Books that I've had my nose in whilst on fag breaks.

Friday, May 13, 2005

The Kid' by Kevin Lewis

This was a book which Mum was anxious for me to read. She handed it to me and I put it on my huge slush pile of 'books to be read'. A week later, she was back, 'Have you had chance to read it?' It had affected her pretty profoundly. It effected me that way too, once I'd finally given in and moved it up the pile to read it.

I didn't have to read the blarb to know what it was going to be about. The white cover and arty picture of a child on the front, there are whole displays at them down the supermarkets. In a cynical moment once, I wondered if 'they' peddled these books to harassed parents out on their weekly shop, because, in reading them, these parents would know that however angry they get, however much they think they've failed, their families are not as dysfunctional as these families. Even though they have the guilt of telling their child that they can't afford the latest brand £200,000 trainers, their kids aren't as harmed as these kids. These books are all about child abuse or some other childhood trauma. You know what you're going to get.

I remember the first that I read. 'A Boy Called It' by Dave Pelzer was read by one of the women in our office, then moved to the next, then the next. Each of us ended up reading the book in one or two sittings, bringing it back generally the next day. By the time the week was out, we'd ALL read all three of his books. I was shocked at the contents. It played in my mind. But I also felt helpless. Usually when I'm reading about such horrors, it's because I'm about to write a letter to someone's president in an attempt to get them out of that situation. I couldn't help Dave Pelzer.

So to 'The Kid' by Kevin Lewis. This too really got to me. I read it so quickly. I don't know if it was because he was British, a Virgo, only two years older than me... the culture he described is my culture. I grew up during the same years. I have a cousin called Kevin who is the same age. But as the story unfolded, I thought more of my cousin Lee (Kevin's brother) who wasn't abused, but who shares so many of Kevin Lewis's personality traits. As it unfolded further, there were three lads called Lee who I thought on, quite deeply; questioning my own actions in the case of one, missing terribly the other.

I guess that what I'm trying to say is that, despite not having been abused myself, I could identify so strongly with so many elements within this story and that led to a lot of soul-searching. Unpicking old wounds. But you can only do your best in any given situation, with the information that you had at the time.

Kevin's story is compelling. It's not just about child abuse. It's about surviving and learning how to live. Not just survive. Live. He deserves to have his story heard, not least because it raises some strong issues which need addressing about what we choose to ignore because it's 'none of our business', but also because it's his story. Too many people didn't listen when he was young, simple as that.

I've learned, via Amazon, that there is a sequel called 'Moving On'. I'm definitely going to read it.

'The Client' by John Grisham

This time it was Dad with a talking book that he wanted me to hear. I didn't get much choice in the matter. I had my two nephews in the back and I was dropping Dad at the club on the way. He arrived at my car via a trip to his van, opened the door, put the tape in and said, 'You really want to listen to this.' By the time we'd got to the club, we'd heard about two boys, aged 11 and 8, (mine in the back of the car, listening rapt, are 13 and 8) who had gone into the woods to smoke cigarettes and got into serious trouble. They'd found a bloke trying to commit suicide and ended up nearly killed themselves. (My 8 year old nephew asked me how the story ended, when I saw him a week later, so I know that one went in....)

The story was gripping. I did end up sitting in carparks or on our driveway, because my journey had finished before the latest cliff-hanger of the plot. I enjoyed listening to it so much so that I've now asked Dad for another talking book to fill my journeys to and from work. My enjoyment might also have something to do with Blair Brown, who read the book. Her accent was not-quite-Georgia-but-close-enough and I could listen to Georgia speak all day.

A don't go out of your way to get it, but if it falls into your tape-player, then go for it, sort of book.

'The Sandman: Endless Nights' by Neil Gaiman

Can you imagine what it was like? I didn't know! I honestly didn't know that another 'Sandman' had come out! I knew about all the spin-offs, which Neil has read and sanctioned, but which he didn't write. I had them on a vague 'to be bought when I'm richer' list, but there I was, innocently perusing the display stands in Another World, in Wolverhampton, and this was there. Released in 2003 and it took two years for the news to reach me...

