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Spirit Marriage, by Megan Rose, Ph.D.

Spirit Marriage: Intimate Relationships with Otherworldly Beings, by Megan Rose, Ph.D.
Bear & Company, 1591434157, 448 pages, April 2022

In Spirit Marriage: Intimate Relationships with Otherworldly Beings, transformational psychologist Dr. Megan Rose explores the cross-cultural phenomenon of mystical union with a spirit spouse. Dr. Rose defines spirit marriage as “the bonded or intimate relationship between a human and a subtle or discarnate entity such as a deity, spirit, or extraordinary intelligence.”1 Through case studies, historical accounts, and her own experiences, Rose explores how these relationships manifest in a wide variety of traditions, from the God Spouses of Norse Heathenry to the ceremonial magician’s union with the Holy Guardian Angel. As the first comprehensive survey of its kind, Spirit Marriage is a fascinating exploration of a complex and often taboo topic. 

Dr. Megan Rose holds a Ph.D. in Psychology and an M.A. in Religion. She also identifies as an ecosexual priestess, erotic mystic, and faery seer. These diverse areas of expertise inform her approach to spirit marriage, which emphasizes the spiritual, emotional, and erotic aspects of these relationships, which she perceives as a “cocreative consciousness”2 formed between the mortal and the spirit to whom they are wedded.

The foreword is written by Orion Foxwood, author of The Tree of Enchantment: Ancient Wisdom and Magic Practices of the Faery Tradition (2008), who has been married to a faery queen named Brigh for over twenty years. In the foreword, Foxwood points out that spirit lovers are often demonized, but reminds readers that the word demon is “derived from the Greek word daemon, which originally denoted a divine being, not an infernal one.”3 

I was excited to come across this book because there is a relative dearth of reliable information on the subject. I’ve Googled spirit marriage in the past, and search results were dominated by Christian fearmongering, with a deluge of warnings about spirit spouses being demons that ruin lives and require deliverance through Jesus Christ. Wikipedia is the most reliable, identifying spirit spouses as helping spirits in shamanism, but there isn’t any practical information on how to form these alliances. Fortunately, Spirit Marriage offers a much more balanced and nuanced perspective, exploring the concept of spirit spouses across cultures and traditions.

In Spirit Marriage, Rose describes her journey to connecting with her spirit lover and discovering his identity, which culminated in union with a human partner whose spiritual essence (referred to by Rose as the Divine Self) is a vibrational match to her Faery Beloved. Rose describes her journey as one of “reconciliation with the Dark Goddess and Dark God,”4 which was initiated through a descent into her personal underworld, where she encountered the “archetypal devil”5 through two abusive relationships.

Dr. Rose’s personal story in the chapter titled “The Erotic Mystic: Encounters with My Faery Beloved”6 resonated deeply with me as a fellow Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) who has also navigated childhood bullying and abusive relationships. Her journey of overcoming these challenges to embrace the Divine Masculine mirrored my own realizations in recent years. Dr. Rose’s insights about the impact of religious upbringing and past trauma on our relationships with the Divine Masculine are particularly valuable. They validate the experiences of many women, who, like myself, struggle with connecting to the Divine Masculine due to religious trauma and partner abuse. Sharing these experiences highlights the importance of healing past wounds to cultivate a healthy connection with one’s Divine counterpart, a central theme explored throughout Spirit Marriage

Dr. Rose’s memoir exemplifies the transformative potential of spirit marriages. While I resonated with her experiences the most, I enjoyed reading all ten interviews. Each account offers fascinating insights, showcasing how spirit marriages transcend race, gender, and sexual orientation. A common thread emerges: a sense of surrender to a predestined union.

Dr. Rose’s interviews with individuals like Orion Foxwood, a gay Traditional Witch and Conjure Man wed to a faery queen, and Kama Devi, a heterosexual white woman who married the Hindu goddess Kali Ma, effectively demonstrate the vast spectrum of spirit marriages. They can even manifest as a union with nature itself, as evidenced in “The West African Shrine Keeper,”7 which features a shaman wed to a deity embodied as a tree.

There are no cut and dry rules about spirit marriage, and the unions are as unique as the people who enter them. While many traditions insist that divorcing a spirit-spouse is impossible, Caroline, a witchdoctor from Washington, DC, has married multiple spirits from a variety of pantheons, and claims that she has divorced a spirit-spouse. 

Throughout the book, Rose addresses safety precautions regarding the importance of establishing trust and maintaining healthy boundaries with spirit lovers, which can sometimes be challenging due to shared consciousness. For instance, she emphasizes the importance of discernment to ensure spirit communication is genuine. Each account addresses how the practitioner balances their spirit marriage with the mundane concerns of everyday life, including how they navigate integrating a spirit spouse with romantic relationships on the physical plane.

Given the unconventional nature of these spirit marriages, my main takeaway from this book is that a practitioner’s preconceived notions about who or what a spirit spouse is supposed to be could possibly get in the way of achieving union. A practitioner seeking a spirit spouse should be open-minded and need not limit themselves based on gender, sexual preference, or ethnicity. The right spirit spouse is the one best aligned with the practitioner’s life purpose, and it may defy expectations. Spirit marriage is a lifelong journey, and every experience is tailored to the individual.

Ultimately, spirit marriage is a co-creative union. Like the concept of twin flames, spirit and mortal unite to achieve a higher purpose.

“In the spirit marriage, an indwelling happens, a symbiosis, the grafting of the two into one,” Dr. Rose writes. “From this union a third entity arises: a love child.”8

For Rose, her love child is this book. 

Spirit Marriage is riveting and I didn’t want to put it down. Each interview, beautifully rendered, showcases a distinct spirit spouse with a palpable presence—I swear I could smell cigar smoke while reading about “The New Orleans Voodoo Mambo”9 married to Baron Samedi.

Dr. Rose approaches the various cultures and traditions with the utmost respect, demonstrating how everyone’s path is different and there is no right way or any strict set of rules regarding spirit marriage. While some readers might remain skeptical or wary of entering these unions, Spirit Marriage offers a thought-provoking exploration that will validate and transform the intimate relationships of practitioners who seek congress with the spirit realm.

Sacred Bones, Magic Bones, by Ness Bosch

Sacred Bones, Magic Bones: Stories from the Path of the Bones, by Ness Bosch
Moon Books, 1803412127, 208 pages, June 2024

Sacred Bones, Magic Bones: Stories from the Path of the Bones by Ness Bosch is a captivating journey into the world of bone magic, a topic that often remains shrouded in mystery and intrigue. Bosch, an experienced shamaness and priestess, skillfully bridges the gap between ancient traditions and contemporary practice. The book is not just a guide; it’s an immersive experience that invites readers to explore the spiritual and magical significance of bones, offering a fresh perspective on a practice that dates back to prehistoric times.

Bosch has done a great job of making this book both education and engaging. She’s clearly done thorough research into the topic, while the inclusion of personal anecdotes and real-life experiences of her own spiritual path adds an authentic touch. The content is multicultural, sharing stories from around the world, and this broad perspective invites readers to go beyond the normal divisions that keep us separated and to discover the holistic Path of the Bones.

“In a world full of barriers, ones we have to jump to relate one another, bones speak a universal language that connect us.”1

The book is nicely organized into two parts. Part I focuses on stories of the bones. Bosch begins with stories of some of the oldest bones found to date and the stories archeologists have gathered based on their remains, such as the cave Atapuerca in Iberia and the bones of Neve’s, a baby who lived about 10,000 years ago.

She then moves onto bones in folklore, teaching how certain bones are considered lucky or can be used to make ceremonial musical instruments. The wide-range of bone usages is bolstered by the folk stories that have upheld their significance throughout time. Hence why people will travel to see someone’s grave or religious relics and the Hand of Glory spell continues to captivate people’s imagination.

The next chapter focuses on ancient deities with a connection to bones, often through ritual sacrifices. The goddess and goddesses mentioned are Kali, Triton, Bau, Hel, Chamunda, Baba Yaga, and more. It’s very interesting to see how bones are an intersection between all these various deities from different cultures and pantheons.

Bosch then turns her attention to currently practiced, also known as living, traditions. She teaches how necromancy goes back to prehistoric times, writing:

“At some point in the line, the need arose to communicate with the dead and establish a communication bridge with the underworld or the other side of the veil.”2

And through time, bones have always had an important role in necromancy, linking them from past to present in on-going traditions. This chapter also includes stories from people currently working with bones in their spiritual path, ranging from Druidry to witchcraft to Hoodoo to Inuit, which is insightful to read about firsthand.

