Writer | Psychologist | Mythologist
Dr Sharon Blackie is an award-winning writer, teacher and speaker, and is recognised internationally for her work on cultivating the mythic imagination. As well as writing four books of fiction and nonfiction, her work has been published in magazines and newspapers around the world, and she has been interviewed by major broadcasters on her areas of expertise.
She is a psychologist who has specialised both in neuroscience and narrative, and a mythologist with a specialisation in the myths, folklore and fairy tales of the Celtic nations and the British Isles.
WRITING, TEACHING & CONNECTING WITH THE LAND
Sharon’s unique approach to working with the mythic imagination, fairy tales and folklore highlights the insights these traditions can offer us into authentic and meaningful ways of being which are founded on a grounding in the native wisdom traditions of the West, and above all on cultivating deep and enduring relationships to the places we inhabit.
Read on for the official biography and Sharon’s personal story.
ACADEMIC & PROFESSIONAL QUALIFICATIONS
BA (1st Class Hons) Psychology, University of Liverpool, 1982.
PhD in behavioural neuroscience, Faculty of Medicine, University of London, 1985. Thesis subject: the behavioural and brain mechanisms underlying anxiety and panic.
Diploma Clinical Hypnotherapy, London College of Clinical Hypnosis, 2003.
Chartered Psychologist with practicing certificate awarded by the British Psychological Society, 2003 – 2007.
MA Creative Writing, Manchester Metropolitan University, 2007. Specialisation in 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, 2019, with a focus on Celtic literature, myth, and folklore. Dissertation: ‘The Cailleach in Gaelic Myth and Folklore: An Ecopsychological Analysis.’ Winner of the Rev. Thomas Jones Creaton Prize in Welsh.
Expressive Arts introductory training, Expressive Arts Florida Institute, 2019.
46 publications in peer-reviewed journals and academic books, in the field of psychology and neuroscience.
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. A collection of original and reimagined fairy tales about shapeshifting women, Foxfire, Wolfskin, was published in September 2019, and Hagitude, a nonfiction book about the myths and stories of female elderhood, is scheduled for publication in spring 2021.
Sharon is an occasional contributor to the Guardian newspaper in the UK, and she has been published in other national newspapers (including The Scotsman and The Irish Times), popular magazines and academic journals. In 2009, she was the recipient of a yearlong ‘Creative Scotland’ writer’s award.
From 2013 to 2017 Sharon 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’.
Sharon is represented by Kirsty McLachlan, at David Godwin Associates.
TEACHING AND SPEAKING
Sharon leads workshops at venues in Europe and North America (teaching at most of the major retreat centres including the Esalen Institute, the Garrison Institute, Hollyhock, and the Rowe Center), and has lectured at institutions as diverse as the University of Glasgow, Trinity College Dublin, Pacifica Graduate Institute, the Philadelphia Jung Institute, and the California Institute for Integral Studies.
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. Her TEDx talk on the mythic imagination can be found online here.
I was born in the far north-east of England to a Scottish father and a mother with some Irish roots, though most of my ancestors, it seems, come from the Brythonic ‘Old North’ – southern Scotland and the borderlands, the far north of England, and North Wales. I was raised from an early age on an imaginatively rich diet of Scottish and Irish myth, poetry, music and history. When my mother moved to the rural heartland of mid-north Wales in my late teens and married my stepfather, whose first (and only working) language was Welsh, another thread of that ancestry began to emerge in my life. So I guess I’m something of an ‘insular Celtic’ mongrel. (‘Insular Celts’ is the name scholars give to the pre-Roman, pre-Anglo-Saxon peoples of Ireland and the British Isles.)
My fascination with the mythology of these islands 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 complete the mapping exercise, 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 British, Irish and other Northern European traditions that have always drawn me more, and on which I now exclusively focus.
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 researching 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, and a six-year-long profoundly transformative dislocation to America, in my early 40s 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. Today, my work is rooted predominantly in depth and transpersonal psychology.
More recently, I deepened my lifelong work with myth still further by completing a Master’s degree in Celtic Studies at the University of Wales. I’m immersed in the latest thinking about our ancient native myth, folklore and belief systems, and loving every minute of it.
AN INTENSE CONNECTION TO THE LAND
My husband David Knowles and I founded independent 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, the UK’s first full-colour print publication for writing about nature, place and the environment. These days, after many years nurturing the voices of others, my focus is firmly back on my own writing.
All of my work – writing and teaching – 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; acts of radical belonging. For twelve years 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. That long, hard work, which required us to be outside in all weathers tending other living things, 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 the spirit of place that I feel drawn to share with others.
A MISCELLANY OF ASSORTED FACTS
In 2014 we embarked on another migration westwards, returning to Ireland – first to Donegal and then to Connemara, where I lived in the 1990s. It’s been a rich and beautiful journey, during which (as well as Scottish Gaelic) David has mastered two dialects of modern Irish, and Old & Middle Irish – but in 2020 we’ll be relocating back to Britain – to David’s native Wales, a place which was also a second home to me during the many decades my mother lived there.
We share our lives with four border collie dogs (the result of living too close to an animal rescue centre), a black cat called the Morrígan, an assortment of hens, and several colonies of bees.
A miscellany of assorted facts? Once upon a time in the deserts of New Mexico (one of my favourite places on the planet), I learned to fly to overcome a fear of flying, and obtained my pilot’s license. I speak French and some Spanish, once upon a time also learned German and Latin, and have a small smattering of Scottish Gaelic and Irish. In 2020, I plan to begin learning Welsh. My favourite fictional character is Terry Pratchett’s Granny Weatherwax, a witch in whose image I plan to model my old age. I also love to play the bodhrán …
As for my major inspirations and influences – an unlikely and eclectic list. At various times of my life, they’ve included D.H. Lawrence, Emily Brontë, Leonard Cohen, W.B. Yeats, Jacques Brel, Hildegard of Bingen, Rumi, James Hillman, Cormac McCarthy, Anaïs Nin, C.G. Jung, Ursula Le Guin, and Joanna Macy.
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