Thursday, October 04, 2018

REVIEW: The Holy Wild by Danielle Dulsky

The Holy Wild: A Heathen Bible for the Untamed Woman by Danielle Dulsky, New World Library 2018, Trade Paperback, 292 pages, ISBN 978-1-60868-527-1 (also available as e-book)

In her newest book, Danielle Dulsky writes with a poet’s use of words and a scholar’s structure of material. To give you an idea of the beauty of the writing, with permission of the publisher I will quote here several passages from the author’s Introduction, titled “Her Genesis,” and hope that you will remember that these are only brief glimpses of this beautiful Introduction, which begins:
In the beginning, there was She.
She was nature’s primordial pulse, the pan-elemental alchemy of birth; the fertile void of death; and the mysterious, enduring, and numinous cosmic infinite. All was She, and She was all. Her power pervaded the totality of existence and veiled all potential worlds in the name of holy manifestation. Her steady, purposeful rhythm pounded on, in, and through the stellar fusions, the planet building, and the great galactic swell. The universal dawn was a quantum prayer to Her, and She was dancing for us long before humanity’s blessed inception, long before the glow of the primal feminine was eclipsed by modernity.
“While the rhythm of Her hallowed drum has slowed and quieted to a barely audible, near-whisper beat, while humanity’s spiritual landscape has been overbuilt and hums with man-made hymns, She can never be silenced....

“This book is a five-part ode to Her, to you, and to the yet-to-be-rebuilt bridge between our spirituality and our lived, embodied experience. What you will find here is hearty home-cooked nourishment for the nature-hungry spirit, seasoned with a good deal of feminine ire and served hot. What you will find here is an invitation to descend into the dark with me, to gather up pieces of ourselves we have forgotten, and to rise. The wilds of nature will always be our ancestral home....

“Rise Up, Heathen Priestess: She Lives in the Wilds
....As women of the wild, we deserve our own holy books, our own teaching tales, and our own venerable verses of validation….The her-stories I offer here have merit only in their meeting with your own life; they do not stand alone as immutable truths or a step-by-step path toward any lofty and permanent healing goal, nor do they assert any secret mysteries that I alone am privileged to know....

“The women who have been locked inside the books they called good deserve liberation from their externally imposed immorality. We must unlock the cages in which they have been contained for so long, trapped behind the iron bars of judgment and dismissal…. We share the scars of every woman who has been condemned to ever be spiritually imprisoned, and, in these pages, I offer all the primal feminine technology this Witch has in her toolbox to dismantle the indoctrinated beliefs that continue to limit our spiritual autonomy; divorce our bodies from our spirits; and fence in what is, by nature, untamed, heathen, and wild.

“The roots of the word heathen run far deeper than its derogatory, godless connotation; it is believed to come from the Germanic word meaning “dweller on the heath, one inhabiting uncultivated land.” To be heathen means to belong to the wild, to take our lessons from the natural world, and to be nourished by what we fundamentally are rather than what we are told we must be. Let me distinguish here between Heathenry, a polytheistic neo-Pagan religion for which I have much reverence but to which I do not belong, and the eclectic pre-Christian landscape of our ancestors....

 Find Her in the Dark:
 The Fertile Shadows of the Feminine Path
Heathen Priestess, your bejeweled crown is the same size as mine. I am neither above nor below you, and the round table of the Holy Wild has no structured hierarchy....

“My story is no more significant than yours, and my hope is that you drink in the poetry, feel nourished by the ceremonies, and complete the myths I begin here while constantly affirming your own authority and your own spiritual agency....

“....Sister, we do not always find Her in the light. Sometimes, we find Her in the dark.
“We find Her in the places that terrify us, and we find Her in the places they told us not to look.

“Walking a Wilder Path: Seeking Out the Fringes
You have many names, my love. In this book, I will call you a Priestess to validate your authority over your own spiritual journey. A Priestess looks within for direction and listens to the whispers, whimpers, and guttural groans of her inner wise woman. A Priestess is an elder. A Priestess is a woman who, regardless of linear age, has done the work and earned the right to say who she is and what she believes....
“I will call you a Witch to affirm your birthright as a holy healer, to vindicate those socially rejected women who were hunted — who still are hunted in many parts of the world — in the name of not only patriarchy but also institutionalized racism, classism, and persistent imperialism. I will call you Witch to give a fierce nod to our stolen feminine spirituality and to give your wisdom a real name....