Let's put the 'Sandman' in context. A thread on Witchgrove resulted in me strongly suspecting that my own spirituality, philosophy and religion owe slightly less to the Church of England, Methodism or Alexandrian Wicca (the main contenders) than they do to my reading, in 1994, all of the 'Sandman' graphic novels. I've gone back via Hy Bender's book recently and nodded sagely in such a way that if Neil Gaiman was a mindreader, he'd be staring at the wall for a very long time.

I sniffed it, pawed it, almost scared to read it. Then devoured it. Each story is about a different Endless sibling. For those who live and breathe 'Sandman', there is a little to add to the story insofar as you find out what precisely started the feud between Dream and Desire. You see a much lighter Morpheus, before the millennia wore him down. You also get to see Delirium when she was Delight.

Some stories are weaker than others - Destiny's isn't actually a story, but it's very pretty. I've since read reviews which seem to universally dislike Despair's story, or series of snapshots, but I think that that's the point. You aren't supposed to enjoy despair. There were some mental images in there which lingered long afterwards. It captured despair in the way that Draig Athar did. Destruction's story was enjoyable, but I had to go back to remember precisely what it was. The re-read was more meaningful. I think it's going to be a bit like 'The Empire Strikes Back', insofar as everyone puts it down as weak, then realize years afterwards that it's always 'TESB' that they quote, so it moves up to the best of the films. A slow-burner.

The others were very strong from the start. Death met a tall, red-headed, blue-eyed man. No prizes to where my mind went as my heart stopped there. There's a page as I want to scan in and send to folk. Oh WOW! Oh WOW! The sample page from the website is the PRECISE page I wanted to show them! Go here to see it. The Goddess loves me...!! It reassured me in a way that Gaiman possibly didn't know about... There's also one of the famous in-jokes in there, between Gaiman and Pratchett, when the doves take off. If you've read Pratchett's 'The Thief of Time', you'd have known what was coming.

Dream's story was not only very pretty, but added to the overarching 'Sandman' epic. It filled the need to know more and more and more and more and more. It was clever too.

Desire's story was just brilliant. I understood a side to Desire which had been missing throughout the epic. Because the novels have been told mostly through the eyes of Dream, then Desire has seemed the dark one. You're used to being suspicious of him/her and hating what (s)he's doing. In this, for the first time ever, I was cheering Desire on. In some ways, Desire's might be the best story of them all.

Then Delirium's. *grin* I don't know how accessible this would be to most readers. I think that you would have had to have been there in some way, shape or form. It captured the darkness of Delirium where, in the other novels, it's usually the lightness of her at the fore.

Me liked. :-D

'The Sandman presents Taller Tales' by Bill Willingham

This is the first spin-off graphic novel I've read. There were several to choose from in Another World, but the Hy Bender book had shown how close Bill Willingham had been to the originals, so I trusted him. Neil Gaiman was consultant on it, but Willingham wrote all the stories.

And yes, I enjoyed them immensely. I consciously made the decision not to compare him to Gaiman before I read it, but I ended up forgetting that it wasn't Gaiman anyway. Merv Pumpkinhead as a James Bond character eased me into the book. It was fun and I laughed aloud at times. I then ended up dreaming about Lam, which was great - me dreaming about the Dreaming. Yes! Free stories! LOL

The Danny Nod story was enjoyable. I drifted through the world, but it didn't grab me in context. Naturally as it's Sandman, it's amazing, because anything which fills me with the Sandman world is amazing, but relatively it was just ok.

