Magic from the hedgerows

Strength by Danielle Barlow

A while back my friend and Chagford neighbour Danielle Barlow began a massive artistic undertaking: to create a new tarot deck, The Witches' Wisdom Tarot, in collaboration with Phyllis Curott. Danielle is an artist and practicing hedgewitch here on Dartmoor; Phyllis is an acclaimed American writer on all things Wiccan. Their project was an immersive one, growing slowly over many, many months: imbued with all the myth, symbolism, tarot lore and deep love of the natural world these two women carry between them.

Danielle Barlow's art for The Witches' Wisdom Tarot

Danielle often uses family and friends as her painting models, so when she called for models for this project I nervously agreed to help. It's not that I haven't been painted before (in this faerie picture by Brian Froud, for example, painted back in the 1990s; or this one in David Wyatt's "Mythic Village" series, 2011), but I've crossed into my elder years now -- a stage of life when the image in the mirror rarely matches the ageless self we still inhabit in the mind's eye. I'd be no faerie sylph this time, but an archetypal older woman. 

Furthermore, my health disability was at an especially low point then: I was physically frail, anaemic, shaky on my feet, not feeling particularly "magical" at all. The day Danielle came over with her camera was the day I learned the card I would be posing for: Strength. I laughed when she told me, it seemed so unlikely. "There are many different kinds of strength," she told me firmly. "Trust me, this is the right card."

Some time later I saw the finished painting (pictured at the top of this post) . . . and Reader, I admit, I cried.

Danielle Barlow's art for The Witches' Wisdom Tarot

Today, as the dark of winter approaches, as a new variant of Covid looms and our cultural/political discourse seems to grow more divisive by the hour, we're all in need of strength, and of the reminder that it comes in many forms. Danielle's words, imagery and hedgewitchery helped me to remember and re-imagine mine. I hope this story will do the same for you. Sometimes the quietest, deepest, most individual and paradoxical forms of strength are the ones we should value most of all.

Danielle Barlow's art for The Witches' Wisdom Tarot

To learn more about the wonderful Witches' Wisdom Tarot, go here. To see more of Danielle's art, including her equally lovely Green Wheel Oracle deck, go here.

"I trained in textiles, and then in horticulture," she says, "before returning to painting, my first love. These days I work primarily in ink and watercolour. I still juggle all three elements -- painting, stitching and herbalism. Deeply rooted in this ancient landscape of ours, my work draws heavily on folklore and mythology, and explores the deep connection, both physical and spiritual, between people and the land they inhabit. The spirit of this land has sunk deep into my heart, and as I wander its ancient tracks, I find myself endlessly fascinated by the shifting relationships between human, animal, plants and land. My paintings above all attempt to capture the elusive Genius Loci - Spirit of Place."

Danielle Barlow's art for The Witches' Wisdom Tarot

Craftsman of Air by Danielle Barlow

The Witches' Wisdom Tarot was published by Hay House last autumn. The artwork is copyright by Danielle Barlow, all rights reserved.

Still climbing

Elder-tree Mother by Arthur Rackham

I've been thinking a lot about ageing lately. Perhaps it's the winter coming on, or the fact that climbing up our hill takes more effort than it used to (for me and Tilly both). Or else it's just because I turn another year older on Friday.

Other woman have walked this way before; their art and their lives inspire me and pull me on. Patti Smith is one of those women. In her second memoir, M Train, she writes:

"I believe in movement. I believe in that lighthearted balloon, the world. I believe in midnight and the hour of noon. But what else do I believe in? Sometimes everything. Sometimes nothing. It fluctuates like light flitting over a pond. I believe in life, which one day each of us shall lose. When we are young we think we won’t, that we are different. As a child I thought I would never grow up, that I could will it so. And then I realized, quite recently, that I had crossed some line, unconsciously cloaked in the truth of my chronology. How did we get so damn old? I say to my joints, my iron-colored hair. Now I am older than my love, my departed friends. Perhaps I will live so long that the New York Public Library will be obliged to hand over the walking stick of Virginia Woolf. I would cherish it for her, and the stones in her pocket. But I would also keep on living, refusing to surrender my pen."

Blessings on Virginia, but I, too, prefer to keep on going, my pen firmly in hand. Life can be hard, but it's also sweet, enriched by art, friendship, community. Onward, Tilly, onward. Let's go see what's over the next rise....

Tilly at the top of our hill

The quote above is from M Train by Patti Smith (Knopf, 2015), all rights reserved by the author. The art above is "Elder-tree Mother" by Arthur Rackham (1867-1939).

Recommended Reading

Leisure by William Worcester Churchill

I haven't posted a list of Recommended Reading in a while, so here are a few of the things that caught my eye over the last couple of months:

"Misogyny in Fairy Tales" and "Old Women (and Some Old Men) in Fairy Tales," two of Katherine Langrish's best fairy tale essays yet (Seven Miles of Steel Thistles)

"Grimmer Than Most Fairy Tales: Five Retellings of Bluebeard " by Rachel Ayers (
For a history of the fairy tale, see my essay  "Bluebeard and the Bloody Chamber." For a fairy tale literature reading list, go here.

