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Author Archives: Alanna Kali

About Alanna Kali

Alanna Kali is an astrologer, numerologist, and pioneer spirit that loves to explore life through the lens of depth psychology. She has a passion for studying the humanities and social trends. Her academic work is centered upon reuniting body, mind, and spirit through eco-psychology. She loves reading, spending time in nature, and travel.

The Ladies of the Secret Circus, by Constance Sayer

The Ladies of the Secret Circus, by Constance Sayer
Redhook, 0316493678, 464 pages, March 2021

I’ll admit it.. I’ve been very into magical circus books this summer (see my review for Bacchanal). When I found the Ladies of the Secret Circus by Constance Sayer in the recently published section of my library, I was delighted to once again be immersed in the enchantment that springs forth from the unique energy of circus life. However, while the plot was decent, this book didn’t stand out as a must-read for me. Overall, it was an interesting story, but written with too many plot gaps and a clear indication the writer does not have much experience working magic in the real world.

The overall premise is that on the day of her wedding, Lara Barnes’s fiancé, Todd, goes missing. Yes, they’ve had an on-again-off-again relationship for quite some time, including him being with other women, but the disappearance is a shock to the small town. While Kerrigan Falls is known for its lack of crime, an eerily similar disappearance happened 30 years prior to the day, when another handsome, young, beloved man named Peter went missing in the midst of his aspiring musical career.

Lara is absolutely devastated by the loss of her love, but can sense there’s something more to the story. She has learned how to do simple magic, or “corrections”, as she calls them. For instance, she alters her wedding dress to better fit her taste that day, though she’s aware the illusion will only hold as long as she maintains concentration. She inherited this power from her mother, Audrey, who chose a normal life, hiding her magic from everyone, including her ex-husband Jason.

In the months following Todd’s disappearance, Lara distracts herself by purchasing a local radio station and putting work into her fixer-upper home. She does her best to avoid media attention and rumors about what might have occurred, as she’s in her own personal state of mourning the loss of her beloved. Though, this doesn’t stop her from forming a romantic relationship with the local sheriff, Ben, who is a bit out of his league with such a big case in his small town. What begins with him giving her updates on the case, blossoms into a friendship, which turns into a budding romance.

As a supportive mother, Audrey is trying to lift her daughter’s spirits. Together, they attend the Rivoli circus, as the owners are long-time friends from the days when their family ran a circus. Audrey’s mother had decided to give up the circus, after going mad from her magical powers and no longer being able to maintain it. While at the circus, Lara has an unusual encounter with a fortune teller, where she is gifted with the diaries of her great-grandmother Cecil Cabot.

Reading the journals, Lara learns her great-grandmother was part of Le Cirque Secret, also known as the dark circus. Suddenly, all she’s known is turned upside down. As she tries to figure out the deeper truth, Lara recalls visits from a mysterious man as a child who had told her Todd was not her destiny. When he appears again following Lara reading the diaries with a proposition for Lara, inviting her to come to Paris, as he needs her help, in exchange for information about Todd and her family secrets, she decides to go ahead.

From this point on in the story, it becomes a dual narrative of Lara’s experience and that of her great-grandmother Cecil’s experience in Le Cirque Secret. While Lara’s story is boring white-bread suburban living, Cecil’s life is filled with romance, passion, and magic of 19th-century Paris and circus performances.

Cecil and her twin, Esme, were the children of one of the most notorious demons in the underworld, Althacazur, who is a favorite of Lucifer. When his wife passes away, he needs a home for his daughters, thus he creates Le Cirque Secret (which also is a good way for him to reel in those who are more eager to sell their souls to him in exchange for what they desire — truly a win-win). Known for her cunning charm and quick temper, Lara soon realizes this man is her great-great-grandfather, and her family’s origin is much darker than she ever imagined.

What’s especially enticing about Le Cirque Secret is that only those with a ticket can see the entrance, which pops up in the middle of an open, vacant spot in the town it’s performing in. Since it’s run by demons, who were essentially hand-picked by Althacazur in order to entertain and babysit his kids, this is no usual circus. All the performers are trapped, fulfilling the contracts they’ve made with demons for the rest of eternity. Nevertheless, there is an element of kinship among them.

Cecil and Esme, despite being twins, are often at odds with each other. Their good friend Slyvie tends to pick sides among them, but she also helps to smooth out the tensions. Oddly, Cecil has no memories prior to her 11th birthday blowing out candles. She can’t recall their early childhood, though Esme can and mocks Cecil for her weakness, as she’s also the only person in the circus that does not have a performance routine.

When Cecil grows weary of her sister’s taunts, she asks father about her lost memories and shares what Esme had told her. This prompts a swift and ruthless punishment for Esme, which changes her forever. From then on, all love has been lost between the sisters. However, Cecil finally finds her own strength and becomes an aerial performer. She learns that she can do more than swing from the bars as an acrobat. Cecil can actually fly through air with her magic, dazzling and astounding audiences.

During a night on the town after a circus performance, Cecil meets painter Emile Gradeux. They have an instant connection, sparking young love in the heart of Paris. Esme has usually been the one to go for painters, tormenting them by allowing her portrait to be painted, knowing it will vanish by morning, as it’s impossible to capture Cecil or Esme’s likeness. There’s something about Emile though that opens Cecil’s heart to happiness and love, and she continues to develop her relationship with them.

Surprisingly, Althacazur takes an interest in Emile and offers him the chance to do three paintings of the circus: one of Slyvie, one of Cecil, and one of Esme. Cecil and Esme’s intense rivalry is fueled by their common romantic interest in painter Emile. Ultimately, many relationships are destroyed, with consequences that are still impacting Lara in modern-day.

Swept away in the elegance of 19th-century Paris, these diary entries are definitely the best part of the book. Intermixed with characters such as Mann Ray, Pablo Picassion, and Ernest Hemmingway, the creative spirit comes alive amid the chaos of the circus. It’s easy to get caught-up in the glamour and romance

On her mission to learn more about her family’s past, Lara discovers more paintings in Paris, as well as a fellow Le Cirque Secret enthusiast, Tedd Barthlow-Bentham, a friend of Gaston, the local portrait framer and art enthusiast of Kerrigan Falls who has accompanied her. When Lara goes missing, Ben comes rushing to her rescue. Eventually, all the pieces come together for what is intended to be a surprising end. Though, if you’ve been reading between the lines, it’s easy to spot it coming.

So, overall the book has an appealing plot and it does keep the reader engaged to an extent. The major drawbacks to the book that irked me as a reader was the flow of the plot, which seemed a bit jerky. Sayer jumps from here to there with little transition, which makes it not as an appealing read. I sometimes didn’t know how things progressed as rapidly as they did in a very short time-frame.

Then, and I think this was my biggest problem with the book, Lara was not a very relatable character. Basic doesn’t even begin to describe her. It’s almost as if she was devoid of deeper emotional feelings. She was very one-dimensional, and most of the time she’s simply confused about what’s going on in her life. The romances between both Todd and Ben seem superficial, and she doesn’t really strike me as someone with a genuine range of emotion, which made me feel she was a bit annoying as a protagonist.

This was interesting because it wasn’t that Sayers couldn’t write a better character; Cecil and Esme have passion, depth, and self-awareness. And as I already said, the parts of the book focused on these characters in Paris were certainly the best. Lara just simply seems naive, selfish, and a bit aloof, not allowing for an emotional connection to be made with her, which as a reader I enjoy having with a main character.

Then my other peeve about the book was that the magic described is the kind of “wave your hand and something happens magic”. It came naturally to all of the characters because of their demonic origins. Therefore, it almost seems taken for granted. Yes, it was neat reading about their powers and their journey to master it. But most of the time, especially with Lara and Audrey, the magic was used to simply enchant life and make it a little better, rather than actually doing anything substantial. It’s mostly all glamour magic.

Plus, the portrayal of the demonic realm was very glossed over and prettily packaged. There was the usual allusion to great people, such as Mussolini, who sold their sold to the devil, or in this case a demon. While Sayers tries to depict the cost of their deal, such as permanent abuse based on the whims of Althacazur, one again, there seem to be little self-reflection or self-awareness on the part of these side characters damned to Hell’s circus forever. The book definitely didn’t weight the pros and cons of selling one’s soul in the way The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab captured (a book I do highly recommend!).

