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The First Alchemists, by Tobias Churton

The First Alchemists: The Spiritual and Practical Origins of the Noble and Holy Art, by Tobias Churton
Inner Traditions, 1644116839, 320 pages, November 2023

Alchemy can sometimes feel like a buzzword, especially in modern times where it has taken on a heavily psychological context due to Carl Jung’s work and been co-opted by every influencer promising instant change. For those who begin to research alchemy in a more historical context, it quickly becomes exceedingly clear that the path is long and jumbled. Weaving through the different strands throughout time and global cultures amid intentional secret-keeping become a quandary. In his introduction to The First Alchemists: The Spiritual and Practical Origins of the Noble and Holy Art, Tobias Churton writes:

“Well, it is hardly surprising that confusion has inhibited understanding of alchemy. The term has perhaps simply come to mean “too much.” When confronted with something akin to a Gordian knot, I feel an urge not to annihilate the puzzle by putting my sword through it as Alexander the Great did but rather to retire and try to figure out how the knotty phenomenon actually came about. And that is my explanation for undertaking this investigation into the first alchemists. The job needed doing.”1

I absolutely agree with Churton’s assertion that someone had to conduct more thorough research about the origins and alchemy and piece it together for others. So much of what I’ve read about alchemy’s history focuses on Hermeticism, particularly in the 1400s and beyond when ancient texts prompted a revival of the art, which is fascinating, but many books neglect the deeper history, the roots of alchemy.

In laying his foundation, Churton begins by teaching  readers about the oldest surviving texts on alchemy (Stockholm papyrus, Leiden papyrus). While these texts were mundane rather than mystical in nature, focusing on things such as dye recipes, making and whitening pearls, cleansing stones, and creating imitation gold and silver. He also covers Pseudo-Democritus’s Four Books, the oldest texts on alchemy that have been lost to history but were summarized in surviving treatises Physika kai Mystika (Natural and Secret Questions) and Peri asēmou poiēseōs (On the Making of Silver).

These texts situate early alchemy’s origins in Roman Egypt. Churton shares sources that claim Pseudo-Democritus was influenced by Ostanes, a great Egyptian priest. In addition to Ostanes, these early practitioners include Cleopatra, Mariam (a Jewish woman known in alchemical tradition as Mary the Prophetess), and artisan Theosebeia–notably all women. Churton spends time on each woman, detailing pretty much all that is known about them, particularly from the writing of Zosimos of Panopolis.

“Early alchemy has something of a cosmopolitan, if not multinational and above all practical, rather than ideological air about it.”2

Three whole chapters are dedicated to Zosimos, and he continues to be the prominent focus of the rest of the book, because there is more written testimony from him than any other early alchemist. Titled “father of religious alchemy”3, his contributions can hardly be understated. Churton describes how, “Zosimos’s alchemy is a natural divine path to God, in which pious practitioners are called to identity with all elements and transformations, so as to experience harmonious union, or “gold”…”4

Working off of Zosimos’s writing, Churton guides readers through chapters on what the first alchemist actually did, how they did it, and where they did it. And, since I’m sure this sparked your curiosity, it mostly focused on creating dyes and working with metals. There’s pictures of early apparatuses, as well as details of the chemical components of minerals and other substances used to achieve their aims.

Additional chapters include “The Myth of Transmutation”, “Forbidden Knowledge”, and “Legacy” which clarify more about the aims of the early alchemists. Churton shows that the “first alchemists did not operate with the end in mind of fabricating a philosophical stone or philosopher’s stone to transmute base metals into gold”5. This realization throws into question the traditional definition of alchemy, as this is what most assume alchemy is all about based on later alchemical history. Churton notes, “Modern writers then have often simply backdated what they learned about post-Zosimos alchemy and projected it onto Zosimos.”6

Churton often references the work of Shannon Grimes, professor and head of the Department of Religious and Ethical Studies at Meredith College. She has recently published the book Becoming Gold: Zosimos of Panopolis and the Alchemical Arts in Roman Egypt, which would be another great resource for those interested in this subject matter. In a similar vein, readers might also feel more comfortable with the topics covered in this book after delving into some of Churton’s other books, in particular The Lost Pillars of Enoch, The Golden Builders, and The Gnostics.

For those new to reading Churton’s work, you can expect a lot of detail! I find it helps to take notes to process and organize the new information I’m reading, as he is a very erudite writer, who draws upon multiple sources to weave together his assertions but sometimes assumes his readers know more than they actually do, especially if this is your first introduction to the topic. For these reasons, I always get so much out of Churton’s writing because I am left with many avenues of interest to explore, but this can delay me finishing the books due to being sidetracked or feeling like I need additional time to digest what I’ve read before proceeding. The note taking helps me to stay focused on the topic at hand and then go back to what sparked my interest afterwards!

All in all, The First Alchemists is an illuminating read that delves into the “who, what, where, why, when” of early alchemy. Drawn from the original sources and scholarly work about these texts, he brilliantly depicts the origins of the Royal Art, which vary greatly from our modern notion of what alchemy is, its purpose, and its practitioners. I highly recommend this book for those interested in the history of alchemy, especially if they feel called to traditions that utilize alchemical in modern times, such as Freemasons and Rosecrucians. While there’s no doubt secrets to uncover, it’s interesting to see the initial practical value of alchemy, in particular recipes and methods for making dyes, and the evolution through time.

Theurgy: Theory & Practice, by P.D. Newman

Theurgy: Theory & Practice: The Mysteries of the Ascent to the Divine, by P.D. Newman
Inner Tradition, 164411836X, 224 pages, December 2023

Theurgy is a Neoplatonic form of ritual magic in which the practitioner seeks mystical union with a divine being. The term theurgy, which means “to work with deity”1 in Greek, was first coined in the Chaldæan Oracles, a fragmented collection of dactylic hexameter verses, written in Homeric Greek, that were believed to have been channeled directly from the gods by either Julian the Chaldæan, or his son, Julian the Theurgist, during the late second century CE.

In Theurgy: Theory & Practice: The Mysteries of the Ascent to the Divine, author P.D. Newman, who has practiced theurgy for over two decades and is also a member of both the Masonic Fraternity and the Society of Rosicrucians, supplies a solid scholarly background on the development of theurgical practices. Even though the Chaldæan Oracles are the fundamental text on theurgy, he argues that the practice itself can be traced all the way back to Homeric times. 

In Part I, he demonstrates how the ancient Greek version of shamans, called iatromanteia (“healer-seers”), and the Presocratic philosophers laid the foundation for theurgical practices.

“Theurgy,” Newman explains, “is a process of anabasis or magical ascent whereby practitioners, such as the Neoplatonists…achieved henosis or mystical union with a deity, the Demiurge or the One,” while katabasis is “a dreamy descent to the domain of the dead and to the dark goddess who rules over that realm.”2

Plato and his followers aspired to ascend through the planetary spheres and unite with the One, the paternal Monad, using theurgical practices, while their predecessors, the iatromanteia (“healer-seers”) and Presocratic philosophers, sought Underworld descent, or katabasis, and union with the terrifying goddess that ruled there.

