Adventures in Amazon Reviews

Goth rock has been my music of choice for the past few months for dealing with suffering and bullshit. I like its vibe.

And if you’re anything like me, I recommend putting on some Siouxsie or Bauhaus and strapping in.

I’ve been looking into playing card divination (a specific form of cartomancy related to tarot). I’ve got a specific deck, that has its own vibe for sure, and learning to read it has been a struggle. That’s kind of what you get when you have decks based on intellectual properties; the vibes get transferred over, and you have added associations based on your knowledge of the intellectual property. Much of this is besides the point.

At some point, John Beckett reviewed Carmilla Elias’s Read Like the Devil: The Essential Course in Reading the Marseilles Tarot, the first in a trilogy which includes a book on playing cards and a book on Lenormand. As is my wont, I poked into the reviews for the book on playing cards, and found a zinger of a review. One star, by a fellow calling himself ABCDEFG. This lovely individual has a problem with Carmilla Elias’s books, chiefly that those books are Wrong. With a capital W.

I’ve read several of ABCDEFG’s reviews on these and other tarot books, and the one on the recent Charmed reboot. That one, though, is blessedly short, and if you’ve got it in you, you may take a gander below.

The new version of Charmed is… racist against white people and culturally appropriating the symbols of Wicca???

It’s hard to parse their problems with tarot books but it appears to be that there is no appreciation for “number”, sometimes capitalized for no discernible reason. For example, in their review of the Essential Course in reading Playing Cards, they say this:

For traditional card readers, Number rules the world into which we were born. Number is not alterable. It cannot be made to bend to the wishes of mankind. I can tell you, precisely–even mathematically!–why 3 is “a little” or why 7 can represent either an obstacle or something magical/mystical. The same is true for the rest of the numbers. Elias does not give such instruction.

https://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-reviews/RM68QDR1YWIES?ref=pf_vv_at_pdctrvw_srp

I also have a snazzy math/science background but I’ve always struggled with numerology, so I’m not one hundred percent sure I can fully grasp this and I feel like if I asked politely I would receive a dissertation in my email within a week explaining in the most condescending fashion possible how everything works and why I am wrong for not automatically knowing this.

Speaking of which, ABCDEFG appears to believe that not just anyone can read cards:

she is not herself in the lineage of the cunning folk or the Old Religion, no one has trained her in the art of foretelling, and no one has passed her the power.

https://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-reviews/RM68QDR1YWIES?ref=pf_vv_at_pdctrvw_srp

This is in a passage describing how the system presented in Elias’s book is ripped from a website the reviewer used to run, where they hosted the system they learned “as a child” from their family.

I can’t find any indication for how long the reviewer’s family has allegedly been doing fortune telling, but they rely on their family history and long years of personal experience to tell everyone that Elias is Wrong. ABCDEFG is kind enough to provide example readings they have done for people in their lives, which they claim were completely accurate.

All of this is used to inform the reader of the review, in this case me, that Elias is Wrong. I don’t see much attempt at correcting misinformation, besides the occasional, condescending addition of things like this from their review on Elias’s Marseilles tarot book:

In cosmological reality, Swords are Air. The principle applies everywhere in manifested reality. Of the four building blocks of life, Air is Oxygen. The word comes from Greek “oxus” – “sharp” because Oxygen cuts away things and eliminates them. Wands aren’t sharp. Swords are. This is manifest even in your own body, where oxygen is used to get rid of waste. Oxygen combines with hydrogen, and you sweat it out. It combines with carbon, and you breathe it out. It combines with sulphur, and you poop it out. Oxygen = Air = Swords. Similar things can be said of the other Suits and Elements.

https://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-reviews/R260YFJZ1NA0X?ref=pf_vv_at_pdctrvw_srp

This emphasis on “reality” is also really grating, and crops up 11 times in the playing card book review and 4 in the tarot book review. The implication, I gather from all this harping on “reality” (let alone how triggering it is coming from the home life I have), is that Elias is not in line with reality, i.e. “delusional”. (In the hyperrational world us Pagans come into contact with, “delusional” = “disagrees with me”, despite having a proper psychiatric use and its misuse being actively damaging.)

