Book Review -The Enchanted Life by Sharon Blackie

Some thirty years ago I was someone very different to the person I am today; mind you, that probably applies to most of the population, so I’d better elaborate a little.  I was in a pretty high-powered job in retail, working as the Retail Operations Director for a well known high street chain. It paid pretty well, gave me a rather snazzy company car, all my fuel paid for (both for business use and private use) and more than enough fringe benefits to allow me to think I was secure for life.  What more could I possibly ask for?

The truth is I was stressed out virtually all the time, I was on constant call for all sorts of issues and problems – modern retail is a seven day a week business, and senior management is expected to be available at any time of day, any day of the week.  Even at night the rumble of the fax machine (how quaint is that!) would wake me up as it spewed out reams of paper with the overnight sales results. A good night’s sleep was a real rarity. Even going on holiday meant bringing along the omnipresent pager – not much later to be replaced by the mobile phone.

I was unhappy and needed out, and I thought a change of job would do the trick; it didn’t. I simply swapped one bunch of stress for another identical set, the only difference being the name over the door of the business I worked for.

It took me ten years to escape to a certain degree, finding a less stressful job with less pay and benefits, but giving me a little more ‘spare time’. It was another 5 years before I finally found a place of contentment, free to explore what really gave my soul and spirit joy and fulfilment.

Why this trip down memory lane? Well, in Sharon Blackie’s latest book and follow up to her ‘If Women Rose Rooted’ all those old symptoms that I went through back then are talked about, explore, unravelled and exposed for what they are.

Now, I was never lucky enough – or should that be brave enough – to simply walk away from everything I had been working for and start completely afresh, but Sharon Blackie was. This makes her eminently qualified to set off on an exploration of enchantment, what it is, why it is so difficult to find in our modern stress-filled workaholic treadmill world and how, with some self-exploration and honesty, we can find that lost enchantment for ourselves once again. I say once again because, as pointed out in the book we are born with an innate sense of enchantment of life; as children we are filled with wonder and live a life filled with enchantment until society and well-meaning parents insist we conform to the rules of modern western society.

This is a book that gives us some tools to break free, to see through the illusions of today’s false rules and live our lives as if it matters – which, interestingly is the title of the penultimate chapter in the book. The tools offered though deceptively simply aren’t always easy; they will involve some deep soul searching and scrupulous honesty with ourselves if they are to be of use, but on this a little later.

The book itself is broken down in to four sections of varying length, beginning with a chapter on why enchantment matters; and of for this reviewer it matters a great deal. I imagine if you’ve read this far, it matters to you too. Blackie follows the opening with a review of how we reached this point in western society, offering insights of the philosophy that resulted in our current western world view, taking us right back to dear old Plato and his view that what we perceive with our own senses isn’t real but simply a product of our intellect. I’ll not bore you with the details and how they influenced later philosophical thought and religion, but as a starting point it is important to recognise that we as a species didn’t always see nature the way we do now – as a resource to be used remorselessly with no intrinsic value other than how much money it can make.

The second section of the book offers us some perspectives on what ‘enchantment’ is.  It’s a complex idea and I’m sure there are many who have tied themselves up in knots attempting to pin it down. Blackie does an admirable job, and it was particularly gratifying for me to see my old friend, French philosopher Lucien Lévy-Bruhl crop up. I first came across him when undertaking a course on Magical Consciousness at the University of Sussex led by Dr Susan Greenwood, and his theory of ‘magical participation’ underpins my understanding of my belief in animism – that everything has a spirit and consciousness.  If I’ve read the book correct, Sharon Blackie doesn’t go quite that far, and surmises that it may be the case, though she tells us of how she speaks to rocks and stones and places that hold a magic for her. Animism is a thorny and often controversial subject, so I’ll simply say that it is part of my own personal belief system and leave it at that.

There are some beautiful examples of how we can begin to re-enchant ourselves together with some wonderful stories to help us on our way. The questions asked of us and the suggestions offered at the end of each section are deep and practical in opening ourselves up to changing our perspectives about the world around us.

