REVIEW: Owning Your Own Shadow by Robert A. Johnson

The shadow is that part of ourselves that we fear, that we strive to keep inside of us no matter what. Most of the time we don’t want to recognise we even have a shadow and do the impossible not to meet and confront it. Owning Your Own Shadow is a book about the importance of facing that part of ourselves we fear the most.

THE BOOK
The book is short, 112 pages, and it took me around three hours to finish. Even if it’s a book about Jungian psychology, it’s not as dense as you might expect. The author does not use psychological jargon all the time, I’d say it’s more colloquial in tone compared to other books. I believe this makes it a nice read for those who, like me, are interested in Jungian psychology, but haven’t studied it formally.
I found it an informative read, even if I had some knowledge on the topic before starting the book. It makes a good introduction on the topic of the shadow, although there isn’t a thorough explanation of Jung’s analytical psychology. Some concepts are mentioned, but it won’t give more than a general idea of the theory behind it. If you’re new to the entire topic, maybe a general introduction to Jungian psychology might help you understand where the whole shadow business comes from.
The first two chapters discuss the shadow: what it is, why we escape it, and why it is important for people to confront it. The core idea is that shadow work helps both us and society; if we integrate our shadow and recognise how it plays, we can stop projecting it onto others and refuse when others project theirs on us.
The last, brief chapter of the book – called the Mandorla – describes how the author sees shadow integration and how one could go about it. Johnson itself states there is no one way to confront and integrate one’s shadow, so there is no universal recipe either. I don’t find it surprising, coming from a therapist.

SPIRITUALITY AND THE SHADOW
Throughout the book, there is a strong spiritual and religious influence that I couldn’t always agree with. Partially because of the heavy Christian-based belief and symbolism (I don’t relate to Christ as the role model for humanity’s inner work, for example) and partially because sometimes it felt to be a little extreme, in a way. However, I do agree on three basic spiritual ideas shared.
The first one is that shadow work is spiritual work and that in doing it, we can get closer to the Divine. Not only does shadow work allow us to know ourselves and understanding better ourselves, but to better understand others as well. It is also a work of synthesis, the synthesis between the opposing forces inside of us. Both ideas can be found in a variety of spiritual traditions. I enjoyed the idea that paradox is our primary tool in this work, it reminded me of Buddhist philosophy.
The second spiritual idea I share with the author is that religious and everyday life shouldn’t be separated and put into different boxes. It furthers the idea of dichotomy and separation, whereas shadow work is – as I mentioned before – synthesis. The split is counterproductive and can also result in guilt and fear (the big fear of sin in Christianity comes to mind).
The third idea is that ritual can help us with our inner work, that through ritual we can integrate our shadow. Johnson uses the idea of Mass being a shadow experience for the Christian but also talks about personal rituals that can be ordinary actions such as taking out the trash. One of the things that find me a sceptic is in this section: the author states that since people don’t go to Mass as before, we make and consume movies and novels to project our shadow. Even if I can agree, to an extent, it is put down in a way that seems to suggest storytelling didn’t exist when Mass was popular. I bet this isn’t what the author meant, but it was what got through.

I liked this book and I think I’ll revisit it in the future. It’s short, so it’s not a comprehensive introduction, but there’s enough information to make it useful. Even if the topic is discussed from a very subjective point of view, the author’s opinions are firmly grounded in psychology. I’d suggest, if it’s a first read on the topic, to pair it with a more objective essay. It’s always useful to hear a second opinion, anyway.

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REVIEW: Practical Sigil Magic by Frater U.:D.:

305318After almost a year, I finally finished this book. Now, it took it so much because I decided to go slowly and experiment with the various techniques before proceeding with my read (and obviously this means a long span of time in which I didn’t use anything written on these pages at all). I also wanted to work a bit with sigils before getting into the chapter about “how does this thing work?”, as to not make up my mind on sigil work before actually doing some of it.

I am not a chaos magician. I have read about Chaos Magick and its principles, I find it fascinating, but I also don’t think it is what I want to do in my practice. My main interest is religious, magic and witchcraft are…something I am drawn to, but also something I am a bit scared of. They also tend to come up a lot. Sigil magic seemed an interesting starting point to explore magic, so I tried it. That being said, on with the review!

