Review: Kynes – Llewellyn’s Complete Book of Correspondences

Kynes, Sandra. Llewellyn’s Complete Book of Correspondences: A Comprehensive & Cross-Referenced Resource for Pagans & Wiccans. Llewellyn, 2013. Paperback, 528 pages.

Sandra Kynes’ book of correspondences competently addresses the fundamental needs of magical practitioners as well as offering opportunities for contemplation for those who want to expand their knowledge and understanding of correspondences. Kynes has done a skillful job of corralling a sprawling mass of information into a reasonably accessible format, and that alone makes this book a success for its intended audience.

In her introduction, Kynes touches on some important points regarding the nature of correspondences and how they interact with each other: “…we can bring correspondences to life by thinking in terms of a web. Doing so not only allows us to expand the links of attributes, but it also allows us to personalize the way we use magical correspondences.” (4) She illustrates the ways correspondences are interrelated and has used that fact to guide her in the difficult decisions that have to be made in any work such as this one.

In particular, Kynes restricts the scope of her material by only listing as correspondences items that have an independent listing of their own. For example, under correspondences for “love,” she does not list Oshun, because there is no independent listing for Oshun. With commendable transparency, Kynes acknowledges the Celtic influences on her practice and experience and her lack of knowledge about Afro-Caribbean paths. As a result, she chose not to include entries for the orishas or similar spirits. As a result of this consistency, for every item that is listed as a correspondence, the reader can consult a main entry to see its other correspondences.

Regardless of how the title describes it, no work like this can possibly be “complete,” and Kynes’ explanations about the way she shaped the work are part of what makes this book valuable. She explains that she is trying to walk a “middle ground,” and specifically aimed to capture the items, powers, and spirits that are most commonly used by Pagans and Wiccans at the current moment, including the ones most frequently mentioned in the bibliography, which contains largely recent popular works. Combined with the consistent and concise style of her entries – which I quite appreciated – the result does live up to the title of “cross-reference” as a resource.

Kynes also wisely avoids the trap of trying to categorize every item under every possible system of correspondences. If a particular plant does not have a specific connection to one of the runes of the Futhark, for example, Kynes does not try to create one. This restraint is wise, because trying to create correspondences that are not natural quickly becomes an effort at pseudo-categorization and simultaneously drains the magic out of the connections that truly do exist. The author deserves praise for not trying to apply a one-size-fits-all approach, and it speaks well of her understanding of the meanings of correspondences.

Kynes alludes to these deeper issues of correspondence and connection by briefly referencing Bonewits’ theories of correspondences and Eliade’s more scholarly investigations of magical imagination, but she leaves unanswered the question of how she combined and culled the correspondences drawn from her numerous sources. On one hand, such incessant citations would make the work incredibly unwieldy, but on the other hand, at least a small mention of this perennial question would have pointed the reader in the direction of further personal development. Regardless, the work as it stands is still tremendously useful as a starting place for intermediate practitioners to begin their own reflections on correspondences and how to put them into practice.

Since this is a reference work, the structure and layout are vitally important to its functionality. On the whole, the contents are clear and readable; I appreciate the amount of effort that went into making the entries reasonably uniform. The sections are organized in a way that is probably most useful for off-the-shelf needs: correspondences for intentions first, then separate sections on plants, minerals, animals, deities and beings, time reckoning, and general theoretical concepts.

Within these divisions, however, some problems arise. A few entries simply don’t make sense: “Revenge (to seek, protect from)” really should have been split into two separate topics, rather than leaving the user guessing which correspondences are appropriate for the purpose at hand. The plants are subdivided into “Trees,” “Herbs, Garden Plants and Shrubs,” and “Miscellaneous Plants” based on unexplained criteria – why is allspice not an herb, to use just one example? This separation is supplemented by an appendix listing the names of all plants alphabetically, then telling which subheading they can be found under. The author does go to the trouble of listing plants’ scientific names, which is extremely valuable for novice and seasoned botanist alike.

The biggest single problem I have with the work is the decision to place both the Futhark and the Ogham under the section on time reckoning. It is true that these systems can be connected with the flow of time, but they are both independent systems with a strong internal logic, and are used for divination and symbolic representations much more frequently than as time descriptors; perhaps this is different in Kynes’ experience with the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids. Worse yet, these systems are listed in alphabetical order. The Futhark, for example, are not listed in their own order (fehu, uruz, thurisaz, etc.), nor are they listed in the order of the half-months assigned to them, but in alphabetical order by the English names. The same was done to the Ogham. The correspondences for the Tarot are placed in the separate miscellaneous section, but there too, the Major Arcana cards are alphabetized by name, which will confuse novice and experienced user alike.

The place where everything should be listed in purely alphabetical order is the index, and this nearly lives up to its purpose. The index to a work like this is what makes it truly a cross-reference and not merely a dictionary. The only problem is that the index is organized under the same subheadings as the individual sections are, so readers need to know roughly where they are looking in order to find something’s multiple references.

Overall, the book does what the author sets out as her intent in the introduction. Once a reader becomes acquainted with the structure, this work can be an invaluable reference for someone just starting to learn how to use correspondences, a Witch who needs to look something up quickly, a Pagan who needs a starting point to research a new item, or an intermediate practitioner reflecting on examples as a way to explore the deeper meanings of correspondences. Readers who are willing to get drawn into the web of cross-references that the author has woven will likely find themselves discovering unexpected relationships among familiar tools and ideas. Its potential for sparking new ideas makes this book both a reference and a good starting place for further exploration.

