Title: Dwelling on the Threshold: Reflections of a Spirit-Worker and Devotional Polytheist
Author: Sara Kate Istra Winter
Pages: 198 pp
There aren’t currently enough books available on spirit-work; more to the point, there aren’t enough good books on spirit-work available, either. And in this tome, you won’t find a good book.
It’s a great one.
A practitioner of spirit work and devotional polytheism for too many years to count, Sarah Winter — known online as Dver — here lays out, in multiple essays, some of the most sage advice for newly-fledged spirit-workers every to be relayed outside of close, deeply-personal mentor-student relationship. Many of her essays were originally published at her blog, A Forest Door, and have since been updated and revised for publication in this book. Poetry, ritual, practice, and prayer come together in a work that is unique among modern pagan/polytheist books. Winter, who is also the author of Kharis: Hellenic Polytheism Explored, is a worshiper and devotee of the Hellenic pantheon (as well as numerous other deities), and Dwelling on the Threshold offers advice both practical and poetic for dealing with gods and goddesses that have suddenly demanded your attention.
Nor is the material here limited strictly to prose and poetry; a list at the end of the book suggests numerous other books, articles, and websites for those interested in topics as wide-ranging as ancient Greek mysticism, shamanism, entheogens, and medieval witchcraft. Many of these topics link to one another in her essays — the use of entheogens (plant and fungal materials used by both ancient and modern cultures to help achieve an altered state) to aid in shamanic workings; the use of those same entheogens by medieval witches in locations as disparate as England, Siberia, and Brazil; and witchcraft in ancient Greece. The book is also peppered with quotes from authors such as Terri Windling, Kveldulf Gundarsson, and Alan Moore, many of them melding with the text to form the most apropos emphasis possible to her words.
In Dwelling on the Threshold, Winter does not hesitate to caution untrained practitioners — of magic, of shamanism, of faith — about the dangers of walking down the road she has chosen. Entheogens, she warns, are not for the faint of heart, nor are they recommended for empty-headed party animals just looking to have a good (and sometimes legal) trip. The gods and spirits that inhabit this world most definitely notice when you come looking for them, and what might be idle curiosity on a seeker’s part can turn into a life-changing — and possibly life-wrecking — experience. Winter does not stint on describing the dangers that can take place when one regards this path as something to dabble in. Much like playing with a stray cat that may not particularly want to be bothered, one might get away with no more than a surly glare … or one might end up having to go to the hospital for a deeply infected bite that could cost you a hand, a leg, or your life.
I have read a number of books on spirit-work and devotional polytheism, and I recommend Dwelling on the Threshold without hesitation. Elegantly written, clear in tone, and full of not just the basics but the things interested readers most need to know, it is mandatory reading for anyone wanting to learn more about these matters.
[Jennifer Lawrence likes the fey and the strange, which explains most of her friends. Her interests include gardening, herbalism, mythology and fairy tales, theology, Celtic music, role-playing games, horror movies, and the martial arts. Her work has appeared in numerous publications, including Aphelion, Jabberwocky 4, Cabinet Des Fees, Goblin Fruit, and the Bibliotheca Alexandrina anthology Unbound: A Devotional Anthology in Honor of Artemis. She lives somewhere near Chicago.]
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