I loved the Thessaly story. Thessaly AND Morrighan all in the same story. *grin* But more than that, it's clever. I should hate Thessaly, because it's not a positive portrayal of witches... blah... blah... murdered people... eyeballs... etc etc. But I don't know. I think anyone with half a brain knows that me and my lot don't cut people's faces off and bring them back to life with spells, not every day anyway; other than that, I think she IS a positive portrayal. She's serious about it for a start and intelligent. It's the sort of witchcraft... oh! I don't know. I think some witches will get what I'm trying very badly to say, while others will be frowning at me about now. To them, I just smile sweetly.

And the explanations/FAQ about Dreams at the end was pure genius and a really enjoyable read.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

'Neverwhere' by Neil Gaiman

Neverwhere is like an adult's 'Alice in Wonderland', retold for the 21st century in darkness and grime. Richard is our Alice, an ordinary bloke who works in an office; his desk looks like my desk, complete with toys. The 'Wonderland' of the book is an underside of London, but it could be any big city, and is populated with just as many strange creatures as any Carroll story. Richard has to believe a lot of impossible things before breakfast.

This is the second time I've read it, but it's been so long since I read it the first time that I'd forgotten most of the twists and turns of the story. I devoured the book. Day one, I picked it up and decided to read a couple of pages before going to sleep. By half 3 in the morning, I forced myself to put it down again after having read half of the book. I took it with me to Dorset and ended up having a 'Wonderland' adventure of my own. This book was the perfect thing to read as I lay very still recovering from it.

It's dark and violent, but there is also a lot to say in it on the subject of trust and compassion. It will alter your view of London forever... any city really. I even entered Dorset wondering where the door was actually set. (Incidentally, it was in Wareham Forest.)

I have two copies of this book, if anyone wants one of them.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Since January, when I completed the first draft of my dissertation (between November and January, it was all books on Wicca), I've been reading but not updating this. Here are some of the books I've had my nose in (most recent first):

'Behind the Smile: My Story' by Lisa Potts

On July 8th, 1996, I was at work on the Penn Road, in Wolverhampton, when it seemed that every emergency vehicle in the city was in our vicinity. You could tell from the way the traffic was stopping that something big was happening. Sirens are part of the everyday background noise in Wolverhampton, but there were just too many. I went out the front door and looked down the Penn Road, at the Safeway, where my friend worked. The junction was practically at standstill, then a client came running in to tell us what was happening two streets away.

Unknown to me, at that moment, my friend in Safeway was involved in a huge emergency action. All of the customers were told to leave their shopping trolleys where they were and leave the store. This is a big store and hundreds of people just abandoning their shopping. The doors were locked and police thronged the massive carpark. This is what I could see from the doorstep of the PRF. The reason? From the Safeway carpark, you can see St Luke's, where a man with a machete had just attacked a class full of 3 and 4 year olds, plus the adults watching over them. They didn't know where he'd gone. He could have been in the Safeway.

Over the next few days, we all got to learn about Lisa Potts. She was the nursery-school teacher who had shepherded children indoors, then gone out for more. Despite having witnessed three women floored under the machete, she ran out for the last group of children. She lifted her arm to save 3 year old Ahmed and her arm was nearly severed right through. She lifted it again to save 4 year old Francesca and the result was her own hand hanging nearly off. She raised the other hand to save 4 year old Reena, whose Mum was lying in a pool of her own blood across the yard. She covered several children with her own body as the machete reigned down on her back and not only survived, but ensured that every single child survived too. The three other women who had been attacked also survived. Lisa received the George Medal for bravery for her actions that day.

I found Lisa's book, 'Behind the Smile', in a charity shop at the weekend and sat reading it last night, when I should have been answering e-mails. I could picture all of the terrain. I've sat in a cubicle in New Cross. My Mum runs a playgroup. But even without all of this local knowledge, this story would have been fascinating. It's an adrenaline thing; it's the story of an ordinary Wulfrunian wench suddenly confronted with a machete, while looking after children. (I remembered as a young teenager, walking with my friends through the fog down the brook, a man emerged from the fog waving a machete around. We froze. He passed us by and disappeared into the fog behind us. We ran.) This is Wolverhampton, any of us could have been Lisa Potts with a bit of bad luck. You can't help but read it with a 'what if' going on in your head and endless respect for the wench herself.

