The Bird Atlas by Anna McKerrow is a beautiful fairytale. It’s a fairly small book but I spent about a week reading it because I wanted to live with it, and because it is so rich that I didn’t want to take it in too quickly.
Wren is a spirit girl, from a long line of Bird Fliers. Her people carry the souls of the dead to the afterlife. Wren lives in a gothic house on the edge of our world – it’s just her and her grandmother and the girl is lonely, and frustrated. And so the tale begins, and we learn more of who Wren is as her journey takes her through time and to different places. In losing herself, Wren finds out who she really is.
I found this to be a really emotional read – there’s nothing graphic, but the story deals with bereavement and grief. I found it deeply affecting. There are also themes of forgiveness, self-forgiveness, working out how to move on – there’s a lot of life lessons here. It’s a book that could well turn out to be healing for anyone dealing with grief and loss.
This is a book that could be shared with a younger reader – it’s quite wordy, and given the emotional content probably isn’t suitable for the very small ones. I know I would have really appreciated it as a child- I struggled a lot with the concept of death and would have found this story comforting and helpful from an early age. If you’re not sure whether it would be helpful to a young person in your life, read it first.
For the grownups out there whose inner child craves fairy stories, this is a lovely read. It’s rich with ideas and enchantment, and is a warm hearted, emotionally reassuring sort of book. I thought it was lovely and very much recommend it.
Reinventing Herself, by DJ Martin is an excellent comfort read. This is a modest peril sort of story in that people whose names you never even know are killed in the background, and there’s a killer to track down, and there is some drama at the end. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that the peril level for the named characters never seems high and that you can safely read this story when you want something warm and reassuring.
Main character El has recently lost her husband, and has moved to a smaller home in the woods. She discovers that for women in her family, the menopause tends to bring magical powers in the form of being able to communicate with animals. This is a glorious idea, and as someone frequently drowning in the great menopausal hormone sea, I found it delightful to have this notion of magical transformation instead.
This is a story full of talking animals. I really enjoyed that – I was the sort of child who really loved talking animal stories, and apparently that hasn’t gone away. If your inner child wants something a bit more grownup that still has talking animals, this is for you. There’s a lot of whimsy and cuteness, and some of the animals are really funny.
There’s a lot of humour in the book. It’s a warm and charming sort of humour, based on surprise, humorous situations, and charm. There’s also a lot of content around people having and developing really good relationships – friends, family members, romance – it’s really nice seeing a book in which all kinds of healthy and functional relationships are explored and you see a lot of people being thoughtful and caring towards each other. There’s also enough complexity in the relationships to stop that feeling implausibly sweet. It’s also about people figuring out who they are and becoming more themselves, and making choices to support their own growth and wellbeing.
If you’re in the mood to grab a blanket and snuggle up with something cheering, this is an ideal book. Take it to your pillow fort, bring snacks, have fun with the modest peril and the magical take on reality this book is set in.
Weep, Woman, Weep is a gothic fairytale by Maria DeBlassie, and I loved it. It’s a novella set in New Mexico, written in a first person voice with a narrator who is clear that you’re going to hear her version of events. It’s a really strong narration voice, and I identified to a considerable degree with the main character. Mercy is an outsider, her life is full of magic and much of that magic is dangerous to her. She’s not someone who performs femininity, and it meant a lot to me because it’s so rare to see that.
At the same time there are many things in this story that are outside of my experience. I know something about generational trauma, but I have no experience of dealing with it in the context of racism. It was a really educational read for me on that score.
You can read this as a fairytale metaphor, about overcoming trauma and claiming your own power. I read it as magical realism and that also entirely works, you can step into the reality of this story on whatever terms make sense to you. It is steeped in La Llorona folklore. You could stand outside of that as a reader and see it as the beliefs of the main character, or you can enter into it as the reality she is in.
