Book Review: Outside the Charmed Circle

Book cover of Outside the Charmed Circle.
Outside the Charmed Circle by Misha Magdalenehttps://ladyofthelake.blog/2020/01/31/book-review-outside-the-charmed-circle/

Outside the Charmed Circle: Exploring Gender and Sexuality in Magical Practice, by Misha Magdalene, is a challenge to review. That’s because the book is so deep, so rich, and so necessary, that in order to do it justice you almost have to quote great heaping gobs of text. I’ll try to not do that–I want you to read the book itself.

I was privileged and honored to read a PDF draft in advance. When the book was published I ordered two copies, one for me and one for a family member. This is the kind of book you want to talk about, the kind you want to give to others, the kind that makes you want to shout “YES!” into the oak groves at midnight or wave at passing motorists by day.

So why am I, a witchy person and a sexologist, so darned enthusiastic about what Misha Magdalene has to say? Well, it’s also that I’m kind of like that “over-enthusiastic PFLAG mom” meme that was going around a few years ago, only I’d be in a black t-shirt saying “My Transgender Witch Child Makes Me So Proud” and I’d be wearing less bracelets. So, the topic of “exploring gender & sexuality in magical practice” is deeply personal on several levels. I feel its urgency. At the core, I want my children (both cis and trans) to be respected and safe, and I want everyone else’s kids to be safe and respected too. It’s just basic human empathy and justice, qualities which are lacking in this world and sometimes this lack bashes into our spiritual lives, where we go to be strengthened, but are also frequently deeply vulnerable.

In spite of the topic’s complexity, this book is quite “user friendly.” Each chapter contains exercises to help the reader think through and experience the material. The appendices and bibliography are also wonderfully helpful.

In the introductory chapter, Misha Magdalene describes their book as “an exploration of magic through the lenses of gender and sexuality.” I think the reverse is also true. The book asks also us to examine gender and sexuality through the lenses of our magical practices and beliefs. Magdalene is extremely qualified to write from and through both (and several) perspectives. For me, in this book, intersectionality reveals its liminal nature, and liminal, magic practice reveals its intrinsic intersectional necessity. Circles and spaces, within and without, all are essentially “charmed.” If I’m interpreting correctly, I feel this may be one reason why Magdalene writes “magic is queer.”

The second chapter, “Getting Our Bearings, Knowing Our Terms,” is a helpful “101 and beyond” navigation through sex and gender terminology, which–as Magdalene points out–can and does change over time.

The book focuses next on the body, embodiment, and all the baggage that may be heaped upon bodies, often internalized. This third chapter is practically a body-positive “user’s manual,” a way to set ourselves up–not just conceptually but also physically–for the body’s ability to be “an instrument of magic.” For myself, as a person who is finding the physical and social transition to old age as bewildering as adolescence, this appreciative and mindful focus on the body as a location of self, wisdom, and power, provides a much needed reminder to take care of what I’ve got. I have a hunch other readers will appreciate these reminders (if not for the same reason).

The fourth chapter, “Gender Theory and Practice,” takes us deeper into considerations of this topic and how gender essentialism is incorporated and enacted in various magical traditions. (And now I find that these chapter descriptions are so simplified that it is almost embarrassing. Just…read…the…book…)

The next chapter moves powerfully into a discussion of queerness, queer deities, and more. I (cis, het, spectro-sexual, Lokean) particularly resonate Magdalene’s description of queerness as “a metaphysical yearning for something beyond the scope of our understanding” and also as a “pursuit” of potentiality. While I (cis, het, spectro-sexual, Lokean) don’t presume to the label of “queer,” this chapter helps me to understand my own allyship and the underpinings of my own spiritual quests.