“For the Platonists, katabasis was understood as the descent of the soul into a body upon incarnation,” Newman says. “Hades, additionally, was allegorized and viewed as the very world that we, as embodied beings, inhabit.”3

In Plato’s teachings, the body (soma) is a grave (sema), and a prison for the soul. Plato’s famous “Allegory of the Cave” in the Republic demonstrates how the focus of theurgical practices shifted from the Underworld to the heavens. “The goal of the theurgist is not unlike that of the prisoner in the cave—to escape the sensible world of duality and penetrate the realm of ultimate, unitive reality above,” Newman says.4

I was fascinated to learn that the Sicilian stratovolcano Mount Etna was believed to be an entrance to Hades, and sacrifices to the goddess of the Underworld were thrown into the mouth of this fiery cauldron. According to legend, the iatromantis (healer-seer) Empedocles threw himself into the volcano to prove his divinity, and it erupted, vomiting out a single bronze sandal. Through self-immolation, Empedocles achieved henosis (mystical union) with the goddess Hecate. A single bronze sandal is one of her attributes as the Lady of Tartaros in the Papyri Graecae Magicae, and the Greeks associated bronze with the Underworld. This was a profound insight for me because I didn’t know that Hecate was associated with volcanoes, and this explains her fiery epithets. 

Part II explores possible theurgic elements in Homer’s Odyssey and Iliad. In Chapter 6, titled “Porphyry’s On the Cave of the Nymphs,” Newman demonstrates how philosophers often saw Odysseus as a spiritual hero, on a path of return to his celestial abode. For example, he says the Pythagoreans interpreted the song of the sirens to be the music of the celestial spheres, which is so beautiful it has the power to “lift the soul in its theurgic ascent to the Good,”5 and the Neopythagorean philosopher Numenius of Apamea saw “Odysseus as escaping genesis, the realm of ‘becoming,’ symbolized by the waters of Poseidon.”6

I loved this chapter, and the passages about Witch Queen Circe really blew my mind. According to the Neoplatonic philosopher Porphyry of Tyre, Circe symbolizes the cycle of metensomatosis, or reincarnation, in which eternal souls change bodies like clothes. Aiaia, the island over which she rules, is part of the land of the dead. Bewitched by the pleasures of the flesh, Odysseus’s men drink the witch’s brew and are reborn as beasts. Only Odysseus himself, who is on a path of ascension, is immune to her powers. Now that my perspective has been shifted to view the Odyssey as the tale of a hero’s apotheosis, I will never read it the same way again. 

Part III, titled “Theurgic Telestikē,” analyzes the practice of animating cult statues. This section was the most relevant for me because I have written my own rituals to awaken my deity statues in the past and I am looking to incorporate more traditional methods of doing so in order to infuse my rituals with historical authenticity. I also recently wrote a ritual to enliven a scrying mirror for Lilith, because in Jewish folklore she was believed to inhabit mirrors. One passage in particular really resonated with my intention, in which Newman quotes Plotinus, who compared the consecrated cult statue to “a mirror able to catch some image of it.”7 

In order to animate the statue, a sympathetic link is created with “theurgic talismans called synthēmata (tokens) and symbola (symbols),”8 which are similar to the planetary correspondences assigned to plants, animals, and minerals in natural magic. However, there is more to statue vivification than simply following a list of correspondences recognized by the intellect. Rather, the tokens and symbols help the theurgist align with the deity by making their divine essence become conscious, or awakened, within themselves, especially if they have psychoactive properties that alter one’s consciousness. For example, in fragment 224 of the Chaldæan Oracles, the goddess Hecate instructs the theurgist to animate her statue with wild rue, or Syrian rue, an entheogenic plant that the Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder associated with vision, which is still burned today in the Middle East to repel the evil eye.

My devotion to Hecate inspired me to learn more about theurgy because of her exalted status in the Chaldæan Oracles, in which she is referred to as the World Soul, or at least she is according to my copy, translated by Ruth Majercik. Before reading this book, I wasn’t aware that there is conflicting scholarship about whether or not this epithet applies to her, and I was surprised to find that Newman presents the argument that Hecate is not herself the anima mundi, or World Soul, because her position in the Chaldæan hierarchy is too elevated.

“Indeed…in the Oracles, Hecate is said to be the cause of soul—but not soul itself, “Newman says. “Rather, Hecate is acknowledged as a goddess of liminality who exists in the space between two realms, such as she served when acting in the role of psychopomp for Persephone in the Eleusinian mysteries.”9

In an initiatory dream I received over a decade ago, Hecate stabbed me in my right side with her dagger and pomegranate juice flowed from the wound. “You are Persephone,” she said. Several years later, the dream made more sense to me when I read Fragment 51 of The Chaldean Oracles: “Around the hollow of her right flank a great stream of the primordially-generated Soul gushes forth in abundance, totally ensouling light, fire, ether, worlds.”10 If Hecate is so elevated that she transcends the epithet of World Soul, then I wonder if perhaps her lowest aspect, the maiden Persephone, should in fact hold that title.

Theurgy: Theory & Practice is an astounding work that combines shamanism, various schools of Greek philosophy, and theurgical praxis that can be integrated by modern occultists. The many branches of Greek philosophy can be an overwhelming topic to explore, but Newman does an excellent job of diluting the common theurgical elements, and a wealth of information is condensed into under 200 pages. Both modern theurgists and devotees of Hecate will appreciate this work, especially if they are interested in learning more about her significance in the Chaldæan Oracles.

The Royal Path of Shakti, by Daniel Odier

The Royal Path of Shakti: The Erotic and Magical Techniques of Kaula Tantra, by Daniel Odier
Inner Traditions, 9781644117163, 187 pages, July 2023

Daniel Odier has detailed and explained each technique of the Kaula Tantra in his book The Royal Path of Shakti: The Erotic and Magical Techniques of Kaula Tantra.

Odier was born in Geneva and studied fine arts in both Rome and Paris. After working as a music critic for a newspaper, he traveled to India and studied with Kalu Rinpoche for seven years. Almost ten years later, he met the yogini Lalita Devi and received a transmission of Mahamudra and other mystical teachings in the Kaula Tantra Tradition. He presents the teachings in this book with the full permission of Lalita Devi. Odier has shared these teachings all over the world, as well as publishing poetry, critical works, and numerous books on tantra and Eastern mysticism. When not traveling, he resides in Switzerland.

“The problem with seeking enlightenment is that you always come to the point where you think you have it.”1

In his preface, Odier gives a thorough history of tantra and the great masters. With this background as his base teaching, he shares 43 Practices then followed by 24 Patala of the Kaulajnananirnaya Tantra. In addition to a Table of Contents that spells out each practice and patala, each page is earmarked with either the name of the practice or the number of the patala. This makes it very easy to navigate the teachings. He also adds this note about the teachings from his yogini Lalita Devi:

“Each time that I asked her where something was in the Kaula Tantra, she would smile and reply “I am placing it in your heart and that will be your library. Knowledge is not practice and the Matsyendranath took care to conceal the practice so that only he who received the direct transmission could penetrate the mysteries of the twilight language.”2

In reading about the practices, I learned that the chakra system was a little different from the chakras I had been taught in my yoga practice and Reiki training. This system utilized eight chakras, including one on the forehead AND one between the eyebrows. The other difference was the addition of a chakra of the mouth and palate. Throughout the information on the practices, Odier weaves stories of his own initiation into this magical system for life.

