Book Review: Self Source-ery by Lisa Lister

I own and have read and use all of Lisa Lister’s books. I find her way of writing very engaging and very, very authentic. Her approach to everything is very real. And by everything, I mean: magic; living life; incorporating differing needs and wants into her life. So I surprised myself. While I pre-ordered this book and it arrived back in November right on schedule, it was only last Friday I picked it up. But then, I think Self Source-ery is the kind of book to be read on it’s own schedule. Now fair warning: Self Source-ery is not based in Irish paganism. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth reading. If this sort of thing interests you.

A book cover, with a black background, with Lisa Lister written in gold at the top, underneath with "Bestselling author of Witch" in white underneath it. In the middle of the shot is a red snake with "Self Source-ery" written in gold with a pink outline and underneath is written in white: "Come to your senses, Trust your instincts, Remember your magic)
The cover of Self Source-ery by Lisa Lister
Who is Lisa Lister?

In her own words, from her own website:

Crowned ‘the defender of female awesomeness’ by Cooler magazine, I offer support, space, remembrance, spiritual guidance, cyclic maps and counsel to women who are exploring, navigating and wanting to heal their relationship with their body, power, sex, creativity, pleasure + passion in these ‘interesting’ times

The Sassy She

I first came across Lisa Lister when I was working on better understanding my body. In particular, my menstrual cycle and how to live with it. And how to manage my life so every month or six weeks, a week to ten days of hell didn’t completely throw my life off the bus by a week to ten days of hell. The first books I read from Lisa were Code Red and Love Your Lady Landscape. The books presented me with a new way of understanding and working with my body that proved invaluable. Especially in the days being told I was “subfertile”.

There is a whole lot that I love about Lisa, but also, I love this excerpt from the page quoted above:

ANOTHER NOTE: I often get asked, specifically in response to my books: ‘why SO MUCH womb talk? Am I less of a woman or witch without a uterus?’
My response: Yes, I do talk about wombs a LOT.  
You definitely DO NOT need a womb to be a witch or to be a woman, I celebrate the womb as a place of power, medicine + magic because doctors threatened to ‘whip mine out’ + I’ve worked really bloody hard to heal her + love her + to recognise the power I hold there + I want to support those who have had similar experiences to do the same.  I only ever speak, teach + share from personal experience + wouldn’t DARE try to be a spokesperson for EVERYONE, but of COURSE you can be powerful, be a witch AND be a woman without a womb – abso-bloody-lutely.
FYI: You also NEVER need permission from me, or from anyone for that matter, to tell you whether you’re a witch, a woman and/or a powerhouse of a human. ACTUAL FACTUAL.   

The Sassy She

This is in line with my own approach and I love that she is so open and honest about this topic. No one has the right to say whether you are or are not a woman other than you. And you can change your mind on a minute-by-minute basis, as far as I’m concerned. One decision doesn’t have to stand for the rest of your life. Now, in the interests of full transparency, whatever about Lisa Lister, I have not felt this way my entire life. For a long time, probably longer than I should have, I clung to the biological, binary view of gender. But books like those written by Lisa are how I changed my mind.

What about the book, Orlagh?

Self Source-ery is about 250 pages long, so compared to my fantasy books? Short. But there is a lot packed into it. Now fair warning (repeated): this isn’t Irish pagan related. Lisa draws from all sorts of sources and explains them all as she works through this.

I like the way the book is structured. We have an intro, three sections and an outro. There is a section at the start explaining what self source-ery is, what it means. There is an explanation of the different items that will reappear throughout the book, whether it is rituals to support the work described or journal prompts to explore deeper. Side note: I’ve read the book, but I fully intend to revisit those journal book.

The three sections are:

Come to your senses

Trust your instincts

Remember your magic

And Self Source-ery takes the reader through thinking, exercises, through exercises and Lisa’s own journey for each of those sections. Lisa reaches back to her mother and grandmother for practices they showed her. She describes her own experiences in places of power in this world. She gives us the opportunity to explore our own places of power. It feels raw and honest, while being hopeful and helpful.

Come to your senses

This section of Self Source-ery is about the physical. (If you were in my head, this would be Brigid the Smith area) Many of the exercises and suggestions are about getting back in touch with our bodies and what our bodies can tell us. This is always for me, the basis of any period of growth.

Lisa is very open about the fact that this is a messy process. That’s a thread through the whole book. But she consistently draws it back to us. Ourselves. Our bodies. our minds. And it’s gratifying to see that some of the things I practice myself are mentioned here (she talks about “Shakira-style hip movements“!

Trust your instincts

There are many ways in which the modern world tells us to not trust ourselves. For me, this ties into the emotional most of all (and links with Brigid the Healer). In this section, Lisa discusses the things where the body knows, but to which the mind can’t put words. She talks about past lives and their impact on our current lives. Speaking our truth, the patriarchy, good girl conditioning… it all comes up here.

