Writer | Psychologist | Mythologist
‘She knows her archetypes, knows her Jung, knows her fairytales and knows her neuroscience, and is sick of being patronised by men who don’t.’
THE SUNDAY TIMES
‘A beloved and highly respected thinker and a legend in the ecofeminist and nature writing world.’
‘My standout interview of the year.’
MATTHEW TAYLOR, WRITER, BROADCASTER AND HOST OF THE RSA ‘BRIDGES TO THE FUTURE’ PODCAST
Dr. Sharon Blackie is an award-winning writer, psychologist and mythologist. Her highly acclaimed books, courses, lectures and workshops are focused on the development of the mythic imagination, and on the relevance of myth, fairy tales and folk traditions to the personal, cultural and environmental problems we face today.
As well as writing five books of fiction and nonfiction, including the bestselling If Women Rose Rooted, her writing has appeared in anthologies, collections and in several international media outlets – among them the Guardian, the Irish Times, the i and the Scotsman. Her books have been translated into several languages, and she has been interviewed by the BBC, US public radio and other broadcasters on her areas of expertise.Her awards include the Roger Deakin Award, and a Creative Scotland Writer’s Award. Her next book, Wise Women: Myths and folklore in celebration of older women will be published by Virago in 2024.
Sharon is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, and has taught and lectured at several academic institutions, Jungian organisations, retreat centres and cultural festivals around the world. Her TEDx talk on the mythic imagination can be viewed here.
WRITING, TEACHING, STORYTELLING
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 in the world, and the ways in which they can help us to cultivate a deep and enduring sense of belonging 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 psychology and neuroscience, Faculty of Medicine, University of London, 1985. Thesis subject: ‘The Behavioural and Brain Mechanisms Underlying Anxiety and Panic’. 46 publications in peer-reviewed journals (Brain Research, Neuroscience Letters, Behavioural Brain Research, Neuropsychobiology and many more) and academic books.
Recipient of Wellcome Trust Travel Fellowship (l’Hôpital Pitié-Salpétrière, Paris) and Mental Health Foundation Research Fellowship (Institute of Neurology, National Hospital for Nervous Diseases, London), 1985-6
Practitioner Diploma, Clinical Hypnotherapy, London College of Clinical Hypnosis, 2003.
Chartered Psychologist with Practicing Certificate awarded by the British Psychological Society, 2003 – 2007. Continuing Professional Development training in various therapeutic modalities including Transpersonal Psychology, CBT and EMDR. Tutor in Narrative Psychology for clinical psychologists and other health professionals, via the Association for Psychological Therapies (UK).
MA Creative Writing (fiction route), 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 Irish and Welsh 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.
Greek Mythology, Department of Continuing Education, University of Oxford, 2022
Old English Literature, Department of Continuing Education, University of Oxford, 2022.
Elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts (2022).
Sharon has been engaged as an external examiner on behalf of doctoral candidates at Pacifica Graduate Institute and the California Institue for Integral Studies.
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.
A second 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 mythology and psychology of elderhood in women, and reimagining the second half of life, was published in September 2022.
Wise Women: Myths and folklore in celebration of older women will be published by Virago in 2024.
Sharon’s articles have been published in several national newspapers, including the Guardian, The Scotsman, the i and The Irish Times, and in many popular magazines and academic journals. In 2009, she was the recipient of a yearlong Writer’s Award from Creative Scotland. In 2022, she was given the Roger Deakin Award by the Society of Authors.
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 Jane Graham Maw, at Graham Maw Christie.
TEACHING, SPEAKING AND MEDIA
Sharon has led workshops at venues in Europe and North America (teaching at major retreat centres including the Esalen Institute, the Garrison Institute and the Rowe Center). She has lectured and presented seminars at a variety of academic institutions, including the University of Glasgow, Trinity College Dublin, Pacifica Graduate Institute, the California Institute for Integral Studies and the Holos Institute. She has also lectured and led workshops for various Jungian institutions, including the Philadelphia Jung Institute, the Association of Jungian Analysts (UK) and the Jung Platform.
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 Stormont talk on the mythic imagination can be found online here.
Sharon has appeared several times on BBC Radio in the UK, and on NPR and other stations in the USA. She is a regular guest on leading podcasts, including Sam Baker’s ‘The Shift’, Mary Portas’ ‘Beautiful Misfits’, and the RSA’s ‘Bridges to the Future’.
