bITS 'N CHUNKS
I used to be a lot more active in the Skeptics blogosphere before I finally dropped them due to rampant white privilege, sexism & misogyny, low key racism just general fauxgressive passive aggressive behavior, but my early years there were pretty formative and educational. One of the names lobbed around was James Randi, who I knew as a friend of Penn & Teller and a magician himself, but at the time did not realize he was a skeptic. What a weird combo.
I ended up reading Flim-Flam! as part of my learning and though it's dated now, it's still a great and highly recommended read. Yes it debunks pretty much everything the Aether Book Club stands for but you should be exposed to as much critical and skeptic literature as possible. Criticism to me defines choice: this person disagrees with the path I'm taking and gives a good argument as to why, but I'm still going to go this way because I want to. Always take that in mind with you. As opposed to just having things delivered to you, which is where I break with religion. Of course.
The good thing about Flim-Flam! Is that it's written for a general audience so I never found it terribly condescending. It is certainly a lot more light-hearted than Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins. It exposes charlatans that take advantage of people (cough cough, cold reading), busts open pop culture myths of the time and debunks them with reasoning and hard cold facts, and explains some of the science of gullibility. Like Ghostland, it posits some answers to the question of why do people fall for things without stooping to "because people are stupid".
Also like Ghostland, it's a great look into how to research things properly. It will show you how to avoid schemes and abusive practices, which is so important when you think you want to get into mystical practices because there are so, so many people out there willing to take advantage of people not armed with knowledge. And some of it is so confusing and lofty (cough cough, Hermeticism) you could be falling into well laid traps and not even realize it.
I say dated but honestly some of these trends still live or have come back. Seriously, Ancient Aliens? Peoples of Africa or India couldn't have used technology before Europeans introduced it? Randi was debunking that thirty years ago but people just refuse to let go. Seeing how cyclical trends are demonstrates just how readily people will fall for anything without a bit of reason and research.
And now we get to the good stuff.
Hermeticism is very, very, very big. If you feel like you want to get into it or learn about its teachings, there are so many texts -- collectively referred to as Hermetica -- to go through, so many teachings, so many branches, just so much damn material!
Where do you start?
With the short version.
Most of the texts available on Hermeticism all do the same thing, and that is distill the original teachings of Hermes Trismegistus. Like so many figures in the esoteric path, Hermes Trismegistus likely isn't a real single person if he's a person at all; Hermeticism itself usually refers to him as a prophet and the messenger/son of a combination of old pagan gods. To that end, Hermeticism states that all religions are basically united and granted to mankind by a single god. So for example, pagan religions with multiple gods are a reflection of aspects of a single god.
You've probably heard this theory kicked around before, especially when discussing tension between Abrahamic religions ("they all worship the same god!"). This concept is actually very ancient and pre-dates the dates given for the general start of any Hermetic offshoots.
Hermeticism is fascinating but since it's intentionally very broad and encompasses quite a few spin offs it can be difficult to know where the hell to start with it. There's two texts to recommend: the Corpus Hermeticism which forms the base of Hermeticism, and the Kybalion which distills the principles of Hermetic thought.
I go to The Kybalion first because it's easily digestible, set up to be read more like Proverbs than Corpus Hermeticism, which is a much older text and greatly influenced by spiritual thought and the writings of Plato. What really separates them is brevity -- Corpus Hermeticism is exhaustive and The Kybalion is literally the Cliff Notes version.
The Kybalion feels very mystical as well. It is credited to "three initiates" who have never been satisfactorily identified so there is an air of mystery. The principles are fascinating and read as very contemporary, especially the gender shifting, almost nonbinary nature of the Principle of Gender. Most influential to me was the section Cause & Effect and Causation, which are as good a case against any evidence of Meritocracy as I've ever seen.
Ideally you would read both books side by side but I would reach for the Kybalion first to even figure out if you want to go any deeper into the gaping crater that is Hermetic thought.
Recently, I received a copy of Welcome Home, an anthology of short stories centered around adoption. I'm not adopted myself but I have plenty of people in my life who are, are adoptive parents themselves, or at least interested in the process. Also, I'm not someone that reads young adult fiction on a regular basis…but here I am. Although it's not my forte, representation and visibility are important to me and it's especially important that young people are able to see themselves reflected in the literature they read.
That being said, cracking this open I still wasn't sure what to expect. What does an adoption story look like, really? I combed my recent memory and realized I don't really know. The last positive depiction of adoption I saw was on Doc McStuffins, which was great because it involved a black family to boot. But an anthology of stories? I recognized a lot of the names and I was very happy to see a great variety of authors writing from a multitude of experiences. These stories have a wide spectrum of representation across an impressive variety of genres from gen lit to dystopian cyberpunk.