In Part II, Bosch really delves into the Path of the Bones, which she describes “belongs to all of us, is not something strange or foreign to us.”3 She shares the visions and initiations that called her towards the Path of the Bones and introduces readers to La Huesera, The Bone Mother. Bosch shares stories and songs of The Bone Mother, offering readers a doorway into establishing their own relationship with Her.

Within this section, Bosch also shares how to incorporate bones into one’s spiritual practice. Bosch covers everything from the ethical sourcing of bones to the various rituals and spells that can be performed using them. Her directions for cleaning bones, both physically and energetically, is very helpful guidance. The deep respect for the subject matter is evident throughout the text, as Bosch emphasizes the importance of intention, respect, and ethical considerations when working with bones. This thoughtful approach ensures that readers understand the gravity and sanctity of the practice, rather than treating it as a mere novelty.

This section also really gets into the heart of working with ancestors. Bosch assures readers it’s easier than one thing to establish a connection with our ancestors and suggests ideas like building an ancestor altar and shamaic journey to start or deepen one’s relationship with them. There’s also plenty of spells offered for a variety of desires: binding, protection, abundance, achievement. What I enjoyed most about reading through the spells is that each one uses different types of bones–seagull bones for achieving a goal, badger bones for protection. There’s also guidance for creating amulets and incense with bones too.

Whether you are a seasoned practitioner or a curious novice, Sacred Bones, Magic Bones serves as a comprehensive and enlightening guide to the world of bone magic, encouraging readers to explore their own spiritual paths with reverence and confidence. I would especially recommend this book for those interested in ancestor work, as Bosch really delves into the connection bones establish between ourselves and our predecessors. One of my favorite parts of the book is the ancestor songs included at the end.

And for those looking to expand their bone magic practice further, absolutely check out Bosch’s website. She offers services such as training and consultations for shamanic tattooing, a wide range of spiritual retreats, and remote shamanic healing services. She also is a pagan celebrant–the first Spanish-speaking one ever registered in Scotland!

In addition to these services, Bosch also has her own priestess schools and spiritual training programs, including Goddess Temple Alba (a Pagan Temple in Scotland), The Covenant of the Waters (Sea Priestess training), Priesthood of Astarte, and Fellowship of Isis trainings. There’s also a website dedicated specifically to the Path of the Bones.

Overall, in Sacred Bones, Magic Bones, Bosch does a wonderful job blending historical context with practical advice. She provides readers with a rich tapestry of folklore, mythology, and practices for them to cultivate their own connection with bones and the deities associated with them, in particular The Bone Mother. The exploration of bone magic offers a unique pathway to connect with the profound mysteries of life, death, and the ever-present spirit world, reminding us of the intricate web of connections that bind all living beings.

The Mindful Medium, by Alison Grey

The Mindful Medium: A Practical Guide to Spirituality, by Alison Grey
6th Books, 9781803412658, 248 pages, March 2024

In her book The Mindful Medium, author Alison Grey shares “an inspiring, practical guide for awakening”1 as she relays her journey to becoming a psychic medium, spiritual teacher, and healer.

Grey has been a professional reader for over 14 years and also hosts a weekly spiritual development circle in her area and online. As part of her spiritual training, she has studied reiki, meditation, mental health awareness, crystal healing, Moonology and past life regression, as well as mediumship with several mentors. 

As a twenty-year experienced teacher in primary school and children with special needs, She has also created Calmer-Kids, which is a program for children with emotional and behavioral difficulties. Grey lives in Cotswolds, UK with her husband and four sons.  You can learn more about Alison, her background and the services she offers on her website.

I was interested in this book because Alison’s journey and training are similar to my own. I was excited to learn more about her and the helpful tips she has to share for living life as a spiritual being.

The book is divided into three parts and thirty-two, easy-to-read chapters: “Part 1: Welcome” (where Grey shares her story), “Part 2: Understanding Spirituality” (where she provides tips, tools and practices), and “Part 3: Mindfulness Approach” (where you learn about her Calmer-Kids Program and how to use mindfulness to navigate your life).

Grey begins the book by sharing the story of her awakening, including some experiences she had as a young girl and well as this passage:

“Being pregnant stirred up my sensitive side, my senses became extra heightened, and I started to get my ‘funny feelings’ of floating again. . .  After my second son was born, images repetitively flashed into my mind. I could see flashes of people I knew were in the spirit world and images of things connected to them.”2

Although she went to see a medium who confirmed that Grey had her own spiritual gifts, she didn’t begin her spiritual training at that time. Later, she began to attend a healing circle with her aunt and learn how to channel healing for other people. After becoming a reiki master, Rahanni teacher, and reiki drum practitioner, Grey began to study crystals.  Lastly, she found a mediumship circle and she and her aunt attended it weekly to develop their psychic skills. 

In “Part 2”, Grey shares many of the tools, practices and resources a person needs to live as a spiritual being.  She covers guides, tarot, healing modalities, numerology, angel numbers, the moon, and past lives, among other topics. I particularly enjoyed the two chapters “Understanding Crystals” and “What Are the Chakras?”. Her explanation of how crystals work is one of the most clear and succinct I’ve ever read:

“This is because crystals have a physical, balancing effect as they realign atoms in our body. The energy our Earth puts into the creation of crystals transforms into power for healing properties. Holding one of these gifts of nature, allowing it to resonate with our own energies, allows it to assist us in our healing.”3

The chapter on chakras is the longest chapter in the book because Grey goes into such great detail. She talks about each of the seven chakras, crystals for each, crystal grids for healing and how to use a pendulum for checking and balancing the body’s energy system. Grey also discussed how to treat the chakras for animals and use crystals to heal plants! 

In the chapter called “The Afterlife,” Grey shares what she has been shown about life after death and includes a very personal story about the loss of her unborn child.  She also touches on suicide and those who die relatively early in life, including two personal accounts. Here’s what she shares about suicide:

“I also believe that there is much learning for the families who are left behind and not only emotionally, but I’ve also heard amazing stories of charities which are formed to raise awareness of people with mental health issues, and this is a good thing which grows from tragedy. There is a higher purpose and the beautiful soul agreed to be that soul who leaves Earth too soon.”4

In “Part 3”, Grey presents the idea of The Mindfulness Approach and talks extensively about meditation, affirmations, prayer and her program Calmer-Kids. This process for teaching children mindfulness techniques came out of her work as a teacher for young children:

“With my carefully designed programme, it offered children the chance to breathe, take time out and build a relationship with themselves, bringing back self-choice and ultimately begin to understand themselves better. . . The goal is for children to be able to apply learnt strategies for coping with stressful situations, to learn about themselves, begin to live their life and become confident.5

In this part of the book, she also goes into much more detail on meditation.  She has included several guided meditations within her book and my favorite one is called “Breathing Technique,” which is found on page 190-191. This meditation helps the reader to be present and connect fully with their body.

Next, Grey presents a chapter called “Putting it All Together-The Mindful Medium” where she discusses life, life’s challenges, and provides a simple grounding exercise.  She adds a few pages of FAQs, where she covers topics that were not discussed earlier in the book.  Lastly, she adds her “Final Thoughts,” including a beautiful poem about time and freedom.

My favorite chapter in the book was Chapter 26 called “Colour Therapy.” She presents nine colors and the energy or qualities of each color. Her meditation called “The Healing Ocean” is another favorite of mine. This guided meditation brings in all the colors of the rainbow, as you use the imagery of the ocean to cleanse your energy.

I really enjoyed The Mindful Medium. It is beautifully written and is a great resource for spiritual teachers and students alike. Someone who is new to studying spirituality, mediumship, or meditation will especially benefit from the wealth of knowledge that Grey shares. I plan to recommend it to clients for whom I do readings and those who come to me to develop their spiritual gifts. I will also pass it on to my husband, who is a psychic medium. He loves to read about other professionals and learn about their journeys. 

Grey ends the book with a beautiful poem, and I’ll share the part which really resonates with me:

“We are one,
From source. 

Feel our hearts beat simultaneously,
Sense our rhythm,
The flow of life. 

Allow our voice to speak
Express how we feel
Never doubt the reason. 

Be free.
Be determined.
Be love.”

