Hunker down by the fire with us and check out the bookish winter warmers we’ve been enjoying this month.
What has this book got to do with Paganism? Nothing, really, and everything.
Because our Real Lives inform our relationship with our divinities, and vice versa, and because understanding ourselves is a key part of growth, both spiritual and temporal. Because everyday, practical wisdom is the heart of witchcraft. And because our understanding of gender is at the heart of every aspect of our culture; for those of us who include both goddesses and gods in our personal or traditional pantheons, engaging with ideas of gender which have been inherited from earlier mythologies, is part of our understanding of our gods, our culture, and ourselves.
I’ve been a pagan, mixing with pagan folk for about 30 years, and our culture can be extraordinarily problematic sometimes; binary gender ideas, and a tendency to romanticise old-to-ancient cultural gender tropes, has led to some of the less pleasant and more challenging moments for me in the pagan scene, and so I do unreservedly recommend books on culture and gender in the ‘secular’ world to all pagans, irrespective of how you feel about feminism.
If you’re already on board with this, then read this book (if you haven’t already). It’s engaging, clear, passionate, deeply relatable, well-informed, and sometimes very funny. You may, like I did, see yourself in Ford’s journey, and find yourself understood, encouraged, and validated by her words.
If you don’t think this book is for you because you don’t approve of feminism, or just don’t care, or think it’s going to be a politically-correct buzzkill, then you should probably read this book. It’s not going to be as bad as you think, because Ford, despite her reputation in the dingier corners of the internet (you know, the corners full of fedoras and neckbeards and people who thought Gamergate was actually about ethics in game journalism), doesn’t hate men, has a lot of compassion, and makes a lot of sense. All the men I know who have actually read this book really liked it. I’ll take this opportunity to also unreservedly recommend Cordelia Fine’s excellent “Delusions of Gender”, which is an absolutely kickarse primer in how gender is socially constructed, and also happens to be a marvellously engaging read.
The book is a collection of essays, interviews and articles from non-theistic pagans exploring the different aspects of being a godless pagan. The book is diverse, thought provoking and often quiet inspiring. The writers explore topics as diverse as scientific paganism, emotional pantheism, faith in the earth, non-liiteral deities, non-theistic pagans in history and most importantly, the godless pagan’s place in the broader pagan community.
It’s Winter. What that means in a practical sense is that I make a lot of tea and soup, and sit by the heater at night reading cosy books about English Paganism to kid myself that Winter is actually a necessary part of the wheel of the year, and not personally out to get me and make my life a misery. As far as coping mechanisms go, it’s a relatively harmless one and I make pretty good soup. And I end up with a lot of my bookshelf real estate occupied by Capall Bann publications like this one. Now you know my weakness; if I ever go on a mad rampage, you can throw a random Capall Bann title down in front of me and I shall be pacified.
So yeah, this book. It’s quirky, and charming, and surprisingly salty, despite its “Oprah’s Book Club” style cover (no one would mistake this for, say, a Three Hands Press or Troy publication). Like, really quite salty, in a “oh no she didn’t” sort of fashion. Here are a few examples, from the “Types of Pagans” chapter:
“For every ounce of hereditary witch, you can have several pounds of pretend ones. The pretend ones are much better at it than the real ones who do not tend to be half so impressive.”
“[The Hedge Witch] is one of those ancient phenomena that has cropped up recently…”
“It used to be really hard to be a shaman. You needed to talk with spirits and to have travelled in their realms, rather too closely for most people’s comfort. It is a lot easier now… The shaman’s staff tends to be covered in feathers, beads, rabbit bones and if they are really into it a goat skull that a mate of theirs found in an antique shop in Clapham.
Unfortunately most shamans are not shamans. I am reliably informed that real shamans work with spirits and aim to help people in the community.”
“The Faery Tradition: Members of this group are characterised by the inability to spell the word “fairy”.”
“Their gods are the Norse gods, who they claim are not really chauvinistic.”
“Druids are different from Wiccans. I do not know how, because I have never managed to get one to make sense yet.
It takes years to become a Druid and I guess I just cannot find one who is old enough to ask. One told me that it involved him growing his hair and wearing a leather thong round his neck while another said he had not finished the course yet.”
And so on, you get the idea. It’s illustrated throughout with drawings by the author; enjoy the one below. I warmed to her wry sense of humour, even when her observant wit was turned on my sort. Further along, Day turns her pen towards matters of practical witchcraft and spirituality, and, with a conversational, down to earth, and humorous wisdom, she covers these very effectively. This is staying on the bookshelf (not heading down for a trade at my local second-hand joint), and while it’s not a comprehensive “how-to”, like, say Buckland’s, it’s got the spirit of how-to nailed down fairly nicely. And it goes jolly well with soup and tea.
Well researched with a healthy reference section and glossary, this is a useful and accessible handbook for ecclectic pagans with a beginner’s interest in astronomy to further their practice.
Although someone Northern-hemisphere centric, it’s packed with useful information, diagrams and interesting little tidbits of history and lore. Lighthearted and easy reading, a great start for anyone looking for an introduction to the utility of learning the night sky.
This book while slightly older (published in 1968) is still quite useful. It delves into the historical evidence in Europe to help gain insights into the Druids. His observations on the human psyche and the romanticised notions about Druids that have sprung up with little basis in empirical evidence are interesting and somewhat illuminating. He consults literary sources such as the writings of Julius Caesar to help bring the observations of outsiders to bear and understand how this aligns with archaeological finds. Throughout the book, his main goal is factual information, not idealised notions. Although there have been new digs found in the years since this book was written and new theories have emerged this is still a valuable source of information, well researched and presented. The writing style is clear, concise and accessible. Well worth a look.
