A Book of Beasts – Pennick and Field

A Book of Beasts
Nigel Pennick and Helen Field
Capall Bann, 2003
220 pages

There are things I really love about this book, and things that I’m not so wild about–but that’s normal for me. I’m a tough crowd all by myself 😉

This is basically a bestiary for modern times. Penniock and Field detail the lore, mythology, and other relevant esoteric information about numerous animals in Europe. The great thing about it, though, is that they approach their topic in a manner that I really haven’t seen before in the neopagan market. Rather than spending pages upon pages talking about the totemic virtues of different animals (though the information they give on power animals is decent), they discuss everything from the traditional bestiaries to animal costumery to the use of animal parts in folk medicine. There’s even a section about the treatment of horses in urban areas (not as bad as one might think!). The choices in topics is truly unique, and I was pleasantly surprised.

The other thing that makes this book really valuable is that it’s an in-depth exploration of the lore of a particular region, rather than attempting to be a book for the entire world. This allows the authors to go into greater detail. The book is more slanted towards the United Kingdom, though Germanic, French, and even Slavic mythologies and histories end up referenced. This is what I’d really like to see more of, honestly.

Now for the quibbles ‘n bits. The book uses the exact same pseudo-Celtic font for the section and chapter headings that they’ve used in every book I’ve gotten from them, which leads to bland layout. There are numerous typos throughout the book, as well as spacing errors (especially neglecting to put a space between sentences). This really makes me wonder about the rumor I heard that Capall Bann makes authors edit their own work instead of having in-house editors. Also, the book lacks in-text citations. While the bibliography is quite solid from all appearances, there were a number of pieces of information that I questioned and I really would have liked to have access to where, exactly, the authors got the information. Still, the biblio itself is lacking in known bad sources, so it’s in a much better position than a lot of books I’ve skewered for this reason.

Finally, a couple of personal disagreements. First, they’re quite upset about laws against feeding wildlife, birds in particular. My counter to this is that any time you feed wildlife, you A) teach it to be dependent on humans, something which gets passed on to the young, and B) teach it to lose its fear of humanity, making it more vulnerable to human-borne harm. We have problems with Canada geese here in the States because of available food and artificial ponds, and the geese often no longer migrate (which is decidedly unnatural). Also, the authors seem to think that if you work with predatory animals in a spiritual manner for too long, particularly invocation, you’ll lose touch with your humanity. This goes directly against my own experience as both a wolf therianthrope and an animal magician. Predators are no more “wild” than prey animals like deer, rabbits and squirrels. The danger is in the human perception of those animals becoming an excuse to be an idiot, IMO/IME.

Still, these are pretty minor complaints in light of the fact that this is the first book on animal magic I’ve read in a good long while that truly has something different to offer. If I ever expand my Top Ten List of the Most Underappreciated Books on Animal Magic, this one may be a strong contender for a spot.

Four pawprints out of five.

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