One of my favorite practices is “Practice 23: Dietary Practices”. In this chapter, I learned about the interconnectedness of everything and how everything is alive. He speaks of the importance of asking your body what it wants to eat. I also enjoyed “Practice 40: The Yoga of Looking with Your Skin”. I recorded the meditation in that chapter and enjoyed this exploration with the ruby goddess.

After reviewing the practices, I was interested to know what “patala” meant. It translates as “feet,” and refers to the lower regions of the universe: underworld or netherworld. These transmissions bestow sacred knowledge to the student and each one builds on the patala that comes before it. As I was reading the warehouse of knowledge in the second part of the book, I was reminded of A Course in Miracles and how the text starts with simple ideas and builds the knowledge base of the student.

My favorite patala is Patala 7, which relates to “old age and decline.”3 Through a series of meditations over a period of six months, one can transcend age and dying:

“By uniting with Kamakala, one can put an end to old age. Thus, we have explained to you the secret and the characteristics of the being who has changed inwardly.”4

At the end of the book, Odier shares a brilliant conclusion, a glossary of spiritual and mystical terms and a complete index. Each of these helps the reader process the information that he relates. This last sentence summarizes the teachings of Odier. The life of the yogi truly relates to changing oneself from the inside out. In his conclusion, he says this about the Kaula Tantra tradition:

“The yoginis saw the master-disciple relationship as an intense heart-to-heart experience-no wasting of time, no prerequisite purification, no milestones to get beyond. . . This is what this text reveals to us, imbued with the magic of a time freed of all religious conformism.”5

Odier’s writing style is very conversational and easy to read. The patala section is written as a letter or a journal entry that chronicles questions from the student and the teacher’s reply. I really enjoyed this style of writing and found it to be very personal and authentic.

The Royal Path of Shakti would be good for any yoga student, yoga teacher, or anyone who wants to strengthen his relationship with spirit or adopt a spiritual practice. I can see myself starting the new year or a new month by rereading the book, in a “practice a day” systematic approach.

The Magic of the Orphic Hymns, by Tamra Lucid and Ronnie Pontiac

The Magic of the Orphic Hymns: A New Translation for the Modern Mystic, by Tamra Lucid and Ronnie Pontiac
Inner Traditions, 1644117207, 288 pages, August 2023

The mythical musician Orpheus charmed fish, sirens, and weary heroes with his songs while sailing with Jason and the Argonauts in pursuit of the Golden Fleece, but he is best known for his doomed love affair with Eurydice, who died after she was bitten by a snake while fleeing a rapist on their wedding day. Orpheus was so distraught that he descended into the Underworld and convinced Persephone, the Queen of the Dead, to resurrect his wife, on the condition that he not look back while leading her out of Hades.

However, in his eagerness to reunite with her, he couldn’t resist the urge to turn around, and she slipped away from him once again. Upon returning to the surface without his beloved wife, he founded the mystery religion that bears his name and the maenads tore him apart, mirroring the dismemberment of Dionysus by the Titans. A collection of 87 religious poems, known as the Orphic Hymns, were attributed to this cult hero, though the true origin and authorship of them is shrouded in mystery. 

In The Magic of the Orphic Hymns: A New Translation for the Modern Mystic, co-authors Tamra Lucid and Ronnie Pontiac revitalize the traditional hymns with fresh new poetic renderings in contemporary English. Like Orpheus, the husband and wife duo are mystical musicians themselves, who founded the experimental rock band Lucid Nation. Both were initiated into the underground music and occult scene of Los Angeles, and Pontiac apprenticed under the metaphysical scholar Manly Palmer Hall. Lucid wrote about their experiences in Making the Ordinary Extraordinary: My Seven Years in Occult Los Angeles with Manly Palmer Hall (2021).

The authors first began working with the hymns in the 1980s, when Pontiac assisted members of Hall’s Philosophical Research Society with a republication of Thomas Taylor’s eighteenth-century translation titled The Mystical Hymns of Orpheus. Pontiac, who was studying ancient Greek in college at the time, was inspired to write his own translation, and Lucid researched the ritual correspondences. Together, they produced the poetic renditions of the traditional hymns contained within this book. 

My go-to translation for the past decade has been The Orphic Hymns by Apostolos N. Athanassakis (2013), which is an excellent scholarly resource with extensive footnotes. I was drawn to Lucid and Pontiac’s more flexible poetic interpretations because I’m always looking for beautiful prayers to incorporate into my personal rituals and I thought this book might move me to craft my own hymns as well. However, The Magic of the Orphic Hymns is more than just a divinely inspired poetry collection, and I was impressed by the comprehensive historical background information the authors provide. 

In the first half of the book, Lucid and Pontiac explore the origins of Orphism from a well-researched, scholarly perspective, and the influence of Orpheus, “the first rock star,”1 on great minds throughout history. Through their engaging narrative voices, they have a knack for making what might otherwise be dry history entertaining, and this work is peppered with fascinating anecdotes about philosophers and Roman emperors. The far-reaching spiritual influence of Orphism interested me the most, and I was intrigued to learn that the early Christians saw Orpheus’s underworld journey to rescue his beloved wife as mirroring Christ’s harrowing of hell and the liberation of the virtuous souls trapped there.2 

Defining the religion of Orphism is tricky, and scholars have debated if it even existed at all.

“Orphic may have been a catch-all phrase in ancient Greece for anything neither Homeric nor Olympian,” writes Lucid and Pontiac. “The phrase could be a generic category for a cluster of related interests, like New Age in our own culture.”3

According to the Neoplatonist philosopher Olympiodorus, Orphics believed that human beings were created when Zeus struck the Titans by lightning after they cannibalized Dionysus. Humanity is therefore like an electrified Frankenstein monster composed of heavenly Dionysian spirit and corrupt Titanic flesh. Through the cycle of reincarnation, the Orphics supposedly taught that humans could purge themselves of their Titanic impurities over the course of multiple lifetimes and liberate their Dionysian divinity.

Followers of the Orphic mysteries led austere lives and restricted their diets by abstaining from meat and beans. However, authors Lucid and Pontiac state that Olympiodorus is the only source for the Titanic origin myth of humanity being Orphic and the Italian scholar Domenico Comparetti concluded that the Orphics believed in reincarnation based on his writings, so this is an educated guess supported by scant evidence. 4

Lucid and Pontiac’s exploration of Orpheus’s wife in a chapter titled, “The Evolution of Eurydice” was especially compelling to me. In the earliest sources, Eurydice is nameless, faceless, and voiceless. She is a shadow projection of Orpheus’s mourning and yearning to possess the woman who was stolen from him by death. She is an ancient victim of the male gaze, doomed to serve as muse for a famous musician while having no true identity of her own. 

Her elusive character acquired more substance in retellings. I was fascinated to learn that a name for Eurydice in some early versions of the myth was Agriope, which means “Wild-Eyed.”5 This caught my attention because Agriope is also an epithet for Hekate, the goddess of ghosts and witchcraft, in her capacity as leader of the restless dead. Under the name Agriope, Orpheus’s wife appears to be a hungry ghost sent by the Queen of the Underworld to haunt him. 