Since ABCDEFG dipped into the well of their personal experience (twice), I suppose I have a right to do the same. I am in possession of the Night Vale Tarot, and really should catch up on the podcast but that’s besides the point. I haven’t been reading with it lately, but I have had experiences, years ago, where I did read with it and twice, something happened. Andred hijacked whatever a given card was “supposed” to mean and said, symbolically, “I am here, hang onto this”. So those two cards are on Her altar. It was unmistakable at the time it happened. Was I supposed to turn to Her and say, “Sorry, but the principles of Number say XYZ”? I have a feeling that wouldn’t have flown.

I have had milder versions of this experience with other decks. Sacred Circle Tarot is my go-to deck for big readings about the nature of the numinous in my life. There are differences between the Reno Day and Reno Night cards I own, in ways I can’t put into words. And the Doctor Who deck, mentioned above, has been giving me absolute fits trying to decipher. Knowing what numbers mean is only half the battle.

This rando on Amazon is way too much: witchsplaining, implication of an unbroken tradition untainted by [fill in the blank, really], on some moral crusade to “correct” “misinformation”, and a belief that a Charmed reboot with Latina actresses is racist white people because… reasons. Generally, they seem perpetually angry about things I can’t discern, and are taking it out on witchcraft and pagan content they disagree with.

(I suppose now it merits pondering the products they do like: Trials of the Moon, Magic Words and How to Use Them, Odisbook: The Book of Odr, The Compleat Witch or What to Do When Virtue Fails, Garnet Bracelet CHOOSE YOUR OWN CHARM, The Open Giza Fold-Up Cardboard Pyramid. I’m not opposed to the bracelet or the pyramid, Trials of the Moon or Magic Words (the last even sounds kind of interesting, as if I need more books). But Odisbook deserves plenty of second looks for dropping “odinist” and “a stronger relationship with the Gods of your people” in its blurb, that people are supposed to read, to decide if they want to buy the book! I guess all those 5 stars are self-selecting and I should avoid them and their opinions.)

I feel like I didn’t cover half of what I wanted to, even if I would be repeating myself. Perhaps I’m just overwhelmed by what I uncovered.

Yuletide Reflections

My internet connection has finally cooperated enough to allow me to write this on New Year’s Eve, where I still feel like I am in a bit of a nadir period with the seasons. I am growing into the opinion that shortly after the Winter Solstice is kind of a dumb spot to put the start of a calendar year, and this is something I’ve kind of explored in the worldbuilding for my still-in-progress sci-fi novel: the alien culture in question reckons every year by the rising of their two suns, an annual phenomenon with deep religious and cultural significance.

I’ve heard arguments for other dates, too: Samhain, as the start of the “dark” portion of the year, is popular among many Wiccan and Pagan groups. Jason Mankey makes a good case for Yule/Winter Solstice as “witch’s new year”, what with the rebirth of the Sun and suchlike. (This idea is also reflected above, albeit as something of a coincidence or synchronicity.) In Kemetic traditions, Wep Ronpet (the Opening of the Year) coincides with the heliacal rising of Sirius, which is usually in early August where I am but changes based on location. So really, a year can be reckoned just about any which way one feels like.

And the interesting thing about this year is I’m a little less about all that light symbolism when it comes to the solstice. Sure, I was hyped, and I got to have a neat ritual even if keeping it going for any length of time was a little difficult (and I will happily joke with others about shoving a sequoia through my front door over a twelve-day period. If you know you know). But there’s an energy to this time of year that I first noticed a while back: I don’t really feel like doing anything. In the words of a meme going around, why do I have to work instead of curling up in my den with enough food and hibernating until Optimal Foraging Conditions? An opossum wouldn’t put up with this.

