Some Resources for Beginners and Those of Us Who are Not So Beginner
(reposted and updated from an earlier piece)
Lately I’ve been getting a lot of email requests asking how one should start honoring the dead, fighting the filter, or doing this devotional polytheism thing. I try to answer each and every email but sometimes I fall behind (especially toward the end of a school term when all my twenty + page academic papers come due!). I do try, and I am grateful for the patience of my correspondents.
Because I’ve been getting so many requests lately though, I want to post a brief list of some good basic resources, many written by me, some by colleagues that can help get a person started. I wrote a number of my books because I wanted something I could hand to my students, clients, and others, knowing that they weren’t going to be given bad advice. I got tired of not having written resources. I know it was the same with many of my colleagues who also write. When many of us started this work, there was nothing on spirit work and even less on devotional work and honoring the ancestors, and nothing at all on polytheism. I know personally, I’ve tried to change that.
So for those wondering where to start, here are my suggestions – and I’ve focused on non-tradition specific texts for the most part. These can be adapted to any particular polytheism. There are many, many tradition specific books, and also more spiritwork specific books that I chose not to include. There is a joy and a grace in building devotional relationships as a regular devotee and I think we overlook that way too much:
“Honoring the Ancestors: A Basic Guide”: this is my 101 book on ancestor veneration: what it is, why we do it, how to do it, why it’s so important, and how to troubleshoot issues that might arise. I wrote this because I saw a need, again based on all the questions I was receiving privately. The book itself came out of an online class that I taught (and a big thank you to all those who took those classes!). Ancestor work is foundational and crucial and this book gets one started.
(I also recommend “Calling the Ancestors” by Sarenth Odinsson).
“Spiritual Protection” by Sophie Reicher: I like this book. It’s hard-core. It is also one of the best breakdown of the foundational exercises common to metaphysical practices and esoteric ones that I’ve ever read. The author and I worked together for a number of years, and I was very, very happy when she wrote this book. Finally, one I can just hand people with “here, do these exercises.” LOL. This book really encompasses, along with ancestor work (which she doesn’t touch on), the first year (at least) of solid practice.
“Dealing with Deities” by Raven Kaldera: This is an amazing book that talks about what polytheism is and how the idea of many gods impacts praxis and all the many ways one can relate to the gods and so much more. I think that many of the books out there now on polytheism and practice are written by spiritworkers who unconsciously assume either a level of engagement that the beginner hasn’t had, or certain foundational knowledge as a matter of course. This book presumes none of that and provides the reader with a really solid introduction to what it means to be a polytheist in the modern world and how to do that well.
“Devotional Polytheism”: I like to joke that I literally wrote the book on polytheism. LOL. This book is part primer and part book of hours. It arose from another online class that I taught, one introducing people to the ins and outs of devotional practice. If you’re wondering what that means, how to get started, or more likely what on earth to do, this book is for you.
“Neolithic Shamanism”: by Raven Kaldera & Galina Krasskova: the title of this book is misleading. It’s not about shamanism per se (we had little to no say in the title. We wanted to call it “Fire, Frost, and Singing Sea”). It’s an introduction and two to three years worth of exercises (possibly more) to help the reader root oneself in an animist and polytheistic worldview, and to begin engaging at a deeper level with the spirits of place, the elemental powers, and the ancestors. If one does end up a spirit worker, then this book will have given a really powerfully solid foundation for the Work. If one does not, then one will still have that really strong foundation and be able to engage in devotional practice and veneration at deep and deeply challenge levels. I recommend reading the other books here first, but then this book is the next step. It is written from a Northern Tradition perspective, but the exercises and info inside can easily be adapted.
Finally, “Talking to Spirits” by Kenaz Filan and Raven Kaldera: this book will start easing one into ritual work and active engagement with the spirits.
I also rather like “Walking the Heartroad” by Silence Maestas. I don’t think this book has ever gotten as much attention as it deserves. Silence was, to my knowledge, the first to try to parse out a typography of engagement.
And finally, “Dwelling on the Threshold” by Sarah Istra Kate Winter, for those whose practices taken them down the road of the spirits.
That’s where I’d start and pretty much in that order. If you’ve gone through all of these books, really worked through them instead of just breezing through the reading, you’ll have a foundation that will help you in pretty much every aspect of devotional work. The only thing that isn’t covered in depth here, is ritual work. We talk about but there’s no way to convey the experience of a ritual, of being in a well constructed, piously run rite. One can read and learn about how to do rituals, but it’s no substitute for actually doing them. Still, that comes with practice and trial and error. After these readings, then one is well positioned to branch off into tradition-specific reading.
Updated as of January 4, 2017:
For those who are particularly interested in Northern Tradition Shamanism, I would recommend A) seeking out a lineage carrier to train you but barring that, or if you are mostly working in another tradition but want technical knowledge, checking out Kaldera’s NT Shamanism series here.
In order, “Jotunbok,” “Pathwalker’s Guide to the Nine Worlds,” “Wyrdwalkers,” and “Wightridden,” and “The Northern Shamanic Herbal.” In these books, Kaldera collected material from as many NT practitioners as possible and laid down the bones of the introductory year (or two) of training.
For the diviners out there (in addition to reading and training and experience with the individual systems in which you work):
- My book, “On Divination,” which is a series of essays on how to become better at the process of divination, what it entails, and why it’s important.
- Sannion’s “Hunting Wisdom: A Bacchic Orphic Diviner Manual” which provides numerous systems and more importantly essays exploring the nature of divination and the diviner’s relationship with the sacred.
- “Ancient Greek Divination” and “Restless Dead” by Sarah Iles Johnston, both explorations of dealing with the dead and divination in the ancient Greek world. and
- “The Seer in Celtic and Other Traditions” by HR. Ellis Davidson
- “Miasma: Pollution and Purification in Early Greek Religion” by Robert Parker
- “Purity and Danger” Mary Douglas
- “Divination and Portents in the Roman World” edited by Robin Lorsch Wildeang and Jacob Isager.
- “Divination, Prediction and the End of the Roman Republic” by F. Santangelo.
- “Osogbo: Speaking to the Spirits of Misfortune” by Ochani Lele : an exploration of the spirits of misfortune and the diviner’s essential relationship with them. This book is absolutely essential reading for any diviner out there, regardless of tradition. It has the potential to change forever the way we interact with our craft.
While texts 3-9 are either tradition specific, academic, or both, they provide transferrable concepts and knowledge and also context for the work that we as modern diviners do and this is essential.