The best non-magic books about magic, part 2

Young adult and children’s books are a font of magical storytelling. Much of the stories are based on myth or made up worlds. There may be similarities to magical practices or beliefs in our ‘real’ world, but usually most of the story is a fantasy, pure and simple. And yet, when I read The Sea of Trolls by Nancy Farmer I was astounded at the depiction of magic.

The Sea of Trolls is set in the 8th century in Saxon ‘England’. Our hero is Jack, an 11 yr old boy. His father longs for Lindisfarne, his mother keeps bees, his 5 yr old sister Lucy insists she’s a fairy princess, and he befriends a Druidic bard. In the first few chapters of the book, Jack is the bard’s apprentice and he begins learning and witnessing magic. Then comes the Viking invasion, and he and Lucy are carried off as slaves. We briefly see Picts and then Jack and Lucy are taken across the North Sea and must venture into Jotunheim, the land of the Ice Giants/Trolls.

It’s a wonderful story, with great characters. The writing is simple – very appropriate for readers 9-11 yrs old. While I like the story and enjoy reading it aloud to my son, what blows me away is the depiction of magic and spirit. (Surely Nancy Farmer is a Pagan! Yet I can find no evidence of this on the internet.)

The bard teaches Jack about the Life Force, the current of energy that flows in the earth and is in abundance in certain places on the earth. Some places are so potent that it either makes you mad …. or a poet. Jack has to learn to feel the currents under his feet. Using this current he can call up a fog, or fire, or wind.

We see the importance of storytelling, poetry, and song in both the Druidic context and from the Viking skald, who knows their location by tasting the sea water (for he knows all the currents of the North Sea). We also see the power of the stories we tell ourselves.

Shapeshifting plays a role in the story. We see glimpses of folk magic. We see the toll that magic and trance can exact on humans. We learn about the virtues of bravery and loyalty. There is even some genderbending.

The magic in the book is not based on spells or incantations (although stories can act like that). We see people digging deep into the wells of their own power and that of the Currents around them. We see them observing the land and all living creatures and drawing upon that knowledge. Many of the magical lessons, tools or skills employed or discussed in the story line up with my own experience, what I’ve been taught, or the stories I’ve heard from trusted sorcerers and witchy friends.

This is the first book in a trilogy. While I enjoyed the entire series, this was by far the best of the three. It is a book that I’ve gifted others and one that I will gladly read to my kids many times.
Here is a list – off the top of my head – of other magical books that I’ve read my son that I quite like: Horatio Happened by Kathryn Cave and Chris Riddell (for the very young), The Hounds of Morrigan by Pat O’Shea, Wind in the Willowsby Kenneth Grahame, and I look forward to starting The Hobbit soon. We also read a lot of myth and fairy tales. I have to admit that I may be one of the only people who doesn’t dig the Dark is Rising series – and I even read them while living in Wales.

Maxim Monday: Exercise Prudence

Who’s Prudence? And why isn’t she getting any exercise? Ahem. In all seriousness prudence is one of those words that I recognize and know what it means without being able to actually define it. So I looked it up: Prudence is the quality of caution or discretion in everyday matters.

This maxim seems to contain many of other maxims within it: Controlling oneself, helping your friends, obeying the laws, controlling anger, all of these might be considered parts of prudence. Other qualities involved might also include taking care of what needs attention in one’s home and occupation, honoring deities or observing a spiritual practice, paying the bills on time, making sure important tools (like a car, perhaps) is in safe working order. Above all practicing mindfulness in each and every task might be the most prudent thing of all. This way you spend neither too much nor too little: be it money or time on the internet. The water doesn’t boil over. The kids get lunch when they need it.

Not a very sexy maxim. Mostly it’s a reminder to have common sense and pay attention. On that note: off to plan meals for the week and go grocery shopping.

How the Equinox actually turned out

One of the things that I love about keeping this blog is that it helps me think about how and what I want to observe in my spiritual practice. So I plan ahead and write posts for holidays that then go up right before or as they are beginning. Then the actual observance occurs – and sometimes things don’t go according to plan. This is what it’s like being a householder, trying to create my own ashram in the midst of being a stay at home parent and partner and possibly make a little money here and there, too.

On Friday I had planned to fast, stay off the internet, spend a goodly chunk of time in meditation and find Balance. The reality was the baby was recovering from a cold and nursed like a fiend from 4am on. I woke up tired and very hungry when the boy wandered in at 7am saying the power was out. So we went out to breakfast, unshowered, and the boy got to preschool an hour late, which meant my entire routine was thrown off. I have discovered the key to parenting small children is routine. I sometimes think I need it more than they do!

I spent the afternoon making rabbit stock (we’d eaten rabbit earlier in the week) and I made a huge batch of tomatillo salsa. I felt very domestic and engaged with the late summer harvest. I know that salsa will be like a burst of sunshine when I pull it out of the freezer in the deep of winter!

I thought, not the day I was planning, but a successful day nonetheless. We’ll start over on Saturday, the day of the real equinox.

That night a transformer on our street blew up at 2am, waking me out of a dead sleep. Then the beeping trucks came to fix it. I woke later that morning groggy, tired, cranky. My period started, the boy came down with the cold, and the baby basically yelled at me all morning long. Balance seemed not to be in the cards for me.

