Thoughts on Books: The Myth & Magic of Embroidery

The Myth and Magic of Embroidery by Helen M. Stevens

The Myth & Magic of Embroidery by Helen M. Stevens

“From ancient times, embroidery and other textile arts have been associated with myths and legends, fables and fairy tales, high drama and folklore, from Ancient Greece to modern Europe. This book explores the use of embroidery in such rituals. The Myth and Magic of Embroidery contains embroidered pictures inspired by nature, including plant life, animals, landscapes and sacred places from many origins such as Celtic, Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Old English. Each chapter contains an adaptation of a legend or fable with illustrations taken from the author’s own workbook. The book includes detailed working methods and new design techniques, such as the transformation of traditional ethnic stitches and the translation of designs from ceramics and architecture into motifs for embroidery, enabling the reader to create stunning embroidery pieces of their own.”

I got this book in grade 8 or 9 after completely falling in love with it at the local bookstore and staring at it, there, for a few months. It was the first time that I had seen such detailed embroidery and I was absolutely enthralled. I even did one of my “artist profiles” in art class about Helen M. Stevens.

The book has seven chapters:

  • Words and Music
  • Blithe Spirits
  • Earth, Wind and Water
  • Plantlore
  • Quests, Journeys and Battles
  • Animal Magic
  • Sacred Places

There are also two sections that show the basic techniques and a bibliography.

These chapters all contain myths, legends, folklore, and even history that link to embroidery, other needlecrafts, and the embroideries’ subjects.

It was also this book that first gave me the idea for a proper magic system based on embroidery — the magic system that’s present in The Ruon Chronicles (although it has grown and matured since then). The Myth and Magic of Embroidery, therefore, can be seen as one of the catalysts that got me writing (not to mention loving embroidery more).

Blog Header The Lives They Left Behind

Thoughts on Books: The Lives They Left Behind: Suitcases From a State Hospital Attic

Penney, D., P. Stastny, and L. Rinzier. (2008) The Lives They Left Behind: Suitcases From a State Hospital Attic. New York, Bellevue Literary Press.

“This book is dedicated to the memories of the Willard Suitcase owners, and to all others who have lived and died in mental institutions.” — Darby Penney & Peter Statsny

I came across the Willard suitcases project’s website a few years ago thanks to another article which showcased some of the photos. That article, I am afraid, I have long since forgotten the link to and can now only speculate where it had been published. Nevertheless, the project had caught my imagination. 427 suitcases were wrapped in plastic as they had been found in one of Willard’s attics (a state mental hospital) and taken to the New York State Museum. These held the worldly possessions of patients who had lived and died at Willard.

The contents of the suitcases are both heartbreaking and riveting, leading one to question who this person was, how their illness cut their life short (or so it seems in many cases) and, more than once, made me say “There, but for Grace, go I.”

‘As jy weer in jou dagboek skryf


Om die goue blaar te sien in die somerson’

When you write in your diary again


To see the golden leaf in the summer sun

When I saw the book on Kindle, I knew that I wanted to read it. It wasn’t because they were some “crazy” people locked away, but because I wanted to know about the people behind the suitcase, behind the facade that seem to still linger over a person as soon as they are diagnosed with mental illness of a kind that severely impacts their day-to-day lives. And, boy, did some of the stories hit close to home.

What really enthralled me about the book is that the stories of the patients were the stories, really, of the everyman who has, in many cases, just seen too much — too much death, too much loneliness. In many cases what could now be treated quite easily with some medication and psychotherapy/CBT was basically still untreatable — the medication and treatments in their infancy, so to speak.

We learn of people who sometimes flourished within the walls of Willard to become a person that lived as well as they could within the confines placed upon them. And yet, we see in this view of a lost generation of mental patients many of the same things that still haunt patients today. And you also realise how far a little empathy can go. Indeed, there, but for Grace, go I.

‘As jy weer in jou dagboek skryf


Om in my oë te sien

Die son wat ek nou vir altyd bedek

Met swart vlinders’

When you write in your diary again


To see in my eyes

The sun that I now forever cover

With black butterflies

Extracts of “As jy weer skryf”, a poem by Ingrid Jonker, written in June 1964, and published in Kantelson in 1966, shortly after her suicide by drowning in July 1965 at Drieankerbaai, Cape Town at the age of 32.

