Archives For Reviews

The phrase “book-loving Pagans” may be redundant. With that in mind, here’s another edition of the Pagan Bookshelf – a roundup of recent releases.

* Dancing with Raven and Bear: A Book of Earth Medicine and Animal Magic by Sonja Grace (Findhorn Press, 144 p.)

The Norse god Odin has his two ravens, Huginn (who represents thought) and Muninn (memory).

Writer, storyteller and healer Sonja Grace, whose heritage includes Norwegian and Native American roots (Hopi, Choctaw and Cherokee), has her own ravens.

“As a child I drew Ravens,” Grace writes in her book Dancing with Raven and Bear: A Book of Earth Medicine and Animal Magic. “I did not understand why these birds were so prominent in my childhood artwork or why they had made their way so deeply into my psyche. It was only around 12 years old that I realized these ancient beings had been speaking to me since I was a baby.”

Raised on the Hopi reservation, Grace also connected to Bear, “the healer who grounds our energy and removes illnesses . . . Bear medicine is powerful.”

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Dancing with Raven and Bear explores parallels between Norse mythology and Native American traditions, but the bulk of the book is Grace’s collection of Native American-inspired healing and wisdom stories – starring, of course, the title characters.

Accompanied by her charming black-and-white drawings, Grace weaves stories of “a girl who sat in meditation for so long her hair grew into a Raven,” Bear’s confession to Raven that “I am feeling the world is not right,” and the woman who grew wings and flew with Raven before crashing to the earth and breaking both wings – because she had been too impatient to properly learn to use her newfound magical gift.

“There are often great consequences to misusing Raven’s extremely powerful medicine,” Grace says.

Indeed, Grace doesn’t flinch from life’s challenges. Along with chapters titled “Love,” “A Safe Place,” and “Warriors of the Earth,” she also has chapters titled “Releasing Pain,” “Mending a Broken Heart,” “The Illusion,” and “Death.” In the latter, she quotes death and grief guru Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. Elsewhere Grace writes of living in New York City after 9/11, where she encountered the spirits of the tragically departed and “spent months helping people to the light.”

Dancing with Raven and Bear also includes practical applications of “Earth medicine,” such as basic energy exercises, dream interpretation, prayers and meditations, and the use of medicinal plants (sage, cedar, sweet grass) for “holding the darkness at bay.”

“Lest we forget, the Earth works in unity with herself,” Grace says. “She is a warehouse of knowledge for all who live upon her. All life has a natural connection with Earth. Everything is in place for us to take care of ourselves. What we need is the awareness of our true nature while living on this planet.”

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* Encounters with Nature Spirits: Co-creating with the Elemental Kingdom by R. Ogilvie Crombie (Findhorn Press, 206 p.)

“Why are humans so stupid?”

So said the faun Kurmos to R. Ogilvie Crombie, or Roc as he was known, the first time the Scotsman encountered the three-foot-tall creature at the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh in 1966.

Roc writes that “I saw with astonishment that it was a faun, the Greek mythological being, half human, half animal. He had a pointed chin and ears and two little horns on his forehead. His shaggy legs ended in cloven hooves . . . .”

That meeting with Kurmos, as Roc relates in Encounters with Nature Spirits: Co-creating with the Elemental Kingdom, was just a stepping stone to a meet-up a month later on the island Iona with the big guy himself – Pan.

That’s literally big. As Roc says of his first meeting, Pan was “at least 25 feet tall” and smiling, though his mood became sad and perturbed as he wistfully complained to the Scotsman that “All human beings are afraid of me.”

But not Roc, a mythologist, psychologist, historian, esotericist, and theater aficionado who lived from 1899 to 1975. Encounters with Nature Spirits relates his meetings with Pan, elves, such elemental beings as sylphs, salamanders and undines, and other nature spirits.

The current edition is a reprint of a book published in 2009 with two different titles: The Gentleman and the Faun: Encounters with Pan and the Elemental Kingdom (in the UK), and Meeting Fairies: My Remarkable Encounters with Nature Spirits (as it was published outside the UK). The book also includes reflections on Roc and his encounters by David Spangler, a spiritual teacher and former co-director of the Findhorn Foundation community in Scotland, rock musician Mike Scott of the Waterboys, and others.

Two decades before Neale Donald Walsch was doing his Conversations with God thing, Roc was having conversations with Pan, which make up the bulk of Encounters. Indeed, a big chunk of Encounters was drawn from Roc’s lecture “Conversations with Pan,” which he delivered to the Findhorn community in the 1970s.

And what do Pan and Roc discuss? Like two mates having a Sunday morning chat on a park bench, they talk about the lower self (ego), the higher self, Hobbits and Tolkien, the “cosmic Christ,” Plato’s cave, the nature of belief, how Pan smells to humans, why Pan “insists on being accepted, in our culture, as the Greek myth depicts him – half human, half animal,” and more.

His encounters, Roc writes, led him to “a greater understanding of why Pan and the nature spirits were choosing to communicate with me. Here was a step towards the reconciliation of Pan and the world of nature spirits with humanity.”

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* The Hidden History of Elves and Dwarfs: Avatars of Invisible Realms by Claude Lecouteux, foreword by Régis Boyer, translated from French by Jon. E Graham (Inner Traditions, 226 p.)

“Where is the time when people placed the broken object in front of their door at dusk in the hopes that the dwarfs would repair it before dawn?” writes Claude Lecouteux, a former professor of medieval literature and civilization at the Sorbonne in Paris.

In his scholarly book The Hidden History of Elves and Dwarfs: Avatars of Invisible Realms, published in French in 2013 and translated into English for the first time this fall, Lecouteux writes that “whoever tries to discover what the dwarfs were will be left hungry for more, and his bewilderment will not be soothed in the slightest . . . there is no recent, reliable work that has been written on the topic of dwarfs.”

Lecouteux seeks to remedy that. His history is divided into three sections: “The Literary Traditions,” “Mythologies and Beliefs,” and “The Evolution of Beliefs and Survivals.”

They include such chapters as “The Medieval Belief in Pygmies and Dwarfs,” “The Dwarf in Western Literature: Romance, Celtic, Germanic,” “The Legend of Aubéron (Oberon),” “The Dwarfs: Their Origin, Size, Names, Skills, and the Beliefs Surrounding Them,” “The Elves: The Philosophy, Cultural Prospects, and Legends Surrounding Them,” “The Demonization of Elves and Dwarfs,” “The Survivors of Pagan Legends: Duses, Sprites, Kobolds, and Howlers,” and more.

Though copiously footnoted and with a sizable bibliography, most of the titles of the works cited are not translated into English, rendering them frustratingly mute for English readers (and, to be fair, most of the cited works likely are not available in English anyway).

Lecouteux, concludes with a wistful, even sad epilogue titled “Once Upon a Time . . . They Existed Because We Believed.”

“Dwarfs have vanished,” Lecouteux writes. “. . . All the services that dwarfs could provide are now performed with equal effectiveness by machines – but with ever so much less poetry. Dwarfs, elves, and their kin fell victim to technical progress and changes of habitat: they belong to the rural countryside and not to the gigantic metropolises of today . . . They abandoned our imaginations at the same time we moved away from our roots and ancestral worship fell into disrepair. But along with them, we lost a little of the past of our elders. Never again will we be offended by the mischievousness of sprites.

“All these creatures have returned to the world whence they came, returned close to the gods or beneath the stones, but have they forgotten the Golden Age? They lived because humans believed in them, and they were extinguished along with that same belief.”