Review: Arthurian Literature by Women

Last winter I was in the mood for Arthuriana, so I asked for this book for my birthday. As usual, the Pile ‘o Books kept piling up and guess what I’ve only just finished reading today?

I love the cover.

Arthurian Literature by Women is, as the title suggests, an anthology of Arthurian poems, stories and plays by women, especially stories that innovate on Arthurian tradition. In this volume you will find a disabled Lady of Shalott, Sir Dagonet (King Arthur’s Fool) as one of the knights who obtains the Holy Grail, and peasants who accomplish tasks even the bravest of King Arthur’s knights are loathe to do.

The editors point out that even in courses that focus on women in Arthurian tradition, most or all of the works studied are by men. Rather than publish excerpts from novels like The Mists of Avalon, however, the editors chose to publish lesser known works by women. The vast majority of the texts are from the 1800s, although there are a couple stories from the 12th century and texts from the 1900s up to the early 90s as well.

The most interesting thing for me is the way that these women have taken the Arthurian tradition and done something different with it. In Avillion; Or the Happy Isles by Dinah Maria Craik, for instance, Avalon (or Avillion, in this case) is but one step on the path towards what New Agers might call spiritual evolution. The Feasts of Camelot by T.K. Hervey is a series of stories that wouldn’t seem out of place in a Medieval Arthurian legend. These stories feature unlikely heroes and redemption for characters that are often cast as villains (like King Mark and Morgan le Fay). Some even paint a not so flattering picture of King Arthur himself. There are more than a few scathing critiques of male writers like Tennyson in here. It would be impossible to go through every entry and review them separately, but my favourites were “Lanval” by Marie de France, and the excerpts from The Feasts of Camelot, which seemed to be the closest to Medieval literature on the subject. Some entries have a happy ending, others (such as the one play in the collection) are very melodramatic. Some pieces touch on issues like poverty or loss of a child. Some are contemporary pieces, others are set in the distant past. There’s even a piece that’s a bit of a precursor to modern urban fantasy.

My one issue with this book is the lack of footnotes. The introduction is pretty good at summarizing each individual piece, but I would have liked to see some footnotes as the authors were often fond of referencing events and characters that might be lost on the modern reader. I also would have appreciated it if the entries were in chronological order or separated by theme. It’s not a huge deal, it’s just something I would have liked to see. Even with the lack of notes, however, this is a really interesting collection and I recommend it to anyone who is interested in Arthurian literature that is by women and not just about women. It also includes bibliographies of fiction and poetry and drama by women, so if you wanted one of the better known books that aren’t in this volume, you’ll probably be able to find it there.

This has been a short review but if you’re interested in Arthurian literature by women I’d check this one out. Since it is a bit pricey, I’d check and see if your local library has it.

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Deck Review: Attuned: A Moon Cycle Deck

[The following review may be triggery for tokophobia, nudity, and some images are NSFW]

It’s been awhile since I did one of these, hasn’t it?

File this one under “I shouldn’t like this deck so much but I do.”

I’ve been interested in this deck for a long time. I really loved the bright colours and the way the images seem to flow like water. It reminded me very much of my Mythical Goddess Tarot (NSFW). But I didn’t pick it up because I thought it was out of print and therefore expensive.

However, I found it on etsy and it was actually reasonably priced. (I was actually expecting to pay twice that for a self-published oracle deck) and it was like I fell in love with it all over again. So now here it is in my hands and I’m ready to tell you about it.

Let’s get the obvious points out of the way first. This deck is very New Agey and Menstrual Moon Mysteries-centric. Well, actually not so much about periods, but as you can no doubt tell from the deck’s name, there’s a lot about moon cycles. In fact, the deck is designed for daily contemplation over a 28 day lunar cycle (as there are only 28 cards). The cards are large and a pain in the ass to shuffle, but that makes them ideal to prop up and use as focal points for meditation or to decorate a shrine or altar. The only issue I really had with the cards themselves was that the card stock is very flimsy, not paper thin, but definitely not up to rough handling. The cards came with a nice bag and a leaflet with meanings for each card.

The selling point for me was the art, however. I love the art. This deck has some very vivid colours and a very curvy, flowing art style. The figures on each card seem to gently sway to music only they can hear. It’s also very brightly coloured which also brings to mind the Mythical Goddess, which has the same kind of flowing art style and bright colours.

The “Gemini” card from Attuned: A Moon Cycle Deck

This deck is best used for meditation but I have had some success doing one card readings with it. (Although I did find parts of the paragraph for each card irrelevant to the readings.)  I wouldn’t say it’s really a reading deck though, it’s best used for meditation and contemplation. The creator recommends drawing a card starting on the first day or your menstrual cycle (if you menstruate) and drawing a card each day until you’ve gone through the whole deck. Alternatively, you could just draw a card on the new moon and do it that way.

