Artemis by Jean Shinoda Bolen

Artemis: The Indomitable Spirit in Everywoman
Jean Shinoda Bolen, M.D.
Conari Press, 2014

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Review by Barbara Ardinger.

First, historical context—Thirty years ago, when Bolen wrote Goddesses in Everywoman, spiritual feminism (aka feminist spirituality) was on a steep upward flight. Whether we saw Artemis, Athena, Hestia, Hera, Demeter, Persephone, and Aphrodite as true goddesses or as archetypes, we wanted to identify with them and live more divine lives. As our high priestess Gloria Steinem wrote in the foreword, “The highest value of [Goddesses in Everywoman] lies in the moments of recognition it provides … moments of ‘Aha!’: that insightful second when we understand and internalize … [and take] one step further to an understanding of, ‘Yes, that’s why’” (Goddesses in Everywoman, p. xi). We devoured this book as we also devoured Bolen’s succeeding books.

And now—Tons of Goddess books were being published back then. It was the beginning of a great movement. Today it’s a new generation, and we’re seeing fewer such books. This may be because our daughters know more than we did at their age. Bolen opens this new book by defining “indomitable.” It comes from the Latin in + domitare: “to tame; incapable of being subdued or tamed” (p. ix). She then refers to the strong young female heroes (heras) like Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games trilogy, Lisbeth Salander in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, even—Goddess help us!—Anastasia Steele, that witless participant in sexual abuse in Fifty Shades of Grey. Back in the olden days, Bolen reminds us, our primary hera was Jo March in Little Women, published in 1868 but beloved by generations of girls who wanted something more than sappy novels about modest maidens.

Who is our new mythological and possibly archetypal hera? Bolen says it’s Atalanta, a figure from Greek mythology. She is the newborn daughter of a king who wants a son and orders her thrust out into the wilderness to die. The baby is rescued (possibly by Artemis) and brought up by a mother bear. She grows up strong and beautiful, joins the hunt for the fearsome Calydonian Boar and shoots it in the eye. Prince Meleager then kills it, and they go off into the wilderness to live together until he is killed. Now Atlanta goes home to her father and says she’ll marry the man who can beat her in a foot race, which Prince Hipponemenes (from the next kingdom over) does by throwing golden apples on the road to distract her. They fall in love. The story of Atalanta is Chapter 1 of Bolen’s new book. Myths like Atalanta’s, she says, “have the power of collective dreams and fascinate us because the themes in them are ours to inhabit or to observe” (p. 12).

Although Conari/RedWheel/Weiser needs to hire more competent editors (who can, for example spell Boeotia correctly and understand that a tabula raza is not a tabula rasa), Bolen’s new book is worth reading as she relates every aspect of the Atlanta myth and its context to the inner and outer lives of modern women (and some men). In Chapter 2, she writes about her nights as a Girl Scout camping in the wilderness under the stars. She also writes about the unfortunate habits of patriarchy, one of which is fathers who sell their daughters into marriage. Throughout the book, she tells stories about real women, some of them her patients, others authors like Cheryl Strayed who hiked the Pacific Crest Trail (though Bolen wrote the book before Reese Witherspoon made the movie).

In Chapter 4, “The Hunt for the Calydon Boar,” Bolen describes this famous hunt in the wilderness. Just as Zeus hurled thunderbolts and Poseidon unleashed earthquakes and floods to express their anger, Artemis felt insulted enough to send the huge, ferocious boar to ravage the Greek kingdom. The anger of Artemis happens in modern life, too:

When a woman with a cause becomes so outraged that she is out of control and can’t see that this is damaging both her cause and herself … she has been taken over by the Calydon boar. She doesn’t care who or what her words or actions hurt. … [S]he acts as an avenger of injustice who brings retribution. … She will get even! Her Calydon boar anger grows out of all proportion (p.54).

