Holiday Gift Guide for Magical Kids (and Kids at Heart)

When I’m shopping for my kids for birthdays or holidays, I rarely think to myself ‘is this Pagan?’ I don’t care if something is exactly my flavor of spirituality. What I’m looking for are things that foster creativity and enjoyment, and stories that reflect the values with which I and my husband are raising our family. There isn’t a lot of high quality Pagan- or Hindu-specific kid stuff out there (that I can find easily). But there are some things I’ve found and I’d like to share with you. Some of these books and media I’ve written about in other posts. I apologize for the repeats.

First, you’ll find no toys listed here. Basically anything that fosters imagination and creativity (paper and markers, blocks of any kind, dress up clothes, fake kitchen items, science kits, robotics kits, etc) are great for kids, as are anything that will get them outside. What could be more spiritual than creativity and nature? These sorts of ideas extrapolated for adults are also a good idea, because it’s rare to meet an adult who is getting enough creative or outside time. I know I’m not!

Books

We are a house full of readers. Below are some of the books I have particularly loved for kids of all ages.

Lakshmi, from Kathleen Edwards' Holy Stars.

Lakshmi, from Kathleen Edwards’ Holy Stars.

*Holy Stars by Kathleen Edwards is a great book for overviews of the world’s religious figures. Equal space is devoted to Jesus, the Virgin Mary, Yahweh, Muhammad, Lakshmi, Krishna, Buddha, Chango, and others. It’s all done in a graphic novel style that is engaging and fun to read. Snippets from prayers are included. It won’t tell the full story or answer all questions, but introducing kids of all ages to the world’s spiritual characters is a wonderful way to promote religious diversity, understanding, and literacy.

May not be ideal for kids under 4 or 5. Some of the gods’ stories can be…. scary. For example, the crucifixion of Jesus is not easy to explain to a 3-year-old!

Click on the image above to go to the author/illustrator’s site to see more images.

bigmomma*Big Momma Makes the World, by Phyllis Root, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury, is a beautiful picture book telling the story of creation. What I love about this version is that it doesn’t use an old, white man as the Creator. Instead we see an African-American woman as the Creator. The images are simply gorgeous.The narrative voice is delightful. I think this book is appropriate for all but the most conservative of traditions.

This book is appropriate for all ages.

abc_cover_small* ABC Book of Shadows is a board book, perfect for tiny hands and little ones just learning their letters. I will admit that the art in this isn’t my favorite, but little eyes love the bright colors and child-like drawing. This book is written with a Wiccan point of view, and I’m not Wiccan, but you know? It doesn’t matter. As my son got older we were able to talk about some of the differences between what I believe and what the books says. No matter, this a well-loved book in our house. I’m pretty sure I have it memorized, that’s how many times we’ve read this. In fact, our copy is starting to fall apart. I don’t expect it to last beyond the third child!

Click on the image to go Itty Bitty Witch Works, the author’s small press.

elsa beskowchristmas* While not explicitly Pagan or religious, but simply marvelous all the same, are the works of Swedish author/illustrator Elsa Beskow. We have three of her books and I would gladly have more! My children love the pictures as well as the stories. Beskow focuses on images and cycles of nature from her native Sweden. Characters are embodiments of the elements, seasons, or folk tradition (such as trolls) that sometimes interact with human children. Some books are slightly more Christian in theme, but none of the books are ‘religious’ in any overt way. The length of the stories might be hard for kids under 3 to sit through, but the images will grab them. Content-wise, these books are appropriate for people of all ages and all traditions.

 

* A great find at our local library was Gillian Cross’s wonderful retelling of The odysseyOdyssey, with Neil Packer’s stunning illustrations. This isn’t a complete retelling, but it’s enough to entrance a child – and the parent who has to read it aloud! Books of ancient tales and myths, if well done, are popular in our house. This one was a particular favorite. In fact, we will be gifting our son with his own copy for the holidays.