The book explores the modern method of sigilisation derived from the works of Austin Osman Spare, which is the same that can be found in Carroll’s Liber Null. The word, pictorial and mantric methods are explained with the use of examples, which I found extremely helpful. I had a bad time with the aesthetic of my sigils, being too much…bare? Common? Non-graphic? I don’t even know. However, seeing how the author makes and works on sigils really helped me gain confidence over mines. The explanation is simple, straightforward and non-dogmatic. Methods of activation have their own dedicated chapter; although I admit that I might have found a couple more methods helpful, I understand that this is not a book about gnosis and how to achieve it. The Alphabet of Desire (which I find a fascinating topic) is also described in its two different iterations. Closing the book is a chapter on “traditional” sigil work, as known in high magic and hermeticism, which refers to Israel Regardie’s How to Make and Use Talismans.

I found this book very comprehensive, easy and practical. It gives all the information a person who has never heard about sigil might need, delivered clearly and without too much speculation. The chapter in which the *why* sigil magic work is discussed is very adamant on proposing models of explanation, theories instead of dogmas. I appreciated this because the author invites the reader to try and understand magic for themselves; furthermore, sometimes trying to understand the technicalities and the reasons behind magic might hold back from doing and experiencing it. I will surely keep this volume as reference as I go on experimenting with sigil work.

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REVIEW: Milk & Honey, by Rupi Kaur

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Milk and Honey has been on the home page of Book Depository for forever. I found some of the poetry by Rupi Kaur on pinterest, got curious and decided to give it a go. I finished it in one sitting on a Friday evening and got mixed feeling about it.

The underlying themes of the volume are abuse, recovery and love. They are further broken down into four different aspects, corresponding to four different chapters in the book: the hurting, the loving, the breaking and the healing. In each part, poems deal with that particular aspect; however, I feel that almost every poem can be seen as carrying inside it all the four aspects.

From what I see on Goodreads it’s a book people either love or loathe; I do understand some of the criticism moved to the form and content of the poetry, however I believe some detractors take this volume too seriously. It’s the first published work an author, not the last. Not the one in the midst of her career. And first works tend to be weakest by definition. Yes, it contains mediocre poetry and poetry that doesn’t work at all. There’s also some powerful poems, though:

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this is probably my favourite

My biggest problem with it is that sometimes the poems read too much like prose. Poetry conveys meaning subtly. It uses images, sounds and words, all combined. Sometimes you have to stop and re-read. Reflect about what you’ve read. Poetry is not a genre you can read a book in one sitting and expect to have grasped all the meanings it contains. This surely doesn’t happen with Milk & Honey: it flows and flows and flows untile you’re at the end. You don’t need to pause your reading except for a couple times. That’s why I understand the criticism to the form.

As to the content, what made this book so popular is, in my opinion, the way in which the author opened up. Rupi Kaur shows every inch of her being and of her experience, and sometimes it’s really heartbreaking. Some of her ideas are not groundbraking, especially when she talks about womanhood, her body and self-image. They sure aren’t groundbreaking ideas for me. Maybe for someone are, and to those people maybe it’s helpful to read about them. As much as her experience of sexual abuse might be relatable to other survivors. In this light, it’s easy to see why this book became so popular and why people like it.

Overall, I gave it a 2/5 stars on Goodreads. It has potential, even though it will take a bit more writing to the author to really produce the great work that is being sold. I once again fell into the trap of marketing, which surely is about judging the book from its cover.

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REVIEW: Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss

I do not love grammar. For all the love I bear to languages, grammar is always my least favourite part. That thing that stands between you and expression. Unfortunately, rules are what make us comprehensible to others.
In my almost 20 years of studying English – my, do they sound a lot! – I’ve learned about verbs and sentences and tenses, but never (not properly) about punctuation. It seemed sensible to me, when our professor gave us a list of books to choose from, to pick this one: first, because the subject matter is one I’m weak in. Secondly, because I want to learn to write properly. Punctuation is as essential as words, in that regard.

truss_book-a7ef04dc51ca66b0ffa7b6e403faa170e627455a-s6-c30I begun the book with great expactations, as it is (apparently) well known and well loved. I enjoyed the introduction, although I found some bits…uncanny. I read pleasantly of the various mistakes, the horror of the author at misplaced apostrophes, the history bits.
I must say that I did found interesting rules for the semi-colon and some for the comma; apparently they escaped my formal education. However, much of what is written is ridiculously…predictable. Maybe it’s because usage resamble a lot that of the Italian language, or maybe because I studied a lot of grammar. Either way, that part didn’t give me what I was hoping for (superior punctuation powers, that is). However it did help me point out mistakes I make regularly, so I call it a win.