Alive with Spirits, by Althaea Sebastiani

Alive with Spirits: The Path and Practice of Animistic Witchcraft, by Althaea Sebastiani
Weiser Books, 1578638259, 240 pages, May 2024

Many pursue the path of witchcraft hoping to influence the world around them, yet it’s important to also honor the energy exchanges consistently taking place and defining our relationships with the world we inhabit. How else can we manifest our desires, heal our wounds, and cultivate a practice without a connection to the Land, spirits, and energetics surrounding us?

Alive with Spirits: The Path and Practice of Animistic Witchcraft by Althaea Sebastiani is a profound exploration into the world of animistic witchcraft, offering readers a comprehensive guide to understanding and practicing this ancient spiritual path from the scope of modern witchcraft.

“Within the context of contemporary witchcraft, animism is the definitive influence behind a land-based approach. It provides structure for practice that is rooted in deep relationship with physicality, both of the land and of ourselves. It affords us a sense of connection to something larger than ourselves that is gained through understanding of community that includes the individual spirits as much as it includes other humans.”1

The most prominent standout feature of this book is its emphasis on direct experience and personal connection with the natural world. Sebastiani encourages readers to cultivate relationships with the spirits of the land, animals, and plants around them, fostering a sense of reverence and intimacy with the environment.

This approach to witchcraft is refreshing in a world often disconnected from nature, and it serves as a reminder of the sacredness in everyday life. The practical exercises provided are thoughtful and varied, allowing readers to experiment and find what resonates most with their unique spiritual journey.  For every chapter, there are new exercises related to the information just shared, along with on-going exercises to keep practicing what was already spoken about previously in the book, yielding a steady build up of skills.

Most of these exercises are focused on energy work, and readers who engage with Sebastiani’s exercises will find themselves learning to fine-tune their psychic sensitivities. There’s layers and layers of energy to be explored through this animistic approach, and she ensures that readers are grounded, knowledgeable, and prepared to take the next step in their journey.

Towards the beginning of the book, Sebastiani explains, “As witches, our work with energy takes two forms: sensing energy and manipulating energy.”2 She goes on to explain the general forms of manipulating energy are pushing (projecting), pulling (attracting), and holding (containing).3 This foundation understanding of energy is then expanded to assist readers in connecting with the Land, their body, and other living and non-living beings.

My greatest takeaway from this book was the new awareness of the more subtle, overlooked energies both within myself and in the Land surrounding me. The section titled “Layered: Together and One” was particularly eye-opening for me. Sebastiani describes:

“When we think of the land and nature, we have a tendency to think of the things that fill nature. We think of plants, trees, animals. Rarely do we consider the “empty spaces”–the dirt, the rocks, the wind–except in relation to those other living, animated things. . .Being able to be within a location and to hold the awareness of it as unique–appreciating the differences that are an intrinsic part of its beauty, personality, identity, and basic nature–is essential in order to grow your awareness of the spiritual qualities of that place.”4

These animistic teachings have greatly expanded my perception of place, and recently, I’ve been focusing on creating a connection with the empty space in the same way I do with the living things around me to be more rooted in my local landscape.

Another defining aspect of Alive with Spirits is how Sebastiani delves into the ethical considerations of animistic witchcraft, addressing the importance of respect, consent, and reciprocity in interactions with the spirit world. Her insights into the interconnectedness of all beings and the responsibility that comes with spiritual work are particularly poignant, offering a grounded and conscientious perspective. She writes:

“If a relationship is the inherent connection that exists between us and all other beings within the world, right relationship is the actions we take that are congruent with the awareness of that relationship and the awareness of inarguable autonomy of each being. It is acting in such a way so as to minimize negative impact upon the beings closest to us, and to encourage and work towards mutual benefit for all, as much as is possible.”5

Overall, in Alive with Spirit, Sebastiani skillfully intertwines personal anecdotes, practical exercises, and theoretical knowledge, creating a holistic approach to animism that is both engaging and educational. Her writing is both accessible and deeply insightful, making complex concepts digestible for both beginners and seasoned practitioners alike.

This book is a valuable resource for anyone interested in deepening their understanding of animism and integrating its practices into their magical practice. This book is also testament to Sebastiani’s expertise and passion for the subject, making it a must-read for those drawn to the path of animistic witchcraft.

For those interested in learning more about Sebastiani’s work, you can follow her on Instagram or check out her website. She offers community events and custom courses to strengthen one’s witchcraft foundation, such as Feral Witchcraft, Spiritual Self-Care, A Witch’s Guide to Necromancy, and more. She’s by far one of the most real-deal witches I follow!

The Secret Life of Mother Mary, by Marguerite Mary Rigoglioso, Ph.D.

The Secret Life of Mother Mary: Divine Feminine Power for Personal Healing and Planetary Awakening, by Marguerite Mary Rigoglioso, Ph.D.
Bear & Company, 1591435242, 176 pages, July 2024

Mother Mary, whose divine conception led to the birth of Jesus Christ, is one of the most revered women to have ever lived. However, her real identity has been buried under years of patriarchal narratives that have hidden her true essence. In The Secret Life of Mother Mary: Divine Feminine Power for Personal Healing and Planetary Awakening, Marguerite Mary Rigoglioso, Ph.D. brings new insight about the role Mary played in not only Jesus’s birth, but also his resurrection, introducing to readers the truth of her divinity.

In this book, Rigoglioso teaches readers how Mother Mary was more than a docile, subservient woman chosen by God to birth the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. She was actually highly skilled priestesses who had been trained since her own parthenogenetic conception in the spiritual arts. Not only did she achieve this feat, but at the end of her life, Mother Mary was able to fully ascend into divinity using a specific ritual “to help her complete her spiritual ascension and apotheosize–that is, fully merge with the Universal Divine Mother.”1

The humility of Mother Mary along with the level of her spiritual advancement make her a powerful spiritual healing force for us to call upon today in order to restore our connection to the Divine Mother, heal mother wounds, and usher in the wisdom of Mother Mary to our world through our own spiritual growth and revelation.

Drawing on the work of Sri Kaleshwar, in particular his book The Real Life and Teaching of Jesus Christ, which is based on Palm Leaf Manuscripts, Rigoglioso teaches readers about the Holy Womb Chakra. Rigoglioso identifies the womb chakra as physically “extending from the navel to the vulva and including all aspects of the uterus in between.”2 However, she also notes that men too have a womb chakra that can be activated.

“Kaleshwar teaches us that the energy he calls “Mother Divine” is the supreme Creator, though she does not create through what I call the “erector set” model of creation that has been handed down to us through the Hebrew Bible. Rather she has created her own womb chaka, or energy center.”3

Another interesting facet of the book is the exploration of the nature of relationships between Jesus and Mother Mary, Jesus and Mary Magdalene, and Mother Mary and Mary Magdalene. Rigoglioso also explores the role Mother Mary had in Jesus’s ministry, as demonstrated by the high reverence the apostles showed her, and Mother Mary’s relationship with Joseph and his family. All of this combines to paint a new picture of who these people were, showing their personal and spiritual lives that differs from the roles they’ve been cast in by Christianity.

The book is not merely a historical analysis; it is a spiritual journey that invites readers to connect with their own inner strength and healing potential. Rigoglioso shares plenty of her own experiences. And her writing is both scholarly and accessible, making complex ideas about spirituality and the divine feminine understandable to a broad audience. She blends thorough research with personal insights, creating a narrative that is both factually informative and deeply emotionally moving.

Readers are encouraged to embrace the divine feminine within themselves, which Rigoglioso asserts is essential for personal and planetary healing. At the end of each chapter, there are questions for reflection to help readers tap into their own perceptions, feelings, and beliefs about Mother Mary. Taking the time to journal one’s thoughts helps to initiate the process of opening to this information. Additionally, Rigoglioso provides free meditation on her website that can be used to further connect with Mother Mary.

Reading this book was a HUGE shift in perception for me. Admittedly, I was already a fan of Marguerite Mary Rigoglioso after reading her book The Mystery Tradition of Miraculous Conception. Prior to that book, I had taken a while to warm up to Mother Mary. She felt very virginal; her chastity and meekness was not something I was seeking in my teens and twenties. My spiritual growth came through working with Mary Magdalene, rewriting the historical narratives of who she was and the role she played in Jesus’s ministry and early Christianity.