The authors suggest that Eurydice, whose name means “Wide Justice,”6 sounds more like an epithet for the goddess Persephone in her role as judge of souls than the name of a mortal wife. I’m inclined to agree, because I find the parallels between Persephone and Eurydice to be striking. Eurydice died of a snake bite after a shepherd or satyr attempted to rape her on the day of her wedding to Orpheus, and according to the Orphic Hymn to Persephone, Zeus raped Persephone in the form of a serpent. The fruit of that unspeakable union was Dionysus. Through her untimely death, Eurydice was, in a sense, abducted by Hades, and through Orpheus’s descent into the Underworld, he was reborn as a Dionysian mystic.

Persephone herself is a key figure in the myth for taking pity upon Orpheus and permitting Eurydice’s return to the land of the living, on the condition that he not look back, lest he lose her forever. Yet, despite this warning, he could not resist the urge to do so. In medieval times, Orpheus’s backward glance “was a symbol of human weakness, illustrating the way even the most dedicated among us, the holiest, cannot escape those moments of desire for material pleasures.”7

Carl Jung interpreted Orpheus’s “backward glance” as “a symbol of individuation and the achievement of autonomy.”8 Orpheus was fated to lose the love of his life so he would become the renowned mystic and musician he was destined to be. Sometimes the obligations of a relationship can limit one’s ability to pursue the soul’s true calling, and so Orpheus’s romantic hindrance was removed by the force of death, while simultaneously being used as a guiding light to propel him forward.

This poignant insight resonated deeply with me because I have observed in my own life that love lost or unrequited can be a powerful catalyst for personal growth and transformation. Limerence, or romantic obsession for someone unattainable, can serve a higher purpose when it is sublimated into artistic and spiritual pursuits. When I think back on it, it seems that heartbreak was the catalyst for every major breakthrough and turning point in my life, as if the Universe was redirecting me towards something greater, even though I felt devastated at the time. 

The second half of this book contains the “Orphic Charms and the Sacred Songs of Orpheus.” The authors have taken creative liberties with their loose translations of the Orphic Hymns, creating “a poetic work, not a scholarly translation.”9

The charms consist of the cryptic messages that were inscribed on the Orphic golden leaves, which were buried with the deceased as “passwords for the dead, messages to avert forgetfulness.”10 My favorite charm tells the departed initiate what words they must speak to the guardians of the lake of memory in order to drink from it:

“I am a child of earth/and of starry heaven,/but my race is of heaven./This you know./I am parched/and perishing./Give me cold water/from the lake of memory.”11

One of my favorite hymns is addressed to Hermes, who is cleverly described with homophones as the “lover of prophets/and profits”.12 I also adore the hymn to Persephone, in which she is honored as “the star/at the core of the apple.”13 The beautiful aquatic imagery of “The Nereids” reminds me of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale “The Little Mermaid”: “Daughters of Nereus,/you live in the golden castle/at the bottom of the sea./Your steeds are Tritons,/the mermen with wings./You delight in the creatures/of the billowing brine.”14

The Magic of the Orphic Hymns is a poetic odyssey through the history and mystery of Orphism that makes the traditional hymns more accessible to contemporary mystics by rendering them in vivid modern English. Anyone who is curious about the Orphic tradition or interested in revitalizing the hymns in their personal practice will benefit from reading this book. These pages want to be perfumed in incense and awakened with whispered incantations.

Essential Oils Oracle Cards, by Dennis Mock

Essential Oils Oracle Cards: Wisdom and Guidance from 40 Healing Plants, by Dennis Moeck with illustrations by Ulrike Annyma Kern
Inner Traditions, 9781644118795, 40 cards, 15 pages, September 2023

As someone who has been utilizing essential oils in my life for more than fifteen years, I am excited to see an oracle deck devoted to this subject. Essential Oils Oracle Cards: Wisdom and Guidance from 40 Healing Plants by Dennis Moeck with illustrations by Ulrike Annyma Kern is both beautiful and educational. The wisdom Moeck shares about the plants is equally matched by the guidance he imparts for each card. 

Moeck has studied aromatherapy, crystals, psychology, shamanism, ayurveda, and trauma therapy. His coaching practice focuses on consciousness and inner journeys through online courses, workshops, and retreats. Moeck has worked with essential oils for decades. He lives in Germany.

Kern is not only an artist, she is also an author and spiritual teacher. She has created an oracle deck based on archangels and written several books, one of which has been translated into English and features the chakra system.  She also lives in Germany.

These cards are very easy to use, and I decided to do a card pull right away. I asked the question: “What do I need to know in order to utilize the power of the Solar Eclipse?”

After shuffling the cards and fanning them out, I drew the card for Lemon.

“The time for cleansing and clarity has come.Refreshed and reinvigorated, you can rediscover your original inner light, a light that will guide you to the truth in this light. … the spirit of women is eager to guide you through the realm of shadows where it will kindle light in the rooms of your mind.”1

What a great message for me, for eclipse season! On the flip side of the card, I read additional guidance that says that lemon will help me to focus on what is essential, fresh, and pure. It also says that lemon aids the solar plexus chakra and that its scent can help me to celebrate life.

The affirmation reads:

“I am ready to open myself to life unconditionally and to welcome what I am.”2

The guidebook suggested that I “connect with the soul of the plant and tell it what is currently on your mind . . . .  Imagine that you are integrating with the energy of the healing plant soul and look back on yourself. . . . What advice do you give yourself?”3

Moeck advises the card reader to work with the energy of the card for 21 days, as well as suggesting they diffuse the essential oil or place the oil on pulse points or the heart space. I had some lemon essential oil on hand, so I added it to my diffuser. With the guidance, the image of the lemon plant, and the essential oil wafting through my space, I feel that I was able to integrate the wisdom more easily from the card.

Next, I wanted to reach out to clients and friends and pulled cards for 18 people. The feedback I received is overwhelmingly positive for each of the essential oils and messages shared. Here is what one friend has to say about her card, which was Patchouli:

“PJ drew the Patchouli card for me. From the very first line, I knew this was spot on and PJ had connected with my spirit. This was a week of worldwide turmoil with a personal connection, a relationship dilemma within my family, and a deeper, more personal emotional process that did indeed leave a “crack in my soul.” All areas of my life are in need of soul recognition and healing. Interestingly, Patchouli’s scent is highly obnoxious to me and this really surprised me. The plant, however, challenges me to view it, as well as the events in my life, with a new perspective and allow for the body/soul connection to do its necessary work.”  -BB in Dallas

A client who is currently struggling with where she is in life right now has this to say about her card, which was Frankincense:

“Thanks, PJ! The first paragraph of the second side mentioned something about recognizing My Divine Being. I needed the reminder.” – ST in Austin

Finally, a client with the card Cedarwood, shared that she LIVES on Cedarwood Drive! She also added this feedback regarding her guidance:

“I love the message of going forward playfully and trusting the divine timing of things. Less serious. Play, Relax and Trust the process Thank you so much. This resonates so much.” -HC in Boston

These cards are so very easy to use and share with clients.  The size of the cards and quality of the card stock work well and will last through many readings. The beautiful illustrations add to the message, without being overbearing or cryptic.  I really like this aspect.

In addition to the basic message about the history of the use of the plant and essential oil on Side A, the additional information on Side B adds even more guidance.  Moeck shares an affirmation, additional wisdom, a “Top Tip”, key words, and the chakra for which the oil might best be used.