As well as some hard hitting journal prompts around how it feels to speak and live our truths. (This bit hit a bit harder with the passing of Sinead O’Connor last week as well). Like the Healer, Lisa knows that the messy, the difficult, the bits we don’t really want to acknowledge are probably bits we need to look at more closely. Self knowledge…

Remember your magic

With a title like Self Source-ery, you’d expect some magic to be mentioned. And it is. Throughout the book. But in the third part, the magic really comes into it’s own. (Yup, Brigid the Poet for me). And Lisa gives us ceremonies and talking points and all sorts of things. But she talks about knowing ourselves most of all here.

Because there is magic in all of us. There is magic in our bones. What causes us to breath? That alone is magic. Our of all the millions of sperm/egg combinations, one single combination led to each of us. (Unless you’re part of identical twins… but even then – you’re unique!)

Rounding off

So I think it’s fair to say, I’m a fan of Self Source-ery. I’m a fan of Lisa Lister as well, in case that didn’t come through. It’s nice to get a confirmation that other people are doing some of the same or similar work that I’m doing. Both with myself and with other people. It’s nice to know that that bone-deep knowing I get sometimes isn’t unique to me.

I also like the way Lisa is so clear about the messiness that leads to these learnings and knowings. Seriously. Wisdom, I’m more and more certain, doesn’t come to those who never struggle. Thankfully – kinda – nearly all of us have struggles in life, albeit some more than others! But that messiness is where most of our learning can happen. Or at least, if you’re someone like me that struggles with learning from other people’s experiences.

If you’ve read any of Lisa Lister’s books, you know what to expect here. If you haven’t, you can start with this one, or indeed any of the rest of them. But she’s worth exploring, in my opinion. Especially if anything I’ve written here speaks to you.

Our historical documents

A picture of one of the earliest known copies of Seathrún Céitinn’s Foras Feasa ar Éirinn, from Irish Script on Screen

I get shivers down my spine looking at images like this. I’m unlikely to be ever in a position to touch a document that’s almost 400 years old, but even seeing it on the screen is amazing. Now this isn’t the copy that Céitinn wrote himself, but it is dated from 1641 – 1646 from dates in the manuscript (thank you, Royal Irish Academy!!) And it shows the text was popular straight away, being copied so soon after Céitinn’s 1634 (ish) original.

Why am I looking at it? Well, one of Céitinn’s major sources for his work was the good old Lebor Gabála Érenn, which I’ve been doing a lot of reading about. And yes, they have copies of some of the books that contain the LGe as well – see the image below from the Book of Fermoy.

Image from Irish Script on Screen of one of the first pages from the Book of Fermoy, which contains part of the LGE

The earliest part of the Book of Fermoy? Pages 1-16, the bits with the LGE in it, date from the 14th century. That’s 13XX. 700 years ago! I mean… doesn’t the history of this just hit you sometimes?

OK, the LGE is getting me really excited right now and I’ve gone down So. Many. Rabbitholes!!! But it’s been worth it to look at our cultural and literary heritage. As well the the uses to which that heritage has been put. It’s been used to both support and deny the “Irish are savages” propoganda (Started by Giraldus of Wales, let’s not forget, and no he doesn’t deserve anything more than a Wikipedia entry, not matter how good it is!! Even his Wiki entry says his writings show a “great deal of prejudice against foreign people”) Now Giraldus was writing a 100 years again before Céitinn, but they are writing from two very different view points!

Some of the stories recorded by Céitinn, were used by some of the independence movements in Spain, as well as our own Daniel O’Connell (the Great Orator, not the singer.) There’s been revisionist stuff all over the place as well, with the Tudors using the stories to show their “rights” to Ireland by adding in a new character, to the Scots using the stories and changing a few details about who moved where first… Basically, they’re popular stories with many uses.

But it gives just really excites me to think of these manuscripts, which were written down by professional historians of the time, who passed those skills down through the family, recording the stories and tales and histories and genealogies (sounding like at least a part-successor to the fili of earlier times) continuing the traditions… Yeah I know – I need to get out more!!