Ideal to read aloud to pre-literate kids and great for older kids to read on their own. Click on the link above to see more images from inside.

sea of trolls * I have written at length about The Sea of Trolls. In fact, I consider it one of the best non-magic books about magic! Here’s part of what I’ve written before:

The Sea of Trolls is set in the 8th century in Saxon ‘England’. Our hero is Jack, an 11 yr old boy. His father longs for Lindisfarne, his mother keeps bees, his 5 yr old sister Lucy insists she’s a fairy princess, and he befriends a Druidic bard. In the first few chapters of the book, Jack is the bard’s apprentice and he begins learning and witnessing magic. Then comes the Viking invasion, and he and Lucy are carried off as slaves. We briefly see Picts and then Jack and Lucy are taken across the North Sea and must venture into Jotunheim, the land of the Ice Giants/Trolls.

It’s a wonderful story, with great characters. The writing is simple – very appropriate for readers 9-11 yrs old. While I like the story and enjoy reading it aloud to my son, what blows me away is the depiction of magic and spirit.

I have read this book many times to my son. There are perhaps two chapters (one on berserking, in particular) that might be too descriptive for your under 10 child – your mileage may vary. I admit to skipping bits here and there for my son.

This book is the first in a trilogy. I enjoyed the entire trilogy, but this is by far my favorite. A great easy read for the older kid or adult who likes fantasy, myth, and/or history.

GraveMercy_* For teens and adults who enjoy YA writing, I recommend Robin LaFevers’ His Fair Assassins series. Grave Mercy is the first in the historical fiction series. So far there are two books; I believe the third is coming out in the spring of 2014 (I can’t wait!). What’s great about these books are the strong female protagonists. They are trained assassins and nuns for the Breton god of Death, Mortaine. The young ladies haven’t really chosen their lives, and so their motives are complicated by politics and romance. I greatly enjoyed these stories.

What makes me include them here is the complex, if fictional, depiction of ‘the old gods’ existing in a newly Christianizing world. There is also an incredibly powerful vision of the god of Death at the end of Grave Mercy that made the theologian and Pagan in me jump for joy.

MeetPolkadot* The last book I want to recommend for kids is not spiritual at all, yet I think many readers of my blog will be interested in it. Meet Polkadot is an educational book on gender diversity for kids. Talcott Broadhead is a local (to me) author and social worker with a gender identity-diverse family. This book has bright illustrations and explores the topic through the eyes of Polkadot, a transgender child (or, for those that assume transgender means surgically altered, let me also throw in the phrase ‘gender neutral’). In a society that doesn’t know the difference between sex and gender (one is biology, the other is identity) and is suffocating under the tyranny of ‘blue is for boys, pink is for girls’ nonsense, this book is more than needed on bookshelves everywhere.

But better than my recommendation is the fact that my 5-year-old loved it. My nearly 3-year-old listened to the whole thing, though I don’t think she really understood much of it. We had great discussion afterwards, too. My son really wanted to know whether Polkadot was a boy or a girl – and that was a great opportunity to talk about the many ways people react to non-normative gender expressions.

This book is not available on Amazon. Please click on the either the picture or the link to go to Danger Dot Publishing.

Not books

* Once you’ve read all the books and you want to sit and watch something with positive Pagan values, I can recommend nothing as highly as the Avatar: The Last Airbender television series. I know, it came out years ago, but there still isn’t anything out there as compelling, with such outstanding design, strong females characters, well-written story arcs, and what I see as Pagan values. Sure, the last point is debatable, as there is nothing in the show explicitly Pagan. The series draws more from Asian and indigenous cultures than Western ones, yet this lack of Christian-based morality is a breath of fresh air. The values presented are all ones I hope my children (and myself!) emulate. I am sure I have seen every episode 30 times, and it still doesn’t bore me.

This program is suitable for kids over the age of 2 (the first season especially; the ending four episodes might be more appropriate for 5 and up – again your mileage may vary).

* Another cartoon that I recommend for its feminist leanings, excellent art and depictions of magic is My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. I am no fan of content created for marketing, but this cartoon series was designed and spearheaded by the amazing Lauren Faust. She’s worked on the Powerpuff Girls and Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends (two other cartoons that I am a big fan of). There is nothing spiritual about this series, but I can’t help but recommend something using magical tropes AND filled with strong female characters (and solid animation). I love Rainbow Dash, but suspect I’m more of a Twilight Sparkle. Suitable for all ages.