Then I realized that the respect wasn't as endless as I'd imagined. In fact, by the end of chapter 7, she was starting to annoy me. 'I couldn't let the children down!' She protested, as she had her plastercasts taken off early in order to go on a promised camp, against all advice. Very heroic, but she still couldn't do for herself. Two camp volunteers had to stay with her in order to dress her or help her on the loo; one camp volunteer had to take her for her hospital appointment mid-week. In short, her presense not only added no assistance to the children, but drained it away from them. Then she laid into a colleague for re-arranging the nursery-school. Her trauma might have been less if she could have seen it as she'd left it, but they'd taken up the playground and relaid it (lots of blood on the original). You expect a bit of me, me, me, when you've been horrifically injured in those circumstances (let's face it, I was hardly a heroine after my accident and I was definitely me, me, me-ing about things)... but after a while, you began to wonder how much of this story was now Lisa really playing the poor me for all she could get.

Not a good thought. I felt evil just thinking it. I asked around.

The other good thing about being in Wolverhampton is that sooner or later you're going to find someone who knows her personally. It took me exactly five minutes. The second person I mentioned the book too actually knows her. The first knew of her. I was reliably informed that Lisa hadn't actually written the book and it mis-represented her in some ways. She's genuinely a lovely person.

I was glad. The rest of the book could be read without frowning, because now it was a 21 year old Wulfrunian wench completely out of her depth. I hope I run into her one day, though all I want to say is, 'Yam owrigh' a'er wench? Well dun.'

'The Thief of Time' by Terry Pratchett

I really enjoyed this. I think I got more out of it now than I did the first time round. I picked it up really serendipidously, because I'd been thinking on wanting to read it since someone on Witchgrove mentioned Lu-Tze and rule number one, but I didn't know I owned it. I came back from watching the film of the 'Amityville Horror' thinking that it was going to remind me too much of 1993 and I'd have nightmares. I needed Discworld to keep the demons at bay, but didn't think I owned any other books than those I'd read recently. I went through my shelves and there it was. 'The Thief of Time'. I can't remember ever buying it. I'm so glad it was there.

Lu-Tze and Lobsang = Obi-Wan and Luke, don't they? Ok, the obvious is the 'Karate Kid', but I couldn't help but think Obi-Wan and Luke. I loved the interaction between those two (so Buddhism is headology as well then...), whereas the last time I read it, I was more interested in Susan Sto Helit. I also loved the ideas about history and time, this makes it all make sense.

I've giggled, philosophized, giggled some more and simply thoroughly enjoyed it. Now I need more Pratchett.

'The Amityville Horror' by Jay Anson

I wanted to read this before I went to see the film. As that was going to happen one night, but I'd been up late trying to catch up on e-mail, the result was that I was lying in bed getting it finished until about quarter to three in the morning. I needn't have bothered. The film hadn't bothered with accuracy, so it wasn't worth having the facts in my head to go and see it.

Anson wrote this based on tapes made by the Lutz family (children and all) after they had fled from the Amityville house. According to the Lutz site, there are a couple of misunderstandings, but the book is generally accurate. I found it compelling. There were several times when I could put myself in the place of whichever member of the Lutz family was experiencing the phenomena and could think, 'Yes, I'd have done the same...'

For an idea of what happened there, despite the films, then this is the best source and it's a quick read too. I read it in about two days, sneaked in between the millions of other things happening in my life.

'Murder in Amityville' by Hans Holzer

This was all Amos Keppler's fault. Before the film came out, he was there posting to Witchgrove about it, so I ended up reading everything on his site... then digging through my books until I found this and the Jay Anson one. I hadn't read this one before, but I had high hopes (no pun intended) because I'd read positive reviews of another of Hans Holzer's work, on witchcraft, though I hadn't read that either.

