A lively discussion of ancient and modern Pagan literature -- including children's books, graphic novels, science fiction, fantasy, and mysteries -- along with interviews, author highlights, and profiles of Pagan publishers.

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Rebecca Buchanan

Rebecca Buchanan

Rebecca Buchanan is the editor of the Pagan literary ezine Eternal Haunted Summer. She is also the editor-in-chief of Bibliotheca Alexandrina. She thinks it is incredibly unfair that she must work for a living rather than being able to read all day. In her next life, she would like to be a library cat.

Demeter. Persephone. Hades. Three names well-known from Greek mythology. Like Perseus slaying Medusa, or Theseus with his ball of thread, the story of Persephone's descent to the Underworld* is one known even outside Pagan communities. The details might be lost, but most people can recite the broad outlines of the tale: Hades kidnaps Persephone and takes her down to the Underworld and her mother, Demeter, is so upset that she withholds her blessings from the Earth. Winter sets in. Only when her daughter is returned does Demeter  allow the crops to grow again.

Like I said: broad outline. There are many, many different ways to interpret this myth -- coming-of-age tale, the reason for the seasons, origins of a mystery tradition, incorporation of a foreign Deity into the indigenous pantheon, and so forth. There are also different versions of this myth -- ancient, modern, feminist, and even (re)written Christian morality plays.

The story often appears in children's collections of Greek and Roman mythology. One of the oldest which has been continually reprinted is Nathaniel Hawthorne's Tanglewood Tales. Originally published in 1853, Hawthorne (who uses the Latin Deity names) explicitly notes in his introduction that he sought to render the old myths "presentable to children." He continues: "These old legends, so brimming over with everything that is most abhorrent to our Christianized moral sense. [....] was such material the stuff that children's playthings should be made of! How were they to be purified? How was the blessed sunshine to be thrown into them?"

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  • Sharon Fargo
    Sharon Fargo says #
    After the birth of my daughter three years ago I was filled with so much joy that it was almost painful. Still am. Shadowing that

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Title: Orpheus

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It could be argued that there is no more famous Goddess in modern Paganism than Isis. Her figure -- often winged, with ankh in hand or perhaps an infant Horus, usually crowned by a sun and horns -- is immediately recognizable. 

Such was the case in much of the ancient Western world, as well. Known as Au Set or Aset in Egypt, her myths and worship spread across northern Africa, deep into the Middle East, throughout Europe, and as far north as Roman Britain. The memory of her survived even into the Christian Middle Ages. With the (re)birth of Paganism, songs and hymns are once again being raised in her honor; Wiccans, solitary Pagans, Goddess Spiritualists, Kemetics and many others praise her as the Queen of Heaven, the Throne of Creation, the Great Magician, the Mother of Mothers, the Rose of Eternal Life.

Isis was the first non-Greek Goddess to catch my eye. I loved reading stories about her: how she won the Secret Name of Ra, how she mourned her murdered husband, conceived a son, and eventually helped him to win his rightful throne. I found it fascinating that Isis was the personification of the Egyptian throne and that the few women to rule Egypt in their own name (such as Cleopatra VII) closely identified with her.

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  • Rebecca Buchanan
    Rebecca Buchanan says #
    @Isidora: I'm so glad to hear that "Isis Magic" is back in print. And I'm glad to hear that you've been enjoying the devotionals
  • Isidora Forrest
    Isidora Forrest says #
    Thanks for the mention, Caity! Isis Magic had been out of print for several years...but happily, it is now back in print in a 10t
  • Rebecca Buchanan
    Rebecca Buchanan says #
    Caity: thanks for the suggestion!

Title: Iduna and the Magic Apples

Publisher: MacMillan

Writer: Marianna Mayer

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Over on The Wild Hunt, Teo Bishop has made an interesting proposition: he would like to crowdsource Pagan theology in anticipation of an upcoming conference presentation. People are encouraged to post their personal Pagan theology in the comments section, on their blogs, and on Twitter. 