One thing to keep in mind is that this is a very, shall we say, “feminine” deck. There’s only one figure I can see that seems a bit more “masculine” and few card images look androgynous. There are plenty of breasts on display but others are covered by the figures’ arms. One image, the “Birth” card, actually startled me when I came to it, as it shows a woman giving birth to the moon in a patch of red. I would say if you’re tokophobic that you might want to skip this deck, because it certainly gave me pause when I saw it. This is definitely one of those decks where I’d say you pretty much have to be in the intended demographic (in this case, cis women who menstruate) in order to get a lot out of it, but your mileage may vary.

I like this deck. I’m not sure what it is about this deck that I like exactly. It’s yet another deck that I shouldn’t like for a variety of reasons but I like all the same. If you would like this deck for your collection, you can buy it off etsy.

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Review: A Study in Ashes by Emma Jane Holloway

[Note: The following will contain MAJOR SPOILERS for the entire trilogy.]

I have a really bad quirk. Once I pick up the first book in a series (unless I decide I don’t like it within the first few pages) I can’t not finish what I started. Even if the series isn’t one of my favourites, I need to know how the story ends.

When I first picked up A Study in Silks, I wasn’t really expecting anything particularly innovative, and I enjoyed it for what it was. romance tropes and all. I eagerly began A Study in Darkness, and was ready to give up on the trilogy entirely. However, telling myself that it was just the Second Book Curse, I picked up the third book….and I let it sit there for ages.

The final book in the trilogy opens with Evelina being sent to attend the Ladies College of London, only the academic institution is less a center of learning and more like a prison for her. Forced to wear bracelets that suppress her magic, she’s utterly at the mercy of the Gold King. Meanwhile, war is looming as tension builds between the Steam Barons and the rebels, the Baskervilles, start gaining more support for their cause. Magic, murder, and mayhem is the order of the day.

The final book in the trilogy has a ton of different plots going on at once. Besides Evelina attending college and trying to escape the Gold King, Imogen’s soul has been trapped in a clock and she needs to find a way out, Tobias and Alice are occupied with their son, Jeremy, Lord Bancroft comes face to face with his past sins and the rebels, led by the mysterious Schoolmaster, are running all over the place trying to muster their forces for a final confrontation with the Steam Barons, who are, as usual, plotting and fighting amongst themselves. There’s a definite sense of things moving around, shifting, alliances being made and broken, that sort of thing. We also get a glimpse of other members of the Steam Council besides Gold and Blue, with the Violet Queen especially getting a little more page time. There’s a real sense that things are on the move and tensions in London are about to reach boiling point. This is something that I felt was missing from the last book, which just seemed like Evelina running around not doing what she was supposed to be doing until her deadline forced her to do it.

Let’s start with the stuff I liked about this book. The book has some surprisingly good action scenes and moments which I thought were just begging to be played out on the big screen. I also liked that there was overall less time spent pining for a love interest and more time getting stuff done. without spoiling anything, the book also neatly ties up most of its plotlines. There was a thread or two that I thought was left hanging a little, but it’s always nice to end with many questions answered. I also like how Evelina challenges the sexism of one of her professors while at college.

As for what I didn’t like, well, it’s still slow in places, but nowhere near what it was in the second book. Imogen’s scenes were, funnily enough, some of the slowest scenes for me. You would think considering her situation that it would be a bit more exciting but I didn’t find that at all. There was also a bit near the very end where I found Evelina’s reaction t9 a group of Wraiths kind of ridiculous considering all that she’s been through, but not enough to cause me to put the book down. There’s a certain Holmesian nemesis that I thought didn’t really play as big a role in the plot as he should have, overall disappointing. I also thought that there was a bit of an inconsistency re: Evelina’s “dark power”, particularly how lethal it actually was, I guess maybe I expected more from it than what I actually got, but that’s been true for the entire trilogy, honestly.

All things considered, it’s nothing particularly earth-shattering but it’s definitely an improvement on the second book. If this review seems rather sparse it’s because I really don’t have that much more to say about it. For me, it’s definitely a case of So Okay, It’s Average.

Posted in Books, Reviews

Visions of Vanaheim 2nd Edition Out Now!

This is just a quick note to let you know that the second edition of Visions of Vanaheim by Nornoriel Lokason (who previously wrote as Svartesol) is out now.

Paperback: CreateSpace, Amazon.com

Ebook: direct from the author’s etsy shop.

The first edition of Visions of Vanaheim is probably the most comprehensive book on Vanatru. The second edition includes information on the tribes, culture, and history of Vanaheim (something that was mostly absent from the first edition). If you have any interest in Vanatru, I would encourage you to get this book. It’s info on Vanatru from the perspective of one of the forefathers of the movement.

