Writers in the Dark
I think that being a witch is synonymous with bibliophilia. I don't know many who identify as such and do not have a robust, if not excessive, collection of books on the subject. I myself am definitely guilty of this. As I learn more and delve deeper into the realms of traditional witchcraft, rewilding, homesteading and herbalism, I discover certain authors that feel like new friends, or even mentors.
I recently finished Gemma Gary's, "Traditional Witchcraft: A Cornish Book of Ways." To say I read it quickly would be a lie, for when I read books of this nature I take careful notes as I go to add to my own black book. I found her book not only beautifully written in Gemma's careful poetic style, but also incredibly useful. Her views and interpretation of the Cornish, or Pellar's Craft, is not for the blind beginner in the world of witchcraft, but it is not so haughtily filled with allusions and jargon as to be indecipherable to a Traditional Witchcraft neophyte with some other foundational literature behind them.
The breakdown of the book is as follows on the Troy Books website where you can purchase most of Gemma's work:
"Traditional Witchcraft - A Cornish Book of Ways is a 21st century version of traditional Cornish witchcraft, of the kind recorded by Hunt, Bottrell and others. This is no neo-pagan or modern wiccan manual, but rather a deep drawing up into modern times of some of the ancient practices of lore and magic practiced by the white witches, charmers, conjurers and pellars of the Cornish villages. Their presence was still current when the 18th and 19th century antiquarians and collectors recorded them, and, although the 20th century largely put paid to their activities, nevertheless their lore never completely disappeared, and it continues to provide inspiration for practitioners today. Gemma draws on this knowledge, not only from published material, but also from the experiences and workings of ‘wise women’ and country witches living today.
Topics include the Cunning Path, the Dead and the Underworld (Fairy Faith), the Bucca, Places of Power in the villages and landscape, the Tools used by Cunning Folk (working versions of what can be seen, for example, in the Museum of Witchcraft), Village cunning, substances and charms, and Rites of the Year’s Round. This book gathers much material together, some of which has not been seen in print before, and thus provides a sourcebook of magical workings in Cornwall today, which will be an invaluable reference."
Cheryl Straffon - Meyn Mamvro
Her illustrations are a real treat; the black and white stippled images are not outrageous, and they are refreshingly appropriate to the mood of the text, furthering the feeling of holding an truly timeless tome in ones hands. Her art adds to her Arte, to the magic of the experience of reading her work. If you are unfamiliar with her books, this is by no means her only publication, please visit her website for the complete list. I am awaiting the arrival of newest book, "The Devil's Dozen," and have heard only praise from my compatriots who have purchased it. I also have her book, "The Black Toad," which I highly recommend.
I don't often write book review type pieces, but I am so struck by what Gemma does, I felt compelled to share about it. It isn't just the fact that she makes available so generously all the hard work she has put in to researching and learning this branch of the Craft, but that she is creating magical objects, filled with art and a power all their own, for her community. Her humble attitude and gentle shyness that permeate her interviews further make her an admirable artist, and someone I am thankful for as a voice in for Traditional Craft.
Though I've never met her, I feel a deep sense of gratitude for her hefty contributions to the written body of magical texts that avoid some of the things I find challenging about other works. She does not lay claim to ancient unbroken lines, secret initiations or place herself upon a pedestal to gaze down at the rest of us. She is truly a folk figure. A person who creates accessibility in her tone and in the ways in which she presents herself. Honestly, even her private nature endears her to me. Gemma Gary is someone I personally am moved by and someone who inspires me to create. To create things that are useful, beautiful and, most of all, accessible.
To hear more about her books, see the videos below from the very lovely "On the Black Chair," interview series that Karagan Griffith puts together. It's certainly worth it.
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