When I have to use any kind of terminology at all, I define my personal theoilogy (not theology, thank you) as polytheistic panentheism. Translation: I acknowledge the existence of a multitude of autonomous Powers which are simultaneously inherent/manifest within creation and transcendent/beyond creation. Some Powers are intimately interwoven with creation -- for instance, the dryad who lives and dies with her tree. Other Powers manifest within but are not as tightly bound to creation -- Athena, for instance, with Her ties to olive trees and owls and serpents, is also connected to "higher" qualities such as wisdom and creativity. And I do mean multitude; how many Powers have existed since before the beginning or been born in the interim I dare not even guess.

There is no one book which completely and perfectly explicates my personal theoilogy. (I am sure the same is true for many people.) There are, however, quite a few books which have informed my theoilogy, supplying bits and pieces here and there, clarifying points of confusion, helping me to develop it over the years. 

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A few days ago, I was perusing my newsfeed on FaceBook, when I came across a comment on the Classical Wisdom Weekly page: "Aphrodite is a whore."

I saw red and had to stop for a moment. Once I was coherent again, I posted a response. It was only a few sentences. I could have written much more; an essay; a whole book even. Suffice to say, those who would label Aphrodite a "whore" have 1) bought into the sexual double standard and 2) have a very shallow understanding of that Goddess.

Yes, Aphrodite is a Goddess with a keen interest in sex (not unlike Freyja, Inanna and The Kathirat), and sexuality is a vital, integral component of being human. But to see her as only that -- an adulterous nymphomaniac -- is to fail to comprehend even a fraction of her majesty and mystery and power. Aphrodite is sex and passion and the giddiness of a new crush; she is new love and love grown stronger with time; she is the love between friends, love between spouses, between parents and children, between siblings, between grandparents and grandchildren. She is love of the natural world, the link between humans and others. She is the fierce protectiveness and loyalty inspired by love. She is love of and devotion to country and community. She is the Goddess who inspires crazy risks and impulsive leaps of faith. She is the anger and rage born of a broken heart; she is the righteous revenge taken for shattered trust and broken promises; she is the grief and anguish felt for a lost loved one, a lost community, a dying country.

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Title: The Horned Altar: Rediscovering and Rekindling Canaanite Magic

Publisher: Llewellyn

Author: Tess Dawson

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Over the last few weeks, some of the bloggers at the Pagan Channel on Patheos have been posting short explanations as to how and why they became Pagan. I'll tackle that question, too, but in a manner more appropriate to this column: as a life-long bibliophile, books have had a huge influence on my spiritual development. The genres, target audience, and quality of those books have varied widely; the majority were not even aimed specifically at Pagans. Nonetheless, during my formative years (say, childhood through mid-adolesence), these books contributed to thoroughly corrupting me.

Augustus Caesar's World by Genevieve Foster, for instance, which I first found at the public library as a child, lost track of, then rediscovered in the tiny children's section in my college library. I adore the artwork, and I love how Foster interweaves the personal histories of ordinary people with those of major personages and important events. It was this book which first made me a fan of Cleopatra, and led me to further explore women's history and the religions of the ancient world.

Everyone should have at least one copy of The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm on their shelves. At least one. I need to explain why? Magic, derring do, adventure, magic, powerful women, brave princesses, magic, villains, talking animals, and so on and so forth. Grimm collections, along with Perrault, Andersen, Lang, and others, inspire awe and curiosity. They keep alive in us a vital sense of wonder and awe without which we are blind to the mysteries and beauties of the world. 

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Title: The Legend of Bold Riley

Publisher: Northwest Press

Creator: Leia Weathington

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In my last post, I discussed a few of my favorite nonfiction Goddess Spirituality texts; and those were only a few of the many, many books available on the subject. This time, we'll look at some of the fiction books which focus on Goddesses, the Goddess, and Goddess Spirituality. They include children's picture books, graphic novels, romance novels, fantasy, and science fiction.* 

First is the picture book, Baba Yaga and Vasilisa the Brave, by Mariana Mayer and KY Craft. Baba Yaga is an amorphous figure from Russian lore who is sometimes a Goddess, sometimes a malevolent figure, sometimes a shamanic guide, sometimes a witch, sometimes all four and more at once. Here, she reluctantly takes in the young Vasilisa, a courageous and clever girl eager to learn everything Baba Yaga can teach her. The Russian hag is a terrifying figure, making this book an excellent way to introduce children to more frightening Goddesses, or aspects of the Goddess. 