In the section entitled ‘The Magic of the Everyday’ we meet some people who have found their own way of living an enchanted life, offering inspiring examples of it *is* possible to break free. It also introduces us to working with the places we live, the stories that are connected to where we find ourselves, the land itself, the plants, the trees, and the wildlife we can find there; all of nature. Here too is where the book introduces us to the importance of ritual and ceremony in our everyday lives – a sadly neglected area for most of us in today’s helter-skelter busy world.

Of course, not all of us are able to find ourselves living in the far western reaches of the British Isles, as Sharon Blackie does; and nor would some us want to, so in this section we are also asked to find places in or own environment that can nourish us, no matter where that may be; finding the stories, listening to the land, recognising our own place in the landscape we find ourselves living are. My own experiences tell me that this isn’t necessarily easy – I have experienced living in places where I felt extremely uncomfortable, yet even then I was able to find places which gave me a sense of belonging and of sharing. Out on the wilds of Dartmoor, standing on the cliffs of the Jurassic Coast of Dorset, or on windswept Penwith, it’s easy (for me, at least) to find that connection; in the centre of a vast city, or in a town built on the foundations of military activity and conflict it’s not so easy; but my experiences tell me it can be done. Once again, the practical and useful examples and exercises Sharon Blackie offers us may well help in that process. I think it all comes down to relationship, and this book allows us to explore how to build that relationship with our environment.

By now the book has covered a vast amount of ground and my brief description hardly does it justice. To cover so much, so eloquently and accessibly is a wonderful achievement, so the short final section, ‘The Enchanted Life’, asks us questions about how us changing as individuals can effect change in society, and what that change would look like.

As someone who believes that myth and stories, the land and all of nature has so much to teach us; and as someone who believes that small steps and small changes can (and must) bring about changes to how we live and how society operates, this is a wonderful and important book. I don’t agree with everything that is written in the book, and some of the questions Sharon Blackie asks of us in the book may lead you to different conclusions to me and to Sharon – it would be a boring world if we agreed with everything. Nonetheless this is thought provoking, beautifully written, and well researched book (I love the fact there are references throughout the whole book – so many authors don’t bother or can’t back up hoer work in this way) and one I would highly recommend.

The Enchanted Life: Unlocking the Magic of the Everyday Paperback – 27 Feb 2018
by Sharon Blackie
Publisher: September Publishing


An Introduction to Shamanism

February 17th 2018 9:30pm – 5:30pm. Court Hill Centre near Wantage

A one day basic course covering what shamanism is, how to journey, the three shamanic worlds, finding our own power animal and some basic shamanic healing techniques.

Based on core shamanic methods, this workshop will form a strong foundation for further exploration of shamanism and is a vital part of ensuring you have a good, strong relationship with your spirit guides and animal helpers from the beginning of your explorations. The day will be participative and fun as well as opening doorways into the spirit world as you learn to journey safely and effectively.

Limited numbers, please book early! Cost £35.

More details at and

So 2017, what was that all about?

A little review of the past year or so….

The New Year celebrations have come and gone, at least for those who celebrate such things; and the first Full Moon of 2018 has just arrived. This is a time of year when I sit and reflect on what’s happened, what has changed, and what I’ve learnt over those 12 months, and in many ways 2017 has been an extraordinary year.

I’ll begin with the constants: I’ve consolidated my daily shamanic and druidic practice into something much more manageable and coherent – and practical. Until this year there has sometimes been a disconnect or lack of coherence in how I’ve practiced, and as an individual with Virgo rising that has sometimes ben a deep source of frustration. I do occasionally feel this ned for everything to fit together like a perfect jigsaw puzzle, and a failure to do that can leave me frustrated and set off sometimes long and convoluted searches to find the missing piece, or even to throw the whole jigsaw puzzle away and start again. After years of practicing my practice I’ve finally reached a point where things flow – not perfectly, because nothing is ever perfect – but in a way that allows me to work with the spirits and my Gods in a deep and meaningful way.

In addition to that I’ve now found the time (and the serenity) to add a weekly day of practice that allows me an even deeper sense of connection with my practice, and with the land where I live and work. I won’t pretend that I manage this every single week – sometimes circumstances mean I have to be flexible and adjust, and that is a good lesson for me too. But I feel more content, more connected and more focused in my spiritual work.

