes some of the New Age fluffiness out of things, which might appeal to those who think in a more linear way.
        Having previously read and reviewed Bob Makransky’s book, Magical Living, I was pretty excited to read this one. However, if I had read this one first, I probably would not have read Magical Living. While there is a lot of great information, I found two things both distracting and a bit off-putting. One was his tendency to recount his sexual success through spell work and other forms of magical manipulation. A single reference to illustrate a point might have been fine, but it was mentioned so frequently that it made me wonder what point was being made. The other off key note was a tendency to refer to his other books. After a while, I began to think about Gilderoy Lockhart from the Harry Potter series and his habit of constantly referring to his published works. Again, once or twice wouldn’t have been bad. Obviously, you would want to direct the reader to another reference source, but a footnote citing another book would have been less obtrusive.
        Based on the book, Magical Living, I would say that What Is Magic is worth a look. The good information probably outweighs the things I found less desirable. Makransky’s writing style is very different from other New Age authors, and that alone should appeal to readers looking for a bit more substance in their study of magic.
- J Byrne


Animal Totem Tarot and Guide to the Animal Totem Tarot, Leeza Robertson, Illustrated by Eugene Smith, 2016, Llewellyn Publications, Woodbury, MN, 78 card deck, 384pp book, $28.99. 
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I’ve been reading tarot for quite a few years, using various decks, but I must say that The Animal Totem Tarot is the most unique. The images on the cards are in color (black and white in the book), and the artwork by Eugene Smith is superb. The animals aren’t your garden variety “cat”, “dog”, etc. Here are a few examples: Page of Swords – Roadrunner. Queen of Cups – Moose. Temperance – Flamingo. The Magician – Fox. Four of Cups – Octopus.
        When I began using the Animal Totem Tarot, I found I was looking at tarot in a whole new light. I admit I still have to use the book, as I am not familiar with all of the animals. Zombie Toad? Interesting.
        One thing that intrigued me right off was looking at tarot not as two parts (Major Arcana and Minor Arcana), but as three (Royal Family is one). I found Ms. Robertson’s spreads for each part of the deck both helpful and meaningful.
        This is a wonderful deck, and the accompanying book is incredibly insightful. It’s laid out in a very easy to understand format. First, the animal’s message is given. Part of Capybara’s message: “In the water I can release that which I no longer need, and clear the energy for something new to take hold.” That can be an answer in itself, but continue.
        Next there is information about the animal itself, combined with insight. I found this helpful, as many of the animals are unfamiliar, and I was surprised to find their relationship to aspects of my life. An example: “The great Panda likes to eat—a lot! … Panda spends up to fourteen hours a day eating…you could say this guy has a lot to chew on … (S)ometimes you have to consume a lot of information before you attain the knowledge you need to make the appropriate decision.” Here we also learn what element is associated with the animal. Some are easy – Sugar Glider’s element is air. Some are more complex. Salamander has a strong connection to water, yet its element is fire. As Ms. Robertson explains: “Fire on its own can be destructive, yet if we know how to balance its effect with water, we can keep it from overcoming us.”
        We then see how the animal relates to business and career. “(Hermit Crab) is asking you to shift your focus to only those partnerships that truly benefit your business, while at the same time letting go of those that drain your time and energy.”
        Next we see how the animal relates to health and well-being. “(Firefly) can’t shine in the day so why waste his energy? Take his lessons to heart and don’t allow yourself to waste your energy on resistant patterns of behavior.”
        Ms. Robertson recommends drawing a card a day and journaling about it. Her prompts for journal entries are very helpful. (Otter) “Where can I bring more play into my life?” (Roadrunner) “In what area of your life do you need to quickly change direction right now?”
        I would make a couple of suggestions. For one, having the animal names on the cards would help recognize them and associate the animal with the interpretation when doing a reading. I can understand Flamingo for balance, but some of the other animals, frankly, had me stumped until I referred to the book. It would also help to have an index to easily find a particular card. I did a reading where I knew the client had an affinity for a particular animal, and I had to go through the entire book until I found it. It would have been so much easier to know what page it was on. But those are very minor “complaints”. I highly recommend the Animal Totem Tarot with its accompanying book for anyone looking for something brand new and insightful in tarot.
- Clara Ferguson


Women in White – The Haunting of Northeast Florida, Elizabeth Randall with Photographs by Bob Randall, Schiffer Publishing, Ltd., Atglen, PA, 2015, 160 pp. $16.99.