The Books of Great Alta by Jane Yolen is an omnibus edition containing Sister Light, Sister Dark and White Jenna. In this epic fantasy, twice-orphaned Jenna is taken in by an Amazon-like community, learns to call forth her dark twin Skada by the light of the moon, makes war, takes a lover, adopts an orphaned one-armed girl as her own child, and faces death heroically. Yolen takes an unusual approach to the tale: she uses poems, anthropological reports, songs, garbled fragments of myths, and elegant prose to tell the story of Jenna and Dark Skada. This book had a huge impact on my teen self, and was definitely an influence on my later writing. 

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Like many people moving out of Christianity and into "alternative" spirituality, it was devotion to female Deities which first attracted me. As a child, I was drawn to Artemis and Athena (and Apollo). Through my teen years and into college, it was books about the Goddess and Goddesses which steadily filled my shelves, eventually overflowing. I was fascinated, enthralled by this idea of a female Deity, so different from the male Deity I had grown up honoring.

In graduate school, that overflowing pile turned into a landslide as Goddess Spirituality became the focus of my master's thesis. While I concentrated on the Fellowship of Isis (even making a pilgrimage to Clonegal Castle), I read broadly on the subject -- and it quickly became apparent that there is no one Goddess Spirituality. Goddess Spiritualities would be more accurate, as those who honor the Female Divine fall all along the spiritual spectrum, often touching different points simultaneously. Some devotees are monotheistic in their thealogy, believing in a single, all-encompassing female Deity. Others are more pantheistic or panentheistic, honoring nature and the female entity which created and manifests in it. Still others are henotheistic, acknowledging the existence of other Deities but choosing to honor only one (or a small handful). And there are devotees who identify as polytheistic, acknowledging and honoring multiple female Deities exclusively, or giving them priority over male Deities. Finally, there are strains of Goddess Spirituality running through progressive branches of Judaism and Christianity and (less visibly) Islam. 

For those interested in practicing or becoming more familiar with Goddess Spirituality, there are lots and lots of books available. They range from heavy academic texts on ancient beliefs and rituals to translations of Gnostic Christian texts to modern Isian texts to archaeological reports to collections of poetry to modern fantasy and science fiction. Considering just how vast a topic this is, I'll focus here on my favorite nonfiction* texts, those I found most informative or which had the most impact on me.

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  • Sharon Fargo
    Sharon Fargo says #
    I believe Karen Tate has a book about goddess tours. At the least, she gives guided tours. She hosts the radio program Voices of t

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I read. A lot. Really, a lot. Like many bibliophiles, I also post reviews of what I read, mostly on the Barnes and Noble site, but also on Amazon and iTunes. Plus, I have a LibraryThing account. And I post reviews here at BookMusings. So, I write about books. A lot.

That's the thing about bibliophiles. We love to talk and write and rant and rave about the books that we love and hate and love to hate. The thing is ... not everyone does it well. There are, to put it mildly, some really bad book reviews out there, written by some really bad reviewers. As someone who not only writes reviews, but who bases many of my purchases on others' reviews, let me offer a few pointers.

And really, most of these are common sense. But I still feel the need to explain that ....

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  • Cea Noyes
    Cea Noyes says #
    Excellent advice. Thank you.
  • Rebecca Buchanan
    Rebecca Buchanan says #
    @Anne: heeeee.
  • Janet Boyer
    Janet Boyer says #
    Excellent, Rebecca! I'm an Amazon Hall of Fame Reviewer and I couldn't agree more.

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A few months back, I posted my suggestions for great science fiction with strong Pagan/polytheist themes; or, at least those that are Pagan/polytheist friendly.