Happily the story taps into one of my current obsessions – how we tackle desertification and bring life back to damaged landscapes. I love stories where there’s a strong sense of place, and I love reading about characters who are deeply involved with their landscapes and this story is great on that score. The relationship between healing people and healing the land is explicit. It’s also a story about healing and change within a community – exploring the collective and how that relates to the individual. Part of what’s damaging Mercy is what’s damaging her community as a whole – she can’t heal unless her community also heals.
This is a beautifully written, affirming and emotionally rich sort of story. I know some reviewers have found it to be a bit of a weepy but I found it uplifting – your mileage may vary. There’s a lot of emotional truth here, and I think anyone who has ever struggled to find their place in the world will find it a resonant read.
Pagan Portals Blodeuwedd by Jhenah Telyndr is an introduction to a figure from Welsh myth many people (me included) consider to be a Goddess. This is a small book, but remarkably rich with information while being perfectly readable. The writing is beautiful and evocative, academically informed but written for a broad Pagan audience.
Jhenah explores the various literary sources for Blodeuwedd. She also puts the story into the cultural context in which mediaeval Welsh readers would have seen it. There’s also exploration of how this myth relates to other stories from a wider Celtic context. From this basis, Jhenah is able to identify aspects of the story that suggest the original characters were divine.
I first encountered Bloduewedd by way of Alan Garner’s The Own Service. As a child I was keen to know more about the underlying myths and moved on to Kevin Crossley-Holland’s interpretation of the stories. It’s been with me ever since. I’ve spent a lot of time sitting with this story, and contemplating it. There were things I’d wondered about on my own that this book confirmed for me. There was also a great deal that I didn’t know. The medieval Welsh content opened up an array of new perspectives for me.
One of the things I especially like about this book is that it is multifaceted. It doesn’t offer us a single fixed truth about who Blodeuwedd ‘really’ was. What’s demonstrated is that stories change over time because to stay alive, they have to be adapted to their times. The Blodeuwedd of the mediaeval story exists in a very different context to the one in which modern readers will encounter her. Who she was in older versions is hinted at, and we can speculate.
If you are new to exploring Welsh mythology, I heartily recommend this book. If you’re drawn to Blodeuwedd but don’t know where to start, this book contains not only an exploration of the myths, but guidance for working with her as a Goddess. As someone who has been involved with this story for some time, I found the book had a great deal to offer me – if Welsh scholarship isn’t part of what you do, you will likely find this book enormously helpful.
I was sent a review pdf of the first magazine from Last Girl’s Club, recently. It’s a fiction orientated magazine, focusing on weird, eldritch things and dark feminism – if you like my fiction it may well be your sort of thing! It’s going to be a quarterly.
It’s a tricky thing to review in that there are multiple articles – fiction and non-fiction – from a broad array of authors. It looks like there will be regular columnists – and they’re an interesting bunch with an array of perspectives and approaches. Otherwise the magazine is open to submissions, so there will be unpredictability. Issue 1 offered a diverse selection of authors working in a breadth of styles, from the creepy to the disturbing. It was light on gore, and happily light on the female abuse tropes that dominate some areas of horror. It’s a pleasure to see horrible things that don’t rely on the abuse of women. The magazine has a policy of no stories where sex leads to murder, and this makes me enormously happy.
I only gave up on one story – I didn’t engage with the author’s voice at all – everything else grabbed me and I enjoyed reading it. Inevitably with this sort of project there’s a likelihood of not finding everything to your taste, but it’s well worth a go, the writing is strong and innovative and the editorial team clearly has some very good ideas about what to say yes to.
This is a magazine that charges. It’s important to note that this is also a magazine that pays. There aren’t anything like enough of those out there, and I encourage you to support outfits that actually pay their writers. Last Girl’s Club is accepting short stories, poetry, flash fiction, non-fiction and relevant reviews. The content needs a female focus, but the gender of the author is not a consideration. The submission guidelines are clear and can be found on the website.
