by Anna Urbanek
Welcome to the new series of posts on the blog! Librarian’s Nook will cover the latest books read in my constant pursuit of knowledge. These books are all, in one way or another, research – either for the project at hand, for the books planned in the future, or for satiating my endless curiosity of the world. As many of them will be useful to other worldbuilders, I’ve figured I might as well share my notes. These not reviews; there won’t be any rating systems, and the main criterions will be usefulness and general enjoyment.
What can you expect in this series? A variety of books, mostly nonfiction, covering natural sciences, history, occult, and folklore, with a side dish of other topics if I find whatever I’m currently reading useful from a worldbuilding perspective. Fiction won’t feature too heavily – I rarely read it, and when I do, it’s mostly fairy tales, myths, and legends. The majority of books will be in English, with an occasional Polish title.
Here’s what I got for you this month!
Mind of the Raven: Investigations and Adventures with Wolf-Birds
by Bernd Heinrich
A fascinating book for anybody who want to feature ravens in detail in their world (like me; ravens are my all-time favorite animals). It’s a nonfiction book written by an experienced biologist who has been studying ravens for decades, both in captivity and in the wild. The book is a comprehensive – if anecdotal – description of all parts of the raven’s life, including nesting, feeding habits, hunting techniques, and relationships with other animals (including humans). Over the years, the author has performed numerous experiments trying to establish the cognitive levels of ravens, their intelligence and sentience.
If you want to include in your worldbuilding a character raising ravens or a raven familiar, this book will give you more than enough biological and behavioral information to pull it off smoothly. Ravens make terrible pets in reality, but let’s face it: who wouldn’t want one in fiction?
What you won’t find in this book, is the cultural aspect of ravens. While the matters of Odin have been mentioned in passing, for folklore and myths regarding ravens, you’ll need to look elsewhere.
Bajarka opowiada: Zbiór baśni całego świata
by Maria Niklewiczowa
I’ve just reread one of my favorite childhood books, one that my mom used to read me for bedtime. It is still great. It’s a Polish book, collecting the fairy tales and legends from all around the world. While I understand that its usefulness for an English-speaking reader is very limited (it was never translated to English), it is a very important book for me personally – probably my first encounter with ethnography and preservation of folklore and oral stories. I hope at some point I’ll manage to hunt down all the stories featured in this book; it includes no bibliography, just general guidelines from which country each story hails.
Here’s the list. I hope that in time, I’ll manage to add the links to the stories in English. If you know any of these stories, please let me know, I’d love to link them up!
- O dobrym przewozniku i o dwoch siostrach rusalkach (Polish; The Good Ferryman and Two Rusalka Sisters)
- Twardowski (Polish; Twardowski; it’s the surname of the most famous Polish sorcerer). In English: Pan Twardowski: The First Pole on the Moon
- Kociolek (English; The Little Kettle)
- Dlaczego woda morska jest slona (Norwegian; Why the Sea is Salt). In English: Why the Sea is Salt
- Sprytny lisek (Altai; The Cunning Fox)
- Bialy wrobel (Flemish; The White Sparrow)
- Opowiesc o synu kupca, ktory mial serce rycerskie (French; The Story of a Merchant’s Son who Had a Knightly Heart)
- Fujarka (Russian; The Pipe)
- Koza z dzwonkiem (Romanian; The Goat with a Bell)
- Wdzieczne krasnoludki (Polish; The Grateful Dwarves)
- Kwiat paproci (Polish, The Fern Flower). In English: Polish legends: the Fern Flower
- Dwaj sasiedzi (Czech; The Two Neighbors)
- O ludkach biedorobach (Ukrainian; About the Poverty-Making Folk)
- Jak Silan zamienil sie w bociana (Bulgarian; How Silan Changed into a Stork)
- O kroliku, sloniu i wielorybicy (African (???); About the Rabbit, the Elephant, and the Whale)
- Trzy siostry u wladcy wichrow (Samoyedic; Three Sisters at the Winds’ Lord’s)
- Rak nieborak (German; The Poor Crayfish)
- Czworo przyjaciol (Turkish; The Four Friends)
- Tkacz i czarodziej (Indian; The Weaver and the Sorcerer)
- Koguci kamien (Italian, The Rooster Stone)
- Ciekawa baba (Polish; The Curious Woman)
- Kosiarz i wilk (Lithuanian; The Reaper and the Wolf)
- Troje gluptasow (English; The Three Fools)
- Alabastrowa raczka (Czech; The Alabaster Hand)
- Chamdam, syn ogrodnika (Tajik; Chamdam, the Gardener’s Son)
- Spiacy rycerze (Polish; The Sleeping Knights). In English: The Legend of the Sleeping Knights
- O kleryku, co na Lysa Gore pojechal (Polish; About the Cleric who Traveled to the Bald Mountain). In English: Polish legends: witches’ sabbath and old-Slavic religious centre on Łysa Góra (Bald Mountain)
- Waleczny osiol (Kazakh; The Brave Donkey)
- Cztery szklane paciorki (Persian; The Four Glass Beads)
- Lilia wodna (Scandinavian; The Water Lily)
- Tarninka i Janek Gil (Breton; Little Blackthorn and Johnny the Robin)
- Dlaczego zajac ma kusy ogon (Russian; Why Does the Rabbit have a Short Tail)
- Skad sie wziela wodka na swiecie (Polish, Where Does the Vodka Come from?)