Unfortunately, I found Holzer's 'Murder in Amityville' to be confused in its style. It opens with an exploration into the phenomenon of possession, which was quite in-depth and had me with my academic head on reading it. It was very interesting and set the scene for an argument that Ronald DeFeo had been possessed when he killed his family. Then it stopped. Holzer stopped short of actually saying that. It's inferred by the fact that we're talking about possession, then we're talking about Ronald DeFeo. It's almost said, because the majority of the content is selected transcript from the trial, which was there in support of this inference. I still had my academic head on and that said, 'This isn't evidence - you're not making your case and you're editing the source so it could imply anything.'

It's a terrible thing to say, but it was also tedious after a while. Terrible because a family being killed shouldn't be tedious, even to a world-weary, hard-faced bint like myself. But pages and pages of court transcript just led to me thinking, 'For crying out loud, lawyers and judge, grow up and speak in bloody English!' The book raised more questions than it answered, but didn't adequately make the case for DeFeo being possessed.

'Fugitives and Refugees' by Chuck Palahnuik

I had a surprise parcel one day. Inside was this book, a map of Portland, Oregon (with really groovy mountains raised in it), some postcards of the city and a card off my friend, Anna Alexander. My guess is that she wants me to come and visit. LOL

I've never been to Portland and this is a book, I think, which is aimed at those who either live there or are close enough to go and visit. It's a tourist book, but not like one I've ever scanned through before. I actually sat and read this... and marked the places that I wanted to visit. It's written by the author of 'Fight Club', who lives in Portland, and is full of little anecdotes - human ones, ones that make you actually want to visit, rather than something dreamed up in a marketing person's sterile mind.

I now have a short list of three places I definitely want to visit in Portland:

  • Anna and Ian's house
  • The mausoleum
  • Powell's
    Then lots of places I might want to visit. The mausoleum really got my imagination going. I don't think we have anything like it in Britain - a vast, indoors necropolis, with settees, huge avenues and 100s of 1000s of dead people in a vast indoor crypt.

    I enjoyed reading this. It's not the sort of book you scan through, like most tourist books, but it is the sort you could dip into. And yes, it did it's job. I want to go to Portland.

    'Prince of Annwn' by Evangeline Walton

    I sat against a tree, in Selly Oak park, occasionally looking up to see the shadows getting longer, but mostly ignoring the fact that the grass was damp and was seeping in through my trousers. I sat there for a couple of hours going with Pwyll into Annwn, meeting Arawn, battling the demons before the ultimate battle. By the time he started faffing around with Rhiannon, I was back in the car trying to get warm again. Sitting outside, in March, in Britain, can be very over-rated.

    This story, however, is part of my religion. I know it in the same way that your average Christian knows the Nativity. The outcome of the story was never in question, but Evangeline had put her own twists and turns in so well that it was like reading a story I'd never encountered before. There may be raised eyes in Cymru about the fact that this is a Welsh tale, retold by an American from a translation by an English aristocrat, but politics aside, it told it well.

    It fit the moment and allowed me a few meditations on Pwyll, Arawn and Rhiannon. An easy read.

    'The DaVinci Code' by Dan Brown

    I'd heard so much about this book! I'd had friends bouncing up and down in front of me saying, 'Please read it! I really need your take on it!' I'd had others e-mailing the groups raving about it. So I found some time in my life and read it.

    The style itself reminds me of Thomas Harris. It's a dark, detective story. I could have been reading 'Silence of the Lambs' or 'Red Dragon'. It made you turn the page, which is exactly what such a book should do. I was off-work and so had time to just sit around reading. It took me two days to read 'The DaVinci Code'.

