The value of possessions

One of the things I have pondered over recently, is the actual value of possessions. I am aware that some people live very minimalistic, almost foresaking ownership of everything. Even though this is way too extreme for me, I did notice two very important things:

  1. Products require material and energy to make – both of which are NOT endlessly supplied on Earth
  2. Products require energy to keep and use them

The Earth is in danger, and we all know it. We are using more and more resources and pollute the environment whilst transporting and using these resources. Even though we, as consumers, are only the final users of such products, we need to be aware of what these products do to the environment. And to ourselves! We currently have more toxins in our bodies than ever before, coming from plastic products we use, car emissions and the food we eat. Yes, I am painting this very black and white, but that just makes clear what this is all about đŸ˜‰ I could tell you much more about this, but I know people who can do that so much better than I.

Annie Leonard is the spokesperson for the Story of Stuff. This is a community and a movement that sees what is wrong with current consumerism and tries to make people aware. And of course take action, because that is the only way to change things.

In June, one of our local TV stations aired the documentary Bag It. In this documentary, Jef Barrier tries to discover what plastic does to us and eventually (yes, spoiler, but I think it’s predictable) decides to cut down on plastic use in his house. It’s just a bit over an hour long, so no excuse to skipping it!

My second point is also something I am discovering now that I am trying to go paperless (one baby step at the time). I already threw away some paper manuals because I downloaded the pdf version. And with throwing them out… came relief. Then I realized that when you own stuff, you get attached to it, you make room for it. Physically, in your house, taking up space. But also mentally, because you have to keep track of everything you own. I read about Green Evelien, a Dutch blogger living in Belgium who has experienced exactly the same. She tries to live a happy life, as ecologically as possible. After tackling both evergy and water consumption (they already eat vegan and biological), she is now tackling the stuff she has. Throwing away stuff that you barely use is actually a liberation, because it clears up space!

This is very hard for me, though. Yes, I do try to purge my clothes twice a year (though that might be getting less now that I know how to dress myself :)). But I keep amassing books… I love books đŸ˜€ Just the feeling of paper in your hands and the worlds to explore. I do own an e-reader that I am using increasingly, but I still have quite some books and keep buying more. But: that stops now. I will use my e-reader for classics and start buying and borrowing e-books more (as soon as it’s back from repair). And no, I will not throw out all my books. My favourites can remain đŸ™‚ That means I will only have books I am certain I will want to read again and again. The other books I currently own will go on my to-read shelf and once I’ve read them, I will decide whether I want to keep it or purge it. So I’ll probably end up donating many of my books and selling some of the prettier ones.

My basic rule about posessions: keep only those items that you regularly use and try to replace these with eco-friendly alternatives when you can. But hey, you might have a completely different take on this! I’m interested to hear đŸ™‚


Gods and Goddesses in modern fiction

And then I mean other than in stories about wicca or stories that take place in Roman times for example. I really mean modern stories. The past week I’ve spent reading Rick Riordan’s series Heroes of Olympos and the Kane Chronicles. If you are interested in mythology, I really recommend the books! Let me explain a bit more, just to tempt you…
In the Percy Jackson series and the Heroes of Olympos, we meet the children of the Greek gods. Yes, indeed, demigods, similar to Hercules, Jason and Perseus, the great heroes of the past. But didn’t I say modern stories? Well, yes. You see, the gods are powers of the earth, guiding what happens, and they are still here today. They reside where human society is strongest. Accordingly, they have moved from Olympos to America. And, seeing they never change, they continue to get children with mortals. Greek mythology really comes to life, with gods and monsters and supernatural beings still present in today’s world.
Of course, we know this. Gods are omnipresent, not only the Greek ones, interacting, helping and guiding us. This is not always how it happens in Heroes of Olympos. Gods are not all helpful and have agendas of their own. They often, however, need humans to help them.
This is where the Kane Chronicles are similar. Gods need humans, but this time mainly those descended from pharaohs. They are capable of magic, channelling the powers of nature and of the gods. I loved this, undoubtedly, as it comes so close to how I feel about magic! It is different in the book, of course, but it gave me so much inspiration for my own practice, even though I’m not Egypt oriented.
Conclusion: if you like Egyptian and Greek mythology, these volks by Riordan are must reads! I’m looking for more books, however, so if you have any suggestions on fiction where gods and goddesses play a (big) role, I’d like some recommendations!