Anyway, Céitinn won’t be featuring too much in the upcoming class on Brig in Caith Maigh Tuireadh, although he will be mentioned, which is why I feel alright about gushing about him here. I’m trying to hold myself back on the stuff actually in the class a bit so you won’t be disappointed when you sign up! But isn’t it just amazing? His Foras Feasa ar Érinn is heavily sourced from the LGE, and we can still see original manuscripts of both! And as well – Céitinn was a bit of a best seller of his day, with over 30 manuscripts of his work surviving today, from a time when each copy was copied out by hand…

I’m off to swoon some more over the whole thing…

Lessons from fiction

I’ve written/ discussed before how fiction informs some of my morals and I still think it’s relevant. (most recently in last month’s Patreon devotional, you can sign up here for it!) I hope never to be caught in a war, but I can learn from reading about one – and I prefer my wars to be fictional. Otherwise, severe nightmares ensue. But one book that has been on my mind lately is the below, Echoes of the Great Song by David Gemmell. Now I didn’t fully pick up the lesson in this when I read it first as a teenager, but as with many of Gemmell’s books, I’ve reread it a lot over the years and one thing struck me graphically on this latest reread.

Image of the David Gemmell book, Echoes of the Great song, with the authors name written in white and gold across the top of the book and the title in white across the bottom of the book. A line “A humdinger… a masterly tale told with clarity and verve” is quoted from The Times just under the author’s name and the picture shows the grip of a sword, banded in black on silver, with the top of the blade entwined with a thorny branch. In the background is a green man’s face with either a tongue or a waterfall falling from his mouth.

The story is not quite relevant to what I’m about to say, but from the back cover: The Avatars were immortal and lived like kings, even though their empire was dying. Their immortality was guaranteed by magic crystals, crystals whose influence was now waning, overwhelmed by the power of a great flood and a freak ice age. But when two moons appeared in the sky and the ruthless armies of the Crystal Queen swarmed across the land, bringing devastation and terror, the Avatars united with their subjects to protect their universe. As the cities faced imminent destruction, three heroes emerged, Talaban, a warrior haunted by tragedy. Touchstone, the mystic tribesman, seeking his lost love, and Anu, the Holy One, the Builder of Time. And when all seemed lost, two others entered the fray: Sofarita, the peasant girl who would inspire a legend, and the madman, Virul, who would become a god.

It’s some story, and I love it, although there are elements that feel less comfortable now than in the 90’s! But the bits I wanted to talk about today were the bits that highlighted how legends change over time as people’s understanding and language changes. Every few chapters, there are excerpts from the Morning, Noon and Evening Songs of the Anajo, outlining how the legends grew up around these feats and events. And to me, it shows the difference between the actual events and the stories we tell about them. I’ll use the names of those mentioned in the blurb above as examples, because one crucial thing to remember is that the tribesman speaks the language of the Avatars as a second language, hard won following his captivity following a raid on his land. So all through the book, he is speaking less sophisticated language than the people around him, purely because he has not been speaking the language since birth.

And it is this man’s tribe (it is implied anyway) that records the events.

Talaban, the haunted warrior, becomes Tail-avar, the god of wisdom

Questor Sto, the techincal wizard, becomes Storro, Speaker of Legends

Touchstone the tribesman, becomes Touch-the-Moon, god of tribes.

The ice age becomes the Ice Giant, and the fearsome creatures living on the ice beomce demons living in the giant’s hair.

Viruk, the madman, becomes Virkokka, god of war

Sofarita becomes the Star Woman, that the All Father created from earth and starlight.

The Crystal Queen becomes the Queen of Death.

And even in the book (in my copy it’s page 422) there is a line that I will paraphrase here because it might contain spoilers otherwise: “They will not remember you. Not as men. You will first become legends, and then the gods you dreamed of being.”

And this is the crux of things for me. Who are these people we call gods? Are they simply the ones that learned to harness the power of the universe and change things so that we remember the echoes of their songs? Or are they all-powerful beings from the beginning, never wavering, never doing wrong? Or is it a mix of the two? While I’m not sure David Gemmell ever set out to write a spiritually challenging book, this book does cause me to examine and reflect on questions like this. It is also a bloody good story, but let’s put that to one side right now.

To a certain extent, part of me thinks it doesn’t matter. I recognise the power of Brigid in my life, the journey I’ve been on to get this far and recognise there is a journey yet to come. I can see times and places in my life where she has intervened, helped, guided, etc. I also know that another person could look at my life and see something entirely different – but that’s ok, there is no One True Way in life. But I think examining these questions, asking uncomfortable questions is how we grow, how we develop our spirituality and our consciousness. Staying stagnant and still is just another form of death, because stasis =/= life.

But there’s also hope here. If our stories have turned humans into legends and then into gods, then what’s to say we can’t do the same? In 1000 years, will people be remembering Carrie Fisher as Saint Carrie Fisher, Our Lady of Rebellion, Our Blessed Rebel Queen? Will people be remember Ruth Bader Ginsburg as the Lady of Dissent? Will people remember Donald Trump as the evil god of supremacy and opression?

