If Women Rose Rooted: The Power of Celtic Women is a powerful, profound, clear-sighted and relatable book by writer, story-weaver and psychologist Sharon Blackie. At its centre lies the Eco-Heroine’s Journey. This is not just an adaptation of Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey with ‘she’ substituted for ‘he’. It is ‘an antidote to the swashbuckling action-adventure… based on a woman’s way of being in the world.’
Whereas the Hero’s Journey is ‘a metaphor for personal spiritual and psychological growth’ and ‘individuation’: wholly anthropocentric, the Eco-Heroine is inseparable from and concerned with her οἶκος (‘home’ or environment’). Rather than aiming to become the conquering Hero, her goal is to become rooted in the place where she lives, not only telling its stories but living them.
Sharon’s primary focus is on Celtic mythology. The narrative is based on ‘The Elucidation’ in Perceval, le Conte du Graal. The rape of the well-maidens by Amagons and his men leads to the transformation of a once-fertile country into the Wasteland. The task of the Eco-Heroine is to restore the Voices of the Wells as guardians and protectors of the land.
The Wasteland is the patriarchal system where our value is determined by having a good job, social status and all the latest machines. The Call to leave is the first step on the journey. Hearing the Call and responding are rarely easy.
Sharon describes being aged thirty, working as a scientific advisor to a tobacco company. Trapped in rush hour traffic she finds herself floating out of her car to look down on herself then having a monster of a panic attack in the carpark.
I found this very relatable. I started suffering from panic attacks and depersonalisation when I was at university and those symptoms return whenever I try to work within the system. When I finally recognised the Call (as the voice of my patron god) I was thirty too.
The following chapters run through the stages of initiation, pilgrimage and return to discover one’s roots and become a guardian of the land. The journey is far from simple. Sharon describes it as spiralling rather than linear.
A good part of the book is autobiographical. Sharon speaks candidly about her own experiences including her (often recurrent) mistakes and breakdowns as well as her successes. It was a relief to find I wasn’t the only one repeatedly faced with such struggles.
Each chapter is based around one or more retellings of traditional Celtic stories. A personal favourite was ‘The Madness of Mis’. Driven geilt when her father and his companions are slaughtered, she flies into the Sliabh Mis mountains in bird-form, growing ‘long trailing fur and layers of feathers.’ A loving harpist eventually coaxes her back to society.
The healing process of shapeshifting is seen as a natural response to grief and madness. Sharon notes that Mis’s story is much earlier than those of the famous mad/wildmen Suibhne Geilt and Myrddin Wyllt so it was good to see it being brought to the forefront.
Sharon speaks movingly of her relationship with the Cailleach in her various guises in Ireland and Scotland. She sits with An Chailleach Bhéarra on the Beara peninsula as she waits for her husband, Manannán Mac Lir to return for a final kiss before the world ends.
Sharon builds a relationship with a Cailleach looking out to sea in the cliffs when she lives on the Isle of Lewis and says ‘what breaks my heart more than any of the other things that have been and remain still to be endured is the leaving of this old Cailleach.’
The success stories of individual women are shared in each chapter. Sophie McKeand had a revelation whilst working as a field sales executive ‘This is not who I am’ before becoming a performance poet and workshop leader. Karen and Rufus Taylor made a break from conventional psychiatry and fulfilled their dream of setting up ‘Working to Recovery’ for voice hearers. Alice Starmore used art as activism in a campaign to save the north Lewis moor and bogs from a windfarm proposal.
Most of the women featured have become community leaders. However, there is some recognition we aren’t all cut out for leadership roles. Viv Palmer works as an accountant in London and runs a blog called ‘Bug Woman’ where she documents the plants and creatures of her locality. We also find a quote from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome sufferer Kat Duff’s The Alchemy of Illness:
‘The well venture forth to accomplish great deeds in the world, while the sick turn back on themselves and commune with the dead… We drop out of the game when we get sick, leave the field, and desert the cause. I often feel like a ghost, the slight shade of a person, floating through the world, but not of it. The rules and parameters of my world are different altogether.’
If Women Rose Rooted has given me much food for thought in relation to my own journey and explorations of my local landscape and Brythonic mythology. I will be certainly be returning to Sharon’s retellings of traditional stories.
I would recommend this book as an inspiration and powerful guide to all women striving to escape the Wasteland and find their place in the world. I also think a number of men would enjoy it as a window into women’s lives and as a rich compendium of Celtic lore.
You can find out more about If Women Rose Rooted, plus some links to places to buy it from HERE.