Book Review: Clearing Spaces by Khi Armand

Clearing Spaces by Khi Armand
Root work + shamanism = a useful book.

The first time I was aware of how an environment affected me was in 1994-1996. I had moved to Laramie, Wyoming to go to school. The years I was there I felt unsettled, unraveling. I eventually moved away, heading for Chicago (which presented its own environmental issues) and didn’t really connect my unease with the town. Over the next few years, whenever I would travel home to visit, stopping in Laramie to see friends, the general sense of bad energy would hit me. I eventually came to recognize that the town, for whatever reason, just doesn’t jibe with me.

I think that is one of the reasons I related so strongly with Khi Armand’s Clearing Spaces.  It is a book full of advice in recognizing and diagnosing problems in one’s environment.  Armand then offers practical advice on how to address those problems.  He acknowledges, also, that some problems might not be fixed, and that, especially when dealing with genus loci, compromise might be necessary.

What I enjoyed about the book is that Armand discusses ways to treat the environment that don’t involve feng shui.  In fact, he introduces several concepts and practices that I had never heard of before.  For example, he talks about Ho’oponopono, a Hawaiian healing technique of reconciliation.  The idea of coming to terms with your environment, rather than trying to impose your will on it, was particularly interesting to me.

The book is grounded in root work, shamanism and paganism, with an understanding of and reference to the cultures that contributed to those paths or “modalities”. This blend of various paths feels organic rather than forced in his prose.  Armand also uses the term “technology” in references to practices like smudging, feng shui and the like.  It’s a call back to past times when spells and charms were worked as practical matters alongside other, mundane activities.

The greatest benefit I got from the book, however, was the introduction to the term “helping spirits.”  For years I have worked with Turtle, but eschewed the term “spirit animal” so as to not participate in cultural appropriation.  No other terms ever encompassed what Turtle means to me, though.  But when I read “helping spirits” it was like a light clicked on in my head!  It’s not an exaggeration to say that learning this term has helped my relationship to Turtle grow and deepen over the last few months.

Finally, on a completely aesthetic note, this is one of the most attractively laid out books I’ve read in a long time.  Flipping through it felt good.  I spent some of my time reading, just looking over the pages, admiring the design.  That sort of attention to the page space is completely in keeping with the rest of the book.

 

Book Review: A Witch’s Runes by Susan Sheppard

A Witch's Runes by Susan Sheppard Cover
She had me at the witch as gentle anarchist and lost me at “gypsy”.

In my wandering and varied research for my book, I kept coming across the witch’s runes.  You can find a plethora of them on Etsy.  I was really curious as to what they were, where they came from, their provenance really.  A little digging produced the book A Witch’s Runes by Susan Sheppard.  The subtitle How to Make and Use Your Own Magick Stones was right up my research alley.  I put in my request for a copy via Inter Library Loan along with the half a bajillion other books and waited.

I want to point out from the offset that I admire what Sheppard set out to do with the book.  With certain modern pagan paths’ penchants for making up traditions out of whole cloth there a real risk to viewing anything not steeped in hundreds of years of history as somehow lesser or illegitimate when it comes to the pagan faith.  I’ve read a lot of pagan books over the last year, and there is a trend of constantly looking back.  What Sheppard does in this book is create a new divination system, somewhere between runes and Tarot cards.  It’s an ambitious objective and it has certainly paid off: her book was first published in 1998 and the idea of witch’s runes has spread.

But (and you knew there was a but coming, right?) reading through the book was an uncomfortable stroll through cultural appropriation, slurs and handfuls of generalizations thrown in for good measure.  Sheppard’s approach is summed up on page 22: “But the witch honors all of the spiritual traditions that have preceded her.  She takes what works for her and makes use of its meanings.”  This set the tone for the book.

The thing is, it didn’t have to be this way.  Late in the book, on page 96, Sheppard mentions that her “…area of discipline is astrology.”  She talks about using the runes she has created “in the place of signs and planets and it works out fine.”  Knowing this, and seeing the table at the back of the book with planet, sign and element correspondences, I could see the potential for a divination tool made incorporating the zodiac and astrology.  I don’t understand why this isn’t what she did.

The only reasoning I can come up with is that urge I pointed out earlier, to try and tie any new Pagan ideas to the past.  For each rune, Sheppard tries to tie the symbolism to various older cultures: Egyptian, Pict, Anglo-Saxon, Akkadians, Mesopotamians, and of course the ubiquitous “gypsies”.  Occasionally she touches back on her astrological background, tying the Scythe to Scorpio and the planet Pluto.  But for the most part all the runes are presented as an amalgamation of symbols drawn from mostly western cultures.

I am writing Sew Craft with an eye to avoid appropriation, generalization, and giving Western traditions more importance than the rest of the world.  It is a fine line to travel, as I am aware that I can’t see all the pitfalls I might fall in while meaning well. As I work, reading books like A Witch’s Runes keeps me mindful of respecting the history of my sources.

 

Book Research Quote: Web of Wyrd

Two of the most ancient human handicrafts are weaving and pottery, and in ancient scriptures, both of them are used as metaphors for the human condition.  The ancient bards perceived the multiple interwoven strands of experience symbolically to be a textile woven by the powers they called fate.  the crafts of spinning and weaving are the heart of our linguistically embedded understanding of our being, for our existence is envisaged as a part of a universal interwoven pattern, known in the northern tradition as the Web of Wyrd. — Nigel Pennick, Pagan Magic of the Northern Tradition

There will definitely be a section on weaving and weaving deities, with an emphasis on Arachne, whose descendants tend to hang out in the window by my sewing table telling me to adjust the tension on the sewing machines.