Review: Gods-Speaking by Judith O’Grady

Gods-Speaking is by Judith O’Grady, an elderly druid and biologist who had a career in veterinary medicine and lived on a tiny urban farm in Ottawa, Canada. She sadly passed away in December 2020.

Judith, like myself, was one of the long-standing writers for Gods & Radicals and I felt a kinship with her as somebody who honoured the old gods and had a deep relationship with the land and its spirits, upheld not only in ritual but in action such as going out and litter picking and planting trees. It is with regret I write this review after her passing. I hope, somehow, my words may still reach her.

In the first section of this readable little book Judith outlines what it means to be a ‘God-Speaker’. She relates this word, which she coined herself, to the better-known terms ‘visionary’, ‘seer’, and ‘mystic’ and says this is about ‘the belief in the Gods that I believe that are speaking to me, the belief that They can and do speak to me, and the belief that our communication has some purpose’.

Judith describes the ‘process of God-Speaking’ as ‘two-way communication’ and also refers to it as ‘Gods-Bothered’ as ‘the Gods don’t enter communication with us to pat us on the back or congratulate us on a job well done, but instead to give us difficult tasks and teach us unpleasant truths.’

She speaks of how most societies ‘have a place for the person who troubles hirself to speak with the Gods and whom They trouble in return’ and notes most Gods-Bothered people are segregated in some way, for example, in ‘the detached dwelling of the shaman’, ‘the hut of the hermit’ and ‘the monastery’. This draws to attention the lack of a place for the God-Speaker outside traditional religions.

She outlines some of the problems faced by the Gods-Bothered, one of the most common, for those who see visions and hear voices, being walking the fine line between being a seer and being crazy. This is distinguished by the ability to use discernment and free choice in accepting advice from the gods for the better of themselves and their communities rather than engaging in destructive behaviour.

One of the helpful analogies she uses is the ‘crazy train’ – it is always possible to ‘get off at “ask a question junction” or “find a guide halt” and refuse to descend to “the platform of destructive thinking”’.

Judith outlines how her conception of how God-Speaking relates to biology. ‘Imaging technology’ shows that when a person is having a mystical experience ‘a tiny part of the brain’ ‘lights up’. She calls this the ‘God-Speaker’ and suggests there is an evolutionary purpose to speaking with the Gods.

As an awenydd, an ‘inspired one’ or ‘seer’ in the Brythonic tradition, I found this section insightful and relatable and imagine anyone who speaks with or has been spoken to by the gods would also relate.

In the second section Judith speaks of her personal experiences with the gods and spirits of the land. As someone with an important relationship with my local river goddess and her ‘daughters’ (my local streams), I empathised strongly with Judith’s account of getting to know the spirit of her creek, Pinecrest Creek, which is piped from near her home, under a bus transitway and shopping centre, into a Parkway, then ‘comes out into a pool to flow for a brief free stretch before flowing into the Ottawa river.’

Judith provides an account of how her Druid Grove came to honour the Spirit of the Creek by collecting water and using it as an offering in ritual and by litter picking. Her vision of this spirit, who they came to know as Sionnach Du ‘Black Fox’ stood out to me as vivid and very real.

‘Ze steps out from the shadows, taking the form of an urbanized wild creature, a fox, to personify to me. But it was a humanoid-shaped being, apart from the fox face, and dressed in dark colours, black, and heavily cloaked as befitting a land spirit largely confined to sewer pipes and storm drains. Androgynous…’

Judith speaks of how the spirits of the grove, Black Fox Watershed, Singing Memory Frog, the ghost of large Snapping Turtle and the dragons, were slowly and organically gathered. I related to this way of discovering gods and spirits within the land rather than calling them from outside.

Throughout the book Judith, who is clearly not only wise but well-read in philosophy, outlines her conception of the gods. She says that rather than being ‘friends’, ‘allies’, or ‘partners’ to ‘work with’ they are ‘timeless, wise, philosophical, powerful and motivated by a greater understanding and comprehension than I have access to.’ The come from ‘Gods-Land’ and speak ‘God-ish’ not English or any other language (it is a function of our human minds that translates their language into our own).