My son's Ganesh murti.

My son’s Ganesh murti.

* Finally, I think a small Ganesh murti can be ideal for kids. Their very own statue! Plus, small murtis aren’t often that expensive – usually between $10-20. Ganesh is a fantastic god to keep in a kid’s bedroom. He’s kind, loving, happy, and will keep watch over the littles! I like to say he’s a great gateway god!

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Serpent Songs, A Review

By now you probably know that I am an unrepentant fan of Scarlet Imprint, publishing house of fine occult books. For my birthday at the beginning of June, my husband gifted me with Serpent Songs, a collection of essays whose central theme is traditional witchcraft. I squeed with delight. The book is beautiful to behold, as I expected. The textures of the paper feel good in the hand; the color and printing are a delight to the eye.

Image taken from Scarlet Imprint's web page.

Image taken from Scarlet Imprint’s web page.

That said, I found this collection to be very hit and miss. Several of the essays I loved. Some I found entirely uninteresting. One essay in particular made me so upset that I wanted to hurl the book across the room. And not in ‘intellectually stimulated and challenged’ upset sort of way.

Let’s start with the awful and get it out of the way. Shani Oates, Maid of the Clan of Tubal Cain, has written a bloated essay in the purplest of prose. I read it three times, hoping that it was me and not her. Alas. Ms Oates writes as though she has mined a thesaurus for the most beautiful words she can find. There are lovely phrases, yet nothing seems to have any meaning. I suspect that she may have been writing in code. Many Craft practitioners do this, so as not to reveal secrets or break oaths. But some authors, like Serpent Song‘s editor, Nicholaj de Mattos Frisvold, are gifted at both writing in code, yet giving non-members plenty to chew on without condescension. Ms Oates essay reeked of outsider exclusion. Given that Scarlet Imprint writes for the smart occultist, without an emphasis on a particular tradition, I am stumped as to how this essay was included.

There are also some rather dull essays, ones I thought only marginally interesting. They reminded me of things I read in graduate school. I thought they might have been more at home in a decidedly academic collection.

But then there were several essays that more than made up for the others. I enjoyed Johannes Gårdbäck’s essay, ‘Trolldom.’ It’s a subject I don’t know much about. Gårdbäck, a Swede, used the tale of assisting a couple to inform the reader of many aspects of Trolldom, Swedish folk magic. It was interesting story telling and informative, too.

Several of the essays are ones I will come back to again. I was particularly impressed with the two contributions from Basque sorcerers, Arkaitz Urbeltz and Xabier Bakaikoa Urbeltz. This is a tradition I knew nothing about until reading these two essays. The way the home and hearth are central to their tradition, way of life and understanding of their world spoke to me in a deep way; I related and felt challenged to think more deeply about connection to home and place. One essay discusses Mari, a goddess I had heard stems from the Basque tradition, and is only found outside of it in the Feri/Faery tradition I practice. I felt these two authors did a beautiful job communicating their beliefs and practices in poetic, yet clear ways.

Sarah Lawless contributed a beautiful article on the ‘Mysteries of Beast, Blood and Bone’ which ends the volume. It is animistic in tone and practical in focus. It was a delightful ending to a mixed bag of essays, ranging from incredibly annoying to boring to possibly practice altering to profound.

Overall this book is, as are all Scarlet Imprint’s tomes, for the serious collector or practitioner. This book contains some of the worst writing I’ve yet to see them publish and some of the most beautiful and interesting. As always, there are several versions of this text, finely bound and digital.

Sharing the Love

Earlier this week I was nominated for a Liebster Award by a reader. Basically this is a like a chain-letter blog love fest. A reader with her own blog included me in a list of blogs she really loves. Thank you!!

I’m not going to follow all the rules (because that’s not my style), but I thought I’d answer the questions my fellow blogger posed on her post and then recommend a few blogs myself.