Introduction to chakras

The chakra system is a useful tool which one can build upon with several other methodologies; this is a basic introduction that I’ll elaborate upon in future posts.

The system of chakras that I’ve studied is what I would describe as Pagan/New Age standard. It is loosely based on the Hindu understanding as taught in basic (Westernized) yoga classes. Basically, the chakras are metaphysical locations that are where certain types of “energy” or “power” are centered in the body.

They are usually described from bottom to top:

  • The root or base chakra is located near the perineum or at the base of the spine. Its color is red, and it symbolizes connection to the earth, the fundamental and physical nature, our most basic needs like security and stability, and also the ability to eliminate (return to earth) that which is no longer helpful.
  • The second chakra is located in the low belly, within the bowl of the pelvis, near the reproductive organs. Its color is orange, and it symbolizes creativity and fertility, and is involved in sexual matters.
  • The third or solar plexus chakra is located at the solar plexus. Its color is yellow, and it is associated with the sun and with personal power, will, drive, and effort.
  • The fourth or heart chakra is located at the heart or behind the breastbone at the level of the heart. Its color is green, and it represents emotions, relationships, generosity, and love.
  • The fifth or throat chakra is located in the throat at the Adam’s apple or voicebox. Its color is blue, and it symbolizes thought, speech, and communication, especially speaking or writing.
  • The sixth or third eye chakra is located in the center of the forehead or between the eyebrows. Here the color schemes can vary; some people say this one is indigo and the next one violet, while some say this one is purple and the next one is white or clear. Either way, this chakra represents inner vision and connection to things metaphysical, especially one’s intuition and wisdom.
  • The crown chakra is located at the top of the head. (Remember how a baby has a “soft spot” called a fontanelle at the top of the head? That’s where the crown chakra is.) Its color is violet or clear, and it symbolizes connection to the divine and transcendence.

 

In general, a “healthy” chakra is translucent, round, and has a vibrant, pure color. Chakras are places where the relevant energy is centered, but they are not just a static well of energy; chakras are interconnected, especially with each other, but also with the body and spirit as a whole. At their best, chakras are able to absorb and send out energy as part of a complex interplay in the metaphysical body.

Nearly all of us have some difficulties in our chakras which reflect or represent other concerns we are dealing with. A chakra with difficulties can appear as a muddy color, mixed with brown or some other inappropriate hue; it can be an unusual size or shape, or simply not be able to let energy flow clearly.

The chakras are such a useful basis for work because they cover a wide range of mind and body issues. Concentrating on each one in turn gives me automatic cues to address different areas of my life:

  • Am I grounded?
  • Am I creative?
  • Am I empowered?
  • Am I loving?
  • Am I speaking my truth?
  • Am I honoring my insight?
  • Am I connecting to the divine?

 

We can build on these to develop meditations, healing techniques, and to engage our mind and body fully with magic.

Deep down, the chakras are really another system of classifications and correspondences, where each chakra represents a whole category of symbolically interrelated things. We’ll see how this has applications for working with stones, minerals, and crystals in a future entry.

A note about the origins of the chakra system:

There are Sanskrit names and a whole host of Hindu associations for each chakra, including descriptions of each one as a lotus flower with a specific number of petals and so forth. I don’t typically work with those as part of my healing practice. Part of the compromise I have with myself about not veering into cultural appropriation is that I don’t pretend to know about the specifically culturally rooted parts of systems like this without much more significant study.

I see the Westernized chakra system as something that might have originally been cultural appropriation, but in its stripped-down form I think it is now a primarily Western approach which is somewhat separate from its Hindu roots.

Being honest about the difference between those is part of not veering over the line into cultural appropriation for me. It’s a lot like knowing the difference between Westernized yoga-as-primarily-exercise and yoga-as-complete-spiritual-system. Some people who are interested in the offshoot go and study the roots more, and they recontextualize the modern development within the deep philosophical understandings of the past. That’s respectful; so is working with the modern offshoot on its own merits, in most ways; what’s not respectful is claiming that because I do downward-facing dog pose on weekends, I have a deep understanding of Vedic philosophy. The origins and the modern offshoot interact, but being honest about what I don’t know is part of being respectful of the difference.

I also think that when we try to borrow the Hindu roots too much, there’s a certain sense that our work today will gain authenticity or validity or dignity by being associated with the antiquity or the foreignness or whatever of the Hindu usage of chakras. That is appropriation and it also implicitly devalues the work that we are doing today to develop and extend our own practices. My work stands on its own.

Seasons shifting: 6 Dec, low sun and high winds

Oddly enough, now that it’s almost the winter solstice, the sun is making a bigger impact on me whenever I drive my partner to work in the mornings. The sun is so low in the sky at that time of the morning that it creates a lot of glare. It’s actually kind of dangerous in a couple spots, and I no longer laugh when I hear that traffic is slow around the Beltway at a particular area “because of sunlight.”

The wind, however, is the major manifestation of winter so far. I used to link Air with the North and Winter.* In part, that was because I wasn’t very comfortable with the Element Air. I had a bad ear infection one winter that was made much worse by any cold wind, so I learned to associate wind with cold and with serious pain. I couldn’t match that with the positive, life-affirming feelings of Spring, so I interpreted Earth as being the fertile ground and liked those two that way. As I’ve gotten to know the Elements better, I’ve been able to understand and even to prefer the traditional associations, but days like today remind me of my initial feelings.

*I capitalize the Wiccan concepts to distinguish from the regular use and meaning. Thus, I breathe air, which has the element oxygen in it, but when I call the Element Air, it’s in the East.