However, once I understood the concept of parthenogenesis and the role that highly skilled priestesses had in the process through years of training, I saw a much fuller picture emerge. I was eager to see what new information Rigoglioso had to reveal in this book, which supplements her previous work beautifully. I might even suggest starting with this book if you’re new to Rigoglioso’s work as an introduction to the concept of parthenogenesis, or divine conception.

Rigoglioso challenges conventional religious narratives and encourages a more inclusive understanding of spirituality. Her work is a call to awaken to the interconnectedness of all beings and the importance of nurturing the feminine aspects of divinity. She urges us to remember the importance of these sacred lineages and that Mother Mary is always present for us, writing:

“Because what I have come to understand is that Mary is available. Due to her own tremendous spiritual achievements, she has become a resource on the inner planes that anyone (whatever your identity, religious affiliation, or level of spiritual interest) may draw upon to re-conceive, re-gestate, re-mother, and heal themselves.”4

Overall, The Secret Life of Mother Mary is a profound exploration into the life of one of history’s most enigmatic figures. Rigoglioso delves deeply into the hidden aspects of Mother Mary’s existence, painting a picture of a woman whose influence extends far beyond her traditional portrayal, which in turn offers new ways for people to understand and connect with her on a spiritual level. By examining ancient texts, spiritual teachings, and contemporary interpretations, Rigoglioso presents Mary as a goddess whose influence today is vital to healing the world, elevating her status beyond the confines of Christian narratives.

I absolutely loved this book, and I truly recommend it to everyone, as it offers a much-needed perspective about the sacred birth priestesses and their role in awakening planetary consciousness through their service of divine birth. Her book is a valuable resource for anyone interested in spirituality, personal growth, and the transformative power of the divine feminine. It serves as a compelling reminder that healing and awakening begin within, and that figures like Mother Mary can inspire us to reach our highest potential.

The Occult Sylvia Plath, by Julia Gordon-Bramer

The Occult Sylvia Plath: The Hidden Spiritual Life of the Visionary Poet, by Julia Gordon-Bramer
Destiny Books, 1644118629, 416 pages, May 2024

Poetry is a form of spellcasting, and Sylvia Plath (1932-1963) continues to captivate readers as her following grows through BookTok. Plath was best known for her confessional poetry and her semi-autobiographical novel, The Bell Jar, which she published just before her suicide under the pen name Victoria Lucas. Beyond her iconic status as a tragic heroine, Plath was fascinated with the occult. Biographers have often overlooked this aspect, but Plath scholar Julia Gordon-Bramer delves into this profound influence in her book The Occult Sylvia Plath: The Hidden Spiritual Life of the Visionary Poet. A poet and tarot reader herself, Gordon-Bramer unveils Plath’s fascination with Qabalah, Jungian alchemy, astrology, tarot, and even the Ouija board, revealing the sorcery woven into her writing. 

I first encountered Sylvia Plath in an undergrad poetry class. The lecture focused on lurid biographical details, reducing her to a tortured poet with daddy issues, who was driven to suicide by her husband’s infidelity. Dissecting poems like “Daddy” and “Lady Lazarus,” which were laced with disturbing holocaust symbolism, made my skin crawl. Reading her poetry was like eating wild honey straight from a swarming hive. The honeycomb was blackened with dust and mold spores, and dead bees were trapped in dark, viscous amber. There was a vague sense of danger, as if internalizing her words might infect me with the same madness that drove her to end her own life.

She instantly became one of my favorite poets. Plath gave me permission to harvest radioactive material from the dregs of my soul, to be raw and unfiltered in my writing. Nothing was off limits. While this provocative introduction to her poetry inspired me and granted me greater creative freedom, I now realize that I was so spellbound by her mythical image that I lost sight of the transcendent nature of her work. 

In The Occult Sylvia Plath, Plath scholar Julia Gordon-Bramer dismantles the oversimplification of Plath’s poetry as confessional, arguing that previous biographers have overlooked the influence of world events, Plath’s social circle, and most importantly, her fascination with the occult. Informed by over fifteen years of research, Gordon-Bramer deep dives into letters, journals, and even marginalia in Plath’s personal library, weaving together a web of occult connections that resonated throughout Plath’s oeuvre. Gordon-Bramer’s compelling insights have enriched my own appreciation of Plath’s poetry, as viewed through the kaleidoscopic lens of her spiritual journey. 

“For over fifty years, Sylvia Plath’s story was controlled and severely restricted by the estates of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes,” says Gordon-Bramer. “Until recently, editors of Plath’s and Hughes’s published letters downplayed their interests in the occult.”1 It turns out that the tortured poet facade I had idolized as an undergrad creative writing student was carefully curated for mass appeal. “Even many of Plath’s better photos were not published, possibly in an effort to cast her as a dowdier, more depressive poet,”2 Gordon-Bramer says. In this book, she hopes “to break the world from the habit of reading Plath’s work solely through the lens of autobiography.”3

Each chapter is named after the title of a Plath poem. In “April Aubade,” Gordon-Bramer humanizes Sylvia’s father, Otto Plath, a German immigrant who, during World War I, was flagged by the FBI as “an ‘alien enemy’ for having pro-German sympathies and expressing a desire to return to his homeland one day.”4 Otto was in fact a pacifist and a victim of the persecution that many German Americans faced during those troubled times. “Becoming a young man, alone with no family and few friends in a foreign country, Otto Plath endured it all, probably not without significant emotional damage,”5 Gordon-Bramer says.

Knowing these details about Otto Plath casts “Daddy” in a new light. The poem feels both intensely personal and transcendent. As Plath exorcizes the ghost of her German father and identifies with the Jews, she also seems to be grappling with a shared sense of horror for the atrocities of the Holocaust. The pain in this poem is visceral, and with the added context of her father’s struggles as an immigrant, the final stanza stings with deeper resonance:

“There’s a stake in your fat black heart/And the villagers never liked you./They are dancing and stamping on you./They always knew it was you./Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through.”6

Plath’s rage transcends the personal, becoming a powerful voice for collective trauma.

Bees are prevalent in Sylvia Plath’s poetry, and she inherited her fascination with them from her father, who earned the childhood nickname “Bee King” because he had a talent for “charming bees to steal their honey.”7 This passion continued into adulthood, as he studied and cared for bee colonies at the Arnold Arboretum in Boston, Massachusetts from 1922 to 1928. Gordon-Bramer highlights the occult significance of bees, revealing that Otto was initiated into Freemasonry in 1928 and bees are a potent Freemason symbol, representing the alchemical transformation of pollen into honey through the hive’s collective efforts. Gordon-Bramer also notes that Sylvia’s mother, whose name, Aurelia, means “golden”8 in Latin, wrote her master’s thesis on the famed alchemist Paracelsus, which Otto read and admired.

Sylvia Plath was a Scorpio, born on October 27, 1932, under the looming shadow of the Great Depression. Gordon-Bramer explores how Sylvia’s early life was shaped by both environmental influences and her parents’ personalities. Her father Otto, an authoritarian Aries, exhibited a demanding and emotionally distant parenting style, while her mother Aurelia, a possessive Taurus, could be both smothering and invasive. The cross-pollination of Sylvia’s parents produced a precocious child who sought love and approval through academic achievement and perfectionism.  

“Because of his ill health, Otto never hugged or kissed his family for fear that he might spread disease,” Gordon-Bramer says. “Perhaps, for reasons he thought were kind and sensible in those times before antibiotics, he kept his distance, rarely talked to or played with his children, and quietly stayed in his room, already existing like a ghost.”9

Otto’s death could have been averted if he had sought medical treatment sooner. In a vain desire to preserve an image of masculine strength and independence, he stubbornly soldiered through the pain, refusing to see a doctor until it was too late. He was suffering from pneumonia and advanced diabetes, and his left leg had to be amputated due to a gruesome gangrene infection that horrified his daughter, plaguing her with nightmares even towards the end of her own life. Otto died of a lung embolism on November 5th, 1940, during World War II. Sylvia was only eight years old.

The name Otto means “wealthy,” but he failed to leave behind an inheritance that would sustain his family after his premature death.10] However, he bequeathed a Plutonian wealth of emotions to Sylvia, which she excavated at great length to fuel her artistic creativity. She mined a wide variety of emotional ores, from gilded veins of pride in his accomplishments as a “self-made man,” to the ancestral iron of blood and war she so eloquently smelted into poetry.11

In the summer following Otto’s death, the precocious eight-year-old Sylvia published her first poem in the Boston Traveler. Her father’s passing was a catalyst for her pursuit of literary fame, and the lingering influence of his high standards had conditioned her to seek external validation through artistic achievement and academic excellence. 