So I did for myself what I sometimes do with my kids: I started the day over, rebooted myself. I put myself down for a nap. After that, I ate some healthy food. I took myself outside and sat in the back yard reading a good book. And the day ended with a nice dinner to celebrate a friend’s birthday.

In the end it was not the equinox observance I’d wanted, but over all it was entirely appropriate!

Looking ahead to October, it’s a busy month for holidays! Navratri, a Hindu celebration of the Goddess, is mid-month, and the Samhain (Halloween) season ends the month, which in my house is a collection of 3-5 different nights. We’ll see how all of these observances turn out….


The Equinox is coming. It occurs on March and September 21, midpoints between the Summer and Winter Solstices. This year it occurs on Saturday, the 22, but I’m be observing it today, Friday, the 21st. The Equinox is when the days and nights are of equal length; light is balanced.

For several years now I’ve used it as a day of fasting and deep cleaning my house. I don’t fast when pregnant or nursing, but this year, as the baby is now 19 months old and nursing infrequently, I’m going to give a day without food another try. I’m still going to be making food for my family. In fact, I’m going to be making rabbit stock and several batches of tomatillo salsa to put in the freezer. But no eating. No tea or coffee or wine. And no internet.

It’s a day to step back, take a time out, reset. Autumn is fully upon us here in the Pacific North West. That means summer is over and after my summer a rest is indeed in order.

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that this time of year lines up with Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. In the Jewish tradition, the New Year occurs first, then a period of mourning and forgiveness. This morning while brushing my teeth and then while meditating I had a flash of insight about the difficulties of my summer. I saw how arrogant I was, and how I’ve been about the whole thing. How hurt I am by several things that occurred over the summer. I am not heaping unnecessary blame upon myself, and I’ve taken responsibility for my actions, but I think I’m finally feeling the full weight of them. It’s uncomfortable. I don’t like it. I cannot make other people address things when I want them addressed, and I see some wisdom, not in avoiding, but in taking time. I can be too demanding that things get worked out Right Now.

It’s always embarrassing to see our own poor behaviour, to realize that we don’t quite have our shit in the order we thought we did. In time I hope I can have some compassion for myself and others, and forgive myself.

So that’s what I’m going to be focussing on this Equinox. Taking some time to sit with myself. To offer up thanks for all the lessons learned. To make a boatload of kala. To ask myself for forgiveness. To cleanse – my house and my self. Hopefully I can get all my parts aligned so that I can go forth into my favorite time of year more prepared, more humbled, more hopeful.

I hope you find the balance, peace, and forgiveness you need, too.

Control Anger

It’s Maxim Monday! And today’s is: control anger.

On the surface, I think, yes, we absolutely need to control our anger. I’m raising small children. How many times a day can I say the following? Keep your hands to yourself. Use your words. How are you feeling? We don’t hit people. If you hit anybody in any way with that, I will take it away for the rest of the day. Please be in control of all your parts. You may not call me names.

All of that is great advice for big or little people. We shouldn’t hit in anger or call people names. We should express our feelings verbally using I statements. We should be in control of all our parts (to my 4-year-old I mean arms, legs, feet, hands, etc; to grown ups I would say not just our body but all of our parts: brain, heart, and spirit, too).

Being in control of anger doesn’t mean we don’t get angry, though. In fact, I think anger is a valuable emotion, especially for women and other marginalized people. Getting angry can provide us with powerful  information: this hurts me, this situation is Not Good, I’ve been wronged, something needs to change. But for many women and many othered people there is a tendency for our experiences to be diminished – oh you’re making a big deal out of nothing, oh you’re just so emotional, get over it. So we learn to distrust our feelings. An angry woman is equated with a bitchy woman. An angry black woman gets pigeonholed as, well…. an angry black woman, the thought of which terrifies white society. But maybe black women have a ton of things to be angry about. Or a million people who want equal rights. Or hundreds of thousands of people who want economic or environmental justice. There are a LOT of reasons, personally private and broadly systemic, about which to be angry.

The key is what do we do with that anger. At whom do we direct it? A lot of the time, in my own personal experience, it gets directed inward. Instead of expressing my anger out of a fear of not being taken seriously I learned to turn all that emotion inward and against myself. I felt hurt so I’LL SHOW YOU. Such an ugly root of perfectionism. I learned to be STILL when at my most angry, still like a coiled viper, or a cornered animal getting ready to pounce, claws out, waiting to draw first blood. Utterly unhealthy.

I still don’t quite know what to do with my anger when I feel particularly ‘rage-y.’ I’m doing a better job than ever at not taking my emotions out on others. Nothing like parenting to highlight what areas need work. Many days, especially with a four-year old, controlling my anger is Life Lesson number 1.

I’m learning more and more to use my words, to keep my hands to myself, to seek out healthy ways to channel righteous indignation when I feel it, not to call people names. I’m learning to see anger as an ally, like the beast in the Strength card in tarot. Instead of feeling that it will devour me alive, I am riding it, learning from it, and yes, controlling it.

From Robert Place’s Alchemical Tarot,