 

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Game Review: Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller — Episode 4

[As usual, the following episode will contain SPOILERS for the previous episodes].

Sorry I missed the review for the last episode of Cognition last week. Consider this one of those times where they make you wait two weeks before a new episode airs.

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Game Review: The Raven: Legacy of a Master Thief

[TW: possible racism, mention of Nazis]

It’s been quite some time since I picked this up and I’ve only just beaten it a few minutes ago. Truth be told, I have a weird history with games from The Adventure Company (now a division of Nordic Games) everyone seems to love their point and click adventure games, but to me they’ve always been badly acted with puzzles that defy common sense.

The Raven: Legacy of a Master Thief is a point-and-click adventure game in the truest sense. Whereas other games I’ve reviewed recently add some interesting features (like Gemini Rue‘s verb interface and combat) this game goes back to pointy and clicky goodness. You probably know the drill by now: wander around gathering items, combine some of those items, use items to solve puzzles. The controls aren’t particularly fancy in that you use the mouse to do everything except bring up the options menu (press escape for that).

The story concerns the exploits of a gentleman thief known only as “The Raven”. The Raven’s burglaries are always grand affairs, and the thief always emerges unscathed, until a botched heist in Paris in 1960 where a hotshot detective, Legrand, fatally shoots The Raven.

Or does he? Four years later, a priceless jewel, part of a pair known as the Eyes of the Sphinx, is stolen from the British Museum, and speculation runs rampant that The Raven has returned. Mixed up in all this is Swiss Constable Anton Jakob Zellner, his journey will take him from a train in the Alps to a ship in Venice to the Cairo Museum.

I found Zellner to be a likeable character. He’s a very well-mannered man, very much not the shoot first type. The other characters have their own quirks. There’s the snooty violinist, the bratty child, the distinguished writer who is basically Agatha Christie, and a few others. As you might expect from a game with a heavy emphasis on mystery (and something so heavily influenced by Agatha Christie’s novels) most of the characters have secrets to hide, some darker than others. The one thing that didn’t endear me to the characters was the voice acting. Although it’s much improved from other games I’ve played from this developer, and I would say that the voice acting in The Testament of Sherlock Holmes was far worse, the voice work in this wasn’t the best I’ve ever heard.

There’s also the issue of the puzzles. Yes, it’s the return of Adventure Game Logic, where the item combinations usually don’t make any sense and you need to crack open the developer’s head to try and figure out what they were thinking. Seriously though, how the hell does wooden salad tongs + penny = makeshift screwdriver? Yeah I guess I can see it but wouldn’t it make more sense to use a nail or something? Other times when I was stuck it was because the game wanted me to go on a pixel hunt, and those are never fun. The game does have a hint system, where you spend “Adventure Points” (gained from solving puzzles) to either highlight all objects that you can interact with or provide a text-based hint via your notebook. However, spending too many adventure points will cause you to miss out on achievements, so if you want all the achievements, it’s best not to use them. If you don’t care, use away. The pixel-hunting was easily the most frustrating aspect of the game for me.  The other most frustrating aspect was the pacing. The game does speed up at points but most of the time you’re left wandering around because you forgot to click the one thing twice.

The graphics are a meh for me. They haven’t changed much since the late 90s when I was first playing these games (although they are much crisper and the scenery is very pretty). The music kind of annoyed me after awhile, and it has a tendency to be very loud in sections.

Another frequent issue I had with the game is that character pathfinding was very very weird in spots, and at one point I needed to restart because a character would become stuck in the environment. At its lowest point, I had to replay the same series of scenes at least three times because for some reason the game wasn’t saving where I wanted it to save, and the game doesn’t give you the option to skip cutscenes outright. I would recommend saving frequently, keeping multiple save files, and overwriting saves whenever possible.

As far as stuff to keep an eye on, there’s only one person of colour in the entire game and his portrayal is….mixed….in my opinion. He does call out a character for treating him like shit, specifically referencing his skin colour, but I’m not really sure if anyone would consider him positive representation or not, and, like I said, he’s the only non-white character in the entire game (and, TBH, during some scenes in the game his skin is just a shade darker than white, so I wouldn’t be surprised if many people simply read him as white).

And, oh yeah, Nazis are eventually involved as part of a character’s background. There needs to be a variant of Godwin’s Law for video games.

Overall, if you really want a “classic” adventure game you could do much worse, but I’d recommend buying this on sale, especially if you’re an Agatha Christie fan and you’ve already played the games based on her work.

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The Thirteen Houses Project: Valerian

It’s the thirteenth, and by now you know what that means, but now we’ve reached the final entry in the Thirteen Houses Project. Seems like it’s been awhile since I wrote that introduction, and now here we are at the end. On the one hand, it’s been a long journey and a job well done, but on the other, I’m kind of sad to see it go.

