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Book Review: The Horned Altar

Title: The Horned Altar: Rediscovering and Rekindling Canaanite Magic

Publisher: Llewellyn

Author: Tess Dawson

Pages: 316pp

ISBN: 978-0-7387-3157-5

Price: $22.99 US

Natib Qadish is one name for modern Canaanite polytheism, a revived path based on the traditions and literature of one ancient Near Eastern culture. Most familiar to people today as the villains of the Hebrew Testament, the Canaanites were, in fact, skilled farmers and warriors, practitioners of magic and divination, lovers of poetry and food, and devoted to their Gods.

Tess Dawson, one of the most prolific Natib Qadish revivalists, first came to my attention several years ago with the release of Whisper of Stone. Besides her blog here at PaganSquare, Baal's Cedar, she also runs the Canaanite Path site and the Natib Qadish FaceBook page. Additionally -- full disclosure here -- she is the editor of Anointed: A Devotional Anthology for the Deities of the Near and Middle East (Bibliotheca Alexandrina), where I serve as EiC. 

Tess' many writings have left me with the distinct impression that, if were not Hellenic, I would definitely be Canaanite. I love the sounds of the language, the names and myths of the Deities, the festivals, and -- it turns out -- the magic.

Where Whisper of Stone focuses on the pantheon and festivals, with a short chapter on magic, The Horned Altar focuses specifically on magic. The first section establishes a foundation for a magical practice within the Canaanite tradition: ethics, alphabets, timekeeping and geography, blessings and curses, and so forth. The second section explores how to practice magic through the "care and feeding of deities," ethics, amulets, recipes, divination, and so on. This book is filled with fascinating information; for instance, there are different names for magic users depending on the kind of magic and its lawfulness or unlawfulness. The spreadsheets which lay the proto-Canaanite, Ugaritic, Phoenician and Hebrew alphabets side-by-side show the development of written language across time and space. Additionally, Canaanite magic is all about aligning the magician's napshu (vitality/will/soul/wellbeing) with that of a Deity; it is not about forcing one's will upon the universe, but more about working with universal powers to effect change.

The Horned Altar is an excellent addition to any Pagan's or magician's library. It is well-written, well-researched and engaging. Dawson goes to great lengths to provide credible resources, with an extensive bibliography. Even better, Dawson carefully explains how and why she employs intuition and extrapolation to fill in gaps in the surviving lore.

Highly recommended to those interested in Near Eastern polytheisms and magic, occult texts in general, or those (like me) who are just curious about other Pagan paths.

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Rebecca Buchanan is the editor of the Pagan literary ezine Eternal Haunted Summer. She is also the editor-in-chief of Bibliotheca Alexandrina. She thinks it is incredibly unfair that she must work for a living rather than being able to read all day. In her next life, she would like to be a library cat.

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