Otto’s death also initiated a profound spiritual crisis for Sylvia. Feeling abandoned by her father and resentful towards God, she declared, “I’ll never speak to God again.”12 Despite flirting with atheism, Sylvia was fascinated with religion and spirituality, and her personal beliefs were influenced by a blend of Unitarianism and paganism, leading her to identify as a “pagan sunworshiper”13 in her college years.

In 1953, after a month in New York City working as a guest editor at the magazine Mademoiselle, Plath had a “nervous breakdown” and attempted suicide with sleeping pills. Plath was institutionalized afterwards, and her doctor used tarot as part of her therapy. After her release, Plath continued reading tarot “for creative and personal growth”14 rather than fortune-telling. The arrangement of poems in her manuscript Ariel was based on tarot, and her nervous breakdown inspired her novel The Bell Jar.

After delving into Plath’s life story, The Occult Sylvia Plath offers an intriguing exploration of her complicated relationship with her husband, the British poet laureate Ted Hughes, through the lens of the occult. Gordon-Bramer weaves in vignettes of the couple using a homemade Ouija board to commune with a spirit named Pan, giving an intimate glimpse of how their shared creative process was influenced by the supernatural. Plath modeled her first poetry collection, The Colossus, after Hughes’s Qabalistic structure, which he used in his own poetry. “The title, The Colossus, and the inspiration for the title poem, probably should have been credited to Pan, the Ouija board spirit,”15 Gordon-Bramer says.

While it’s tempting to demonize Hughes as a monster who drove Plath to suicide with his philandering and alleged abuse, Gordon-Bramer paints a more nuanced picture, depicting him as a flawed but remorseful man. The pain and guilt he must have felt are palpable in Gordon-Bramer’s portrayal, and I was surprised to find myself moved to tears by the end of the book. Gordon-Bramer describes the lengths to which he went to preserve Plath’s legacy, leading one to believe he “had fallen more in love and under Plath’s spell than he ever had in her lifetime.”16 Thanks to his diligent work, so have we.  

The Occult Sylvia Plath is a spellbinding biography documenting the volatile alchemical marriage of two literary titans. By the end of the book, I felt a sense of catharsis, as if I had vicariously experienced Plath’s struggles and emerged with a deeper understanding. This is a must-read for fans of both Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes.

From Elder to Ancestor, by S. Kelley Harrell

From Elder to Ancestor: Nature Kinship for All Seasons of Life, by S. Kelley Harrell
Destiny Books, 978-644116623, 192 pages, June 2024

“Animism is the experience that everything has consciousness, that the world is made up of persons, some human, and some not. In that awareness that everything is in relationship, communicating, impacting, and interacting on various levels of agency. There is no individual; thus the emphasis is on right relationship, community. Within that interaction lies the responsibility for how we affect where we literally stand and the greater relationship to All Things.”1

The extract above is fittingly the first paragraph of the Introduction from From Elder to Ancestor: Nature Kinship for All Seasons of Life, by S. Kelley Harrell sets the tone for the energy of this title and the call for a way of engaging with our surroundings in a holistic and inclusive way that affirms life as a collective journey. As the readers continues through the writings of the introduction, very specific ideologies about animism, our interconnectedness, the semantics of elderhood, and our history as a culture of colonization and disregard  for those already inhabiting the land are laid out for consideration to enhance the concepts to be explored in following chapters. 

From Elder to Ancestor is organized into eight sections, each building upon the other and bringing into the space of awareness the work required in remaining part of the whole. This is the work of those who want to proactively grow into becoming the elders for whom wisdom, experience, and knowledge of our deeper connections to all things is how they go about their life’s journey.

“When we speak of elders and elderhood, it isn’t a matter of age. Rather, we are referring to those people in our communities who are trusted and respected for the knowledge and wisdom they have gained through their lived experience and their ability to apply that understanding to educate, support and sustain the community. Once upon a time that understanding included animistic wisdom. Sadly, it is in short supply today.2

The reader is guided in a weaving of personal work to community, back to work of the higher self and out again to a broader and now more understandably inclusive community. It is a lovely reminder of the ebb and flow of how relationships, if allowed to grow and connect more deeply, will offer the reciprocity of give and receipt. 

Additionally, each section has its concluding pages devoted to an opportunity for introspection. These provide the reader with a summary of what was discussed and deep questions to journal and contemplate around that specific topic as it relates to you. These are followed by practical action and recommendations of ways to take the information, emotions, and newly formed intellect gained out into the world and explore. 

The introduction covers all that is needed to move through the subsequent chapters familiar with the semantics used and the author’s reason for using some words in a specific way. The use of the word “Broken Path” is one such semantic and Harrell uses this as what historically and culturally we have done to divorce ourselves from our natural kinship to all life and, most specifically, Nature. This style immediately draws the reader in to feeling comfortable with the complexity and deep dive of topic and practice that lay ahead. The Introspection content of the introduction prepares the reader for the challenges of the journey ahead and emphasizes the need for community that becomes your “Dream Team”:

“The topics covered in this book will bring up big feelings. To give them the healthy expression they require, it will be helpful to identify and engage your support community-those human persons you can call on for help in all areas of your life.”3

Harrell then asks the reader to “consider which spirit or earthly beings you would go to for support” in a broad selection of categories that will be covered in future chapters such as emotional, medical, identity, accountability, reparation and several more. Now, the reader is ready to apply more scrutiny to their relationship with societal and communal distortions of connection and their impact in creating an environment that fosters separatism from Nature as well as others.

This book asks the hard questions of its reader and encourages a practice of responsible action and consideration of all the actions taken and their broader impacts beyond self. “Section 1: Our Cultural Relationship to Animistic Elderhood-Owning Our Personal Role in the Broken Path” calls out the semantics of “adulting” and the privilege that carries:

“A word I see coming up often in social contexts is adulting, as in “I washed laundry and voted today. I adulted.” As if the step from child to adult and all it entails is extra.  As if only certain people are expected to mature. . .Instead of furthering those projections, I go with a verb I feel encompasses the experience better – humaning – as it reflects the range of responsibility, growth, and maturity demanded by life through all stages of development.”4

I love this concept that Harrell offers and its deeper meaning is reflected throughout the book. After all, we are only as useful as support to creating a new system of interaction and understanding of our place in the bigger picture, as we are willing to take responsibility for in a way that is meaningful and truly reflects change.

The next step in the process is discussed in “Section 2: Repairing the Human-Nature Relationship-Engaging the Resources to Reconcile Our Separation From Nature”. The concepts of the individual as a lone survivor, achiever, and actor in the cycles of the world and nature are sorted through and then removed, teaching that we are inherently not alone in any of our actions. Harrell reminds us that the denigration of community and the need to draw on those resources as being a flaw of character is one that has been unnaturally ingrained in our mental/emotional states. 

Harrell takes the reader through the various ways in which we are able to frame our connections to community using the concept of the old Norse concept of frith:

“Frith, meaning community balance, safety, peace and protection. Frith entailed working together as a community, at the level each member was able. . .Frithgard was a designated Nature space devoted to tranquility and peaceful resolution of conflict.”5

She expands this out to encompass our inner cosmology and planetary frithgard as every action and relationship established on this planet is interconnected to the greater cosmos. 

“Sections 3: Allowing the Emergence of Sacred Self-Processing the Shadow and Allowing the Rite of Heartbreak”  and “Section 4: Prioritizing Embodiment and Grounding-Learning to Embody and Ground Our Sacredness” require the reader to be fully open to the experience of recognizing self, its shadow, and cultivating the Sacred Self as an ally in the process of claiming an authentic purpose of being that readily connects to all it encounters. 

“Section 5: Engaging Rituals for Caring and Accountability-Tracing and Reconciling Our Life Patterns” provides the reader with a process of returning to a path of reconnecting with Nature through ritual:

“In the early chapters of this book we talked about how the loss of access to ancient sacred lands also meant the loss of traditional rituals. That threading of Naturekin into the human person’s day-to-day not only kept humanity in close awareness of the health of their region and gave them instruction on how to tend to it, it also kept them in reciprocity with those Naturekin. Their own health and well-being was reflected in those relationships.”6

Harrell provides the reader with ways to hold space so that our intentions and awareness return to a place of honoring and ritualizing to maintain a state of being with and in Nature. And, having come this far in the process this book has reawakened within you, the introspection portion of this section returns with a “Reassessing Your Place-Space Kin and Dream Team”. The further work is exploring how you prepare for ritual using a series of prompting questions to encourage deeper thought.