My sense of activity and being-outside-ness will not return until around March, I reckon. I enjoy winter, I do, but I dislike being out in the cold and at risk of freezing to death. So I stay indoors as much as possible, with my books and my writing projects (yes, more than one), feeling that vague sense of biting cold deep within my bones.

And the other thing I’ve noticed is that spirits have been fairly active this year. Generally they are more active than they have been in decades past, or the conditioning designed to make us not notice is breaking down (or both), and also generally, they have historically been more active at this time of year than in other parts of the year (although the Good People have been known to move about on Beltane/May Eve, as well). But the past couple years I have been incapable of not noticing what’s going on. Several weeks back I was overpowered with the feeling of it, and have since been haunted by the feeling that something is coming and I must make ready. Shades of this feeling pass over me every time I pull into work, to remind me, I suppose, to have my emergency magical/mundane supplies on hand. (After all, my brain goes, this could be the day.)

I received a new deck of playing cards as part of the Doctor Who advent calendar I purchased, and I have been pulling at least one card each day (or rather, each day I remember to do so) in an effort to get to know the deck as a divinatory aid. Many of my notes on systems for reading them have fallen flat, and I’ve been largely forced to rely on analogies to Doctor Who episodes and situations, as well as “vibes” or impressions. Today was the 8 of Clubs and the Missy Joker (the latter asking if there were, indeed, spirits in this Chili’s tonight, and based on Missy’s primary or earliest scheme, I gathered the answer would be yes). Based chiefly on context and the way the suits were assigned by the deck makers (such that Clubs = monsters/aliens), I got an impression tonight would be quite busy. Not that this matters to anyone but myself, but I think it’s relevant to the point at hand: spirits are moving, often in groups this time of year. Usually the answer is to lock up properly and not venture outside unless absolutely necessary (i.e. I have to go to work at stupid-o’-clock in the morning). And if you hear unusual noises, don’t get too curious. It’s probably an animal anyway. Animals make plenty of weird noises.

(Side bar on that last point, a customer at my job at place discussed his second home, where he went for the most recent snowstorm we had, and among other things, he said “Be careful what you wish for” and that there were mountain lions up the wazoo in the area. “Kitty City” he called it. Tracks, a neighbor got a good photo, and a pit full of various bits of meat from various animals. He was wise enough to not linger to long at this pit, and I wouldn’t either. The wildlife is becoming more active and this is worrisome.)

Interestingly, spoons have been hard to come by when it comes to traditional Christmasy activities like watching festive movies, decking the halls, and baking more cookies than I could feasibly eat as a single individual. I’m not sure if it’s me being exhausted by “traditional” Christmas overall, or if it’s connected to the increased activity and my overall pull toward a “darker” holiday (and, I gather, the increasing popularity of Yule Goats), or both, or something else entirely, or a combination. But the image of Christmas being pushed (as it always has been) is increasingly not lining up with what I feel to be happening around this time of year. It does seem, though, that Christmas imagery is slowly changing to reflect the overall seasonal vibe (the aforementioned Yule Goat, straw goats both large and small that are ubiquitous in Sweden, as well as an increased popularity of figures like Krampus over the past several years).

And who knows, it could also be part of the overall anti-consumerism push among us young people out to kill all the industries because we don’t have the resources to keep up with the Joneses and are sick of hearing that we have to on principle.

The Wildlife (or, Don’t F@#k with Bears)

I didn’t find it in the newspaper I purchased, but my coworker told me about a news item she read about how there have been five bear attacks this season. Some bears will protect their cubs, but others will attack without reason. (Additionally, a friend of hers was taking his dog for a walk up by the lake and found fresh bear scat and huge tracks, and when he found a fresh kill he grabbed his dog and booked it back to civilization. She also mentioned the time her sister was charged by a mother moose, who dented her rental car.)