Books about writing I’m currently reading

The past few weeks I’ve been reading quite a few books on writing — specifically how to write faster and streamline your writing. This is mainly because I’ve found that I want to find a way to write at least the initial draft of a story faster and learn how to better outline my stories.

So far I’ve finished the first of the books I’m going to mention and am busy with the others (I always read more than one book at a time).

(Just an FYI, these aren’t affiliate links.)

5,000 Words Per Hour: Write Faster, Write Smarter by Chris Fox

Although I don’t necessarily want to write this fast (I think my wrist will hate me forever and ever), I have found some good tips in this book regarding sprints, dictation (which is good for when my wrist is hating on me) and more.

With lots of exercises to get you going and helping you write faster, this was a good buy for me. I also like Chris Fox’s writing style and will look into buying some of the other books in his series as well.

Write. Publish. Repeat. (TheNo-luck required guide to self-publishing success) – The Smarter Artist Book 1 by Sean Platt, Johnny B. Truant, David Wright

I listen to Sean, Johnny and David’s podcast and grabbed this book a while ago even though I’m only reading it now. I’m about halfway through and have found that there are some great tips to help you write, publish, and repeat. Great for those who are serious about making their living from their writing. I’ll probably have more to say once I finish the whole book.

Take Off Your Pants!: Outline Your Books for Faster, Better Writing, Revised Edition by Libbie Hawker

I’ve wanted to read this one for a while now as I started out a complete pantser, but boy did it mess up my “recommended for you” on Amazon for a few days, ha! Mind you, if I was someone who read a lot of romance and stuff it probably would not have been so obvious… Anyway, I’ve only just started this one, but really love Libbie Hawker’s style and voice. More on this one also once I’ve finished it.

What I want to read next:

Deep Work: Rules For Focused Success In a Distracted World by Cal Newport

I struggle to concentrate. Not so much that it is a huge problem, but I do find that I jump between tasks a lot during the day. And when I sit down to write it’s far too easy to “quickly” send a message or three, check the social media feeds, etc. So I hope this book can give me some tips to get myself again to a place where I can work for blocks of time (with or without the pomodoro technique) and not be sidetracked the whole time. I have the sample for this one at the moment, but haven’t bought the full book yet.

Rachel Aaron’s 2,000 to 10,000: How to write faster, writer better, and write more of what you love.

Recommended in some of the other books, so we’ll see how it goes once I’ve read it! Right now I can’t say much else about it except here’s the link, go check it out.

In the end, I know that reading won’t make me write faster, etc. but that exercises, and the like will. Sometimes you just need some pointers to point you in the right direction. So, if that is you, why not invest in a writing book or two?

Do you have a favourite book on writing? Please share in the comments below!

Book Impressions – Nature’s Temples by Joan Maloof

“How astonishing that when I visit an old-growth redwood forest in California, I am visiting a place that may have been forested continually for fifty million years!”  – Joan Maloof

I came across Maloof’s Nature’s Temples: The Complex World of Old-Growth Forests quite by chance while I was browsing the Kindle Store. The title sounded intriguing, especially after reading The Secret Life of Trees: How They live and Why They Matter (by Colin Tudge), so I could not resist reading it. Joan Maloof doesn’t disappoint and her book is packed with information (like the fact that the tallest tree in the world is some 380 feet tall!) while remaining accessible to the lay reader.

These are just some of the diverse chapters contained in the book:

  • What is an old-growth forest?screen-shot-2017-02-15-at-10-27-22-am
  • History of the forest
  • Forests and carbon
  • Birds and their habitat preferences
  • The role of insects in the forest
  • Fungi in the ecosystem
  • What lichens tell us about forests
  • Do humans need the forest?

Maloof looks at and explains the extremely intricate and intricately balanced life of the old-growth forests and rightly bewails their loss to logging, deforestation, and other means of human interference. The harm of our interference is, after all, becoming more and more apparent and there is also now studies to show that, even if forests are replanted, the same abundance of flora and fauna will not be present again – even after many decades.