Valerian House’s canon is algolagnia and submission. It’s motto is “I Yield,” like Mandrake House, we don’t learn about what they hold transpired when Naamah offered herself to the King of Persis, but i think you can guess. Valerian House has an interesting way of selecting apprentices. They are given spiced candies, and are told that the pleasure from the candy is derived from the pain of the spice. Those who understand this lesson are kept, others have their marques sold to other houses. Valerian House also maintains an altar to Kushiel, in Kushiel’s Dart, Phedre learns that many Valerian adepts are dedicated to him.

Although Valerian adepts are recognized as Servants of Naamah and perform the same sacred duty as the other Houses, Valerian adepts don’t get a lot of respect in canon. Characters compare them to dogs and refer to them as “whipping toys for ham-fisted noblemen” even Phedre, who has been divinely ordained to be so masochistic she can never be broken by torture, looks down on the adepts of this house. The only characters to give Valerian adepts a measure of dignity and respect are Imriel and Mavros.

Valerian’s lessons are submission and surrender. These can be hard lessons to learn, especially since many people (at least, in North America) seem to want to take Mandrake’s lesson to heart, to assert control over every aspect of their lives when there are some things that are always going to be out of control. I feel like Valerian adepts know how to go with the flow better than any other house, they learn to trust their patrons in ways that other houses do not. In Heathenry, there’s a sizable contingent of Heathens who assert that “we don’t kneel before our gods” this despite numerous references to people kneeling and prostrating before images of the deities. It seems like there’s at least one meme every week echoing that sentiment, and it’s no less annoying every time it happens.

At the same time, I feel like some groups, perhaps reacting to the former view, push too far in the other direction at times. I don’t think I have to name specific names, but I’ve found that some people seem to expect everyone to have 100% godslave=like devotion to their deities at all times, and, quite frankly, I find this notion to be utterly ridiculous. Not everyone is going to have the exact same relationship with their deities, some might not even interact with deities at all, instead focusing on local land spirits and ancestors, not wanting to devote one’s life 200% to the deities doesn’t make you impious, it means that you have other responsibilities, and few people in this day and age can really afford to devote 100% of their time to their deities. It’s not uncommon to see reactionary movements that respond to one extreme by going to the other extreme, and I don’t think that either extreme is really helping in this case. It is possible to say “It’s okay to kneel, it’s okay to have an intense relationship with your deities,” without expecting everyone to be the same way, sometimes you might need to just go with the flow, but other times, other times you need to help yourself. My deities aren’t all-powerful and are frequently busy, so I don’t really have a choice in the matter.

This project has taught me that there are many ways to serve Naamah. That might seem like an obvious conclusion to reach, but even Phedre didn’t fully understand this until Kushiel’s Avatar, and she was born and raised in Terre D’Ange. I know some of the entries are rushed because I really wanted to get the post done on the 13th, but overall I had fun with this project and it provided a nice framework for discussion topics.

Thank you for sticking with me through this project. I don’t know when I’ll be doing something like this again, but until that time, enjoy all the reviews, rants, and random mutterings.

Image credit: “Valeriana officinalis” by Kurt Stüber (via Wikipedia)

Posted in Books, Pop Culture Paganism | Tagged

Growth and Changes

Since it seems like the comments on the blog have been inundated recently with comments from ignorant folkists who seem to think I will magically accept their racist ideologies, it’s time for me to move this blog forward a bit.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how my views have changed over the past decade (or, hell, over the past few years). I’ve gone from thinking things like Pop Culture Paganism are weird to actually calling myself a Pop Culture Pagan and engaging with that community, and TBH, the most shit I’ve gotten for it has been from more “traditional” Pagans.

When I started this blog (and when I started my main tumblr) I didn’t think I’d get any followers. I was just someone who had opinions on the internet. Lots of people have those. I just passed the 666 follower mark on tumblr, like, really? That many people think I’m at least worth a follow? It just seems so weird.

There are also times where I just want to reach back into the past and smack myself because I just….gods…..WTF was wrong with me? But I suspect we all have those moments, and I bet our past selves are thankful that we don’t have access to time machines or they’d be pretty bruised from all that smacking.

It’s one thing to be like “You weren’t the same person five years ago,” but it’s a whole other thing when you are five years on looking back, you know?

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Game Review: Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller — Episode 3

[Once again, this episode will contain SPOILERS for the previous episodes, so read at your own risk.]

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Game Review: Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller – Episode 2

This review contains SPOILERS for episode 1 of Cognition, so if you haven’t played it and you want to go through it first, don’t read this review yet. In fact, I’m going to put the review under a cut this time. (Yes I actually know how to use cuts, not that my other reviews are any indication.)

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