Tag Archives: Wicca

Once Upon a More Enlightened Time – James Finn Garner

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I had the brilliant idea to rummage through a few boxes of books, yet to be sorted for restocking the shelves or the library donation, to dig out Nora Ephron’s Scribble Scribble. Back in the day, when New York City was 1300 miles north and I spent my time chasing after dictators and dining with network producers on the expense account, Ephron’s witty, funny columns about the media seemed very insider and sort of glamorous to me.

Alas, I recalled in the midst of a dusty mish-mash of philosophy, history and misc. that a few of my Nora Ephron and early Woody Allen books vanished into the carry-on of a disconsolate and highly-paid national correspondent who thought his career was on the rocks because he was chasing jefes in the banana republics instead of presidents in the White House. Never saw those books again. Sayonara, Nora. I doubt media-specific humor from the dark ages would have held up too well anyway. And I did find this lovely collection of politically correct bedtime stories while I was hunting so I read it instead.

Remember politically correct? A nostalgic construct. James Finn Garner hit the bestseller list with his first volume of PC fairytales and the second,  Once Upon a More Enlightened Time, followed in the same vein. It’s mildly funny in 2012, although it dates from 1995. But you have to have been there. For instance, Hansel and Gretel is translated into an environmentally-sensitive and gender-free version that requires real concentration, a good memory for the original and knowledge of treehuggers, rampant capitalism and Julia Butterfly Hill. Here’s a sample from the opening page:

“The family tried to maintain a healthy and conscientious lifestyle, but the demands of the capitalist system, especially its irresponsible energy policies, worked ceaselessly to smother them. Soon they were at a complete economic disadvantage and found themselves unable to live in the style to which they had become accustomed, paltry though it might have been.” 

The father is a”tree butcher by trade”, Hansel leaves a trail of granola into the forest and the witch is actually a friendly Wiccan who is ultimately co-opted by a lumber conglomerate that offers her a Vice Presidency with full medical and dental benefits. “The Princess and the Pea” introduces a channeler who rotates among multiple personalities, one of whom is a princess–but the prince is pretty knocked over by the Viking warrior persona and somewhat charmed by the renunciant St. Giles so he marries her anyway, when she is in princess mode, of course.  

Guess what fairytale “Sleeping Persun of Better-Than-Average Attractiveness” is? Right. And happily ever after–even after 100 years–is not possible when Charming believes the awakened one has attained perfect peace and enlightenment and begs her to be his guru. She, being an old-fashioned, 116-year-old female persun, just wants to get married and get it on. Cursed match.  

It was entertaining. I tend to like fairytales that have been twisted and, wholesome intentions or not, these definitely are. I would read the first book if I could find it in the library. That’s where this one will end up when I finish cleaning out the rest of the books, so you can snag a bargain copy in pristine condition at the next book sale in the St. Agnes library basement. Or just download it for your Kindle.

Once Upon A More Enlightened Time (The Politically Correct Storybook)   James Finn Garner | Macmillan  1995

Body of Water – Sarah Dooley

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Body of Water is a YA book that could work as well for middle grade readers. It deals with homelessness, poverty, disaster and the meaning of friendship. Sarah Dooley opens her novel with the devastating fire that destroyed the Goforth-Shooks’ trailer in their trailer park. Ember, twelve, her seven-year-old sister Ivy and her mother and father are safe but Ember’s dog, Widdershins is missing and they have saved nothing from the fire.

The family is Wiccan or Pagan—mom reads Tarot and dad has converted, which effectively alienates him from his devout Christian mother. Their beliefs do nothing to endear them to their neighbors in the trailer park either. One of those neighbors likely set the fire—and it may have been Ember’s best friend Anson. They go overnight from poor-scraping-by to poor-living-in-tents-in-a-campground with one set of clothes each. Ember’s donated sweat pants and tee shirt don’t fit, her bra is two sizes too small and the ancient penny loafers she finds in the discard box in a church basement give her blisters.

Her heart is broken but she has to keep up a front for Ivy and for the mother and father who find no work. There is a daily scramble for loose change to pay the campsite fee and buy bologna and donuts to fill up empty bellies. Ember floats in the campground lake, a manmade recreation feature that drowned a small town, as a way to leave the reality of her life behind and grab a few moments of peace. She determines never to make another friend and spins the tallest tales to keep the other kids in the campground at bay.