Most profoundly: ‘I do not think that my belief or the lack of belief of others affects the beings of place or the Gods; I believe that They are present whether believed in or not. They see us regardless of what we see when we look towards Them. Their world lies behind ours like a bright shadow of reality: the shadow does not reflect what we have built (or destroyed), but what might be.’

These are the words of a true God-Speaker, a seer, a wise woman in the modern Druidic tradition.

This book is essential reading for all who are new to God-Speaking, for in Judith you will find an older, wiser guide whose voice is filled with love of the land and the gods, rich in counsel and humour. It will also resonate with those who have been speaking with the gods for a long while. I would recommend it, too, to those who are curious about whether they can speak with the Gods (yes, you can – I believe, with Judith, this is a capacity we all have and can develop with practice) and to those who don’t want to try it, but would like to find out more from an experienced practitioner.

Gods-Speaking is available through Gods & Radicals Press HERE.

Review – After My Vows by Thornsilver Hollysong

‘After My Vows (Love Songs from a New Godspouse)’ is the second album from Thornsilver Hollysong. Thorn is a fellow awenydd and devotee of Gwyn ap Nudd who I met through the Awen ac Awenydd Facebook group in September 2019. He hosts Gwyn Day Thursdays on Land Sea Sky Travel and we have since worked together on conferences and workshops for Gwyn and his ‘family’.

It has been spiritually affirming to form a friendship with someone else who shares my devotion to Gwyn. Whilst my relationship with Gwyn is primarily devotee to god, Thorn is also a godspouse, thus Gwyn’s lover and husband. Godspousery is an ancient tradition which has probably been around since humans met gods and entered liaisons and marriages with them. Its best-known form is Christian nuns becoming Brides of Christ and it is particularly deeply embedded in the Brythonic tradition, which contains numerous stories of the Fairy King and his people taking humans as lovers. It has been illuminating listening to this album and hearing of experiences familiar and unfamiliar.

‘After My Vows’ was composed by Thorn with his own piano-playing and vocals. There is a rawness and immediacy to this music, a heartfelt passion, an outpouring of devotion. Whereas some songs are waltz-like, others are operatic, some put me in mind of a monk’s voice from a polytheistic cloister.

If there is one line from the album that summarises it for me it is: ‘Come to the ballroom of waltzing shadows’. This is from ‘Won’t You Dance’, a song that, although the tunes differ, put me in mind of David Bowie’s ‘Let’s Dance’. Here Thorn relates meeting Gwyn as ‘Black shade, silver mist / In a raven’s mask’ ‘At the Faery Ball / Sparkling shadows darkling as the moonbeams fall.’ It took me back to my own clubbing days, dancing alone, melting into the oneness of Faery. It gives voice to the timeless truth that gods are not only met at the altar or out in nature, but on the dance floor. In other songs this moonlit ballroom becomes Gwyn’s Hall in ‘the Castle of ice and bone’ where Thorn sings before his Fairy King like Gweir in his heavy blue-grey chain.

In ‘Greensleeves (He’s My Heart of Gold)’ Thorn takes the tune and rewrites the lyrics from the traditional English Folk Ballad, replacing Lady Greensleeves with Gwyn in an incredibly catchy chorus that I’ve been singing along to since I heard it. The following lines felt deeply familiar:

He rode with grace and I knew his face
Though I had no reason to know him–
The songs I sing have crowned him King
With a pathway of stars strewn below him.

Another song which stirred this sense of familiarity was ‘Reunion’:

Was I a monk or mystic? Did I meet You?
Was I a cunning man or woman? Did I know You?
Was I a heretic or witch who dared to greet You?
And for me, to put the holy Church below You?

It put me in mind of my own feeling, upon meeting Gwyn, that I’d known him in other lives, since the beginning of time. This is also conveyed in Thorn’s songs and his vows to love him ‘forever’.

‘Light of the Mist’, with its softly song couplet ‘Light of the Mist / Ghost of the Void’, sent shivers down my spine. Here ‘ghosts stars’ burn in ‘Inspired art’ and we find untold stories only hinted at such as the tale of ‘the Star who gave his Wings’ and how ‘He kissed the dead/ To bring me back’.

