Review of “Witch” by Lisa Lister #wakethewitches

 

“I didn’t decide to become a witch. I remembered I was one.”

Witch, Lisa Lister

I’ve been following Lisa’s work for a while now. Her first two books, Code Red and Love Your Lady Landscape are really good reads and I’ve recommended them a number of times to people feeling out of tune with their bodies and menstrual cycles. So I was keen to read Witch.

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The fact that Hay House had picked up the book (and they sought Lisa out) piqued my interest even more. This was kicking things up a notch or ten.  In Lisa’s earlier books she definitely had an embodied, kind of magical/ holistic take on things, but this is the first book where she’s properly come out of the broom closet and declared herself Witch.

“The witch represents the part of each of us that has been censored, ignored, punished and demonised. And it’s a part that wants – no, needs – to be accessed and fully expressed.”

Witch, Lisa Lister

What’s in the Book?

Witch is divided into 13 (of course) chapters.

The first seven cover history, herstory, different witchcraft practices, plus some autobiographical stuff, but the main thrust of this first part of the book is making the case for women (and I’ll get onto how woman is defined by the author later) to remember who they are and take back their power. Lisa wants to #wakethewitches.

The second half of the book goes through the five main goddess archetypes, as Lisa sees them, alongside a kind of witchy 101 of information about practices, spells and correspondences. The final chapter is a rousing call to brooms – The Witch Has Woken!

Overall this structure works, but it does feel like the chapter titles came first and then some of the content was shoe-horned in afterwards.

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The book has sold a LOT of copies, it’s been consistently top of the Amazon charts in pagan/ wicca/ spirituality etc since it’s release) people are buying it in numbers. But if you read the reviews it does seem to be dividing opinion, and I think that’s because it is intended for a very specific audience – and if that’s not you, then you probably won’t like it.

So, who is this book for?

The ideal reader of this book is a natal female, still in her bleeding years, who has an interest in witchcraft, but not a great deal of knowledge or experience. Even better if she’s at a place in her life where she’s had enough of patriarchal bullshit and is ready to step fully into her power and start taking steps to fully realise her life as she wants to live it. If this is you, you will likely LOVE this book.

Who is it not for?

*If you are following a specific pagan or witch path then you probably won’t jive with the pick and mix approach taken here. It’s more suited to an eclectic, and solitary, style of practice.

*If you’re easily offended by crass language and swearing (why are you reading books on witchcraft?) you’ll probably struggle to see past the language used here.

*If you are a woman who does not have usual female biology and/or monthly bleeds (or if those years are behind you now) then you may not enjoy some of the ideas and language in this book as it is very much an embodied practice Lisa describes here. This has led the book to be criticised for it’s narrow definition of woman – and I’ve seen Lisa being called a TERF (trans exclusionary radical feminist) by some. I’m not totally sure how I feel about this. As an intersectional feminist I do feel very strongly that all marginalised groups need recognition and support to eradicate discrimination. But does that automatically mean that every writer need to address every person’s experience in their work? Some will say, yes of course, but I don’t think so (or even believe that it is possible to do this). I am aware that could lead to me also being “called-out” as a TERF, so be it. In Witch, Lisa is addressing a history and a present which keeps women in a position lesser than men, and she’s calling time’s up on that. I feel that is a positive message.

Summary

Overall the book is a quick and interesting read, which some have found to be incredibly inspiring and powerful, but is not for everyone.

If you connect with the ideal reader definition above you’ll likely get a lot out of it, and even if you’ve been a practising witch for a long time you may still connect with the message and some of the practices shared here. I enjoyed it, and I’ve been walking a witchy path for almost three decades now.

There were a few things that niggled me in the book (some of which I wonder may have been due to a little but of push/ pull between Lisa and Hay House) that I won’t go into here. But I’ve also made a video review of the book where I talk about this in more detail.

Have you read Witch? Let me know in the comments. 

 

 

Is Zootropolis (or Zootopia if you’re in the US) a feminist movie?

So, last week I took my two year-old and six year-old to see Zootropolis – or Zootopia if you’re in the US.