Every week her college student brother picks her up outside the camp for a clandestine visit to the ruins of her home. She hunts for Widdershins in vain and salvages scraps of junk from the ashes to prepare a spell that will curse the boy who set the fire. Ember manages to function pretty well, despite her self-imposed isolation and the circumstances, but as the summer winds down she is drawn into very cautious friendships with a few other kids. One family won’t admit it but they seem to be living in the campground fulltime, just like the Goforth-Shooks.

Body of Water explores many of the simpler rituals of Wiccan belief and makes an indirect case for empathy and tolerance. The family is in denial and in terrible straits. Everyone keeps important secrets from each other. Ember misses her old best friend and her beloved dog. The resolution of the dilemmas isn’t neat and comforting. Some very good surprises happen and some changes come about reluctantly. Nature and the elements aren’t finished with the Goforth-Shooks and they are still nomads at the end of the book—although more hopeful ones this time. Ember rediscovers her open heart and chooses blessings over curses.

The sadness of the circumstances in the story is offset by the resilience of the children. But it reads like a true tale and so stands as a fictional indictment of how we ignore and marginalize people who are victims of disasters. Body of Water humanizes the inconceivable challenges of a poor kid who maintains a strong sense of self despite a relentlessly hostile and indifferent world.

Body of Water   Sarah Dooley | Feiwel and Friends   2011

The Druids – Peter Berresford Ellis

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The winter solstice powerfully connects us to our physical life on this planet so it is an auspicious time to contemplate trees, weather and light. My ancestors were Druids before they were Christians and The Druids, by Peter Berresford Ellis, takes a run at deconstructing what we believe and what we know about the early Celts and the Druid class. Because Druids avoided written records, much of what is accepted about them is imagined, hearsay or misinterpreted. Ellis has produced an accessible study without endless footnotes but with references to explore if you need academic corroboration.

The Romans wrote about the Druids they hoped to subsume and obliterate as they conquered Celtic strongholds. Roman accounts were not flattering—they painted Druids as cannibals, sorcerers and barbarians. In reality, Druids were the intellectuals of Celtic society, its judges, priests and leaders. Their culture was the most egalitarian of any in its time. Women were chattel in Greece, subservient to their husbands in Roman and completely free to own property, lead troops into battle, marry and divorce at will, serve as judiciary, priestesses and political chiefs in Celtic lands. Ellis has a section stuffed with examples of women Druids who were powerful and history-changing figures.

Druids were scientists and philosophers, in many instances possessed of far greater knowledge than Romans. Druid beliefs and practices were seen as a destabilizing influence on Roman hegemony. Druid physicians and astronomers were sophisticated and they were smart enough not to self-destruct under Roman oppression. Instead, they cloaked themselves in the imposed Christian beliefs and rituals, keeping to their practices under the guise of celebrating Roman festivals in place of Celtic ones. There is no evidence, aside from Roman assertion, that Druids ever embraced human sacrifice. Some Druids, apparently, converted to the new religion from Rome and became high officials in it, bishops and other clergy, as they had been in their own Druidic culture.

The Druids were poets and accomplished bards. What is left of their lyrical utterance remains in the vanishing Celtic languages, the last heritage to be suppressed by domineering cultures from Rome on through history. Ellis examines the resurgence of interest in Druidic practices by New Age groups and writers and is somewhat dismissive of its lack of rigor. But he does make the point that the obliteration of Celtic identity, the ground that nurtured Druidry, will be complete once the languages are stilled. Meanwhile, there are groups like the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, attempting to recapture the essence of Druidry through study, ritual and reinvention. Wiccan groups, witchcraft and pagans hark back to ancient Druidic truths and incorporate them into modern interpretations of earth- and magic-based spiritual systems. Druids, by being elusive and evanescent, are seductive elements of many new and old beliefs.

The Druids is not a Ph.D. dissertation and Ellis speculates where he finds only shreds of hard facts. The speculation is logical, for the most part, and the facts he does cite in support of his conclusions are fascinating. It’s a good book to launch an investigation of what is known—and what is fabricated—about Druids. A trip to New Grange, Stonehenge or Chalice Well would be a nice follow-up. I’ll have to keep reading to find some way to conjure those journeys in this concrete, consumer-mad, materialistic and fiscally-blasted world.      

The Druids  Peter Berresford Ellis  | W. B. Eerdmans   1995