Below is the first of three videos covering a recent evening presentation in Point Reyes, California, on the subject ‘Women Rising Rooted: How old Celtic stories inspire change.’ You can find links to the other parts on the Black Mountain Circle YouTube channel.
The official bio
Dr Sharon Blackie is an award-winning writer of fiction and nonfiction, a mythologist with a specialisation in Celtic Studies, and a psychologist who has specialised both in neuroscience and narrative. Her unique approach to working with myth, fairy tales and folklore highlights the insights these traditions can offer us into authentic and meaningful ways of being which are founded on a deep sense of belonging to place, a rootedness in the land we inhabit. In early 2017 she founded The Hedge School: both an online space and a physical location in Connemara, Ireland, for teachings in myth, wild mind and enchantment. She is a sought-after international teacher and lecturer.
Sharon is the author of The Long Delirious Burning Blue, a novel which the Independent on Sunday called ‘hugely potent. A tribute to the art of storytelling that is itself an affecting and inspiring story’, and which The Scotsman called ‘powerful (reminiscent of The English Patient), filmic, and achieving the kind of symmetry that novels often aspire to, but rarely reach.’ Her word-of-mouth bestselling nonfiction book If Women Rose Rooted offers up a new Heroine’s Journey for this challenging age of social and ecological crisis, and was described by novelist Manda Scott as ‘mind-blowing in the most profound and exhilarating sense … an anthem for all we could be … an essential book for this, the most critical of recent times.’ If Women Rose Rooted was a 2016 Nautilus Book Award winner. Her latest nonfiction book, The Enchanted Life, was published in February 2018. She is now completing a collection of original fairy tales about shapeshifting women, Foxfire, Wolfskin, which will be published in autumn 2019, and is contracted for another nonfiction book in spring 2021. Sharon’s articles have been published in a wide range of popular magazines and academic journals, and in 2009, she was the recipient of a yearlong ‘Creative Scotland’ writing award.
As well as leading retreats and workshops at venues in Europe and North America, and lecturing at academic institutions as diverse as Trinity College Dublin and Pacifica Graduate Institute, California, Sharon has performed at a number of cultural events and festivals, from the Edinburgh International Book Festival to the Dark Mountain Project’s ‘Uncivilisation’ Festival. From 2013 to 2017 she was the founder and editor of EarthLines Magazine, described by Jay Griffiths as ‘a deeply intelligent publication’, by George Monbiot as ‘a rare combination and much needed’, and by Robert Macfarlane as ‘a real point of convergence for many thought-tributaries and philosophical paths’.
After several years as a crofter in the north-west of Scotland and the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, Sharon returned to Ireland in 2014 and lives among the mountains, lakes and seaweed-strewn tidal inlets of the Connemara Gaeltacht. Here, she looks after hens and bees and grows her own vegetables and herbs. Her experiences on the westernmost edges of the Celtic fringe give her a unique perspective on the psychology of belonging, and our relationship with place and the wild.
Sharon is represented by Kirsty McLachlan, at David Godwin Associates.
BA (1st Class Hons) Psychology, University of Liverpool, 1982
PhD in behavioural neuroscience, Faculty of Medicine, University of London, 1985. My thesis was on the behavioural and brain mechanisms underlying anxiety and panic.*
Diploma Clinical Hypnotherapy, London College of Clinical Hypnosis, 2003
MA (Distinction) Creative Writing, Manchester Metropolitan University, 2007. This MA concentrated on the novel; my focuses were on developing a sense of place in fiction, and the use of myth and fairy tale to express personal transformation.
MA Celtic Studies, University of Wales Trinity St David (completion 2019). My specialisations during this MA have been (1) the functions and transmission of folk tales and other oral narratives; (2) the nature of the Otherworld in early Irish and Welsh literature (I am particularly interested in the relationship between Henri Corbin’s concept of the mundus imaginalis and the Celtic Otherworld); (3) the origins of the Grail and Arthurian legends (with a special interest in Myrddin/Merlin and other legendary ‘wild man / wild woman’ archetypes), and (4) women’s lives during the Medieval period (with a focus on Otherworldly women in early Irish and Welsh mythology). Related research has focused on the roots of contemporary ‘Celtic spirituality’.
