Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Book Review: Morbid Magic: Death Spirituality and Culture from Around the World by Tomás Prower

Book Review: Morbid Magic

Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I just finished reading Morbid Magic: Death Spirituality and Culture from Around the World by Tomás Prower (release date September 8, 2019) and I have to say I am thoroughly intrigued. The book is a world tour of death rituals and rites around the world, with each section focusing on a specific location on Earth, from the Middle East to the Americas. Each section gives a brief snippet of how each culture views death and handles funerals, a brief description of the deities associated with death, a death-related takeaway, and finishes with experiences from those practicing within those cultures. There is not a lot of magic in this book, which was disappointing, but learning about how other cultures handle and view death and funeral rites was fascinating to me. You see, my ex-husband was a funeral director. Through him, I developed an interesting view of death and funeral rites because I was exposed to things daily that most other people experience very little throughout their life, especially if you live in a country that hides death away like we do in the US. Now he obviously spent more time with death than I did, but it was an important part of our life and through him, I realized that death isn't something to be feared, but honored and celebrated. I work with spirits all the time and accepting death as an inevitability and as something that shouldn't be feared but instead honored is important to my practice. I was overjoyed to read the story of one of his friends who mentioned how seeing death transformed her practice regarding spirits and mediumship. I strongly related to her story and felt confirmed in my belief that my experiences with the funeral industry in the United States made me a better practitioner. I loved reading the experiences of others with death. It was one of my favorite parts of the book. It gave me a better understanding of multiple cultures, including Islam and Judaism. My ex-husband started in the funeral industry at a Jewish funeral home, so I was accustomed to Jewish practices but reading a woman's story of how her community came forth to help her filled me with such comfort and joy. It made me appreciate our diverse cultures and religions and how we all must die, no matter our religious or political affiliations; that we are all just humans.

Apart from the personal stories, I really loved the takeaways from each culture. These takeaways were things Prower, who also works in the funeral industry, suggests we do regarding death and funeral rites. Some of these are practical yet difficult things, like writing a will and having it notarized. Being with a funeral director for over 6 years, I can't tell you how many times I heard about the bickering of family members and the living going against the wishes of the deceased because they thought they knew better than the dead. It is so important you have a funeral plan written and notarized now. Death can come at any time, which is another takeaway. Decide what you want to be done with your belongings, what funeral rites you want, take out a life insurance policy, and if you can, go ahead and prepay for your funeral that way you get exactly what you want and your family isn't burdened with trying to figure it all out! I can't tell you how many times families couldn't pay for funerals and had to create GoFundMe accounts. Death is inevitable; the least you can do is make it easier on your family. Other takeaways were more spiritual in nature, such as honoring our ancestors. Because of my background, I think the takeaways were the best part of the book and readers need to hear that they need to take care of this stuff now. Don't wait until its too late.

Overall, I enjoyed the book, but there were some disappointments. First, Prower completely glosses over African traditions. He prefaces this by saying there are too many cultures to cover thoroughly, but then attempts to lump all the African cultures together by saying "This is what they have in common." I felt African traditions were done dirty in this book. I was most interested in reading about their practices too, although his section on Voodoo and Hoodoo was interesting, albeit short. He is much more careful with Native American cultures. Despite saying there are way too many to cover, he doesn't lump any groups together. There are also some discrepancies with the deities and their representations in this book. I'm no expert on all cultures and their deities, but I know a few well enough to spot inaccuracies. The first is Inanna. He completely dismisses her as the Queen of Heaven and fails to include some crucial aspects of her myth, citing modern anthropologists as the reason. I'd never seen her represented the way Prower represented her and without a good source, I can't confirm this interpretation. However, other sections have great sources so I felt let down in this regard. Lilith's story was also a little strange with the mentioning of amulets being worn by pregnant women and newborns without an explanation of why this tradition arose. Why include it at all if you aren't going to explain the meaning behind it, which has to do with death! The lumping of many European cultures under the heading "Viking" was also a little disheartening, but at this point, I've gotten so used to this cultural misrepresentation that I just let it go (Viking refers to a number of raiding parties with different cultural backgrounds).

Again, I enjoyed the book because of my background, but I wouldn't say this book is really "morbid magic." There is very little magic in the book at all, apart from a ritual found in the first section and a couple toward the end. It's mostly a retelling of death and funeral practices around the world, so if you are looking for spells and rituals regarding death, this probably isn't the best place to start. Now if you are looking to get a brief overview of death culture around the world, then go right ahead. Honestly, I feel there are better, more reliable sources out there, but Prower's lighthearted writing makes this a fun, easy weekend read.

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