I mean, ok I’d prefer to be on the side of Carrie Fisher and Ruth Bader Ginsburg there – anyone reading my blog knows my opinion of Trump I hope, at this stage! But still… We tend to think of today’s world as the pinnacle of human achievement – and in some ways it so, so far at least. But there are hopefully more generations to come. We can learn from history and from folklore and from legends, we can see what stories have survived through the ages and what haven’t. What traditions were so common even 100 yrs ago that have now died away? The written word has given us great power in maintaining the collective memory, but with great power comes great responsibility as well. What are we writing? What do we say? Is it accurate? Are we carefully separating acknowledged fact from gnosis, whether unique or generally accepted?

Even the language issue with a big one. We can see how in the book, names got changed due to the different use of language between the Avatars and the tribe recording the legend. Sounds work differently in different languages – we’re seeing this change in Irish in this generation in that the r sounds, the ch sounds, are changing and morphing into something closer to the Irish version of English. Even listening to recordings in English from people in the 1980’s in Ireland, you can hear the differences in sounds and accents. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it means that when I write about things like the meanings of words, particularly from Old Irish. I try to be careful not to be definitive about it.

If this prompts any thoughts on your part, I’d really love to hear them. Also, if you’re a David Gemmel fan, cos his books really are good stories!! And if this poses questions you’d like to think through or see as the topic on a future post, let me know!

The Year in Ireland – Kevin Danaher

Image shows the book “The Year in Ireland” by Kevin Danaher

I finally managed to get a copy of this book and I’m so excited by it. I’ve been reading about the hungry month of July, as well as Lúnasa traditions, and I obviously will be reading the rest of the book as well, but it’s just such a lovely book and really easy to read.

I’ve seen copies going for €2-300, which is a bit beyond my price range, even for a book like this, but I found a copy for €59 (including postage) from Carmarthaen Books (well I found them on, which is a great website for finding older books) and it arrived earlier this week and I’m having a great time reading through it.

I know, it’s a short post, but I had to share my excitement with ye all! I love reading the old traditions and then think through how these traditions would/wouldn’t work today. For example, July isn’t really a hungry month anymore for most of Ireland – or at least no more hungry than all the other months of the year. We have a consistent food supply (as long as you have the resources to buy said food, which is not yet, unfortunately, a given) so I never heard of burning the straw from the corn instead of threshing it. We don’t, thankfully, survive on spuds and dairy any more either, so we have options when it comes to food.

But it also got me thinking that the abundance of food we eat tends to lead us to take it for granted, in ways that those who grow their own food and depend on that food can’t. We’ve separated the reality of growing food, whether plant or animal, from the eating of the food. The majority of people wandering around the supermarket on a Thursday night don’t really understand, at a bone deep level, what it takes to grow a calf from birth to death to turn it into meat. Or even to mind the cow so she can produce another calf in time. Or the pain and loss of losing a lamb or ewe at 3am on a wild night (or even at 3pm on a sunny day – the loss is no less, even if the surroundings are marginally more pleasant!) The backbreaking work of weeding a long, long line of spuds, hoping the worm doesn’t come up, or the birds don’t peck the new seedlings or any of the other various means by which a crop can be ruined or less than it should be.

And it got me thinking as well, that I am able to express preferences in food that my grandparents, or even my parents, were never able to. In the space of a single generation in Ireland we’ve gone from managing food carefully to last the cycle of the year, to food being readily available on supermarket shelves almost always. Our expectations of food are shown in the way we expect formerly exotic foods like tomatoes on a daily basis, with no understanding of the distances the tomato has travelled to get to us, or the energy required in growing it in Ireland. Avocados – once a staple in Mexico, if I understand correctly – is now too expensive for locals to eat, because foreigners, in our supermarkets, are willing to pay well beyond what those locals can pay. I think this would be similar to the spud being too expensive for the Irish to buy – although the price of spuds is rising consistently as well…

And we must remember that the spud isn’t of course native to our land, but it was so easy (relatively speaking) to grow, and you get so much return for your effort (again, relatively speaking) in terms of nutrition and calories, that it was adopted as families grew larger, land lots grew smaller and more was needed from less soil. So what did people eat before the spud? Apparently dairy. A lot of dairy. It’s well worth reading up on, if you get the chance, or I might do another blog post on it, if people are interested, but there are reports that dairy, milk, cream, cheese were hugely important. (Well most of our big sagas are around cattle, so it stands to reason really!) Oats were the usual grain, wheat being a bit difficult to grow in our climate. For fruit and veg: well the national obsession with bacon and cabbage was come by honestly, apparently, for cabbage, parsnip, onion and garlic were common enough, as were berries (seriously, even today, you can get a fair crop of berries around the island from wild sources) Seaweed for those living along the coast, of course, as well as fish from coast and river. So, y’know, actually a fairly comprehensive diet pre-spud.