The short guidebook is also very informative and helpful.  It shares an introduction, various ways to use the cards, how to phrase your question, and ways to read the cards. Moeck also shares ways to work with essential oils, including important safety notes. He also offers a way to close a card reading:

“Return to your own self, breathe deeply, absorb the advice, and then take a couple of minutes to reflect on it. Are there any other issues where the soul of the plant can deliver support? In this way, by changing roles and switching places with a plant, however many times it takes, you can make a connection and seek the plant’s advice.”4

Essential Oils Oracle Cards is good for  readers of all skill levels.  It is easy to use and shares information and guidance that applies on many levels. People who love working with essential oils will benefit greatly from the information in this deck. For those new to essential oils, this deck will be a great introduction to essential oils and their uses. I plan to use the deck to close out client readings when I feel led to refer to essential oils.

Undreaming Wetiko, by Paul Levy

Undreaming Wetiko: Breaking the Spell of the Nightmare Mind-Virus, by Paul Levy
Inner Traditions, 1644115662, 416 pages, May 2023

In the modern (mis)Information Age, a collective madness has possessed the mob through mainstream media. “Fake news,” conspiracy theories, and pernicious lies spread like wildfire across the internet, confusing the masses. Identity politics and outrage culture further divides people and eats them alive. Author Paul Levy calls this psychic disease that has infected humanity wetiko (pronounced “wet-tee-ko”), named after an evil cannibalistic spirit in Native American mythology.1

Levy’s vision of wetiko is informed by the integration of Buddhism, Jungian psychology, Gnosticism, western politics, and his personal traumatic experiences with “archetypal evil,” which manifested in his abusive father. By creatively appropriating the name wetiko, Levy found a potent way to personify the cross-cultural phenomenon of psychic blindness wreaking havoc on humanity.

In 1981, Levy had a shamanic initiation and spiritual awakening that was catalyzed by the trauma of abuse, during which he was hospitalized multiple times and misdiagnosed with manic depression (now known as bipolar disorder). Being institutionalized only traumatized him further, and these experiences made him conscious of the dreamlike nature of reality, opening his eyes to the psychospiritual illness of wetiko through firsthand experience. Levy broke free of the abusive psychiatric establishment and became an art teacher and wounded healer, assisting others in spiritual awakening as the founder of the Awaken in the Dream community, based in Portland, Oregon.

Levy has been writing about wetiko for more than twenty years, and has created his own acronyms for describing this elusive phenomenon. In his first book on the subject, titled The Madness of George W. Bush: A Reflection of Our Collective Psychosis (2006), he referred to what he would later call wetiko as “malignant egophrenia, or ME disease,” because it clouds one’s self-perception, or identity.2 Levy expanded upon these insights and adopted the name wetiko in Dispelling Wetiko: Breaking the Curse of Evil (2013) and Wetiko: Healing the Mind-Virus that Plagues our World (2021). He also detailed his personal traumatic experiences in Awakened by Darkness: When Evil Becomes Your Father (2015).

In his sixth and latest book, Undreaming Wetiko: Breaking the Spell of the Nightmare Mind-Virus, Levy says that “finding the name for what is afflicting us is like a deliverance from a nightmare,”3 and “the cure for wetiko is to see it.”4 Naming this phenomenon objectifies it, calling it out into the open so that it can no longer hide in the shadows.

Levy asserts that wetiko is highly adaptive and has thrived on the internet as a “techno-virus.” 5 I was instantly hooked on this book because it gives a name for a psychic contagion I have observed online. I unplugged from the matrix of social media about a year ago and one of the main reasons I deleted all of my accounts was to protect my mind from the sensory overload of advertisements and other people’s opinions. I felt like I was being psychically drained every time I logged in, so learning about the “mind-virus” spread by the wetiko spirit objectified the overall bad vibes I was sensing when I was on socials.

Levy believes the best cure for this collective mental illness is to remove the mask of forged identity and get in touch with our true selves. Creative self-expression helps us connect with our authenticity. Like a stagnant pool of water mirroring a cloud of blood-sucking mosquitoes, the rise of social media and online influencers has given wetiko an internet breeding ground to further brainwash, confuse, and distort the perceptions of the masses, encouraging escapism through social media addiction and comparison to others instead of turning us within to seek the truth of who we are as individuals. Social media encourages identification with a false, filtered public persona, which is reinforced by how many likes people receive on their vacation pictures and selfies. Social media touches people’s deepest insecurities and exploits them.

We can’t connect with our authenticity if we hide behind filters and deny the flaws, secret pain, and traumas of our shadow selves. I believe the New Age Movement has also been hijacked by wetiko, because there is a toxic denial of negativity in this popular spiritual community in favor of love, light, and positive vibes only! which encourages complete denial and repression of the shadow aspect of the psyche. This kind of delusional spiritual bypassing and willful blindness gives wetiko a safe space to flourish and spread like cancer.

Wetiko is nourished by darkness, and thrives in our unconscious blind spots. Willful ignorance and denial makes us complicit in its devious workings. When we do so, Levy claims we are conspiring in the murder of Christ, crucifying the living light within. Embodying the salvific light of truth is the only thing that can restore our sight and liberate us.6

In Undreaming Wetiko, Levy reveals that this mind-virus originates and proliferates through abuse. Unresolved ancestral trauma, family curses, and child abuse are the gnarled poisonous roots of wetiko that burrow deep within our subconscious minds. When we incarnate into our family line, we inherit and unconsciously channel the collective ancestral trauma, giving it an opportunity for liberation through physical manifestation.

“Like a toxic entity,” Levy says, “this unprocessed trauma becomes an ancestral spirit that penetrates and insinuates itself into the core of the child’s being.” 7

This passage struck me as particularly illuminating, as it implies that part of our life purpose is to heal the unresolved ancestral trauma that was imprinted upon us at birth. This means it may manifest in our lives in such a way that we are forced to recognize and consciously work through it in order to fully process and resolve it. However, if we are unconscious and sleepwalking through life, we may become possessed by this spirit of ancestral trauma and recreate the abuse, thus perpetuating the cycle.

I resonated deeply with this section because I feel like I am alchemizing at least three generations of trauma through my maternal bloodline: the ancestral trauma my mother experienced and passed down to me, my personal trauma, and what I unconsciously projected onto my own children because of my unhealed wounds and life challenges.

“When parents repress their unconscious and do not responsibly do their inner work,” Levy says, “it radiates out into the family environment and infects the children, who will be compelled to live out the repressed, unconscious, unlived lives of the parents.”8

This psychic projection of unresolved trauma and emotional issues is what causes multigenerational family curses.

It’s easy to place blame on an abusive or neglectful parent, but I feel it’s important to recognize that they may have been overwhelmed by the radioactive psychic material they were attempting to transmute, and passed some of it down because it was simply too much for one person to handle. I believe that was the case with my own mother, who confided in me about her intense trauma, and believed she had broken the family curse over me in the name of Jesus. However, when she placed her palm upon the crown of my head and spoke in tongues, I felt the weight of that curse, and I believe my mother inadvertently transferred the burden of whatever she had repressed and denied onto me.