All in all, The Ladies of the Secret Circus was a unique plot and memorable for its originality, but it could have been written a bit better. It’s most redeeming aspect is Sayer’s portrayal 19th-century Paris. Otherwise, it’s a watered-down stunted romance of a confused character trying to figure out her family’s history, drawing the reader into some very superficial aspects of the demonic realm. For those who are looking for a decent book to read, filled with enough mystery and intrigue to keep you occupied, this is an all right selection. It probably will not be a life-changing read, but it might be worth delving into once.

Alchemical Tantric Astrology interview with Fredrick “Rico” Hamilton Baker

Alanna: Hello there! Thank you so much for doing this interview for Musing Mystical. After reading Alchemical Tantric Astrology, I feel like I understand myself in a whole new way. I really gained a lot from the book, and believe it’s truly the future of astrology, so it’s a real pleasure to chat with you.

Rico: Thank you Alanna for your interest in ATA.  I feel blessed to have someone with your depth of interest and understanding to read my book.  You are the perfect reader and to hear that it has touched you so deeply personally is especially rewarding.  Since we are all participating in the monumental shift of the Great Ages from Pisces to Aquarius, I would like to think, as you mention, that ATA will play a role in this major shift.  As you know, Aquarius and its rulers, Saturn and Uranus, play a primary part in the first Hermetic house, awakening the Cosmic Serpent at the Root Chakra.

Alanna: Yes! I absolutely love how you reframe the astrological seasons, sharing information about Aquarius as the first Hermetic House. This is something I really resonated with, yet I feel like it’s *hidden* information. What aspects of Aquarius energy make it the point in this system?

Rico: Aquarius contains many hints about awakening, especially in relation to Capricorn.  Aquarius time contains the beginning of Spring and in the language of the seasons puts the emphasis on waking up from Capricorn’s dark winter.  Aquarius is associated with surprising Uranus and its radioactive alchemical metal uranium, which compares to Capricorn’s serious Saturn and alchemical metal lead. Most telling is the fact that when the planetary rulers of the twelve signs of the zodiac are arranged in their natural order, Capricorn and Aquarius relate to Saturn, which becomes the bottom of the ATA chart and relate to the first Root Chakra in the Tantric Chakra system. It does seem rather “hidden” and I often refer to the ATA system as “Hidden in Plain Sight” because when we look at the natural zodiac and its rulers, the dual rulership order seems so obvious.  It seems only natural to put the zodiac in the order of the ATA system with Capricorn and Aquarius on the bottom and Cancer and Leo on the top so that they line up in perfect order with the seven planets, seven alchemical metals, and seven chakras. 

Alanna: Well speaking of beginnings, maybe I should start by asking more about your astrological career. What drew you to astrology and what’s maintained your interest for so long?

Rico: I would have to say that “It’s in the Stars.”  Double Scorpio loves penetrating to the core, and Virgo Rising, ruled by Hermes/Mercury in an air sign and the third house is a definite set-up.  Ha!

In the mid-1960s, transiting Uranus met up with Transiting Pluto in my natal first house of identity and I dropped applying for Dental schools and instead transferred to U.C. Santa Cruz, a new experimental campus of the University of California, and started over taking all the subjects I was now finding most interesting: Psychology, Philosophy, and Religious Studies. I found Carl Jung and his writing about Astrology fascinating  and had my chart done by the local iconic astrologer, who helped me get started by providing basic training wheels, and off I went. 

A chance opportunity to attend a workshop with Dane Rudhyar put me over the edge, by seeing what was Possible. I took quite a few courses in Psychology and thought that I might get into counselling, but fortunately found Astrology much more interesting. I just plain love astrology, but in another sense Astrology found me and has not let go. Humans and cycles are totally enthralling for me.

Alanna: I completely agree! I too transitioned from studying psychology to becoming an astrologer. I saw in your website biography that you studied Archetypal Psychology with James Hillman – a true legend! Do you have any memorable stories of Hillman?

Rico: I have been very blessed with great teachers.  In this case, I was in a Master’s class in psychology that was focusing on Carl Jung because the professor, Gorgen Tappan, was a Jungian therapist. As a class we got fascinated by Hillman’s book Revisioning Psychology and couldn’t stop, which led to reading everything we could find by Hillman.  Word got to Hillman that there was this Master’s class in sunny California that was going crazy over his work and somehow things got arranged so that he became our visiting professor.  I took a really long time writing my master’s thesis so that I could continue participating in his classes for several years. We got to hang out with him in many venues, e.g., I really enjoyed our informal dream groups and other small group meetings.

It is somewhat embarrassing, but I was constellated as the person who asked him the most challenging questions, so he once referred to me as a “bring down.”  At the time I considered this a compliment of sorts, being called a “bring down” by Mr. Depth Psychology himself.  Ha!  I was a smart ass Puer to his serious Senex. I enjoyed watching when his brilliant wife, Patricia Berry, on a few occasions had challenging dialogs with James.

My personal Scorpio response to his Aries persona aside, I was deeply affected by these fortunate years focused on Hillman’s ideas, perhaps most memorably by themes such as Psychology as Soul Making; the dialog of Soul and Spirit; multi-perspective vs. literal interpretation; and his original unique interpretations of myth, alchemy, and current events, etc., etc.

Alanna: Wow! I love these stories. I’m always reading Hillman, and imagining you there with him, challenging him nonetheless, really cracks me up. Then your thesis was titled “Hermes: Logos of Psyche” —  I have quite a few questions in regard to it!  Were you already studying astrology when you wrote it? Did doing research on Hermes impact the way you look at this planet/archetypal energy in an astrology chart? Can you tell us a bit about your thesis?

Rico: I was already involved with astrology when Hillman came on the scene in our Psychology M.A. program at Sonoma State University, and the application of Archetypal Psychology to the mythology of signs and planets was seamless.  At that time I began a rough version of the twelve signs of the zodiac from the perspective of Archetypal Psychology.

Hermes/Mercurius was a natural focus not only due to the influence of Jung and alchemy, but for the accent on Mercury in my natal chart and for the association of Mercury as the ruler of Astrology in general. I look especially closely at Mercury in a person’s chart, since it reflects on their all-important use of language, and I am keen to notice the archetype that Mercury expresses in every chart I encounter.

My master’s thesis, “Hermes: Logos of Psyche” basically takes on the task of showing how the many myths about Hermes/Mercury demonstrate a privileged position in Psychology (as the Logos of Psyche).  So I focused especially on the myths of Psyche and Eros and the philosophical psychology of Logos, along with the extended myths and history of Hermes and the hermetic tradition. Included was a section on Hermes and the hermetic tradition as connected to astrology, where I gave an introduction to the two signs ruled by Mercury, Gemini and Virgo. Two signs, by the way, which are highly accented in my natal chart.

As for the Logos part, I bring in the philosophy of Martin Heidegger and his thought regarding hermeneutical phenomenology, which has a connection to Hermes’ archetype as translator. Hermeneutics is the philosophy of interpretation and translation, especially of biblical texts. Although the thesis was written for the M.A. program, it built upon the exceptional undergraduate program of Humanistic Psychology I was privileged to attend at U.C. Santa Cruz.  Most notable in this regard were classes with Norman O. Brown and his books, Hermes The Thief and Love’s Body.

Alanna: Wow. Mercury is one of my favorite planets, and I’m always digging deeper into the archetype. This work sounds amazing – and I will be checking out those books and ideas you mentioned. Now, I think your reading style, which integrates wisdom from many sources, is very impressive. Your website states, “My form of interpretation relies heavily on humanistic and archetypal astrology, gender-balance, and some references to occult traditions such as numerology, alchemy, and yoga.” What are some things that catch your attention the most when doing a chart reading, how do you determine what aspects to focus on?

Rico: Interpretation is a hermetic art, as briefly touched upon above.  Understanding astrology as a language and the astrologer as a translator offers a wonder-full way into chart interpretation.  Hermes as messenger and translator is on a way to language.  Martin Heidegger has this beautiful thought about the deep Greek meaning of Logos or word or language as a Way or Path through the forest that opens now and again on an opening that reveals.

I like to see the astrologer as an artist who is practicing with all his tools as a painter practices painting over and over until it is no longer an effort.  I do not feel that I need to think about what tools to choose. Translation has similarities with magic as the word and image are creative.