Some of you will know that the year began with the sad event of the passing in to spirit of my shamanic teacher and mentor, Sarah Howcroft.  After spending time with her of the past three years or so we had come to know each other really well, and the simple knowledge that she was always there for me to turn to was something that I soon came to realise was for more important to me than I understood.  What turned out to be just a few days before she passed over Sarah had asked me to act as her funeral celebrant, which will always remain something I feel deeply humble and privileged to have done for her. I was due to meet with Sarah to chat with her so that I had a clear idea of what she wanted – the only instructions I had from her in a brief phone call just before she died was that it was to be ‘a kick ass send off’ with as many of the shamanic community as possible present. As it turned out she took a turn for the worse a day before I was coming over to see her and died that night.  It was pure luck that the good friend who had been staying with her and looking after her found my name and phone number scribbled on a piece of paper, otherwise it’s possible her wishes may never have been fulfilled.  The funeral ceremony itself was, I hope, exactly what she wanted because to have some 100 or so folk drumming around her farewell fire was something quite amazing and moving, and I doubt I’ll ever experience a farewell quite like it again.

At the beginning of the year I had four people working with me – students if you like, though I tend to share more by conversation than as a teacher. As the year went on a two of my students moved on while another became much more of a shamanic healing relationship.  I never expected to be teaching anyone in any event, and it remains a puzzle and surprise when folk ask me to teach them! I am very happy following my own path, and if others are interested to find out more then that too is a privilege I never take for granted. I’m lucky because I don’t need to take on students, or offer courses and workshops to earn a living as I’m happily ‘retired’, but I’m always willing to share with those who want to listen to me waffle on.

Even so 2017 was an exceptionally busy year for me as I got more involved with the South OxShamanics Drumming Group, and shifted in to working with others in ceremonies and rituals more than I had done for a few years.  Having left my position as Lead Priest of the Gorsedd of Cor Gawr in early 2016 I expected to find myself with more time to explore my own personal practice, which has happened; but at the same time I’ve found a rejuvenation in my desire to work with others more openly.

This was also the year I finally took the plunge and took a ‘formal’ astrology class.  I had tinkered around the edges for many years beginning way back in the 70s but had never taken it further. In fact I hadn’t studied anything astrological for many ten or fifteen years, so this was exciting stuff. Since the course ended I’ve been consuming books and practicing hard. I’m still very much at the beginners stage, and am enjoying it immensely.

In May a long anticipated and eagerly awaited holiday on Dartmoor with my friend Linda finally arrived and so for the first time in many years an opportunity to explore the remote parts of the moor and to visit stone circles, stone rows and other ancient places didn’t disappoint.  The cottage we stayed in was beautifully remote and to sit outside drumming to the spirits of place early in the morning in sunshine was a gift beyond words.  It was an enlightening and interesting week, and many lessons were learned.

June came, and another visit to Devon for the Mugwort Retreat organised by David and Emma Farrell. It was three days of magic and an experience not to be missed, once again learning so much.

Around July things began to slow down a little, which is probably just as well as I had unexpectedly been asked to present a workshop at the UK Shamanic Gathering later in the year. My dear friend Donna Forbes allowed me to run the workshop with her group in Chesham early in August, and that gave me the opportunity to get feedback as well as adjust the workshop here and there.  This was another lesson and challenge for me.  September brought the Shamanic Gathering and was both brilliant and challenging at the same time. A wonderful experience amongst beautiful people.

Still, by the end of November and the Gatekeeper Conference, I was exhausted and made the decision to find extensive quiet time, and to retreat from so much outwardly focused activity. I still intended to spend time with friends, but that was curtailed when I managed to catch flu over the last few weeks of the year.  Be careful what you wish for is very apt.

There is so much to be grateful for during 2017, and while it strongly challenged me in many ways it was also a deep learning experience for me. For that I am humbly grateful. I realise that I’m nowhere near as busy as many others, but as I get older I’m acutely aware of my own limitations and my own personality. I need to remain true to who I am. I’m also aware that 2017 was a year a failed to see a good number of dear friends who are very important to me. I need to make sure I put that right in the year to come. Finally, one of the most profound lessons was that while others may talk of facts proving this or that, espousing that the Druids and the Celts were this or weren’t that, the facts are not the whole story. The ‘facts’ can only take us so far, and the facts we know may not be all of the facts. They can never untangle myths that were deliberately written as riddles and mysteries. The facts are not the same as the truth, for the truth is always subjective. What is another’s truth may not be my truth, and the truth can only be found by listening deeply: listening to our helping spirits, listening to our gods and guides, and listening to the land itself.