There is, however, hope. According to Levy, as we heal ourselves, we heal our entire family line. This is very reassuring to me, because I fear it’s too late to mend any damage I may have caused my own children while my wounded self was raising them, but this indicates that any private healing work I do now will benefit everyone in my family line, both past and future. Time is nonlinear, and as multidimensional spiritual beings, our healing work radiates throughout time and space, benefiting not only our direct lineages, but also the entirety of the human race.
Wetiko works through our blind spots. To see them, we have to be honest with ourselves about whether or not we are acting out or condoning the abusive behavior we are trying to heal within ourselves. This is what makes healing work so difficult. By being touched by abuse, we have absorbed and internalized it, and it can unconsciously seek expression through us.

So we have to be truthful with ourselves about how the abuse we have experienced is manipulating our own behavior and worldview. This can be really challenging because no one wants to identify with something that harmed them, and no one likes to admit they have the potential to cause the same harm to others. In fact, according to Levy, it’s important to not identify with it, which can cause feelings of despair and thwart the healing process. A delicate balance must be struck between owning our shadow impulses and not being defined by them.

Truth-tellers are one of the greatest threats to wetiko. When we share our emotionally-charged survival stories, and other people become angry and attack us, they are speaking for wetiko by reenacting the very abuse we are shedding light upon. Wetiko wants to silence us, and becomes embodied through our unhealed attackers, who attempt to shut us down and bully us when we speak our truth.

This can be re-traumatizing for us, but it can also be an opportunity to recognize that our words have deeply touched their own unintegrated and unconscious wounds, and we should not take their projections personally. Knowing that their perceptions of us are being clouded by their own unconscious wounding, which has been triggered, or re-activated, by our stories, we can deflect their projections and be more firmly grounded in our own truth.

Undreaming Wetiko is an essential text for those who are deep-diving into shadow work and healing ancestral trauma. I feel it validated a lot of my intuitive realizations about family curses and intensified my personal healing work by compelling me to journal more about my traumatic experiences. Levy’s insights have also helped me to identify the shadow projections I have absorbed from my parents that are not a part of my authentic self. I will likely reread this book in the future because there is a lot of excellent information that may require additional readings to fully metabolize. For those who are open and receptive to its teachings, Undreaming Wetiko is a phenomenal book that will assist in transformative healing breakthroughs and awaken the divine light within.

Celtic Healing Oracle, by Rosemarie Anderson

Celtic Healing Oracle, by Rosemarie Anderson and illustrated by Susan Dorf
Inner Traditions, 9781644114964, 165 pages, 64 cards, January 2023

An interesting combination of both myth and tradition, the Celtic Healing Oracle card deck by Rosemarie Anderson is filled with healing information and guidance.

Anderson has been studying Celtic traditions since the late 1970’s.  She is an author, poet, professor emerita of psychology, Episcopal priest, and award-winning researcher. She is the author of six books, including The Divine Feminine Tao Te Ching, Transforming Self & Others Through Research, and Celtic Oracles: A New System for Spiritual Growth and Divination. She has lived in many different countries around the world, including South Korea, Japan, Germany, Italy, and Ireland. She now lives in Oregon.

The artwork for the cards was created with an art knife and black paper by the artist Susan Dorf. She created the images to represent contemporary block prints.  She is well known for her sketches, paintings and prints, as well as workshops in painting and journaling in several countries.  She currently lives in Mexico.

Anderson traces her journey to create these cards to a time almost forty years ago when she lived in Germany.  Here she visited the forests and woodland creatures and became aware of the Celts and their belief in the interconnectedness of life. Later, she would live in Ireland, Wales, and Scotland and learn more about the Celts and their rich traditions.

The Celts divined answers to life’s questions from the animals, plants, wind, and seasons. Trees and animals had particular knowledge of all things – past, present and future.

In addition to the history of the Celts and their belief systems, Anderson includes tips on how to best use and interpret the cards. For example, she speaks about what to do if the same card shows up time and again:

“If so, watch for that symbol mirroring many aspects of your life. A basic issue, represented by one or more related symbols, may have overriding significance in your life at this time period. For example, you might repeatedly cast one or several manifestations of the goddess in response to a variety of questions, signifying integration of certain of her aspects.”1

Anderson also includes several different spreads for use with the cards, including the Spiritual Development Spread. This spread features six cards and a variety of questions that Anderson bases on her own use of oracle systems.

I did a reading for myself with this spread and received a succinct answer to a question that I had been pondering for quite some time.  The message of the six cards could be distilled into a guidance that assured me that I had all of the tools within me to heal old wounds and take decisive action in future endeavors.

Next, I did a one-card reading for each of the women attending my Sunday Coffee & Cards event on Zoom. For one woman, I drew the Raven card, which speaks of truth-telling and prophecy.  She related that the message really resonated, including the portion that said:

“Your present situation may require speaking the truth to clear the way for newness and avoid misunderstandings. Telling the truth is akin to prophecy. It cleans the eye of the heart.”2

For another woman, I drew the Ram-Horned Snake/Shape-shifting card.  She related that over this past summer she took a month-long trip to her home state and enjoyed carefree travel plans. She related:

“This ties into my summer so much!  Shape-shifting or going with the flow as events present themselves.  Don’t wait!  I’ve had so many messages from animals and plants lately, too.  Thank you for this confirmation.”

Although the cards do not appear to be arranged in any particular order, Anderson numbers the cards.  This tool makes it easy to find the guidance in the book, which also features a Table of Contents. To break up the black and white art and type in the guidebook, Dorf highlights the name of each card in green and also uses red type for section titles. Anderson includes a bit of history for each card in a section of invocation.  Then, she features a section called “If you drew this card,” where she shares guidance and messages. 

The invocation section title is really helpful, as it gives a word or two that contains the overall energy of the card.  For example, with my own six-card reading, I received these words of encouragement:

Power – Change – Selfless Action – Wholeness – Honor – Decisive Action

The cards are printed on a nice card stock and will hold up nicely to repeated use.  Although the cards are printed with a glossy finish, they do not show fingerprints. The back of the cards is printed in green with a black Celtic symbol, while the front of the cards is black and white with tiny green leaves as accents.  The deck is a standard oracle card size with its 3.5 X 5 dimensions.

My favorite card in this deck is #12 Mare – Healing the Wounds of Abandonment and Loss of Trust.  Perhaps because I drew this card in the spread where I was asking for clarity, this card really spoke to me of the power of healing the heart so you can be more open and free.  

This deck would be good for any level of oracle or tarot reader.  The way the guidebook is presented, and the simple design of the cards makes it easy for any reader to utilize.  I can see myself adding a one card reading to my intuitive readings or coaching sessions for clients.  The guidance is easy to understand and the additional information on Celtic history and traditions enriches the messages. 

Anderson also includes a complete “Selected Celtic Bibliography” for those who might want to further investigate Celtic traditions.

In Anderson’s own words, the Celtic Healing Oracle cards provide guidance from a rich symbology:

“Whether you choose a card from the card deck to answer a specific question or create a card spread from the cards, the symbols provide a practical and spiritual perspective into the hidden forces within your nature and present circumstances.”3

I’ll be looking forward to working with this deck in the coming months to learn more about myself, in light of the nature symbols and Celtic traditions.