“Sections 6: Honoring Our Calling to Tend Community-Discovering Our Personal Relationship to All Things” and “Section 7: Passing On Our Lore with Compassion-Valuing Our Unique Gift Enough to Give It”  bring the reader to the space of being an “active” participant in their individual, yet collective journey. If the work of the previous sections has been given adequate time and thought to integrate and effectively create a different dynamic of being in the world, the wealth of information in these sections is the point of resonance and tipping point for a new paradigm. The quote below aptly summarizes the intention of From Elder to Ancestor:

“ A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they will never sit in .” – Greek Proverb

The final part, “Section 8: Standing in Harm’s Danger-Engaging the Relationship Between Agency and Impact” returns full circle to the space of questioning the meaning of living in relationship to all things. Readers have now gained the wisdom of experiences knowing when the action taken is encroaching upon and supporting a path of disconnect or when the impact is appropriately directed. The reader is reminded that this is the space in which how we have chosen our path as elders will directly affect the ancestor we will become and the legacy left behind.

Would I Recommend?

From Elder to Ancestor is a complex and thought provoking read. And, the choice of title is one that is subtly deceptive in what information  and wisdom lay between its pages, as it truly appeals to a wide audience of varying beliefs and histories–and I LOVE that about this book.  

I always appreciate an Index to quickly return to things of interest or to cross reference, and there are also Suggested Resources which include online spaces and Podcasts as well as books. The Notes section provides additional book choices that were used as Harrell’s resource materials.  

From Elder to Ancestor is an important read if we wish to enter into the years ahead knowing who we are and how each of us is an important piece of a much larger puzzle. This is a book that can easily be used by those  seeking self-improvement, those who are environmentalists, those who are scientists, those of all faith and spiritual practice, and any who wish to  be more informed in their choices  in the entirety of this lifetime’s experience. In short, this book should be a required manual for every human who has made an agreement to come into this realm of existence. 

About the Author: S. Kelley Harrell

S. Kelley Harrell is an animist, deathwalker, and death doula. Through her Nature-based soul-tending practice and Soul Intent Arts, she helps others ethically build thriving spiritual paths. Her special areas of knowledge are runes, animism, ancestral tending, and deathwork. Prior publications include Runic Book of Days, iPagan, Real Wyrd, and Teen Spirit Guide to Modern Shamanism. Harrell currently lives in North Carolina.

The Writer Who Inhabits Your Body, by Renée Gregorio

The Writer Who Inhabits Your Body: Somatic Practices to Enhance Creativity and Inspiration, by Renée Gregorio
Park Street Press, 1644119234, 192 pages, March 2024

I was unexpectedly surprised by how much I enjoyed moving through Renée Gregorio’s new book, The Writer Who Inhabits Your Body: Somatic Practices to Enhance Creativity and Inspiration. Although I can heap many praises on this book: remarking on its clean and direct writing or its superb organization and flow, what stuck out to me most was Gregorio’s stunning variety of helpful exercises. Whether you are a writer seeking to engage ever more deeply with your craft or someone simply wishing to explore your inner landscape and enrich your experience as an embodied being, you’ll find plenty of juicy content to engage with!

The text is clear and easy to digest, as one would expect from an award-winning poet. And while poetic writers can sometimes lean into style and expression a bit too heavily, potentially obscuring informative content, Gregorio demonstrates her supreme skill at communicating and evoking feelings from the reader without sacrificing the clarity of content. I believe her ability to walk this line with such grace comes from the very subject of the book–tapping into the somatic dimensions of your lived experience.

“I literally feel the words as they move through my body.It’s as if language fully occupies me, from the inside out, so that language is then born out of the body. It’s as if language and the body are really one.”1

Gregorio invites us into this exploration through her prolific use of exercises, which range from breath work and meditations to a variety of movement practices. Many of these exercises are deeply informed by Gregorio’s decades of practicing aikido, drawing upon her somatic (embodied) experience of this martial art to discover the powerful language hidden in the depths of one’s own body. Although one might think that martial arts and writing have little to do with one another, aikido has been an invaluable teacher for Gregorio because of how it relies on the interplay of energy between practitioners. By learning how to recognize, channel, and redirect the energies between herself and a partner on the sparring mat, Gregorio transmuted these insights to the dynamic between a writer and their own unique language that lies buried in their blood and bones.

At times, the amount of exercises Gregorio shares with us–usually two, if not three, per chapter!–can feel a bit overwhelming, especially if you’re the sort of person who likes to try each and every one before moving on to the next section. But not to worry, Gregorio advises the reader to pick and choose from among the exercises in each of the four main Parts of her book. As with any embodied practice, each person will have a unique experience and must experiment to discover which practices speak to them most powerfully. Thus, Gregorio’s plethora of exercises works perfectly for this method. In finding a couple exercises in each part which suit you and your writing needs, you establish a core set of practices which you can change or expand upon in the future.

As I moved further into the text, I found great appreciation for the overall organization and structure of The Writer Who Inhabits Your Body. Each of the four main Parts of the book contains seven or eight chapters which support the theme of each Part: Center is Everything, Opening the Body to Language, Turning Obstacles into Doorways, and The Roar of Your Writing. Part One begins with the most general discussion and exercises about tuning in to one’s somatic experience. Each subsequent Part then turns more directly toward the act of writing and bringing one’s embodied language out into the world.

I found this progression to be extremely helpful and well-designed to facilitate the reader’s gradual immersion into their somatic depths before trying to actively apply this to writing. As much as this book is about discovering one’s most authentic voice as a writer, it is also about unfolding one’s embodied soul through the medium of writing. Even though the practices in Part One are fairly universal–developing somatic sensitivity regardless of whether I wish to empower my writing–each contains a journal prompt that works toward integrating somatic experience and language. This led into Part Two, which focuses on creating space for your embodied writer to emerge, and deepening your relationship with that writer and the practice of your writing.

Part Three is my personal favorite, as it addresses common ways that we can get in our own way as writers. Whether fear is holding your words back, or difficult emotions and memories block you from your truest expression, Gregorio provides the means to transform each type of creative dam into a roaring river of expression. Finally, Part Four centers around harnessing the latent power of your somatic writer to bring forth the fullest and most authentic voice to your writing. This means not only discovering what you–and only you–have to write about, but also how to let your words roar off the page that can shake your audience to their core.

Sharing an insight from one of her students, Gregorio writes “at first roaring was about ‘standing up, being seen, being heard, making a difference,’ but that her definition of roaring evolved into also ‘knowing and accepting yourself so much that it is not you that roars but the words.’ Roaring is the ability to feel confident and sense your competency.”2

One of the reasons why I think this book is so effective is that many of her practices mirror those in various forms of psychological therapy. For example, exercises such as “Identifying Your Historic Patterns” and “The Mask of Self Doubt” function similarly to methods used in Internal Family Systems theory, used to help recognize and prevent one’s subpersonalities from detrimentally interfering with one another. Likewise, “Giving Shape to the Unseen” and “Accepting What’s Behind You” are reminiscent of Jungian-style shadow work. Although the practices may be similar, Gregorio’s somatic focus adds dimensions of our embodied experience that can often be overlooked in therapeutic settings.

Overall, The Writer Who Inhabits Your Body is one of the most helpful books about improving your writing that I’ve ever encountered. Even without a current writing project in my life, the range and depth of exercises are already yielding fruit. Exploring my somatic experience and journaling about my findings is certainly valuable, and has also helped in delving the depths of my soul. I definitely plan on returning to this text (over and over) to try out the different exercises, and hopefully loose my own roaring words upon the world. I don’t think it too bold to say that The Writer Who Inhabits Your Body is so approachable and applicable that it would find a home on anyone’s book shelf, regardless of their creative pursuits.

Shamanic Teachings of the Condor, by Martha Winona Travers, Ph.D.