Us locals all have stories like this. I was told when I went to Yellowstone to not get within seventy-five feet of the bison we may encounter, and I remember observing them down a gentle slope from a distance of a few hundred feet, and leaving it there. And, I’ve always been a little freaked out by the moose. When one hopped the fence when I was little, minding its own, I ran back to the house. When they wander through my complex/neighborhood, I stay indoors and sometimes watch them from a distance. I wouldn’t get too close to them, I don’t stand a chance.

In the past two years we’ve had an influx of outsiders, moreso than usual. They moved here from places like California to escape the pandemic and they don’t know. Last winter was too easy on them and they stayed. But they ask questions to us about “is this [six feet] how close you can safely get to a moose?”, about a sign showing what six feet looks like in terms we recognize (size of a grizzly bear, span of a moose’s antlers). They do shit like pick up bison calves because “they look cold” and cause that calf to be rejected by the herd (true story, though it happened closer to 2007).

I consider myself a cautious person. There are things I know better than to mess with, and large fauna is among them.

(I originally composed this at the start of the month, a few weeks ago, but I couldn’t think of a good ending.)

Yuletide Vandalism 2021, pt. 2

In the early hours of Friday morning (Sweden time), the Gavle Goat was set ablaze. This marks its first defeat in five years following the institution of 24-hour scrutiny. Many of my pagan friends recognize the value in setting the goat ablaze, regardless of legality, and I think many of them recognize the same forces I do: misrule and a pull toward some modernized form of ancient ritual.

Coupled with other reports of recent holiday vandalism, and the overall sense of an increased presence of the gods and spirits in the “ordinary” or mundane world, I think this theory is pretty plausible.

Yuletide Vandalism 2021

I learned (after an impromptu visit from my mother) that the Fox News Christmas Tree (not the Rockefeller one, the one in front of the Fox Station) has been set on fire this morning. The tree is artificial, so this isn’t a Christmas Vacation situation where a loss of tree water can lead to an accident that results in the festive blaze. The person responsible has been arrested, but the motive is unclear as of just a few hours ago.

When searching up that story to get details (I googled “new york christmas tree vandalism”), I turned up another story from two days ago where another tree, in Chicago’s Washington Park, was also set ablaze by vandals, and had to be replaced.

(Update on the Gavle Goat: It is still standing. Although December is young.)

Someone asked “Why our community? Why our Christmas tree?” with regard to the attack on the Washington Park tree (which is the third in a row in its three-year history; that tree is not lucky). Now, call me insane, but if you’ve been on this blog a bit you probably suspect that I suspect the tides are influencing certain people toward vandalism of Christmas symbols not necessarily as a cruel or petty act of violence but as a form of sacrifice to the old gods. The fact that these acts are not state-sanctioned sacrifices, or even recognized as sacrifices, influences public perception of them, but I think from the perception of the forces influencing and encouraging this behavior, this is about as close as they think they’re going to get.

Rabbit Rabbit 12-1-21

Firstly, an update on the Mesperyian situation:

Secondly, an observation: It seems to me in my recent studies into winter folklore that the harsher the winter, the spookier and more terrifying the winter spirits become. I think it is connected to whether or not winter has historically been a threat. Perhaps it explains my own recent call to the darker side of the Yuletide season; in my lifetime local winters have been quite harsh indeed, although the past two years have been… odd. But perhaps it is a premonition, an indication of what is to come within the next few years.

Christmas Carols

I like Christmas carols.

It sounds like a weird thing for a pagan to say, and I kind of agree. I don’t subscribe to Christianity, why do I like its seasonal music so much?

I assume a big part of the situation is that I grew up with some of these songs. They fall into a wider “canon” of stuff that was in the air about this time as I was growing up, alongside secular hits like “Frosty the Snowman”, “Deck the Halls”, “White Christmas”, and so on. And I’m sure a fair few of us can list at least ten Christmas songs we heard and liked growing up with little effort. So the more religious songs that were absolutely everywhere (your “Silent Night”s and “O Come All Ye Faithful”s and such) got ingrained into my soul and, hear me out, I’m not so sure that’s a bad thing. I don’t follow Christ, sure, but almost all these songs are about hope, joy, good news, and so on, which are shockingly apt seasonal themes for the Winter solstice (which is more or less a season in its own right, the way it’s celebrated in wider culture).

