I’ve read a lot of books in 2018, so this will be a list of the ones I can remember, or that I listed as having read on Goodreads. I got the idea for this post from a post by James at A Tolkienist’s Perspective. The links in this post go to my reviews of the books listed.
Someone suggested to the Bodleian Library on Twitter that they should post recordings of ambient library noises on their SoundCloud. I initially misread this as ambient literary noises, like the sound of the snow in Narnia melting… the slight tearing noise made by the Subtle Knife as it opens the way between universes… the ghosts of Christmas tenses manifesting to Scrooge…
I just re-read Letters from Father Christmas by JRR Tolkien. I read it and enjoyed it as a child. Imagine how thrilling it must have been for Tolkien’s children to receive these letters once a year – and to have to wait a year for the next instalment.
If you are looking for a clear explanation of lineaged, initiatory witchcraft, this is it. If you are looking for a coven, thinking of joining a coven, or merely curious, I would recommend reading this book. Even if you are an experienced Wiccan initiate, you could benefit from the perspectives offered in this book.
If your coven is open to seekers, this book should go straight to the top of your recommended reading list, for seekers, new initiates, and even old hands. It’s clearly written, engaging, well-structured, and scholarly.
The ebook of The Night Journey: witchcraft as transformation is now available from Lulu.
Many, many thanks to the friend who helped by fixing the formatting of the Word document so it could be converted to an ePub. I can’t tell you how many hours I spent trying to fix the darn thing. You are an absolute star!
The night journey: witchcraft as transformation
Dark Mirror: the inner work of witchcraft
Inner work is a name commonly given to the inner processes that happen in ritual. It can also mean the transformation of the psyche that comes about through engaging in religious ritual. However, the best kind of inner work also has an effect outside the individual and outside the circle. When rituals are focused only on self-development, they tend to be a bit too introspective. Ritual is about creating and maintaining relationships and connections – between body, mind, and spirit; with the Earth, Nature, the land, the spirit world, the community, and friends. It is about making meaning, weaving a web of symbolism, story, mythology, meaning, community, and love. Creating a community that welcomes and celebrates diversity. Creating strong and authentic identity to resist the pressures of consumerism and commercialism and capitalism. Weaving relationship with other beings: humans, animals, birds, spirits, deities.
So, you want to share your Pagan world-view and values with your kids, without indoctrinating them into it? What better way than to give them the kind of books you loved as a kid, which may have influenced your own path to recognising that you are a Pagan?
Most Pagans believe that you cannot be converted to Paganism, in any case: it wells up from within as a response to the beauty of Nature: “the green Earth and the white Moon among the stars”.
Here are some books that I love and would recommend.
Illustrated books for younger children
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
I love this book so much that I bought the French edition as well (it was originally written in French). It’s a poignant story of how an aviator who has crashed in the desert meets a traveller from another planet – the little prince who lives on the asteroid B612. The little prince tells of his travels from one asteroid to another. The story is quirky and charming, but also sad and wistful. It tells of how being a grown-up drains the enchantment from the world, whereas a child knows about seeing the magic and mystery in the world.
The Whales’ Song by Dyan Sheldon and Gary Blythe
This is a lovely book with beautiful illustrations and the evocative story of Lily, a small girl who lives with her grandmother. Her grandmother tells her stories about the whales, and how beautiful they are.
It is presumably meant to be read aloud to small children, but it is enjoyable for all ages.
Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach
An absolute classic ever since it was published, Jonathan Livingston Seagull is the story of a gull who is not like other gulls. He lives to fly rather than to eat. Eventually he is shunned by the other gulls, until some come to learn from him. This is a story of individuality and courage, beautifully illustrated with pictures of gulls in flight.
People who make their own rules when they know they’re right…people who get a special pleasure out of doing something well (even if only for themselves)…people who know there’s more to this whole living thing than meets the eye: they’ll be with Jonathan Seagull all the way. Others may simply escape into a delightful adventure about freedom and flight.