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We had watched the movie trailer and the film looked good. (Ok, so if you’re on the ball you’ll have spotted that the film is no longer in cinemas so I’m a little behind the times – I started this post in April and then didn’t finish it, because, you know, I write books and, as I already mentioned I have two kids, I’m busy, hope you’ll stick with me, better late than never).

 

ODEON says…
In the city of ‘Zootropolis’, all animals live together peacefully – predator and prey. In this world where humans never existed, the first rabbit police officer must prove her worth.

New to the city and to the job, Judy Hopps is as bouncy and enthusiastic as you’d expect. But her colleagues don’t take her seriously, and she’s assigned to parking duty. When Nick, a fast-talking fox, is framed for a crime he didn’t commit, he and Judy go on the run to uncover a conspiracy.

The film has grossed $697 million as of March 27, 2015, placing it as the third highest-grossing film by Walt Disney Animation Studios. Wow! And I’d read a lot of articles cheering it on for its portrayal of diversity and the issues with modern western society in a format which makes it accessible to talk about with young children. Made by the same people who did Big Hero 6 and Wreck it Ralph. I’ll be honest, I was expecting great things.

SPOILER ALERT: In order to discuss whether, or not, Zootropolis is a feminist movie I have had to give away certain aspects of the plot. Please only read on unless you don’t mind knowing in advance about what happens. Cheers.

At first it seems straightforward. The main character, rabbit Judy Hopps, wants to be a police officer. Various other characters, including her mum and dad (also rabbits, is that stating the obvious? Perhaps not, in the context of this weird anthropomorphic mash-up) try to dissuade her but she’s determined, so she beats the odds, graduates from the rigorous training academy and gets her post in the Zootropolis Police Department (ZPD). So far so cliché.

But when you delve into why Judy can’t be a police officer things get complicated.

imagesThe only answer given explicitly is because she’s a rabbit (or dumb bunny, a phrase which appears throughout the film) and they have never been police officers before. Apparently it is her species, her size and strength, which is the issue. Her gender is not mentioned. And yet, she’s a female rabbit, surely that’s no accident?

Apparently Judy wasn’t the original star of the show.

The initial pitch revolved around Nick Wilde, the fox character, but the writers needed someone who wasn’t disillusioned with “Zootopia” so they could show up the problems with the system, so Judy’s character was born and people loved her. BuzzFeed bill her as “the hero your daughter has been waiting for“. And this happy addition was welcomed as a way to break old tropes:

“Audience expectations point towards female characters needing a love interest, and that is not the case,” the movie’s co-writer Phil Johnston told BuzzFeed News in a phone interview. “The more sophisticated we get as storytellers and stray from that old formula that is so tired, the more exciting films are going to get and the more interesting female characters we’ll see in movies.”

Except that, by the end Judy fully admits to being just a “dumb bunny” who needs male help, and finds her love interest in the original lead, Nick Wilde the fox. Hmmm.

Judy’s story is one we know well. The way to “make it” if you’re female (and it suggests inevitably prey) is to be better – much better – than your male counterparts and then pay your dues to the system until you finally get some reward and recognition. It’s exhausting and only the outliers will make it. Judy Hopps is an outlier. A female prey in a system which favour males. She makes it but the system remains unchanged.

Contrast this with Assistant Mayor Bellwether’s story arc.

The mayor, a lion, is obviously condescending to Bellwether. She’s there to make the stats look good (they want to encourage more prey animals into positions of power, sound familiar?) and he treats her “like a glorified secretary”. She has no power, no agency. It’s a sham. Yet, seemingly mild and timid, Bellwether is revealed in the climax of the film to be the villain. You almost don’t see it coming. Who would suspect, a female, a prey animal – a freaking sheep! In the fashion of best endings it’s both surprising and inevitable that she is the villain behind it all. Here is someone so disillusioned by the system that she is prepared to risk people’s lives to bring it down. Ok, this is not good human (or anthropomorphized sheep) behaviour and yet this is the only action in the film which actually challenges the broken system.

images-2By the end of the film Bellwether is incarcerated and, flanked by male guards, forced to watch Gazelle singing the film’s theme song “Try Everything”. Obviously try everything only refers to accepted actions within the patriarchal set-up, not actually anything which might question the system itself. (Contrast this with the male Lion Mayor who was discredited at first when it turned out he had done some dodgy stuff but is reinstated by the end as he did “the wrong things for the right reasons”. Can’t get much more conclusive and damning than that.)