And maybe that latter bit explains my positive reaction to newer carols I’ve discovered (“Wexford Carol”, which is difficult to find anywhere let alone routinely, and “Mary’s Little Boy Child”). I have a more mixed opinion of “Mary, Did You Know” and “O Come Emmanuel” (the latter for that whole “bind all peoples in one heart and mind” business). But on the whole, when I find myself discovering new Christmas music, I am pleasantly surprised.

I’m not sure if this is a latent Christianity thing or a response to the lack of pagan hymns (a subject I am looking into thanks to a project for a community I’m involved in) and the general Christian overculture. It could be a combination of both, although I was never raised in the faith. (Mommie Dearest should have tried, since she turned out disappointed that I disagreed with her on certain theological fundamentals. Perhaps she believes the Word of God is written on my heart or something like that….) It could be nostalgia, even. Pure and simple longing for a seemingly easier past where the world seemed figured out and the future assured.

In any case, this may be my one Yule-tide based idiosyncrasy (or at least, the one that bugs me a little bit). I may never find an answer to it, and that’s probably OK.

The War On Christmas (Sadly, not an actual war)

This year, the War On Christmas began in October, shortly before Halloween when President Biden was declared the Grinch, best I can tell for trying to be reasonable about the fact that there’s a global pandemic still around.

The War on Christmas is not a new obsession of the Right. Bill O’Reilly pushed it from 2005 until he was fired for sexual misconduct in 2017 (looooots of sexual misconduct). Before that it was the product of anti-semitic conspiracy theories pushed by the likes of the John Birch Society. Evidently Jews were pushing a secular, multi-cultural agenda for decades. Now, some War on Christmas proponents (by which I mean Dennis Prager) will point out that Jewish people wrote the most famous Christmas songs in the American Christmas canon, including White Christmas, Happy Holiday, and others. So this means Jews have not been pushing a secular, multi-cultural agenda. Or something.

In its modern form, the War on Christmas is a lot of screeching from the right, Fox News, and so on, about how “the left” or in some cases “the radical left” or “the Marxists” or “the Communist socialist system of Islam” (yes, someone actually said this) are out to remove Christian traditions like Christmas from the American public consciousness in order to push an agenda of gay marriage, abolition of the nuclear family, and reproductive rights for women. Ahh yes, all the evils presented in Pandora’s Box, finally unleashed.

Now, if you’ve been paying any kind of attention to this debate at all in the past decade or so, you might be thinking, “I thought a ton of Christmas traditions had nothing to do with Jesus!” (Unless you’re Kirk Cameron, who has somehow managed to pretend everything from Christmas trees to Christmas ham is linked back to the Bible in some way, shape, or form.) You’d be correct. Many customs are secular or pagan in origin, and one can strip all “Christian” elements out of Christmas without missing very much. Many of the things the War on Christmas people claim “the left” is “cancelling” are also secular in origin, for example Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (evidently), “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”, and Santa Claus (specifically the white version). There’s your standard “we can’t put nativity scenes on public government property!” complaints here as well, and that’s a matter of the separation of church and state. The current stance of the government, last I checked, appears to be that if you stick up a Nativity at the courthouse you have to also put up other appropriate display items from other traditions. Of course, this has not been a problem where I’m from. The courthouse here had inflatables of snowmen and Santa last year, as well as the standard lights on the large pine trees out front, and the only house I know of with a big ol’ wooden cross out front is also the biggest exterior display in town.