Longer books for older children
The Earthsea Quartet by Ursula Le Guin
This is a wonderful series of books on how to use magic responsibly, with unforgettable characters, beautiful seascapes, and an excellent style of writing. The author is a Taoist, and the philosophy of Taoism is evident in the unfolding of the story (but never in a heavy-handed way).
Ged, a mage from a remote island, goes to wizard school on Roke, but one day when he is showing off his powers to the other students, he brings a terrible thing into the world: a gebbeth. He must go on a quest to track it down. On his journey, he has wonderful adventures and meets a dragon and an unhappy priestess.
This is the book that I always credit with making me realise that I am a Pagan. Puck, an ancient earth spirit who lives under Pook’s Hill, is accidentally summoned by Dan and Una when they perform A Midsummer Night’s Dream on Midsummer Eve. He introduces the children to a stream of historical characters and incidents. One of my favourites is the story of Parnesius and Pertniax, two Roman soldiers on Hadrian’s Wall who makes friends with a Pict. The adventures of Sir Richard Dalyngridge with the Vikings are very exciting, too.
This is the sequel to Puck of Pook’s Hill, and has even more Pagan stuff in it. The story of the Marklake witches, and The Knife and the Naked Chalk, are outstanding. There is also a wonderful poem, The Way through the Woods, which is very evocative of lost things, and wistful. The book doesn’t have quite such a coherent theme as its prequel, but that may actually be a good thing.
Witch Child by Celia Rees
“compelling and convincing.Rees has become a major writer for teenage readers.” Independent
“every now and then one reads a book which stirs up the deepest of feelings and continues to cause ripples and this book is just such a one” School Librarian Journal
The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
This novel has also been made into a film directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood.
This is a story of an orphaned girl who discovers the beauty of the Yorkshire Moors, the value of friendship, and the magic of gardening. The main characters – Mary, the protagonist, Dickon the child of Nature, and Colin the intellectual are unforgettable; and the minor characters such as Ben the gruff gardener and Dickon’s mother, are beautifully drawn too. This has also been made into a film.
The Moomin series by Tove Jansson
Moominvalley is located on the edge of the Gulf of Finland, and the creatures that live there include Moomins, Hemulens, Fillyjonks and their friends. They have a series of adventures; the stories mostly focus on Moomintroll and his friendship with Snufkin, who is a wanderer who doesn’t like to have too many possessions, and is almost Zen Buddhist in his thinking. The whole series has a wistful and charming tone, a keen observation of Nature, and the books are beautifully illustrated.
This is a collection of folktales from all around the world, rewritten for children. One of my favourites is an Italian story about how the birds got their colours, but all the stories are well-written and enjoyable.
‘Authors need folk-tales,’ Richard Adams says, ‘in the same way as composers need folk-song. They’re the headspring of the narrator’s art, where the story stands forth at its simple, irreducible best. They don’t date, any more than dreams, for they are the collective dreams of humanity.’
The gripping story of the journey of five rabbits who escape the destruction of their home warren after Fiver (a shaman-rabbit) has a vision of its impending doom. The friendship of the rabbits, the visionary experiences of Fiver, and the legends of El-Ahrairah, the trickster rabbit hero (who bears more than a passing resemblance to human trickster gods), make this a magical and unforgettable story.
The story opens with a group of people holding a curiously pagan folk ritual in a church. One of them, William Buckley, has learnt to read, which is regarded as a subversive crime; and he is transported to Australia for blasphemy, where he escapes from the penal colony and goes to live with Aborigines. This is a very evocative look at the similarities and differences between English folk mythology and Australian Aborigine mythology, and the differences between folk religion and revealed religion. The English section of the story is based fairly closely on the facts.
She looked down as she poured her tea. “It was…”
“Oh, no,” she said quickly. “Really good. Really good. Just…different. Than what I expected. What I know.”
“Okay girlfriend, you’re gonna have to explain,” I said, laughing and burning my tongue again.
