Progress Towards a Loki Devotional Giveaway

If you were following my blog when I announced the release of the first of my handmade devotional books, the one for Loki, you might recall a mention of a fund set aside to make discounted copies of the books available. Writing about the giveaway that Beth and Columbine have organized for new lovers and beloveds of Apollon reminded me of why I began this fund in the first place. I want to give something back to the devotees that have collectively given me so much. I’m happy to say that $12 is now in the Loki book fund.

I’d like to set aside enough to arrange a free giveaway for a book and to cover its shipping costs so as to make it a really magical experience for the recipient. That means we’re just over one-third of the way there. If you would like to help make this giveaway possible, consider sharing my Etsy shop or the listing for the Loki devotional.  Once some more money has been added to this fund I’ll update everyone on the total so we can celebrate together. 🙂

Update! The fund now contains $21; we’re now approximately two-thirds of the way to a give-away. Thank you!

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Busy Making Art and Other Things

I’ve been quite busy for several days now trying to get many different tasks taken care of. Things are busy at both my jobs so I’m not giving this blog much thought. I’ve also been busy making new blank books and trying to inject a little new life into my Etsy shop, Coffee At Midnight. If you’re interested in my handmade blank books and other items, I’d suggest checking out my other blog that’s specifically for arts and crafts related things.

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAThis hand bound book has approximately 50 blank unlined pages. It has open-flat binding so it is comfortable to use whether you write with your right or left hand. These make great books for writing poetry, sketching, jotting down story ideas, or recording personal thoughts. I keep one on my altar and gradually add inspirational thoughts and ideas as they come to me. Another little blank book has become a sort of love journal where emotional notes are written down.

I’m quite excited to be working on a special art project involving some of these books. I’ll talk more about them as they develop.

In the meantime, thanks for sticking with me.

Shikhandi and Other Tales They Don’t Tell You (by D. Pattanaik) (The Bhakti Bookshelf)

Devdutt Pattanaik is a prolific writer in the Indian and international markets best known for collecting and retelling popular and lesser-known stories from the Hindu tradition. I first encountered his work in The Man Who Was a Woman and Other Queer Tales of Hindu Lore. This little volume was written in a light academic manner and had lots of helpful footnotes and references. I was concerned that Shikhandi and Other Tales They Don’t Tell You was just a rehashing of the older volume (which I happily own) but I was very pleased to discover that Shikhandi stands strongly on its own.shikhandi

Though the book is written in English, it is written in Indian English for the Indian market so some of the word usage and phrasing may not be what many English language readers are familiar with. I’d encourage readers distressed by non-standard uses of words like “ironical” to practice the fine art of coping.

Shikhandi and Other Tales They Don’t Tell You is a paperback collection of stories illustrating many of the fascinating instances of queerness found in the canon of Hindu religious lore. The author discusses queerness as a concept and strongly situates queer expressions within the natural world. Rather than trying to justify or condemn queer expressions (specifically in terms of gender expressions and identities) with doctrine or dogma, Pattanaik introduces readers to the awareness that queerness is an inherent possibility within the manifest world that we are already part of. Lack of awareness of queer identities and queer realities doesn’t actually indicate the unreality of these experiences. Awareness, in this case brought about through storytelling, introduces readers to facets of the world that have always been present.

The author rather sidesteps the potential sexual reading of these stories by focusing more on queer expressions of gender and how queer gendering disrupts categories of relationship, family, and so forth. Though queerness is a disruptive force, we are not led to see queerness as negative because of this disruptive possibility.

Though not specifically a book about bhakti, there are numerous stories that illustrate the intimate and loving connection between worshipers and their beloved gods. I believe that recognizing the potential of sacred love to shake up the familiar categories of our lives is an important development in approaching the divine with a whole and unrestrained heart. Accepting that Their expressions will queer our categories lets us as devotionalists accept the myriad forms our respective Beloveds are capable of taking.