The saddest thing of all is I think the writers may well have thought they were writing a truly empowering story here. There are many references to prejudice and it does open the door to having conversations about how “the system” operates. This seems to have been the conscious aim of the movie:

‘Zootropolis’ imagines a world where animals took over in our absence. Turns out it’s not so different after all!

And this is exactly the problem. It’s not different.

The female chapters are still treated as less than, than males. The waters are muddied with the whole predator/ prey binary that is set up, but when we dig a bit deeper it’s clear that this film might well be about reflecting the problems apparent in our western society but it certainly isn’t challenging these issues, rather it reinforces the status quo. Judy and Nick are great characters, and there are many clever and thought-provoking ideas about how we make judgements based on preconceptions. But the resolution of the film shows that real change, whether from a gender or racial equality perspective, is still considered impossible. And underlying it all is the uncomfortable theme that in order for society to function our true natures must be in some respect dampened and hidden.

This article makes a good point, that the folks at Disney have bitten off way too much metaphor than they can chew here. But whatever you think is being challenged here (and lots of critics and bloggers alike have praised this movie for challenging prejudices) the fact remains that by the end there is no change. Status quo is preserved. Whether you’re female, or black, you’re still in the same position of non power with no hope of movement. In that way it is one of the most frightening of the Disney movies I’ve watched. At least with the others the sexism, racism and prejudice are right out there for everyone to see. This movie is all undercover. Terrifying.

And I’m sure some people will say it’s “just” a kids movie, don’t get your knickers in a twist, why does it matter anyway?

It matters because the stories we share are important. It’s the way we understand ourselves and the world.

Stories like this one which reinforce the stars quo while seemingly challenging it are the most dangerous in my opinion. They both offer hope and snuff out possibility in an hour or so of very well done animation.

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What do you think?

Still not sure and want more? Here’s a round-up of some of the blogs I found on Zooptopia and feminism…

This blog sees it as a critique on white feminists not being intersectional enough “So, yes. This is a movie about white feminism and the need for intersectionality. I mean, yes, it’s also a movie about racism, but it’s a movie about how even the most well-intentioned people who believe they’re overcoming the greatest obstacles of discrimination in their world can completely miss how their privilege gives them a leg up.”

This is what Mode came up with for a Zootropolis feminist search http://www.mode.com/stories/is-zootopia-the-best-feminist-animated-film-ever/12455932

Or if you want the mens rights perspective (you might enjoy this if you didn’t like mine, though essentially we agree that the film isn’t feminist – the MRA like it) https://www.reddit.com/r/MensRights/comments/49ghdg/why_zootopia_might_just_be_the_opposite_of_sjw/

And last, and probably least, a weird MRM (mens rights movement) fan fiction story on Judy forgiving Bellwether when she visits her in prison (warning, this contains a dodgy furry sex scene, I only found out furries was a thing today, sheltered life I know) https://www.fanfiction.net/s/11864721/1/Zootopia-Breaking-Bellwether 

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What can a live rock concert teach us about storytelling? Pearl Jam Let’s Play Two: Live at Wrigley Field

Last night I went to the cinema to see Pearl Jam “Let’s Play Two: Live at Wrigley Field“. I went in expecting to see a live Pearl Jam concert. I came out with so much more.

The film weaves together the stories of the baseball team Chicago Cubs, Pearl Jam as a band, the personal story of lead singer Eddie Vedder’s relationship with the Cubs, and individual stories of both Cubs fans and Pearl Jam fans. The way it is knitted together is intricate, using old and new footage of Cubs games, plus Eddie Vedder and the band in the 90s, juxtaposed with the live concerts that took place in 2016. The director, Danny Clinch, and the team who worked on this totally nailed the story arc.