If this is your area of interest, then it’s well worth checking out.
Dana O’Driscoll’s Sacred Actions is a rare example of a book I think everyone should read. It’s written for Pagans and Druids, but I think there are lot of people who simply care about the natural world who would also benefit greatly from this book.
This is a book about how to embed not just sustainable practices in your spiritual and daily life, but also how to be restorative. It’s not enough to be sustainable. The idea of being regenerative is exciting, and the book as a whole has a hopeful, encouraging tone and is a good antidote to despair and distress.
You could take this as a manual for a year long project, or you could just read it all and pick the bits that work for you – there’s plenty of inspiration and flexibility here. Author Dana is a longstanding Druid, with a wide range of life experiences. The result is a beautifully written book that is pragmatic, realistic and recognises the breadth and limitations you might be facing. It is as applicable for urban Pagans in small spaces as it is for those who can run off and start an organic homestead, and all places in between. There’s attention to issues of wealth and privilege, and this is an excellent piece of writing for not excluding anyone or assuming much about available resources.
The book follows the wheel of the year, and the 8 festivals familiar to most modern Pagans. You could draw on this material to enrich your own seasonal celebrations, there would be no difficulty setting it alongside a different set of celebrations, either. If celebrating the festivals isn’t part of how you do your Paganism, that will also be fine, you can make this entirely about action without any need for ritual.
Each festival explores an area of thinking and action and looks at how to bring this into your daily life, and spiritual life. It’s a book that is very much about embedding the spiritual in the everyday, and increasing earth awareness and feelings of interconnectedness.
If you’ve been a deliberate eco-Pagan for some time, you might find some of the content familiar. However, this is a book with so many ideas in it, that the odds are good of finding new things to bring into your life. There are original rituals and triads here, and content for contemplation and meditation that will enrich any Druidic practice. I really like the emphasis on meditation as an action, and using meditation to embed ideas, reflect on relationships and deepen understanding. These are the most valuable meditation pointers I’ve seen in a very long time.
The author writes from her own experience, which means that the book has most to offer a Pagan in similar circumstances – someone living in North America. If that’s not your situation, there is still a great deal to gain from this book, you’re just going to have to do extra work to find out about relevant plants and groups where you live, for example. As a UK dwelling reader I enjoyed the decision to make the content specific – in many ways, specific details provide a better map for those of us outside the area of interest, than vague content that doesn’t really give anything precise to anyone.
If you need inspiring and uplifting right now, this book is for you. If you need help finding out how to live a life that is regenerative, and more than sustainable, this book is for you. If you are even slightly interested in earth based spirituality, this book is for you. I cannot recommend it enough. It’s made me realise a lot about what is most important to me in terms of Druidry – connection, care, community, responsibility, action, living our values, and uplifting each other so that we can all do better.
If you care at all about climate chaos, you’re probably also experiencing depression, anxiety and despair. It all looks fairly grim out there and the politicians aren’t getting to grips with the issues anything like fast enough. Meanwhile Elon Musk adds to the pollution as he fires rockets into space and crypto-currencies use an alarming amount of energy. People with money and power seem hell bent on making everything worse.
Kiss the Ground is a documentary. It’s genuinely hopeful and offers what sounds like a real and realistic solution to de-carbonisation. It’s all about soil. The best thing is that no one has to wait for their government to get moving. Anyone with any land at all can take things on board from this and do something.
The solutions offered in this documentary benefit farmers. This is a way forward that offers lower costs, greater resilience and a better chance at making money – which is persuasive. It’s not a big ask to suggest people do something that will greatly benefit them. The solutions are low-tech for the greater part, so people in poorer parts of the world can get started without having to wait for help. The principles are easy to grasp.
We can keep a lot of carbon in the soil. We can add to it at a significant rate. Ploughing releases carbon, but we don’t actually need to plough to grow crops. If the soil isn’t bare, it takes in carbon, if it is bare, not only does it not take in carbon, but there are flooding issues, and earth becomes dust, topsoil is lost and we get desertification. Maintain plant cover and everything works better.