    Bounce? Well, not really. You see, I read 'Holy Blood, Holy Grail' years ago and nothing which Dan Brown wrote added to that. I realized though how startling the central message would be, if you hadn't read 'Holy Blood, Holy Grail'. What Brown has done has written a popular, accessible book, then used that to spread the message. In it's own way, that's genius. I was waiting right until the end to be stunned and wowwed, to know what it was that folk wanted my take on. I knew about DaVinci (though Brown speculated some juicy facts which made me ponder); I knew about Rosslyn; I knew about the Magdelena... ah... This was for people who didn't know about those things! Got ya!

    Nevertheless, it was an enjoyable book and now I know what it's about, I can give people my take on it.

    'The Truth' by Terry Pratchett

    I needed Pratchett. I'd had to do amendments to my dissertation, which had left me... well, suicidal really... I needed to get out of that black mood and read some DiscWorld. I rummaged around and found 'The Truth'.

    All my work experience at school, and my first jobs out of school, were in local newspapers. If it hadn't been for me going to University, I'd still be working in newspapers. 'The Truth' is about an Ankh-Morpork journalist and shows Pratchett's uncanny insight again. How can he know about such things? It's like with Paganism, he knows things that you can only appreciate on the inside, and he does it again with this one.

    Perfect DiscWorld. I enjoyed it. It calmed me down, thawed me out and kicked me back out into the world again to play.

    'The Rebirth of Witchcraft' by Doreen Valiente

    My respect for Doreen Valiente finally became absolute after reading this book. You can chart the path of that from BD to AD (before dissertation and after dissertation - the eras of my life). In BD, I thought she was a slightly silly, very gullible woman; AD, I want to prostrate myself before her grave and thank her for who she was and what she did. In particular, I think that every Wiccan should read this book. She was neither silly or gullible and she has something important to tell us about our history here.

    My only regret is that I didn't get this book a year sooner. That's because it's extremely rare and usually expensive (I saw it going for £92 on one site), so I thought I could do without. Then Cerr (from Witchgrove) found it dirt cheap for me. After reading it, I'd say to any Wiccan historian that this book is one of the fundamental texts. You have to read it to understand everything else.

    I did get chance to add it as a source within my dissertation, as I had minor amendments to make, so re-wrote a section to incorporate what Ms Valiente had to say. I'm so glad I got that opportunity.

    'The Sandman Companion' by Hy Bender

    A discussion on Witchgrove led me to the notion that my spirituality has less to do with the Alexandrianism of my religion or the Christianity of my childhood, but a few days in 1994 when I sat reading 'Sandman' and found my way back to the world via them.

    There are many ways to read a book, the favourite possibly being to shut up and just read it. I didn't. I read this almost as a theological commentary, supposing that the Sandman graphic novels are scripture. (I should imagine that, on the off-chance that either Neil Gaiman or Hy Bender read this blog, they would both stare at the wall for a very long time over that reading...) I retraced my steps, starting with 'Preludes and Nocturnes' - a basement in a stately home/bedroom at 25 Francis Street. I worked my way back to now. I did things to my mind which I consider long overdue, but which my friends might have really liked to have known about as I did them. There were only a couple of times when I emerged from behind my eyes into the public sphere with this. First time was when Morpheus consulted the Three-in-One... so did I. I went to the Triple Goddess and the God, e-mailed them and got their counsel. This is possible, trust me. Second time was when I wrote this.

    I messed my mind up with that dissertation. I messed my faith up too. I messsed everything up really. This book helped me put some of the pieces back together, though I tore more apart to get to that stage. Some things are worth the risk.

    'The Last Hero' by Terry Pratchett

    Yay! Rare indeed amongst DiscWorld books - one I actually hadn't read before. This is Bex's copy, which she lent to me at her birthday party. I took it home, devoured it, and it's still sitting there waiting for me to give it her back.

    I laughed out loud at this one, hearing some of the wittisms for the first time. It's full of pictures too, which you don't usually get. My particular favourite was a version of 'The Creation of Adam', but involving Cohen the Barbarian. I really had to smother my laughter in the bed-clothes for that one.

