I first met Sarah Head years ago (seven, give or take) through local Druid gatherings. She brought stories to read at rituals, lovely, lyrical creations. Then one day online she mentioned having written something darker and more erotic than usual. I leapt in, keen to read and have been a serious fan of her work ever since. I’ve edited for her on a few occasions as well. I pounced on her this week for an interview…
Bryn: Soooo… can you give us some sense of how your paganism and your writing relate to each other?
Sarah: Hi Bryn. Your question made me smile. If it weren’t for my writing, I would probably not have started down the Pagan path. I met my first writing partner, Sorcha MacAonghais, in 1995 and we began playing with a tale about an 8th Century Cornish healer and her Highland Lover. Sorcha is a Pagan and through our discussions and my research, I realised the Pagan way of thinking was very much like coming home. Our first book together, The Strongest Magick, very much reflects wiccan ritual although the story highlights the struggle between the old and new ways in 5th century Arthurian Britain. At the time, I was attending a house moot led by a wiccan priestess, but later I moved to join a Druid Grove and now feel more comfortable with the Druid path.
All my stories have an element which reflects my personal inner learning. It has often been through online role play that I have sought answers to questions I could not understand any other way. The role plays have then found their way into stories. Some of them, like the end of “The Lady and the Bull” and the beginning of “The Bear and the Ivy Lady”, have helped me make sense of particular times of celebration – in these instances, Lughnasadh and Beltane.
I’ve also used experiences from ritual, shamanic work or guided visualisations to create other stories to illustrate the season. These have then been shared to offer others either a simple pleasure in the story, or an opportunity to grasp a deeper understanding of their own. Even a simple love story like “Closing the Circle” contains major Pagan elements and, to me, shows how erotic scenes can be used as a form of communication both with a partner and deities.
Bryn: Are there any pagan authors you particularly like to read?
Sarah: I enjoy Emma Restell Orr’s books very much. They are very easy to dip into and make me think. Starhawk’s Spiral Dance helped me in the initial stages but I didn’t think her two novels were as good as her non-fiction.
Bryn: I know you do a lot of work with herbs. Have you written (or would you consider writing) any non-fiction in that regard?
Sarah: Yes, I write articles for the Herb Society website and Mercian News regularly, as well as for my blog, Tales of a Kitchen Herbwife. I’m also in the stages of planning a book about UK herbs for beginners to be possibly titled “Hedgerow, Field and Copse”.
Herb Society http://www.herbsociety.org.uk/
Tales of a Kitchen Herbwife http://kitchenherbwife.blogspot.com/
Bryn: Some of your tales are more fantastical than others. How do you find the process of balancing magical experience with the wilder elements – like shape shifting?
Sarah: What I always strive for is to make any “magical experience” as sensible and real as I can. In 2000, I started to train as an energy healer and was fortunate to be able to feel different kinds of energy with my hands. We are taught to attune to the energy source through visualisation. This is very simple and means that the flow of energy can be turned on and off like water in a tap. I have tried to incorporate this kind of energy work in my stories.
I’ve never favoured the type of magic where you wave a wand or chant a spell and there’s a huge flash of lightening and your enemy is transformed into a toad. It doesn’t work like that, but whatever you can visualise in your mind, can become a reality. If it feels real within my imagination, I can incorporate it into my story.
I have often wondered what it would be like to be a tree, to experience the changes of the season, to see what is helpful or dangerous from a completely different point of view. When Sorcha and I were playing with characters from the Sidhe, they were very much part of the creative process. Magic was an integral part of their being, so if they decided to live for a time as a patch of turf, then they could do so. Role playing that character meant I could experience it too and then use that knowledge to write about someone becoming ivy in “The Bear and the Ivy Lady”.
Shapeshifting cats, like Miranda and Paul in “The Dark Mistress” were an extension of playing with vampires, like Dusan and Alyssa in “Dusan’s Awakening”. Vampires, to me, are not about cold-bloodied parasites who want to live forever, it’s much more about women achieving a sexual maturity where they have freedom of action without normal societal restrictions. The blood they use has to be a gift, offered freely, never taken.
The cats are much more complex. They began as an exciting role play with a new writing partner. He enabled me to explore different roles within a D/s framework. Put simply, I have always wanted a tail. It’s so helpful in expressing a wide range of emotions without words. To imagine being both a cat and a woman at the same time gave a totally new dimension to the characters. From that one short story has grown a whole society of shape-changing cats where females are totally dominant, except when they reach puberty when they go through a submissive phase to enable them to learn how to use their formidable physical prowess safely. I’m hoping their story, Tales of the House of Rohke, will be finished in the not too distant future.
As Sarah Head
The Strongest Magick http://www.loveyoudivine.com/index.php?main_page=document_product_info&cPath=28&products_id=309 (with Sorcha MacAonghais)
The Bear and the Ivy Lady http://www.loveyoudivine.com/index.php?main_page=document_product_info&cPath=28&products_id=459
At Home and Away http://www.romancedivine.com/SarahHead.html (poetry)
As Jeanette Stevens
From Both Sides of Darkness http://www.loveyoudivine.com/index.php?main_page=document_product_info&cPath=28&products_id=21
All books are available for Kindle readers from Amazon.com. ‘From Both Sides of Darkness’ and ‘At Home and Away’ are available from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk as paperbacks.
Blog: Mercian Muse http://mercianmuse.blogspot.com/