Hunker down by the fire with us and check out the bookish winter warmers we’ve been enjoying this month.
Fight Like a Girl by Clementine Ford
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.
Godless Paganism: Voices of Non-Theistic Pagans edited by John Halstead
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.
Patchwork of Magic: Living in a Pagan World by Julia Day
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.
Planets for Pagans: Sacred Sites, Ancient Lore, and Magical Stargazing by Renna Shesso
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.
The Druids by Stuart Piggott
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.
Prince’s Gambit by C. S. Pacat
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.