In other songs, like ‘As I Made My Vows (It Felt Like a Wedding)’ and ‘Just a Life with You’ I found lines that, as someone without a romantic or sexual relationship with Gwyn (or a human partner), it was harder to relate to. However, I appreciated their craftsmanship and aesthetic beauty.

And You take my hand
Saying “Come, lie down
Where the fruit trees stand
Each with blossoming crown–
In the winter sun
Under apples sweet
With our hair undone
And our joy complete.”

The album is filled with instances anyone who has sat with Gwyn in a woodland or the forests of Annwn would ‘get’: ‘You’re taller than a man could be– / Your antlers, like an ancient tree / Branch out and cover up the distant cross.’ ‘I dream of stars in a forest sky / I dream we watch them, You and I.’

I would recommend ‘After My Vows’ to polytheists who have devotional relationships with Gwyn or other gods, to those who are called to godspousery and to those who are not, and to all who appreciate beautiful music.

‘After My Vows’ is available on Bandcamp for $3 HERE.

Thorn also blogs at Starstruck Awenydd HERE.

‘Dark Life’ – Thoughts on Entangled Life by Merlin Sheldrake

In Entangled Life Merlin Sheldrake compares fungi to dark matter. Dark matter makes up 95 per cent of the universe yet remains unknown and more than 90 per cent of fungi remain undocumented. He refers to fungi as ‘biological dark matter, or dark life.’

In this book Sheldrake explores how, beneath the surface of this world, unseen by the human eye, fungi ‘form networks of many cells known as hyphae: fine tubular structures that branch, fuse, and tangle into the anarchic filigee of mycelium.’ This ‘ecological connective tissue’ plays an essential role in the transport of nutrients such as carbon, nitrogen, phosphorous and water to plants and trees. Mycorrhizae (from rhiza ‘roots’ and mykes ‘fungi’) attach themselves to plant and tree roots. Thus it is impossible to know where a plant ends or a fungus begins in ‘the Wood Wide Web’.

Fungi have the ability not only to manipulate the transfer of nutrients between plants but to control the behaviour of animals. The most striking example is how the ‘zombie fungus’ Ophiocordyceps unilteralis infects ants, compels them, in a syndrome known as ‘summit disease’ to leave their nests, climb the nearest plant, and bite on in a ‘death grip’. Mycelium glues their feet to the plant before fungus ‘digests the ant’s body and sprouts a stalk out of its head’, showering spores on the ants below.

Researchers ‘found that the fungus becomes, to an unsettling degree, a prosthetic organ of ants’ bodies. As much as 40 per cent of the biomass of an infected ant is fungus. Hyphae wind through their body cavities, from head to legs, enmesh their muscle fibres. And co-ordinate their activity via an interconnected mycelial network. However, in the ants’ brains, the fungus is conspicuous by its absence.’ This puts into question ‘how we define intelligence and cognition’ – ‘ the brain-centric is too limited.’

Sheldrake also explores the influence of fungi on humans and human consciousness. He explains Robert Dudley’s ‘drunken monkey hypothesis’. ‘Ten million years ago, the enzyme our bodies use to detoxify alcohol, known as alcohol dehydrogenase, or ADH4, underwent a single mutation that left it forty times more efficient. The mutation occurred in the last common ancestor we shared with gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos.’ This made it possible for our predecessors to digest overripe fruit fermented by fungi and may explain the long relationship between humans and alcohol.

Yeast, a fungus, was central to the Neolithic revolution. ‘Yeasts have domesticated us’. Psilocybin, a hallucinogen produced by psyilocybe mushrooms, has been used by human cultures for millennia to induce visions and to heal and played a major role in the psychedelic revolution of the 1960s. Experiments show that ‘Following an injection of psilocybin, a tumult of new neuronal pathways arise.’