To say I was surprised might come a little condescending, but I was. And pleasantly so! What we have here is a solid collection of stories that really expanded my thoughts and made me realize I was all wrong. Anthologies can be hit or miss and highly subject to taste of course, but I'm very happy to say this collection is all killer and almost filler. I really do think there's a little something for everyone in here. The stories are sensitive and obviously written from personal experiences. I laughed, I cried, I got caught in my feelings, just the gamut of emotions. I also appreciated that the stories tackled the emotional aspects of adoption as well, but also cultural issues that span countries, language barriers, sometimes planets. The stories reaches across multiple aisles including race and sexuality to make what I would consider a very inclusive collection. And as I've harped on, inclusiveness is nothing if it's not inclusive of bleeping everyone.
Reading this anthology made me realize the dearth of positive & accurate depictions of adoption there are out there. Movies are especially bad. Adoption is often seen as a last, desperate resort or a step above the changeling fantasy. Don't even get me started on horror and sci-fi movies. Those stories are obviously far from the truth of what adoption is, but they just don't help the perception. There is still a lot of stigma surrounding the topic. It's getting better sometimes, but reading these stories and the book announcement from editor Eric Smith made me realize there is still so much work to be done. These stories, to me, truly do that work to create understanding, to normalize and center the experience. A couple of my personal recommendations out of here are "A Kingdom Bright and Burning" by Dave Connis, a cathartic story about a young boy trying to work through trauma and learning to communicate with his adoptive family; "Webbed" by Julie Eshbaugh was another great highlight and kind of flipped my expectation of the changeling family, and included discussion of physical deformities to boot; and William Ritter's "Deeply" is...something that has to be seen to be believed.
(Sidenote: as a native Tennessean, how hyped was I to see a lot of my home state people repped here! Yeehaw.)
Anyway, if I've recommended Welcome Home to you already I will recommend it again and again because I can't say enough good things about it; please put it in the hands of an adult or a child that needs it, request it at a library, and if you need it yourself please check it out from wherever good books are sold.
Ghostland by Colin Dickey is a fantastic book for those of you that like your skepticism neat and your sociology weird. It's not about anything occult, but like James Randi's Flim-Flam! it is a good guide on looking at superstition and religion objectively and asking for evidence of Things Unknown. Ghostland isn't malicious and doesn't really seek to discredit anything, but rather explain why we create ghost stories and hauntings and what those stories tend to mean from a cultural and regional basis. It reminds me a lot of Cassell's Dictionary of Superstitions, another neat text that I think everyone interested in the supernatural should read.
Curiously enough, there is also another Ghostland. Or rather, Ghost Land (PDF) as written by Emma Hardinge Britten. Britten was a prominent member of the Spiritualist movement as we'd recognize it today. Like Manly P Hall, Britten is an interesting figure and very influential, but a lot of her life is shadowed in mystery and much of what we know about her stems from her work. What's best to note about Britten is the company she kept (notable women of various occult groups like Helen Blavatsky) and not only was she a prominent member of Modern Spiritualism, but she help lay the ground work for its current principles.
So Britten's Ghost Land actually deals with her research into the occult centering around one Chevalier Louis de B, an eccentric nobleman that comes off a little St. Germaine. I'm pretty sure he's a composite figure. She details his initiation into occult mysteries, séances, mysticism, all that…like, you know, a documentarian. How much of it is true and factual? Who knows. I trust Britten, but she has a much different focus with her information. An agenda, if you will!
But in any case, both books do some pretty good things like identifying primary sources, build upon information, and don't expect you to just take their word for it just because they said so. They also aid in deciphering information by providing commentary backed up with knowledge. Any good investigative text should give you that much. And quips! Oh, the quips.
I love Eliphas Levi as if he were still with us and not dead for hundreds of years.
I have a necklace with his Baphomet imagery. I have his circle of demons on my work desk. He was a pretty big & pretty popular figure back in his day, and especially if you're interested in ceremonial magic you have either read or should read all of his works.
Besides Crowley, I would say Levi is the name in occultism and magick. Levi tried to merge European socialism with an occult bent and he came out successful. You'll recognize that in a lot of modern Wicca. He developed the grounds of ritual and ceremonial magic as we know it (then, you know, Crowley) and to be honest a lot of his disciples really can't touch how mystical and open his language was.
In short, reading Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie will make you feel like you're really getting into some deep shit, and I like that.
It's also a lot more accessible than later texts on ceremonial magic, which assume you're already initiated most of the time. Here, the art is still new and Levi is grappling with separating the magician from quackery (something he's very aware of). It's not for everyone but I still find it very enlightening when I'm in the mood to feel like a grand high priestess.
I think it's because of his political bent but I often find Levi the least condescending so I often relate to his writings. I'm not terribly interested in the tarot but I like watching the metamorphosis of it from parlor card game to divination tool. It kind of…makes sense even if it doesn't. But this book is definitely not for you if you're already swatting your hands at the thought.
So if you think you're not interested, does Levi give any reason to take him seriously? Oh, yes. His passion bleeds from every word and his prose is enchanting. Reading Dogme et Rituel, even the English translations, feels empowering. Levi sets himself up as an authority but doesn't try to convince the reader that he's about to approach this rationally. No, he's here to tell you what he's seen and how you can get there too! So it's a very deeply mystical book that reads like an incantation. Who knows what the hell you'll conjure up by the time you're done.
Ia! If you've come this far, you're either looking for weird or you know you've found it...