“We know we need clean air and clean water, but do humans need beauty?” — Joan Maloof

Maloof also notes in Nature’s Temples that researchers from Japan and elsewhere have shown that a walk in the forest can improve one’s mood, reduce stress hormones, strengthen the immune system, lower blood pressure, and reduce blood sugar levels. This kind of walk in the woods even have a name in Japanese – shirin-yoku; “wood-air bathing”.

“… we should always allow and encourage the left-alone woods, for it is there that our true riches reside. Today, and in the future, these are the places of refuge – for both the species we share the planet with and for our human spirit.” — Joan Maloof

I can highly recommend this book to those who love nature, woods, and trees or even just those who wish that there really are shepherds of the forests residing deep in the forests. After reading this book you will want to go and walk in a forest and – yes – even hug some trees.

Maloof, Joan. (2016) Nature’s Temples: The Complex World of Old-Growth Forests. Portland: Timber Press Inc. (Illustrated by Andrew Joslin.)


Book Impressions: To the Ends of the Earth: 100 Maps That Changed the World

“How can maps – mere pictures on paper or impressions in clay – change the world? … Through history, mapmakers have played on our instinctive belief in the truth of maps. Maps have been used as powerful propaganda, from Agrippa’s map of the Roman Empire to Hitler’s map of the Austrian Anschluss. Border can be moved, names can be changed, features can be omitted. Maps have changed out world – and they will shape our future.”

Jeremy Harwood’s 2006 book on maps and their history around the world is a pleasure to read or simply just page through. The maps are divided into the following parts:

  • The Ancient World
  • The Classical World
  • The Medieval World
  • The Age of Discovery
  • The Age of Empire
  • The Modern World

The oldest map in the book is the Idaho Map Rock (10 000 B.C.), while the newest is the “Blue Marble Map” (2005) by NASA.

Harwood makes sure to use maps from around the world, though I think if costs were not a consideration, he would have liked to include even more maps (but I am glad the publisher kept it affordable!). He also includes maps ranging from the encompassing mappae mundi to local street maps to illustrate the vastly different ways in which the world we live in can be plotted.

There is also a definite move to explain the different world views through the ages and how the “driving force behind [maps’] creation [could be] religious and philosophical” (Harwood, 2006:31), rather than simply showing what a part of the world looked like.

The book also includes some of my favourite maps like the Ebstorf Mappa Mundi (c. 1300 AD) which was “designed to instruct the faithful about significant events in Christian history” (Harwood, 2006: 38-39) and in which the world is depicted as the body of Christ, his arms embracing it and its peoples” (Harwood, 2006:39). The Fra Mauro Mappa Mundi (1459 AD), which was made in Italy, is also included. Fra Mauro (a Venetian Monk) said of his goal: “In my time I have striven to verify the writings through many years’ investigation and intercourse with persons worthy of credence who have seen with their own eyes what is faithfully set above” (Harwood, 2006:57).

The Cantino Planisphere (Portugal, 1502 AD) also shows Africa in quite splendid detail on this master map (Harwood, 2006:63), not to mention Gerardus Mercato’s 1538 world map (Harwood, 2006:84-85).

In “Exploring the Pacific” (Harwood, 2006:116-123), Harwood shows an example of a Marshallese stick chart, which I find fascinating. Another prime example of beautiful mapmaking is the 1853 Japanese world map shown on p126-127. The 2005 Blue Marble Map by NASA – the final one in the book – is one of those images that puts the immense size of the world in comparison with us and yet also remind us of the tiny size of our planet in comparison with the galaxy (not to mention the known universe) into perspective.

I can really recommend this volume to those who love maps and history or who would just like to find out more about the world they live in.

Harwood, J. (2006). To the Ends of the Earth: 100 Maps that Changed the World. Cape Town: Struik.


