"Live your questions now, and perhaps even without knowing it, you will live along some distant day into your answers. "
-Rainer Maria Rilke

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Drawing Down the Spirits - A Book Review

By G. Krasskova

A new book has just been released that I believe will prove to be of great importance to spiritworkers and shamans. It’s called “Drawing Down the Spirits: The Traditions and Techniques of Spirit Possession” and it explores techniques of spirit and Divine possession across the Neo-Pagan, Heathen, and Afro-Caribbean spectrum. The authors, Kenaz Filan and Raven Kaldera, both have extensive experience dealing with Deity possession and they have collected a wealth of information, drawing on other experienced practitioners both within their respective communities and from other branches of modern Paganisms as well.

This book offers an extensive examination of the role of possessory work within modern Paganisms, beginning with a history of possession across the world and throughout history. Particular attention is paid to the 20th century and the rise of spiritualism, Edgar Cayce, and theosophy. While not the focus of the book, it does provide interesting historical and social context, particularly relevant since these latter movements formed the soil from which many modern Paganisms sprang. The real meat of the work begins in part II. The authors, in conjunction with the many shamans and spiritworkers interviewed, all of whom are ‘horses,’ (people wired to allow Deity possession) explore the dynamic of possession from the inside out. Many of the columnists of “Godsmouths” are quoted throughout the book, including our esteemed editor.

The reader is introduced to the way possession works: what exactly happens to the ‘horse’ when the God or Goddess comes in? What are the levels of possession? What are the possible negative side effects on the body of the practitioner and on the community of these practices? What are the benefits? What is the appropriate protocol to follow when a Deity is present? What are the obligations of community, horse, and handlers? All of these questions and more are explored extensively. The authors talk about how this is happening, what people can expect, and how to integrate these powerful practices into the community as a whole. Concrete information is interspersed with personal accounts throughout the book creating a powerful, diverse, richly faceted narrative.

In my opinion, this is one of the most important books to come out in the last few years with the Pagan and Heathen communities. Deity possession is happening and it is extraordinarily controversial across denominational divides. While there have been numerous academic texts concerning possession (ranging from tepid to infuriating), to date, this is the first book written by practitioners for both practitioners and the communities in which they work. It’s beautifully written and very accessible. If you’ll pardon the terrible pun, which I just can’t seem to resist right now, you actually get to read about how it’s done, why it’s done, and what it’s like….straight from the ‘horses’ mouths.” (Yes, I know.)

While I don’t agree with everything written (I don’t, for instance, see what the issue is with cross gender possessions. It happens. It’s not that rare though the authors spend what to me seems an inordinate amount of time examining the dynamics of cross gender possession), for the most part, I think this is an invaluable book for anyone actively involved in Paganisms or Heathenry. Even if you do not horse, have no desire to horse, have never seen a possession, and don’t want to see one, “Drawing Down the Spirits” (originally titled “Wild Horses” but changed by the publisher, unfortunately to something more ‘academic’) is still a fascinating examination of a growing devotional phenomenon within a broad, diverse, and complex spectrum of polytheistic religions. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

The book is currently available from amazon.com as well as major retailers:

Drawing Down the Spirits
By Kenaz Filan and Raven Kaldera
Published by Destiny Books
ISBN: 978-159477269-6

(cross-posted to Blood for the Divine).

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