Alanna: How have your unique experiences contributed to your astrological understanding that you put forth in the ATA system?

Rico: Perhaps we can envision two streams coming together in ATA.  One is all the study of astrology and listening to astrology teachers that accumulates knowledge, like the upward inhalation.  The other stream is the downward exhalation that simplifies and eventually completely empties.  This second stream is practiced by yoga and meditation and helps the astrologer to sense the subtle meanings.  Both of these streams are important for all astrologers, but especially in ATA where the ultimate goal is aligning with the cosmic cycles or universal breath. 

Alanna: I know developing the ATA system has been a journey of many years, what inspired you to finally write the book now?

Rico: There are actually no beginnings to the circle but we can look back and see how the various parts of the book were coming together over the years. Specifically the study and practice of astrology on one hand and the study and practice of yoga on the other hand. I was inspired to write articles to send out via email and to make introductory pieces on the signs and planets. I taught a few classes here and there and in my meditation and dreams (a friend calls it “Night School) the questions and answers started to coalesce. 

In one way of looking at the process it was seemingly aiming for the big 2020 era transit of the Chiron/Kundalini portal at the cusp of Capricorn and Aquarius.  My collection of writings was starting to look more like a book and I turned automatically to North Atlantic Books in Berkeley CA since they had published previous books (Prenatal Yoga and Conscious Conception).  When I approached Richard Grossinger personally he liked what he saw and pointed me towards Inner Traditions, and they were also interested so a contract was signed and the publishing process began in earnest.

As an astrological aside, I have found that the transit of Saturn around my natal chart correlates strongly with my social introversion and extroversion.  I have been having Saturn transit the quarter of my natal 4th, 5th, and 6th houses and it appears that I am once again becoming more visible socially.  When Saturn enters Pisces and pops above the horizon, it will likely become easier to present the book to a larger audience.  If I live long enough to see Saturn and Uranus meet my natal Uranus at the midheaven, then the book could be socially successful.

Alanna: Do you ever feel like your ATA sets you at odds with other astrologers? Or do you feel like it is usually well-received by others in the field?

Rico:  The book has not yet had enough exposure to receive much attention from other well-known astrologers with the exception of Barbara Hand Clow, who absolutely raved about how much she loves it.  Other astrologers who are friends have been very positive and supportive.  The book will be in the hands of several other respected astrologers soon, and I am hoping for the best.  The fact is that I do not see ATA in opposition to other forms of astrology.  I see ATA best utilized as an addition to standard astrology.  The natal chart is primary.

Alanna: What were your favorite and least favorite parts of your writing journey? How did you synthesize such wide bodies of knowledge into this applicable, innovative system?

Rico:  I love to read and write.  Remembering my natal Pluto and Mercury emphasis on depth and breadth, it has all come very naturally.

Alanna: Do you have any recommendations for someone wishing to learn more about alchemy? Tantra? Astrology? Perhaps a book suggestion?

Rico: The annotated bibliography in my ATA book should do the job quite nicely.  For a unique treatment of all the above I would recommend my former wife, Jeannine Parvati’s and my book Conscious Conception: Elemental Journey through the Labyrinth of Sexuality.  It is out of print but quite a few are kicking around the net, and I still have a few new ones for sale.

Alanna: A specific question I had about the ATA system is how would you characterize the difference between the upward energy of Aquarius-Leo and the downward energy of Virgo-Capricorn. Now that we’ve entered Virgo season, I am wondering what shifts I might be on the lookout for.

Rico:  This is a very good and potentially far-reaching question.  Basically I view the phenomenal world as dualistic and everything is alive and like the breath, inhaling and exhaling.  As the alchemical dictum goes: “As above, so below.”  The upward accumulating energy is like the in-breath and the downward distributing energy is like the out-breath.  Likewise the transit of every planet, galaxy, and super-galaxy.

The complete process of breathing contains a time of full lungs connected in ATA with the signs Cancer and Leo and of empty lungs related to Capricorn and Aquarius.  These two times of relative calmness have the potential of silent oneness or nonduality, which might be termed enlightenment, symbolized in Tantra as sexual union or in Alchemy as the divine marriage of Silver and Gold. The seven signs and seven chakras lead upward from Aquarius in terms of the Spirit and ascension, whereas the five signs from Virgo downward are related to the Soul (as per James Hillman and Soul/Spirit).  Myths related to ascension might be Jupiter and Juno, or Dionysis and Ariadne, while the downward path might be related to Shiva and Kali or Pluto and Persephone as king and queen of the Underworld.  The present transit of Pluto, king of the underworld, over this Root under-worldly portal at the end of Capricorn is highly charged!

Looking at Mercury as ruler, the upward sign of Gemini is the home of a Mercury/Hermes who is the alchemical minister acting to bring together the Sun and Moon in the divine marriage; whereas Mercury/Hermes as ruler of the downward sign of Virgo acts as psychopomps, carrying the Soul to the Underworld. As the inner planets (including Mars) recently transited the upper Crown portal and celebrated the alchemical marriage, the resulting insights, symbolized by the alchemical amalgam, handed off the fruits of their union to the Virgin of the Harvest in the sign of Virgo.  Each cycle is different, but every year at harvest time we feel the energy shift from the fixed highs of solar Leo to the mutable metal Mercury moving downward with the noticeably less solar energy of Fall/Autumn.

Alanna: Wow! That imagery you provided about planetary energy within the inhale-exhale metaphor really helped me to connect with the concept in a new way. How do you feel an ATA reading differs from a standard Western tropical reading? Can one type of reading provide information the other can’t? What might a client want to consider when deciding which reading to select?

Rico: Ideally I recommend the two being done together, understanding the natal chart and major transits is an excellent precursor to looking at the ATA chart, then the ATA chart is most useful as a supplement.  The whole process ideally refers back to the natal chart.

The ATA chart adds another dimension or several more dimensions but is still expanding on the natal chart which is the essence.  The ATA chart adds the alchemical and tantric metaphors which ultimately can assist with healthful and enlightening resonance with the universal breath.

I am working on a book (very slowly again) about the Five Pillars of Yoga.  All five (Advaita Vedanta, Ashtanga Yoga, Ayurveda, Astrology, and Vastu) help us to attune to the natural order of the cosmos.  So many of the vibrations in the world today are random and arbitrary and therefore out of tune and this is not optimal.  The ATA chart can be very helpful to bring many of our vibrations in tune with the natural cycles, especially of the planets, but also in relation to sounds, colors, geometric forms, etc. 

Alanna: Oh, I certainly feel the out-of-sync vibrations, and find so far ATA has helped me to readjust to natural cycles. This is at the heart of why I practice astrology — to re-attune to the natural cycles of both Earth and the planets. And, Rico, another book on the horizon? What a joy for readers! Please keep us updated about its progress.

Switching subjects a bit, I know that you’ve written extensively on the astrological significance of 2012. Alchemical Tantric Astrology also delves into the current transit of Pluto. What do you foresee  being major trends in the upcoming astrological climate? What advice do you have for the general public about what lies ahead?

Rico:  I suspect that you meant the year 2020, but actually both years, 2012 and 2020, are important in ATA because of the emphasis on the sign Capricorn, which in ATA is pointing to completion.  2020 had such a large number of important transits across this potent portal that I was certain we would see major changes.  And yes, Pluto is the big player still to transit this point.  Since Pluto/Hades is the divinity of the apocalypse and King of the Underworld, I think that we will once again experience monumental changes. Pluto is also completing the American Revolution cycle of 250 years, returning to his place as he was in 1776!  We can certainly expect that the tension we feel presently in this country will continue and likely grow in intensity over the next few years.  A 250 years big cycle still needs to bottom out.

In 2023 and 2024 Pluto will transit direct and retrograde over the cusp between Capricorn and Aquarius that symbolically is associated in ATA with the release of powerful energy for transformation.  This energy, which in some ways can be associated with what is called kundalini in yoga, can be highly positive for evolution, however it affects everyone differently and some who do not understand it  tend to feel it is threatening and disorienting. When Pluto enters Aquarius to stay in 2024, all the major outer planets will be on the upward accumulating side of the ATA chart, suggesting, as mentioned above, energy relating to the in-breath, generally uplifting and refreshing.