Book Impressions: The Atlas of Legendary Lands

If you’re searching for a book about lost worlds, mythical worlds, and the like, look no further than J.A. McLeod’s The Atlas of Legendary Lands: Fabled Kingdoms, Phantom Islands, Lost Continents and Other Mythical Worlds. This stunning volume is divided into seven parts:

  • Inventing the Earth
  • Paradise on Earth
  • Fabled Lands and Kingdoms
  • Elusive Islands in the Sea of Darkness
  • Real But Very Wrong
  • Lands of Golden Dreams
  • Lost Continents

It also contains a list of material for further reading and study. 6488478

Produced in hardback, this volume is made of high quality materials and beautifully think paper (in a book like this it is definitely a selling point) and is furthermore fully illustrated with maps and images produced from manuscripts. The text itself is very reader-friendly. The breadth of information and topics also makes it a definite must-have for every bibliophile’s bookshelf.

McLeod, J.A. (2009). The Atlas of Legendary Lands: Fabled Kingdoms, Phantom Islands, Lost Continents and Other Mythical Worlds. London: Pier 9, Murdoch Books UK Limited.

Book Impressions: The Atlas of Atlantis and other lost civilizations

Levy, J. (2007). The Atlas of Atlantis and other lost civilizations. London: Godsfield Press.

Visiting almost every region of the planet, [Levy] explores lost lands that have been associated with Atlantis and considers the importance of Lemuria, Mu and other lost and legendary places from Shambhala and Shangri-la to El Dorado and Hy-Brasil.

 “According to ancient myth an extensive island in the Atlantic Ocean… [i]t was said to have been a powerful kingdom before it was overwhelmed by the sea. … In the 16th century it was suggested that America was Atlantis, and there have been a number of other implausable identifications. More recently, and more likely the work of archaeologists and scientists has placed it in the Mediterranean.” (Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, 18th edition)

 The Atlas of Atlantis is one of those books which I just had to have once I saw it. It’s a hardback book that’s lavishly illustrated with artworks and photos and is divided into the following parts:

  • Plato’s Atlantis
  • The Mediterranean World
  • The Americas – Atlantis and the new world
  • The Atlantic Ocean
  • The Pacific – Atlantis, Mu and Lemuria
  • The West Indies
  • Antarctica
  • The Indian Ocean
  • Legendary Lands of the Celts
  • Other Lost Worlds
  • Atlantis and the New Age

Screen Shot 2016-08-23 at 2.08.26 PMLevy’s book is truly an interesting read and a very good stepping stone to get an overview of theories about Atlantis and other lost worlds. That said, it’s not at all short on information – rather the material has been compiled with the reader in mind to lead them on a great adventure in the cracks between history and fiction. Levy also touches on the different societal environments in which the differing ideas and theories about Atlantis and places like Mu and Lemuria took place before focusing on the way in which Atlantis still holds a place in some types of spirituality and pop culture today.

If you’re setting out to learn about Atlantis and lost worlds, The Atlas of Atlantis is a great place to start.

Other sources:

Rockwood, C. (ed.) (2005). Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. 18th edition. Edinburgh, Brewer’s.

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Book Impression: An Introduction to the Old Testament

Longman III, T. & R.B. Dillard. (2006). And Introduction to the Old Testament. Second Edition. Michigan: Zondervan.

This book has been on my TBR list for quite a while and, at last, I got around to read it. An Introduction to the Old Testament, by Longman and Dillard, is actually a theology textbook, so expect to be challenged when you read it. What I enjoyed about the book is that it discusses each book of the Old Testament in a different chapter and that each chapter follows the same basic format. Each chapter (book) starts with a bibliography that includes commentaries, articles, etc. before moving on to the historical background, critical views and approaches, a literary analysis, and ends with an “approaching the New Testament” summary.

The blurb on the book also states that the book includes “callouts, charts, and graphs… written with an eye on understanding the nature of Old Testament historiography. This upper-level introduction to the Old Testament offers students a solid understanding of three key issues: historical background, literary analysis, and theological message”. The Longman and Dillard also cautions: “While ignorance of the historical context of the Bible threatens a correct understanding of the Bible, a second major danger confronts the reader. This danger is the imposition of contemporary Western values on the historical writings of the Old Testament. It is thus of great importance that we not only describe the value of a historical approach to the Old Testament but also explore the nature of Old Testament historiography” (2006:18).

However, if you are looking for more cultural insights while reading the Old Testament, I would rather advise you to read the Archaeological Study Bible. This volume, however, does give a very thorough introduction for those who are either just beginning their studies or who are just curious and would like to read a more in-depth introduction.