"John Crowley's Little, Big: A Fantasy Masterpiece Turns 40" by Jonathan Thornton (

"Neil Gaiman's Sandman taught me to be courageous in writing" by Susanna Clarke (The Guardian)

"Puck, Dreams and the Devil" by Rob Maslen (The City of Lost Books)

"Once, Twice, Thrice Upon a Time," three fairy-tale-inspired picture books/comics reviewed by Ben Hatke (The New York Times)

Lettura Patricotic Reading by Alcide Davide Campestrini

"On Mistaking Whales" by Bathsheba Demuth (Granta)

"Thirteen to One: New Stories for An Age of Disaster" by Marie Mutsuki Mockett (Emergence Magazine)

"The Stories I Haven't Been Told" by Jamie Figueroa (Emergence Magazine)

"Perth Poetry Festival Keynote Speech" by Annamaria Weldon (WA Poets Inc)

"Make It a Love Story" by Sophie Strand (FB post, 14 Sept)

"Atascosa Borderlands" by Jack Dash and Luke Swenson (Emergence Magazine)

"The Other House: Musings on the Diné Perspective of Time" by Jake Skeets (Emergence Magazine)

"Remember" (poem) by Joy Harjo (Emergence Magazine)

"Take Place" by Terry Tempest Williams, on the work of N. Scott Momaday (Paris Review)

"Hiraeth and Hwyl," a series of lovely essays curated by Pamela Petro (The Clearing)
...follow the link and read from the bottom post upward

"As the Seasons Progress: the Wood Engravings of Claire Leighton" by Angie Lewin (Caught by the River)

"On Stealing Time to Make Art in an Overcrowded Life" by Jackie Morris (LitHub)

"In Praise of the Meander" by Rebecca Solnit (LitHub)

Schoolgirls Reading by Nikolai Petrovitch and Josephina Reading by Antonio López

And some Recommended Listening:

"Happily Ever After: Escaping the Forests of Loneliness," with Jack Zipes, Paul Quinn, and Maria Tatar (Apostrophe

"Kinship: Belonging in the World," a conversation between Robin Wall Kimmerer, John Hausdoerffer, and Gavin Van Horn (Point Reyes Books). You can also read a transcript here (Orion Magazine).

"Kinship & Belonging in a World of Relations," a conversation between Gavin Van Horn and Rowan White (Cultivating Place)

"Connecting to the land through traditional tales" with storyteller Lisa Schneidau (

"From Spare Oom to War Drobe," Katherine Langerish discusses her new book about Narnia (All About Jack: A C.S. Lewis Podcast)

"The Infernal Riddle of Historical Fantasy," a terrific conversation between L.J. MacWhirter, James Treadwell, Fraser Dallachy, Rob Maslen (The Centre for Fantasy & the Fantastic) ...and in relation to the discussion of creating systems of magic when writing fantasy, I also recommend this 2012 post by N.K. Jemisin and the conversation in the comments below (recently brought back to my attention by Charlie Jane Anders). Also Lev Grossman's 2015 lecture at Tolkien's old college in Oxford: "Fear and Loathing in Aslan's Land."

"The Hare - Old Turpin, Fast Traveller," a folk music playlist of songs about the folklore of hares (Folk Radio UK) For more on hare magic: The Folklore of Rabbits & Hares and Following the Hare. For an audio drama based on Fay Hield's song "Hare Spell" go here.

A Student, Paris, by Ethel Pennewill Brown Leach

The art above is "Leisure" by William Worcester Churchill, "Lettura Patricotic Reading" by Alcide Davide Campestrini, "Schoolgirls Reading" by Nikolai Petrovitch, J"osephina Reading" by Antonio López, and "A Student, Paris," by Ethel Pennewill Brown Leach.

Tunes for a Monday Morning

Lady Playing a Lute by Bartolomeo Vento (1502–31)

On a cold and quiet morning here in Devon, let's start the week with the music of Renaissance composer, lutenist, and singer John Dowland.

Above: Dowland's "Now, O Now I Needs Must Part" (from The First Book Of Songs Or Ayres, 1597) performed by Les Canards Chantants (Sarah Holland, Robin Bier, Edd Ingham, Graham Bier). The group was founded in England in 2011, and is now based in Philadelphia. 

Below: Dowland's "Can She Excuse My Wrongs" (from The First Booke of Songes or Ayres, 1597) performed by Vivid Consort (Christine Gnigler, Sheng-Fang Chiu, Lorina Vallaster) with lutenist David Bergmüller. Vivid Consort is an Early Music trio based in Vienna.

Above: Dowland's "Lachrimae" (fromLachrimæ or seaven teares, 1604) performed by Christopher Morrongiello, a British lutenist and music scholar based in New York. The video was filmed in the Chapel from Le Château de la Bastie d’Urfé at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 

Below: Dowland's "Go Nightly Cares" (from A Pilgrimes Solace, 1612) performed by Amarylli (Hannah Grove, vocals, and Elizabeth Pallett, lute), a fine British duo specialising in the repertoire for lute and voice from the 16th and 17th centuries. 

Above:  a modern interpretation of Dowland's "Come Again" (from The First Book Of Songs Or Ayres, 1597) performed by singer Lena Kuchling and electric bassist Georg Buxhofer, both from Austria. The video was filmed at Schloss Pielach in Melk in 2020.

Below Dowland's "Tarleton's Jig" (written in memory of Richard Tarleton, a comic actor of the Elizabethan age) performed on baroque oboe, baroque violin and baroque harp by Spirit & Pleasure (Monika Nielen, Christoph Mayer, Johanna Seitz), from Germany.  

Illustration by Arthur Rackham

The art above is "Lady Playing a Lute" by Bartolomeo Vento (1502–31) and a book decoration by Arthur Rackham (1867-1939).