Green Cities Addendum, and $5 Ebooks

Thing the First: On the heels of my post yesterday about the ecological advantages of city living, here’s a great article about a former Chicago meatpacking plant that’s being converted into a huge vertical farm. This is exactly the kind of change I want to see in making our cities greener. So often our cities are expected to expand outward, not upward (unless it’s fancy-schmancy skyscrapers). However, we can make better use of the space we’re taking up if we do build higher, and especially if we repurpose the usable infrastructure already in place. I wish the folks behind this vertical farm the best, and hope for more success stories to come. (Here’s where you can follow their progress on Facebook, by the way.)

skinspiritsThing the Second: For those who have asked, yes, most of my books are available as ebooks. Almost all of my titles from Immanion Press/Megalithica Books are available on Smashwords (scroll down as mine are mixed in the list) in a variety of formats for $5 each. Additionally, most are also on Kindle (though New Paths to Animal Totems, which is published by Llewellyn, costs a bit more via Kindle). You can, of course, get dead tree versions, but for those who have e-readers or who are on a tighter budget, the ebooks may be a particularly good option. (On the other hand, I can’t sign an ebook, so you’re always welcome to buy signed paperbacks from me, which I always appreciate since I get to keep more of the cash to pay bills!) Finally, continuing in the budget discussion, while my IP/MB published books tend to not cost much less used than new, New Paths to Animal Totems is selling for under $3 for used paperbacks on Amazon.

A Short But Sweet Update

I have been utterly crazed as of late. I’m halfway through my temporary stint as a mental health counselor at my old internship site, and while it’s going quite well, I don’t have a lot of time for art and writing (comparatively speaking, anyway). The past few days have been especially busy; I’m vending at Faerieworlds again this year (and presenting a workshop on shapeshifting dance on Sunday) and so I’ve been busy trying to make enough stuff to fill my booth. I spent the weekend making artwork, though, and it was absolutely glorious being able to immerse myself in creativity again.

One of the costume pieces I've been working on for FaerieWorlds, featuring a real peacock tail and wings obtained from a taxidermist.

One of the costume pieces I’ve been working on for FaerieWorlds, featuring a real peacock tail and wings obtained from a taxidermist.

If you’ve been missing out on my writing lately, you may wish to check out my new spot over at PaganSquare. Since this blog has become fairly conceptual, I’ve made my PaganSquare venue into a how-to blog, and I’m starting with some basics before moving on to more specialized topics. Right now I’m in the middle of explaining the basics of how I work with spirits; feel free to go take a peek.

Also, I’ve been fortunate enough to score a spot at the community garden a few blocks from my home, after being waitlisted for three years. It was pretty badly overgrown with weeds when I inherited it, but I’ve managed to get most of them pulled and piled for compost, and am getting prepped for fall planting.

Finally, a bit of good news on the book front: Facing North gave a good review to New Paths to Animal Totems. As an aside, while buying a book directly from me gets me the most money for it, I also know plenty of folks are on a budget. Amazon currently has copies starting at $1.50 each, and hey, if you buy used it’s extra eco-friendly!

Also in the book realm, I’m working on the revision of Plant and Fungus Totems: Connect with Spirits of Field, Forest, and Garden (formerly New Paths to Plant and Fungus Totems), which should be out from Llewellyn next summer. I’m quite pleased to say that Christopher Penczak was gracious enough to write a beautiful foreword for it, and overall the editing process has been going well, too. So I feel pretty good about the book in general, and I’m looking forward to inflicting it upon my now-forewarned audience.

“Engaging the Spirit World: Shamanism, Totemism, and Other Animistic Practices” anthology now available!

engagingSo, five years ago when I was still an integral part of the staff at Immanion Press/Megalithica Books, I put out a call for an anthology on various animistic topics. At the time I was already spending dozens of hours a month editing and copy editing and doing layout on books for IP/MB, and I wasn’t relying on my artwork for my income, and so what was one more book project? (Famous last words.)