    It's about when heroes get old, but they're still heroes. This is them out for one last heroic adventure. It's got the End of the World involved too and some wonderful imaginary about going into space, the moon etc. Huge thanks to Bex for loaning me this one. I needed the easing back into the world again.

  • Sunday, November 07, 2004

    'Witchcraft Today' by Gerald Gardner

    Gardner's 'Witchcraft Today' is distinctive for three reasons. Firstly, it was the first publically available book which states that witchcraft had survived into the 20th century, something which the author was quite sure about as he was one; secondly, it is the first book which actually consults modern witches about their religion and practices; and thirdly, it was the first book to name this tradition Wica.

    It was written as a response to Pennethorne Hughes's 'Witchcraft' and agrees with his thesis on a number of points, including the survival of a pre-Christian religion throughout centuries of persecution and the linking of 'fairies' to indigenious British races. However, Gardner states categorically that the witches do not know their own history and that these are suppositions made by himself based on his own deductions and the research of Margaret Murray and her scholaristic successors. While Hughes's 'Witchcraft' relies heavily upon secondary sources, Gardner's 'Witchcraft Today' uses the primary sources of the oral testimony of witches in his acquaintance as touchstones throughout.

    Whilst Gardner believes that the origins of Wica lie in Stone Age culture, he concludes that the tradition was influenced by Roman, Greek and Egyptian (pagan) practices. Taking an anthropological view, he also travelled to New Orleans, Italy and thrice to Nigeria and the Gold Coast, to determine how closely the indigenious witchcraft there compared to the witchcraft in Britain.

    'Witchcraft Today' may surprise many Pagans, including Wiccans, for whom the book is (in)famous and about which much has been erroneously supposed. Chief amongst these is the assumption that Gardner stated that Wiccans can trace their lineage to pre-Christian religious practice. He does not. The second most common charge is that Gardner was attempting to create his own Tradition with this work. If so, it seems strange that he should present his own credentials as, 'I am a humble member of a coven. I am not its head or leader in any way, and I have to do what I am told..' (p 163), while stating elsewhere that the witch cult is doomed to failure, as modern society has no place for what the religion offers, 'so the coven dies out or consists of old and dying people'. (p 152)

    If it is the work of a man who is creating a religion as has been concluded by his detractors (notably Aidan Kelly), then it is cleverly achieved. Gardner often states that he is forbidden to pass on information (for example, p 27); or that the witches whom he has consulted simply do not know the answer to his questions (for example, p 174). It would have been far easier for him to simply make up this information, if he was founding a tradition, as the witches are unidentifiable from his text.

    Gardner was also accused, by Kelly, of basing his tradition, in part, on Crowley and the Key of Solomon. Both of these sources are name-checked within 'Witchcraft Today', where Gardner speculates upon their links with the Craft, having noted himself the similarly of certain attributes. He similarly speculates on other late-modern influences upon the craft, considering and discounting a list of historical people who could have written the surviving rites and traditions. (p 52-53)

    Gardner's 'Witchcraft Today' is an illuminating book and is worth reading both for its historigraphic significance and for the truth of what he actually said, rather than what secondary sources later claimed he said.

    Saturday, November 06, 2004

    'Witchcraft' by Pennethorne Hughes

    A Murray-ite scholar, Hughes's thesis takes the view that witchcraft is a survival of pre-Christian religious beliefs and practices, which had all but died out by the 20th century. He cites isolated incidents of people believing in witchcraft in the early part of this century, but nothing to suggest that the practice continued in an organized fashion. Hughes also sets out to prove that the terms fairies and witches were originally interchangable, with both relating to a suppressed indigenious race in Britain.

    As a work alone, there seems nothing notable about Hughes's book, other than as a more 'user-friendly' reworking of Margaret Murray's 'The Witch Cult in Western Europe' and 'The God of the Witches'. Ronald Hutton describes it as 'pop-history' and it is certainly easy to read. The main point of interest is therefore that Gerald Gardner's 'Witchcraft Today' was written as a response to Hughes's 'Witchcraft'. Gardner's book being the first to disclose the fact that Wiccans, a survival of the witch-cult decribed by Murray and Hughes, survived into the present day.