  1. What is your favorite quote/proverb? I don’t have one. Really.
  2. Do you prefer incense or candles and why? Both! If I had to only have one I’d choose the candle, because sometimes incense can make me sneeze, especially if I have a cold coming on.
  3. What is your favorite music genre? Again, I can’t pick just one. I love music, but I barely listen to it. Mostly I need music without words; my head is already too full, and the kids too noisy, to put up with yet another person’s words! Mostly if I choose music it is symphonic or ambient.
  4. Do you have any artistic skills (draw, write, sing, etc.)? I am a classically trained singer.
  5. Grease or Footloose and why? Footloose. Grease always annoyed the crap out of me. When I was 9 I would put on my Footloose soundtrack LP and choreograph entire dances.
  6. What is your dream job? I’m living it! Writing, thinking, raising my kids.
  7. Of all the books you own, which do you consider the most sacred? The Complete Adventures of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie by May Gibbs, a gift given to me by my aunt when I was born. As for spiritual sacred texts, I no longer hold one text as more sacred than another.
  8. Do you have any phobias? As I get older heights get much harder. I also feel funny about moths and bats. But I have no true phobia.
  9. Who would you prefer to have as a child: Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger or Jason Voorhees, and why? I don’t know who those people are. Other than Freddy Krueger, and ew.
  10. What song are you not ashamed to say you love? Oh, I have a love of cheesy pop music. I will admit here and now that there are some Katy Perry songs that I quite enjoy.

And now for two blogs that you might not know about. Confessions of a Hedge Witch is a smart, witchy blog by a priestess, academic, and all around wild woman. When Death Calls is infrequent, but dark and poetic. I enjoy both and you might too!

What We’re Reading

I like books. I really like books. I seem  constitutionally unable read only one thing at a time. This filters down to the kids, too. We’re reading some great stuff right now, so I thought I’d share.

First up, the two-and-a-half-year-old. Here is her current obsession:IMG_0677

She is in love with the Octonauts, a series of books and cartoons that we discovered thanks to the BBC in Wales. We read these several times every day (saints preserve me). The art is great, the characters are adorable, and, when watching the cartoons, she learns stuff about marine life and the oceans.

My daughter is so obsessed that she insists she is neither boy nor girl, but penguin – Peso Penguin, the medic character. I am called almost exclusively Tweak Bunny, the engineer – no more Mama here!

 

IMG_0678Next, my 5-year-old. Together we are reading the following: A Wizard of Earth Sea by Ursula K LeGuin, Wildwood by Colin Meloy (he of the Decembrists), and The Odyssey as retold by Gillian Cross and illustrated by Neil Packer. These are unintentionally listed in order of least to greatest preference.

LeGuin is marvelous, but rather dense and staid for a 5-year-old. Son still enjoys it, but he asks for the others first. Wildwood, an alternate reality book set in Portland, OR, is good, but not great. Son really likes it, and middle school readers might love it. As a more advanced reader there are some flaws that I think better editing could have helped, and also could have slimmed down this hefty tome by about a third. Meloy says in 10 words what could easily be said in 5.

The surprising winner is The Odyssey. I’m pretty sure I read this a million years ago (I know I read The Iliad in 9th grade), but I don’t remember being as interested as I am now. This retelling is excellent. I highly recommend this version. You get all the awfulness and weariness of Odysseus’ journey, but little of the repetition or gore of the original, which is perfect for getting young minds hooked on ancient myth and story telling. The illustrations are beautiful. Ancient Greek lettering is used in some of the pictures, too. We found this at the library, but I would like to get a copy for our home, as I know this is a book we will return to many times. (Follow this link to see the first 17 pages.)

 

Here is what I’m reading.IMG_0682 The first is my one novel, Victor Hugo’s French classic, The Hunchback of Notre Dame. I’ve never read it. I have a love of 19th century and gothic novels, and Hugo’s other great novel, Les Miserables, is one of my all time favorites. This book, however, is rather slow going, both because I have limited time to get engrossed in a book like this (one with such complex writing and long-winded descriptions that uninterrupted chunks of time are necessary for true enjoyment) and because, well, it’s a little dull so far.