But I haven’t come to that in Kevin Danaher’s book yet and I think he’s looking at post-spud introduction anyway, so it’s going to be interesting to see how often food is mentioned throughout the book. And even the small bit I’ve read, of the hungry month of July, is enough to have me considering what I eat and how I appreciate it.

A new look at shadow work

Trigger warning for abuse, sexual assault, and other horrible experiences

Any student, or causal reader of Jungian psychology will be familiar with his concept of our shadow selves. If you’re not familiar with it, and sure, there’s no reason you should be! it’s the exploration of the unconscious or hidden parts of ourselves, including those parts of us we repress or try not to acknowledge. Usually because they’re the less-nice bits.

You know – the bits that ache to punch someone cos they annoy you. Or the parts that enjoy some (what you consider to be) abnormal sexual position or activity. Or even some part of you that wasn’t accepted when you were growing up and therefore you swear isn’t part of you. (Not that I have experience in any of these! Ahem. Nope, not me…. totally lying here by the way)

Anyway, I came across what looked like an interesting book the other week called Existential Kink by Carolyn Elliott and bought it. I mean look at it – why wouldn’t you?

Image of the front of the book Existential Kink by Carolyn Elliott, PhD. which has a woman’s face, mostly covered in shadow, but a strip of light or non shadow over her eyes and with her right hand covering her right eye. There is a red circle with white writing on the top left hand side saying “A method for getting what you want by getting off on what you don’t”

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Many of the works on shadow work have a tendency to be a bit victim blamey and don’t take into account the fact of abuse, intimate partner violence, sexual assault and other horrible things that happen all over the world, every day. And, if I’m even more honest, there was a tinge of that in the book, although at least childhood abuse is eliminated from the question.

And ok, I can accept that someone who has had multiple abusive relationships may need help to figure out what is it about these partners that attracts them and how to work out the warning signs. I don’t think abuse is the victims/ survivors fault though. No one causing their own abuse. And that’s something these kind of books keep on putting out there. So, if you are, like me, the survivor or victim of an abusive relationship, just remember this: it’s not your fault. You didn’t force someone to abuse you. OK?

On the other hand, I can see, looking back, how I have done work similar to what is described in this book about things that might have led me down that path. The author describes getting very friendly with the physical feelings that certain situations evoke in us. As in – if you are constantly short of money, then imagine being completely broke and see what the physical feeling evokes in you and luxuriate in it. Obviously, this process is explained miles better in the book, but essentially, I like the idea of exploring fully the conditions we want to escape and never seem to be able to. The author encourages you to feel these emotions and physical sensations so thoroughly and deeply that you orgasm (hence the name!) Now, I can’t say I orgasmed from my experiments with the book, but I did find it useful to identify ways I no longer seek sensation in life, but have them covered through specific activities.

And the prologue is shite. Persephone and Plute are in different pantheons for a start and her ideas behind what happened to Persephone – well it’s rubbish in my eyes. However, I did follow on through with the rest of the book and I’m glad I did.

And at it’s core, the process is similar enough to most shadow work processes I’ve seen, but the sexual element is a new one for me and makes the whole thing more attractive (your mileage may vary!) Because a lot of the shadow work process, whether group or individual, I’ve worked with before can ignore sex and desire as part of shadow work. I’ve worked with one or two good ones that at least sexual desire exists and is part of human life, but it’s not widespread. Which I suppose speaks to the need for something like this.

Essentially this book works through with you a process taking you through as many of the taboo subjects or areas we’re not meant to be attracted to in life as possible and helps you see if these are things you need to address, and how to address them. From that point of view, it’s a good book.

It’s also well written, well researched, on solid foundations as they say. I mean, it’s not like you’ll completely go over to the dark side, unless you really want to. But understanding why we feel the way we feel or why we have “issues” we can’t move past is really helpful in actually moving past them.

Now this is an adult book, both by topics and language. It’s not aimed at kids. So, there’s a bit of language in it, there’s discussion of sexual things in general, there’s references to orgasms and other sexual acts. So, if that sort of talk offends you, don’t buy the book, it’s not for you. If you’re not interested in looking into the darkness of yourself, it’s not for you either. If you look to align yourself completely with “light and love” eliminating any mention of darkness from your life – ignore this completely, it’s not for you.

To be fair, if you already have a shadow work process that works for you, this may not be for you, although you might pick up something useful for yourself along the way.

But, if you are interested in exploring the deepest, darkest corners of your soul, where you know the skeletons are buried and looking to move past what is holding you back into a new future? This is definitely for you. If you want to explore the things that you have repressed, for whatever reason, and dig up the dirt on yourself – go for it here. And even if you want to dip your toe in, this is a reasonably safe process by which to start off as well – although maybe tackle your issues around toffee lattes before hitting the deep childhood stuff…

All in all, as with any shadow work, do your homework and don’t start engaging with something you don’t trust, but I found this book to be really good, enjoyable read and useful process to follow.

