February Committee Reads
The February edition of what the bookish, bookly booknerds of your committee have been reading. 🙂
The Book of Primal Signs by Nigel Pennick
There are plenty of books of symbols out there, mostly very similar and simply covering the basic appearance and meaning of symbols of various cultures. This isn’t one of those. Pennick, an academic and prolific occult author, explores the historical and occult use of 39 specific glyphs in some depth, explaining their evolution and their place in the Western Mystery Tradition. Illustrated with over 300 pictures, and extensively referenced, this is a good volume for further reading on specific symbols, and a pleasure to dip in and out of, as I have been doing this last month. Symbols covered include: House Marks, Craftsman’s Marks and Sigils, the Tree of Life, the Rose, the Heart, the Hexflower, Plaits and Knots, the Eye and the Peacock, the Sigils of Mammon, the Eight-Spoked Wheel, and many more.
The Real Witches’ Garden by Kate West
This month I am re-reading a Kate West book, a fairly prolific UK based author on Witchcraft who has written a number of other books in The Real Witches’ series including – The Real Witches’ Kitchen, The Real Witches’ Coven and The Real Witches’ Book of Spells and Rituals.
Kate has not laid out a tome of how to garden, filled with methods of composting, times to prune and plant, etc. Instead what she has done is provided a method of activating the imagination and realising a way to work a bit of your tradition in to your life and your garden.
The book takes a look at a variety of styles of garden and lifestyles and discusses ways to incorporate a bit more craft into these. She strives to offer a practical approach for everyday pagans, whether they are renters or home owners, living in a small apartment or a larger allotment.
One of the things I really like about this book is the realistic approach she encourages to cultivating your own witches’ garden. Kate encourages people to factor in their time commitments, and lifestyle, rather than shooting for the idealistic thatched roof cottage with a large rambling garden filled with various plants that can be used for healing, or other aspects of their path.
For beginner gardener’s this might need to be followed up with some books from the Diggers Club range or something similar. While it isn’t an instruction manual of how to get from point a to point b, what it does is kindle the imagination and give ideas for the reader to get started, a launching pad if you will into the realm of possibilities.
The Saga of the Volsungs translated by Jesse L Byock
For mythology fans, Heathens and fantasy lovers this is a fantastic read. The Saga of the Volsungs is one of the sources that has inspired generations of creators with its high fantasy seeming elements.Some of the notable inspired creators are – Wagner when he composed the Ring cycle in the 1800’s, and William Morris and JRR Tolkien in their writing works.
It is a compelling tale that spans about 76 pages, however, depending on the copy you buy you get a nice introduction giving you history and background of the area, time and the writings as well as pages of endnotes that provide valuable clarifications.
If you like epic feats, dragon slaying and magic artifacts in your stories then this is probably for you.
Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock
This is a fantasy novel I’ve felt compelled to revisit for some years now, and I’m glad I finally made the time. Holdstock’s exploration of psychological and mythological themes through the fantasy genre will intrigue anthro-nerds and Pagans alike. While this may be a fantasy novel, Holdstock certainly considers ideas such as how mythology, folktales and more contribute to collective and cultural consciousness – ideas which easily translate to the modern Pagan egregore.
Tales round the Cauldron by Paddy Slade
(ISBN: 186-163 0468)
Back in my teens, I got my first book on Paganism – Slade’s “Natural Magic”. A beautifully-illustrated gem of a “Pagan 101” book, it basically changed my life, since for the first time I found that a lot of the belief system I’d cobbled together from folklore, history, and mythology was a real, living, vibrant thing, practised by people all over the world. I hung on every word, bought more books, and proceeded down this path – and I can’t thank her enough.
Slade’s writing style is informal, conversational, but full of love and joy for what she does, and for the land she lives on. Whilst it sounds ridiculous in this day and age, when we can get a writer’s entire bibliography from one click, it never occurred to me to see if she had written anything else. So it was with a squeaky, nostalgia-soaked excitement that I found this because a friend was getting rid of it. Most books about Paganism are how-to, non-fiction books about witchcraft and/or spiritual practice; this is a collection of stories, parables and pathworkings, written from within the craft, and in Slade’s warm, fireside-tale authorial voice, making the title very apt.
It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but if you want to settle down somewhere cosy and immerse yourself in a few quiet moments, listening to a witch talk to her fellow witches, conjuring the sight of a fox in the moonlight, the imposing yet comforting presence of the Horned God, the feel of a plant coming into flower, then this may just make you very happy.
The Boundless Sublime by Lili Wilkinson
I read a lot of YA novels as part of my job, and none have stood out recently as much as Lili Wilkinson’s tale of a young girl seduced into joining a dangerous cult. Well-researched and thrilling, this story had me guessing right until the last chapter, and Wilkinson’s cult leader, “Daddy”, is particularly disturbing but extremely well written.
It was interesting to read later that the author grew up in a family with ties to Scientology. She presented her research to this book in a YouTube series titled Let’s Talk about Sects.
The Life of Elves by Muriel Barbery
The third novel by the bestselling French author (and professor of philosophy) , this is a novel about the connections between mankind, art, and nature, in an ethereal fairytale set in Burgundy, Italy, and the elven world called “The Pavilion of the Mists”. It follows two young girls with elfin blood, raised by humans; Clara, who possesses considerable musical and clairvoyant gifts, and Maria, whose gift is communication with nature. Both are being prepared for the war that will follow the rising of a great evil.
Despite the fantasy-staple subject matter, this is far from cliché; Barbery’s language is exquisite, her musings on art, nature, creation and destruction are thoughtful and complex. It’s a beautiful read if you have time to allow yourself to be fully immersed, steeped in a very distinctly European magic-realism.
You may miss your stop if you’re reading it on the train. You may not care.