My only quibble with this chapter (and it is a small one) is that an important aspect of Loki Laufeyjarson–the Norse trickster and shape-shifter–is overlooked. He was/is a mother not just once, but twice. In the Norse Voluspa en skamma, Loki ate a burnt woman’s heart (an offering?) and promptly gave birth to innumerable “troll women.” “Troll” was another word for witch. Loki, therefore, is a Mother of Witches, an important (gender-shifting) ancestor of magic practitioners. I would have liked to have seen this aspect acknowledged. But as I said, this is a minor criticism.

Chapter six brings us to one of my favorite topics. It’s called “Safer Sex Magic for Beginners (and Experts)” and I must say, this chapter is a thing of both sexological and magical beauty. I highly recommend the section called “How to Learn Sex Magic in Three Easy Steps” and the exercise for working solitary sex magic. In fact, I highly recommend the entire thing. Just…read…it!

The next two chapters on consent are also full of common sense and wisdom. The second one, chapter eight, concerns the process of negotiating consent with gods and…wow. Just wow. One of my professional interests, as well as personal/spiritual orientations, concerns spectrosexuality and god-spousing, and I can honestly say that so many people need the perspective and information contained in these chapters! These chapters are a stunning example of sex education at its best.

The last three chapters bring everything together in a context of individual magical practices and working within (or without) magic communities. Can I just say that even as I flip through these pages, as I write this review, I find myself wanting to swoon with admiration? So much common sense, so much compassion, so much inclusivity, so much impeccable information…

I believe this pioneering book is destined to be a classic. It is certainly one that I will take from my shelf again and again, and will continue to recommend whole-heartedly to all who are interested in such topics.

Well done, Misha Magdalene! I look forward to your next book!!!

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Dagulf Loptson’s New Book: Loki Trickster and Transformer

510PMSAfpoL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_Inspirational, accessible, well-organized, experiential.

Loki: Trickster and Transformer (due for release May 29, 2020) is a must-read introduction to the Norse god, Loki Laufeyjarson, and modern Loki worship. And for anyone already devoted to this complex deity, Dagulf Loptson has created yet another informational and devotional gem. My reviewers copy now has an honored place in my own book collection, along with Loptson’s first, Playing With Fire: An Exploration of Loki Laufeyjarson (Asphodel Press, 2014).

Loki Trickster and Transformer is published by Pagan Portals (an imprint of http://www.johnhuntpublishing.com). This book definitely opens a door and guides the reader through it.

Loptson’s scholarship is respected by such notable writers as Diana Paxson (who writes an endorsement for this book) and Stephan Grundy, Ph.D., author of God in Flames, God in Fetters: Loki’s Roll in the Northern Religions.

I also want to mention that I thoroughly enjoy Loptson’s portrait of Loki on the cover, and the inside illustrations.

Inspirational

As someone who found myself, late in life, suddenly and surprisingly called by Loki (something which I would never have anticipated in a million years!), I appreciate Loptson’s work on many levels. When I read Loptson’s books I immediately feel closer to Loki, my fulltrui (my most trusted one among several deities with whom I work). That’s the experience I had with Playing With Fire, and it’s what I feel reading Trickster and Transformer. (This is not something that happens with most of the books on my shelves!) I can’t promise you’ll have the same experience, but I am willing to bet that you’ll enjoy returning to this book often, as there are many aspects of Loki to ponder, particularly the transformative ones.

But as Loptson writes, “Loki isn’t a god you can really know just by reading his stories or what other people have written about him: he’s a deity that needs to be experienced.” This book can help you move toward direct experience. But more on that in a moment.

Accessible

This book can also help you move toward your own research. The introduction includes a list of Norse lore sources for Loki myths and poems. I also appreciate the inclusion of endnotes, a bibliography, and a list of recommended reading. Readers are not forced to wonder where Loptson found his ideas. Loptson also clearly indicates when he’s expressing his own insights, opinions, and experiences, as opposed to describing a reference to Norse lore.