Such findings break down the boundaries of self and other and pose the question who is thinking who. It is well known that humans are made up of more bacterial cells than human cells. This suggests that we are not separate individuals but holobionts – from Greek holos ‘whole’ – a word which refers ‘to an assemblage of different organisms that behaves as a unit.’ Not ‘you’ but ‘y’all.’

This book feels timely to me at this time when human behaviour is being drastically modified by a virus whose influence is being felt across the entire web of existence – human and other-than-human. It shows that human control over our entangled relationships is an error and reveals a little about the ‘dark life’, the 90 odd per cent that lies beneath the surface, ‘mystifying’, ‘other’, and its hidden influence.

It speaks deeply to me of the Annuvian, of things pertaining to Annwn, ‘the Deep’, the Brythonic Otherworld, the abode of the dead and the ‘spirits of Annwn’ or ‘fairies’, who oversee the visible and invisible processes of transformation of matter, of mind, and of soul. One of the kennings for mushrooms is ‘Fruits of Annwn’.

Both fungi and the fay pose a challenge to our imaginations – to think beyond the human – and to understand ourselves not as individuals but parts of a mycelial web stretching into the darkness of unthought. Our capacity to do so, as we experience this virus, and the next, and other inevitable effects of the climate crisis might not save us, but might help us to understand it was never about us, as superior thinking beings, at all.

Review: The Bone Ships by R. J. Barker

The Bone Ships is the first book in the Tide Child trilogy by R. J. Barker. It follows the story of Joron Twiner, who is introduced as the nineteen-year-old alcoholic shipwife of Tide Child, a ship of the dead, on which all the shipmates have been sentenced to death.

The ships are built from the bones of long-dead sea dragons called Arakeesians. Those belonging to the fleets of the Hundred Isles and the Gaunt Islanders (who are permanently at war over the dragon bones) are bone white and their life and luck is sustained by corpse lights – the souls of first born children. The death ships are black and their ostracisation is marked by a lack of corpse lights.

The book begins with Joron losing the two-tailed hat marking him as shipwife to Lucky Meas Gilbryn. Meas is the daughter of Thirteenbern Gilbryn, the matriarch who rules the Hundred Isles on account of having birthed thirteen children. Meas is renowned as lucky because she is a first born who escaped sacrifice yet she has been sentenced to a death ship and it seems her luck has run out.

Thus begins a unique and original adventure story centred on the relationship between Joron and Meas. From the beginning Meas wears the boots (although Joron does get his own boots eventually…) and her role is to pull Joron, who she makes deck keeper, and the equally messy crew of sentenced criminals together to hunt the first Arakeesian to be seen in the seas for countless years.

The cast of characters is rich and colourful from the dark-skinned Joron to Meas with her grey red and blue streaked hair to the toothless madwoman Garriya to the gentle voiced courser, Aelerin, who navigates the ship by mysterious symbols and never shows their face from beneath their hood.

From the outset we have the feeling of being firmly embedded in an other world with its own myths and culture. One of the deities is Skearith, the dismembered God-Bird, whose eye is the sun and whose spine forms the mountains. We also have the Maiden, Mother, and Hag. The Sea Hag holds paramount place amongst the sailors who are keenly aware of the threat of entering her arms in the depths. They daub their hands in red and blue paint and daub it on the keel to win her favour before battle. The ‘Hag’s curse’ is the name for sea sickness and ‘Hag’s tits’ is the most popular swear word.

Barker shows an incredible inventiveness with his sea creatures. The beakwyrms, pink intestine-like beings with rows of serrated teeth stretching into the darkness of their throats, surf the foam behind the ships. Having a large following of beakwyrms is sign of a ship’s speed and prestige. Then there are the longthresh who devour anyone who falls over board and the bone-munching boneborers.

One of the most haunting characters for me was the ship’s Guillame, the wind-talker, a bird-mage who controls the winds. According to the legends the Guillame were a gift from Skearith. Yet they are treated badly, taken from their nests, their eyes put out so they remain subordinate to the fleet. Their magic, easily drained, exacts a large toll, and must be recuperated from the wind towers.

