Author: John Michael Greer
Trade Paperback, 312 pages
Publication date: October 2001
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In spite of John Michael Greer's reputation for decent books on ritual magick, I shuddered when I saw this book. I was afraid it would be written to attract viewers of shows like Buffy and X-Files and be full of fiction disguised as fact in the name of "entertainment." Having done a small amount of investigation of alleged haunts, spirits, and magickal attacks in my younger days, I was also afraid that it would let loose a horde of people unprepared for the fact that (in my experience, at least) about 99% of the time a serious investigation is not only a lot of hard, boring work but ends up not with a "monster" but with some natural phenomena originally misidentified by witnesses, a hoax, or nothing at all. To be frank, I was expecting a fluffy book full of tales of monsters just like the ones in horror movies and instructions for investigation that one could get from watching the early seasons of Scooby-Doo on TV.
To my relief, Monsters: An Investigator's Guide to Magical Beings is -- for the most part -- a serious and well-done guide to the various types of magickal beings reported in legends and to their investigation. Greer's book is divided into four parts: a brief but important introduction, a "field guide to monsters," a basic guide to investigation procedures, and a section on magickal defense.
In many ways, the short introduction is the most important part of Monsters. It sets the tone for the book by explaining just what Greer means by "monsters" and how it would be possible for such beings to exist in our world. More importantly, it presents the theory of levels from ritual magick. The theory of levels divides reality into five levels: physical, etheric, astral, mental, and spiritual. Understanding this theory is essential for understanding the magickal explanations for many of the beings Greer covers in this book.
The "field guide to monsters" is the longest portion of the book. Sections in this part of the book cover vampires, ghosts, werecreatures, faeries, mermaids, dragons, spirits, angels, and demons. Each section provides information on the creature in legend (and compares those legends to Hollywood images in some cases), provides an explanation of how such creatures might exist, how to identify such beings, creatures, phenomena and medical conditions that could easily be mistaken for the being in question, and how one might deal with the being if encountered. Much of the information will disappoint those who believe in the more modern images of these creatures from novels and film -- the sign of a reasonable book in this field, in my opinion. I can't personally agree with all of the origin and magickal explanations the author presents, but nothing seems so far-fetched as to be clearly improbable. However, some of the monsters themselves strike me as far less probable than others.
The third part of this book, on actual investigations, is somewhat disappointing. The information provided is very basic and far less complete than I would have liked. Anyone planning to actually investigate "monsters" or other unexplained phenomena will find the information in this 38 page section of Monsters to be a good survey of basic investigative skills and procedures. I would advise anyone seriously interested in investigating reports of the paranormal to do some further reading in the investigative field before doing any serious work. The material here will certainly put the reader a step or two ahead of the characters in the Scooby-Doo cartoon in investigative skills, but more information would have been very helpful.
The fourth major portion of Monsters talks about methods of magickal defense from hostile entities. Greer discusses both natural magick and ritual magick defenses. This portion of the book is Greer doing what he does best: teaching magick. The techniques provided are very basic, but effective. Provided, as the author mentions, one has practiced them well enough to be able perform them almost automatically before one needs to use them under stress. The chapter on natural magick suggests a magickal emergency kit of useful items. The chapter on ritual magick describes three standard, but powerful, rituals: the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram, the Rose Cross Ritual, and the Middle Pillar Ritual.
A glossary and a long annotated bibliography round out this book. The annotated bibliography provides a paragraph or so of information about a great many books, but provides very little actual guidance as to which books are most likely to be useful and which are simply interesting books on monsters.
Overall, Monsters is an interesting book and one of the few serious books in the "paranormal investigations" field I've seen published in the popular press recently. For those interested in magickal explanations for monsters of legend or those interested in investigating reports of monster sites, it is a useful (even if slightly flawed) book well worth buying. As Greer writes well, I'd also recommend it as a possible gift for those who enjoy monsters in horror novels and films. I know several fans of X-Files, for example, who would probably love to have a book like Monsters for their collection.
Reviewed by Randall
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