This passage is another major one of many indications that the 2160 year Great Age of Pisces is ending and the Age of Aquarius is approaching. There are reasons to believe that this major shift will have accompanying turmoil.  The Age of Pisces has had a large share of powerful teachers and saviors that may be problematic to release.  Meanwhile, although Aquarius has its brilliant and positive frontside, it also has its share of negative aspects in its backside, perhaps most notably, runaway technology. With Aquarius as the first awakening sign of Alchemical Tantric Astrology, I like to think of ATA as an appropriate form of astrology for the approaching Great Age of Aquarius.  I think and feel that the amazing transits we have been experiencing, as the planets have entered Aquarius and begin a new cycle and Cosmic Inhalation, are making important contributions to this larger shift of the new Great Age.

Alanna: This information is a wonderful guide to think about what might lay ahead. Thank you so much for this interview, Rico! It’s been wonderful chatting with you!

Rico:  This has been a totally enjoyable and revealing experience for me too.  Your excellent questions have helped me to explore new realms.  You are welcome and Thank You!

For those who are interested, you can learn more about Rico and his work at his website.

The Vine Witch, by Luanna G. Smith

The Vine Witch (The Vine Witch #1), by Luanna G. Smith
47North, 1542008387, 268 pages, October 2019

One of my favorite books that I read this summer was The Vine Witch by Luanna G. Smith. You can only imagine my delight in discovering that it was the first of three books in a series! For two marvelous weeks, I was wrapped up in the drama, intrigue, romance, and excitement of these novels. I considered writing a review of each separately, but then decided to write about them side by side. I can hardly imagine one would enjoy The Vine Witch and not want to continue on with the rest of the series.

As much as I enjoy a brand-new book, I also am thrilled when I discover a fully published series that lets me jump right from one book to the next with no wait time! While the latest book in the series, The Conjurer, was released in 2021, The Glamourist was published in 2020 and The Vine Witch in 2019. I highly recommend reading them in order of publication date, which is easy to do now that they’re all released.

They stories definitely build upon one another, and it’s adds a lot to the newer books already knowing the full backstory. All the characters are introduced in The Vine Witch, and the following two novels expand on the past of two characters, continuing to reveal how the three magical women’s fate is intertwined. Their unique friendship evolves as the women overcome enemies, personal challenges, and twists of fate that captivate the imagination, perfectly blending in magic, mystery, and mayhem.

Now.. onto the good stuff!

Set in the charming Chanceaux Valley, The Vine Witch delves into the story of Elena Boureanu, who has just returned to her human form after spending seven years as a toad due to a curse put on her. It was only her skilled knowledge of poisons that helped her break the curse, gruesomely by eating her shedding toad skin, which contained a specific chemical that was able to alter the effects of the spell. Still haunted by her amphibious time, Elena is eager to get revenge on the person she knows must have put this spell on her: Bastien Du Monde, her former fiance.

Elena returns to her home, Château Renard, and happily reunites with her dear Grandmere, Unfortunately during Elena’s time as a toad, her grandmother was not able to maintain the vineyard or its finances, leading her to sell it to Jean-Paul Martel, a budding vigneron. So far, Jean-Paul hasn’t had much luck with his crop, but he is intent on applying his scientific knowledge to bring the fields back to life.

Despite the rocky start they get off to upon meeting, Jean-Paul allows Elena to stay at Château Renard for the time being. Elena, who feels deeply intertwined with the vineyard is glad to be back, but also is keenly away from a spell lingering over the fields, which is contributing to the bad harvests. She’s eager to use her magic to lift the curses, but knows she must hide her magic from Jean-Paul, who denounces the superstitions of vine witches in the valley.

Meanwhile, Bastien and his new wife are on a mission to buy up the land in the area to expand their own wine-making business, which has become exceedingly popular during the time Elena was gone. For a while Elena hides her presence, not wanting Bastien to know she’s back for revenge, but eventually her identity is revealed, shocking even Elena as she uncovered the truth about her past.

As Elena comes to terms with her powers and grapples with her sparking romance with Jean-Paul, who is opening up to her supernatural world, she also must contend with the evil force that wants to do her in. When a surprising death lands Elena in magical jail, she becomes acquainted with Yvette, a rough and tumble young woman, and Sidra, a jinni. All three women have been accused of murder, but there is also their side of the story that is not give a voice. Their break-out links them together, leading to a bond that will continue to be called upon for the rest of the series.

I won’t go further, as to not give spoilers, but from a magical perspective here are some of the things that I loved about the book. First of all, Smith really makes this magic feel real. While some of the magic is extraordinary, it’s grounded in magical theory and practice. For instance, Elena must take time to reunite with her magical tools and slowly regain her strength after coming back from the curse. There are limits to her powers and this prevents a sense of all-consuming, omnipotent magic dominating the story; it’s realistic.

Additionally, the magic she does is deeply tied to the land, the vines, the animals, and her home, which I believe many witches can relate to in their own lives. Gardens, hillsides, rivers, and streams all become sacred places of power; nature and the elements are the foundation of witchcraft. You get a sense of this as you read, and it inspires one to reconnect with their landscape.

Plus, I found the concept of a vine witch to be fascinating, and it did leave me to wonder if this was ever a real thing. There was a sensuality about her connection to the wine, and the magic felt palpable, as though I could taste it as I read.

Another aspect that I really enjoyed was a local baking witch, whose pastries pointed the way to one’s true love based on their flavors. I enjoyed that there was an exploration of other types of witches, beyond the vine witches, all mixed into the story. It made the story feel imbued with sorcery, as the mundane world thrived without even realizing all the small charms and magical world around it.

I highly recommend The Vine Witch to anyone who enjoys supernatural fiction. As far as books about witches go, this is definitely one of my top five favorites. Smith has done a wonderful job of bringing to life the magic in the mundane. From cooking to gardening, this book will inspire you to include a few spells of your own in the daily routine.

The King in Orange, by John Michael Greer

The King in Orange: The Magical and Occult Roots of Political Power, by John Michael Greer
Inner Traditions, 1644112582, 208 Pages, May 2021

With the many controversies happening within our country right now, from vaccination mandates to military withdrawal, it feels an opportune moment to reflect on the state of American politics and the forces that are shaping our current government system. Cue The King in Orange: The Magical and Occult Roots of Political Power by John Michael Greer, here to help magically-minded folks make sense of the political mess in terms they understand.

Drawing upon The King in Yellow, a book of short stories by Robert W. Chambers, Greer helps to discern the energetic forces behind collective political movements that have been taking shape the past decade through the lens of occult forces (both conscious and unconscious) guiding the path forward.

In particular, he highlights the competition between two competing schools of magic that ultimately lead to the presidency of Donald Trump. By examining what led to this Populist rise, an occurrence happening elsewhere too, such as Britain, Greer leads the reader through a journey in the masked magical forces impacting public discourse.

And I’m going to be honest, Greer gives a very fair treatment of the subject without ever outwardly picking a side. So, this book may be potentially troublesome for anyone very rooted in their own personal beliefs and isn’t willing to see things differently.

For the most part, there is no sway towards either political party. I will say the exception to this seems to be in regard to Greer’s writing on Hilary Clinton, which I did find to be rather pejoratively biased. Overall though, Greer presents the material very objectively, offering perspective to guide readers in making their own conclusions.

Greer really delves into the concepts such as virtue signaling, privilege in America, and the class divide rift between salary workers and wage workers. He especially packs a punch by highlighting the magic of the liberal, privileged salary class that directly contributed to the populist rise of Trump: mainstream culture and the mass media that perpetuates it.

“This is one of the crucial points about privilege in today’s America: to the privileged, privilege is invisible. That’s not just a matter of personal cluelessness or of personal isolation from the less privileged, though these can of course be involved. It’s one of the most significant magical spells we’re under. The mass media and every other aspect of mainstream American culture constantly present the experience of privileged people as normal, and just as constantly feed any departure from that experience through an utterly predictable set of filters.”1

The filters used by the media, as well as the new American Left, according to Greer, inaccurately portray Trump supporters using distorted narratives, such as homophobic, racist, misogynist, when in factor many votes for Trump were for populist reasons of job loss, wage cuts, unaffordable health coverage, and a general lose of faith in system that is willingness neglecting their interests. Though identity politics currently take precedent above other cultural divisors, the overlooked factor is social class.