Tide Child’s Guillame is curiously insubordinate and wears a mask to cover its eyes. At the outset its white robes are filthy, it is louse-ridden, stinking, losing its white quills of feathers. Yet with Joron’s kindness, bringing it a needle and thread to fix its robes and other items it regains its dignity. Its wind magic is astounding and there is something very visceral and real in Barker’s description of the pressure in Joron’s ears when it enhances the winds to drive the ship or a gallowbow bolt.

The Bone Ships is a beautifully written lyrical hymn to the other based around a cast of othered people in a unique other world. The mythos is deep and I have a feeling that, like the Arakeesian, of whom we only catch a glimpse with its huge flippers and multitude of eyes, in this book we only see the surface. I can’t wait to read the second part of the trilogy, which will be out in November.

The Deep Music (book review)

A review from Adam Sargant on the The British Druid Order blog of ‘The Deep Music’ – an anthology of the writings of contemporary awenyddion edited by Greg Hill, Lia Hunter, and myself.

I was intrigued by Adam’s suggestion that this anthology shows a ‘a third way’ ‘the way of the inspired ones’ of coming to awen alongside the courses of contemporary Druidry and studying medieval Welsh bardic texts. For me this would be further defined as learning directly, experientially, from the gods and spirits of the Brythonic tradition.

British Druid Order Blog

The Deep Music is an anthology of writings, some essays, some creative, some poetry, of contemporary awenyddion (for those of you not familiar with the term, an awenydd is one who is inspired. But, as this collection makes abundantly clear, the form of inspiration is quite specific.) The awen, the “poetic inspiration” as explored through the writings and experiences of these contemporary awenyddion, gives us an insight into the nature not only of this inspiration (which I will go into later) but into the way in which a community can come together and successfully fill a void in tradition with a living, contemporary energy.

The collective from which these writings were originated in a collaboration between the poets and awenyddion Lorna Smithers and Greg Hill who created the Awen ac Awenydd website in 2015 and, in Lorna’s words, “perceived a void in information and discussion about inspiration, spirit work, mysticism…

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Review: Mapping the Contours by Nimue Brown

mapping the contours by nimue brownThere’s something old about the poems in this book, a bone-deep knowing, a merging of self and land which is reflected in the cover image. It speaks of a time when the hills were the contours of giantesses, the curves of beautiful goddesses, a time that still is and is not with us now.

‘Walking myself into the landscape, and walking the landscape into myself’ is the way bard and druid author Nimue Brown describes the process behind her new poetry collection Mapping the Contours. In the poem that provides the title she says ‘Human bodies are much like landscapes.’

In ‘Raised upon these hills’, one of the most beautiful hymns to a landscape I have ever read, Nimue evokes her lifelong relationship with the Cotswold Edge:

I was raised upon these hills,
My bones are made of limestone,
Sweet Jurassic limestone,
Grown from ancient seas.
I was raised upon these hills
My body made of fossils
Where the Cotswolds meet the Severn,
And the Severn seeks the sea.

She, land, and goddess are inseparable. In ‘Seeking Goddess’ Nimue speaks of going to the forest, rooting with the boar, sleeping with the lynx, making love with the trees, becoming ivy-templed and bird-haired, sharing milk and giving birth to bees. Inseparable too are the local animals and plants: urban foxes, an otter on a bus station, wild swans over the Severn, brambles, orchids, fly agaric. And most strangely a lonely ‘telephone bird’ ‘Outside my window impersonating / A ringing phone.’

There is a lot more uncanniness in this collection encountered in both the seen and unseen worlds. Trolls long to drink ‘the elixir of your terror’ and ‘dead things’ fall from the mouths of the dark siblings of the Shining Ones. In ‘Granny’s house’ ‘All chicken magic and bones’ Baba Yaga

…bears the knife
Opening bone truths
My shoulder blades
My wings
Beauty never dared
Whilst living.