However, not long afterward I ended up starting graduate school, which ate a big chunk of my time. Then I got divorced, which further complicated things. And then I got done with grad school and instead of a nice 40 hour a week day job as a counselor, I found myself being fully self-employed, which took up about 70 hours a week on average. The anthology, unfortunately, kept getting put on the back burner in favor of projects that were more likely to contribute to paying the bills (as an editor I’d only get paid in a small number of royalties, and while I love IP/MB’s content, they’re a small press and sales are quite modest). So practicality won out, and it was only recently (and with help from IP/MB on the last chunk of layout) that Engaging the Spirit World was finally brought into completion.

Personally, I feel it’s worth the wait. There are some fantastic essayists in there, writing on all sorts of neat approaches to shamanism, totemism, and other animistic topics. Some of them are leaning more toward traditional topics, while others go in some really unusual directions–from Shinto to neurotransmitter spirit guides, sacred body work and ecopsychology, there’s a wonderful variety of thoughts and essays in the wide world of animism!

Want to find out more? Head on over here to my website where you can find a table of contents, ordering info, and more!

Quick Commercial Break

I try to not talk too much about my professional writing pursuits here, since this is mainly a blog about my shamanic practice, and I figure most folks who are interested in my books/etc. will go check the link list. However, I did want to bring attention to a recent project that’s been published that’s relevant to some of what I’ve talked about here. Talking About the Elephant: An Anthology of Neopagan Perspectives on Cultural Appropriation is the first anthology I’ve edited. It came out last month through Immanion Press/Megalithica Books, who have published my other books as well. Talking About the Elephant is a collection of essays from a diversity of authors coming from backgrounds ranging from Celtic Reconstructionism to neoshamanism to ritual magick, and then some. I tried to create a collection of essays that presented numerous perspectives on the issue of cultural appropriation in neopaganism, rather than just a bunch of people saying the same thing different ways.

I figured that since I’ve talked a fair bit about cultural appropriation and shamanism here, that readers may be interested in the anthology. There’s more information at the link above; if you want to order a copy directly from me (it’ll be signed by me as well as my husband Taylor, who was also an essayist), be aware that my first shipment of copies just sold out a couple of days ago; I’m expecting a new shipment around the end of the month, but you can go ahead and get an order in to reserve your copy.

Alright. Back to the usual stuff. Thanks for reading 🙂

Recommended Reading on Shamanism 101

I’m writing this post partly for my own benefit. Since I am a bibliophile and read voraciously, I sometimes find myself referring books to others. Every so often I’ll be asked for a list of recommended reading for those just getting into shamanism. Rather than continuing to type the same titles out over and over again, I can now just link to this post and say “Here, check this out”. (I also find this is incredibly convenient with other blog posts and articles online where it’s easier to point people to something I’ve already written.)

Keep in mind, of course, that I’ve only been actively pursuing a (neo)shamanic path since September 2007. However, I have spent over a decade as a solitary, self-taught pagan, and so discerning useful books from not so useful ones has become an acquired skill. These books can all be found in my bibliography; however, I’ve extracted a few particularly good for beginners (and yes, I fully admit to having cut and pasted the information from my biblio). Additionally, I strongly recommend checking the shamanism-related links in my blogroll. I’ve listed the books in the order I think would be most useful to read them in (separated into two different categories, neoshamanism and traditional shamanism–you don’t have to read the neo before the trad).

Books on Neoshamanism:

Webb, Hillary S.: Exploring Shamanism

This is pure neoshamanism–and the author gets points for admitting it up front. It’s a great guide to making shamanism relevant to mainstream postindustrial societies, and is a nice, down to Earth exploration of the concept. It’s got a good mix of theory and practice, too. 101, but it gave me some good ideas for integrating my practice into everyday life.

Harner, Michael: The Way of the Shaman

It’d be kinda tough to study neoshamanism without reading this book. Harner isn’t teaching “genuine Native American shamanism”; rather, he did to shamanism what Carroll did to magic in general–boil it down to its bare-bones components, sans cultural context, and present it as a working system for modern practitioners. Unfortunately, he only presents a partial perspective on what shamanism is, and leaves a number of cultural elements in there that can lead people to believe they’re doing it “just like the Indians”. I think the misunderstanding people have is that this book–or the weekend seminars that have ultimately derived from core shamanism–will automatically make you a shaman. I think it’s more accurate to say it can make you a practitioner of shamanic techniques, but one book a shaman does not make. Still, this is a useful handbook for said techniques, and as long as it’s taken in the proper context it’s an okay resource.