Tales & Legends of the Devil, by Claude and Corrinne Lecouteux

Tales & Legends of the Devil: The Many Guises of the Primal Shapeshifter, by Claude and Corinne Lecouteux
Inner Traditions, 1644116855, 240 pages, August 2023

The Devil captured the medieval imagination with a variety of epithets, such as “Lucifer,” “the Evil One,” “the Black Tempter,” “the Horned One,” “Beelzebub, the master of the devils,” and “Old Eric” or “Gamle Erik,” as he is known in Denmark. Being a more nuanced character than the theological Satan, the folkloric Devil was often depicted as a clever trickster who was morally ambiguous rather than evil, occasionally even doing good deeds, such as freeing a prisoner or helping someone in need, for a price.1

Tales & Legends of the Devil: The Many Guises of the Primal Shapeshifter is a collection of fifty-two medieval folktales from twenty European countries, compiled by medieval scholar Claude Lecouteux and his wife, co-author and translator Corinne Lecouteux. Many of these stories begin with the classic fairy tale opening “Once upon a time,” setting the stage for imaginal realms to encroach on reality through entertaining diabolical delusions.

In this treasury of infernal tales, the folkloric Devil is an elusive entity whose most defining characteristic is his ability to shapeshift. He can assume whatever form he pleases, appearing in the guise of a seductive woman or a handsome young suitor, a redhead, a hunter of souls, a man clad in the black cassock of a priest, or in the shape of an animal, often a black one, such as a goat, dog, cat, toad, serpent, crow, or wolf. When he appears in humanoid form, he often has horns and hobbles with a limp, and the cloven hooves peeking out from underneath his clothes give him away before he vanishes in a puff of smoke.

The Devil is a portmanteau figure whose quicksilver nature encompasses a myriad of mythical beings demoted by Christianity, such as gods, sorcerers, fairies, and nature spirits.2 This is often made clear when a folktale describes an entity as a devil rather than the Devil. In a Bulgarian tale titled How the Devil Recognized a Flea Skin, “a devil sprang out of the sea” and “changed into a man” in order to wed a princess.3 After the wedding, “he dragged her with him into the sea,” revealing his true identity as a “merman.”4 Stories like this no doubt evolved from pagan fairy lore about mortals being abducted by supernatural beings and carried away to otherworldly realms. These devils are also mortal, and can be outwitted or killed by clever human beings.

In many of these stories, the Devil abducts women and takes them as brides, bringing to mind the classical myth of the rape of Persephone. The Devil in the guise of a bridegroom feels like a cross between the fairy tale serial killer Bluebeard and the Greek god Hades. In one tale, a Persephone-like maiden picks a radish that drags her down into the Underworld to marry the Devil. In another, the Devil carries away a princess on a winged horse, and guards the multiple wives he has imprisoned in hell in the form of a dragon.

Some of these stories have recurring themes and complement each other with nearly identical endings. A tale from Switzerland titled The Devil for a Brother-in-Law and a longer story from Denmark called The Black School both conclude with the devil giving a young man who has served as his apprentice in the black arts a limitless coin purse under the condition that he stay in an inn and not groom or bathe for seven years. The young man’s nails grow into claws and his hairy, demonic appearance is so shameful that he is too embarrassed to leave his room. While in this disheveled and animal-like state, the man uses his diabolical wealth to aid the poor from behind closed doors. During the sixth year, he agrees to help a man who has gambled away his fortune pay his debts in exchange for the hand of one of his three beautiful daughters in marriage. The two eldest daughters are so disgusted by their benefactor’s foul odor and bestial appearance that they reject him outright. Although the youngest is also horrified by him, she is the most virtuous and agrees to marry him out of filial piety. After the seven years have ended, the beast cleans up and transforms into a handsome young man, much to his fiancée’s relief. Her older sisters, who had spurned him, commit suicide out of jealousy and the devil is delighted to have gained two wives of his own out of the bargain by collecting their souls.

In my favorite story, The Devil in the Cask Spigot, which comes from Transylvania, Romania, a princess evades marriage by out-dancing potential suitors to death. She meets her match in a devil, who forces her to dance with him until she faints. Then he curses the whole kingdom by turning everyone to stone. A thousand years later, a young man chances upon the overgrown ruins of the castle. A strange imp falls out of the chimney and tells the intruder that he is “the devil and the master of this castle,”5 and that his guest must fight him to the death in order to stay the night. The young man says he is too tired for a duel and asks to postpone it until the next day.

The devil agrees to advance his hospitality if they will have a drinking contest that night instead of a fight to the death tomorrow. The man agrees, and outsmarts the devil by trapping him in a wine cask. The kingdom is restored to life and the young man is betrothed to the princess as a reward for delivering her kingdom from the curse. The last line struck me as pure genius: “The young husband never gave a second thought to the fact that he had left his own time to travel one thousand years into the past.”6 Up until that point, the thousand year difference between his culture and theirs is not addressed, but that one line stimulated my imagination. A common motif in fairy tales is the timeless quality of fairyland, and I wondered if he had wandered through some sort of magic portal or temporal rift and had actually traveled back in time.

Tales & Legends of the Devil is a literary treasure trove glittering with fairy gold that will be cherished by anyone with an interest in European folktales and medieval lore. Creative writers may be inspired to craft their own fairy tales featuring devils, and practitioners of traditional witchcraft who honor the Devil as the sire of witches will appreciate the insights these tales offer about the mysterious nature of the Horned One. Whatever allure the Devil has for the reader, the beguiling schemes and mischief of this ultimate antihero are sure to entertain.

Mysteries of the Far North, by Jacques Privat

Mysteries of the Far North: The Secret History of the Vikings in Greenland and North America, by Jacques Privat
Inner Traditions, 164411447X, 456 pages, March 2023

Mysteries of the Far North: The Secret History of the Vikings in Greenland and North America by Jacques Privat (translated by Jon E. Graham) is a captivating and thought-provoking book that breaks new ground in the exploration of the history of the Scandinavian Arctic, particularly Greenland. Privat’s dedication to dispelling isolationist theories and shedding light on the complexities of the Arctic’s past is commendable. This comprehensive and well-researched work challenges long-held assumptions and gives readers a fresh and inclusive perspective on the region’s evolution.

The book goes beyond a simple travelogue and delves into the rich history, geography, and challenges faced by Arctic inhabitants. Privat artfully weaves scientific knowledge, historical accounts, and personal anecdotes together to create a well-rounded and informative narrative. The journey begins with the remarkable dominance of the Inuit people in the Arctic and the existence of a thriving Scandinavian colony in Greenland during the Middle Ages. Contrary to popular belief, Greenland was not an isolated outpost but a frequently visited region by sailors, hunters, and European expeditions long before Columbus’s famous voyages.

Much of the book explores the dynamic relationship between the Church and Scandinavian colonists in Greenland. Privat skillfully navigates the positive and negative effects of the Church’s influence, including disputes that led to the departure of some colonists. The book paints a nuanced picture of the interactions between the Inuit and Scandinavian communities, revealing evidence of fairly good relations and potential intercultural blending.

What sets Mysteries of the Far North apart is its incorporation of European sources, particularly early European maps, to unveil the significant presence of various European nations in the Arctic. This challenges the traditional view of Scandinavian dominance and provides a more comprehensive understanding of Arctic trade and exploration.

The book’s concluding chapters are particularly intriguing, offering compelling theories about the disappearance of the Scandinavian colonists, including the possibility of Portuguese involvement and the impact of the Treaty of Tordesillas. Moreover, the book raises questions about Celtic cultural elements in Greenland and the potential influence of Irish monks who arrived before Norse colonization.

