Let’s Recommend: “On the Heavenly Spheres”

It’s been a while since I wrote a recommendation post, so I figured why not break that streak with what I think is the best book on astrology you’re likely to find.

Photograph of the cover of "On the Heavenly Spheres" by Helena Avelar and Luis Ribeiro.

On the Heavenly Spheres by Helena Avelar and Luis Ribeiro is, as its subtitle says, a treatise on traditional astrology. Specifically, this is traditional, Western astrology which consists of techniques and concepts as practiced and understood in Europe from the Hellenistic era through the sixteen hundreds.

It’s the astrology of the middle ages and the renaissance. The stuff John Dee used to select the date of Elizabeth I’s coronation, and the stuff William Lilly wrote about in the first English-language textbook on astrology.

Simply put, it’s the heart and soul of Western astrology, and On the Heavenly Spheres does a fantastic job of presenting it. It includes traditional interpretations of the planets, signs, houses, and aspects just as you’d expect, but it also goes into incredible detail on a number of astrology’s finer points. Concepts such as sect, hayz, occidental and oriental planets, and countless others are introduced and explained in detail.

And it’s that level of detail which raises one of the two issues you might find with this book. At only around 270 pages, On the Heavenly Spheres is extremely “information dense.” Topics are introduced, discussed at length, then the authors move on assuming you have absorbed the material. This makes the book an invaluable resource, but it also might make it a little less friendly for the beginner.

Simply put, this book requires work. It demands to be read more than once, and you’ll likely find yourself referring back to it over and over again.

The second issue is less of a problem and more an intention. This is a book on traditional astrology, and the authors are both very clear on this, as well as very exclusionary of “modern” astrological contributions. The most obvious example of this is an appendix in the back of the book which criticizes the use of the outer planets Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto.

That may put some readers off, particularly if they’re coming from a purely modern background, but Avelar and Ribeiro’s arguments are worth reading.

And, at the end of the day, you’re ultimately free to take them or leave them.

No matter what your astrological background, though, I can’t recommend this book more highly. It absolutely belongs on the shelf of everyone who is serious about astrology.

Let’s Recommend: “The Chaos Protocols”

I’ve rambled a bit about chaos magic before, and at the risk of doing so again, let me recommend a book about it!

Cover of "The Chaos Protocols"

Gordon White’s The Chaos Protocols, published in 2016, is one part chaos magic and one part socio-economics. If this sounds like a strange combination, I can only guess you’re new here.

If you’ve always kept your magic and your politics firmly separated, now more than ever is the time to entangle them.

One of the ideas I’ve come to have about magic, is that it is principally a tool for the marginalized. With a few notable exceptions (particularly along the Levi-Mathers-Crowley trunk of the family tree), magicians in “the West” are more likely to come from the underclasses of society than from its upper crust. Whether you’re talking about witches, cunning folk, root workers, or fortune tellers, the magically-inclined have historically been outcasts.

Or, at least, that’s how they’re usually treated by “fine, upstanding folks,” until the need for their services arises.

And this makes sense, when you think about it. If you’re a member of the ruling elite, and you hold all of the economic and political power, there’s no need to take your grievances to the crossroads.

This is much less true if you happen to belong to the “wrong” ethnicity, gender, or class. When you have little if any material or social currency, and no practical way to beat your oppressors, the “supernatural” might be the only ally you’ve got.

Magic isn’t a tool for the Powers That Be. It’s a tool to be used in spite of them, if not against them.

In The Chaos Protocols, Gordon White lays out the case that the socio-economic systems presently dominating the globe simply weren’t made for our benefit. Rather, thanks to a decades-long marketing campaign by the elite, we’ve been fooled into buying into a pack of economic lies, and trapped ourselves in a cage.

And breaking out of that cage should be the first order of business for the budding magician.

Now, to be fair, I don’t agree with everything in this book, and you’d probably do well to hit up some solid works on anarchist economic theory once you’ve gotten through the material. I do agree with most of it, though, and it had me Googling housing costs and inflation rates for half a night, so there’s that.

Oh, and if you do decide that cutting a deal at the crossroads is your best bet after reading this book, it’s got a ritual for that, too.

Let’s Recommend: “The Astrology Podcast”

My relationship with astrology is long, complicated, and probably deserves its own post. The bottom line? Once I absorbed the basics of Western, natal astrology (the planets, signs, houses, and aspects) I felt a deep, resounding feeling of “Now What?” that I just couldn’t shake.

I mean, I could read a chart. I had a vague sense of how transits worked, I’d sorta played around with secondary progressions, and I kinda knew how all the pieces fit together. Still, even after emptying the shelves of my local bookstore and the library, I knew I was missing something.

I could do astrology, but I didn’t feel like I got astrology.

Then I happened to randomly stumble upon The Astrology Podcast, and finally had some direction.

Hosted by Chris Brennan–and featuring frequent contributions from Austin Coppock, Leisa Schaim, and Kelly Surtees–The Astrology Podcast is published about once a week, includes a monthly forecast, and offers what I think is the best, free source of information on astrology you’re likely to find.

The podcast welcomes an astounding array of special guests, and often includes incredibly deep dives into topics of astrological interest. Like this three hour long discussion on astrology and magic from late last year…

Seriously. Chris and his guests will spend hours talking about every aspect of whatever topic is at hand, and very, very little of it could be called “filler.” Most of the episodes are very information-dense, and will more often than not have you adding books to your wish-list to learn even more.

