Kate Horsley,
Confessions of a Pagan Nun
(Shambhala, 2002)

Kate Horsley's novel Confessions of a Pagan Nun follows a recent trend: an interest in religion and a search for the feminine side of the divine. The story unfolds in the 6th century, at a time when Christianity has reached Ireland and the old pagan and new religions struggle with each other.

The young girl Gwynneve has lost her mother, who was a healer with ancient Earth knowledge of healing herbs. Gwynneve, always a seeker with a hunger for learning, leaves a cruel father and her home community to study with a druid, who teaches her how to write. After some years, her mentor (and, eventually, her husband) leaves her and she joins a convent. She is attracted to the worship of St. Bridget at the juncture where the old religion blends with Christianity. The pagan Bridget becomes the Christian St. Bridget, and Gwynneve tends her flame devotedly. At the convent, Gwynneve translates scrolls from many parts of the world, a task she loves. She brings comfort to the dying and kindness to those in need.

But tension develops between her and the priests, between her druidic knowledge and love of the Earth and the priests' Augustinian distaste for the flesh at the convent. Human misery ensues and a priest castrates himself. Gwynneve is accused of being a witch.

The book is a search for truth and balance between pagan and Christian beliefs as they were practiced in the past and may still apply today. Novels can address problems and reach people in ways that academic papers cannot. They appeal to archetypes within us, and to our emotions.

I loved this book. It transported me to a faraway time and place that is still relevant today since there will always be a struggle between different beliefs. Horseley's characters and settings are believable and she has woven a plot that kept me intrigued. Even more than the plot, the author's poetic use of language enchanted me.

This book is relevant to both the environmental and women's movements. I can relate to women who nurture others, animals and plants, and respect the workings of nature. This book also speaks to the belief that understanding both the feminine and masculine sides of the divine is necessary for survival, and how a balance between the two values can make all the difference.

- Rambles
written by Barbara Spring
published 25 September 2004

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