Greer draws on the scholarly work of Ioan Couliano to illuminate age-old forms of manipulation dating back to the Renaissance now channeled into modern advertising and mass media. This one-sided perspective led to a nation-wide upset as millions of voters were blind sided by Trump’s victory, which was dismissed as impossible by the media narrative.

Simultaneously, chaos magicians are also waging their own in the form of Pepe the frog memes, truly believing their symbolism was having an effect on the election, and thus constellating a change in consciousness among a group of “internet wizards.” Delving into the story of how this magic was used via Reddit was a really interesting topic, particularly after having encountered it directly in my mid-20s as quite a few acquaintances began to post about it.

To be honest, I’m still integrating the way he’s woven together the underpinning occult energies in play in American politics with the recent history of the 2016 election to present a viewpoint that is entirely original and most relatable as a magical practitioner. As an avid seeker, I enjoy how Greer’s insight work blends discourse from political, social, and magical movements.

While the future is not set in stone, the deeds of the past are catching up and contributing to where we are now as a nation. With ample reference to material such as Oswald Spengler’s Decline of the West and Dion Fortune’s war letters, Greer provides multiple avenues for readers to further study.

Reading The King in Orange had me reminiscing about when I was a recent college graduate, filled with liberal ideals, dating a boisterous, in your face Trump supporter. Needless to say, the relationship didn’t even survive the political campaigning. As tension in the country has become more polarized, I’ve literally seen more and more long-term relationships ending over deep-set political stances.

I really feel like reading Greer’s ideas in this book helped me to reconcile my differences and find a more balanced perspective. When my Trump supporting friend asserted the other day that America needs to “Blame the suits, not the boots”, I had much more insight into her perspective.

The King in Orange is not an easy read, as there are some hard truths to swallow regardless of where your political beliefs lay. But this book opened my eyes to the roots of the current political climate that go deeper than just standard party issues. There are fundamental shifts to the American way of life that are leading to uncertainty about the future. Being more aware of the occult forces in play on both sides helps to be discerning in shaping our beliefs. I have been recommending this book to quite a few people recently who are wondering what’s going on in the politics right now because it’s a really thought-provoking read that delves into the psychological factors effecting the collective consciousness.

The Witch’s Heart, by Genevieve Gornichec

The Witch’s Heart, by Genevieve Gornichec
Ace, 978-0593099940, 368 pages, February 2021

Browsing the library the other day, my husband handed me The Witch’s Heart by Genevieve Gornichec. Always up for a book about witches, I immediately dove in. In just under a day, I finished this book, not being able to stop once I started reading. I’m so thoroughly impressed by Gornichec’s writing and the fact that this is her first debut novel!

The Witch’s Heart is the tale of Angrboda, a powerful witch in Norse mythology, who despite being burned three times by the gods of Asgard, continued to live on. When trickster god Loki returns her heart, which had been brutally ripped from her during the last time she was thrown in the flames, a relationship develops.

And let me tell you, the banter of Loki and Angrboda never got old. I had quite a good time envisioning Loki as Gornichec portrays him. It is a beautiful love story that develops between them, filled with romance amid Loki’s many antics and common disappearances to his other life in Asgard.

Overtime, Angrboda and Loki have three children together: Hel, Fenrir, and Jörmungand. Their family life is quite unique, with Angrboda being a powerful witch, Loki always up to some playful mischief, Fenrir being a wolf and Jörmungand being a snake. Hel is a rather serious child, though she dotes on her father.

Troubling Angrboda from the time of her first pregnancy with Hel, however, is the visions of the future she’s seen in her state of seid, in which she can leave her body to travel astrally and see the future. Odin, king of the Norse gods, is after what only she can see, for the others who have been taught seid do not have as strong an ability as she does.

The flashes Angrboda has seen in visions and dreams have shown a bleak future, in which her family is torn apart and destruction completely envelops the Nine Worlds. Odin however wants more information and ruthlessly pursues his aim of knowing.

Ultimately, Angrboda must find the power within herself, with the help of friends, such as devoted friend Skadi to do her best to save her family. I won’t give much more away, but it’s a beautiful story of motherhood, love, and kinship that ties together so perfectly in the end.

To be honest, I hardly knew anything about Norse mythology when I started The Witch’s Heart. Throughout reading, I was Googling the different gods and goddesses mentioned: Tyr, Freya, Thor (okay, I knew that one!), Frey, and Njörd to name a few. Plus, I also really had no clue about Ragnarok, other than that it was part of a Marvel movie.

Gornichec did a great job of bringing the entire Norse pantheon to life in a way that made it easy to see the relationship of the different characters. She wove mythological tales into the plot, blending together her well-defined characters and the many stories of their personhood that have lived on through song, poetry, and storytelling.

Her portrayal of Angrboda especially really stunned me. Capturing the ups and downs of her life as a witch, mother, and wife, made her immensely relatable to all women. You couldn’t help but root for her, after all that she’s withstood in her life. I mean, screw the gods and goddesses, this witch is the real kick ass hero, and I’m glad that Gornichec chose to focus on her story.

This book is the perfect blend of myth, fiction, and inspiration. I’m simply in awe of the story Gornichec has crafted, and I truly consider this book a masterpiece. I feel so connected to the main characters such as Loki, Hel, Skadi, and Angrboda, and I’m glad this story presented them in a way that aids me in knowing them beyond what I may have researched about them.

That is the beauty of fiction — the ability to bring characters to life in a meaningful way that transforms the life of readers. Their stories, the choices they made, and the love they shared was compelling, captivating, and completely opened my heart.

I highly recommend The Witch’s Heart for those interested in an engaging tale filled with love, magic, and Norse mythology. This book reminds me of Circe, where the story is told from the witch’s point of view rather than the traditional mythological perspective of the men in the story. Angrboda is a heroine in her own right, and her story definitely is one worth reading.

Alchemical Tantric Astrology, by Fredrick Hamilton Baker

Alchemical Tantric Astrology: The Hidden Order of Seven Metals, Seven Planets, and Seven Chakras, by Frederick Hamilton Baker
Destiny Books, 1644112809, 242 pages, June 2021

Recently, my husband completed the course Spiritualized with astrologer Aeolian Heart, and it really ignited a lot of spiritual growth for him. The premise of the course was to energetically move through the alchemy of astrology to facilitate healing through the gateways of the chakras.

Curious to learn more about this, I was delighted to discover Frederick Hamilton Baker recently published Alchemical Tantric Astrology: The Hidden Order of Seven Metals, Seven Planets, and Seven Chakras, which seemed to essentially be drawing from the same alchemical/astrological associations as Aeolian Heart did in my husband’s course. Now it was my turn to take a deep dive into the material, and I’ve been delighted with the quality of Baker’s dedication to this subject.

Baker begins by sharing how he came to develop the Alchemical Tantric Arrangement (ATA), his own astrological system, through his time studying in California, serving in the U.S. Navy, and visiting sacred sites around the world. Blending his study of astrology, alchemy, and the chakra system of tantric yoga, Baker has concluded Capricorn to be the final sign of the zodiac and Aquarius as the first.

I really resonated with this conclusion, particularly after watching the events unfold during major alignment of planets in Capricorn in 2020 and getting to know my own Capricorn stellium in my chart. It simply makes sense, given the many “new beginning” holidays in Aquarius (Candlemas, Chinese New Year, Imbolc), and I personally have always waited until February to set my new year intentions.

Diving right into associations between chakras, astrology, and alchemical metals, Baker clearly lays out the correspondences that are the foundation of ATA. From there, he delves into the mythology of every zodiac sign, which was very beneficial as an astrologer to read. While I am familiar with most of the mythology, the way Baker illuminates all the archetypal energy within each zodiac sign through his interpretations was extremely insight.

By offering a cross-culture description of archetypal energies (gods and goddess) from different pantheons, my understanding of the energies of each zodiac sign expanded. For instance, I previously did not know that Hecate and Vishnu are both associated with Pisces. I also really liked his thorough descriptions of Mercury/Hermes roles, including some such as secret keeper, midwife, and seducer, which I hadn’t previously realized.