As well as engaging with folklore Nimue provides a more homely and nourishing alternative take on old British myths originating from the Dark Ages of warlords and shining-browed bards. Her cauldron does not brew potions for ‘blinding flashes or ‘burning heads’ but ‘soil food, soul food’, ‘everyday gifts’. Her thirteen treasures are not weapons but a loom, a log, a seed, a cup, a candle…

Tongue-in-cheek she speaks of becoming ‘indigenous English’, a ‘Dirty Briton’, claiming back soil and soul. This act of reclaiming forms the heart of the book. I’d recommend it to all poets, Pagans, and nature lovers as a paradigmatic record of recovering an ancient way of being that lies within our bones and the bones of the land.

You can buy Mapping the Contours HERE and read Nimue’s blog, Druid Life, HERE.

Review: The Book of Onei by Christopher Scott Thompson

The Book of Onei by Christopher Scott Thompson is ‘an antinomian dream grimoire, providing deceptive yet true information about the art of Oneiromancy or dream magic in the form of poetry, fantasy, and intentionally ambiguous instructions.’

It is narrated in the voice of a ‘dark seer’, a ‘night wanderer’ drawn to seek the wisdom of the ‘beautiful chaos’ and ‘primal darkness’ and its ‘chthonic and horrifying entities’ rather than the light. Unlike similar narratives involving journeys to otherworlds he does not go with a benevolent aim such as bringing back a dead lover or relative. Following in the footsteps of his father, who stole The Book of Onei from the Great Library, this Promethean anti-hero goes instead to steal a secret – the knowledge of how to understand the book. “Prometheus didn’t give the fire back,” he tells his wife before setting out through the door in the basement.

The main thread of the narrative is this unnamed dark seer’s journey. The rest is composed of lore from The Book of Onei. This includes stories which take the form of powerful parables in a similar strain to Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathrustra, riddling poems, and lists of the Powers of Onei and how they might be invoked or exorcised through prayers, offerings, charms, symbols, and rituals.

The visionary scope of this book is immense and could only have been channelled from the depths of dream. One of the most striking characters is the prophet Eyes For Flowers, one of the Sons of Crow, who has huge sunflowers spilling through the eye-holes of his crow-mask. This image and the depiction of demons transformed into angels who ‘rose up from the husks of their bodies as burning wheels, as gears and eyes and wings’ put me in mind of the raw genius of Blake and Ted Hughes.

There is also a lot of animistic wonder. I was mesmerised by the song of the spider who sung to the Fool who would become Three-Times Exiled in his cage and by the words of the swaying serpent who teaches that ‘the Chaos Ocean is not a place you can walk to’ but lies ‘in the crevices between moments.’

As you might have guessed this book is packed with paradoxes. The places and powers in the Book of Onei may not exist in Onei itself and it remains unclear whether there is ‘a secret to be uncovered, or only lies within lies.’ The only way to discover the truth is ‘to go there in person.’ Deep contrary wisdom is conveyed about travelling otherworlds, drawn from fairylore, grimoires, alchemy, demonology, and, forthmost from the author’s experiences as a dreamwalker and visionary.

As a kindred spirit drawn to the beauty of the darkness I fell in love with The Book of Onei when it first started out as a series of blog posts and was delighted to hear it has been published in book form. When I read it in full I was not disappointed. It is a valuable contribution to visionary literature and dark mysticism that deserves to be preserved for longevity. Although not explicitly political it is a work that provides gnosis and guidance for facing dark truths in troubled times.

I would recommend it to anyone who has heard the call of the Veiled One who stirs her ‘cauldron made of swirling stars and galaxies’ or been haunted by the ‘eerie, dreadful dead’ of the Host. I don’t want to give away how it ends, only that it begs a follow up – more!!!

The Book of Onei can be purchased HERE.

Review: When We Are Vanished by Nimue Brown

42497_original_9dfb889b-31ef-4c08-803a-a044d1cf1a21_largeNimue Brown is a Druid author based in Stroud. I’ve enjoyed a number of her publications on Paganism and Druidry and her Bardic poetry books. When We Are Vanished is the first of her works of fiction I have got my hands on. It is a speculative mystery novel set in a not-so-distant future where hackers have shut down the global computer network to bring an end to ‘war, finance and government’. When the book opens, the system is in its death throes. Job centres, the police force and scientific laboratories are just about hanging on, relying on new ‘cellulose tech’, which has a mind of its own and a wicked sense of humour. And people are vanishing, suddenly, inexplicably, from the outskirts of civilisation one by one…