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Elizabeth and Bob Randall are transplants from The Great Northeast (Maine and New York to be specific). They began exploring their new home state and, although calling themselves “ghost agnostics”, began visiting reputedly haunted sites.
        Women in White is well written, and possibly the best guide book I’ve ever read. There are details that will have visitors looking for “spooky” locales off the beaten path.  If you’re not into ghosts, Women in White can act as your guide book to obscure Florida historical sites such as the Franklintown Cemetery or NaNa, the sand dune at American Beach. Bob’s photos add to the flavor of the book.
        Elizabeth artfully captures the history of Florida as it progressed from Native American times to today. At various times in its history, Florida has been colonized by Spanish, British, French; it seceded from the Union; and as Obi Wan Kenobi would say, it has been a “wretched hive of scum and villainy.” Pirates, gun-runners, bootleggers, and slave traders plied their trade in the deep natural harbors. It became Hollywood East during winter months, visited by the rich, famous and sometimes notorious.
        Elizabeth and Bob interviewed “[m]any sincere and honest people … [who] claimed to have seen ghosts, apparitions, unexplained mist, and always a Woman in White.” Elizabeth notes that “a northeast Florida State of Mind is dominated by wispy tales of Women in White.”
        That’s the one unfortunate aspect of Women in White: there are few actual tales of women in white. Yes, there are stories of ghosts, and we hear FOAF (friend of a friend) tales of ghostly sounds and apparitions, but there are few first-hand accounts, and details are scarce.
        Each site gives the “Haunting”, followed by the “History”. In most cases, the history is twice or three times longer than the haunting. Any quotes from potential witnesses are in small italic print that is difficult to read.
        Several chapters mention male ghosts, or even groups, but I was disappointed in the lack of actual Women in White. The book promises “29 tales…dominated by the wispy trails of strange female spirits…” That just isn’t so. I would call Women in White a history book with a few ghosts thrown in.
        If you’re looking for some spooky sites to visit in northeastern Florida, Women in White will give you 29 places to check out, and information on possible ghostly activity. But if, like me, you’re looking for first-hand accounts of women in white, you may be disappointed.
- Shari Donaldson


Afterlife – What Really Happens on the Other Side, Barry R. Strohm, Schiffer Publishing, Ltd., Atglen, PA, 2014, 176 pp. $16.99.
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I think we’ve all lost someone near and dear to us, and we wonder what happens when they leave us.
        Afterlife has true stories of contact and communication with spirits. As the jacket explains, it includes “the mysteries of earthbound ghosts, reincarnation, Heaven, Hell, messages from Spirit Guides, the concept of preordained events, and much more.” That sounds like an awful lot, but it’s well worth reading all of it. Author Barry R. Strohm very conversationally relates his experiences with clairvoyant Barbara Lee as they use tools such as a spirit board, ghost box, pendulum and clairvoyant messaging to contact departed souls and Spirit Guides. The book includes photos of orbs, angels, apparitions, ghost animals and even fairies.
        You don’t have to believe in life after death to enjoy Afterlife – What Really Happens on the Other Side. Those who do believe will find solace in the pages as Barry shows that there is more beyond our physical lives than we imagine. Those who have had “strange experiences” will be comforted as Barry helps them understand what they’ve experienced. Skeptics may see the experiences in the book as delusions, but I encourage you to look at it as “what if” we could contact those we’ve loved and lost. Those who want to learn how to communicate with the departed, and with their Spirit Guides, will find quite techniques to help.
         Afterlife – What Really Happens on the Other Side is an easy read, and very engaging. Once you start reading, you’re unlikely to put it down.
        Whether you believe in the afterlife or not, I’m sure you’ll find the book entertaining and informative. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in learning more about what happens after death, and how to communicate with those who have gone before us.
- Stan Summers