Well, since then I have found one more book that can be added to the list: The Wreck of the Nebula Dream by Veronica Scott. Think of this as the Titanic in space. But with aliens. And a hot Special Forces hero. And a tattooed priest/assassin. And the characters are all polytheist. :)

Nebula Dream is set in the distant future, long after humanity has migrated out into the stars. Along the way, new Gods and Goddesses and spirits were encountered (or came to be), new religions developed, new human cultures evolved. The primary Deities in this particular story are the Lords of Space, the Red Lady, and the White Lady. The theoilogy of the Lords of Space is not explored in depth, but they seem to be protective Deities, with a special affinity for space travelers (d'uh) and the military; our hot Special Forces hero, Captain Nick Jameson, prays to them frequently throughout the story to keep everyone safe and to give him the strength to go on when he is exhausted and in pain.

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I love a good mystery. Gore I can do without, but good old fashioned suspense, intriguing puzzles, deep dark secrets. Heck, yeah. Even better if the sleuth who stars in said mystery is Pagan; or, at the very least, magically-inclined.*

The latter is easy enough to find. Study the shelves at your neighborhood library or bookstore, or browse the Amazon or B&N sites, and you will find plenty of mysteries which feature magically-gifted protagonists. Most fall in to the "cozy/amateur sleuth" category; meaning, no gore, no sex, and no hard-core swearing. Just to name a few such examples: the Magical Dressmaking Mystery series by Melissa Bourbon; the Magical Bakery series by Bailey Cates; the Magical Cats series by Sofie Kelly; Annette Blair's Vintage Magic series; the Magical Cures series by Tonya Kappes; and Ellery Adams' brand new Charmed Pie Shoppe series.

There are also a number of psychic and ghostly sleuths whose adventures you can follow. Kari Lee Townsend's Fortune Teller series, for instance; the Psychic Eye and Ghost Hunter series from Victoria Laurie; the Haunted Souvenir Shop series from Christy Fifield; and Molly MacCrae's new Haunted Yarn Shop series.

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  • Caleen Canady
    Caleen Canady says #
    I am writing away on just this topic. My novel involves a fea/human race who follow the path of the Goddess. My main character's f

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Way the heck back in August when I first started BookMusings, I posted a list of my recommended must-haves for any writer. Consider this a companion to that column. This time, though, the advice will be more along the lines of practical do's and do not's, for both writers and editors. 

Let's start with writers. What's your Pagan path? Do you honor a particular pantheon? Are there Deities who oversee writing and storytelling and the creative arts? More than likely, yes. I actually cannot think of a single pantheon which does not have at least one such Deity. The Greek pantheon which I honor has at least eleven: Apollo, Hermes, and the nine Muses.* I strongly recommend that you ....

1) Honor your Gods. Set up an altar or a small shrine to the Deity/ies of inspiration. If that is not feasible, make a small portable altar that you can open and close as needed. Offer a prayer before you sit down to do any serious writing. Offer a prayer when you run into that wall called Writer's Block. And, of course, offer a prayer of thanks -- and more than just a prayer, if you can -- when your writing is accepted for publication.

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The ancient world was rich in poetry. The ancient authors who most readily spring to mind were either poets themselves (Hesiod, Virgil, Sappho) or recorders of/commentaters upon others' poetry (Snorri Sturulson). Plus, all those anonymous works of poetic genius (see Beowulf).

The modern Pagan movement is just as rich in poetry. I can't remember when I first began reading and collecting modern Pagan poetry. It was well after I came home to/converted to/embraced Hellenismos. I had plenty of the old authors at hand; everyone from the aforementioned Hesiod, Virgil and Sappho to Bacchylides, Callimachus, Catullus, and an assortment of anthologies. It was with great surprise and delight, then, that I found their modern descendants.

There are poems for feast days, poems for holy days, poems to commemorate special occasions, poems in honor of nature, poems for children, poems for the dead, poems for the Gods. Some of these poems appear in fairly mainstream publications (see Parabola), others appear in highly specialized publications (Mythic Delirium), and still others are self-published on websites or in print and ebook collections.* Some are written by openly Pagan authors for a Pagan audience, while others are written with no particular audience in mind but which do (nonetheless) find a home on Pagan bookshelves.