Next, Baker gives an overview of kundalini energy and the tantric aspect of transforming consciousness with astrological energy. He notes this process can also be referred to as Hermetic astrology, where the alternating feminine and masculine energies of the signs move up and down the chakras to facilitate shifts in conscious awareness. Therefore, Baker concludes, “Knowing the signs and their associations with the two directions of the chakras, those who are acquainted with transits can now use astrology to tune into the most appropriate time for their meditation and actions.”1

Baker teaches the reader how to sense astrological energy as having an upward motion (Aquarius to Leo) and downward motion (Virgo to Capricorn), moving the energy in a cyclical way, just like the continual inhale and exhale of our breathing. Through his very illuminating descriptions of the relationships between each zodiac sign and the corresponding chakra, I gained a deeper understanding of this upward and downward energetic motion he describes.

For instance, Pisces and Sagittarius are both associated with the second chakra, however Pisces is the upward energy of the second chakra, while Sagittarius is the downward energy of the second chakra. Additionally, he provides the Hermetic phrase for each zodiac sign, giving further explanation of how the astrological energies are expressed through the chakras. One example is “The key word of Hermetic Scorpio is transformation.”2

My Aquarius Sun and Mercury found the most interesting section to be when Baker moved beyond the Saturian planets, which have a long alchemical history, to explore the trans-Saturian planets (Uranus, Neptune, Pluto, and Eris) with Chiron as a gateway. He relates Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto to the radioactive elements uranium, neptunium, plutonium, and americium (respectively), which completely blew my mind and is a connection I would have never made on my own, but fascinated me in terms of alchemy and the future.

Since Chiron is still rather new to astrology, discovered in only 1977, many astrologers are still working to figure out the energy of the asteroid. In his philosophy of ATA, Baker asserts “Chiron is the key to unlocking the central nadi in the chakra system and a bridge between the downward and upward paths of the zodiac signs.”3

He goes on to explain, Chiron serves as a guardian of the threshold between the traditional alchemical metals and planets and the radioactive metals and planets. His insight on Chiron is worth reading for those interested in astrology, for it presents an archetypal explanation of the role this energy may hold in how the future unfolds.

This section concludes with information on the numerology of the astrological houses, the connection between DNA and the chakra energy, and how astroyoga can open multidimensional portals through meditation. Baker offers written-out guided visualization processes for the reader to tap into this potent energy.

I also really enjoyed the final part of the book, which focuses on interpreting events through the lens of ATA, and is the practical application of this complex system. Baker teaches the reader how to understand this Hermetic Chart compared to a traditional Western astrological chart. They look quite different, and I had to hand sketch how my Hermetic chart would look because there’s no program to produce this. I’m still not sure exactly how to interpret the placements (yet), but it helped to understand the alchemy of my personal chart better.

I particularly enjoyed Baker’s focus on the alignments happening in 2020, which I had been waiting years to see how they would unfold, knowing major change is in store for everyone on both a personal and collective level. HIs interpretation of events, both past and future, did not disappoint. I find his evolutionary approach to astrology to be very aligned with my own conclusions, particularly his thoughts on the upcoming transit of Pluto through Aquarius, as it wraps up a transit through Capricorn. He certainly knows his stuff and has given immense thought to the impact of the transiting planetary energy currently shaping events.

The one thing I do have to say about the ATA, as forward-thinking and integrative as it is, I would assert these ideas are not new and others have drawn similar conclusions as well. While this lends credence to the ATA system, I also think it’s valuable to acknowledge a lot of this system is rooted in alchemy, astrology, and yoga practices that have existed for centuries.

Nevertheless, Baker’s perspective, stemming from years as a researcher and practitioner of these arts, certainly bolsters the knowledge on these subjects and integrate them in a way that can be practically applied in one’s life for energetic attunement with the zodiacal energy. He has a way of sharing his wisdom that makes it easily accessible to readers, both logically and intuitively. There is plenty of information for readers to gain from Alchemical Tantric Astrology, and it is a wonderful book for readers to become acquainted with Hermetic Astrology.

I have been truly delighted to discover similarities in my own astrology practice with Baker’s practice. Currently, I am looking forward to seeing if I notice the downward energy shift as the Sun moves into Virgo next week. I feel like this integration of the tantric energy into my nature-based spirituality and astrology practice will be bolstering my awareness.

The Mystery Tradition of Miraculous Conception, by Marguerite Mary Rigoglioso

The Mystery Tradition of Miraculous Conception: Mary and the Lineage of Virgin Births, by M​​arguerite Mary Rigoglioso
Bear & Company, 1591434130, 192 pages, April 2021

Every year on Christmas Eve, it always strikes me as odd that there is not more focus on Mary in the story of Jesus’s birth: a devout virgin, pregnant with the child of God, relying on faith alone amid adversity and uncertainty, in labor delivering Christ to the physical realm. Clearly, Mary had to be a pretty incredible woman to be picked for this divine conception, yet her story always seems glossed over in religious text. While scholars debate even the most minimal nuisance of Biblical text, many remain mysteriously mute on the subject of a virgin birth.

The more I learned about the divine feminine, ancient priestesses, and sacred sexuality, the more I became convinced there had to be something about Mary which made her able to fulfill such an extraordinary task, but I never could find any validation for this intuition. Finally, many of my questions have been answered by Marguerite Mary Rigoglioso in The Mystery Tradition of Miraculous Conception: Mary and the Lineage of Virgin Births, which hands-down has been one of the most life-changing books I’ve ever read.

The premise of The Mystery Tradition of Miraculous Conception is based on the Infancy Gospel of James (Protoevangelium of James) that dates back to the 2nd-century. It was never canonized, and in fact it was condemned by Pope Innocent I in 405. Rigoglioso chose to use the version of the gospel, which she refers to as the Birth of Mary, as translated by Ronald Hock. And let me tell you, this is one juicy gospel!

The author of the text claims to be James, Joseph’s son from his first (and only) wife. Described in the Infancy Gospel of James are Mary’s upbringing, her publicly acknowledged spiritual authority, her relationship to Joseph, her experience of pregnancy, her journey to Bethlehem, and finally the birth of Jesus and the events immediately following.

Piece by piece, Rigoglioso deciphers the text for the reader with the belief that certain parts of the text needed to be cryptic in order to keep the truth concealed. Based on her research, lineages of divine priestesses had been trained to conceive partheogentically, which is asexual reproduction where the egg turns into an embryo without the fertilization of sperm. According to Rigoglioso, Mary was impregnated by Logos, or “through some kind of unification with the divine creative sound, the divine order, the wisdom essence of the universe.”1

Mary’s unusual childhood prepared her to serve as a divine birth priestess, and she showed advanced spiritual mastery at an early age. She was prepared for this sacred duty from the time of her own parthenogenetic birth by her mother Anne, who was also a skilled divine birth priestess. Some of the things done to ready Mary for divine birth were imbibing consciousness-altering substances, eating a specific diet, and learning special songs and dances.

At the appropriate age, Mary is taken to the temple to be raised. She remains there until it is time for her to undertake her duty as divine birth priestess and is given to Joseph, who was chosen to protect her. Contrary to popular belief, Joseph and Mary never married, and from the text, he was rather resistant to caring for her at first. It is clear the conception, energetically initiated by Mary, was not at all aided by Joseph, who in fact didn’t believe at first she had conceived and remained a virgin.

Despite the miraculous nature of Mary’s feat, the Infancy Gospel of James also documents the trials she was put through by her own religious community to ensure she was telling the truth. This text reveals the distrust and suspicion surrounding the miraculous feat of a virgin birth and demonstrates the need for Mary to be concealed from the public as her pregnancy progresses.

Ultimately, Mary does give birth to Jesus, once again on her own in solitude. Joseph and the midwife he found return to find the baby has been born. The birth did not require the assistance of a midwife, which is considered another miraculous feat. The divine avatar, Jesus Christ, has been brought into existence.

After this brief synopsis of the Infancy Gospel of James, you might be doubting the veracity or questioning all that you’ve been taught. For this reason, I think it’s important to acknowledge Rigoglioso’s impressive career to highlight the background for this book. First and foremost, Rigoglioso is a distinguished expert on the subject of virgin births, previously authoring Virgin Mother Goddesses of Antiquity and The Cult of Divine Birth in Ancient Greece. She holds a Ph.D. in humanities and a M.A. in philosophy and religion from California Institute of Integral Studies, along with an B.A. in psychology from Vassar College.

