When modern readers think of pagan stories or poetry, they tend to first think of the writers and works of antiquity — Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, Virgil’s Aeneid, Beowulf, the Poetic Eddas, the Táin Bó Cúailnge and Cath Maighe Tuireadh of Ireland. Pressed for more recent writers or titles, some might recall Gerald Gardner’s novel High Magic’s Aid, or The Twelve Maidens, by Stewart Farrar. Modern paganism has been gifted with an abundance of writers, but for the most part, the works they create are non-fiction books meant to educate, spread awareness, and introduce new spells, tools, and paths.
Thankfully, this is not the case with C. S. MacCath’s work, and I say “thankfully” because, while there is no shortage of books on paths, techniques, and the craft in pagan publishing, the world would be the less for this amazing collection of stories and poetry. Although I had never heard of the author before reading this book, I will be looking out for new work by her in the future. MacCath’s grasp of plot, characterization, and dialogue in the short stories shine like the first glimmer of sunlight after a thunderstorm, and the poems drew gasps, laughter, and tears alike from me with their soul-baring intensity.
The stories between these two covers — “Ink for the Dead,” “Ammonite Baby,” “From Our Minds to Yours,” “Yundah,” and the title story, “The Ruin of Beltany Ring” — include tales in the genres of contemporary mainstream fiction, science fiction (she has a gift for dystopian SF that makes me yearn in hope and shudder in horror simultaneously), and fantasy. Of these, my personal favorite is “Ink for the Dead”, the story that begins the volume, about a tattoo artist with a talent far beyond simply applying tattoo gun to flesh. The longest tale, “From Our Minds to Yours”, shows us a view from a window into a potential future that I hope like hell we never reach, but one we are, sadly, all too close to ending up at.
The poetry is just as magical, in every sense of the word. “Fetters” is a heart-wringing cry of grief for wrong roads taken and right ones unreachable; “A Path Without Bones” is a song and a question to the ancestors; “Two Servants of the Morrighan” describes how certain deities have no time for our bullshit, and “Στεφανοσ” is a blunt growl of impatient exasperation. These are poems so true and heartfelt it makes me wish I had written them myself, and I can’t think of any higher accolade to offer than that.
I often hear people say that they don’t like poetry, but on talking with them further and asking what sort of poetry they’ve read — and disliked so much — I usually find that what they really dislike is bad poetry, or boring poetry, or clumsy poetry, or poetry that doesn’t speak to anything they care about. Pagans afraid of reading poetry can read MacCath’s poems here without worrying about finding any of those unfortunate examples; there’s not a one that doesn’t soar and sing, and I wish her name were better known and her work more widely read.
I’ve re-read this collection three times since I originally got it; the first read-through happened during my down time at Pagan Spirit Gathering this year, and by the time I finished, I wanted to run up to random strangers, open to a poem or story at random, and growl, “Read this!” at them. Sanity prevailed, but I would still like to encourage — even demand — that everyone who has a chance to read these tiny marvels do so; it won’t be a waste of time.
[Jennifer Lawrence likes the fey and the strange, which explains most of her friends. Her interests include gardening, herbalism, mythology and fairy tales, theology, Celtic music, role-playing games, horror movies, and the martial arts. Her work has appeared in numerous publications, including Aphelion, Jabberwocky 4, Cabinet Des Fees, Goblin Fruit, and the Bibliotheca Alexandrina anthology Unbound: A Devotional Anthology in Honor of Artemis. She lives somewhere near Chicago.]