A Legacy of Druids: Book review by Ulchabhán

Normally I am not drawn to reading collections of interviews - mainly because it is not easy to provide a cohesive narrative and I tend to get lost in a lot of the back and forth views. However, Ellen Evert Hopman’s book was a very pleasant surprise and an engaging and informative read.


Each conversation should be taken in the context of the time of each individual’s practice as well as the particular connection of their varied developed practices. I liked that Ms. Hopman put an obvious amount of thought into trying to organize the insights shared into approachable topics of interest.

While it is apparent from the well-researched variety of individuals who have been active in the Druid community over the decades that there is a great deal of diversity in what really constitutes “Druidism,” as a practicing Druid I felt a sense of underlying cohesiveness. As I read through each discussion, I enjoyed once again reviewing my own developed thoughts on what brought me on this journey. Each interview had its own flavor and presented a constantly morphing intellectual and spiritual case for all the threads that have woven our experiences into the truly rich and evolving Path I still walk with Joy and Gratitude.

This book should be considered part of any library touching on the fire, music and connection of being a Druid. This is one I will return to many times to catch the layers of meaning more fully.

Walk with Wisdom, Strength and Gratitude


GryphonSong Clan

Henge of Keltria

Feed the fish: Drop your hazelnuts into the Well of Wisdom! We're always looking for submissions to the Keltria blog: poetry, photos, essays, articles, recipes, random musings related to the Henge and more! Share your imbas with your fellow Keltrians. Contact HH-Editor@keltria.org, HHSubmissions@keltria.org or dulcimergoddess@keltria.org.

Review: Garbology – Our Dirty Love Affair With Trash


By Edward Humes

Reviewed by Autumn Rose

Autumn Rose

Autumn Rose

And now for something completely different.

This may seem an odd choice of book to review in a publication about Druidry, but there's a rationale for the choice. As pagans, we are by definition committed to tending and healing the earth. Some of us have been doing this for so long that we do it more out of habit than out of the passion that motivated us in the beginning. This book provides new fuel for that passion. Call it a booster shot.

The art and science of waste management is as old as humanity itself. Needless to say, it has undergone many permutations, from the simple middens of cave dwellers and nomads to the towering garbage mountains and waste-to-energy plants of the present day. Humes's book deals with the present day and the United States in particular. Its major thesis is that waste management in the 21' Century is - to understate the case — problematic. Much of the book is devoted to describing the problems, of which two stand out: first, that we generate far too much trash; and second, that discarded plastics are unmanageable and everywhere. Hume presents absolutely mind-boggling facts about the situation, a few of which are listed here.

Garbology Book Cover

  • The amount of space needed to accommodate one American's lifetime output of trash is equivalent to the space occupied by 1100 graves.
  • While many people know about the collections of trash that have accumulated in the world's several oceanic gyres, many more are not aware that the top few feet of the seas everywhere are filled with plastic confetti.
  • At least 25% of the American food supply is thrown away — by some estimates, as much as 40%.
  • Every year we throw out enough aluminum to replace the entire commercial air fleet four times over, and enough steel to duplicate Manhattan. Repeat, every year.

Having presented an updated picture of the problem, Hume next turns to possible solutions. The first, and sadly the most difficult, is to change our attitude towards trash. He makes the rather startling observation that the "hoarders" currently starring in several TV reality shows have only reacted in a pathological way to what used to be a nearly universal human impulse: an aversion to waste. Hume suggests that we need to cultivate this aversion anew while applying it with more forethought and practicality than hoarders are able to manage. He quotes a statement by the Berkeley Ecology Center: "If it can't be reduced, reused, repaired, rebuilt, refurbished, refinished, resold, recycled or composted, then it should be restricted, redesigned or removed from production." That's advice for legislators, designers and manufacturers, but it can be adapted for indivduals and households by replacing the words after "then" with 'don't buy it."

Hume tells the story of one family who were able to collect an entire year's accumulation of non-recyclable waste in a quart Mason jar. (To learn how they did it, read the book.) The planning and discipline required by their program would be too onerous for most of us, but there is no question that we could all reduce the amount of trash we produce with a bit of thought and care.

