3-in-1 book review! Get it while it’s hot!
There are at least two popular works that focus on the myth of the Horned God (or horned gods) and the relationships modern pagans have with this deity or group of deities: Hoofprints in the Wildwood and Horns of Power. Both of these titles are anthologies, groups of essays whose subjects range from a research-heavy history of a specific manifestation of the Horned God to personal anecdotes of modern practitioners who are devoted to Him. The third title reviewed here, In Search of Herne the Hunter, is a book-length research piece that focuses on tracing the history of Herne specifically, by drawing connections between the legend of Herne to the myths of other horned deities. First I’ll review each title briefly, then compare them so you can decide of any of these are worth your time, and which you’d prefer to pick up.
Hoofprints in the Wildwood (from here on out, Hoofprints) is a devotional first and foremost, and that shows in both the writing submitted and the choices made by the editor, Richard Derks. It is published by Gullinbursti Press, and printed-on-demand through Lulu–though the editor has recently elected to make a PDF version free to download through his website. The book itself suffers at the hand of this publishing model–it is copiously peppered with artwork (including that of Sarah Lawless, which is featured prominently and in color on the cover of the paperback–I am such a fangirl) that is printed black-and-white throughout the text and thus rendered almost unviewable. The essays, which are honestly the more important bits, range wildly in quality, from the charming and useful anecdotes of Raven Kaldera and Juniper (most of the personal essays are enjoyable reads), to the poorly researched and even more poorly edited articles focusing on the cults of horned deities in the East and the history and lore of specific deities in the West. My biggest sticking point on this collection is the utter disregard for scholarly convention or citations–almost none of the research is cited, and when it is, it is usually with a vague end-of-article bibliography, making this research hard to verify or reproduce.
Horns of Power (from now on, Horns) is also a devotional, but editor Sorita d’Este made significantly different choices in selecting material, including far more research essays and far fewer poems. It is published by Avalonia Books and available in paperback and Kindle MOBI (the ebook version is very affordable–the paperback was less so). The book itself is of good quality, though the illustrations that are included are in black-and-white, and is divided into three sections: the first, Cornucopia, focuses on research-heavy articles discussing myth and history; the second, Wild Hunt, focuses more on anecdote and rituals; and the third, Horns of Beauty, explores the manifestations of Horned Goddesses. My favorite part of the book was Wild Hunt, again because it offered intimate looks into the lives and practices of modern-day pagans who are devoted to these horned deities. Horns of Beauty is unique among the titles reviewed here; no other books offered anything at all concerning horned goddesses, and I found the essays interesting for the novelty if not for their prose. Cornucopia suffers, again, from an editor with too light a hand and an almost complete lack of scholarly procedure–citations are given at the ends of most articles, or not at all.
In Search of the Herne the Hunter (from now on, Herne) departs from the pattern of the other texts reviewed here in that it is primarily a work of research and analysis, with very little in the way of personal anecdote thrown in. It is written by Eric L. Fitch and published by Capall Bann Publishing in a sturdy paperback with more black-and-white illustrations. It has been hard for me to find any credentials for author Fitch (if you know anything about him, do leave a comment), so I have to judge him purely on the research presented here. The book is well written, easy to read, and makes very interesting points, connecting the Herne of Shakespeare to older Celtic gods of field and forest through archaeological evidence and textual analysis (I’ll let you judge whether his argument is convincing on your own), but–once again–is almost devoid of footnotes or references, and offers only a meager bibliography at the back to shore up the author’s assertions. Also, most of his argument can be pieced together by an adequately skilled researcher with a working knowledge of Wikipedia and a long afternoon to spend online–so I can hardly say it’s worth hunting through used bookstores to find this work.
Titles missing from this round-up: The Witches’ God by Stewart & Janet Farrar, The Goat Foot God by Diotima, Masks of Misrule by Nigel Jackson, and Out of Arcadia and Written in Wine by Bibliotheca Alexandrina. Know of others? Want to donate one of these for a future review? Leave a comment!
You may have a gathered by sticking with the review this far that my biggest gripe about these titles is simple: the lack of citations and proper research technique. There are readers who would think I’m being too harsh by offering this critique, but I come from an academic background and work as an academic librarian, so I really can’t help myself. In all honesty, there’s no reason for these works to be lacking in this department–it isn’t hard to keep a running list of sources to cite, or to insert footnotes or in-text citations into a document, regardless of the word processor being used.
That said, the personal essays focusing on experience, technique, and practice were invaluable to my understanding of my own relationship with deity–both by helping me to move forward in my own practice (via example, mostly–not too many word-for-word how-tos are given in these books), but also by showing me what my practice is not. Many authors have bared their souls and put on display very intimate portions of their devotional lives in both Horns and Hoofprints, and I as a reader am grateful that they did, for I found them both illuminating and fascinating. The problem with this–similar material can be hunted up all over the internet via blogs, so it’s up to you to judge whether these first two are worthy purchases. Herne is a completely different beast, because it is meant to present facts rather than experience–and I found the author’s argument entertaining and well laid out (with the exceptions noted above). Being as I had already completed most of this research myself, I was disappointed in the book for not sharing any in-depth scholarly research or offering a new take on well-tread information–but perhaps I was expecting too much.
Have you read any of these titles? Read any others about the Horned God or horned gods generally? What did you think? Let us know in the comments! If not, you can can read up on horned deities at Wikipedia, and at several places online. You have your assignments, people. Book review dismissed.