There is a struggle in these pages as J.A. Kent acknowledges forces and phenomena beyond this mundane reality and then attempts to rationalize and give them credibility in an academic format. It is an incredibly difficult task to stand between the worlds of consensual reality and mystic experiences and make sense of them. This work explores what is the Elphame, the spirit realm and how shamans and spirit healers go there to do their healing work. Her very strong personal investment in proving the existence and importance of this other world, distracts from the healing work she describes. This focus on her inner conflict between societal norms and personal mystic experiences struck me as unnecessary in a book that I expected to be mainly about spiritual healing.

She says she felt on the edge of madness because she was raised with modern Western norms and had no way to explain her mystical encounters rationally. This conflict is repeatedly called ontological shock. The academic terminology bogs down the narrative. I never felt I could feel her unraveling because the writing is very intellectual. I found this off putting. I wish that she had felt comfortable enough to really show that vulnerability but there is always that hesitation to fully put it out there. The personal is somehow cloaked in intellectualism and never quite felt real to me.

J.A. Kent initially trained in high magick but finding it too intellectually compartmentalized she eventually became a Wiccan priestess. She explores the mystical realm of the Elphame through language that will be understood well by other Goddess worshipers. She is also an animal communicator, hands on healer and a practicing psychotherapist. Gradually she came to accept that she was called into traditional healing. She began to practice shamanic techniques with willing psychotherapy patients.

She discusses how psychology would diagnosis someone with her personal mystical experiences as mentally ill. Unable to find a theoretical framework in psychology to explain her mystical experiences as something other than delusion, she set about writing a book that could provide an alternate frame of reference. She suggests that many people diagnosed as psychotic may be experiencing uncontrolled contact with the Elphame.

The last section of the book in which she interviews a number of patients who agreed to receive shamanic healing in addition to formal, standard psychological treatment, was the most interesting to me. Here, in their own words, the patients discuss why they requested treatment and how the healing changed them. It's easier to read and relate to. They are described as modern shamans. Each has had incursions from the other world that impacted the course of their lives. I wish she had devoted more of the book to these encounters.

The struggle between the world of academia and the spirit world seems to manifest itself in the format of this book. It's not a novel with character development and plot line nor a memoir. Despite many memories, dreams and descriptions of mystical experiences and shamanic journeys, it lacks the breathtaking candor required of a memoir. Yet it's still too personal to be an academic treatise. The writing never quite loses its origins as a thesis paper. Like many religious works, the story flounders when it comes to explaining the unfathomable. Even so, to those who are trying to put their own words to these kinds of experiences, just encountering others like them may feel welcome. This book will be most appreciated by people with a background in psychology, healing, shamanism and magical practice and Wicca.

~review by Larissa Carlson

Author: J.A. Kent, PhD
Llewellyn 2016
pp. 342, $19.99