Well-organized & Experiential

The book progresses logically, which is really rather wonderful seeing as it’s devoted to a being who is supposedly “chaotic.” The first ten chapters each focus on a specific name (heiti) and aspect of Loki, so the reader gains broader understanding with each new chapter. Easier, “user friendly” Loki aspects are presented first. The last couple of chapters are devoted to aspects which are more challenging: Loki as “The Roarer” and “The Vulture’s Road.” I feel this is a measured, thoughtful approach which will serve readers well, especially those who are newcomers to Loki.

Each chapter also contains an activity and a simple ritual. Loptson is a skilled ritualist and this is reflected in the rituals he has created for each aspect of Loki. Elements from previous chapters and rituals are incorporated into subsequent ones. For example, the first chapter includes the consecration of a Loki candle. Several subsequent rituals will include this candle, plus other objects made and consecrated in future chapters.

The final chapter, “Becoming a Lokean,” includes a Loki Dedication Ritual and suggestions for a daily practice and altar implements (mostly the objects and materials created and assembled for the previous rituals).

I’ve worked through other rituals that Loptson has created, both in his previous book and as found on his blog, and I’ve always gotten something valuable from the experiences. I’ve now begun to work through Trickster and Transformer on my second reading, but have to postpone some of this work as I lack necessary materials. If I have any mild criticism to offer at all, it is that I have no idea where to find birch twigs, which are used in Chapter Ten’s Loki Blót (sacrifice) ritual. That tree doesn’t seem to grow around here, so a list of substitute woods would have helped.

A Master List of Materials Used in Trickster and Transformer

Though each chapter contains a list of the necessary materials and tools for each ritual, I suggest that the reader who intends to embark on this ritual series have a “master list” of all necessary items, and assemble all of them at once, in advance of beginning the first ritual. That way you won’t be stopped in your tracks by the lack of birch twigs or a dremel, or any other item. This may mean a trip to craft stores, thrift stores, or online purchases of hard-to-find herbs and incense ingredients, rocks, and beads.

I would make the suggestion that subsequent editions of this book contain such a list at the end, for easy reference, but here’s one now. (I hope the author will forgive my presumption in making such a list and offering it here.)


Candles: A pillar candle that is either orange, red, gold, yellow, black, green, or violet. (The first ritual on p. 12 specifies an orange candle or “a color of your choice.”); a fresh, unlit tealight candle.
Tools: a nail or other sharp tool for inscribing bind runes on candles; matches or a lighter; a lancet for drawing blood [dispose of used lancets safely]; a mortar and pestle for grinding herbs and resins; a jar for ground herbs and resins; a dremel or wood-burning kit for inscribing runes on wood or stone; a fire pit or fireplace; jars and bottles for recels and oils.
Herbs to make “recels” (incense): dandelion, mullein, Dragon’s Blood resin, cinnamon, star anise, clove. [Note: make a goodly amount. The recels are used several times throughout the book.]
[Note: I have been advised that mistletoe is not safe to burn or consume in any manner, though the author has included it in the recels recipe. I make a correction here.]
Herbs to make Loki Oil: jojoba oil [I bet olive oil would be okay too]; powdered dragon’s blood resin or dragon’s blood oil; black pepper essential oil; mullien leaf or flowers; red pepper flakes; sulphur; snake skin sheds (if obtainable).
Charcoal disc for burning the recels. [Note: use the kind found in religious supply stores for burning incense, not “charcoal briquettes” which are highly dangerous for indoor use.]
A fireproof container to hold the charcoal disc and recels as they burn.
Sand or salt to put in the bottom of the fireproof container, under the charcoal disc.
Optional feathers or fan to waft the incense smoke.
A cord or chain.
A piece of wood or metal that can become a pendant worn on the cord or chain.
Clay to make a replica of the Snaptun stone.
Optional small cloth bag.
Optional small stones and natural objects associated with Loki (p. 29) that could go into a bag.
Beads for a prayer bead strand (bead material choices are individual, but Loki stone associations can be found on p. 29).
String for beading.
A mirror (any kind).
Notebook and pen.
A plain wooden bowl, especially one that is plain on the inside bottom. [Note: the bottom will be engraved with a stave, using the dremel or wood-burning tool.]
Offerings: blood or saliva; a cloth heart, sewn by yourself, or a chicken or other animal heart from a butcher; water; other libation.