devdutt_12 This is a very approachable book with lots of lovely pictures drawn by the author. It would make a great text for classes introducing students to ideas about queerness, especially queerness in literary and sacred traditions. Each section has some talking points that clarify aspects of the story or explanatory chapter and could be used to guide classroom discussion. I’d also recommend it to people like myself who collect stories in the hope of finding ourselves and an affirming glimpse of our variance. The stories are short and sweet, and so may frustrate readers looking for detailed information about the texts these stories are drawn from; however, Pattanaik helpfully includes the source where these stories are found though some, such as the story of the hijras and Lord Ram, are drawn from oral and folk traditions. To whet your appetite for this enjoyable volume, I’ve excerpted a part of Ram, Who Included All In His Kingdom:

King Dasharath of Ayodhya decided to crown his eldest son Ram king, and retire into the forest for a life of contemplation. However, on the eve of his coronation, his junior wife Kaikeyi demanded the two boons Dasharatha had promised her years ago on the day she had saved his life on the battlefield. “Let my son Bharata be crowned king instead and let Ram live in the forest as a hermit for fourteen years.”

Bound by his word, Dasharatha ordered Ram into exile. Ram obeyed his father without question […] and left the palace accompanied by his loving brother Lakshman and his dutiful wife Sita.

When the residents of Ayodhya heard of the happenings in the palace, they were heartbroken. They decided to follow Ram into exile[.] When Ram reached the river that separated his father’s kingdom from the forest he turned around and said, “Men and women of Ayodhya, if you truly love me, wipe your tears and return to my brother’s kingdom. […] We shall meet again fourteen years later.” With great reluctance the men and women of Ayodhya obeyed Ram and returned to the city.

Fourteen years later, Ram returned and he was surprised to find a few people still on the banks of the river separating the forest from the kingdom. “What are you doing here? Did I not tell you to go home? Why did you disobey me so? Do my words have no value?”

The people started to wail on hearing Ram speak so harshly, such deep wailing that Ram knew something was amiss. “What hurts you hurts my husband, so please reveal the cause of your pain,” said Sita gently[.]

The wailing stopped and the people spoke. “Do not accuse us of disobedience or disloyalty, lord of the Raghu clan. Fourteen years ago you told the men to return to Ayodhya and you told the women to return to Ayodhya. But we are neither men nor women. We were given no instruction. We did not know what to do. So we waited here for you.”

On hearing their story Ram was moved to tears. He had overlooked them by they had not abandoned him. […] Overwhelmed, he hugged them and said, “Come, let us return home together. Never again shall you be invisible.” And so those who were neither men nor women entered Ayodhya alongside Ram to enjoy forever, along with others, the unfettered joys of his rule.

Book People

I love books. I love books as an item, a medium, and as an icon. I bet many of you do, too.

I began thinking about books as magical items a few years ago. Not magical items in a metaphoric sense or with regards to their ability to transport the reader. Actual magic items, the same as one’s wand or staff or ritual robe or whatever. Items that could impact subtle psychic codes or induce a state that was highly receptive to the author’s message. People who know me personally know I have an appetite for fine press occult books (and now that I think about it, I made a Youtube video about this very subject so now everyone knows about my little hobby). I like these books for many reasons, including because these high-ticket items are not shy about being magical. Many of these volumes are designed to be magical. They are supposed to teach you something besides what the words are telling you. There’s something else that can happen – but only so long as the reader brings the key. It’s a true collaboration of energies

But see, lots of books have very similar principles, even if they have not been designed with esoteric principles in mind. The reader has to bring something to the book and together, something new is generated. Book people understand this. That said, appreciating a book on an esoteric or magical level is pretty exciting.

I started making books because I didn’t have the money to buy fabric for a new sewing project. The whole process was enjoyable and engaging and I got some positive feedback. I kept going and gradually got a little better. I set a pile of little blank books on a table when I vended at a fandom convention and almost all of them sold. I didn’t expect people to respond to them. So I kept making them, still getting better but not really doing much with them.

Then financial peril struck in late December. Some heavy bills hit my checking account at the same time and tore through my living funds and a portion of rent. I had to come up with some money quickly. I finally had the motivation to put the little blank books up for sale online on Etsy after waffling about it for months. And they sold. Not all of them and not right away, but they sold. A going-out-of-business sale at an art store got me a few of the expensive supplies I’d put off buying. I made more and posted more and I’m working on five custom orders. Books are magical for lots of reasons.