At the core of the story is a family: a father who has vanished; three sisters at various stages of vanishing named Kim, Epona and Maria; and their mother, Amanda, who is struggling to deal with it all. The character who I connected with most was the intelligent, erratic Epona. On several occasions her connections with her namesake, the Gallo-Roman horse goddess and psychopomp, are subtly referenced. For example, a computer screen run on the tricksy cellulose tech reads, ‘Eponine Matthews will tell you she is made of chalk’ (referencing the White Horse of Uffington). ‘Tell her to go home and not show her long face again.’ More deeply, Epona is the user of a technical device which allows her to plug into other realities, relating to the horse goddess’s movement between worlds. As I followed the plot, I was intrigued by how this would play out. It did not turn out how I expected!

Nimue has worked extensively with dreams and this shows throughout the book. Its twists and turns and much of the language evoke the non-logic of the dreamworld; metaphorical, absurdly funny, frightening, exquisitely beautiful. As Kim vanishes, ‘Meanings floated away from her. Fish, fish, fish. Sounds like wish… Set the wish fish swimming into the skies. Wish fish, wish fish and if you stare at the clouds for long enough, they would vanish too… She feels threadbare, a word too often repeated. A cloud stared out of the sky.’ Kim’s reflections on time also touch on the mystical. A recurring scene that haunted me was the one pictured on the front cover, ‘yellow dresses and ancestral women made of twigs, turning in a tight circle dance.’

When We Are Vanished succeeds in combining the numinous with an implicit critique of the flaws of our current civilisation: our over-reliance on technology and an inhuman system, our misplaced faith in irritating and badly written self-help books, the impossibility of shutting out wild nature and our wild selves, and the illusion that this world is the only reality. I would recommend it to readers who enjoy a plot rich in references to mythology, folklore and fairytales with surprising twists and to those who are fascinated by the possibilities of future worlds and other realities. As the illusion of liberal democracy slowly melts away from the Western world and alternatives awaken, the situation evoked does not feel far off…

You can purchase When We Are Vanished HERE.

Review: ‘Brigantia: Goddess of the North’ by Sheena McGrath

BrigantiaBrigantia: Goddess of the North is a short e-book (81 pages long) by Sheena McGrath. As far as I am aware it is the first book to focus on Brigantia as an individual northern British goddess; there are many books about Brigit which cover her relationship with Brigantia but none, until now, focusing on Brigantia alone.

Our information about Brigantia is limited to seven Romano-British inscriptions, one (or maybe two) statues and the writings of the Roman historian, Tacitus, who records the tribal name of the Brigantes ‘High Ones’ of whom Brigantia is believed to be the tutelary goddess. I live in Lancashire and have experienced Brigantia’s presence on the West Pennine Moors. I’ve researched her background but never investigated the context of her dedications. This is where Sheena’s work excels and provides an original contribution to scholarship on Brigantia.

One of the most fascinating things Sheena reveals is that several of the inscriptions and the famous statue from Birrens date to around the time the Roman Emperor Septimus Severus lived in Britain (208 – 211CE). His base was at Eboracum (York). The Severans played a central role in shaping the Roman cult of Brigantia.

This is evidenced not only by the dates but by Brigantia’s identification with Caelisti and pairing with Jupiter Dolichenus in one of the inscriptions. Septimus was of African origin. He and his wife brought their deities to Britain. One of them was Tanit, an African goddess who was venerated by the Romans as Dea Caelistis. Another was the Romano-Syrian Jupiter Dolichenus. This inscription results from Brigantia’s assimilation into the Imperial cult. The statue borrows attributes from Caelisti and Juno (Jupiter’s consort) as well as Minerva, Victory and Fortuna. Sheena also examines the political motivations behind the inscriptions pairing Brigantia with Victory.