The problem that became apparent all through the reading is the obnoxious insistance of the author on herself: I get it, you illustrate stuff that happened to you by recalling a life event. Many non-fiction books of this level do. Many bloggers do, too. It gets annoying, however, when there’s a continous stream of insults of any kind masked as “humor” or those very self-centered part that are meant to point out how superior you are.
I still need to understand what statements like: “I bought a book on grammar while every other girls was having dates and abortions and were at the isle of Wight, and wrote rude letters to a teen-ager” really give to the book. To me, it sounded like “I was not like other girls” discourse; meant just to underline, once again, the stupidity of others or the abyss between the stickler and the non-sticklers.

The constant pointing to the internet as the Devil, come to destroy the world, is something I still have to understand. More specifically, the claim by Truss that punctuation will disappear because it was invented for the printed medium of books and not the interwebs is absurd. There exist tumblr, with its uses of language that are meant to convey tone and allow people to write in a way that is more similar to speech (and yes, it does take a linguist do appreciate this), there are the facebook status updates of people who forgot how to use a comma; people that don’t care because “it’s the internet”. And then there are websites like Wikipedia, scholarly institutions like universities, companies and a whole lot that use punctuation because it will never cease to be usegil.
I really don’t see why a person can hate the old : – ) emoticons because they’ll make punctuation be forgotten, and be taken seriously. By the time the author made this claim, it was the end of the book; I was seriously done with these amount of absurdities and obnoxious tone though.

I gave the book 3/5 stars: it’s good, it’s not bad written, it gives information. You need to be really good at ignoring the author’s voice, though. I honestly hoped for it to be better.

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REVIEW: Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz

October is the month of spoopy things and I couldn’t help but add at least one spoopy book to my reading list for this month.
Scary Stories to Tell in The Dark by Alvin Schwartz is a collection of horror stories for younger readers, but it will make adults shiver as well. It’s a super short book and I found it entertaining and yes, a bit creepy.

Ghosts, monsters and strange creatures are hidden in this book ready to scare the readers who will venture through its pages. I found the stories rather creative and, although I’m not a reader of the genres, I don’t think they play too much on horror tropes even though you can definitely see them here and there (i.e. the girl’s ghost who seeks revenge for her death). The narration is quite simple and direct, but still hooks you up. Suffice to say I found myself staying up to read until 1am, so I would describe it as “rather addicting”. And yes, I was reading the book in the dark (well, with a little light to see obviously!). There are also some “stage directions” telling you when to stop or when to scream if you’re reading the book out loud, maybe to your children or your friends. It’s a detail that makes this book a nice guest at a Halloween party or a sleepover.

illustration by Stephen Gammel

The illustrations by Stephen Gammel are a great addition to the mix and 80% of what drawn me to this book in the first place. They are beautifully grotesque and scary enough, especially for a children’s book. Nothing too horrible, however, just the right mix to make your blood chill in your veins. I actually got scared when flipping the page during the story of the already mentioned ghost girl, when the illustration unexpectedly popped up!

Pleasantly scary, it is the perfect book to get into that Halloween mood!

REVIEW: Dreamwalker by James Oswald

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this cover is beautiful, look at that design!

Erroll and Benfro are two young boys, living wiith their mothers. They don’t live far from each other and both are curious, talented and have a knack for getting themselves into trouble. But they are very different: Erroll is a human and he wants to become a fighting priest. Benfro is a dragon, the last male dragon to be born in Gwlad. And dragons are watched with suspect from humans, who used to kill them in the name of their God. Both of them are going to face the world outside their quite villages, a world full of enemies and magic.

I enjoyed the concept of this world a lot. If I’m not mistaken, it draws quite heavily from Welsh folklore and culture, of which the names are just the most visible feature. The lessons of magic presented are not much far from what I read in more than one (pagan) book myself, and that was particularly appealing and satisfying. However, I feel like the world building could’ve been done in a much more concise way. It seemed to me that many things were mentioned, but few where explained in depth. Despite it all, there are no elements missing that affect the understanding of the story, so I will call my personal taste on this one.

What really put me off and gave me a hard time going through a third of the book is the fact that the story is very slow. When you start reading it’s not a problem, as you still have to enter the world completely and there is more than one aspect of life in this fantastical world that requires an explanation: the society, the magic, the political situation and the political schemes, the religion. Progressing through the reading, however, it really slows down the reading process and the story seems to be prolonged endlessly without really nothing happening. I also found the change between story lines (that of Erroll and that of Benfro) to be too abrupt sometimes, as the scene is cut and there is a switch back and forth between the two stories.