I’m still facing some very tight weeks and traveling to PantheaCon is going to be a real challenge (I already bought the plane ticket so I’m kinda locked in) but something new has opened up. I don’t know where I’m going with this particular creative avenue. I know I want to make books as magical items for people and I know I want to continue to refine my skills. Mostly though I just want to make people happy. That’s what gives me the most pleasure.

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The Bhakti Bookshelf: The Glories and Pastimes of Srimati Radharani

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Studying any devotional tradition requires one to look at what practitioners themselves have written describing their tradition and the elements within it. I’ve been looking for a nice introduction to the Vaishnava perspective on Radha for some time; many other books provide very little insight into Her or Her character. Though I’ve found a handful of books detailing Radha’s character from a non-Vaishnava and non-Hindu academic standpoint I’ve been after something a little different. In many ways, The Glories and Pastimes of Srimati Radharani is just what I’ve been looking for. Though I wouldn’t give this book my wholehearted recommendation to the novice bhakti student there are many things that might make it worth your attention.

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The Bhakti Bookshelf: In Praise of the Goddess – The Devimahatmya and Its Meaning

One of the blog post drafts I mentioned in my last entry was inspired by a conversation about bhakti that I had with my friend Jo (of Strip Me Back to the Bone). I thought that perhaps I’d do a series on posts about getting started studying bhakti but I quickly realized that I don’t really know exactly  how to go about doing this. I can talk about the way that I have studied this particular devotional tradition but I’m not convinced of the efficacy of my particular progress and thus would not necessarily recommend it to others.

Nonetheless, I love bhakti a great deal and am in considerable debt to it and to the teachers who promote its presence in the world. I want to share my limited understanding of this passionate path and I hope to do so in a way that enhances others’ understanding and promotes meaningful conversation. With this in mind, I’ve decided to do a series of mini-reviews on the different books and materials I come across in my studies. Here’s the first!

In Praise of the Goddess: The Devimahatmya and Its Meaning by Devadatta Kali (translator and commentator) Published by Nicolas-Hays, Inc 2003

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This book contains a chapter by chapter translation and commentary on the Devimahatmya (also known as the Durga Saptashi or the Chandi). The 700 verse hymn is followed by six traditional angas, or ancillary texts that complement the recitation and contemplation of the hymn. Each anga appears in Sanskrit and English and is followed by a commentary. The book begins with an introduction to the history, structure, and contents of the Chandi and concludes with the Sanskrit text. It is a sturdily bound paperback that will certainly stand up to repeated readings.

I’ve wanted a copy of the Devimahatmya for several years though specifically wanted a copy with a strong translation and helpful commentary. This edition was exactly what I was looking for. It’s a clear, well-written exploration of a text that remains central to Shakta philosophy even today.

The Shakta (goddess-centered) tradition in Hinduism contributed to the bhakti movement with many eloquent and evocative hymns and scriptures, of which this is one of the most important. Devi is portrayed as the fundamental, underlying reality upon which all possible manifestations rest; she is not removed or separate from her myriad manifestations and thus can be accessed through all levels of experience. This philosophical stance collapses the dualistic/non-dualistic conundrum and allows engagement with the divine even in a state of separation. Recognizing the Mother’s presence in all her offspring and manifestation is an important part of Shakta bhakti. This stance is similar to certain aspects of Vaishnava bhakti; a difference may be that the worshiper may more easily relate to a pervading maternal divine by virtue of already having a maternal relationship to refer to.

The Devi Mahatmya tells the story of Devi’s battles with various demons, here recognized as obstacles in the way of spiritual refinement. The text also emphasizes the role that the Mother plays in releasing her devotees from these obstacles; that is, grace is identified as a necessary part of spiritual refinement. In this there’s another similarity with Vaishnava bhakti. Perhaps most significantly, the text outlines Devi’s promises of aid and support to her worshipers and indeed to anyone who calls on her with sincerity.

This is a lovely and comprehensive volume exploring many important features of the devotional path. I definitely recommend it to anyone interested in this text or in Shakta bhakta.

Book can be purchased from Biblio.com here: http://www.biblio.com/book/praise-goddess-devimahatmya-its-meaning/d/736569872