I want to encourage interested readers to order this book in advance, assemble your ritual materials, and prepare to make Loki’s acquaintance, if you haven’t already. (But can one ever be really prepared for Loki? You’ll find out, won’t you?)

I’m so thankful that Dagulf Loptson has written another valuable guide to Loki and Loki worship. I hope there may be more from this author in the future!

Hail Loki!

 

 

 

 

Lady of “What Next?”

Here it is, January 9, 2020 and our world is even more terrifying and dangerous than it was before the beginning of the new year. All my friends and several family members are depressed, experience panic and despair, and/or a lack of motivation in even the small matters of life. And yet here in the U.S., we’re not even the ones being bombed (yet)! We have it so fucking easy compared to others, and yet, life is not easy at all. The unrelenting tyranny of our current federal administration makes many of us–disabled, poor or poor(er), elderly, trans, otherwise gender variant, sexually variant, pagan, ill, immigrant or refugee, homeless or houseless, native, POC, female, millennial with college debt, working class, animal, tree, river, ocean…the list goes on!–feel we’re in the crosshairs of a group of entitled sociopaths who really, truly want us dead. Our bodies strewn on the pavements will mean nothing to them.

But we’re going to outsmart them. Yes, we are. And we will survive and even thrive. Brilliant acts of resistance, such as the Mauna Kea Protectors (Kia’i) who are still standing strong at Pu’uhonua o Pu’uhuluhulu on Hawai’i Island since July 15th, show us how we can come together. We can choose to share resources and food, share caring for each other, plant trees, rescue animals from fires, and repurpose, repair, or share the objects that clutter our lives. We can cahoot with our ancestors, spirits, plants, animals and yes, even other humans who are not in our social media networks.

And it’s strange that I am more motivated than ever, in spite of my sense of peril. I’m 65 years old and I’m not going down without flinging my defiance out where everyone can see it (those who care to look and read, anyway).

It’s a liminal time, but small actions sustain me.

I’m petting and hugging my six cats more than ever. These dear ones look to me to enable them to survive whatever comes next. As I write, one of the newer cats is doing his best to insert himself between me and this keyboard. If he’d only settle down and let me pet him, instead of walking to and fro (his tale brushing my face), I could have finished this blog several minutes ago. But I’m happy for these moments of affection. They are the only kind I receive.

Other small actions:

I’m writing (as usual). I’m updating classes, teaching, doing client work, re-doing my websites.

I’m sorting end of the year/beginning of the year paperwork, putting things in order so that I can see them better.

I’m noticing the everyday beauties: wintering bird flocks–pelicans, egrets, so many that I don’t know or recognize. I’m noticing sunlight on water and the sound of the rain. I notice the comedies too, such as the flock of turkeys running down the road ahead of yesterday’s garbage truck, gobbling madly.

I’m bringing myself back to the daily spiritual practice I wobbled on the last couple of months. It’s not a time to neglect this kind of nourishment because I can’t do all of what I need to do on my own. I need my deities and ancestors with me.

Big tasks await me.

I’m strategizing for a major move, once again. No longer will I be a “Lady of the Lake” with the view of Mt. Konocti and Clearlake from my window. I plan to move as soon as I can this spring, to a small city in the north where a river flows.

And I am sadly preparing to de-commission the Lokabrenna Tiny Temple, hoping to re-establish it in my new home, wherever that may be. I suspect that Loki is okay with that, as he’s all for change. The next Tiny Temple might be even better.

Hope?