Scary stuff! Bolen also sees the Boar (both metaphorically and Jungially) as a destructive force of nature, which can include deforestation and death and drying. Yes, destruction happens. Like Atalanta after Meleager’s death, we end up in our own private, usually inner, wilderness after disasters crash into our lives. The wilderness is also the opening topic of Chapter 5. It’s the “metaphoric landscape … where you are in your life when you are in between one major phase or identity and the next. It’s a time when you make your own way, when you do not know what will come next or how you will change” (p. 69).

Bolen uses Chapter 6 and the footrace in which Hippomenes throws the golden apples on the road to distract Atalanta to write about Artemis-identified women who run today, either as exercise or for causes. She assigns meanings to the three golden apples. Apple #1 represents “awareness of time passing.” Apple #2 represents the “awareness of the importance of love.” Apple #3 represents the “awareness of the urge to create.” There are psychological lessons in all of this, of course, as there are in the remaining chapters. Chapter 9, “Free to Be You and Me,” she writes, “fits the intention of this book. Myths and stories come most alive when there is a corresponding active archetype in us” (p. 183). As in the earlier chapters, Bolen refers to present-day girls and women as well as Greek myths to show how we can indeed find our inner goddess and be free to be our best selves. These are good lessons.

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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

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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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Ask Baba Yaga by Taisia Kitaiskaia

Ask Baba Yaga: Otherworldly Advice for Everyday Troubles
Taisia Kitaiskaia
Andrews McMeel, 2017

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Review by Katessa S. Harkey.

Author Taisia Kitaiskaia traces her connection with the spirit of this gnarled fairytale witch to her childhood on the borderlands of a deep Russian woodland. Kitaiskaia served as mediator to the voice of Baba Yaga to querents on the website The Hairpin. This is a “best of” collection of these inquiries and the channeled responses received by the author.

The style is poetic, yet chthonic and earthy, as befits such a wild entity. The questions reveal an unusual depth of vulnerability, which strengthens the emotional investment for readers. While the poetry can be somewhat cryptic at times, seldom does one expect an old witch to give a straight answer; and thus the twisty answers only add to the mystique.

In example, to the question “How do I feel my feelings?” we get:

“Your feelings look to you like bison in the distance — stormy, powerful, & ready to charge. But feelings are not anything solid, to be killed or butchered and carried home. Walk toward yr bison; when you reach them, you will walk through them, as they aren’t bison at all, but clouds. You will feel the hue & mist of them, & then you will be on the other side.” (p. 69)

Presuming that the issue of this question that the querent is afraid to fully embrace their feelings, carrying through the visualization exercise contained in the response would act, in effect, as a powerful palliative spell. Anyone in the same boat has recourse to it by simply allowing the poetry to do its work upon the imaginal faculties.

This diminutive volume can be read in an afternoon, but it is better savored, as one would a fine wine, over many days. The book is peppered throughout with bold, tricolor artwork and design elements (black, white, and red) in traditional Russian motifs. Ask Baba Yaga is a rare opportunity to explore the traditional Russian mindset and worldview in very practical modern application.

There are other uses for the work besides as a “straight through” reader. An index of “summary questions” allows for searching topically for reference to one’s own life issues. Of course such matters are purely personal, but I have tested the work on three natural occasions for its use as a bibliomancy tool. I felt I got a “hit” two out of the three occasions. It would also be an ideal study for anyone preparing to embody Baba Yaga in ritual.

Finally, the greatest treasure of the work is the potent echo of the archetypal Crone Goddess’s voice. So much of our view of the Goddess is restricted to the beautiful Ladies of love and youth and even homely motherhood. Age has faced the world and no longer fears its phantasms.

To the question, “What’s the point?” Baba Yaga replies:

“Plow-horses carry out the duty given to them by some Master. For some-such reason, you have decided there is some other being —some Master — telling you what is to be done. & if so valiant, on whose behalf have you gone crusading?” (p. 105.)

On whose behalf, indeed, dear reader?

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Gwyn Ap Nudd by Danu Forest

Pagan Portals: Gwyn Ap Nudd — Wild God of Faerie, Guardian of Annwn
Danu Forest
Moon Books, 2017

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Review by Anthony Rella.