Endredy, James: Ecoshamanism

This is a very important book to me. Essentially it takes shamanism and plants it firmly in ecological awareness and environmentally friendly practices. While traditional shamanism isn’t all about environmentalism, therioshamanism is very much an environmentally active practice. It’s quite obvious that Endredy knows his stuff, both with wildcraft and shamanism, and it’s one of my favorite texts for reminding me of my focus on the Earth.

Books on Traditional Shamanism:

Vitebsky, Piers: The Shaman

I like this book because it’s a good anthropological introduction to shamanism–primarily traditional, but with a brief mention near the end of neoshamanism. It’s a nice blend of text and illustrations, and the author covers a lot of ground. He seems particularly interested in altered states of consciousness, and the involvement of the shaman in both the community overall, and politics (including conflict with large governments–shamanism as subversive!).

Eliade, Mircea: Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy

Yes, I finally got around to reading this classic. I enjoyed it quite a bit, though chewing through hundreds of pages of pure vintage academia took two weeks. It’s going to be one of those books that I go back to every so often to re-read, and will probably get more out of with each time. It’s apparently withstood the years pretty well, too–while there’s obviously newer material out there, it hasn’t become obsolete. I can appreciate the comparative aspects of the book, though it’s also good to see how cultures have different cosmologies and traditions. A nice thorough resource.

Walsh, M.D., Ph.D, Roger N: The Spirit of Shamanism

This is a superior academic text on the psychology of shamanism. Unlike earlier academic works, though, the author is careful to not allow Western bias to color a negative picture of the topic. Rather, he explains in great detail (and with in-text citations, even!) about how shamanism differs from schizophrenia and other mental illnesses, the psychology behind shamanic healing (such as the placebo effect), and the psychological states involved in initiation and journeying. I took away a much better understanding of the internal mechanics of shamanism from this book, as well as some good arguments against “shamans are crazy”. One of the most recommended books on this list.

Harvey, Graham (ed): Shamanism: A Reader

This is an awesome anthology with a great collection of primarily academic perspectives on both traditional and neo shamanism. While I didn’t like every essay, I did learn quite a bit from it, particularly on some of the more interesting niches, such as Siberian shamanic gender roles, the aesthetics of Korean shamanism, and Russian documentaries on shamanism. I wasn’t as impressed by most of the essays on neoshamanism, but it was nice to see them included instead of ignored. The writing on some of the essays is somewhat tough to chew through if you’re not used to academic writing, but this didn’t hinder me too much.

These aren’t the only books on shamanism I’ve read; you can see more at Pagan Book reviews. But this is a brief booklist I’d recommend for beginners and the curious. I’ll probably add to it at a later date, but it’s here for posterity (and my easy linking needs).

Hitting the Books

Thank the gods I’m a bibliophile.

I don’t want to try to create therioshamanism out of absolutely nothing. Believe me, I tried figuring out things entirely on my own without any help whatsoever when I was much younger. It resulted in things like “I feel energy–it must be….A PSYCHIC ATTACK!!!” and “I KNOW that if I just TRY hard enough, I’ll be able to turn into a wolf for real! Okay, I’m doing it! I think….okay, any time now….is this where I’m supposed to clear my mind of all impure thoughts….?”

I very quickly learned the value of Talking To Other People Who Have Been There. Not only did they have suggestions from their own experiences, but they often provide suggested reading material. There are, of course, advantages and disadvantages to both of these. You can’t ask a book a question, but in-person conversations don’t come pre-edited by professionals. So over time I learned how to determine which people were most likely flakes, which ones were strange but had solid ideas, and which ones were pretty close to consensus on a number of pagan and magical topics. I also figured out how to determine what sorts of books each (very general) type of person either wrote and/or recommended. (I also learned that “flake” and “consensus” could be pretty damned subjective, with people in general as well as pagan/occult folk.)