The author also reviews waste management efforts by various levels of government, with special attention to ease or difficulty of execution, and to what has worked and what hasn't. Readers can mine these chapters for ideas as to what trash regulations and disposal methods they would like to promote to their representatives.

Read the book. It will benefit you at both ends, opening your eyes and delivering a kick in the pants.

Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair With TrashGarbology Book Cover
Paperback: 336 pages
Dimensions: 1 x 5.2 x 7.8 inches
Publisher: Avery Trade; Reprint edition (March 5, 2013)
ISBN-13: 978-1583335239

[This reveiw was originally printed in Henge Happenings #100 - Samhain 2013 - ed]

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Book Review – Grail Alchemy

Grail Alchemy: Initiation in the Celtic Mystery Tradition, by Mara Freeman

Reviewed by Karl Schlotterbeck, MA, CAS, LP


Cover Art: Grail Alchemy: Initiation in the Celtic Mystery Tradition, by Mara Freeman

Grail Alchemy - Image courtesy Amazon.Com

In her Grail Alchemy, Mara Freeman tracks appearances of the grail archetype through history and across the world, and relates it to the appearance, disappearance and re-appearance of the divine feminine. This is not just a historical survey, but also a personal one: she leads us toward a quest of becoming the Grail, i.e., achieving full consciousness of the soul. Throughout the work are texts of “Vision Journeys” for the reader to interact with inner images and eventually to build an astral temple for the work. A link is also provided to mp3 files where one can purchase the Vision Journeys. (These recorded journeys are excellently done. Her beautiful voice is accompanied by music and sounds that perfectly support the narration.) She insightfully interprets various mythological stories as forms of initiation, and the Nine Maidens as “primal creator goddesses” that are “continually giving birth to the world of form.”

In a section called “The Dance of Life” she makes a distinction between many forms of Eastern tradition that seek to transcend our earthly existence, whereas the Western tradition for which she speaks calls for balancing opposites and remaining engaged with the world. She notes that the cup and branch of the earlier Celtic mythology evolved into the Grail and Sword, and Stone and Sword of the Arthurian cycle.

She nicely gives larger meaning to elements of the Arthurian cycle, revealing the Round Table as a reference to the solar system, Guinevere as a representative of the Goddess of the Land whereby Arthur’s marriage to her qualifies him to assume his role. She also redeems the image of Ireland’s Queen Medb as a Goddess of the Land rather than just a promiscuous and competitive queen.

Bringing the mythology alive and into the present, she asserts that the awakening of the buried King Arthur depends on our awakening from our “deadly sleep of materialism.” Indeed, the Fisher King has become wounded because of the imbalanced relationship with the Earth and the Feminine. The purpose of the Grail questions, in their various forms, that must be asked to keep it from disappearing, is about bringing the Western wounds – and our wounds – into consciousness. Our global crisis, she asserts, is from “denying the divine presence of the feminine both in the natural world and within ourselves, of valuing the Sword above the Grail.” She notes the role that mainstream Christianity has played in devaluing the feminine. In fact, she references the quest epitomized by Perceval as a search “search of the collective Western psyche for the lost feminine. . .”

Representations of the four gifts - The Spear, the Stone, the Sword, and the Cauldron - Courtesy: The Celtic Journey WordPress blog. http://thecelticjourney.wordpress.com

Representations of the four gifts The Spear of Lugh, Stone of Falias, Sword of Nuada, & Cauldron of The Dagda Courtesy The Celtic Journey WordPress blog.

She calls attention to the correspondence of Grail stories’ objects of power – bleeding spear, silver platter, grail and sword –to the four treasures of the Tuatha De Danann celebrated by Keltrians.

After this expansive multicultural survey of correspondences and meaning, she begins about halfway through to narrow her focus to Glastonbury and the British magical tradition. In addition, she describes the way some pre-existing features of Grail mythology became Christianized, particularly around Glastonbury. (On the other hand, it could be seen as the returning Christian iconography to its Pagan origins.) She introduces concepts of esoteric Christianity (as found in Theosophical and Rosicrucian thought of the 19th and 20th centuries) with the Christ as separate from a specific human being and the idea that, out the marriage of soul and Spirit, the potentially divine in each of us may be birthed.