Chicago Cubs 2016 World Series

Photo via Time.com

I did not know (or care) anything about the Chicago Cubs before I saw this film, but, as with all great storytelling, it makes you care. It shows the Cubs progress from a club that has not won anything for over a century, through the qualifying stages (not sure what they call it) and into the world series. And, despite the apparent complexity, it follows a classic five act structure:

  • The opening sets us up with the history of the club and Eddie’s personal relationship with it. He used to go to the games as a child. (Act 1)
  • The club make some bold changes and start winning games more than they have for a (very) long time in its history. (Act 2)
  • The stakes are high and things get tough but the Cubs manage to get into the World Series. (It made me laugh that it’s called the World Series, there are no non US teams). (Act 3)
  • The first games of the Word Series go badly and the Cubs find themselves 3:1 down (I’m not sure what this means in baseball terms but it’s bad, and pretty much no teams come back from it). Things look bleak. All is resting on the next game. They need to win or go home. (Act 4)
  • They win (of course) and go on to win the next games and the World Series for the first time in over a hundred years. (Act 5)

Each act is enhanced by the skilful additions of the history of the band, showing some of their early gigs in Chicago, and adding in personal and moving stories of their fans relationship with the band. And of course, the soundtrack is killer.

The theme of this movie is very much about what it means to be, and have, fans; to belong to something bigger than ourselves. It explores what it means to be devoted.

The Cubs fans are not denigrated in the way sports fans very often are, but explained and uplifted. Clinch is also careful to point out that the people in the band are also very much fans themselves. It shows this most explicitly through Eddie Vedder’s obvious devotion to his home town team, but also through Jeff Ament’s more private honouring of those bass players who came before and inspired him. He has their names inscribed along the neck of his guitar.

The connection between fans and spiritual devotion is obvious in the movie, and must be deliberate. The band’s relationship with their fans is depicted as that of priest with congregation (repeated imagery of Eddie Vedder, arms outstretched, is intense and powerful). My husband (who doesn’t always notice these things) commented as we left, that Vedder is a very spiritual man.

image via The San Diego Union Tribune

Throughout, the music is emotional and spiritual. The band are clearly performing a service. Guitarist Mike McCready is moved to tears on stage, and the ground, Wrigley Field, is referred to as “sacred”. A space where people come together, week after week, their hearts full of hope even though they know the odds are not in their favour. And honestly, it really did feel that powerfully spiritual, both during the footage of the shows and of the baseball games. It made me want to go there. To pilgrimage myself. It made me want to act – in the way that all good storytelling does. It changes you. It changes how you see the world, it changes your relationship with the world.

If you haven’t seen it yet I’d totally recommend it. Even if you aren’t fan of the band or of baseball (and there are those who argue that the Cubs victory was not as against the odds and well-deserved as it seemed here) but that does not detract from this lesson in bringing together characters, setting and plot. If you’re a fan of great storytelling you will love it.

[Review] Tiddler & Other Terrific Tales

We had the pleasure of seeing Tiddler & Other Terrific Tales by Scamp Theatre this week.

Scamp Theatre’s TIDDLER & OTHER TERRIFIC TALES from Scamp Theatre on Vimeo.

The smalls enjoyed it. I REALLY enjoyed it. It looked good from the blurb…

Based on the books by Julia Donaldson & Axel Scheffler

Under the sea, out on the farm and into the jungle, these terrific tales are woven together with live music, puppetry and a whole host of colourful characters from their best-loved titles: Tiddler, Monkey Puzzle, The Smartest Giant in Town and A Squash and a Squeeze. Funky moves, toe tapping tunes and giggles are guaranteed!
Is Tiddler telling the truth?
Will Monkey find his Mummy?
Will George The Giant make lots of friends?
Can the old lady really squash and squeeze all those animals in?
The perfect treat for kids 3+ and their families and friends!
This delightful production is brought to you by the award-winning Scamp Theatre (Stick Man – Live on Stage! Private Peaceful, Friend or Foe) and adapted from the bestselling books by Children’s Laureate, Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Axel Scheffler (creators of The Gruffalo).
Delightfully directed by Sally Cookson, dazzling design by Katie Sykes, funky tunes by Benji Bower and lush lighting by Elanor Higgins!
‘I love how Scamp scamper through my stories, transporting them from page to stage so faithfully and innovatively.’ Julia Donaldson, author and Children’s Laureate

