Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life
Barbara Kingsolver
Harper Perennial, 2007
370 pages

On occasion I find a book that isn’t particularly about pagan religious or related topics that I still feel adds value to concepts often explored in paganism. One of the biggest ones is food. While not all pagans are Wiccan, obviously, the harvest cycle of holidays that originated in Wicca has spread throughout many branches of paganism, and other traditions have created their own approaches to the cycles of life and death. Additionally, as animals, we all eat, and so pagan or not, this book has immediate relevance.

Barbara Kingsolver writes here about the first year she and her family decided to become locavores, eating food that only originated within an hour’s drive of their home. Having the distinct advantage of enough land and money to be able to have their own small farm made a huge difference, and the degree of her locavorism is beyond most people’s ability at this point (which she even admits). But it’s inspiring, and her story is illustrative of the differences between corporate farming, and traditional small farming, on numerous levels. Over the period of a year she not only describes what it was like to only be able to have certain produce fresh at specific times of the year, raising poultry, and how to keep a family of four fed this way. She also wove in a lot of information about just how destructive large-scale agribusiness is, from the human body to the animals and plants raised in it, and the environment as a whole. Also, the fact that the family saved several thousand dollars by being locavores is a huge revelation in this economy, and busts the myth that locavorism must be expensive because a whole chicken costs more than four dollars. Just for this practical information alone the book is worth the cover price and then some.

However, what I feel should be of particular notice is the way that the change in practices affected the family structure. Life began to revolve around the kitchen, and not in a bad way. All four members of the family were often involved in activities ranging from cooking to canning to slaughtering poultry; Kingsolver’s older daughter contributed a number of essays detailing her experiences growing up in this household (a good place to be, apparently) and the younger took the initiative to buy her own chickens and start her own egg-selling business. The family spent more time together because of the efforts put into making food happen, and this created stronger bonds as a cohesive group, with more communication and collaboration.

Additionally, and not at all surprisingly, Kingsolver and her family became much, much more aware of the cycles of the seasons, and just how important it is to pay attention to Nature, not just as an abstract entity, but as the environment we are all immersed in and reliant upon every day. Animals and plants taken out of their cycles suffer both as individuals and as species, and the safety of our food supply is threatened because of it. If we pagans are to walk the talk about harvest festivals and being close to Nature, then our food is a damned good starting point.

This is not the how-to book of locavorism, but it’s a good inspiration. Consider it locavorism in theory, with recommended reading for practice (though this book contains a wealth of recipes to try out!)

Five pawprints out of five.

Want to buy this book?

Advertisements

Lllewellyn’s 2008 Herbal Almanac – various

Llewellyn’s 2008 Herbal Almanac: Herbs for Cooking and Crafts, Health and Beauty, Growing and Gathering, History, Myth and Lore
Various
Llewellyn Publications, 2007
312 pages

People often assume that because the Llewellyn almanacs are dated (and are called “almanacs”), that most of the information in them isn’t relevant beyond the year they’re published. The truth is to the contrary. While the 2008 Herbal Almanac does include a few pages of lunar information that can be used with herbal magic and growing, this is no Farmer’s Almanac. Instead, it’s an anthology of informational essays on a wide variety of topics related to herbs and plants, sure to be relevant for years to come.

The book is divided into sections: Growing and Gathering Herbs, Culinary Herbs, Herbs for Health, Herbs for Beauty, Herb Crafts, and Herb History, Myth and Lore. Each section contains anywhere from three to eight essays of a nice variety. While overall I enjoyed the quality of the writing and information in here (albeit as someone who does not work extensively with herbs beyond cooking), here are a few of my favorites:

Endangered Herbs by Patti Wigington: Because some of the most commonly used herbs in magic are often ubiquitous (and even weeds) it can be easy to forget that not everything that’s an herb is easy to procure, or has a healthy population overall. This essay details a few herbs that, while used frequently in magic, are endangered from habitat loss, overuse, and other reasons. The author offers some excellent alternatives, as well as tips on sustainable consumption (culinary and otherwise) of these plants.

Shadowplay: Herbs for the Shady Garden by Elizabeth Barrette: You don’t need full sunlight to be able to have a garden. This excellent essay details what may be planted in the shade, as well as some ideas for helping the herbs to grow.

Organic Gardening Practices by Lynne Smyth: Another one of the gardening essays, I liked this simply because it’s a good, basic introduction to ways to garden without chemicals, and in a sustainable manner. Those who claim to be close to the Earth would do well to adopt as many of these practices as possible.

Henna for Hair by AarTiana: I love henna, and have been using it for a few years to dye my hair red. This was a nice guide to using henna, and while I already knew a good bit of the information, I learned a few things (including the fact that Lucille Ball used henna!)

Paracelsus, Plants, and the Doctrine of Signatures by Mark Stavish: This was a little denser read than most of what was in this book, but still quite accessible. A good introduction to a hermetic/alchemical take on magical herbalism, and a more thorough explanation of why we use correspondences than most short writings offer.

Crafts for Kids Unfold Outdoors by Sally Cragin: I’m childfree, but I wholeheartedly support exposing children to nature as soon as possible. This lovely article not only promotes an Earth-friendly approach to using natural items in crafts, but includes a number of how-tos on some very simple creations that can be fun for kids and grown-ups alike!

Overall, this is a great collection. Some of the essays are more 101-level, so this would be an excellent choice for a newbie, but there are some interesting things for the more advanced as well.

Five pawprints out of five.

Want to buy this book?

Thorn Magazine, Volume One, Issue One

Thorn Magazine, Volume One, Issue One
Various authors, editors, artists and other contributors
December 2008
72 pages

Before I start this review, a disclaimer: I have been taken on as a reviewer by this publication, and have a book review in this issue. Please note the potential for bias, though I will do my best to maintain my neutrality.