December Book Tag

The Dutch blog ‘Zon en Maan’ (Sun and Moon) hosts a bookish themed advent calendar throughout December in which I participate. There are several giveaways, which is fun obviously, but there are also activities to be done, and this is the first one.

Now, I am not familiar with these so-called tags. Apparently, they’re just questions centered around a theme or assignments of some sort. This one is centered around the festivities in December, which are not only Yule or Christmas and New Years Eve, but also Saint Nicholas. For us in Holland, it is a month filled with anticipation, especially for those lucky people celebrating with presents both at Saint Nicholas and Christmas. Anyway, the December book tag consists of several questions, so let me answer them!

– What book(s) will you read during the Christmas break?
Well, let me see. There is a classic Dutch novel that was distributed in libraries during November, about a boy who steps into a painting into the insect world, which I still have to read. In order to complete the afficionada level I signed up for with the Pride and Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge, I still need to read at least one and preferably 2 books. I’m planning to reread the original Jane Austen novel and perhaps Death comes to Pemberly. It’s good I have enough time to spare, because I also won Teardrop through a Goodreads giveaway and that is also still on my to-read list.

– Which book do you hope to find under the Christmas tree?
Wow, there are so many books I would like to have! But one that I put on my wish list is Keri Smith’s Wreck this journal, which I’ve seen at a friends and which is both hilarious and creative.

– The best book to give as a present at Christmas?
That depends on the person it is intended for, obviously. But since I read it not too long ago and believe everyone should, I’d say PS I love you by Cecelia Ahern. Sad at the beginning, but really a story about life and continuing life. Just what you’d want with Christmas!

– The best book-made-into-film to watch during Christmas? 
Now that’s an easy question. It is a family tradition to watch A Christmas Carol, several times actually, leading up to Christmas. There are dozens of films based on this book, but I know it’s not the Muppet version, nor the Disney version. It’s actually a musical version with Albert Finney as Scrooge (which is the title of the movie). I just love the feeling of Christmas both the story and the songs (which, after years of seeing it, I know by heart).

– Which author would you like to join at Christmas dinner?
That would have to be either J.K. Rowling or Raymond E. Feist. They have both created magical worlds that I love, and I would like to know more about it and about how they came up with it (or how it came to them, how should I know how a writer’s mind works).

– Which book can bring you into the holiday spirit best?
All books that are about Christmas and are somewhat positive can get me in a festive mood. A Christmas Carol definitely, but the description of Christmas in Harry Potter also gives me a warm feeling.

– If you were to give one book to all the people in the world, which one would it be?
Is there one book that would inspire everyone, that would unite peoples and make wars something of the past? No, probably not, because people are so different. But what I loved to read was a book unfortunately not available in any language other than Dutch: Children of Mother Earth (Kinderen van Moeder Aarde) by Thea Beckman. It takes place a couple of centuries after WW3, and depicts a land where the Earth is revered and people work together on everything. Until, of course, a group of people remembering the legacy of warfare discovers this land. In my opinion, it shows a utopia that might be one day, which is why it would be my gift for the world.

– And finally: a wish for the readers of your blog  

I hope you all find a way to deal with whatever might be going on in your life, living it to the full, and accomplishing what you set out for!

Mr Darcy’s Diary (P&P challenge #6)

Pamela Aidan is not the only author intrigued with what Mr Darcy actually does and feels during the events described in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. She has written a great series on ‘Fitzwilliam Darcy, gentleman’, which I have reviewed earlier in the course of the Bicentenary Challenge. Amanda Grange has attempted the same in ‘Mr Darcy’s diary‘, using a very different format.

Diaries usually reveal a person’s innermost feelings (which is probably why others are usually not allowed to read them). It is a format of writing that thus allows for much depth, more about emotion and interpretation than about factual accounts of a story. In my opinion, this is precisely what Grange has not managed to do. Yes, the diary also relates to periods that are not described in the original novel, but that is fairly limited. Naturally, her story follows the line of Pride and Prejudice, using literal excerpts from the novel, but it remains mainly a factual account. You would expect to get to know Darcy better, crawl into his head and heart and learn what he thinks and feels about the events that take place. Sadly, the character of Darcy remains quite flat đŸ˜¦

Perhaps I was biased because I read Aidan’s series first. Scanning Goodreads reviews, I found many people comparing the two authors and finding Grange’s version lacking, while those who haven’t read the trilogy yet are fairly positive. I can only join the critics in this case, even though the two books have a very different format. Where Pamela Aidan has succeeded in giving insight into Darcy’s life apart from his time at Netherfield, his feelings and thoughts, Amanda Grange has not or only fairly limited. Does that mean I disliked reading it? No, but had I read it first, I would have enjoyed it better. On the other hand, like one of the reviewers on Goodreads also said, it is a very different format, and perhaps was written with different intentions. It is not a stand alone book, but has to accompany the original novel. Perhaps that is the best conclusion.