A contribution to Moon Books’ Pagan Portals series, Danu Forest’s Gwyn Ap Nudd is a slender book that provides an accessible and welcoming path to Celtic mythology, Welsh divinities, and a nature-centered practice. At only 94 pages, one still has the foundational material to begin a rich journey into nature worship, connection to the Fae, and devotional practice with this powerful god of the old Britons.

Through each section, Forest provides overviews and discussion of various myths associated with Gwyn Ap Nudd — as guardian of the underworld, as king of the fae, as leader of the Wild Hunt, and as one who lives in the glass castle of Glastonbury Tor. With each facet of this complex and intriguing figure, Forest offers suggestive insights into how a modern-day connection with wildness, the forest, and the dark spaces provides a rich and revivifying journey of transformation.

Forest also provides guided pathworkings to help practitioners make contact with and build their own connections to the figures described therein. Along with these pathworkings, she utilizes prayers and images from Celtic tradition to offer readers foundational tools for space clearing, purification, and personal initiatory experiences with the gods. Along with herthoughtful and researched discussions of the material, Forest offers suggestive hints or questions that could lead the curious practitioner into their own explorations of practice and research to root more deeply into the mythology.

For those interested in Celtic history and practice, this book would serve as an excellent addition to one’s research shelf. For those who are brand new to the tradition or — like myself — struggle to fully understand the mythology and its language, this book provides a gentle introduction that helps one to begin to understand the core concepts that arise so often in these practices.

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Journey to the Dark Goddess by Jane Meredith

Journey to the Dark Goddess: How to Return to Your Soul
Jane Meredith
Moon Books, 2012

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Review by Pegi Eyers.

She is the one who makes and unmakes us. She is the one resting deep inside us when we think we have nothing left.” — Jane Meredith

The Dark Goddess as we know her is Kali the Destroyer, Hecate the Nightwalker, Morgana the Villainess, the Wicked Stepmother, Persephone Descending, and the Crone. She is also the necessary shadow side of life, the terrifying or womb-like darkness we all encounter. Sudden change, illness, accidents, grieving or sea changes of the soul — all these things can bring us face-to-face with the terrain of the Dark Goddess. Meet Her we must, but as Jane Meredith tells us, better to get to know Her ahead of time, and become familiar with the intricacies of change, healing and renewal. Journey to the Dark Goddess is a wise and wonderful guidebook for our journey into the transformational darkness and back again.

Using powerful symbols in the myths of Persephone, Inanna and Psyche, Jane traces the many stages of our visit to the Underworld, offering stories, rituals and guideposts to prepare for our Descent, our time in the Underworld, coming back, and continuing the cycle of life.

The myths and fairy tales of heroines who have lost everything, who are stripped to the bone and still come back reborn, have deep fascination and meaning for us. Similar to the many personal narratives found in the book, during my own experience with serious illness, I spent many months firmly in Her dark embrace. Feeling safe and protected at all times, I arose from the ashes and gained powerful life lessons. The Dark Mother grabbed me, held me, loved me and let me go. I learned that once you surrender and embrace Her in her full glory, powerful insights are waiting to be found.

Meredith is a superb guide to uncovering the meaning and metaphor in ancient mythologies as maps that we can apply to our lives today, and she fully grounds us in the self-inquiry and soul-expression tools such as journaling, dreaming, dancing, creating mandalas, altars, art and poetry. She offers powerful and meaningful rituals that connect us to Diety and the Earth, bringing clarity and integration to our own unique journey.

Instead of resisting, or being dragged kicking and screaming, Jane suggests that we deliberately seek out the means and methods to face the Dark Goddess. As much as the dominant society denies it, the fertility and blessings of the darkness are a natural part of nature’s cycles, such as the waxing and waning of the moon and the growth and passing away of the seasons. “Living eternally in the dark is no more a natural existence than staying eternally in the light.” Jane urges us to taste the pomegranate, open Pandora’s box and willingly step into the unknown to bring much-needed balance to our lives and the Earth.

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