When she introduces alchemy, she does so with a partial history, but makes useful notes of correspondences between the seven metals and seven known planets of the time, and other elements that appear as red and white, King and Queen, sun and moon, and the red and white springs at Glastonbury. She notes that the alchemical stages of nigredo, albedo and rubedo correspond to stages of spiritual awakening and relates them to similar concepts in Buddhism, Christianity and Yoga.

As she draws increasing focus on Glastonbury, its 20th century history and the work of Dion Fortune and her organization, she makes note of its red and white springs. She takes further significance from the vesica piscis of the Grail Spring cover, various poems, and symbols of the rose-cross, rose and grail, yin and yang, and the caduceus of both Osiris and Hermes. Scholarship gives way to prophetic assertions that the Cross – a symbol of duality and suffering – can give way to the Chalice as a more appropriate symbol of our time, indicating unity and joy.

One becomes a Grail Bearer, she writes, by aligning oneself with the Higher Self on a daily basis. In addition, the one might align oneself with a stream of magical tradition, create an inner Temple of the Grail, and engage in a dedication rite provided in the last chapter. She makes reference to her own Avalon Mystery School that one might access for further instruction and exploration.

Thus, this is a work that is scholarly, prophetic, inspiring and visionary and, although it may narrow into a particular orientation, she provides a foundation of inner exploration, ritual and possibilities for further study that can support individuals in their personal evolution. Furthermore, she enriches some of the elements of our own Keltrian mythology and deepens their meaning, as well as restores some of the deeper foundations shared by both Pagan and Christian mythologies. She artfully places the Cosmic Christ in a position outside of the conflict between the parochial, narrow imagery of both Christianity and that of the Pagan world.

(I should note that there is a significant typographical error on page 111 where the word “proscribed” is used in place of the word prescribed, referring to one’s withdrawal from the world late in life to focus on spiritual matters – a common Eastern tradition.)


 Grail Alchemy: Initiation in the Celtic Mystery Tradition
by Mara Freeman (Author)

Kindle & Paperback editions available

Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Destiny Books; Original edition (January 24, 2014)
ISBN-10: 1620551918
ISBN-13: 978-1620551912



The Divine Feminine in Ancient Europe

The Divine Feminine in Ancient Europe: Goddesses, Sacred Women and the Origins of Western Culture

[Originally Published in Henge Happenings #99]

McFarland Publishing announced the release this fall/winter of Sharon Paice MacLeod’s new book, The Divine Feminine in Ancient Europe. Sharon is a Henge member and Keltria Journal author.

According to the publisher,

This book is an exploration of the spiritual traditions of ancient Europe, focusing on the numinous presence of the divine feminine in Russia, Central Europe, France, Britain, Ireland and the northern regions. Drawing upon research in archaeology, history, sociology, anthropology and the study of religions to connect the reader with the myths and symbols of the European traditions, the book shows how the power of European goddesses and holy women evolved through the ages, adapting to climate change and social upheaval, but always reflecting the importance of living in an harmonious relationship with the environment and the spirit world. From the cave painting of southern France to ancient Irish tombs, from shamanic rituals to Arthurian legends, the divine feminine plays an essential role in under- standing where we have come from and where we are going. Comparative examples from other native cultures, and quotes from spiritual leaders around the world, set European religions in context with other indigenous cultures.

I am definitely looking forward to reading it. To order, see McFarland Publishing’s web site, http://www.mcfarlandpub.com or Amazon.Com to purchase.

- TT

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Review: Avalon is Risen by Leslie Fish

Avalon is Risen by Leslie Fish

Music Review by Valerie Voigt

After many years, I have a new favorite Pagan album.  It’s Leslie Fish’s new CD, titled AVALON IS RISEN, featuring some of Leslie’s best compositions plus a few gems by other Pagan elders.