A look at women in Christianity

As those who are on my email list know, I read a really interesting book last week. (If you want to join the email list, click here to join and you’ll get a pdf of original lore Brigid resources as well 🙂 )

But back to the book. It’s called The Making of Biblical Womanhood: How the Subjugation of Women Became Gospel Truth by Beth Allison Barr (that’s not an affiliate link or anything, just straight to amazon!) I was interested in it, because I’ve always felt the message we receive from the Catholic Church about women’s roles in the Church has been more about control and submission than about Jesus’ message. And as Christians, surely, Jesus should matter more than a group of aul fellas? Beth Allison Barr might come from an evangelical background, but she’s had similar feelings as I have. The difference is, she actually got off her backside and wrote a book about it.

Barr is a historian by trade, so the book appears to be well researched to me. She covers women in the early church (Yes, Brigid is mentioned as being ordained a bishop :D), women in medieval times and women in (predominantly evangelical or what I would consider fundamentalist Protestant religions) in the modern church. She also traces the different ways the church – mostly the Roman Catholic Church, but post Reformation she includes the Protestant churches as well – has changed over time to keep women in control. For example, in the early church, it was quite clear that Jesus has removed all barriers, to quote Paul (yes, I know, but even a stopped clock is right twice a day) “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). And there were a lot of female leaders in the church in the early days – the early Christian church was one that focused on the oppressed, the downtrodden, the poor, etc. Jesus was for the underdogs.

But, then Patriarchy got in the way. And Patriarchy is a clever little shit, adapting and changing as women get better at navigating it. For example, in the early church, women were encouraged to give up family and children, to hold God first and foremost in their hearts and minds, in effect to become as like men as possible. (Barr explains this comes from early understandings of women as imperfect men – honestly, how the human race has survived so long, I don’t know….) But post-Reformation, way more emphasis on the man being the head of the household as God is the head of the church came about. And the role of women became increasingly confined to the home, as wives and mothers, leading to the current situation in Protestant circles, or at least evangelical circles, of discussions being held about whether women should be allowed to work outside the home at all and women not being allowed to teach teenage boys in Sunday School. It seems very strange to me.

I will say, despite all this, Barr has an engaging and informative writing style. I detest most of the attitudes she’s writing about, and will fight to my last breath that men and women and non-binary people should be treated the same, but until we get there, things should be put in place to help the oppressed reach equity. But Barr goes in depth explaining about how the Scriptures have been translated with different agendas in mind; how the Bible has been used and abused to support different agendas; how even certain texts are cherry picked to force a particular message; how ever St Paul is misquoted or quoted out of context. I’ll give an example. Here’s a verse that’s frequently quoted to keep women from being ordained or speaking in church, etc, etc, etc

Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law.

And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.” 1 Corinthians 14:34–35

But here’s the thing. The next sentence could offer a redemption for Paul:

What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only? 1 Corinthians 14:36

As in, what the hell are ye thinking? Why should women be silent? But of course that bit isn’t ever quoted cos it changes the whole meaning of the section. It’s possible I’ve misjudged Paul, but honestly, he’s been used to hammer women for centuries at this point. I have more than a strong aversion to him, despite learning the above sections.

That’s just one example of how the Bible and Scriptures have been used to oppress women. There’s loads of them! And I think most of them are in this book. If at times, you feel that you want to know better how did we get from being “all one in Christ Jesus“, to a system of patriarchy and hierarchy and oppression – this book goes a long way towards explaining it – even for Catholics. Because while the church has been around for 2 millennia, if not in its current forms, the Reformation only happened in the 16th century, so really, for most of Christian history, there was pretty much only 1 show in town for Christianity, for the majority of people. And the Reformation brought a lot of good things with it, even for the Catholic church. The Counter Reformation is a fascinating time for the church and well worth reading up on.

But for this book – it’s worthwhile reading if you want to see how one particular text/ group of texts can be subtly and not-so-subtly altered to suit an agenda. As I said to my email list earlier this week, it’s something we all need to be aware of. Even the translations of Irish lore, as incomplete as they are, were translated with particular sensibilities in mind. We need to be careful of this whenever we read something – critical thinking basically. What’s the agenda behind the writer or translator of this piece? What context, historical, political, whatever, are they writing in? What are they trying to achieve here? What purpose are they working towards?

Even my blog here, it’s worthwhile thinking about what my aims are… (OK in my case, I’m usually rambling about whatever’s going through my head, but still, critical thinking is good practice!) Why do I write what I write? Why does this interest me? Why do I feel the need to share it?

In this case, it’s because this book is really interesting and helped me understand how women’s roles have changed and developed over time in the church, in Christianity and in the world generally. Understanding power structures and how they are applied is extremely valuable in the modern world and this book might help us understand the historical methods used for oppression, so we might recognise similar antics now and in the future.

