Book Review: The Blood of the Earth: An Essay on Magic and Peak Oil


Phoebe says that despite her midnight coat and lambent eyes, she has nothing whatsoever to do with magic. Or peak oil. And for the record, she also scorns Halloween.

What do magic and peak oil have to do with one another? Quite a lot, actually, if you believe the author, John Michael Greer. And if you read The Blood of the Earth: An Essay on Magic and Peak Oil you’ll probably come to agree with him, because in this book, as in all of his writing, Greer is remarkably lucid, straightforward and persuasive.

Blood of the Earth is unlike any other book you’ll read on peak oil. It’s challenging, honest, sobering and inspiring.

It’s not a end-times book. Greer doesn’t do apocalypse. Nor is it an airy-fairy “we’ll save the world by the magic of positive thinking” sort of book. Instead, it is an investigation of the spiritual/psychological impulses that play out in our responses to peak oil. Part of this is understanding behavior and propaganda in magical terms. To do this, Greer offers a quick, intriguing primer on Western magic.

Magic, according to Greer, has nothing to do with stage magic, or the fictional magic practiced by Harry Potter and his friends.  It is a discipline of the mind, with a strong relationship to psychology. One definition is “the art and science of causing change in consciousness in accordance to the will.”  Greer sums it up better than I can, and explains clearly what magic can and cannot do. Most importantly he asserts magic cannot “fix” our situation. We can’t change the hard material limits of our resource crisis through magical thinking or incantations. Magic cannot change matter.

Magic is for changing minds–preferably your own mind. All change begins within, right? So Greer argues that we cannot rescue ourselves from this downward spiral of denial and non-action by activism alone. We have to knuckle down and change ourselves.

Too often we ask for change, and then point to others and say they have to change. Stop those other people from using so much energy, please. Or we blame politicians. Or we hold on to hope we won’t have to change, not really, because science will save us. We’ll come up with a better energy source, soon right? Or we’ll find more oil. There’s always more oil.

Greer asks us to free ourselves of these delusions and live clear-eyed in the reality of the situation. He lays out concrete suggestions on how we can change our own minds, and thus our behavior, to prepare realistically for the coming hard times. And beyond that, to find joy and deep meaning in the post-petroleum world, by celebrating the potential of the human rather than the potential of machines.

For such short book, the ideas big and far-ranging.

At the risk of this being a spoiler, I’m going to share with you an exercise of sorts from the end of the book, three suggestions for practical action that you can take now. I’m sharing these because I think they show how down-to-earth and practical his thinking is, and how it will appeal to Root Simple readers. Greer explores these ideas in more depth, but I think you’ll get the picture:

Learn One Thing: Learn a practical skill, so that you have something trade in a barter economy.

Give Up One Thing: Choose one material possession that you believe you depend on, and that you also know is quite dependent itself on our complex, petroleum-fueled industrial system. Go without it now, so you know it’s possible. And that really, it’s not that bad to go without.

Save One Thing: Consider how wide reaching our knowledge base is now, yet how fragile, since so much of our knowledge is tied up in digital media. Choose one thing you want to be able to pass on to future generations. Maybe it’s a book, or a song, a philosophy, or a craft technique. Find some way to preserve it and pass it on.

The one drawback to this book is that it is not cheap. The publisher, Scarlet Imprint, is offering it in three forms. Two–a gorgeous leather bound edition and a handsome cloth-bound edition–are tempting, but out of my price range. The paperback was even expensive, but I justified it as a birthday gift for Erik. (A gift we could both enjoy! I’m ever-thoughtful.) I ended up buying directly from the publisher. I saw no price break anywhere else and figured all of my money may as well go there, rather than to a middleman. The least expensive option is the digital book, but at 10.00 GBP it is no steal, either. All forms of the book are available on this here page.

The paperback version is (sorta)(sometimes) available at Amazon.

A good, free way to get to know Geer’s thinking is to read the archive of his weekly blog, The Archdruid Report. Right now he’s doing something a little different, a series of fictional pieces to illustrate an idea, but you’ll find many of the concepts from The Blood of the Earth in his blog posts, especially those over, say, the last two years or so (2010-2012).

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  1. Tell your black kitty to stop being a poo.

    Our little black kitty tried to go tricker treating with us two years ago. We realized she was out of the house and returned her to safety before we went too far.

    Last year she just greeted all the children and checked out their custumes and let them pet her. In the run up to this years festivities she is hanging out next to the pumpkins on our porch under a garden spiders large web as a sort of real life decoration. No fake webs or black cat for us!

  2. Thank you so much for introducing us to John Michael Greer. We surely would never have found him if not for your blog. We will be saving our pennies to invest in this book; it seems much too important to ignore. Thanks, too, for using the wonderful word “lambent”.

    It is good to see Phoebe looking so well! She is not alone in her disdain for Halloween; our cats are also unimpressed. Sadly, this year the holiday has been a bust here in the Northeast. The hurricane/winter storm/nor’easter that blew through on Monday and Tuesday left some real devastation in our area and we’re still without power, but we made it through safely and unscathed. I hope that is the case for all of your readers who were in Sandy’s path.

    • I’m glad to know that you made it though safely! My thoughts have been very much with you all “out east.”

      Phoebe is doing remarkably well–thank you! To look at her you wouldn’t guess that she has a completely wonky heart–thanks to her excellent vet and extensive drug regimen. At some point we will no longer be able to balance the drugs and the disease, but in the meantime she has excellent quality of life.

      Another Greer book which we like a lot, and which you can get on Amazon for a much more reasonable price, is called Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth: An introduction to spiritual ecology. You might want to check it out, if the subject appeals.

  3. Thanks for your spoiler alert on this one. Usually your recommendation has me scurrying for his books. In this case, have already engaged in the practice of two of his suggestions, maybe all three. Find it almost incomprehensible that most intelligent people do not see the obviousness of our current situation.

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