For those who don’t know already, Leslie Fish is a longtime Bard, famous among West Coast Pagans.  She used to direct Manzanita Choir, which performed for rituals in the San Francisco Bay Area.  This album is deeply rooted in her several decades of Pagan Bardic magical practice, and reflects not only her experiences but her very personal approach to myth and lore.

The title track, written by the late elder Druid, Isaac Bonewits, is an anthem:  it announces the triumphant return of the Old Ways and of the life-affirming values they embody.  This song celebrates the many Pagan paths, calling to the different branches of Indo-European Pagan priesthoods and joyfully inviting the rest of the world to throw off slavery and join with us in equal fellowship.  Using just this song as the basic text, one could teach a semester-long class in the history and lore of the Old Religions.

Some of the songs explore aspects of Pagan life and identity seldom found in either books or music.  For example, “Berserker”:  most of us have heard of these “bear-shirt” Norse warriors and their battle frenzy; this song considers what a Berserker’s life might be like, and the discipline that must be required of such a person today.   Likewise,
“Mount Tam” is about making difficult choices in an emergency situation.  Leslie, longtime Bard and warrior also, shares with us her personal choices, and invites us to consider our own.

On the other hand, her great sense of fun shines through, too.  “The Gods Aren’t Crazy” is a lighthearted—and theologically tenable!—explanation of Fortean phenomena (rains of frogs, UFOs, and similar unexplained occurrences).

The album’s production values are top-notch.  The sound engineering is professional-quality, and the arrangements are rich and varied:  there is none of the unfortunate sameness from which many “genre” type albums suffer.  The back-up musicians include such well-known and virtuoso performers as Kristoph Klover and Margaret Davis, and no
synthesized music is used:  it’s all done on traditional instruments.  Bodhran and French horn, mandolin and fiddle, harpsichord and oboe, all are played with skill, precision, and flair.

The gorgeous album cover, with its profuse Celtic and Norse-style knotwork, makes many visual references to Celtic and Norse myth.  The lyric booklet included with the CD includes liner notes with valuable supplementary information about the songs and about Pagan lore and history—and a little in-joke or two, here and there, for those who know how to see them.

A fun and thought-provoking work that will be appreciated more and more each year as the listener’s own study and knowledge of Pagan lore deepens.

Avalon Is Risen” is available for purchase and free Internet streaming from Prometheus Music's website. Also available from Amazon.Com.

[This review was originally published in Keltria: Journal of Druidism and Celtic Magick, Issue #42, which is available from MagCloud. -ed]

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Review: Celtic Visions

Celtic Visions: Seership, Omens and Dreams of the Otherworld

by Caitlin Matthews

Reviewed by Autumn Rose

Celtic VisionsTypically for this author, Caitlin Matthews’ newest book is a blend of information and practical suggestions.  On the information side, she gives us nine meaty chapters describing and interpreting the psychic practices of our druidic Irish and Welsh ancestors.  The descriptions go well beyond dictionary definitions and are illustrated by quotations mostly from original sources.  In addition, Matthews offers in some cases interpretations not previously encountered by this reader.

For example, she touches on the corrguinnacht, the crane posture.  In this posture the practitioner stood on one foot, with one hand raised and one eye closed, while performing a spell.  According to Matthews, the aim was to “cancel” one side of the body in the physical world so that it could appear in the Otherworld, thus allowing the practitioner to exist in both realms simultaneously.

Another such interpretation involves the ancient Irish custom of imposing geasa, or taboos.  Matthews describes geasa as soul contracts, designed to protect the soul for as long as the contract was not broken.  If the person in question was a king, the protection extended to his kingdom.  Violations of geasa chipped  away at the soul, and successive violations weakened it progressively.  Thus, in the tales of Cú Chulainn and of Conaire, when each had violated all his geasa, he became vulnerable to death.  It’s interesting to note that this interpretation links the strength of the body to the integrity of the soul.  In the case of a king, again, the health of his soul determined the health of the land.