Book Review: Red tents by Mary Ann Clements and Aisha Hannibal

There hasn’t been a post in a couple of weeks – sorry about that. I’m still working on mental health stuff and feeling very grateful to have the facility to take the time off the day job to do this. I think things are improving – I am after all reading again! – but there’s still a journey ahead of me. In the mean time, one of the books I’ve read, just finished this morning in fact, is Red Tents: Unravelling Our Past and Weaving a Share Future by Mary Ann Clements and Aisha Hannibal.

Image of the Red Tents book by Mary Ann Clements and Aisha Hannibal, a red book with a scene outlined in red and white showing a city scape in the foreground and a nature scape in the background with a crescent moon on the right hand side of the sky and the rest of the sky filled with stars

I have run red tents in the past, but I stopped because I couldn’t match my own development of understanding of things like gender and oppression and equality and inclusivity with what I saw as a very binary situation. I tried for a while to reconcile these and eventually I gave up. But this book answers a lot of the questions I had at that time and then some.

The book is split into 4 parts. The first goes through the history/herstory of red tents, as well as the authors vision for the future of a more inclusive and accessible gathering. Part 2, the longest part, is about the mechanics of starting a red tent, what you bring to the table, what’s the vision, looking at collaboratively and collectively creating the space and the guidelines and the finances and the boundaries. This section is hugely helpful if you are thinking of setting up a red tent but have no clue what to think about or where to even begin. Part 3 is about the fundamentals of each session and different explorations of what can work, what might not work, how flexible it needs to be, etc. Part 4 is about dealing with challenges and growth and closing or stepping away from a tent.

I was genuinely surprised by the book. I was worried it was going to be more of the same with regard to “white woman spirituality” but it wasn’t – or at least it didn’t read like this to me. I am of course open to being corrected by those who would know better. The authors have dug deep into their own experiences and the experiences of others who have run red tents through interviews, as well as looking into research, academic work, academics speaking on matters of inclusivity, whether it be welcoming BIPOC )black indigenous people of colour) or non-binary gendered people or those less financially well off into the circle. They also bring up issues of accessibility, not only those with physical differences, but childcare issues, locations, public transport, length of time. To me is seems like a comprehensive look at what can stop people availing of the support a red tent can offer – along with prompts for questions to ask ourselves along the way.

I am sure there are things that are left out – there is the constant consideration that red tents happen all over the world, within different cultures, and this needs to feed into the process. They also being up the topic of cultural appropriation as well, which was good to see and specifically address the issue of smudging as a problematic topic, while also allowing the space for the members of the red tent to bring their own cultures and traditions into the space.

The authors are pretty clear on the fact that there is no One True Way to run a red tent – the tent must be flexible to deal with the needs of the people attending at the time. And those needs would change according to the composition of the group as well.

I think for those who are thinking of starting a red tent or a women’s circle or some sort of talking/being space, it’s a really useful handbook to have in the back pocket. If you have no interest in starting a space like this, but want to join one – again, this is a useful thing to consult to make sure you’re joining a group that coincides with your values and needs at this time. Even if you don’t want either, but want to develop yourself or get clear on what you think and feel about certain things, I think a lot of the prompts/ self reflection questions will help you gain that clarity. I know I will be revisiting them in the future to help me regain where I stand on certain topics.

I feel that Brigid could support a red tent as is outlined in this book, in ways she couldn’t support some of the red tents I’ve attended in the past. This is outlining a vision of inclusivity, learning, growth and development that will lead us to look at communities and groups differently and hopefully promote a better outlook on how we run things in the future.

Added to note: following a discussion in the Brigid’s Forge Facebook group, I want to acknowledge and note that the book doesn’t acknowledge the origins of the red tent within the Jewish tradition. This was something I missed in the post and my apologies for it!

Mary Magdalene Revealed by Meggan Watterson

This book on the surface may not seem like it has much to do with Brigid… but well, there’s a load of stuff in here that just spoke to me. Plus, Mary Magdalene gets a raw deal from the Catholic Church so I like to speak about her positively.

I will say, I didn’t realise the author is the same woman who developed the Divine Feminine Oracle, but she is. I find that oracle deck very interesting and useful. It also speaks to me in supporting the advance of the divine feminine, which Brigid ties into as well. Not that I necessarily agree with the notion that all goddesses are one goddess. But I do believe that Brigid has an interest in getting people used to the notion that female can be divine as well as male. Or indeed, any being on the spectrum of gender can be divine, without being either male or female…

Anyway, on to the book. This book is not a detailed discussion of the Gospel of Mary Magdalene. It does provide good insights into the gospel and discusses in detail the author’s responses to the contents. Essentially this book takes us through the seven demons that Mary Magdalene is said to have cast out.