I have been talking quite a bit to friends and acquaintances about what I’m doing, playing mental racquetball by bouncing ideas off their heads. (They’re good sports about it.) However, I’ve also been reading (or re-reading) every book in the house on shamanism and related topics as a way of refreshing my memory on specific details (my memory is spotty, thanks to long-term sleep deprivation, one reason why blogging has become my friend). And I’ve been buying books as I can afford them; my husband has been pretty good about keeping me from decimating our budget by curbing my attempts to significantly reduce my Amazon wish list (to which I’ve been adding anything that’s been suggested or otherwise looks worthwhile)–and believe me, this is a tough temptation to fight off when I live a ten minute bus drive from Powell’s City of Books!

Let it be said that I realize books aren’t a perfect resource. But then again, neither are people-in-person. In fact, there’s no such thing as a perfect resource, which is why a combined viewpoint is best, as far as I’m concerned. However, given that I have three hours of commuting a day, five days a week, for the foreseeable future (or until my two and a half year contract is up) I have plenty of reading time. And I’m incredibly independent, so self-teaching isn’t a problem (with, as I mentioned, talking shop with others as a balancing point).

It’s been an interesting experience, particularly when revisiting books I’ve read before. For example, I recently finished reading Michael Harner’s The Way of the Shaman for the fourth time, cover to cover, since I got it a decade or so ago. Needless to say, I’m not as thrilled about it as I used to be. It feels incredibly incomplete; there’s something important about cultural context when it comes to shamanism, and the problem is that Harner does a shoddy job of removing the culture-specific context from the techniques. Now, granted, having been a Chaos magician for a few years (and still being influenced by it to some extent) the idea of boiling magic down to its bare-bones components isn’t unusual. However, Peter J. Carroll did a much cleaner job of it.

One book that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed, and that will probably be a good guidebook for me is Piers Vitebsky’s The Shaman. It’s an anthropological look at shamanism in traditional societies worldwide. He does a good job of showing just how diverse the practices included under the umbrella of “shamanism” really are. For example, while he covers cultures that use soul-flight (such as the Siberian shamans), he also looks at the Sora of India, who utilize mediumship and channelling. Additionally, unlike Harner and other neoshamans, Vitebsky demonstrates how shamanism is for more than just healing, and how thoroughly enmeshed the shaman is in the community s/he lives in. While I don’t think I can become an uber-1337 shaman by reading this book a hundred times, it is *one* good model that I want to work with in creating my own (neo)shamanic system.

I have a number of other books, of course, on the reading pile. I want to re-read Hillary S. Webb’s Exploring Shamanism to see if I like it as much as I did last time; it’s neoshamanism, but the author is quite honest about that. I also recently got a copy of Graham Harvey’s Shamanism: A Reader, which I’m looking forward to digging into.

Not everything will be incorporated, of course. I recently gave a two-star review to The Celtic Shaman by John Matthews. And I’m not even going near people like Lynn Andrews or Brooke Medicine Eagle. I did get a copy of The Teachings of Don Juan by Carlos Castaneda, mainly to say that I’ve read something of his cover to cover (I still don’t think I’ll be impressed, though, given all the evidence pointing toward don Juan Matus’ questionable existence).

I’m actually not looking for how-to books in specific. From what I’ve seen they tend to be primarily 101-level books that go over the same basic techniques. Rather, I’m interested in concepts. I have enough experience with magic in general (to include neoshamanic practice) that I can generally figure out how to do something even if it isn’t described in step-by-step detail. A good example of this is Eligio Stephen Gallegos’ The Personal Totem Pole. Gallegos is a psychotherapist who created a method of therapy involving meditating to find the totem animals of each of the seven chakras and having conversations with them to find out the roots of various issues. The book itself is actually a case study meant for other professionals to use, and doesn’t have any how-tos in it. However, reading through, it’s pretty easy to figure out what to do.

This doesn’t mean I don’t know everything. A recent experience with trance possession reminded me that there are certain techniques that, while I may know the general concept, require more than just flying by the seat of my pants. Which is where I start looking for more specific books–and start talking to people who have had this sort of experience. The sort of thing, though, that requires this kind of action is less likely to be found in how-to books, and more in discussions and studies. You can only go so deep with how-tos; when I write my own books, for example, I don’t give step-by-step instructions. Rather, I give the concepts, anecdotes that illustrate how I used them, and then some suggestions on how the reader might try incorporating the concepts into their own practices. And that’s what I’m basically after for myself.

(And yes, I am open to suggestions.)