Book review – Last of the Shor Shamans

shorshamanI have long had a deep interest in the practices of indigenous shamans, especially those of Siberia and Mongolia.  Sadly I’ve never been lucky enough to learn from one, and so my understanding has always come from the books that are available.  The most well known are the sections within MIrcea Eliade’s classic ‘Shamanism’, and those of Sangarel, with her books being very much tailored towards the practice of Buryat Shamanism more than an anthropological study of the subject.

So, to find this book, ‘The Last of the Shor Shamans’, is a gift indeed. It is an exquisite book, just 96 pages long, but packed with information on the dying traditions of the shamans of the Shor Mountain region of South Central Siberia. Translated into English for the first time, this book deserves to be considered a classic of shamanic studies.

The book begins with an introduction by Lynn Roberts, explaining how she came to meet some of the Shortsi peoples when she took a group of North American and Europeans to this remote part of the world to learn from the native shamans who still practiced there. The authors, Alexander & Luba Arbachakov, bring us details of the Shor world view followed by a wonderfully detailed description of the ‘kam’ (the Shor word for shaman), how they are chosen, what they do, how the do it, how they live, how they dress, what tools they use and more. We are given some details on Shor shamanic rituals, before we are then introduced to the lives of seven shamans.  Each one was interviewed and recorded, and the insights gained are remarkable. We are told their stories and given elements of each of their individual practices, even down to the details of some of the words they use in their ceremonies.

We are then treated to the text of sound recordings made by the authors of the kamlanie verses of two of the kam themselves – shamanic verses that have never been published in English before.

To be able to read and study the traditions of this shamanic society is a wonderful privilege, and brings me a deeper understanding of my own shamanic practices and how they relate to those of these ancient people.

Whilst the book is written from an anthropological point of view it is incredibly useful to the serious student of indigenous shamanic practice. It is a wonderful contribution to those of us who treasure such insights.

Stonehenge and that tunnel thing

Other than my work with HAD I no longer have anything to do with Stonehenge other than on a deeply personal level. So this long and interesting article by Mike Pitts poses some profound questions. Of course we would all want the presence of the A303 to be removed from this landscape but the question remains at what cost – and by that I don’t mean the monetary cost. In essence Mr Pitts suggests that to build the road presents an enormous archaeological opportunity that supersedes any other issues. Everything else, he seems to argue, is detail and can be resolved. If we want the A303 removed there will be destruction somewhere, he argues, so why not in the WHS so that we can dig and dig and dig. 
For me this misses the point completely. By digging a huge tunnel across this sacred landscape we continue the destruction of it; but unlike our recent ancestors this won’t be done through ignorance of what we are destroying, but instead deliberately and opportunistically for the benefit of the archaeologist. By doing so we dishonour our deep ancestors, we dishonour those who created this landscape over thousands of years, and we dishonour ourselves. Yes, move the A303, but move it with honour and deep respect for those who built Stonehenge and what surrounds it, for those who lived and died here. After all, this isn’t just about the archaeologists. Is

Book review – Natural Born Shamans

naturalbornshamansLLast November I attended the Gatekeepers Trust Conference that’s held in Pewsey annually. As always there were wonderful speakers over the two days, including Peter Knight, my geomancy teacher Patrick MacManawey, authors of ‘The Spine of Albion’ Gary Biltcliffe, poet Jay Ramsey, traditional traveller folk-song collector Sam Lee and others. One of the others was the shamanic practitioner Imelda Almqvist, who I knew from social media and publicity and advance notice of book releases sent to me by the publisher Moon Books.

Imelda’s subject was “Gods of Portals, Life Transitions and Liminal Spaces”, where she explored (quoting from the Gatekeeper Trust website):

‘Liminal places are where ancient gods await and human beings are touched by the Divine. What is the function of such places in the landscape and how can we open sacred space intentionally to facilitate healing, rites of passage and to breathe new life into the teachings of the ancient mystery schools.’

