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.
Please click on the image to listen to an interview with The Shift Network for their 2018 Dreamwork Summit.
This interview was part of the 2018 Dreamwork Summit, a free online event featuring some of the top experts, educators, and practitioners in the field. For more information, please visit https://thedreamworksummit.com. This recording is a copyright of The Shift Network. All rights reserved.
The official bio
Dr Sharon Blackie is an award-winning writer of fiction and nonfiction, and is recognised internationally for her work on cultivating the mythic imagination. She’s 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 return to the native wisdom traditions of the West, and on cultivating a deep sense of belonging to the places we inhabit. In early 2017 she founded The Hedge School: an online space based in Connemara, Ireland, for teachings in myth, wild mind and enchantment. She is a sought-after international teacher and lecturer.
Writing: 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, will be 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’s writing has been published in a wide range of popular magazines and academic journals, and in 2009, she was the recipient of a yearlong ‘Creative Scotland’ writer’s award.
Teaching: Sharon leads workshops at venues in Europe and North America (working with all the major retreat centres including the Omega Institute, Esalen, the Garrison Institute, Hollyhock, and the Rowe Center), and has lectured at academic institutions as diverse as Trinity College Dublin and Pacifica Graduate Institute, California. She 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 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’.
Personal: After several years as a crofter in the north-west of Scotland and the Outer Hebrides, Sharon returned to Ireland in 2014 and now lives with her husband and dogs 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 entanglements 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 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, 2019. My focus during this MA was on Celtic literature, myth, and folklore (especially oral narratives). Research interests have included the figure of the Cailleach in Gaelic literature and folklore, the nature of the Otherworld in early Irish and Welsh literature (I’m particularly interested in the relationship between ancient conceptualisations of the anima mundi, Henri Corbin’s concept of the mundus imaginalis, and the Celtic Otherworld); and the origins of the Grail and Arthurian legends.*
*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 to parents whose roots were Scottish and Irish, and I was raised from an early age on an imaginatively rich diet of Irish myth, poetry, music and history. My fascination with the mythology of the ‘insular Celts’ 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 Celtic and other Northern European traditions that have always drawn me more.
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 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. More recently, I’ve deepened 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, 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 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 the spirit of 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 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 some 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 …