The quality of neopagan dead tree magazines vary greatly. On the one hand, you have a small grouping of professional magazine publishers who have consistently managed to put forth decent material on a schedule. On the other, you have the magazines that never made it past the first issue, DIY zines of varying stripes and qualities, and some miscellaneous forgettable examples throughout the years. Running a magazine is tough, because it means multiple times a year you’re collecting, editing, laying out, printing and distributing material from all sorts of writers and other creatives. Burnout is common in the (relatively) small press magazine world.

I have a lot of hope for Thorn magazine, however. Started by “Chip O’Brien, the hideous result of a mad experiment by the Rutgers English department”, this is a pagan mag that goes well beyond spells and shiny objects. For this first issue, Chip and Co. managed to compile a delightful variety of articles, commentaries, artwork and other items. There’s too much to discuss every single item in detail, but here are a few of my favorites:

–The Wild Hunt (magazine column version) by Jason Pitzl-Waters: Despite the prevalence of paganism on the internet, not all pagans love spending time online as much as I do. So I thought that the addition of a summary of some of the highlights from the Wild Hunt was a great way to help the less cyber-focused still get access to a wide variety of pagan-relevant news bits. I thought it translated well, especially as I am a regular reader of the blog itself.

–Without a Watchmaker: An Atheist’s Search for the Gods by Robert Koskulics: Having recently taken up with someone who identifies both with the terms “pagan” and “atheist”, and having seen a recent spate of discussion of atheism in paganism via various popular pagan blogs, I leaped on this article almost immediately. It’s a sensitive treatment of one atheist’s experiences joining a coven for their Samhain celebration; while the author was frank about the points where he maybe wasn’t so moved by the ritual as the pagans were, I did enjoy his conclusion: “Gratitude for my life and my place in the world is almost as good as knowing why I should be grateful in the first place” (p.11). It’s a beautiful piece, and one of my favorites from the entire issue.

–The Extraordinary Healing And/Or Totally Fraudulent Powers of Orgone by Jeff Mach: I’m a bit familair with Reich from an occult perspective, but also from the perspective of a psych grad student. I haven’t yet read Reich’s works directly, though I have them in my possession, but I did have a class where a Reichian therapist sat in as a substitute for the usual professor and talked a bit about his practice. Mach’s article, on the other hand, tends to favor the more occultish interpretations of orgone energy, Reich’s theoretical energetic matrix that permeates, well, everything. While he does touch on Reich’s work in psychotherapy, much of the article deals with the more esoteric applications of orgone–and the conspiracy theories surrounding Reich’s persecution and mysterious death in prison. Reich and his work are not a simple topic to tackle, and Mach does quite the admirable job of presenting his case.

The Cauldron of Poesy (translation) by Erynn Rowan Laurie: This is a circa 7th century poem written by an Irish fili, or poet-mystic; Laurie has done a lovely job of translating it. Translation is always a bit of a challenge, especially with poetry, because often the original words are specifically chosen for their rhythm and sound, and trying to make a translation that sounds just as nice isn’t easy. Laurie preserves the meaning while creating something that is pleasurable to read and recite.

–Thralldom in Theodish Belief by Joseph Bloch: I’ll admit that I’m no expert on heathenry, and I know less about Theodism than other sorts, such as Asatru. However, I was utterly fascinated by this approach to a neotribal membership process that draws on the concept of a newcomer to a culture being a thrall, a “nobody”, who then must earn their place in society, through working within some very specific parameters. It’s a wonderfully thorough way to weed out potentially problematic applicants and to show who’s really dedicated to being a part of the tribe. I admit that I couldn’t help but be reminded, to an extent, of the spirit of the Master/slave relationship in BDSM–while the Theodish thralldom is in no way sexual, the general concept of a willing sacrifice of one’s power for a particular goal/purpose seems to be a commonality.

There were plenty of other things that I loved, to include a beautiful critique of Gimbutas’ faulty research, some absolutely amazing artwork, and spotlights on pagan-related pop culture. Admittedly, there were also a few pieces I thought weren’t as strong. Tchipakkan’s “Hanging with the Gods”, a discussion of her and her family’s experiences with “real live encounters” with the spirits and deities made me want to reach for my Occam’s Razor. Starwolf’s “Wyrd Science: A Lab Report” was supposed to include “20% craft skill, 60% research and 20%….insane inspiration!”, all I really saw was a couple of instructables on how to make a copper wand and a “Psychic Shield Generator”, with no real scientific method, research, or other content. And Jack Lux’s “An Evening With Uncle Chuckie” discussed the author’s inspiration to thumb his nose at “white lighters” and their pesky ethics after a presentation by the infamous Charles Cosimano; it came across more as a rebellious OMGDARKMAGICIAN, and my end reaction was “Gee, so you cast a curse and it might have worked. That’s nice”.

Still, overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this magazine, and even the parts I wasn’t so impressed by may absolutely tickle someone else. Also, I’d like to mention (and here I’ll definitely admit my bias as a writer!), Thorn is one of very, very few paying venues for pagan magazine contributors. Granted, as a startup, they’re limited in what they can afford to pay. However, considering most of the time writers have to settle for a contributor’s copy of the magazine they get published in, or maybe a free subscription, this is a welcome change. I strongly suggest that if you like what you see from this magazine, that you treat yourself to a subscription–and help keep this excellent publication afloat.

Thorn is by far the most professional startup I’ve seen, and if the first issue is an indication, this will definitely be a strong voice in pagan publishing for years to come.

Five pawprints out of five

Want to buy/subscribe to this magazine?