Saturday, June 29, 2013

Book Review: Elen of the Ways

The Antlered Goddess: a review of Elen of the Ways


Elen of the Ways by Elen Sentier is a valuable addition to my shamanic library. Sentier is an awenydd, that is a spirit keeper and tale weaver in British native shamanism.  What's that? You didn't know the native shamanic tradition still existed in the UK? That's why you need to read this book. It is the one I have been seeking for years.

Elen of the Ways, for whom the author is named no doubt, is the reindeer goddess of the northern forests that circle the world. She is the Antlered Goddess, a reindeer or caribou, predominant at a time when people belonged to the Land, practiced gift economics and worked cooperatively. Her forests have diminished but in the north they still exist. The hunter gatherer societies are fewer and fewer but they still exist.

Critics will say Sentier paints an unrealistic vision of what life in a pre-agricultural society was like. Her women and men shared tasks; both hunted; they worked fewer hours a week; they had fewer diseases.  Certainly what she describes belies the images we have been taught, but she has some facts at hand. In Numibia women track for the men hunting big game. In the Phillipine back country the Aeta women and men hunt the same animals. Could the modern view of our ancestors be skewed by our own egotistic belief we have created a good thing with our farming and technology? About our technical age Sentier says "We have lost our way...we no longer follow the deer trods." (page 9). 
File:Deer track in forest - - 1605591.jpg
photo by Russel Wills 2009

I suspect she is correct. I loved how Sentier brings us around the world in this book with stories, legends and artifacts about the Sacred Deer Goddess. Artemis and the Ceryneain Hind, the flying deer stones in Mongolia, the wild hunt across Europe, the fairy sidhe and their cattle who were deer, sacred apples of the sacred isle which cause alters to grow have a magic link. Sentier weaves these pieces of memory together as a proper awenydd so we can see how the Antlered Goddess connects us all.

In addition to telling the stories, Sentier travels to places in Scotland as she folllows the deer paths. These are wild places the deer know. Sentier chides us: "We are often afraid of the ways of Earth." (page 40) She is not. She shapeshifts and becomes the deer. She is unafraid of death. She embraces the wilderness. She dares the caves as initiation and rebirth.
I resonate with Sentier. I am a deerkin. There is synchronicity in my experience that pulls me into the book. I have heard a doe choose herself for the hunter. I have sung a protection song against trespassers and coyotes for deer who choose to live. I have seen a new born fawn cared for by his aunt as the mother doe births his twin. I have watched male elks perform for their mates and heard them bugle at night. My own mate has spoken to them.  They are our kin. This book is from the heart, from the soul. It will lead you deeper if you have wisdom to know how to find the deer tracks and how to long for them.  

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Brotherhood and Sisterhood

I recently read two books on relationship which were unrelated to each other.  One was Brotherhood: Dharma, Destiny and the American Dream by Deepak Chopra and Sanjiv Chopra.  They are brothers, doctors, immigrants from India and sharply contrasted by complimentary beliefs. This book is their memoir. The other book was by Helen Bryan, a novel spanning centuries of women and faith. 

While my reading them one after the other was unplanned by me, they fit together to stir up my brain about who we are and why we are here. That is, in fact, one of the themes of my own book Identity and the Quartered Circle. Helping people find out how they are and to follow their life purpose is my mission.

The secret key is, no matter what we choose or how we exercise our free will, we end up where our soul meant us to be. When the Chopra brothers started out, they meant to study medicine through internship and residency in the US and then go home to India. Instead, one small choice led to another, one open door way to a hall of more doors until they became American in every sense of the world. Deepak is the spiritual mentor and healer who left his western medical practice to offer herbal and food healing wisdom through Ayurveda and exploration of consciousness. Sanjiv is the liver specialist who rose to the top of the medical teaching establishment at Harvard Medical school, fully embracing the Western understanding of intervention with pharmaceuticals and surgery, then later accepting the role of diet and life style as another level of treatment, prevention and healing.  Turns out my 4 cups of coffee a day is idea to maintain my liver. Toward the end of their medical careers now, both of them can review their accomplishments and see the patterns that placed them in the right place at the right time. They nod their heads. Yes that makes sense. I didn't know it at the time.