In the later part of the book, Sheena discusses what can be conjectured about Brigantia’s role as the goddess of the Brigantes tribes. She focuses in particular on Tacitus’ account of the Roman invasion of Britain and the conflict between Cartimandua, Queen of the Brigantes, and her husband, Venutius. One idea (unfamiliar to me) is that Cartimandua was an exile from south. This explains why she favoured peace with the Romans whereas her husband was hostile toward them. Another consideration is the possibility of a ‘special relationship’ between Cartimandua as Queen of the Brigantes and Brigantia as their sovereign goddess,

Brigantia provides a detailed and enticing examination of the context of Brigantia’s worship in ancient British and Romano-British culture. I’ve been learning about Brigantia for over five years and there were many facts I was unaware of and points I will be researching further. Sheena also provides an extensive bibliography. I would recommend this book as an excellent starting point for all polytheists wanting to learn about Brigantia from a scholarly perspective and to students of Celtic and Roman history and religion.

You can purchase a copy of Brigantia HERE.

*I reviewed this book as a PDF so cannot comment on how it looks or reads on an e-book reader.

Review: A Kindness of Ravens by Rhyd Wildermuth

product_thumbnail.phpRhyd Wildermuth is a writer, anarchist, theorist, bard, and the co-founder of Gods&Radicals. A Kindness of Ravens is his second book. At its core lie Rhyd’s struggles to re-establish the cultus of Brân ‘the Raven King’ and bring an end to capitalism. These quests go hand-in-hand.

The book’s based around a haunting vision of ‘The City At The Gates Of The Dead’ where Rhyd stands beside a dead bard of Brân’s and sees a settlement, a town, a city, built and destroyed then a ‘last city… encompassing the world… And I saw what was coming.’

The cause of this destructive cycle is disenchantment which ‘follows disinheritance, displacement from the land into factories and mills and offices.’ Capitalism cuts us off from the land and creates cities where there is no place for gods, spirits, the dead, poets or the poor.

Rhyd’s work is inspirational because it not only elucidates the problem but offers solutions: ‘a change of place consciousness and a resurrection of class-consciousness, a solidarity between peoples and the spirits of place, a new treaty with the land and its inhabitants (living and dead, seen and unseen)…. we must see every place our home and a site of beautiful resistance.’

One of my favourite pieces, which has been a continuing influence on my thought and work, is ‘Awakening the Land: Madness and the Return of the Welsh Gods’. Narrated from a cliff-face in Snowdonia (which Rhyd climbed to ask advice from giants!) it seamlessly interweaves the stories of Brân with the personal and political.

Rhyd says ‘to know a god you must go mad’ and contrasts the divine madness of the awenyddion with the ‘sanity’ of waging out time for work and waging war. Against ‘the desolation of disenchantment’ he evokes Brân as a revolutionary figure who ‘embodies the land and its power’.

A problem Rhyd draws attention to is ‘trying to world in a god most don’t know’. Elsewhere Rhyd speaks of worlding the gods into existence: a process by which the gods come into the world through us. This can be beautiful and awe-inspiring but also frightening and disruptive.

Unlike members of older religions, contemporary polytheists have few scriptures or predecessors to turn to. It’s even more difficult when communications come from gods only a handful of people have written about from a polytheistic perspective. In the Welsh myths, Brân acts as a bridge for his people. In A Kindness of Ravens, Rhyd acts as a bridge for Brân and the revolutionary potency of his mythos.

Much of this book is intense: written with the raw, uncensored force of the untrammelled Awen. Rhyd’s masterful at taking you into his world to see through his eyes vast seams of injustice, the anger of his gods and the dead, the sorrow of ‘the Singers in the Dark.’

There are plenty of ravens and examples of kindness and care for others too. Rhyd writes ‘As long as we’re happy to enjoy the safety and protection of systems-of-meaning which devalue forests and Black bodies, our gods will be our own personal secret story.’

Rhyd advocates a polytheism wherein the land, gods, ancestors, our communities, the personal and political are intrinsically linked. The fates of all are bound up with the hegemony of capitalism and the imperative to resist it and build a better world.

A Kindness of Ravens is a revolutionary book: an inspiration for artists and activists and a way-marker for polytheists. I return it to my shelf with the firm belief it will be influential for many years to come.

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