The Story of Bacchus, Andrew Dalby
** Book of the month!**
Another book I pinched borrowed from my Dad’s collection. It’s a novella-length “biography” of the Greco-Roman God of Wine, Bacchus, drawing from the original ancient sources of his mythology. All the major episodes of Bacchus’ life are here – his conception and birth, his upbringing among the nymphs and satyrs, his creation of wine, and his many encounters with mortals. Dalby does a great job of stitching together these separate accounts into a flowing, chronological narrative, and what’s more, he pairs his romantic, and often humorous, re-tellings of the stories with historical analysis and interpretation. One would think that this result in a confused or distracting text, but amazingly it works well. I really enjoyed it, and it certainly made me more interested in this deity. I can imagine it being a source of inspiration and knowledge for any modern-day Maenads!
I have to admit – the main reason I bought this book was because someone posted the cover art on a Pagan-related Facebook group, and I loved it. There’s something almost Miyazaki-esque about the colour, lighting and subject matter. That’s what prompted me to track down this fantasy novel. But you know what they say…never judge a book by its cover, and sadly, this book was a good example of this rule for the most part. Although the blurb describes it as a fantasy novel about magical forests and ancient gods, there’s rather little of this in the book. Most of it is focussed on a rather dull story of Mafia warfare and an equally dull family caught up in it all. The more fantastical parts of the novel are quite interesting, taking direct inspiration from Pagan ritual, worship of the Horned God and the concept of the resurrected Green Man but they are completely overshadowed by the aforementioned main plot. Disappointing, I’m afraid to say. Still, that cover though!
I bought this while getting Christmas presents at the fantastic Hedingham Fair online shop; I have a particular fondness for the Green Man but haven’t read books specific to him (apart from Greenmantle above). This is one of these books made by a small publishing house, and it feels it – it’s cheaply printed and bound and the text inside is amateurishly written, poorly edited and riddled with typos. Thankfully, there’s also something charming and nice about it – with its friendly tone and focus on local traditions, it feels very British. For such a little book, it’s also got a surprising amount of varied content on the subject of the Green Man, including legends, guides on local churches and landmarks where Green Men can be found, rituals for honouring the Green Man, craft ideas, and even the full script for a short Mummer’s play featuring the Green Man. I additionally liked the attention paid to the Green Man within Christianity – I much prefer it when Pagan texts emphasise the links between Paganism and Christianity rather than focussing solely on the differences. It may not be a slick product, but for lovers of the Green Man, this book would probably make a welcome addition to a collection of literature about this mysterious figure.
This little book is a nice introduction to Shinto. Mainly aimed at newcomers to Shinto, I still like reading introductory books to Shinto even though I’ve read quite a few now because you always get some new perspectives on the faith. Understanding Shinto gives a lot of historical context on Shinto and what’s interesting is that it looks at some of the important, influential figures within Shinto, which is somewhat unusual. It also has some interesting insight into the controversial Yasukuni Shrine and the role of Shinto in Japanese beliefs in death and the afterlife. It’s also beautifully presented with full-colour illustrations and photos on almost every page. It’s just a shame that it’s so short. It’ll leave you wanting more.
This really more of a bound essay than a book – you can read it very easily in one sitting. Herbert investigates the beliefs of the Anglo-Saxons, drawing from the writings of Roman settlers, the Venerable Bede, and texts of the Anglo-Saxons themselves (runes and Old English a-plenty). It’s a very detailed, interesting and academic piece, but due its length I can’t help but think the general reader would find this more appealing as part of a larger collection of essays on Heathenry, rather than as a stand-alone essay.
A Popular Dictionary of Shinto, Brian Bocking
Exactly what it says in the title – an A-Z of Shinto-related, Japanese terminology. I flicked through the whole book, which was very interesting and meant I discovered a lot of new aspects of Shinto, such as obscure kami and practises. Generally, I thought the explanations were pretty good – clear and easy to understand. But there were two things I thought could have been added to improve it. Firstly, it could perhaps do with a few simple illustrations to help those unfamiliar with Shinto tools and architecture; this is pretty common in Japanese dictionaries. Secondly, there isn’t a single Japanese character in the whole book. I thought this was a considerable oversight – the kanji used to write Japanese words is very important, especially in matters pertaining to religion. Including kanji for each entry should have been an obvious thing to do, and would have greatly aided understanding for those who can read Japanese (and there’s a lot of non-Japanese people interested in Shinto who can).