Saturday, January 3, 2009

Book Review: Trance-Portations by Diana Paxson

Trance-Portation; Learning to Navigate the Inner World
Diana L. Paxson, 2008
Weiser Books ISBN: 978-1-57863-405-7
Reviewed by Ian Corrigan

Diana Paxson seems to be working her way from being a writer of enjoyable historic and mythic fantasy to being a teacher of core skills in Pagan magic and spirituality. Her “Taking Up the Runes” is a new classic on that subject, and now her book on trance, meditative and vision skills immediately becomes a standard Pagan text on those subjects. Paxson has been an active player in the modern development of trance-based magic, through her work with the development of Asatru seidh practice, and the influential seidh-magic group Hrafnar. However, this book is not about seidh.

Trance-Portations is a textbook for personal or group training in meditation, trance and vision. The exercises and sequence were developed by Paxson over some years of teaching, and this practical background shows clearly in the book. The methods given are only barely related to any specific spiritual path, but rather could be applied by nearly anyone. The book starts at the beginning, assuming the student does too, and explains concepts right alongside of immediate exercises and basic practices, moving from there toward the highest and strangest of trance experiences. She regularly nods to the various faiths her students might bring, but whenever Paxson gives specific examples, she draws on the Pagan, Heathen and magical community. Her own cosmology and mythic context is plainly the polytheism of modern Heathenry; this makes her book very comfortable for a variety of reconstructionist and Traditional Pagan systems.

The book begins with a fine effort at defining trance and altered states, which succeeds in avoiding the scientism of ‘brain-wave-states’ to focus on the actual feeling and effect of trance. Her explanation leads a western rational mind smoothly toward accepting the value of working with managed mental states. In the first practical chapter she gives simple exercises that will be familiar to anyone with modern Pagan trance training – they are presented clearly and concisely, and used consistently as a basis throughout the book. She then presents material on deepening and detailing trance experience through memory, sense perception and visualization. This is very good stuff, often skipped in a fast introduction.

Paxson then presents a series of classic uses for trance, supported by exercises. The Inner ‘base camp’, allies, meeting the Gods and spirits, maps and models of the Inner worlds, and group work are all covered. Chapters cover healing and sleep, self-monitoring and trouble shooting, and ‘past life’ memory. The chapter on meeting and dealing with the Gods is clearly based on the building of relationship, and devotion and offering are discussed alongside trance and vision. This bit quietly includes some lovely polytheistic theology, presented oh-so-gently. I enjoyed that. The book concludes with a suggestive chapter on mysticism, a discussion of hazards and solutions in trancework and useful appendices of notes for using the book in classes, scripts and resources.

Trance-Portations is an introduction, and most of these topics get a fairly quick survey discussion, though all with solid base and depth. Plainly Paxson has chosen to focus on the practical, and the exercises given are well-designed and well-scripted. A student who actually worked their way through its program would be very well-equipped for further trance-magic and spiritual work in almost any Pagan system. Very well done!


Skuld said...

I loved "Taking up the runes". Still one of my favorite reads. I will have to check this book out. I really like the way she looks at things! Thanks for the review.

Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

Terrific review--and it's done what a good, favorable book review should do, and convinced me to go out and buy it. (Darn it. So much for those New Year's resolutions on spending less money...)

I've posted a link to MetaPagan, in hopes that a few readers who might not yet be regular readers here will find and read the review (and maybe take note of your blog, too).

Bright Blessings!