    It is interesting to note that, by the book's third imprint in 1967, Hughes continued to maintain that the witch-cult had not survived 'in spite of anything that has happened since I wrote this book' (p 218), yet he now included Gardner's 'Witchcraft Today' in the book's bibliography.

    If the reader is familiar with Murray's works, then there will be nothing new gleaned from Hughes's 'Witchcraft'; however, if Murray's books have too great an academic dryness to suit, then Hughes's easier style and tone may help bridge the gap.

    Wednesday, November 03, 2004

    'Taran Wanderer' by Lloyd Alexander

    Monday, October 25, 2004

    'The Onion Girl' by Charles de Lint

    One of my best friends, Anna, sent me this book for my birthday, with a note inside which read, 'This book always reminds me of you. Enjoy! =)' That's enough to get anyone curious, coupled with the fact that Anna's recommendations are usually good and you really can't go wrong with Charles de Lint.

    I have never read a book so slowly in my life. It was next on my list after Eminem, but I picked up 'Passage' to see what Pixie had sent me and got sucked in. In a way, I'm glad that happened. I needed 'Passage' to bridge the gap (yes, read that on a huge level, not just content) between Eminem and 'The Onion Girl'. Then there was the utter exhaustion in the week before Vegas, then two weeks of Vegas, then the exhaustion of the week after Vegas. This has all meant that I've read this book in bite-sized portions, when normally I'd have gobbled it up. Except for the couple of days at the beginning and the end, when I did gobble it up.

    How I read 'The Onion Girl' was exactly right. The bite-sized portions had me begging for more, but gave me a lot of time to think on what I'd just read. I'd be packing for my holiday or being waxed and I was thinking about Jilly and Raylene. More specifically, I was thinking about me, through the eyes of Anna, through the eyes of me. There are a lot of hard lessons to be had between the lines of 'The Onion Girl', but good ones. I needed to learn them.

    I don't know whether it was the story itself - the magic and the crossing of the Veil - which reminded Anna of me; or if she saw me in Jilly... If she did, I'd say it was a great complement and I paid it to myself too. I suppose anyone reading would see themselves in Jilly. She's protagonist, so you're supposed to, but I saw more of myself in Jilly than I usually do in a protagonist. Then again, I saw a lot of myself in Raylene. It's not even a matter of dark and light, because both of them had elements of both in them, though the scales were tipped slightly one way or another.

    I just now finished the book and I sat there on my bed for a long time, thinking. The story reminded me that stories are important; and that we need to be storied. ('No live organism can exist sanely in conditions of absolute reality.' 'The Haunting of Hill House' Shirley Jackson) I've had nine and a half days of absolute reality, other than this book, and it reminded me to look for the magic in the world around me. Even when I had a conference to organize; even when I was pointing another young Pagan towards decent reading material; even when I was racing against the clock to rescue a friend; even when I was making hard decisions. Vegas seems a long dream away now, but there's still magic in the world.

    I've always seen the fairies in the junkyards, flying around the sleeping tramps; I've always seen the Otherworld in a disused quarry and magic in the wastegrounds. Anna's right. That is a gift.

    I learned too about second chances and, for the briefest moment, was fully ready to hunt down and write to or e-mail all those people who did my head in in the past. I still might. I have a twig they could use. It's sometimes hard to know if you learned the right lessons from the cards that Fate handed you; then you suss that it doesn't matter. You learned the right lessons, whatever they were, and the hurt inside does have to be healed before you can heal anything else.

    Sometimes I forget that it's all a story (or, as Eric puts it, a game). But the powerful play does go on and you may contribute a verse. Always.

    Thank you for reminding me of the things I should never have forgotten, Anna fach.

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