However, following the screeching about the War on Christmas is my favorite unorthodox Yuletide custom, possibly excepting the sadistic tracking of the Gavle Goat’s survival or lack thereof. My favorite Christmas movies as a child were the likes of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation so perhaps the signs were there from the beginning. The screeching hits the same beats year in and year out, especially when a Democrat is president. It’s like your holiday playlist, except it’s deranged raving about how the phrase “Merry Christmas” is banned and the word “Snowmen” is cancelled in favor of “snow people”. There’s always defiant declarations that “Real Christians/Americans will be celebrating CHRISTMAS this year and there’s not a damn thing the globalists can do about it!” Perhaps I’m strange for delighting so in watching people tilt at windmills. But I suppose finding it funny takes less mental energy than trying to explain to these people why and how they are wrong.

Andred and Mental Health

The video that started it all. “A Case For Community SPG: Ares and Mental Health”, Aliakai, Jun 17, 2021

My first impression of this video was to the effect of “Hey, this kind of reminds me of Andred and my relationship with Her.”

I have prayed to Her for protection (chiefly from creepy, controlling, or otherwise dangerous men), and She has answered every time. (The times have been few, because I have baggage about asking for things, but when I have asked, She has answered.) When I first met Her, before I even knew Her name, She kept an eye on me. I remember in college in December when the path between the dorm and the location of a test was icy, but the Moon shone in the sky, making sure I got home safely (this is mentioned briefly here).

She is not a Mother Goddess or a goddess of healing and health. That’s the thing. I’m something of a practical-minded person. I feel like if I have a direct means of solving a problem, then I can relax about it. Kind words are great and all but I don’t feel they are all that useful to me. In my experience Andred has not been about simply saying it’s gonna be OK and leaving it at that. She and Ra have helped me organize my life, giving it a structure it might not have outside of school and work. I pray daily. It’s a good reckoning, a cue that the day can begin (which is rough when I have to actually start the day before that point due to reasons, but that circumstance is very rare, and a topic for another time).

Instead, I’ve gotten pointed down different directions. I’ve been told, “I’m your mother now.” And most recently, I’ve been given practical, mundane instructions. “Pick up these things, leave them here. Finish this project.” Or sometimes I get pulled to read up on a given subject (for example, the Fae or English folklore).

Practical directions and reading material get me out of my own head, and while I haven’t needed that much lately, I can’t say it hasn’t helped. Because it has. I feel accomplished when I get something like this done, and that goes a long way toward my self-esteem. Going and doing and reading keep me from doing something self-destructive like dwell on the past with my family.

So, on a deeply personal level, She has been good to me in that way. It’s like resting the body. Resting the mind can help it heal.

Mischief Night Update

As I mentioned, October 30 is Mischief Night, a non-calendrical holiday where assorted bored teenagers get up to pranks. It isn’t very popular where I live, but can be found in urban centers in the East Coast region and the Great Lakes.

October 30 was also when the town held its Trick-or-Treat, on account of the 31st being a school night. I wasn’t present for the affair but according to the transfer sheets where I work, we alone went through six bags of candy. Others tell me it was wall to wall people, confirmed by photographs in the Nov. 5 edition of the local paper.

I suspected everyone and their brother would be out, after around a year and a half of dealing with, or trying to deny, the plague (not technically the plague but you get the point). We’ll see if the Gavle Goat survives this year, or if the ropes will finally snap. In my understanding, things haven’t peaked, but are just getting underway this year.

But, other than a ridiculous number of trick-or-treaters of all ages, very little happened on October 30, according to the Sheriff’s Report printed in the paper (I think by law, along with other public notices). There was a major accident, and a caller reported a youth in a bloody mask attempting to trick-or-treat, but who was told to come back the 31st. That’s it, really. (Of course, around here roughly 40-50% of calls are about wild animals and livestock being places they shouldn’t be. So there’s that.)

As mentioned, I’ve been cultivating a theory that many of the spirits and forces we associate with Halloween don’t associate themselves with Halloween, and we may be seeing more Yuletide activity than anything else.