As much as I love this kind of ponderous stuff, there is a downside to it. The Astrology Podcast isn’t exactly experts-only, but it’s also not what I’d call “beginner friendly.” I think someone who is new to astrology can still enjoy it, and get something out of it, but even as an astrologer safely in the “intermediate” camp, a fair bit of the material goes over my head.

I can’t tell you how many times I find myself racking my brain while re-watching an episode for the third time, a notepad in hand, and a couple of books cracked open next to me. This is a situation I find immensely pleasurable, but not everyone does.

Still, you can’t go wrong with a bunch of astrologers geeking out.

Let’s Recommend: “Tarot: The Open Reading”

I’m pretty sure you could fill a modest public library with nothing but books on the Tarot, and new books on the subject come out monthly. In my humble opinion, most of them are fairly derivative and not very interesting. One notable exception to this is the late Yoav Ben-Dov’s book Tarot: The Open Reading.

Cover of "Tarot: The Open Reading"

Written as a companion to Ben-Dov’s deck, the CBD Tarot de Marseille, this book is an exceptional introduction to the traditional, Marseille Tarot. It’s also a good introduction to the looser, more intuitive style of Tarot reading which some of the more “Hermetically-inclined” readers may have struggled with.

There’s a long and growing debate between people who assigned fixed or “traditional” meanings to Tarot cards, and those who prefer to “let the cards speak” in the moment. I’ll save wading into that blood-drenched kiddie pool for another post, but I will say that if you begin your Tarot career in the fixed meanings prison, it can be frustratingly hard to break out of it later on.

Once “Death = Transformation” gets in your head, it tends to lock the door and throw away the key.

Tarot: The Open Reading is like a hacksaw slipped into a birthday cake. There are excellent write-ups of all the cards, giving you “fixed meanings” galore, but the way they are presented, and the way the tie directly into the images on the cards, lets you cut through the bars and get out into the open.

And, as the title of the book implies, the “open reading” is the whole point. It’s all about knowing the question, looking at the cards on the table, and seeing the answer unfold like a stage performance.

This book, and Ben-Dov’s approach, has probably influenced my own Tarot practice more than any others I’ve read in recent years. It’s helped me shed a few of my more annoying Tarot reading “bad habits,” and I keep going back to it. I read and re-read his text, and find myself still having “Aha!” moments when I least expect them.

If you don’t have it already, I highly recommend buying a Marseille deck, picking up this book, and taking them both for a spin.

Let’s recommend: Hellier

One of the things I want to do most with the blog is to point out other weird media. Books, podcasts, other blogs–anyone and anything that I’ve stumbled across which falls into the broad categories of magic or the paranormal.

There are a lot of very talented people doing a lot of very good research and producing a lot of very good content. Few of them get the recognition I think they deserve. Maybe I can help with that a little.

Right away, though, let me say that these posts aren’t meant to be true “reviews.” I’ll probably tag them as such here (because algorithms), but they’re not remotely objective or unbiased. These are recommendations of things I enjoy. Take ’em or leave ’em.

With that out of the way, let’s recommend Hellier.

Hellier is a “Planet Weird” paranormal documentary series created and featuring Dana Newkirk, Greg Newkirk, Karl Pfeiffer, Connor J. Randall, and Tyler Strand. It’s wild. From the description they wrote on the official trailer for the first season of the show…

“Planet Weird presents HELLIER, a five-part, cinematic documentary series following an investigation into unsolved mysteries, impossible synchronicities, and a web of high strangeness which stretches from the heart of Appalachian coal country. Driven by a plea for help from a man under supernatural assault, a small crew of paranormal researchers find themselves in a dying coal town, where a series of strange coincidences leads them to a decades-old mystery with far-reaching implications.”

Anything else I might write about the content of the show would almost be too “spoilery,” so I’ll just leave it at that and get on with why I like it.

First, the cinematography and overall production value of this series is so far above and beyond any other paranormal documentary that it’s insane. Karl Pfeiffer–the director of Hellier as well as a participant–did an outstanding job, and utterly ruined every other spooky show for me.

Second, the group takes a very “John Keel” approach to what they’re doing, which is fully their intention. They walk into the weirdness with open arms and little pre-judgement, letting the phenomena take them wherever it wants to. If you’ve read and enjoyed The Mothman Prophecies (which the group references frequently) you’ll know what I mean.

Lastly, and most-importantly for me, Hellier is not only not afraid to show the group’s failures and disappointments, but that honestly seems to be half the point of the show. In most of the paranormal documentaries I’ve seen, every effort is made to convince you that “Something Significant Has Happened.” It’s all very carefully edited so that every E.V.P. session gets a voice, every question asked with a spirit box gets an answer, and every other camera shot is filled with “orbs.”

That’s not true of this show. The first season of Hellier almost feels like a let down when you compare the first episode to the last two. They hooked me with a great first episode filled with lots of weird potential, then it sort of becomes a “slow burn” experience around the middle of episode three, and then by the end I was like: “Uhh…was that it?”

It was actually very frustrating in a lot of ways, but a well-placed, “I see what you did there” shot in the last five seconds of the fifth episode sold me on watching the second season.

And the second season is totally, unashamedly bonkers in the most wonderful way.

Hellier is available to watch on Amazon Prime, if you have it, but it’s also legally and freely available on YouTube.