I don’t believe the storytelling is bad, however, and I must say that I enjoyed it despite its flaws. What I think is that maybe this book serves more as a prologue to give the backstory of the two main characters in the series, instead of being the beginning of the story as one usually understands it. I’m probably going to pick up the next book – as soon as I can put my hands on it – and I’m curious to see where the story goes. Most of all I want to witness the encounter between Benfro and Erroll and the merging of the two main narrative paths of the first book.

A special mention goes to the beautiful cover of this book, which is carton-like, has a beautiful design and it’s also sparkly. One shouldn’t judge a book from its cover, but in this case it is a real work of art!

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REVIEW: A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

First book in the All Souls Trilogy, A Discovery of Witches is a paranormal romance settled in a modern world that little differs from our own except for the Demons, Witches and Vampires (the supernaturals, if you want) that live in it alongside humans.

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WARNING, this book has been rated T for Twilight

Goodreads Synopsis: Deep in the stacks of Oxford’s Bodleian Library, young scholar Diana Bishop unwittingly calls up a bewitched alchemical manuscript in the course of her research. Descended from an old and distinguished line of witches, Diana wants nothing to do with sorcery; so after a furtive glance and a few notes, she banishes the book to the stacks. But her discovery sets a fantastical underworld stirring, and a horde of daemons, witches, and vampires soon descends upon the library. Diana has stumbled upon a coveted treasure lost for centuries-and she is the only creature who can break its spell. 

I don’t know where to start writing this review because there are so many bad things about this book. And believe me, I’m not one who loves saying it.
First of all, this book is underdeveloped and I would also say it wasn’t thought out that much. It seems that someone took one of the drafts and published it instead of going on with the editing (which is a problem of its own).

The idea of this story isn’t bad. Maybe it’s not unheard of, humans living unknowinlgy alongside supernatural creatures who have their own things going on. But one can do a lot with a simple idea, right? Harry Potter is kind of based on the same principle, in the end.
However it seems that the author never went anywhere with that concept and so does the narration. There are huge chunk of text that could’ve easily been left out because they are useless to the the plot, its development and the characters. Plus, they heaviliy slow down the reading process and that’s not something you want in a big book.
This gives a huge kick to cohesion in the whole text, add that for some reason we have 2/3 of the book dedicated to the romance of the two main characters instead than letting the story proceed and here you have it. A feeling of dismay. The sensation that you read nothing for the past hour. Five chapters of nothing.

The romance is another problem of mine. What I hated is that, in some way, the romance stopped the main plot completely. Don’t get me wrong: romance is fine, romantic scenes are fine, but you can’t treat the two things like they’re not happening at the same time. Which is another point agains the development of the story and its cohesion.
The romance is the second most horrifiying thing in here. I’m not a fan of instalove romances. Most of all I’m not a fan of pretended edgy romances where the man is so sad and broody, poor thing, and so do whatever I say because I could get really angry. But that’s only because I’m protective, because I love you.
I wouldn’t define it as abusive, in my opinion it’s just a bad use of a bad trope that glorifies unhealthy dynamics in a relationship. It’s degrading for both the female and the male in it, because makes the former look like a scared doe who can’t do anything alone and the other like some kind of psycho parent who wants you to behave if you don’t want to trigger *bad reaction here* (and this really is abusive, come to think of it).

Last, but not least, the characters are bad and have less depth than a carton-shaped human figure. Diana, the scholar, is supposedly brilliant and intelligent but she comes out as plain stupid and without an inch of mental strength or personal boundaries. Rad Vamp Dude (i can’t recall his name, sorry) comes into her life and she immediately obeys to what he says and is happy to annihilate herself. She doesn’t get mad even when her mother-in-law admits she drugged her without her consent. Rad Vamp Dude tries to be the coolest vampire in town, but he’s too tropey so the mask fell at page two. Sorry.
The only two cool things were Diana’s lesbian aunts (the only two in the book to show a scrap of intelligence and to tell her that RVD treated her more as a thing than a living being) and the cat. Because he a cat.

This book got one star on Goodreads just because no star is not considered a rating. It’s not something I do often, because I try to look at what’s good in a book. Unfortunately, this time there was nothing to be spared. On the brighter side, that doesn’t add to the pile of series I yet have to finish.

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