Beyond these and other explorations of ancient Celtic psychic beliefs and customs (e.g., the bull ceremony , the Three Cauldrons, poetic inspiration and so on), Matthews seeks to help readers adapt these customs for personal use today.  To quote the author herself, “This book will not make you a seer, but it will help you become better attuned to your instincts, imagination,  insight, and inspiration.”  When an author makes a claim like this for his or her work, it should always be understood that fulfilling the promise depends almost entirely  on the effort the reader/practitioner puts into it.  Reading the book is not enough by itself.  Nobody gets from Point A to Point B by reading a map.  One has to undertake the journey.

Matthews gives the reader plenty of help along the way.  At the end of each chapter she provides a suggested exercise intended to put the practitioner in closer touch with both the proximate world of Nature and the Otherworld.  For example, after the chapter titled “Omens and Divination” she shows how readers, by habitually observing their natural surroundings and noting events that follow, may learn to recognize omens that can inform and guide them.

The icing on the cake of this book is a pronunciation guide---always a gift to those not versed in Old Irish.  I recommend Celtic Visions, especially to beginning students, for its wealth of  information and  its usefulness as a guide to personal development.

[amazon_link id="1780281110" target="_blank" ]Celtic Visions: Seership, Omens and Dreams of the Otherworld[/amazon_link]

  • Hardcover: 242 pages
  • Dimensions: 7.5 x 5 inches
  • Publisher: Watkins Publishing, 2012
  • ISBN: 978-1-78028-111-7

Review: The Druid’s Primer

The Druid's Primer

by Luke Eastwood

   Review by Morgan Daimler

There are many books on the market that aim to introduce the seeker to the basics of Druidism, but The Druid’s Primer by Luke Eastwood is perhaps the single best introduction book I have read. It's greatest strength is that it manages to present a great deal of modern Druidic material fairly and with clear references to the sources. The author has done a great deal of research into the historic material, which is also presented well and in an easily accessible manner.

The book begins with a chapter that summarizes the historic material. This was very well done, with the material being covered thoroughly and concisely. This section touches on everything from the early Celtic period and what we have from secondary sources such as Pliny and Caesar up to the modern era revival. Although not gone into as deeply as in other books the single chapter effectively summarizes the highlights and is more than enough to get a beginner started or serve as a basic refresher for a more experienced person.

The next chapter tackles possibly the most complex subject in modern Druidism, defining what a Druid is. The book does an excellent job of presenting the different current theories fairly, including the possible etymologies of the word "druid" itself. The different historical sources are once again drawn upon including Irish mythology and the later Barddas, which the text acknowledges as a well known forgery but also influential on the revivalist period. The author also discusses his own view of what a Druid does and who a Druid is, creating a fascinating and complex picture of the modern Druid.

From here the next seven chapters discuss: Gods & Goddesses, Myth & Legend, Elemental Forces, Cosmology, Inspiration, Imramma, and Animism & Animal Worship. Each chapter is a blend of well-researched history and modern application that manages to offer a balanced view of modern Druidism without favoring any one particular path or focus. In most cases multiple views are offered for the reader to consider with sources given so that the reader may further pursue anything of interest.

This is followed by a section, Cycles of the Sun, Moon and Earth, that looks at the historic and modern way that Druids would honor the passing of time and holy days. The author discusses a system of lunar rituals based on Alexei Kondratiev's book [amazon_link id="0806525029" target="_blank" ]The Apple Branch: A Path to Celtic Ritual[/amazon_link] that could be used by modern Druids seeking to connect to the moon. This is followed by a discussion of the solar year and it's holidays, including all of the eight holidays of the modern pagan wheel of the year.

Next is a section on tools, which looks at the tools historically attributed to the Druids. It begins by discussing clothing, rather in depth, including the colors likely worn and the Irish texts referring to dress and color. Sickles, wands, staffs, the Druid egg, cauldron/chalice, magical branch, musical instruments, the crane bag, and sword are discussed. The four treasures of the Tuatha de Danann are also mentioned in a modern context as tools that Druids today may choose to use, although they have no historic basis in that context.

The final four chapters look at divination, the Ogham, medicine & healing, and justice & wisdom. Each of these was important in some way to the historic Druids and so each chapter looks at how the subject relates to historic Druidism and how these can relate to modern practice.

