Les Cabinets des Polythéistes

Les Cabinets des Polythéistes: An Anthology of Pagan Fairy Tales, Folktales, and Nursery Rhymes
Edited by Rebecca Buchanan
Bibliotheca Alexandria, 2016

wp34 review les cabinets des polytheistes

Review by Hugh Eckert.

Modern Polytheists and Pagans are heirs to a massive body of lore. Libraries all over the world are treasure troves, and anyone with an Internet connection has access to a wide selection of tales and myths from cultures all over the world, ranging from the modern day back to the inventions of writing. This bounty is not without its problems, though. Collections of fairy tales and folklore often are tainted with monotheistic judgments, pious morality, or outdated academic biases. Even the best are lensed through the worldview of their collectors and editors, and often discard meaning and magic for the sake of scholarly objectivity.

This book is a first step in addressing the above problem. The editor in her introduction makes it clear that she has a purpose and an agenda: the reenchantment of the world. Fairy tales are, in her view, the literature of this reenchantment, a literature that is at its core polytheistic. The stories in this volume have been selected to evoke a sacred sense of wonder, of awe, of horror and laughter.

The book is (amongst other things) an homage to the classic Le Cabinet des Fées, a massive collection of fairy tales and one of the first of the modern era. It has the feel of the sort of an eclectic collection one might run across in a dusty tome- the stories are arranged alphabetically by title and range from short poems to much longer prose pieces, hopping from the modern era to the distant past to the imagined “long ago and far away” of the storyteller’s art.

There are some real gems to be found in these pages. Darius Klein’s “The Princess and the Frogs” feels like it came from the mouth of a storyteller in Ancient Egypt; it’s a strong story with a moral that is entirely authentic and pre-Abrahamic. Szmeralda Shanel’s “Queenie the Beautiful and Her Magical Doll” takes inspiration from the tales of Baba Yaga and uses it to tell a powerful tale of the making of a conjure woman. Kiya Nicholl’s “Spine of the World” felt to me like the sort of story that a character in a story might tell; it concerns the value of modesty, pride and politeness and has a finely-woven mix of Egyptian and European elements. And Erin Lale’s “Woodencloak: A Tale Reimagined” is a delightful re-working of a Norwegian fairy tale, slyly interlaced with Norse myth.

I could go on and on. There’s something for everyone here: myth as beat poetry, Heathen bedtime stories, hymns that sparkle or haunt, ancient tales dressed in the trappings of urban fantasy or lushly growing in the soil of a different culture. There’s also a brief but useful “for further reading” list for those who want to delve further. There are a few clunkers here and there, as well- tales with morals that are about as subtle (and offputting) as a thrown brick, pieces that were too arch or distanced or awkward and earnest for me, some that were nice enough but had little to do with Polytheism or Paganism, some that were muddled or fragmentary, others that simply could have used a bit more proofreading. There were a couple of odd stylistic decisions- one of the stories was in a different font size, and there were a couple of paintings by Nina Kossman that looked like they might have been lovely if I could see them larger and in color.

As Polytheists and Pagans, we need these tales. We need stories we can tell our children to explain the world or to lull them to sleep. We need yarns to tell around the fire after the dancing and drumming have died down, or in front of the hearth in the dark half of the year. We need stories that reflect the multicolored, multifaceted world, full of magic, of Gods and spirits, which we believe in. This book is a great start, and I can only hope there will be more to come.

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