*I have 46 publications in peer-reviewed journals and academic books, in the field of psychology and neuroscience, under my former name, Sharon Pellow. These days, as a writer and practitioner of psychology and mythology whose aim is to bring important ideas out of the ivory towers and into the world, publications in the academic sphere are no longer a priority for me.
The more personal touch
I was born in the north-east of England, though my family and ancestry is both Scottish and Irish, and I was raised from an early age on an imaginatively rich diet of Irish myth, poetry, music and history. So it was that my fascination with Celtic mythology started young; at the age of ten I was making copious lists comparing the names of the Knights of the Round Table in Sir Thomas Mallory’s work to their ‘equivalents’ in The Mabinogion and the wider Welsh, French and German Arthurian literature. I didn’t ever solve the problem, but it’s an obsession that never left me, and although I’ve explored and researched mythological systems from all around the world over the years, it’s my ancestral Celtic and other Northern European traditions that have always drawn me more. When I was in my early twenties I acquired a stepfather whose first language was Welsh (for home English was a language hardly spoken) and so also acquired a familiarity with the Brittonic tradition of the Insular Celts.
My first degree was in psychology, and I then spent several years as an academic neuroscientist/ psychologist specialising in the field of anxiety and panic, and working at the Hôpital Pitié-Salpêtrière in Paris and the Institute of Neurology at the National Hospital for Nervous Diseases in London. After a few twists and turns, including some unwise years advising a tobacco company on smoking and health and safer cigarettes, some unforgettable years in Connemara, a six-year dislocation to America, and the acquisition of a master’s degree in Creative Writing, I moved to a coastal croft in the north-west Highlands of Scotland. There I returned to my roots, in practice as a therapist specialising in (and training clinical psychologists and other health professionals in) narrative psychology, myth- and storytelling, as well as in other creative/active imagination techniques. These days, in my spare time, I’m deepening my work with myth still further by completing a Master’s degree in Celtic Studies at the University of Wales Trinity St David. I’m immersed in the latest thinking about our ancient native literature and belief systems, and loving every minute of it.
My husband David Knowles and I founded literary publisher Two Ravens Press (now under new ownership) in 2006; we were soon described in the media as ‘a quiet publishing revolution’ and ‘the most talked-about publisher in Scotland’. In 2012 we launched EarthLines Magazine, a full-colour print publication for writing about nature, place and the environment. These days, my focus is firmly back on my own writing, but my other long-term passion remains the work that I do with myth and storytelling to help people along their individual journeys of transformation.
All of my work – writing and therapeutic – springs from an intense connection to the land, which is rooted as much in the mything and storying of place as it is in a detailed knowledge of the physical environment. These are acts of creative place-making. For over a decade I was a crofter, both in the far north-west Highlands of Scotland and in the Outer Hebrides, sandwiched between mountains and sea in one of the wildest and most remote places in the country. (On a clear day, we could see St Kilda from our kitchen window.) We produced a large proportion of our own food, keeping sheep, cows, pigs and a miscellany of poultry; a large thriving polytunnel, and a herb garden which allowed me to indulge in my love of ‘weedwifery‘: the amateur practice of herbal medicine in the Celtic traditions. That long, hard work, which required us to be outside in all weathers, as well as a continuing daily need for long walks to explore rocky shoreline, bog and mountain, has given me a deep and nourishing sense of connectedness to place that I feel drawn to share with others.
In 2014 we completed one more migration westwards, returning to Ireland. We now live in Connemara, where I lived in the 1990s; here, I have just founded The Hedge School: a centre for deep-rooted and transformational teachings in myth, wild mind, and enchantment.
These days, although there are many square miles of mountain, bog and coastal wilderness on our doorstep, we have just an acre of (beautifully wooded) land, and so I am focused more narrowly on the tending of bees and hens, and the growing of vegetables and herbs. We share our home with four border collie dogs (the result of living too close to an animal rescue centre) and two (also rescued) cats.
A miscellany of assorted facts? Once upon a time in the American south-west, I learned to fly to overcome a fear of flying, and obtained my pilot’s license. I speak French and (less fluently) Spanish, once upon a time also learned German and Latin, and have a very small smattering of Scottish Gaelic and Irish. I also love to play the bodhrán …