What happened after the wedding? (P&P challenge #5)

Yes, it has been a while ago! Perhaps I need to find another incentive to blog daily or every other day, like I had when participating in the blogalong. But, today I want to report on another challenge that I’m participating in, namely the Pride and Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge. Remember? 2013 marks the 200 year anniversary of Pride and Prejudice, one of Jane Austen‘s most beloved novels (in my opinion, then). Laurel Ann from Austenprose hosts this challenge, and I have committed to the Afficionada level, meaning to read, listen to or watch 9 to 12 Pride and Prejudice related books, series or movies. So far, I’ve done 8 (counting the trilogy by Pamela Aidan as 1), but I have not posted a blog about some of them yet (shame on me). I have reviewed them on Goodreads, though, so it will be a somewhat easy transfer.

We all know that Darcy and Elizabeth are getting married. And, so we like to believe, they live happily ever after, as do Jane and Bingley of course. But Linda Berdoll, with her book ‘Mr Darcy takes a wife’, paints quite a different picture. She vividly paints the circumstances and practices of the time, using a writing style reminiscent of Austen. Content-wise… not so much. Where the original Pride and Prejudice focuses on restrictions and limited physical contact, this novel appears to turn that around. Meet Mr Darcy as an old-fashioned Christian Grey. Admittedly, at times that was enjoyable (hey, what did you expect, Darcy can melt anyone… especially like that :P), but it became a bit vulgar as it continued.

For both the Bennet sisters, it isn’t all marital bliss. Babies and pregnancy can bring all sorts of problems, let alone what advice from their beloved mother or loose sister could do to a happily married couple. Most characters are given quite some depth in the novel, though in a much more explicit way than in the original story. Georgiana gave me quite a surprise, as I believed her to be a shy girl (which indeed she is at the beginning). But I won’t spoil too much for those of you who long to read it yourself. My verdict: certainly entertaining, but I probably won’t read it again.

This week, expect my reviews of Mr Darcy’s Diary and Bridget Jones’s Diary, both journals, but completely different. And what else I might read I still don’t know, I have a plethora of novels on my e-reader in various genres đŸ™‚

How ‘Sweep’ changed my life

When I turned 11, I was extremely disappointed when I didn’t get a letter from Hogwarts. Many of you have probably had the same đŸ˜‰ I grew up with Harry Potter, and believed fervently in the magical world existing next to ours. Magic just had to be real. Waving my self-made wand, I tried to levitate objects, I tried brewing potions and tried to spot magical creatures. But when it turned out I was really a Muggle, I gave up on getting into this world.

Still, magic just had to be real! ‘So you want to be a wizard‘ allowed my dreaming to start again. In the same way Nita had found a book with instructions on how to use magic, I hoped my reading book would change overnight to an instruction book on magic. Wizards protect Life itself, listening to nature and using both natural and man-made objects in their magic. Seemed like the best and worthiest occupation, protecting Life, which is why the Wizard’s Oath is so serious and solemn. Only after speaking it out and keeping to it can one really be a wizard. So, naturally, I tried to speak out the wizard’s vow, hoping that would do it… With no avail.

That’s when I discovered ‘Sweep‘. A more realistic story about magic nowadays, in a religious system honouring both a God and a Goddess. It deals with attuning to nature, self-discovery and good vs evil. After reading the first novel, a whole new world opened up. Magic is real, witches actually do exist! Immediately I ran to the library, finding every book on Wicca and witchcraft they had. In grammar school and pre-university college, I learned mythological stories from polytheistic religions. I searched the internet (and realized most of the book was very much fiction, but that’s perfectly OK). I found so incredibly much!