Second is Living Your Yoga, by Judith Lasseter. One of my yoga teachers recommended it, and I quite like it. It’s a little book on how to bring the values of yoga into your every day life. I’m reading one chapter a day and using it as a bit of focus. Today, for example, is about Control, about letting go of our need for it, and how this affects not just our asana practice but also our relationships. Yesterday was Compassion, etc.

The next two are both Scarlet Imprint books. The olive colored one is their latest, Serpent Songs, a collection of essays on Traditional Witchcraft. I’m only half way through. I am struggling with some of the essays. I may write a longer review when I finally finish. The white book is Peter Grey’s The Red Goddess. I’ve read this one before (twice), but I am reading it again! I love this book, even though it is highly problematic, particularly to anyone with a strong biblical studies background. And yet, I still think it is worth reading.

What are you reading? Anything you recommend?

 

Winners!

Adam drew a cartoon of our process.

Adam drew a cartoon of our proces

 

Don’t worry, you’re all winners to me.

Thanks to everyone for entering my first ‘contest.’ It was fun to do!

I wrote out all the names and put them in my pretty silver salad bowl.

My son drew names for two of the books and my daughter drew for one.

Without further ado the winners are:

Ambaa wins Make Magic of Your Life by T Thorn Coyle

Jody Marx wins Seeking the Mystery by Christine Hoff Kraemer

Rhiannon Mackey Dacono from Colorado wins Kali by Elizabeth U Harding

Congrats! Please send me an email with your name and address to myownashram at gmail dot com.

My daughter doesn't want to let the books go.

My daughter doesn’t want to let the books go.

 

Win some books!

Winsome books that can be won.

I have three books to give away!

Make Magic of Your Life by T. Thorn Coyle. make magicIf you are a student of Feri or of Thorn’s this book may be a bit rudimentary for you. You’ve probably already heard her say these things many times before. For those not familiar with Thorn’s work or for those looking for a fresh perspective on integrating their passions into their lives, regardless of their spiritual tradition, I think this book could be very helpful. Thorn has a conversational tone to her writing, but don’t let that lull you into complacency! Thorn expects that you put in the work of self-reflection and commitment to your self. I think this book could be appropriate for a person from any liberal spiritual tradition (I’m guessing readers of this blog fall into that category). Thorn is using a pagan framework to support her ideas, but again, I think any lover of religious tradition will be able to connect with the wisdom here.

Seeking the Mystery: An Introduction to Pagan Theologies by Christine Hoff-Kraemer. This is a small, introductory level book on the many kinds of pagan theologies (yes, plural) currently in use. It is by no means comprehensive, but is a rock solid start for the student of religions, for pagans wanting to dive deeper into their own tradition, for a professor who needs a text for their religions studies class, or for any person who thinks that paganism is just worshiping the devil and/or dancing naked in the forest. Whereas Thorn’s book above is written at a very simple level (I think a bright middle school student could easily read it), this book is written for the undergraduate student or very bright high school student. I highly recommend this book, and I helped edit it!

Kali: The Black Goddess of Dakshineswar by Elizabeth U. Harding. This is a fantastic book on Kali, her cult, her symbols, as well as the history and practices of a specific temple devoted to Kali. While this book is written by some one with a deep love of Kali, it is not a ‘how-to’ worship book. However, I think it is essential for Western lovers of Kali.

All three books are like brand new.

How to enter: comment below or on the blog’s Facebook page. I’ll need a name/handle and which book or books you’d like (yes, you can enter for more than one). If you are willing, I’d love to know where in the world you are. I’m a geography nerd and I think it’d be cool to see from where in the world you are reading. You can enter only once and I’ll stop taking entries at 8 am PST on Friday. Sometime Friday afternoon I’ll draw names out of a bowl for each book and will post winners that evening. I will send the books anywhere in the world, so anyone (including my family and friends; except you, Adam) from anywhere can enter. I will send books the way that is least expensive for me. I assume no responsibility for the quality or reliability of any postal service.

Yay books!

Giveaways!

Next Friday I’m going to give away THREE books! Be sure to check back midweek (or follow the Facebook page) for details on which books and how to be eligible.

And now, my family is off to Portland for the weekend. Have a good weekend!