Contents page of Mary Magdalene Revealed by Meggan Watterson
Mary Magdalene Revealed by Meggan Watterson: Contents page

I don’t think letting ye know the contents page is unreasonable since it gives an excellent overview of what’s in the book and saves me typing out the seven demons 🙂

There is an overarching message through this book. That message is of looking within and tuning in to that part of ourselves that we know to be true. Now (UPG alert) Brigid is always on at me about this: tuning into myself and sinking into that part of me that isn’t bothered with anything that isn’t me. It sounds selfish right? And sometimes it is, but sometimes we need that selfishness.

The most important part of this book (and it’s repeated a few times) is the quote from the Gospel of Mary Magdalene: The Saviour replied: “There is no such thing as sin.” This is a major departure from the teachings of modern Christianity, certainly the Catholic Church. I mean, the Catholic Church, as it stands today, was built on the notion that we must be saved from sin, original sin, our own sins, all sin. It’s groundbreaking.

Any yet, it shouldn’t be. Many of the sins the Church is most vocal and worried about are those to do with sex. And Jesus didn’t talk about sex. Neither does Mary Magdalene either, however often she is referred to as a sex worker by the Church. (We should note at this point that there are elements of sex, particularly nonconsensual sex that the Church stays quiet about or victim blames or forgives abusers on… I may at some point have more to say on this, but for now, I just want to acknowledge it and say this is shit.) But back to the book. These is some discussion on sin in this book: mainly due to defending against the modern Church views rather than content of the Gospel.

Mostly, what this book asks us to do is to be true to ourselves, authentic human beings. And Mary Magdalene comes across as this sort of human being as well – more accessible than a Divine Father Patricarchal Figure. And honestly, I can’t argue with that. Of course, we can always strive for improvement. We can always learn from mistakes and regrets, but we can also stay true to ourselves. To stay true to ourselves, we must know ourselves, we must recognise ourselves, we must spend time with ourselves to learn about ourselves.

And really, no book that asks us to do that will get a down vote from me. And that’s one of the first things Brigid will be asking you to do. If you don’t know yourself, you’ll be less useful to her. So… get on with it!

If you want to read it yourself, you can find the Mary Magdalene Revealed here for UK or here for US. And I know Mary Magdalene is a Catholic figure. If you’d like to learn more about how I combine Catholicism and Paganism, I have a few posts on it. the first one is here. Equally, if you want to read my thoughts on why intersectionality is hugely important in spirituality, have a read here.

Book review: Brigid of Kildare by Heather Terrell

I came across this book on Amazon, thanks to a Christmas voucher from my baby brother (he knows me so well!!) Usually, I wouldn’t bother buying fiction about Brigid, because I’ve come across such rotten examples over the years, but I’m glad I picked this one up.

It is definitely a work of fiction, switching between modern Ireland and 5th century Ireland. The main focus of the work is the story of Brigid, a royal princess in Ireland and the story of how she was baptised, ordained as a bishop and how she set up her famous abbey in Kildare. The story also investigates a very demure and innocent “romance” between Brigid and a Roman monk, Decius, as well as a story in the modern day of a major historical find in Kildare.

Predominantly, the book reads historically accurate, if cleansed for modern eyes. A few mistakes crop up: Brigid was not ordained by Patrick, but by Mael, who afterwards claimed the mistake must have been organised by God. Also, Brigid’s mother is presented here as Broicsech, Dubthach’s wife, whereas usually in the hagiographies, Brigid’s mother is a slave. These details didn’t aggravate me too much though, since I enjoyed the story.

It’s a gentle, rolling story, rather than an action-fest. The characterisation is good, the pacing is consistent, the story is interesting. There is a lot that can’t be verified of course, and I would warn against taking this as historical record (I can be certain if there was a Brigidine relic found in Kildare in the last few decades such as is described in the book, we would have heard about it 🙂 ) Equally, the only even remotely romantic exploits ever even hinted at in any of Brigid’s stories is one with her anamchara, Darlughdach. It has been suggested elsewhere that this relationship was romantic in nature, but I think this may in part be to a misunderstanding of the term anamchara (literally: soul friend, but I will do another post on this soon). Hence the relationship with Decius didn’t ring true for me. I would encourage reading it though, for a pleasant afternoon’s reading.

It is written by an American, but she has managed to get the locations right anyway, something not always guaranteed in either fiction or non-fiction. The attention to details like Kildare not being in Dublin is important!

Overall – I’d say read this novel for the enjoyment of it. I wouldn’t depend on it for history, but for entertainment, it’s a lovely book. I was initially unsure if it was intended to be YA (young adult) but that could be just the lack of sex (which maybe says more about my usual reading materials than anything else!!)

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