Her scholarship is focused on ancient Mediterranean mystery traditions, bringing to light suppressed histories of holy women. Rigoglioso also teaches workshops, courses, and mentors people to assist them reclaiming the priestess path through offerings such as Priestess of the Dove Oracle Training and the Holy Womb Chakra teachings. She has many free spiritual resources on her website SevenSistersMysterySchool.com, which was very fun to peruse.

Needless to say, the content in the book is well-sourced and filled with references to ancient texts. Yes, Rigoglioso does interpret the Gospel of the Stars in her own way, but given her academic training and spiritual knowledge, I find the information credible. It takes someone with insight into ancient culture, Biblical history, and soulful wisdom to interpret the text as Rigoglioso has done.

Just reading the Infancy Gospel of James was an eye-opening experience, as I’ve done much studying of the suppression of Mary Magdalene in the Church’s history, but had never thought much about the Virgin Mary. I’m actually curious to learn more about their relationship, as it seems that Mary Magdalene is always portrayed as a sacred sexual priestess, which Rigoglioso very thoroughly distinguishes from the divine birth priestesses, who remained virgins their whole lives.

This especially piques my interest because Rigoglioso describes Mary’s parthenogenetic conception as this lineage was actively being dismantled by patriarchal forces. It makes me wonder, given the potency of the divine birth priestess, if Jesus would have been in a physical relationship with Mary Magdalene.

Another thing that really struck me as fascinating was Rigoglioso’s suggestion that the three wisemen actually came to see Mary, the most holy one who had accomplished this miraculous feat. Her interpretation of the three gifts they brought (gold, frankincense, and myrrh) makes much more sense as offerings for her as currency for financial support (gold), sacred temple herbs for her to burn in holy places and claim her spiritual authority (frankincense), and an embalming oil (myrrh) for when she needs to anoint Jesus’s body at his death.

That last bit might have you a bit confused: how would Mary have known about Jesus’s death at the time of his birth? The Infancy Gospel of James describes a prophecy Mary has right before giving birth, which Rigoglioso points out illuminates her spiritual mastery to hold the knowledge of cruelty the world will inflict on her son and remaining open to love nevertheless.

“It must be a disturbing reality for this young priestess to know that her child, no matter how holy, will be entering the world of matter and duality, and that all those associated with him will have to come to terms with that. In a sense, she is in this very moment, just before she is about to give birth, also able to foresee the circumstances of her son’s death, in which the duality around his teachings will be played out in a deeply painful way. Once again, we can really appreciate Mary as a human woman who will have to grapple with maintaining the high vibration of love amidst agony and fear as the events of her son’s life unfold.”2 

Once again, Rigoglioso demonstrates that Mary was not a naive young woman, ignorant to the spiritual mastery of her son. Rather, it was through her training and active agency that Jesus, the son of the God, also considered a divine avatar by some, was able to physically manifest in this plane of existence. Her role as a most holy divine birth priestess is what allowed for a being of elevated consciousness to be conceived to elevate all of humanity.

Simply sitting with this truth changes everything for me. The information Rigoglioso has shared is so deeply empowering for me on a personal level, and I believe on a collective level too as more people awaken to the spiritual abilities of the divine feminine. For too long, women have been stripped of their spiritual authority, oppressed by patriarchal values, and denied the right to know the full potency of their potential abilities.

More than anything, I hope the information in The Mystery Traditions of Miraculous Conception becomes more wide-spread. I’ve been actively sharing what I learned from reading it with friends and family, initiating discussions about the topic of a virgin birth and Mary’s spiritual lineage. This is a must-read for anyone interested in the divine feminine, especially within Christianity. Rigoglioso has packed so much information into this text that I know I’ll be reading it again and again. I love that it’s filled with references and sources to assist the reader in doing their own investigation. All in all, this book is the major missing piece to the history of Christianity that is sure to spark meaningful revelation in all readers.

All the Yellow Posies, by Elaine DeBohun

All the Yellow Posies, by Elaine DeBohun
Independently Published, 8572925623, 367 pages, April 2021

Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres. I love being immersed in the cultural norms of a time before, as I find there’s a certain romance that the modern world seems to lack. All the Yellow Posies by Elaine DeBohun is set in the time frame between World Wars, which often feels overlooked despite it being filled with movements such as prohibition and women’s suffrage. This romantic novel tells the tale of how love can guide the way beyond both time and space, perfectly intertwining those who are inevitably linked by destiny.

Main character Lou, an aspiring journalist and young woman determined to make her own way in the world despite her wealthy family’s desires for her life, leaves home following the last outbreak of the 1918 influenza to return to her college town of Fredericksburg, Virginia.

Immediately she finds a room to rent by a kindly gentleman Mr. Thompson, who runs a successful tailoring business, where his children Holden and Madeline also work. He has two other sons: the youngest Jamie, who is in medical school, and the oldest Dane, who is an artist living in Europe.

Lou quickly feels at home among the Thompson family, who take her in as one of their own. She lands a job as the secretary of their family business and settles into her new life quite nicely. Right off the bat, Holden catches her eye with his charisma and provocative antics. Though he is married, they develop a close kinship based on their love of literature and writing aspirations.

Lou becomes a source of solace for Holden, who is struggling with shell-shock from his service in World War I and having difficulty transitioning back to civilian life. Consistently drinking his prescribed alcohol, Holden’s behavior can be erratic and extreme, with moods rapidly shifting due to his deep thinking and emotional intensity. Let’s just say, it’s a rollercoaster of emotion for Lou who realizes a romance with Holden requires courage and a willingness to embrace the unknown.

Unforeseen circumstances completely shift Lou’s life upside down though, and soon Lou finds herself in Paris, France. I hesitate to go much more into the plot at this point though, or I might risk revealing a spoiler alert. Let’s just say, in her path to make meaning of her life and pursue her ambitions as a writer, she comes to realize she must follow the signs beckoning her in this new direction.

One interesting part of the book is when Lou visits a Romani gypsy and has a tarot card reading. The gypsy gifts Lou with a tarot deck, which she uses quite often for insight. Just like common belief that symbols such as feathers and pennies indicate a message from a passed loved one, Lou comes to make a connection with bluebirds that appear when she is on the right path. Ultimately, Lou’s grief and pain lead to her ultimate happiness as she embraces the mysterious path being laid out before her.

There is a wholesome quality to All the Yellow Posies. It is sentimental and romantic in an old-fashioned way where men knew what it meant to be gentlemen. Nevertheless, the women characters are strong, independent, and keen on pursuing their paths.

I especially enjoyed the relationship between Lou and character Bette, who many authors might pose as enemies, but DeBohun decides to portray as mature women, capable of acknowledging their shared bond of love. I felt like I was wrapped up in the Thompson family, sharing their joys and losses right along with them.

I will admit delving into Holden’s character, filled with what would now be considered post-traumatic stress from the aristocracies he witnessed during his time on the battlefield, was tough at points. My heart definitely broke at times as I was brought to tears by the story’s events. All the Yellow Posies certainly isn’t a fluffy read, and it invites the reader to truly move through a whole range of human emotion.

DeBohun does a wonderful job of tackling the tough emotions with intimate delicacy, showcasing her own emotional depth and talent as a writer. By the end, all of the characters have moved through loss, sorrow, and anguish to become a better version of themselves. There is a higher power in this story, but it is not religious or even very spiritual, it is love that guides the way making it universally relatable.

I recommend All the Yellow Posies to those seeking a heartfelt read. The dynamic interplay of emotions beautifully plays out within the containment of one family and their close relationships. All the characters make an impression on the heart, which I know will still be with me for a time to come. Plus, the time period and unique culture of both America and Europe during this time is very interesting to be immersed within.

Practically Pagan – An Alternative Guide to Health & Well-being, by Irisanya Moon

Practically Pagan – An Alternative Guide to Health & Well-being, by Irisanya Moon
Moon Books, 1789043778, 160 pages, December 2020

It’s hard to look after ourselves sometimes. Practically Pagan – An Alternative Guide to Health & Well-being by Irisanya Moon is a wonderful read to connect body, mind, and spirit for the sake of wellness based on one’s own unique body type and natural energy signature. This book is a delightful refresher compared to the traditional book on health, which neglect the spiritual aspects of well-being and also tend to focus exclusively on an ideal image or diet trend.