She went on to tell me that when she had arrived at her date’s place, she was feeling really low. “Just down. Not feeling it. At all.” At first, her new honey had tried to suss out what was going on, asking her why she was upset, what she was feeling. “I couldn’t even find words,” she said. “I was just…down. You know? But then…he stopped asking. And he just…held me. There. On the couch. So I could curl up in the dark of him, in the silence, and move into the feeling.” She looked at me, eyes wide with the wonder of it. “And he just stayed there, with me, not saying anything, letting me feel however I needed to feel.”
She leaned back and sighed. “Oh my god it was incredible.”
Experience exists before we put it into words. Language is translation. Sometimes we jump to expression quickly, reflexively, as a way to navigate through life. As my friend experienced it the other night, silence can be a gift we give each other that allows us to more fully feel. A loving silence can nurture tentative growth which might freeze or fizzle under a barrage of questions and suggestions.
Mostly we move in the opposite direction. We do our best to push silence away with noise. We exist in a time, in a culture (in an election season) of blare and scare, of too many words. Incessant speech flattens and cheapens language. Without silence, we have no choice but to turn up the volume on what we say, in order to be heard.
Daring to hold silent and listen to experiences not our own, beliefs not our own, anger and pain not our own…this is scary stuff, agreed. Eat a good breakfast before you set out. But imagine, just for a moment, if we waited an extra day or three before posting that meme or responding to that blog. Imagine if we could dare a few minutes of silent meditation before entering the fray.
As a place to start to consider for yourself the power of silence, may I suggest finding the nearest copy of Karina BlackHeart’s A Witch’s Book of Silence. (*note for my non-witchy readers: you don’t have to be a witch to read this book and distill some awesome peace and power from it. I promise.)
BlackHeart approaches silence from many perspectives—she explores her theme through many lenses but this passage speaks directly to our moment:
In silence, we study words. We develop the capacity to choose our words with care, sifting and sorting them, measuring them for truth, honor and effectiveness. We learn to withhold negative, irresponsible speech, conserving the power of the word for more worthy endeavors.
“Conserving the power of the word for more worthy endeavors…” Doesn’t that sound…good?
Integrity involves knowing not only when to speak, but when to remain silent.
It’s important to note here that there are many flavors and versions of silence. I am specifically NOT talking about silence that is coerced, forced or threatened. Keeping secrets against one’s will, or to the harm of ourselves or another, cannot increase our power nor our integrity. There are times to break silence. There are times to support and act as witness to the breaking of silence.
Most of the time, though, we merely talk and talk to push silence and the scarier gifts it brings away. BlackHeart understands all too well why we fear silence and fill up the void with 24/7 news cycles, noise, chatter, with tell alls and listicles and grumpy cats and bullet points. Silence, she writes, has to do with
the powers of the north, the deep earth, the dark moon and death itself. We must be willing to name and openly confront our fear of these dark powers.
We recoil because what lies within and beyond them exists in the Mystery. Maps are useless. Check lists disintegrate. When we step off the well worn path without flashlight or trail guide, we are left to our own devices: Instinct, intuition, and the Wild Soul’s starlit vision.
There is no avoiding this truth: Silence is the path to the self. As Howard Thurman said,
There is something in every one of you that waits and listens for the sound of the genuine in yourself. It is the only true guide you will ever have. And if you cannot hear it, you will all of your life spend your days on the ends of strings that somebody else pulls.
It takes courage to listen for that true guide. BlackHeart acknowledges this.
In silence we seek knowledge of our true will. In silence, we gather courage so we might dare utter that truth into being. In silence we await our words return to us made fully manifest.
To listen for the genuine in yourself is to learn to discern, there in the dark, the gleam of your own unique gifts and power. And this is to dare a radically creative life. Creative endarkenment exists in the cauldron of that silence that turns truth into being. Brainstorming, workshopping, sharing and publishing are all good and necessary parts of the creative life. But at heart, at root, at some point the creative soul closes the door and returns again to her own deep well.
And, in silence, the work begins once more.
(Looks like I could be on to something here.)