Overall this book is more than worth the money and certainly the best book to begin with if one is interested in learning about the path of Druidism. It is full of the history of Druidism and also shows the wide array of modern possibilities that are open to new seekers. For more experienced Druids this book will serve as a great refresher or reference.

[amazon_image id="1846947642" link="true" target="_blank" size="medium" ]The Druid's Primer[/amazon_image]

[amazon_link id="1846947642" target="_blank" ]The Druid's Primer[/amazon_link]
Paperback: 318 pages
Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.5 x 1 inches
Publisher: John Hunt Publishing; Reprint edition (February 16, 2012)
ISBN-10: 1846947642
ISBN-13: 978-1846947643
List: $26.95 - Amazon: $19.67 -
Kindle $7.99

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Review: Invoking the Scribes of Ancient Egypt

Invoking the Scribes of Ancient Egypt:
The Initiatory Path of Spiritual Journaling

by Normandi Ellis and Gloria Taylor Brown

Review by Aauriane Veleda

Book Cover: Invoking the Scribes of Ancient EgyptTo be honest I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect when I volunteered to be a book reviewer. I wanted to get more involved in Keltria and this was a chance to help redirect my life to where I thought it should head. Much to my delight I got this book in the mail and at the same time I was a bit lost as to how to relate a book on the Egyptian Scribes to my personal Celtic journey contemplating the Druid path. I undertook the reading; what follows are my interpretations of this text.

This book, as it will tell you, was actually the start of a trip to Egypt for a group of writers wanting to expand upon their own abilities and challenges; each was drawn to Egypt for their own special reasons. Some knew they had been there before and others felt called, but none of the characters in the book knew each other previously. They represented a mix of cultures and it was interesting to read they always sought the blessings of the directions in their own ways before undertaking any journey. In this instance it was offered by Kathyrn Ravenwood and who shared her mix of Native American, Egyptian and Christian belief.

Each participant in this journey shared of themselves and their writings as they traveled. A selection of some of the special ones are included  in each segment. Responses to each piece of writing from the other travelers are also included.

Some of the exercises included the Personal Universe Exercise, Meditation on a Journey Down the Nile, Writing About Your Hero’s Journey, Writing the Stepping Stones, and Writing the Becoming Poem. These are focused on the Egyptian theme of the trip and the interest these authors have in the Egyptian way. This book offers an opportunity to look at the Egyptian spiritual and religious life in a different way. It encourages the reader to take the Hero’s Journey, Make the Salmon leap and find the dark inner part and bringing it to light so you may know yourself and your path better.

Can it be applied to Druidry? Absolutely!  The authors’ personal feelings, thoughts and experiences can be applied to a metaphorical spiritual journalling while traveling in the Celtic lands if you take the exercises and apply them to the sites you wish to experience. And with planning and forethought one could potentially set up an entire “Druidic or Irish” journey and plan writing activities at each site, imbuing the energy and mystery of the places into your own writing and self journey.

I will use the ideas in this book as part of my own process to learn more of myself and my path. A few of the exercises, even in their Egyptian context, led to some interesting insights.

I recommend this book for anyone who would like to see Egypt through a writer’s passionate gaze or as a guide for looking into the journey of spiritual writing regardless of your path. This book is an excellent guide for basic layouts for writing and as such I will continue to work with. The writers share some deep and truly beautiful insights into the land of the Scribes of Egypt. Come join them, take a beautiful journey and then embark upon your own Spiritual Initiatory Journaling experience.