If there’s anything at all in “the stars” that can shift world conditions, perhaps tomorrow will be that time. The world expects a lunar eclipse in Cancer tomorrow, with Saturn and Pluto in opposition. Some say this is will spark changes for the better, the “real” Age of Aquarius and all that, and that would be welcome. I’m not holding my breath and waiting though–I want to get to a location where I can organize along with others, and make those substantial, necessary changes that will enable all of us to survive in spite of the moneyed mana-suckers who are striving for a fascist ascendancy over this planet.

Illustration_by_Kay_Nielsen_4 cropped

Hail Loki! Liminal spirit and untiring muse, a force for change and a change for force.

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No War, No War, No War

Our would-be emperor, the self-inflated heir to all things Caligula, already given the “little boot” of impeachment, deserves a far greater political and legal check to his reckless proclivities and warmongering than he’s had so far. The world does not welcome what he’s foisted on us this month, in a fit of pique. His enablers are no better–mad to think they can manipulate this peevish man-child to their own ends. He’s got a finger that can press a certain button, and the supposed “grown-ups” in the room are not so grown up after all. Cowards all.

Something similar happened in Ancient Rome. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say (and yes, I know that Wikipedia is not the be-all and end-all of reliable historical sources):

“There are few surviving sources about the reign of Caligula, although he is described as a noble and moderate emperor during the first six months of his rule. After this, the sources focus upon his cruelty, sadism, extravagance, and sexual perversion, presenting him as an insane tyrant. While the reliability of these sources is questionable, it is known that during his brief reign, Caligula worked to increase the unconstrained personal power of the emperor, as opposed to countervailing powers within the principate. He directed much of his attention to ambitious construction projects and luxurious dwellings for himself, and initiated the construction of two aqueducts in Rome: the Aqua Claudia and the Anio Novus. During his reign, the empire annexed the client kingdom of Mauretania as a province.”

And here I note a physical resemblance. That’s Caligula on the left, with restored pigment on the marble. And that’s you know who on the right.

In one way, the Romans were luckier than we are. If the above is accurate, they had six months of reasonable leadership before their emperor went bonkers. But from January 2016 to present, we in the U.S. have never known a secure and untroubled moment. Like a child looking for a tower of blocks to smash and strew, 45 has wrecked, dismantled, and smugly destroyed a wide range of civil liberties, helpful government programs, our reasonable expectation of rational governance under our constitution, and has now embroiled us in a devasting war from the comfort of his golf game.

I am waiting for the day when an economic think tank takes stock of these years and issues a report on how much this man’s petulant reign of domestic and international terror has and will cost U.S. taxpayers–all of us, per citizen–and how much we’ll pay to undo the damage and reconstruct a civil society, over the span of our remaining lifetimes, and that of our children. The economic and human costs are already massive, and his failure to act on climate change is a tragedy of monumental proportions: “the biggest, the greatest” of his tawdry claims to undeserved fame.

I am writing this as a solitary person, an ordinary citizen, a mere blogger and writer of little note and very little influence. But I think it’s important for every single one of us speak out, to add our voices of opposition to a greater movement of resistance–especially on social media, which can amplify the smaller voices–to let the rest of the world know that the majority of people in this country did not vote for this maniac, that we do not agree with his policies of hate, and that we do not approve of his actions, but that we feel somewhat helpless to regain a semblance of democracy, as our votes are hijacked and our elections are rigged by a greedy oligarchy consisting irresponsible corporations, corrupt politicians, and religious extremists. But that even so, we oppose what is happening here: the rise of white supremacy, the jailing and mistreatment of immigrants and refugees, the jailing and mistreatment of children, the fact that many are now unaccounted for, the waste of the “wall” at the border, the lifting of regulations against pollution, rampant discrimination, and so no. And now, this war.

We do not want it. We can only take to the streets or post online to say we want it to stop, now. And we want the rest of the world to no longer dignify this man and his cronies with any credibility, with any recognition of “leadership.” He and his enablers are not worthy. We the people are hijacked. We know that our country’s disruptive actions in other nations did not begin with this administration, but this administration has made and is making our country’s impact a thousand times worse.

S.O.S. Help.

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