Shamanic Teachings of the Condor: Encounters with the Mystical Traditions of the Andes, by Martha Winona Travers, Ph.D.
Bear & Company, 1591435064, 192 pages, April 2024

In Shamanic Teachings of the Condor: Encounters with the Mystical Traditions of the Andes, Michigan-based author Martha Winona Travers, Ph.D., who holds a doctorate in English literature, writes about her twenty-two year apprenticeship to the Ecuadorian Kichwa healer Taita Alberto Taxo, who passed away in February 2022. This spiritual memoir is both a glowing eulogy honoring Taita Alberto’s life work and a guide to reconnecting with nature that shares his legacy with the world. Taita Alberto comes alive in these pages, imparting gentle, heart-centered wisdom. Through Travers’s recollections, we too can receive his teachings.

Taita Alberto (1954-2022) authored several books, including Friendship with the Elements: Opening the Channels of Communication (2010). Travers is also the creator of The Waycard Oracle: A Guide to the Inner Journey (2016), which includes 33 oracle cards and a guidebook.

Taita Alberto was a iachak, which is the Kichwa word for shaman. (The i in iachak is pronounced like a y.) Taita is an honorific title meaning “father,” indicating his role as a spiritual leader and teacher in his community.1 In 2007, he gave Travers the title of Mama Iachak, giving her the authority to carry on his tradition and transmit his teachings.

Iachaks, also known as “bird people,”2 identify with Condors. The Condor represents the Andean way of life, of “living from the heart,”3 in harmony with nature. The Eagle, the national bird of the United States, symbolizes “the people of the North,”4 who value technology and rationality, and live from the mind. “The Condor’s gift—the power of the heart—and the Eagle’s gift—the power of the mind—are two halves of a whole,”5 Travers says, and Taita Alberto taught that the time has come for the two to work together in harmony.

The iachak must bridge the cultural gap between the traditional way of life and the colonial one, retaining the native language while speaking the colonial tongue, and preserving the ancestral customs when most people in their community have converted to the colonial religion and adopted modern values. The power of flight enables the iachak to move freely between these cultural realms without being trapped in either one. 

While many natives felt threatened by outsiders visiting Ecuador to study with the iachak due to the harm caused by colonialism, Taita Alberto claimed that it had been prophesied that the forces of mind and heart, the rational Eagle and the intuitive Condor, were now destined to unite.

“The Condor needs help with technology and science,” Taita Alberto said. “The Eagle needs help listening to the heart. We need both gifts—both the mind and the heart—for balance.”6

Travers met Taita Alberto (also known as Taita Haskusht, his Kichwa name) in 1999. In “Part One: The Eagle Visits the Condor,” Travers recounts her first journey to Quito, Ecuador, a part of the Andes Mountain range that includes multiple active volcanoes. She and a group of visitors were welcomed into the ancestral home of Taita Haskusht, near the base of the volcano Cotopaxi, which is itself a powerful spiritual guide. With vivid and immersive prose, this beautiful memoir floods the mind’s eye with the sights and sensations of her pilgrimage along the serpentine paths circling Cotopaxi.

Each chapter in this section revolves around communion with one of the five elements. In the iachak worldview, the physical realm is made up of the four elements of Earth, Air, Fire, and Water, plus the fifth element of Spirit, which is called Ushai in Kichwa. “The Ushai is the animating force of the universe; it is the energy that moves Earth, Air, Water, and Fire,”7 says Travers.“We experience the Ushai when we have the awareness that we are not separate from the elements.”8 All of the elements have feminine names in Kichwa: Fire is Nina, Water is Yaku, Air is Waira, Earth is Ashpamama, and Pachamama is the all-encompassing Great Cosmic Mother.

Chapter Three, “The Loving Earth,” is a moving account of a healing ritual in which the author recalls the experience of giving her pain to Mother Earth so it could be transformed by her. Prior to the ritual, Taita Haskusht encouraged the group to pick plants they felt drawn to for healing, following the wisdom of the heart to select the right one. When Travers attempted to ask Taita Haskusht to identify the plant she had chosen, he covered her mouth and turned away, triggering a deep wound within her. This was her first time attempting to speak to him, and she was hurt that he had silenced her.

Travers saw a migraine aura and feared a headache coming on, but she felt guided by an inner voice to follow the light instead of resisting it. While Taita Haskusht chanted, tears watered the earth as Travers and a grieving woman beside her relinquished their pain to the Mother. After the ritual, Taita Haskusht revealed to Travers that the plant she had selected “heals the voice.”9 I was dewy-eyed while reading this chapter, as I could feel the healing power of the Earth Mother through Travers’s vivid description of her experience.

In Chapter Four, “The Sacred River,” Travers describes the group’s experience of being purified in a volcanic hot spring, then dipping in a cold shallow stream, and the remainder of the day was spent resting and fasting. In the middle of the night, Travers woke several times, feeling afraid, and she glimpsed a ghostlike presence in the room. The next day, Taita Haskusht revealed that there had been “a great battle”10 during the night, as the impurities the group had released the previous day were manifesting as they were leaving. He blessed everyone by smudging them with the sweet-smelling woodsmoke of palo santo, a plant he said “loves us very much.”11

While reading, it felt beneficial to follow along by mimicking some of the actions described or by visualizing myself performing them with the narrator. For example, after reading about the smoke cleansing with palo santo, I burned some myself, asking the plant’s spirit to purify me. 

Chapter Five, “The Speaking Wind,” invigorates readers with the breath of Andean air as Travers communes with the volcano Cotopaxi. When Travers first beheld the face of Cotopaxi, peeking through a veil of clouds, she thought it seemed sinister, and the words “grim” and “cruel” came to mind, but she realized this was how she was “dreaming up” the volcano, and she proceeded to listen with her heart instead.12 I found her commentary on humanity’s tendency to project their personal experiences onto the world to be very insightful. 

“Listening is an open condition devoid of human projection,” Travers writes. “The iachak learns to separate from human fear and desire—those aspects of ego that create projection—and, instead, enters into a condition of receptivity to the many voices, the many languages of the many beings who share our world.”13

As Travers and her group embraced the presence of Cotopaxi, listening with their hearts and absorbing the mountain’s powerful essence, “Madre Waira,” or “Mother Wind,”14 lifted their spirits, cleansing them of negativity.

Part Two is titled “Becoming a Runa: Purification and Sacred Communion.” “In Kichwa, the word runa describes a person who is walking the path of life in a sacred way,”15 Travers writes. A runa lives in intimate harmony with the natural world, as our ancestors once did. Taita Alberto taught that we can reestablish this ancient connection with nature through communion with the elements. 

In the second part of this book, Travers provides exercises for revitalizing our relationship with the elemental powers. By recognizing the elements within and honoring the sacredness of our bodies, we become more conscious of what we consume, and are reminded not to pollute our inner rivers. According to Taita Alberto, “everything is food,”16 from the air we breathe to the books and other forms of media we ingest, which is important to keep in mind, especially for those of us living in the Eagle’s consumer culture. Regardless of what we are eating, whether it is healthy or not, we express gratitude to Mother Earth when we savor and enjoy our food.

In the section on working with the Earth element, I found the dietary advice to be insightful. Travers suggests eating foods individually to gauge how they make us feel, allowing enough time to digest in between meals so the foods don’t mix. She provides general guidelines for how long to wait, such as half an hour for fruits, which digest quickly, and four hours for meat.

Taita Alberto did not eat meat and neither did his apprentice iachaks. As part of his own iachak training, he was instructed to consume a small portion of animal flesh, and was distressed to discover that it cut off his intuition for six months. “A person who eats animals is eating the animal’s fear,”17 he said. He saw animals as his “helpers” and did not want to harm them.

To eat or not eat meat has been a lifelong moral quandary for me. I went through a vegetarian phase as a teenager, which frustrated some members of my family, who treated me like I was just being a difficult child and a picky eater rather than recognizing it was a choice based on my personal morals and spirituality (I was strongly influenced by Buddhism at the time and didn’t want to hurt animals). It angered my dad so much he stopped cooking for me altogether, claiming he didn’t know what to make since I wouldn’t eat meat, so I had to fend for myself. I started eating meat again in my early 20s when I was pregnant with my second child. I decided that since I was craving meat, the baby needed it. I received positive feedback when I started eating meat again, as people would tell me I looked healthier and had more color in my cheeks. Whether or not this was true, I don’t know, but I was verbally rewarded for conforming to my culture’s dietary preferences. To this day, I’m still troubled by factory farming, even though I eat meat purchased from the grocery store. I currently get my eggs from my own flock of hens, so those are at least guilt-free and not tainted with sadness because I know my girls are treated well.

