Books I read in September 2020

Philip Heselton’s new book on the New Forest Coven; a book on folkloric witchcraft; and an epistolary novel about people who love books.

In Search of the New Forest Coven, by Philip Heselton

A fascinating further exploration of the origins of Wicca. Having identified the members of the New Forest Coven in a previous book, we now get to see more details of their occult and Pagan-adjacent interests, especially the Mason family, Rosamund Sabine, Edith Woodford-Grimes, and Katharine Oldmeadow. It seems likely that the group of friends were a network of people with related interests, and that only some of them were actually in the coven. It’s also clear that Gerald Gardner was initiated by the group and that he didn’t just invent Wicca. He did inject material from other sources into the rituals he received, of course. There’s also an intriguing story about Cecil Williamson meeting Edith Woodford-Grimes and probably Rosamund Sabine during WW2.

Philip Heselton carefully distinguishes between known facts and conjecture in this book, which is very helpful for allowing the reader to make up their own mind. He also has an engaging and lively writing style which is a pleasure to read.

Besom, Stang and Sword, by Christopher Orapello and Tara Love-Maguire

This is a very enjoyable book, and I can heartily recommend it to anyone who wants more magic in their witchcraft. The section on witchcraft and the land was particularly excellent. I agree with their point about being one with the land because your ancestors are buried there; it’s one of the reasons I feel very rooted in Britain, and still somewhat displaced in Canada, although the fierce pangs of homesickness have abated to a low rumble.

The section on poisonous plants was not for me, but if you like poisonous plants, you’ll love it. I like botany very much but I’m not particularly drawn to herbalism or to the poison path. It was very well written though.

The section on communing with the ancestors and the dead was fascinating. The authors have developed some genuinely original witchcraft techniques, particularly with regard to communication with the dead, which they maintain is the root of witchcraft.

I really enjoyed the chapter on the lunar year, with ideas for rituals and activities relevant to the seasons; and the definition of the Crooked Path as weaving its way between the Left Hand Path and the Right Hand Path. One thing I did not agree with was the idea that nature doesn’t need humans. Although cultures that have lost touch with Nature and the land are very destructive, this is not true of Indigenous peoples who live in a symbiotic relationship with the land. But overall this is a very interesting book and should give plenty of food for thought.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer, Annie Barrows

I saw the movie on Netflix and fell in love with all the characters (except Markham Reynolds and the dreadful Adelaide Addison, naturally).

The book is even better. The characters are quirky and the sort of people I love to have in my life. I must look up Charles Lamb too, as I’ve never read any of his stuff.

Thanks to the editing of one Antonia Till, I only only noticed two Americanisms, “sidewalk” instead of pavement and “fall” instead of autumn. I do know that in the US of A, the pavement is what you drive on, so that might be confusing for North American readers.

I’ve read epistolary novels before, but none as lively as this. Each person has their own voice and letter writing style, and the stories are great.

The experience of the occupation of Guernsey is grim, but this is a story about keeping your humanity in the face of brutality and cruelty, however much it costs in the end.

The story also makes it clear that moral choices are never clear cut or simple. Lots of food for thought there. And the thing that links all the characters together is their love of books.

If you enjoyed this post, you might like my books.