In this sequel to Captive Prince, which I reviewed last month, former prince Damen travels with prince Laurent to the borders of his former homeland. While I found the first book a little slow-moving, I really enjoyed the complexities of the political intrigue and alliances in this second book. Damen is drawn closer and closer to dangerous, calculating Laurent but the secrets of both men muddy the waters and complicate things almost to breaking point. Both characters become far less two-dimensional as we learn more about their pasts. This book is probably not for everyone but it’s a healthy dose of well-written, homegrown queer fantasy. Bonus points if you risk the audiobook version, read by a particularly pervy-sounding American.
This month, we sunk our teeth into some witchy classics, as well as princes, werewolves and farming. We’re an eclectic bunch, really.
A seminal text in the development of the modern traditional European tradition and interest in the occult, Mastering Witchcraft is a comprehensive step-by-step guide to a range of useful tools and techniques with some ceremonial magic influences.
Although much of the information isn’t sourced and some of the content may be ethically disagreeable to a few readers, it is nonetheless candid, engaging and easy to follow.
At first some information might seem too outdated to be useful, but a surprising amount of substances such ‘roman vitriol’ (copper sulphate) can actually be found at your local hardware store.
A classic well worth reading for the serious beginner and experienced practitioner alike.
When I was a child I was obsessed with reading supernatural horror stories and the creature that would always capture my attention was the Werewolf; humans who change into animal form through magic and the lust of the flesh of other humans. The Book of Werewolves is the classic work on the lycanthrope and is jam-packed with curious folkloric accounts of murder, cannibalism, superstition and magic and contains all the classic tropes that the Werewolf is now known for.
Sabine Baring-Gould was a Priest and the book was first published in 1865 and rather than believe these accounts are genuine cases of magic, he believes that Werewolf accounts are caused by mental illness which was a enlightened view for a Priest to have at the time.
These two books, written from the 60s to the 80s and published by Llewellyn, are the work of an author more well-known for her poetry and works for children than her witchcraft; in fact, ‘mainstream’ reviews of these two of Worth’s books describe them as fanciful and whimsical works of fiction, written in the style of a bygone era.
Worth, born in 1933 in Pennsylvania, wrote prolifically, and published ten collections of poetry and three books for young people, as well as the two reviewed here. In 1991 she was given the Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children by the National Council of Teachers of English.
The Crone’s Book of Wisdom is a collection of spells, charms and rituals of magic and magical practice. Worth had interests in astronomy, herbal lore, and talismans, and the Book of Wisdom deals with all of these in an envisioning of the Craft which is not situated within any particular tradition (though it contains aspects which will be familiar to those with interests in Traditional and folkloric witchcraft, Wicca/Wiccanate NeoPaganism, and Ceremonial Magick).
– The Materials of Wisdom, which covers basic plant lore, working tools, robes, balms and tinctures, etc.
– Inscriptions of Power, in which Worth explores the creation and inscription of amulets and talismans,
– Thrice A Dozen Charms – a collection of spells for everything from binding an enemy, to procuring the moon’s aid, gaining immortality, winning love and affection, reveal truth, and break troublesome habits. Her instructions and correspondences are meticulous, and her incantations read beautifully in a combination of Latin and antiquated poetical verses.
– Ceremonies for the Year: twelve rituals for various times of the year, some of which correspond to the eightfold Wheel of the Year, and some which are lunar celebrations.
The Crone’s Book of Words is a collection of poetical spells and incantations. In Worth’s own words from her introduction:
“This book arises from certain premises: that words themselves are a means to emotional control over exterior phenomena; that magic today is the same weapon that it was, even though we lay hands on it in a new spirit, even though we are uncertain of its uses and wield it unwittingly or even unwillingly; that all rituals, ancient and new, spring from the same vision of a possible order to life, an order that heals and reconciles effectively by its very roots in mental process. The rituals, or spells, or poems – and these names can all stand for the same thing – that are set down here deal with aspects of experience at once too simple and too complex for any other approach.”
Worth’s writing is lovely and evocative; the charms and rituals are a pleasure to read, or to inspire a tone for crafting your own.
“White as an eggshell,
White as a bone,
White as chalk
Or the milk of the moon,
Is the written word
Of the ancient Crone,
Who works by wind,
Sun, water, and stone.”
This book is a delight for those that want to live a little bit more sustainably and independently. While not everything in this book is going to work for everyone there is a lot of great information to be had.
The chapter on poultry was a delight as someone who keeps chickens in their yard it was full of nifty tips. While the ideal scale that is aimed at in this book is for properties larger than your standard block, the principals are sound and there are plenty of ideas that could be scaled back or adapted to a suburban property.
The language is friendly and accessible in this book and doesn’t hide behind pretentious subtext. The author wants us to succeed, and that is clear in the way they communicate ideas and structure the book.
This one was recommended by a fellow dabbler in Queer fiction. I was drawn to it because the author is a Melbournian and hey, Queer fantasy. This is the first in a trilogy about the former prince Damen who, after getting betrayed by his brother, is sold into slavery to a neighbouring royal family. Damen is soon entangled in the intricacies of court politics and a play for the throne.
I found muscular, clever, brave and selfless Damen to be something of a Mary-Sue, but his new master Prince Laurent is like a handsome grown-up Draco Malfoy, but twenty times as vicious.
While quite graphic in places, Captive Prince was a good escape. For extra fun, get the Audible version read by the rather pervy Stephen Bel Davies.