Similarly, in The Sisterhood Bryan weaves a story about the Convent of the Swallows in Spain and another one in the New World. She follows the nuns and laywomen who seek refuge in the convent through the Inquisition, through settlement in faraway lands, and then connects their lineage to surprising events in the 21st century. None of the women could see what was happening, but there is the mysterious Founder, a woman in spirit who guides them, protects them and brings the circle around to enclose them all in her love. I am avoiding a spoiler alert, so forgive me for being vague. However, like the Chopras, readers at least can nod at the conclusion of The Sisterhood and say, Yes, that makes sense. I didn't see it at the time.

Our lives are like that.  We pick up a random book here, attend a class there and the next thing we know another piece of the puzzle has fallen into place.  We see we were meant to be here now. Who meant us to do this? Why our own souls, and the interwoven souls of all the people we know, of all the world. How does that work? I perceive the soul and spirit as intimately connected and working together to connect "the rest of our being on a mission of exploration. As time and space are illusions, so are good and evil. The soul and spirit are eternal. They know everything any part of us has ever known and can help the physical brain access that information. It is the soul and spirit which connects the dots and brings us that ‘Aha!’ moment of epiphany." [Identity and the Quartered Circle p. 150]

For me, brotherhood and sisterhood are community concepts. I have no biological siblings. I am slow to embrace friends and call them sister or brother. Some of that may come from my history as a civil rights activist. When activists call you sister, get your back to the wall. However, in a sense of community, in the awareness of our interconnected beings, we are indeed all siblings. We are all mothers, fathers and gods.  We are Goddess. The Founder of the Convent of the Swallows would have ducked that title, but she was Goddess. The faithful Catholic nuns would have been shocked. Maybe you are too. My dharma is to remind us all we are a part of the Universe having a human experience.  We are divine and we are human. We are not humanly all knowing and always right. We are not divinely excused from doing the best we can do today. We are a dynamic balance of knowing and remembering, or questioning and answering, of being and doing. We protect the vulnerable from ourselves who have not awakened to this truth. We defend. We confront. We champion. We submit and we love. Sometimes we are crusty old grumps. Sometimes we are tender bodhisattvas. In any event our destiny is our creation, and we scarcely know it. I am grateful for these books, mine included, because they all remind me of how that works and what it means.


Thursday, June 6, 2013

Lives of the Apostates--Studies in Conflict

Lives of the Apostates
by Eric O. Scott
 Studies in Conflict: A Review
by Dorothy Louise Abrams

I liked Lives of the Apostates. I like the title—so blatant, in-your-face bold. I like the academic premise of a philosophy student caught in a hostile course called History of Christian Thought and taught by a preacher. The whole book is edgy. Readers who are first generation pagans may cringe a little, viewing the world through the eyes of their children born and raised with the Goddess. Is that how our kids see us? Well, of course it is. Being pagan is no shield from the distain of the next generation. We were meant to be taken for granted. We are parents. I appreciate the humor of Eric's Scott's wry voice, even when it comes at my expense.
Aside from the ironic edge, the book is about conflict. In this first person narrative, Scott writes convincingly of a young man's quiet desperation caught between dreams and expectation. His character Lou Durham wrestles (I use the term purposefully) with at least 7 different relationship conflicts, most of which are reflected by the people around him. The mother-grown child conflict is shared by his roommate Grimey, Lou's would be girlfriend Lucy, and Jimmy his client on the nightshift. His conflict with Jimmy requires special handling. Conflicts with his roommate and Lucy blow up in his face. Conflict with Mike his coworker is less explosive but present in a niggling sort of way. Conflict with his boss Dana remains an unresolved dread. Conflict with Dr. Eccleston his professor sets off the surprise ending which, if you watch out for the foreshadowing, should not be that much of a surprise, but it is.

The strength of Scott's writing is in how he manages the mirrored layers of his themes without telling us about it. I admire that. Too many novelists explain what they are trying to do instead of simply getting on with it. Scott juggles his prickly characters all in one short plot line balanced on a quarter and a missile. This book is brief when it could have been otherwise. I recommend it.