Though I do hold on to certain elements of Wicca, it is not my path. But reading about it in ‘Sweep’ opened up so much and really changed my spiritual life. I am learning to attune to nature by celebrating sabbats and growing plants. I’ve renewed my interest in folklore and mythology from around the world, which is a journey that will never end. Properties, both healing and magical, of plants, gems, stones, colours and what not. Divination, dreaming, self-exploration. And of course, what I was searching for so long: magic. The simple magic of making intentions, focusing attention and working on it. Less spectacular than Harry Potter, perhaps, but at the same time so much more spectacular because all you need is yourself. Yes, the road I follow since reading ‘Sweep’ really has transformed me.

“Song of the earth” book review

Het lied van de aardeSong of the Earth (Het lied van de aarde) by Flemish writer Anne-Marie T’sas (unfortunately only available in Dutch) tells the story of a young theologist, Myra, going to a symposium about christianity and holistic spirituality, but finding nobody when she arrives at the castle the symposium is supposedly held. Curious, she enters the building on her own and finds that, somehow, she does learn about experiencing energies and how she might relate that to the christian religion.

I found the writing style not quite to my taste, it was a bit to much turned inward and.. vague. Normally I enjoy magical realism, but the style did’t quite allow that. But the subjects, wow! I can imagine Myra struggling to combine them with her western spirituality. The existence of chakras and auras, working with the energy for holistic healing and divination, the power of the earth and of rocks as energetic things (for a loss of a better word), even energetic beings. Realizing that even our thoughts and feelings carry energy and can transform the world. It resonated greatly with me. I believe everything is energy, including simple mass. The gods and goddesses are manifestations of specific energies, with which they are often associated (Freya as a goddess of love, for example, and Mars of war). God, the christian God, that is, is associated with unconditional love here. When we practice magic, it works because our intentions and emotions are energy, they carry power. This is also why you might get a different result than what you anticipated if you perform magic angry.

It really is a pity the book is only available in Dutch. With the things Myra goes through, you can nearly imagine it to be an initiation, a shamanic way of learning by experience as I’ve also come across in some books about druidry and shamans. Some things I might adapt to use myself… For one thing, I’ve enrolled myself for the crash chakra e-course from, to start learning more about this from of energy. I’m looking forward to it!

Jean M. Auel – Earth’s Children series

Did you have those books your mom or dad used to read, and you’d love to read them too but weren’t allowed to? With the Earth’s Children series, my mother used to tell me “you can read them when you’re eighteen”. I’m twenty-two now, so I took the Clan of the Cave Bear, got comfy in a corner of the couch and finally started reading a series I’ve wanted to read since I was twelve.

Cover of "The Clan of the Cave Bear"

Cover of The Clan of the Cave Bear

The enjoyment my mother had reading the books was always very obvious, and reviews of the first installment of the series were very positive. After reading it, I understand why. It’s so easy to feel for Ayla, who is close to modern humans, but lives with a Neanderthal Clan. Not that she minds! She doesn’t know any better, and enjoys her time with the Clan, but wants to do things the traditions of the Clan do not allow. Jean M. Auel, the author, is brilliant in the way she describes the way of the Clan, including the spiritual tradition. She has done quite extensive research on Neanderthals in Europe, and it shows. Naturally, the novel is romanticized and a figment of fantasy, but there are many things that seem to be possible. The different build of the Neanderthal race is obvious, but Auel has searched for possible reasons for the different body. We are a people who look ahead, who can imagine new tools and ways and act on that, but the Neanderthals, so Auel fantasizes, were a people to look back. They have the power of remembrance, up to the very beginning of the species and to the knowledge of all the ancestors. This is the reason their head is so oddly shaped: they have developed a different part of their brain! Unfortunately, they are not able to speak with words, but they have developed a gestural language that is as eloquent as spoken language. Very well thought of, indeed. Another ‘scientific’ find in the books is the occurrence of children with mixed spirits. At the time Auel wrote this, is was though impossible, but more recently, scientists have found skeletons with a structure that suggests she might have been right!

Curiously enough, the hierarchy in the Clan is somewhat similar to ours in the past: men provide food, women care for children and the house (though the Clan don’t really have houses). They have different roles, and women have to obey the men, but that’s how it has always been. Men make contact with the spirit world, a world of animal totems or, even older, a world of elements. When I first read it, I had to think of indians and animal spirits that guide them. The ‘new’ people have a very different belief system and a very different social structure. Men and women are equal for one, and both can access the spirit world, though they don’t like it. They believe in a mother Goddess, Mother Earth, and all life that sprang from her womb. This belief is similar to what some modern day pagans hold to, and the mother statues are used more often again. It must feel very soothing to have a great Mother looking out for you, protecting you. I can definitely relate to that.