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Romance as a literary genre is only slightly easier to define than science fiction or fantasy. To paraphrase Wikipedia, the genre focuses on the relationship and romantic love between characters, with an "emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending." Though most popular in English-speaking countries, romance is gaining in popularity around the world as more and more titles are translated into other languages. The genre has also splintered into a dozen or more subgenres (depending on where you draw the lines). Someone looking for happily-ever-after can find it in an urban fantasy setting, or the far future, or the recent past, or via time travel, or with witches and angels thrown into the mix. Romance has also evolved from its original heterosexual, monogamous (usually Caucasian) character set to feature same-sex protagonists, menage a trois, aliens with unusual body parts, shapeshifters, cyborgs -- well, you name it.

Unfortunately, a solid Pagan subgenre has yet to develop. Sure, there are lots and lots and lots of romance novels and novellas and short stories out there which feature magical protagonists. Just type "paranormal romance" into Amazon or B&N and you'll see what I mean. Just because a book features a witch or a lightning bolt-wielding God, however, does not make it Pagan- or polytheist-friendly. I have read far, far too many romance novels in which the Wiccan main character could not recite the Wheel of the Year, the magic was ridiculously flashy and over the top, the Gods were gigantic jokes, and the theoilogy nonexistent. Too often, references to "The Goddess" or "The Gods" are just throw away lines with no real spirituality or faith behind them.

Fortunately, while an official Pagan subgenre may not have developed yet, there are a few romance novels out there which will please a polytheist audience.* Or, at least, they pleased this polytheist audience. So, in alphabetical order:

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Title: Goddess: A Celebration in Art and Literature

Publisher: Abrams/Stewart Tabori and Chang

Editor: Jalaja Bonheim

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So ... yeah. I was dragged out to see the new "Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters" film last night. Um .... before discussing the film, let's start with a little background on the tale which (very very loosely) forms its foundation.

The original "Hansel and Gretel" was recorded by the stalwart Grimms boys in 1812. Unlike other folk and fairy tales (notably Cinderella), it has few transcultural variations: "Finette Cendron" and "Hop o' My Thumb" and possibly the Baba Yaga tales from Russia. But that's about it. The original oral fable went through a few revisions after it was written down -- religious imagery was added, and the biological mother of Hansel and Gretel became a stepmother, for example -- but it remained popular enough to be adapted into stage productions, live action films, animated films, and numerous children's books. 

Of those children's books, my favorite is Hansel and Gretel by Linda Hayward and Sheilah Beckett. It is a straightforward retelling with little nuance: clever children, bad witch, the end. Beckett's illustrations are alternately sweet and sunny, and dark and frightening, and the children are always adorable. Consider this a good introduction to the classic tale for very young readers. 

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Humanity has been studying and dreaming about and mythologizing the heavens since before the beginning of recorded civilization. No doubt, our ancestors were telling tales about the sun and stars even as they made the long trek out of Africa. Studying the heavens formed the very basis of some civilizations (see Sumer and the Maya, for example), giving rise to calendar systems, festival cycles, and whole arcs of mythology.

For those interested in the origins of the myths of the heavens (as opposed to just the science, which is a fascinating topic in and of itself) a good place to start is Exploring Ancient Skies: A Survey of Ancient and Cultural Astronomy by David H Kelley and Eugene F Milone. Dense -- though never boring -- Kelley and Milone's book offers a solid grounding in the place of "naked eye" astronomy in ancient civilizations, how our ancestors' observations shaped their civilizations, and the myths and legends that arose around celestial phenomena. A useful interdisciplinary reference, which I recommend for older children and adults interested in the history of astronomy.

Star Myths of the Greeks and Romans: A Sourcebook Containing The Constellations of Pseudo-Eratosthenes and the Poetic Astronomy of Hyginus by Theony Condos is a useful collection of primary source material. Organized by constellation, this books offers little in the way of commentary, instead allowing readers to compare and contrast myths on their own. If you are a writer setting a story in the Classical Age or a poet looking for inspiration, add this to your library.

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  • Joseph Bloch
    Joseph Bloch says #
    It's not easy to find, but "Star Myths of the Vikings" by Björn Jónsson has a lot of material on Norse astronomy. Some of it is sy

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