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.

 

Customer Review: Square Holder

I got a request from my friend and accountant Michael from PRM, Limited to make a holder for his Square reader.  I was already familiar with the device.  I use it myself at conventions.  It didn’t take long to put together and I delivered a prototype for him to test out.

And then I completely forgot about it, until a couple of weeks ago when Michael reminded me about it.  He sent me pictures of the holder and even wrote up a little review.  With the way things have been going lately, I appreciate reading that a little thing I put together has not only served it’s purpose and lasted, but that it has been helpful.

Michael writes:

“About 4 years ago my company started using Square to take credit cards and I asked Raechel at Idiorhythmic Design if she had a key chain type item that held the reader. I knew I was going to be on the go all the time and I wanted something to keep the reader easily accessible and safe. She didn’t but she designed a prototype for me and sent it over. After 4 years of heavy abuse in my pocket, car, and just general life the holder has held up fairly well. Obviously any fabric item is going to break down under that kind of life eventually and as the pictures show the edges have eventually frayed and shown the interior material used to give it strength. The button clasp is still in excellent condition and clasps firmly with no issues. The blue loop for attaching it to my key ring is still super solid and in great shape. The reader has a jack that allows it to plug into the phone and even after 4 years for rubbing against the interior seams they are still in pretty good shape and are only now beginning to show strain from the wear and tear.

“Overall this was a fantastic prototype with 4 years of testing put into it and I can say that if she decides to make them a more permanent item on her store I will be the first to buy a new one. I hope later generations come with fun fabric designs on the outside, but the plain brown used was a also a good choice in a professional setting.”

Thank you, Michael, for putting that thing through the gauntlet and letting me know how it held up.

Book Review: How to Show and Sell Your Crafts by Torie Jaye

As part of my continuing efforts to kick my marketing and selling skills up several notches, I picked up Torie Jaye’s How to Show & Sell Your Crafts from the library.  I will get books from the library first most of the time, and if I find the information in them to be valuable, I’ll buy a copy for my own shelves.  I won’t be picking Jaye’s book up, though.

The book’s focus is on branding: creating your own brand and making sure it saturates every  level of your business.  A good chunk of the book is dedicated to things like picking your  brand’s colors, creating great banner images, choosing an avatar.  This is a book written by a crafter who sees “strong brand focus” as “pivotal to her online success” (as stated in her biography), so the emphasis on branding is understandable.

There’s another section on how to photograph crafts that I found very helpful.  And there are several profiles of other crafters who have made a business of their designs.  The book itself is very pretty.  The layout and design is pleasing, and the pictures are beautifully photographed and presented.  This is the kind of book you want to flip through for inspiration.

However, I came away from the book  feeling that it is a blog’s worth of information stretched over a books’ worth of pages.  While the crafter profiles are nice, the focus was mainly on their bios.  Words of advice or guidance is would be more inspirational than reading about their passion for vintage items.

Included in the book are several crafts.   Ostensibly they were tied into the sections they were found in (paper covered cans as pencil holders in the section on organizing your work space) but they felt like filler meant to pad the page count.

Those sections that I was more interested in—the business of doing business—were sparse.  The page on business plans doesn’t really tell how to write one, or what one looks like.  It doesn’t even tell readers to research more information.  There’s no mention of dealing with taxes, or what it goes into setting up a business.

The book reads like a wish fulfillment manual: emphasis on packaging your crafts and setting up your booth space, talk of when you might need to hire help, blogging and social media.  While these are important things to consider, they’re really ancillary concerns (and in the case of hiring help, concerns that won’t crop up for 99% of the crafters out there) compared to things like finding venues, bookkeeping, taxes and other boring, but necessary details.

If you are looking at trying to make money from your design skills and passions, I’d recommend skipping this book and looking for something more in depth.  If I find one that fits the bill I will definitely mention it here.