Throughout the book, Privat draws attention to the linguistic evolution of the name “Greenland” and highlights its significance in understanding the historical context. Extensive archaeological work further bolsters the arguments, bringing the past to life and adding depth to the narrative.

Privat’s writing style is rich and immersive, effortlessly transporting readers to the frozen realms of the Arctic. His vivid descriptions of vast glaciers, towering icebergs, and the mesmerizing Northern Lights make one feel as though they are experiencing the chilling Arctic winds and serene landscapes firsthand.

An outstanding aspect of Mysteries of the Far North is its insightful portrayal of the Arctic’s indigenous cultures. Privat pays homage to the wisdom and resilience of the native peoples who have thrived in harmony with the Arctic environment for generations. Their traditions, myths, and ways of life add depth to the book, fostering a profound appreciation for the Far North’s cultural diversity.

This book is a valuable resource for researchers, scholars, and history enthusiasts seeking to explore the untold complexities of the Arctic and its interactions with different cultures. Mysteries of the Far North celebrates the Arctic’s natural and cultural wonders and serves as a poignant reminder of the urgent need to protect this fragile ecosystem. Privat’s eloquence emphasizes the importance of preserving the Arctic and its unique biodiversity for the well-being of future generations.

In conclusion, Mysteries of the Far North is a compelling and groundbreaking read that challenges assumptions and invites readers to embark on an enlightening journey through the hidden intricacies of the Scandinavian Arctic. Privat’s profound knowledge and passion for the region shine through every page, providing a fresh perspective on the region’s history and serving as an excellent contribution to Arctic studies. This book is a true gem for anyone fascinated by the wonders of the Far North. It is sure to leave readers with a deep appreciation for the Arctic’s mysteries and a heightened sense of responsibility toward its preservation.

The Hermetic Marriage of Art and Alchemy, by Marlene Seven Bremner

The Hermetic Marriage of Art and Alchemy: Imagination, Creativity, and the Great Work, by Marlene Seven Bremner
Inner Traditions, 1644112906, 376 pages, June 2023

Last summer, as I was browsing a used book store in Rhode Island, I came across the book Surrealism and the Occult by Nadia Choucha. Instantly, I knew this book was right up my alley, and I spent the  next month reading about the influence of magical ideas in the work of Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso, Max Ernst, Lenora Carrington, Austin Osman Spare, and more. This was my introduction into how symbolism in western occultism, especially alchemy, became visual metaphors for surrealists to explore the unconscious realm.

I began to wonder how I might draw upon alchemy to further my own creative process, but life happened, and my desire to explore this was put on the back burner. Then with quite cyclic timing, The Hermetic Marriage of Art and Alchemy: Imagination, Creativity, and the Great Work by Marlene Seven Bremner was released a year later this June – once again my summer musings have been guided towards the alchemical process of creativity!

And let me tell you, this book is hefty. Not just in a physical sense with its hardcover, but also in details, imagery, and energetic presence. It is very clear that Bremner has a deep reverence for the alchemical process, as well as personal experience of using creative outlets alchemically. It’s worth reading her artist statement before diving into this book to better understand her influences and motivations for writing this book. You may also want to reference her previously published book Hermetic Philosophy and Creative Alchemy: The Emerald Tablet, the Corpus Hermeticum, and the Journey through the Seven Spheres too for more insight into the Hermetic tradition, though it’s definitely not needed to delve into this book.

Through paying homages to the imagination, Bremner inspires readers to undertake their own magnum opus. She teaches the readers how to bridge the conscious and unconscious in order to generate unity through the creative process and achieve greater self-knowledge.

“All things have their origins in the imagination, through which we commune with the greater story of the cosmos.”1

In “Part I: Alchemy and Imagination”, Bremner provides the rich art history of Romanticism, emergence of symbolism in art, Dada, and Surrealism. She paints a vivid picture for readers, filled with background information on artists and images of their work, to showcase the way “Surrealism and its aim of realizing the union of dream and reality has its roots in the Romantic movement.”2

For each movement, Bremner highlights the major themes (ie. Romanticism – exploration of nature, intensity of emotions; Symbolism – focus on dark dreams, interest in unseen realms, sense of transcendence; Dada – destruction as a form of creation, irrationality, upending convention, sense of nihilism; Surrealism – automatism, liberation of imagination, unity of inner/outer world), and provides a cohesive understanding of how each built upon the next, similar in many ways to the alchemical process an individual undergoes during the process of creation.

This section is pages and pages of art history that studies the magical imagination in play through time, as Bremner references a plethora of artists’ work, along with what was going on historically at each moment in time that inspired and shaped the movements. I found myself often pausing in my reading to look up a poem mentioned or Google the image of a painting, though there are quite a few images within the text too for reference.

From here, “Part II: The Magnum Opus” moves into Bremner teaching the method of creative alchemy, which she explains “goes beyond the creation of fantastic forms and expressions to an intimate relationship between consciousness and matter, presupposing inner transmutation through the creative process, and in turn, a spiritization of art that multiplies in the external world.”3 If you’re on board with breaking down the artistic ego, which Bremner likens to a death, to move through the creative process and achieve transcendent unity, this is where the fun begins! 

“As a result, the art that we create, in harmony with our subjective experience, is both surreal and ideal, depending on where we find ourselves in our personal creative evolution.”4

Bremner guides readers through the four stages of the magnum opus: nigredo, albedo, citrinitas, and rubedo. Along the way, she also goes into great depth about the zodiac sign correspondences to the alchemical process, for instance calcination is associated with Aries, to tease out the multiple layers of creativity in play at each stage. For reference, there are charts and tables that help the reader to visually see the associations. 

What stands out the most about Bremner’s writing, compared to other books on alchemy that I’ve read in the past, is the imagery and descriptiveness of her writing that brings each alchemical stage to life. Her reference to different works, both literary and artistic, and her interpretation of the work helps the reader to see the artist’s intentions, and as a result better understand their own inner imagery waiting to be crafted in the physical realm. 

As an example, in the chapter “Nigredo: Putrefaction and the Generation of Ideas, Bremner discusses works such as The Loss of Faith by Jan Toorop, Melencolia I by Albrecht Durer, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, and Saturn Devouring His Son by Francisco Goya. All the while, she connects these paintings to astrological correspondences and conveys the Hermetic significance of this part of the journey.

There is so much riveting information woven together that I must say that I am hardly scratching the surface of the depths of Bremner’s writing in this description. In all honesty, this has been my favorite book on alchemy that I’ve read yet. Though I will admit it’s a hardy read; I’ve been making my way through it for a few weeks, savoring each section as I go.

“While we can look to the alchemical processes and ordering of the stages as guides, we must realize the individual, personal,and unique nature of our own artistic approach, allowing ourselves to be flexible, creative, innovative, and adaptable. Further, we must remember that at the core of the work and of utmost importance is the transmutation of the egoic self into the transpersonal Self.”5

For those looking to explore more layers of their creative processes, undertaking the arduous process of transforming lead into gold, The Hermetic Marriage of Art and Alchemy is a wonderful resource. This book is rich with insights about how consciousness and matter can merge to usher in new levels of self-awareness and personal insights, along with uniting readers with spiritual energies to reach their highest potential. By following the path that’s been carved by artists of centuries past, Bremner assists readers in undertaking their own creative alchemy.