Invoking the Scribes of Ancient Egypt: The Initiatory Path of Spiritual Journaling
Paperback: 336 pages
Dimensions: 8.9 x 6 x 0.9 inches
Publisher: Bear & Company; Original edition (October 28, 2011)
ISBN-10: 159143128X
ISBN-13: 978-1591431282
List: $18.00 - Amazon: $11.53 - Kindle $9.90

[amazon_image id="159143128X" target="_blank" size="Medium" link="true" container="" container_class="" ]Invoking the Scribes of Ancient Egypt: The Initiatory Path of Spiritual Journaling[/amazon_image]

Review: Ensouling Language

Ensouling Language: 
    On the Art of Nonfiction and the Writer’s Life

by Stephen Harrod Buhner

Review by Karl Schlotterbeck

TEnsouling Language Book Coverhis is a marvelous that is remarkable in a number of ways. I was excited by the title when I first heard about it. When it arrived, I was dismayed at its heft (463 pages); amused at the irony of its cover illustration of a quill; and sorry when I came to the end of it. In the first pages, I was captured by the little story he told so well to demonstrate the affection and meaningfulness of words, books, and experience. My expectation had been of a formulaic how-to book of which we see so many, but it was itself a journey into the place of perception and creativity where words are as alive as we are, and reveal their sacredness as containers of soul and of meaning – and how to get to that place. Buhner pulled me deeper and deeper into the subject – stacking up meaning behind the words like water behind a dam, as he would say.

In fact, Ensouling Language called me back into myself, a reminder to write for what might be communicated about the interiority of my subject in its meaningfulness, and in the fact writer and readers’ communication occur well beyond (or deeply within) black text on white page, deeper than the dictionary definition of words. Rather, it occurs in the heart of the matter – where creation and some spirit of the nature of things seek to express themselves through the human heart and tongue and hand, and to result in something larger than either.

I struggle to find a descriptor for what he does. He nudges us out of a little ego’s perspective with its petty needs for common currency and approval, out of our humanocentric viewpoint, and out of any illusions of being objective. Perhaps it is this very difficulty in trying to “reduce” his effort to an easy few words that affirms the beauty and depth of his work.

I found him sometimes speaking as a shaman, sometimes as an analytical psychologist, sometimes as a prophet or Druid – and this is the work’s most direct relevance for us. For Buhner, words are not just things to be used to fill the space around us, nor are they something we use to avoid our fears by yakking about superficial things. Nor are they a tool to try to bridge our loneliness as human beings; but they have the capacity to take us to a place of discovery, where our fears are created, where our loneliness is rewarded and relationship is intimate – whether that be with a tree, a dolphin, another person’s experience or our own. As he says:

These moments of touch with the nonhuman world are what the ancient Greeks – the Athenians – called aisthesis. The get to aisthesis, those moments when we are touched in return, our nonphysical touching must go deeper than merely feeling the world. It must go to the place where touching travels both ways. And this, very definitely extends awareness a great deal further than our society wants it to go. It involves a living exchange between the human and the nonhuman world, eventually, with the world itself. By engaging in that exchange, we break a very powerful cultural injunction that is present in many Western cultures. We abandon the view of life that does not allow us to extend interiority to dolphins or trees or stones. (p. 143)

His writing was, in many ways, watching a deft psychoanalyst pay attention to a person’s utterances and what they reveal about the speaker, how they may fall short of their purpose and thereby shows the hidden baggage of the writer. He notes how one’s unresolved and unreflected upon personal issues become revealed and how hiding those issues flatten the work. Facing then directly gives depth and richness. It’s like my own work as a psychologist: not just listening to what people say, but how they say it in terms of the words they use, the tone of voice, facial expression, body language and context.

Something in me found a home in this book or, perhaps I should say, several aspects of me found a common heart through his writing: Druid, shaman, psychologist, writer, poet.

This is an easy book to recommend for its meaningfulness, its intelligence, depth, and genuineness in practicing what it is prescribing. He challenges the readers’ ways of perceiving and relating to the world, meanings put into words, framing of propositions and need to beware of the inevitable hidden baggage. But it’s not directly about a philosophy of genuineness, depth and presence: it’s a how-to manual (as he reminds us). He addresses the tension between “proper” grammar and writing for impact, dealing with editors, publishers and contracts; getting help and the whole business of delivering one’s words to the readers who hunger for them.

This is a book I can highly recommend, not only for aspiring writers, but for anyone who wants to engage the world deeply and recognizes the value of words in the exchange.

Ensouling Language: On the Art of Nonfiction and the Writer's Life
Paperback: 480 pages
Publisher: Inner Traditions

Kindle Edition available!
File Size: 754 KB

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