Why did I choose to read this book?
It was a piece of luck! The January Moot at Medway Pagans was a book exchange night, and I happened to pick up Folklore and Customs of Rural England as I thought it would be interesting! Especially because some of the best books I’ve read about Pagan-related themes are not by Pagans, but by folklorists. And as an English girl, I feel I ought to know more about the folklore traditions of this country.
In a nutshell, what it is it about?
It tells of the many folkloric traditions that governed the lives of people living in the English countryside that continued right up until the early 20th century. This include the rituals employed to ensure the fertility and health of crops and animals, magic used to protect the household, the significant dates within the country calendar (which generally correspond to the Eight Sabbats celebrated by modern Pagans), ceremonies to mark significant life events, and traditional cures and remedies. As I mentioned, it’s written from the perspective of a folklorist rather than a practising Pagan, giving it a little more objectivity than might be found in books on similar subjects written by Pagans. Throughout the book are nice illustrations and even photographs depicting rituals, festivals and significant folkloric objects.
What did I particularly like about it?
One thing I really appreciated was the significance placed on Christianity in English folkloric traditions. Books written by Pagans for Pagans often shy away from the Christian side of UK folk tradition, so it was good to see it explored here; I think that Christianity plays a highly significant role in our folk history, and its combination with older, Pagan ideas reinforces the concept of Christianity as a folk religion.
I also really liked the writing style, which is clear and eloquent. It reminded me a lot of The Golden Bough in that it illustrates its points through multiple anecdotes, and indeed it explores many of the same concepts such as sympathetic magic. The structure is good too; the chapter division focussing on specific aspects of rural life is logical and easy to follow.
The inclusion of different concepts of “witchcraft” was interesting too. There were several references to the “witches” that belong in the same supernatural category as fairies and goblins, i.e. malicious creatures that cause disruption and harm through their magic. But towards the end in the section on remedies, the people that modern Pagans usually identify as “witches” are mentioned, i.e. users of folklore and herb knowledge to heal people.
Was there anything I didn’t like about it?
To be honest, no! This book was engaging, intriguing and really useful in understanding English folk traditions. I was really very impressed with the breadth and depth of information here, as well as the way in which it is presented.
How has it helped my spiritual development?
Not only has this booked helped me to better understand my cultural heritage as an Englishwoman – it has also served as an excellent source of ideas for my own rituals today, and to give some explanation as to the whys and wherefores behind folklore. I know that I will be referring back to it again and again for more ideas for rituals, charms and spells!
Would I recommend this book to others?
Absolutely! I would recommend it not only as a brilliant guidebook to English folk traditions rooted in Paganism and folk Christianity, but also as an impartial, objective and rational study of Pagan ideas that can still be applied within our modern lives. Even though the folklore outlined in the book refers to country life, much of it (especially in the section on folklore related to home and hearth) will resound with urban Pagans and many of the practises could easily be put into practise in any setting. It’s also a really interesting read. Definitely recommended for any Pagan for whom English traditions are a big part of their practise!