Book cover An Introduction to the Old Testament

Dusty book header

Book Impressions: Sumerian Liturgies and Psalms

Sumerian Liturgies and Psalms is a book by Stephen Langdon, who was a professor of Assyriology at the Oxford University, Philadelphia. It was published by The University Press in 1909 and is available for free on Amazon Kindle.

Book Cover Sumeria Liturgies and PsalmsThe tablets that have been translated in this book is from the library of ancient Nippur, and includes examples of liturgical compilation texts and various prayers, like the “Prayer of prostration, a great song unto Enlil” (No. 16).

Langdon notes that the “[p]rayers of the private cults are almost entirely nonexistent. Later Babylonian religion is rich in penitential psalms written in Sumerian for the use in private devotions… know[n] by the rubric eršaggúnga or prayers to appease the heart”. This collection also shows the “rich collection of tablets… pertaining to the cults of deified kings”.

As can be expected, there are many instances where part of the text is missing or cannot be deciphered, but even then their beauty still shows through. Just look at this part of the “Lamentation of Isme-Dagan over Nippur”:

en-šú bar be-íb… ùl

How long shall the soul be terrified? Book cover Sumerian Liturgies and Psalms

šag nu-ub-ši-túg-e

And the heart repose not?

… gar-ra-bi er-šú ba-ab-bi-ne

…in tears they speak

sìr-ri-eš ba-ab-bi-ne

…in misery they speak


The volume also contains descriptions of the tablets translated in the volume and a very handy index supplied. Babylonian cult symbols are also covered and translations given, for instance:

  • The amphorae is Igi-BALAG, gardener of Enlil
  • Gypsum is the storm god (Ninurta)

It is important to note at this stage – as you might have already guessed – that this is a scholarly volume and not a collection of stories like the Prose Edda or poetry like the Elder Edda. (The Eddas are texts I am very well acquainted with, which is why I use them here as examples).

If you are only looking for Sumerian/Babylonian mythology, I would suggest another volume, like perhaps Sumerian Mythology by Samuel Noah Kramer (please note that I have not read this volume, so I am only speculating). However, the book does contain some mythology and explanations as to the mythology as it pertains to these texts in particular. So, if you want to get a good feel for them, this free Kindle volume is a good way to go about it.

And, just to prove to which world my mind wanders half the time, I couldn’t read “gardener of Enlil” without picturing Samwise Gamgee for a moment. I regret nothing.

Samwise Gamgee, Lord of the Rings

Book Impression: Eirik the Red and Other Icelandic Sagas

All the sagas in this volume has been translated by Gwyn Jones.

The sagas in this volume consists of:

  • Hen-Thorir
  • The Vapnfjord Men
  • Thorstein Staff-struck
  • Hrafnkel the Priest of Frey
  • Eirik the Red
  • Thidrandi Whom the Goddesses Slew
  • Authun and the Bear
  • Gunnlaug Wormtongue
  • King Hrolf and His Champions

The sagas in this volume are very entertaining and the translation is also very well executed and readable. Like the translation of the Kalevala it is also part of the Oxford World Classics series and contains, apart from the sagas, a map of Iceland and an introduction.

I first read this volume of sagas a few years ago and have found myself returning to it as I am using one of them – Gunnlaug Wormtonguein an article. I have started to reread the whole volume just because I love the Icelandic sagas so much.Eirik the Red and Other Icelandic Sagas

My favourite saga in the book is Gunnlaug Wormtongue (Gunnlaugs Saga Ormstungu), with the great love story of Helga and Gunnlaug (and poor Thorkel). However, each saga has its own charm and I just love the dry manner in which some of the happenings are described.

I also found the use of footnotes handy, and they are also not used excessively so that it distracts you from the text of the saga. They also, where appropriate, point you to other sagas in which the same characters/people appear. Because there is such a great number of sagas (not to mention names to remember), I found this especially handy.

I can recommend this volume of shorter sagas for anyone interested in reading some of the Icelandic sagas, but are unsure where to start.

I can also highly recommend the blog The Saga-steads of Iceland if you would like to see some of the places where the sagas took place.

Jones, G. (1999).Eirik the Red and Other Icelandic Sagas, Oxford World Classics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.