“This path is wild because we cannot possibly predict where it will lead us…. In these pages, I will call this wild path the Red Road, the always-spiraling, unmapped route toward a woman’s spiritual home.”
The Introduction goes on to introduce the 5 sections of The Holy Wild, each called a Book and named after the traditional elements of Earth, Water, Fire, Air, and the not-so-familiar to some—Ether. Each book begins with a chapter of “verses,” that is, poetic writing, and continues with chapters about and of rituals and magick. The Books are related to various Goddess imagery and female/feminine archetypes. It is within these sections that Dulsky’s scholarly structuring is most strongly exhibited. Here are some examples:
The “Book of Earth” is devoted to “The Wild Feminine Archtype: The Priestess of the Wild Earth. Its “Earth Verses,” section asks readers to “envision yourself encircled by your ancestors as you read.” Dulsky then relates the Earth archetype to the “sovereign maiden,” aspect of the Goddess and specifically to the mythology of Lilith, Persephone-Kore, and Inanna. It also includes comments, several related writings including at least one from the Abrahamic (Abrahamic is a term that refers to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, that is, religions that can be traced back to the patriarch Abraham) Bible and a suggestions for the reader’s writing and other assignments. The section on Earth Rituals has 7 rituals including those for “the Everyday Warrioress,” “Forbidden Fruit,” and “Self-Initiation.” Earth Magick includes a 4-part “welcoming” working related to Lilith, and also has 4 other workings.
The Book of Water is devoted to “The Wild Feminine Archetype: The Maiden of the Unbridled Feminine.” It focuses on the women and goddesses Salome, Freya, and Lalita.  The “Water Verses” section’s 10 parts includes “Revisioning Salome,”and “Our Wild Art and Unbridled Sensuality.” In the ritual section you will find rituals for the solstices and equinoxes, and 5 other rituals, including one of dance involving masks and veils and another with 3 parts. Among the 6 workings in the The Water Magic section are “Crafting the Cosmic Egg,”and “Making Holy Water.”
The Books of Fire, Air, and Ether include similar definitions, sections, and workings. The Book of Fire is devoted to the “Prophetess of the Wild Fire” and focuses on the “Dark Goddess,” and more specifically the women and goddesses known as “Mother of Babylon” (Christian Bible), Medusa, Oya, Kali, Brighid, and Hestia. The Book of Air archetype is “Witch of Sacred Love” and/or “Sacred Healer,” which include the women and goddesses Mary Magdalene, Aphrodite, Oshun, and Paravati. The Book of Ether archetype is “The Queen of the Ethereal Divine,” including the Hag or the Crone. It includes the Biblical  Jezebel and the “dark goddesses” Hekate, Baba Yaga, and The Cailleach.”
The last chapter of The Holy Wild is named, “Her Revelation.” Its 2nd paragraph begins: “A woman can certainly bring about the End of Days —the end of the world as we know it….” This relates it to the “Book of Revelation” the last book in the Christian Bible. Yet as in discussions in other parts of the book, Dulsky also departs in her writing from Abrahamic religions and adds other associations, such as “nature-based practices,” contact with Goddess, magick, and other Goddess associations. And the author begins the last section of this book with these words:
“Here in this book I offered you no religion. To be heathen is to predate the spiritual systems that have bound us. To my mind our modern religions have too often, though certainly not always, been a largely male-led dimension of systemized spirituality that is easily spoon-fed to the masses when seasoned with a good deal of fear.”
Though some people may object to this book’s combining Goddess Spirituality with material from the Abrahamic Bible, it may open the way to Goddess for others, particularly those just beginning on this path, for whom the book is especially suitable. It will also be an asset for those seeking to combine Goddess with Christianity or Judaism (a practice becoming increasing common) whether they are just starting on the Goddess path or have been on it for some time. In any case, The Holy Wild is terrific teaching tool and is extraordinarily well written.

The book’s back matter includes an Appendix with sources for further study, divided by the 5 Books of The Holy Wild; Acknowledgements; Notes on the material on the various chapters; Additional Resources for  Kali, Lalita, Oshun, and Oya; and a 14-page index.

Danielle Dulsky is author of 2 books related to Goddess Spirituality. She is also an artist, yoga teacher, energy worker, and founder of Living Mandala Yoga teacher training programs. She leads women’s circles, witchcraft workshops, and energy healing trainings and lives in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. For more information, see her website,

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Judith Laura

More blogs about /goddess/feminist theology/spiritual feminism/pagan/feminist spirituality/.