As for the story itself, it is basically a tale to show the way of life during the Ice Age. As Jondalar (the man Ayla loves desperately) and she travel to Jondalar’s home land, we come across several different people with different traditions. To me, it feels as though we are travelling through time, especially as Jondalar and Ayla make amazing discoveries and inventions. It feels as though Auel accounts of several hundreds of years of human evolution in just a few years. The romance and the way Ayla (and we with her) learns new things does keep me captivated for the full 6 books of the series (approximately 600 pages each).

Are there reasons not to read the book? As a pagan, I think you should read it, no matter what, at least the first book. The amount of pages might frighten you, and even more now I tell you that the story could be told in way less pages. There is a LOT of repetition in the series. And a lot of repetition of ‘Pleasures’ as well, to honour the Mother. Yes, ‘Pleasures’ are exactly what you think they are, it’s like reading Fifty Shades of Grey at times, but without the Dom-Sub thing. So there are reasons not to read the book, but waaaaaay more to do.

Have you ever read the books? What did you think?

The other way around (P&P challenge #4)

Chances are you’ve had to read literature in your mother-tongue and perhaps in a second and/or third language (Dutch and English in my case). Perhaps you recall not liking the books, because they were forced on you. Lucky for me, most of the times I liked the books I had to read or chose to put on my reading list. Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen) was one of my favourites and it still is. I reread it at least once every year. As 2013 marks the 200th anniversary of the novel, I have entered the Pride and Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge hosted by Austenprose. My goal is to read or watch 12 P&P inspired books and movies. So far I’ve seen the 2005 movie with Keira Knightley, the BBC series with Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth (with the famous wet shirt scene) and the spin-off Lost in Austen, which was incredibly funny. I’ve also followed Lizzie Bennet, the protagonist of the story, in her YouTube vlog ‘The Lizzie Bennet Diaries‘. Yes, Lizzie Bennet knows how to use the computer and social media!

But, finally, I’ve also read some books! A trilogy, to be precise, by Pamela Aidan. Going by the name ‘Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman‘, the trilogy gives unbiased view on Mr Darcy, quite unlike Elizabeth Bennet gives us. We get an insight into his character and his reasoning, and we even get to know what Darcy is doing when he is away from Netherfield (remember, he convinced his best friend Bingley to stop his courting of Lizzie’s sister Jane). Many things we never would have given much thought. But then, we only know the story written from Lizzie’s point of view…

Pamela Aidan has done an amazing job in telling the story the other way around. Darcy sees an intelligent young woman with a pair of fine, sparkling eyes and the wit and courage to oppose him. He is attracted to her, and the playfulness she displays indicated she might feel something similar. After all, he is a very eligible bachelor with his 10,000 per annum, and he’s at an age he really should be looking to settle. Prejudice all over again, because we know what Elizabeth thinks. Darcy is the most disagreeable man ever to live, is proud and conceited, and most importantly, he has destroyed the happiness of Jane by talking Bingley into leaving her. No wonder she rejected him when he asked her to marry, perceiving him so, but Darcy was caught by surprise. We accompany Darcy as he tries to regain his composure (I don’t want to give away too much about this, as it is not told in the original novel… Get the books and read it for yourself) and comes to terms with his rejection. He begins to recognize how his pride has hindered him and reflects on what he has done to truly deserve the answers Elizabeth has given him. His sister Georgiana, whom we read little about in Pride and Prejudice, also plays a role in Darcy’s change from proud to likable. We all know how it ends. Darcy has developed, his character has changed and he tries to make amends. With success, lucky for us, faithful readers. I’m happy every time when they finally do get together đŸ˜€

An assembly such as thisApart from narrating the well known story from a completely different point of view, the author has succeeded in keeping the trilogy close to the original novel in style and character. The political ideas of the time are apparent in the trilogy, more than in Pride and Prejudice, and the intercourse between people is consequently quite formal. Darcy’s pride and prejudice play a major role (which we already knew), and the way he realizes he has (had) these flaws and tries to deal with this is the strongest part of the series. I rated the books either 3 or 4 stars out of five, because, unfortunately, the books did get boring at times. Nevertheless, if you enjoyed Pride and Prejudice as I have, be sure to read the story the other way around and get ‘An assembly such as this’ to start with!