I was born in 1961, in County Durham in the far north-east of England, to a Scottish father and a mother with Irish and Northern English roots. A good portion of my ancestors were rooted in Ireland; all of the rest came from Yr Hen Ogledd, the ‘Old North’: southern Scotland and the borderlands, Northumbria and Cumbria. They were gamekeepers, agricultural and industrial labourers, domestic servants, seamstresses, miners and master mariners.
I was raised from an early age on an imaginatively rich diet of Irish and Scottish myth, poetry, music and history, in a working-class household free of television but with a great respect for books. And so 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 wider British, 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 studied and researched mythological systems from all around the world over the years, it’s my ancestral Irish, British and other Northern European traditions – along with Greek mythology – that have always drawn me more, and on which I now focus.
Although I had originally wanted to study literature, 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, with research fellowships at l’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, at the age of 42 I moved to a coastal croft in the north-west Highlands of Scotland. There I returned to my roots, in practice as a therapist and teacher of narrative psychology, as well as working extensively with other creative/active imagination techniques aimed at psychospiritual transformation. Today, after several years living in the Outer Hebrides, Ireland and Wales, I have returned to my northern roots and live in the beautiful Westmorland Dales.
I make my living as a writer; this, along with my teaching and speaking work, is rooted predominantly in depth (Jungian/ archetypal) psychology. Over the years, I’ve deepened my lifelong work with myth by completing a Master’s degree in Celtic Studies at the University of Wales, and courses in Greek Mythology and Old English Literature at the University of Oxford.
A SENSE OF PLACE
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 national 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 and place. 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 re-mythologising and re-storying of place as it is in a detailed knowledge of the physical environment. These are acts of re-enchantment, of creative place-making, of radical belonging.
For twelve years I was a crofter, both in the far north-west Highlands of Scotland and on the Isle of Lewis 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‘. That long, hard work, which required us to be outside in all weathers tending other living things, as well as a daily practice of 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 I embarked on a migration westwards, returning to Ireland – first to beautiful, wild Donegal, where a big chunk of my heart still lies, and then to Connemara, where I had lived in the 1990s. It was a rich and transformative journey, during which (as well as having Scottish Gaelic) David mastered two dialects of modern Irish, then Old & Middle Irish. In early 2020 we came back to Britain – to David’s native Wales. In spring 2023, I returned finally to my northern roots, and to an old house by a river in Cumbria. For me, this part of my journey through the many lessons of place has been about rediscovering the Old North, and the culture and traditions of my childhood.
We share our lives with three border collie dogs and Maeve, the tabby cat formerly known as The Kitten of the Apocalypse. We tend a small flock of pedigree sheep.
A miscellany of random 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 navigate a midlife crisis), and obtained my pilot’s license. I speak French and some Spanish, back in the day also learned German and Latin, and have a very small smattering of Scottish Gaelic and Irish (favouring the Donegal dialect) and an even tinier smattering of Welsh. I could sing you anything from a vast repertoire of the old Irish rebel songs on which I was raised. I adore the Pre-Raphaelites. I have a deep love of all things canine. I’m a national of both Britain and Ireland. My favourite fictional character is Terry Pratchett’s Granny Weatherwax, an old mountain witch in whose image I plan to model my old age. When in doubt, I ask myself, ‘What would Granny do?’
Favourite writers of fiction: so very many, but those that stand out include Janette Turner Hospital, Alice Thomas Ellis, Doris Lessing, Michael Ondaatje, Margaret Atwood, Cormac McCarthy. Nonfiction: harder; probably Gretel Ehrlich, Rebecca Solnit, Terry Tempest Williams. Poetry: W.B. Yeats, Ted Hughes, Adrienne Rich, Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, Basil Bunting, Rainer Maria Rilke, John Burnside and many, many more.
Major inspirations and influences – an often unlikely and eclectic list. At various times of my life, they’ve included D.H. Lawrence, C.G. Jung, Emily Brontë, Leonard Cohen, W.B. Yeats, Jacques Brel, Hildegard of Bingen, Rumi, James Hillman, Anaïs Nin and Ursula Le Guin. But mostly, for ever and always, Granny Weatherwax.
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