The talk was wonderful and was accompanied by samples of her spellbinding and amazing artwork. It was without doubt one of the highlights of the entire weekend.

By coincidence, later that day I found myself sitting next to Imelda and we spoke for a while, including a short discussion about her recent book ‘Natural Born Shamans – A Spiritual Toolkit for Life: Using shamanism creatively with young people of all ages.’ I had to confess I hadn’t read the book as it seemed that it wasn’t something that I would find useful. After having listened to her talk and  our later conversation I was inspired to go out and buy a copy to see what wisdom there was within.

The book is written from the point of view of a shamanic practitioner and a mother of three boys, whose experiences in bringing them up led her to insightful practices that resulted in her forming the group called ‘Time Travellers’. She writes:

‘The notion of teaching shamanism to young children and teenagers seemed overwhelming (where to start?!), but I created The Time Travellers programme in London, UK, and it is still running four years later.’

Eventually, with much prodding from her own spirit guides, as well as other parents and shamanic practitioners working in the same field, Imelda came to realisation that there was a need to share her work, and so allow others to benefit from her experiences in working with her own group. Again, to quote from the book:

‘I have received many emails from colleagues asking about my shamanic work with children and teenagers. They have referred many people based all over the world to me: parents, grandparents, teachers and professionals in other fields. People tell me that they need pointers, ideas, tried and tested session plans. I gradually realised that I perhaps I was sitting on material and experiences that could be helpful for others.’

The book is set out in three distinct parts; the first covers the foundations of the work she is covering – subjects such as:

  • what is shamanic parenting
  • shamanic basics
  • working with children – fears and prejudices
  • parental consent

and so on.  Here there is much wisdom to be found, and the wealth of Imelda’s experiences shines through, giving those who may enter this area of teaching some confidence that they are learning from someone who has ‘been there and done it’. Refreshingly there are parts where she lets us know where the best laid plans can go wrong, and so we learn from those mistakes without having to discover the pitfalls ourselves.

It’s important to note that this isn’t a section which will teach you to be a shamanic practitioner – it assumes some considerable depth of understanding, knowledge and training in the practice of shamanism, so if you are looking for a book covering those aspects, this isn’t the one for you.

In part two we are offered a detailed array of practical session plans that can be used and adapted for use once you set up your own group work with children and teenagers. It defines each session in some detail, giving guidance on from and structure, what to say, where to hold the work and how to follow up each session. There is an introduction to the subject of each session, followed by teaching notes, preparation guidelines, the session itself, and where appropriate further notes that may be useful.  The topics are wide and varied, covering from the playful to deeper work around subjects such as bullying and death. While these sessions are aimed at a range of ages, from the relatively young to those in transition between childhood to adulthood, they are a wonderful inspiration for those who may hold regular shamanic sessions with older individuals, and with a little adaptation could well be used to bring out the childlike innocence that many adults have lost. Play and laughter and plain and simple fun are wonderful tonic to the soul and spirit whatever our age!

Part three is entitled ‘Rites of Passage’ and gives a detailed and experiential view of the way ritual and ceremony can be incorporated into the lives of children and teenagers. It covers just about any aspect of transition that we are likely to come across, and doesn’t shy away from the ‘difficult’ areas which modern society attempts to hide away in the shadows. As a ceremonialist as well as a shamanic practitioner, I found this section really enlightening and useful and once again, with a little work, everything here could be adapted for other age groups. We as a culture ignore ceremony too often, and to re-awaken the need for ceremony within our own communities can be a wonderful gift of service; for that alone this book is worth buying.

My understanding of working with others, especially with children and teenagers, would have been the poorer had I not been inspired to buy and read this book, and I am deeply grateful that synchronicity brought me to that Conference and to find myself sitting next to Imelda. This is a wonderful book or anyone who regularly works with others in their shamanic practice, and particularly good for those who find themselves working with young people. I highly recommend it.

Almqvist, Imelda. Natural Born Shamans – A Spiritual Toolkit for Life: Using Shamanism Creatively with Young People of All Ages – John Hunt Publishing 2016