Reviewed by Clark A. Pomerleau
Sophie Strand’s The Flowering Wand seeks to overwhelm and crowd out parasitic patriarchal mindsets with alternative narratives of generative masculinities based on ancient and medieval stories. Strand roots mythological stories in the specific ecologies of their culture and revises old plots for our current needs. She speaks lyrically of healing today’s societal wounds and living with disability by rejecting the longstanding but divisive, conquering, and ableist sword imagery for the masculine in favor of masculinity as a wand that magically transforms, connects, and can value diversity. Her chapters deftly connect botany and ecology with the ultimate truths that mythology and religious traditions seek to express. These assemblages allow competing needs to live together rather than assume unchanging archetypes for “bounded individuality.” Strand’s storytelling and analysis tell us as much about the “Animate Everything” as the natural world and the impacts of human actions on each other and the ecosystem. Throughout, she stresses both how stories “were originally situated in particular ecosystems” and highlights disability. She connects her own experience with a connective tissue disease (Ehlers-Danlos syndrome) and chronic illness to soil fungi that simultaneously breaks down dead matter and provides nourishing connective tissue among plants.
In keeping with contextualizing culturally important stories, Strand traces the origins of the Hebrew/Old Testament God and other deities to storm gods. Mushroom specialists have found that fungal spores become the center of droplets that produce storms and rainfall. Strand distinguishes the cyclical thinking of spore gods from linear, abstract sky gods. Informed by ancient Hebrew texts that include Jewish historian Josephus, Gnostic Gospel scholars like Elaine Pagels, and ethnobotany, Strand points out biblical passages that portray other Old Testament figures like Joseph and David as exhibiting emotive, vulnerable masculinity and being taught by wheat and wilderness to undermine patriarchal hardness.
Likewise, rooting Jesus as the historical rabbi Yeshua in the traumatic context of the destruction of the Second Temple and Roman genocide against Jewish people helps explain Gnostic interest in disassociating and abstracting from the pain of their physical world. Yet, within the Gnostic Gospels, Yeshua pointed to interconnection among everything-everyone: “All nature, all formations, all creatures exist in and with one another and they will be resolved again into their own roots.” Strand turns to the literal world of roots and fungal connections that recycle detritus into needed elements. Continuing interconnection and animism, in the Gnostic Gospels of Thomas or Philip, Yeshua invites mindful awe concerning the world when he says, “Split a piece of wood. I am there. Lift up the stone and you will find me there.” As a figure with nature-based teachings whom the Gospel of John depicted as transforming water into wine, Yeshua resonated with followers of Dionysus. Strand fosters a new relationship between the two by focusing on how Yeshua’s teachings invoked local ecology. Although many ancient stories involve the death and resurrection of gods, Strand asks us to flip the resurrection story upside down to question the defense of violence and cutting-off potential that such stories contain when they hold up ritual killing as necessary to rebirth and salvation.
Strand uses Tarot cards in some chapters to urge us to embody fungal connection. The Hanged Man provides a perspective shift that inverts dominant paradigms by seeking wisdom from where he is. The Empress card’s associations with a welcoming home that invites family and community calls us to pay attention to our bodies “as a soft place to land” as a way to become a sacred home rather than try to control the body and environment. The Devil card reinterpreted as a pre-Christian, Jewish concept of a stumbling block bids us to stop and reassess. As a pre-Christian animal-form, vegetal god, the card becomes Dionysus—“god of revolution, lovemaking, vegetation, soil, dance, and fermentation”—and puts lovers in touch with each other and their surroundings. Strand expands on the Star card’s relation to healing by reflecting on the patience needed to heal deep societal wounds from the inside out.
The Flowering Wand finds the Animate Everything connected to biblical figures, tarot, mythic tales from ancient Greece through medieval legends of Merlin, Arthur, and Tristan, Shakespeare, and J. R. R. Tolkien. Strand invites us to join a conversation about the more-than-human world that she continues from people like poet Robert Bringhurst or philosopher Gaston Bachelard (Bachelard fused science with imaginative poetics). She has composted this conversational soil with disability politics. Strand knows her illness is incurable. She recognizes that trauma and illness she has sustained have influenced her body-mind to notice minute aspects of the environment in ways that simultaneously fatigue her and open her to aliveness.1 Many of us also cannot be—or do not want to be—“fixed” to fit into societal standards. Strand asks us to consider: how do we create new narratives outside of capitalist productivity to include the lived experience of those of us who do not simply heal and return to normatively productive work? How can our physical, emotional, and mental wounds be the porousness that draws our attention to collaborative connection with other matter and deep repair of the world in which we all live?
Title: The Flowering Wand: Rewilding the Sacred Masculine: Lunar Kings, Trans-Species Magicians, and Rhizomatic Harpists
Author: Sophie Strand
Publisher: Inner Traditions
- Kamea Chayne and Sophie Strand, “Sophie Strand: Rewilding Myths and Storytelling,” episode 365 of Green Dreamer.
About the Reviewer
Clark A. Pomerleau (he/him) is a writer and teacher from Washington State. His full-length poetry book is Every Day, They Became Part of Him (Finishing Line Press, 2023). Finishing Line Press published his chapbook, Better Living through Cats, in 2021. Other poetry and prose appear in Wordgathering: A Journal of Disability Poetry and Literature, Peculiar: A Queer Literary Journal, Beyond Queer Words, About Place Journal, Lupercalia, Poached Hare, Coffin Bell Journal, and the poetry anthology, Welcome to the Resistance (2021). Pomerleau’s scholarly essays and book (Califia Women, 2013) historicize feminist diversity education, feminist views on sexuality, and trans-inclusive praxis.