Reflecting on the negativity I experienced when I chose to be a vegetarian as a teenager reminds me that our Eagle culture conditions us to consume meat without question. Those who deviate from this cultural norm are perceived as picky eaters who inconvenience others, and perhaps even troublemakers if they speak out against cruelty to animals. I think part of the problem is the fact that we get our meat pre-packaged in grocery stores and we are completely disconnected from the source of these products, which cuts off any empathy we might otherwise feel for the animals being slaughtered in factory farms. In contrast, Taita Alberto was raised as a vegetarian in the iachak tradition, and since he had a heart-based connection with the animal realm and saw animals as his helpers, eating meat was taboo for him, and doing so disconnected him from his spiritual Source.

Taita Alberto did not pass judgement on those who eat meat and his guidelines are not meant to be strictly followed as rigid rules. The ultimate teacher is experience, and he encouraged his pupils to see for themselves how following his suggestions makes them feel and shifts their perceptions.

Taita Alberto did not teach his students to ingest psychoactive plants because “all of nature is entheogenic,”18 or “god-filled,”19 including ourselves. We do not need mind-altering substances to experience the awe of “sacred communion with nature.”20 Instead, he taught simple daily practices that “initiate us into primal identification with all of Nature.”21 Many of these exercises focus on simply being present in the physical body and communing with nature through mindful sensory experience.

For example, when you feel the wind whispering on your skin, recognize it as a salutation from the Air element. Allow it to cleanse you of your anxieties and negative thoughts. This type of feeling is intuitive, not emotional, as our emotions are generated in response to our thoughts. Instead, it involves putting “emotion aside in order to enter an expansive condition of full, sensory awareness, present-moment consciousness, and intuitive sensing of energy beyond the material.”22 

Taita Alberto’s teachings can be put into practice through three simple steps: “greeting, feeling, and expressing gratitude.”23 Taita Alberto began his mornings by greeting the newborn day and the shining sun that brightens our lives. “Greet everything that appears before your eyes,”24 he said. Greet the six directions, north, south, east, west, sky above, and earth below.

These teachings may seem too simple for those craving a powerful transcendent experience, but Travers says that “true power is a quiet, internal state,” not “a dominating energy,”25 as our industrialized culture has programmed us to believe. The potency of these practices lies in their simplicity, for they are about creating inner transformation through how we perceive and engage with nature. 

Shamanic Teachings of the Condor offers a heart-centered approach to communing with the four elements of nature and the fifth element of Spirit that unites them. Rather than just being mindful, the Shamanic Teachings of the Condor encourage readers to cultivate heart-centered awareness. This book has reminded me to drop my Eagle consciousness down into my Condor heart space, to be present with my intuitive feelings while deepening my communion with the natural world. By attuning with the wisdom of the heart, we can all reconcile with nature.

Upside Down Tarot, by Joan Bunning

Upside Down Tarot: How Reversals Add Depth to Your Reading, by Joan Bunning
Red Wheel Weiser, 9781578638420, 176 pages, July 2024

When I saw the book Upside Down Tarot: How Reversals Add Depth to Your Reading by Joan Bunning, I knew I just had to have it. I’ve been reading tarot for about twenty years and was taught to “ignore” reversals by my first two teachers. What could this book teach me?  How could these principles strengthen my own understanding of tarot and bring a new light to my readings? I brought these questions to my review of this book. 

Bunning graduated from Cornell with a degree in social psychology and worked as a computer programmer and bookstore manager before becoming an author and editor. She has written five other books on tarot, including The Big Book of Tarot, which I also have in my library. In 1995, Bunning created a website to teach tarot basics:  www.learntarot.com.  Through the website, she supports thousands of people as they learn tarot. Bunning currently lives in Virginia with her husband.

This book is divided into two parts: “Part One: The Hidden Meaning of Reversals” and “Part Two: Reverse Card Descriptions”.

In her Introduction, Bunning carefully explains a little about the 78 cards in tarot, some of her experiences reading tarot, and her approach to reversed cards. She discusses the “energies” in reverse cards. She explains that these energies can be “absent, early phase or late phase.”1 She goes on to explain:

“Upright cards stand for energies that are strong and well developed. They have a clear, active presence…. Reverse cards stand for energies that are absent, weak or undeveloped…. They are not clear and obvious…. An energy does not become its opposite when reversed. A card’s essential nature stays the same no matter what its orientation.”2

This makes so much sense to me!  For years, any teacher I encountered who taught reversals said that a reverse card meant the opposite of the upright card, and I knew on a deep level that this was just not true! Bunning says that when we understand the “energy phase,”3 we can better interpret or intuit the meaning of a reversed card within a spread.

The best clue to identifying the energy phase will come from an awareness of timing. A reversed card is in the early phase if you haven’t really experienced its energy  yet. It may be new or tied to some upcoming event; a reverse card is late if you’ve already experienced its energy. It has been active in the situation in a way you can easily recognize but is now past. In the next section, she shares examples of both of these phases. 

Bunning also discusses “absent” energy.  “Its level is so low that, to all intents and purposes, it doesn’t exist. . . . The energy may be so new that you can’t perceive it yet.”4 She goes on to share that she is also including information on this “absent” energy for each reversed card, as well. 

Next, Bunning goes into more detail regarding early phase and late phase, including questions to ask to figure out in which phase your reversed card may be found.

“Knowing that energy tends to repeat helps you appreciate the subtle shifts that occur at the reversed card stages.”5

Finally, the author provides seven concrete steps to take to evaluate a reversed card. She follows the description of the steps with an example of a question about a problem at work. Bunning ends this discussion with stating, “These steps offer one way to discover the meaning of a card’s energy. The benefit of a strategy is that it helps you avoid floundering during interpretation.”6  I appreciate that she also adds a note about how this system may seem “analytical.”  However, she adds a reminder that the steps will become routine as you allow your intuition to guide you.

The next section includes two pages on each card in the Major Arcana. There are also black and white drawings of each card for reference. The deck featured is a standard Rider-Waite-Smith deck.  However, the book will complement readings for any deck that uses similar symbology or archetypes. Next, Bunning features commentary on each card in the Minor Arcana.  Some cards include two pages and others include only one page of notes.

Note that each write-up also includes the Upright meanings for each card. From this description, Bunning pulls one to four key words or key phrases, listing them along with the Absent, Early, and Late meanings for each card.  

To give the book a test drive, I devised a spread for learning more about a job offer that a friend of mine was awaiting (She texted me earlier in the day to inquire about this situation). I drew 3 cards for a spread I use often called “Mind, Body, Spirit”.  I drew all 3 cards in reversed placement!  (As my husband always says, “You can’t make up this stuff!”) The cards landed in this order for my spread:

  • Mind:  The Magician – Reversed
  • Body: 4 of Cups – Reversed
  • Spirit: 10 of Wands Reversed

Following along with Bunning’s notes for each card, I created the following reading for my friend:

Your mind wants to “do” something, but you can’t take action right now.  It’s time to withdraw and focus on your inner life. No need to struggle, because at this point, the struggle is with yourself.  Allow your Spirit to guide you and take this time to rest and recharge.

I did a FaceTime with my friend, and she was smiling as I shared the message.  She thanked me for confirming what she was feeling about being patient and waiting on the job offer.

It was interesting to me how the right key words seemed to leap off the page and I knew how to combine the notes for one cohesive reading. 

Bunning’s writing is very easy to read and the book is easy to navigate. After reviewing the introduction and section on the concepts of the three phases of the energy of the cards, I was equipped to use the data for informing my readings. While I initially felt that there was a lot to cover for each card, my real-life experience showed me that when I used my intuition with the notes, the answers came easily.

The book is printed in black and white, including the card graphics. I feel that by using the black and white drawings, the card images take a secondary role and help the reader to remember the cards, rather than overshadow them. I like the fact that Bunning used visuals of Rider-Waite-Smith, which is one of the more widely used tarot decks. 

I recommend Upside Down Tarot for tarot readers of all experience levels.  A new reader will really benefit from the information to support any of their readings that contain reversals. Bunning explains reversals in an easy-to-understand style that takes a lot of the drama out of the equation. And for the more seasoned reader, the notes will add another layer to the guidance that they share. I highly recommend this book for tarot lovers and look forward to using it for my client readings.