* * * * ‘Mesmerising’ FEST
* * * * ‘Julia Donaldson and Axel Sheffler’s tales are lovingly brought to life. A perfect children’s show’ The British Theatre Guide
* * * * ‘Immerses children and parents into a world of wonder – a real treat!’ Broadway Baby
* * * * Whatsonstage.com
**** ‘Award winning Scamp Theatre certainly live up to their name’ The Good Review

Of course, we already knew the stories were good. We are all massive Julia Donaldson fans in this house (I may have read What the Ladybird Heard over 1000 times). I was lucky enough to meet her and hear her speak a few years ago. She’s so grounded and generous with her thoughts and time. She is never patronising in the way some authors who “write for children” are, and I feel that is why her stories are enjoyed by all ages. A good story is a good story. Period.

 What I wasn’t expecting was the brilliant way Scamp Theatre took these stories and added some extra magic of their own. The set was outstanding. Minimal, with just ladders, baskets and a folding plank plus a few baskets and bits and bobs (looked like my boot after a trip to Ikea). Every piece was used to its utmost in a really clever way. The (only) three performers were full on and engaging, taking various different roles as we visited each story, weaving each into the next seamlessly.

Now every time we read A Squash and a Squeeze we have to do it with a hillbilly accent, plus singing. And Tiddler, the story at the centre, always captures my heart. “It’s only a story, just a silly story…” Yet that silly story saved Tiddler.

We know how powerful stories are.

[Review] Home Births: Stories to inspire and inform

This is my review of Home Births: Stories to inspire and inform.

I should come clean right now and confess I love reading birth stories whether home, hospital, water, twins, triplets, VBAC, HBA3C – you get the picture – so I was perhaps pre-disposed to like this book before I had read it. You have been warned, though I will try to be objective.

Home Births: Stories to inspire and inform

Home Births: Stories to inspire and inform, is a collection of birth stories with the common thread that all the births were planned to take place at home. (I say planned because, perhaps to reflect real-life, a small number of the births do end up taking place in hospital). What is different about this book is that the stories are told in the mothers’ (and also some of the fathers’) own words.
The idea for the book came when the editor, Abigail Cairns, a midwife and mother with an interest in natural active birth, was planning the birth of her own baby. She looked for books which included personal home-birth stories but couldn’t find any so decided to compile her own. Her appeal for stories drew a surprisingly strong response from within the UK and beyond and so Home Births was born (sorry, couldn’t resist).

I think the book is fairly unique in this respect, being a collection of personal stories, though there are many blogs which feature birth stories in the mother’s own words – I know because I follow most of them. The subtitle “stories to inspire and inform” hints at the underlying aim of this book, which is quite openly to encourage more people to consider birthing at home, though the book is very positive about birth in all its forms and locations.

The blurb on the back calls it “A moving collection of real life stories celebrating the joy and wonder of birth at home. This collection of first-hand recollections by mothers and their partners gives an insight into the modern experience of home birth, from the first decision to the final push.” I think this storytelling from the birthing woman’s perspective is both the book’s strength and weakness. The nature of a collection of stories written by different authors, whatever their subject, is that the style and quality of the writing will vary. My personal favourites are the more blunt and bare accounts which drop in moments of detail, like Rachel’s stories. The inclusion of some of the Dad’s perspectives on the births gives an extra dimension which I enjoyed. There is also a strange trail weaving through the book; I realised about 2/3 of the way through that I was reading the birth story of a mother who was one of the babies in a previous story! I then went back through to look for more links, and I think I found some. I also liked that many of the accounts included the births of all of their children, not just those born at home. There are also some lovely pictures but this is not a book for those of you who love birth photography as they are all rather small and black-and-white. Home Births also includes a useful links and further reading section at the back which is a great resource for anyone planning a home-birth.

I enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone planning or thinking about having a home-birth and it would also be a good one to have on the shelf ready to loan out for anyone who works with women in their mother-phase, such as doulas or midwives. It was nice to have the dad’s stories too as this is something which is very hard to find (even with the aid of Google) though getting easier in recent years.

This book does not glorify home-birth but offers a real-life perspective on how normal, miraculous and family-friendly birthing at home can be: “Two hours after the birth we were left alone at home: the three of us, a bottle of bubbly and the cat.” Lovely!