After a brief introduction, Moon guides the reader to connect with their body just as it is in the present moment. She writes encouragingly, stating “I invite you to trust your deepest knowing. I encourage you to believe that you can care for your body, mind, and spirit even if you’re not 100% sure what the next steps are.”1

This sentiment immediately set me at ease; it made me curious about this health journey and more receptive to what it might look like for me, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach usually promoted. Above all, trust in myself is what I hope to cultivate and I looked forward to immersing myself in the experience.

I began with a few of the exercises Moon suggested: letting go of old stories, feeling all the feelings, and making a soundtrack. I especially enjoyed creating a soundtrack because I learned more about my body’s relationship to rhythm and sound. Finding my groove was a fun way to move my body and get connected to it. Other practices Moon writes about include mapping one’s body, automatic writing, creating an altar, focusing on being present, and more. She offers details on how to incorporate these practices easily into one’s daily life.

The next three sections focus on the body, mind, and spirit, respectively. I liked going one by one, and starting with the body felt appropriate since it’s the most tangible aspect of my health. Moon got me thinking about what my body truly wants in terms of nourishment, movement, and general energy flow.

”When you have a clearer idea of your energy movements, you can begin to schedule things to follow these patterns. If you’re more in tune with your natural patterns, you are less likely to feel out of sync with your life.”2

This line really resonated with me, and I was spurred into a practice of charting my energy through the day. The result has been useful insight into the ebbs and flows of my energy; I also corresponded it with the moon as well and plan to see if there’s a cyclic nature to how my body feels according to the phases of the moon.

Then, while it wasn’t as fun as the body, I found the exercises to settle my mind the most useful section in the book. For someone whose mind is always on overload, often ruminating or stuck in a pattern (I’m a fixed air sign!), I really benefited from Moon’s suggestions on how to release old thoughts and cultivate stillness through meditation.

Finally, the spirit felt like coming home after tending to the other aspects of my well-being. I loved Moon’s gentle reminders to connect with my daily practice, follow the calling of spirit, and discover our divine.

The rest of the book felt like a myth-buster to common health beliefs, inviting a magical perspective to come through and guide the way. Topics include finding balance (or embracing that life will always be shifting but we can find ways to recalibrate), exploring self-care and how to do it in a way that feels right for you without comparison to others, and developing resilience for when we get off course. Moon delves into the effects of trauma on one’s well-being and offers suggestions on healing through practices that cultivate resilience.

The final section is filled with tools to maintain one’s energy and strategies to set up support systems in order to maintain health and wellness. I appreciated Moon acknowledging the role of supportive friends and family in one’s life, as well as the value of self-support. I found myself thinking about how I can cultivate both in my life to maintain personal wellness.

My greatest take away from this book was Moon’s energetic practice of feeling right sized. Throughout my life, at nearly 6’0 feet tall, I’ve always felt like too much. Since childhood, I’ve always required large or extra large clothes, and I believe to compensate, I learned to shrink my aura as though I could energetically make myself seem more  petite.

Doing the Knowing Your Size practice3 made me feel more comfortable in both my body and energy field. As Moon writes, “Sometimes, you might feel bigger or smaller than your normal self. But in this practice, you can also get better at moving between states of being.”4 I’m continuing to work on this and have been going back to the practice often.

Overall, Practically Pagan – An Alternative Guide to Health and Well-being has been a wonderful tool for reconnecting with my wellness. Moon is very grounded in her approach to this topic and much of her guidance can easily be incorporated into one’s daily practice. I recommend this book for those who are seeking a read about integrating body, mind, and spirit to discover their natural energy rhythm and definition of health. There’s even helpful resources and worksheets at the end of the book, which offer space to write one’s reflections on this journey.

Bacchanal, by Veronica G. Henry

Bacchanal, by Veronica G. Henry
47North, 1542027810, 352 pages, June 2021

I’ve been overjoyed that my library has reopened after over a year of not being able to browse books. Immediately, Bacchanal caught my attention with its purple cover featuring a ferris wheel. After a quick skim, noticing the setting was a carnival with plenty of magic, I was excited to check out and get to reading. I can now say that Bacchanal is the best book I’ve read this summer so far!

The story takes place during the Depression era in southern America (Tennessee, Louisiana, Oklahoma, etc). Main character Eliza has been abandoned by her family and has been working as a maid to make her way in the world. She also has a unique gift of being able to communicate with animals, however she has yet to learn to control this power and it often ends in the animal dying.

When two carneys, Clay and Jayme, come to town in search of an alligator man, Eliza catches their eye instead and soon she finds herself on the road with Bacchanal. She quickly makes friends with a fun, varied cast of characters. What makes Bacchanal unique is that all the carneys are primarily black folks, some who even came from Africa to be in the show.

Through the story, Eliza develops romantic feelings for two men, creating an interesting love triangle. But she is primarily concerned with learning how to master her gifts and put together a show that will ensure her place at Bacchanal. She harbors dreams of finding her family, seeking them in every small town they carnival moves through, and she’s determined to save up money to find her sister.

Amid Eliza’s story, the reader is also privy to the workings of Ahiku, an ancient demon who feeds on the souls of children. An evil lingers around the carnival, which functions as the perfect feeding ground for the myriad of mysterious demons lurking within Bacchanal. Ahkiu is obsessed with finding the granddaughter of orisha Oya, who is the one person that can bring her downfall.

Finally feeling a sense of home and belonging among the other non-ordinary folks at Bacchanal, Eliza’s destiny rapidly unfolds to reveal the extent of her gifts and the greater purpose of her being there.

There are so many things I loved about this book, but I will focus on a few for the purpose of this review. First of all, Henry has done a wonderful job of portraying Eliza’s development of her gifts. I really enjoyed the way she writes about Eliza’s ability to communicate with animals, making it authentic with psychic imagery and animal personalities. I felt for Eliza as I read her struggles and felt connected to the animals myself via her communication with them. Eventually, Eliza discovers her own animal guides, and this part of the story was akin to her discovering both her roots and own personal power simultaneously.

Which leads me to the second thing I love about this book: the interweaving of African spirituality into a truly remarkable tale. Blending demons, Yoruba, and witchcraft, this tale really explores the roots of this magic in the American south. I have never read a book that did such a good job weaving them into an existing fictional novel. Plus, I truly loved that Bacchanal was an almost all black carnival, giving insight into the way of life for African Americans at the time.

Furthermore, Henry has craft very distinct and one of a kind characters that have left a memorable impression. I really enjoyed being immersed in the life of Bacchanal, from the daily on-goings of the carneys to the epic shows they performed. She expertly interwove their personal narratives, leading insight into each character and providing a depth of context to frame the relationships taking place. Many of the characters themselves had wrestled with demons, which landed them at Bacchanal, and there’s a very exciting mixture of redemption and revenge that takes place between characters.

The story moved at a slow pace for a good portion of the book, which was actually quite refreshing for a change because I didn’t breeze through it in a day or two. I was able to linger in the sensation of the whole story, captivated by the unfolding mystery, but content to let the tale move at its own pace. It felt reflective of the pace of life during the Depression in these smaller cities the carnival was moving through. The last book I read that immersed me this much in carnival life was Midnight Circus, but I enjoyed how Henry didn’t create a fanciful reality and focused the book more on the actual setting and lifestyle of this era.

I will say the ending took me by surprise in that it moved very quickly and culminated in almost a blink of an eye. After such a lengthy lead-up, for a bit I couldn’t believe how quickly the story came to an end. I think this would be the only aspect of the story that I wasn’t enraptured with. While all the loose ends are tied up, I would have preferred a bit more detail for the grand finale.

As far as the occult aspect of Bacchanal, the whole tale is imbued with mystery and magic. Henry doesn’t dress up pacts with demons or Eliza’s gifts, and presents a portrait of how these things exist in the mundane world, though perhaps unnoticeable to the untrained eye. Ahkiu and Eliza both take some time to figure the other one out, and they’re both doing plenty of magic or spiritual communication on their own. It was interesting to see the way Ahkiu used her ancient power, while also being engaged with Eliza’s story of discovering her own.

All in all, I found Bacchanal to be fully satisfying on many levels, and I’ve been recommending it to everyone as a good read. I think those with an interest in Yoruba would have a particular interest in this book. Watching Oya nurture her spiritual child Eliza is quite rewarding, and this book reminds us of the complexity of family dynamics. With the help of trusted friends and discovering one’s own powers, destiny emerges.