Here’s a trailer for the film, and if you get chance to see it, I heartily recommend it.
You might also want to watch this fantastic video on re-greening.
If you’re a Pagan who loves bears, this is for you. This is a beautiful exploration of Celtic bear deity.
As is so often the way of it, we don’t have much by way of written sources for Celtic bear deities Artio and Artaois. What Andrew has done with this book is to share his journey in search of them, and it’s a really engaging read and an excellent way of approaching the quest.
It’s always clear where the material has come from, as Andrew searches widely for bears. His explorations are thoughtful, informed and intriguing. They also function as a map – there are so many Celtic deities for whom we have names and little more. The quest to forge a personal connection with a God or Goddess about whom little is known, is a challenging process but one that a person can undertake with honour and sensitivity, and this book demonstrates ways of working that anyone could use to inspire their own quests.
I have always loved bears. They were incredibly important to me in childhood, and they remain significant and deeply loved by me. I’m not very good at deity – it’s a complicated issue for me. However, I really enjoy work that is written with passion and integrity, and it felt like a privilege to join Andrew on his journey to find the Celtic Bear Gods. It was an inspiring read, as much for what it showed of personal devotion and enthusiasm as for what it teaches about Bear Gods specifically.
This is a small, brilliant, illustrated book and I hurt myself laughing over it.
Dr Geof is a steampunk genius, a lovely human being, a maker of comics, and a bit of a bee fancier. In this book he sets out to prove that bees are better than anything else, using science, and also maths.
Aside from being adorable, it’s also a rather splendid bit of satire, poking fun at some aspects of science, how we use numbers to quantify things, and how easy it is to be persuasive with numbers. Fake news and conspiracy theories will show you diagrams, graphs and figures, but unless you know how those figures were reached in the first place, they aren’t worth much. Sometimes it’s just a case of picking the right numbers to get the result you were looking for. And so it is with bees versus pirates, and bees versus windows…
Sun Among Stars – Mael Brigde’s devotional to Brigit is a remarkable and fascinating book. It explores Brigit the Goddess, Brigid the Saint, the folklore, modern practice and the author’s personal journey. If you have any interest in Brigit, this will be an excellent read.
My knowledge of Brigit (Bride, Bridget, and many other variants) is fairly superficial. I’m probably typical for a Druid who is not a devotee. I found the material here entirely accessible even when the poetic content was dealing with traditions and stories I wasn’t familiar with. My guess is that for the reader who is more involved with Brigit, this book will have even more to offer.
Brigit is a complicated figure(s) and this book really digs into the issues. As a Celtic Goddess and a Catholic Saint, Brigit is and has been honoured by many different people, but is it fair to think of her as one entity? Mael Brigde explores the many different Brigits and shares her personal experience of being a devotee, and how that’s evolved over time. This is handled through a selection of essays and poems, supported by a wealth of notes and references. It is always clear what has come from one of the various traditions, and what has come purely from the author.
What I loved most about this book was the room it has for complexity and multiplicity. There isn’t a single coherent Brigit tradition to tap into – although it looks like modern Paganism is closer to achieving that than any other take on Brigit. There are Goddess stories, and multiple Saint stories, and maybe in there somewhere, the history of an actual woman. There’s a vast amount of speculation as well. As someone without deep knowledge, I found this exploration really useful.
If you are already well informed about Brigit, historical and modern, then it will be the personal and devotional content that is likely to be of most use to you. This is an unusual book in that it offers considerable richness for the novice and the more experienced reader alike. It is a good read for anyone who is casually interested – it certainly doesn’t require you to be devoted to Brigit or on an Irish polytheist path. You could read it simply because you’re interested in the traditions and enjoy poetry – that was mostly it for me and I’ve found it to be a thoroughly rewarding process.