- Pies i echo (Chinese; The Dog and the Echo)
- Polkurek (Spanish, The Little Half-Chick). In English: Medio Pollito
- Wdzieczny zajac (Basque; The Grateful Hare)
- Szczescie (Polish; The Luck)
- O krolewiczu zamienionym w malpe (Arabian; About the Prince Turned into a Monkey)
- O smoku i sekutnicy (Kabardian; About a Dragon and a Hellcat)
- Trzy corki (Tatar; The Three Daughters)
- Grymasna czapla (Belarusian; The Picky Heron)
- Jak golab wil sobie gniazdo (Latvian; How the Pidgeon Has Built its Nest)
- Krolewna foka (Scottish; The Seal Princess). In English: it’s one of the many selkie legends.
- Waleczny tkacz (Tajik/Afghan; The Brave Weaver)
- Zelazny Laczy (Hungarian; The Iron Laczy). In English: as far as I can tell, it’s one of many stories featuring the “táltos horse”
- Malutki Bebele (Jewish; The Little Bebele)
- Sobotnia Gora (Polish; The Saturday Mountain)
- Dlaczego malpy nie buduja domow (African; Why Monkeys Do Not Build Houses)
- Jak Waj zwyciezyl morze (Samoyedic; How Wai Conquered the Sea)
- Corka slonca (Greek; The Sun’s Daughter). In English: Maroula
- Dwie przadki i zaba (German; The Two Spinners and the Frog)
- O drozdzie pustelniku (Native American (Oneida, Iroquois, Mohawk; The Hermit Thrush). In English: The Legend of the Hermit Thrush
- Fet Frumos i dwanascie krolewien (Romanian; Fet Frumos and the Twelve Princesses). In English: Făt-Frumos is a Romanian folk hero, an equivalent of Prince Charmin, but not necessarily royalty; in this story, he’s a gardener.
- U wielkoludow (Swiss; In the House of the Giants)
- O wolarzu i czarodziejskiej przadce (Chinese; About the Ox-driver and the Spinner-Enchanter). In English: It’s one of many stories about the Boötes constellation.
- Lubianki z wroblowego domku (Japanese; The Baskets from the Sparrows’ House)
- Kopciuszek – barani kozuszek (Polish; Cinderella – The Sheep’s Coat). In English: one of the many variations of the popular story. This one has no stepmother, Cinderella works as a scullery maid in the palace, the prince is a massive prick, and the role of the Fairy Godmother is played by a tree that grew out from a horse’s skull.
- O krakowskich psach i kleparskich kotach (Polish; About the Dogs of Cracow and the Cats of Kleparz).
How to Become a Witch: The Path of Nature, Spirit & Magick
by Amber K, Azrael Arynn K
I am slowly inching towards witchcraft, not going to lie. My scientific and research background makes me approach the topic rather like an experimental science than a matter of faith.
This book is very much a matter of faith. It should be entitled ‘How to Become a Wiccan,’ and while there’s obviously nothing wrong with being a Wiccan, I don’t necessarily like equating one with the other. It’s like using ‘Dungeon & Dragons’ when you mean ‘roleplaying games’. Wicca is a religion (the role of deities is central), and as such, doesn’t fit my atheistic mental framework.
That being said, this is a rather solid Wicca 101 book, introducing basic concepts of theory and practice, with a fair amount of space given to matters of ethics, laws, best practices, consent, and personal responsibility. It would be, however, much more honest if it ever mentioned Wicca on the cover / in the description, instead of selling the Wiccan beliefs as the ultimate Witchcraft. There’s a section on non-Wiccan practitioners, and it reads:
“Some who claim Witchcraft as their path (non-Wiccan Witches) do not choose to follow the Rede [Wicca’s main advice of ‘as long as you do no harm, do as you will – note AU]. We think of them as “Old Testament Witches” – if they feel they have been attacked, they will demand “an eye for an eye.” Some will not hesitate to do binding spells or active curses if they feel their enemies deserve it.
We wonder whether such magicians are aware of the Law of Return [‘what goes around, comes around’ – note AU] or have any idea that their negative magick will come home to them, grown into something bigger and more destructive than what they originally conjured […].
The fact that we support Wiccan ethics will cause some of the Redeless Witches to dismiss us as “fluffy bunny” Pagans, obviously not dark, edgy, or fierce enough to join their club. If that’s the choice, we would rather be bunnies than hunters who repeatedly shoot themselves in the foot. That just doesn’t seem wise to us.
Or perhaps we are more like wolves, who behave more ethically than many humans and never get into magickal feuds or revenge trips.”
As much as I don’t have a stake in this, not being a witch, I do not appreciate equating Wicca with The One And Only Witchcraft Tradition, with all those who disagree delegated to an edgy, brooding, and evil corner. For a neopagan religion that has been formed in 1940s, this is a lot of assumptions – if not simply a delusion of grandeur. Choosing to define itself as (by extension of the authors’ claim) New-Testament Witches is an eyebrow-raising matter as well; the book states multiple times that there is no dogma or a sacred text in Wicca and every Witch makes their own choices and rules of conduct. And yet, disagree with their ‘advice’ (Rede is specifically described as such: just an ‘advice’ or ‘counsel’, created by Doreen Valiente in 1964 and worded as: An it harm none, do what ye will) and you’re suddenly shunned.
I find it curious that a practitioner of witchcraft would use the same argument of ‘who is not with us, is against us’ as was used against all witches since the advent of Christianity. It’s either Wicca miracles or non-Wicca (d)evil work? Their claim about ‘warlock’ being a universally pejorative term ‘in magical circles’ is in obvious disagreement with reality, as many practitioners (usually male-presenting) use it for themselves.
TL;DR: If you want to create a Wiccan character in your book or game, How to Become a Witch will give you enough knowledge to put one together, including spells, techniques, affirmations, tools, rituals, festivals, and basic concepts. If you want to become a Wiccan AND you’re happy with the religious aspect, this is a solid start. If you want to explore the topic of witchcraft beyond Wicca, for example reaching towards older beliefs or atheistic witchcraft, look elsewhere. I don’t know where yet, I’m searching myself.