Taking a Break with 1920s Women Detective Novels

By Russell Patterson [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

An important part of my work is standing up for human rights as described by the United Nations Declaration. In these times this means keeping up with the news, contacting lawmakers, and marching in the streets. It’s tiring work and we all need to take breaks to recharge and return to the fight. When I take a break I read novels about 1920s women detectives.


Rhys Bowen’s Royal Spyness series is as refreshing as a sorbet. Lady Victoria Georgiana Charlotte Eugenie is a peniless royal, thirty fourth in line from the throne. When people die in her house, at country parties, in bookshops she is visiting – you get the picture – it falls to Georgie to figure out whodunit. She’s charming company. There are ten books in the series so far with the eleventh coming out this summer, and they don’t stray from the time between the wars.


Maisie Dobbs is a thoughtful woman. The series picks up when she establishes an investigation service in London. Starting life in service she was given an education by her titled employer, so she speaks the language of all classes, although navigating her own place is a lifelong challenge.

Maisie is bright and insightful. She’s learned psychology at university and meditation from a private tutor. When studying a person she puts her body in their position to investigate how that makes her feel. She also has a bit of second sight and gleans clues from sitting with a body or in a private room. Each case reflects something in her own life – watching her growth is one of the joys of the series.

The world wars impact Maisie seriously, she was shellshocked as a nurse in the first and the second brings her personal tragedies as well. In our present time the last survivors of World War II are passing away and we are forgetting how severe those losses can be. Watching Maisie cope has lessons for our own time. The thirteenth novel was just published.


The Miss Fisher Mysteries are wildly entertaining. Phryne is an independently wealthy flapper living in Australia who investigates murders because she’s good at it. She’s James Bond as a woman: drives fast, flies airplanes, takes lovers whenever she wants. She’s seldom afraid and never needs rescuing. The only thing that has ever nearly broken her spirit was discovering the plight of pregnant Catholic girls in the laundries and realizing she couldn’t save them all. Kerry Greenwood keeps the series firmly in the pre-Depression period.

I’ve only watched Season One of the television series and didn’t actually watch the season finale. They’re gorgeously shot – they had a million dollars per episode and were able to recreate the costumes and look of the times. The earlier episodes are best, adapting the books for the one-hour format in understandable ways. They even kept some of her lovers in, although the writers did pencil out the love of her life because he’s married.

As the season went on the writers developed their own story lines and altered Phryne’s character. She started to simper more, asking the police detective for emotional support, which developed a romance in a typical television fashion. And she needed rescuing which Phryne should never do. The final reason I checked out was that they veered from the genre. The story arc which concluded with the final episode was suspense, not mystery. I’m a paperback bookstore owner and I know the difference. You may watch and enjoy the series, but if you haven’t read the books, you don’t know Phryne, and she’s a marvelous woman to know. There are twenty books in the series and I’m reading them all again.


Seven Magical Ways to Resist Donald Trump

Justitia from WikiMedia

The resistance to the American political shift toward authoritarianism has become permanent part of the social landscape. Here are seven ways we can leverage magic to assist our political efforts.

Magical Resistance Tip One: Look to our traditions for guidance.

Magical folk have been the underdogs in the Western world for the last two thousand years. Resistance isn’t a new circumstance for us. We’ve made progress, it’s been easier the last few decades to be publicly Pagan, but before that it was dangerous to be labelled a Witch or heretic. All our traditions have ways to hide and ways to fight – secrecy, mutual support, and defiance of authority are built into the foundations of what we do.

Witches, remember that Aradia is the goddess of escaped slaves-turned-thieves. Rosicrucians, remember the order was founded to reform falsehood and bondage. Thelemites, remember “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law” is the law of freedom for all.

Magical Resistance Action One: revisit the early works of your tradition. Read or re-read:

Magical Resistance Tip Two: Call on a warrior spirit.

Pray, talk to, or invoke a god, celestial being, daimon, angel, hero, or personification of virtue. Since we’re not literally going to war we are not looking for a god who will help unleash violence. Instead we want a force that gives us the courage to stand against violence – to build the resistance.

The Greek god of war is a good example. Ares can send a soldier the mind-hazing madness that permits the clash of combat. But the god of war can also be invoked to temper anger in others and in ourselves. The Homeric Hymn to Ares prays: “Restrain also the keen fury of my heart which provokes me to tread the ways of blood-curdling strife.”

We can dial into the specific aspect of deity that maps onto our needs. Ares Gynaikothoinas supports women who take up weapons to protect themselves. I think of him whenever I see images of the Kurdish women soldiers defending their homes.

Greek, Egyptian, and Mesopotamian cities often had guardian deities who protected them. The wise warrior goddess Athena watched over Athens from her temple on the hill towering over the city. Deities and spirits who support warriors include: Meopotamian Inanna, Ishtar, Astarte; Egyptian Horus, Neith, Mentu, Mut, Sekhmet; Greek Artemis, Athena, Nike; Celtic Macha, Morrigan, Teutates; Hindu Durga, Shiva, Kali.

I am confirmed in Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica. When the bishop who performed the confirmation said “Ra-Hoor Khu is with you” I felt a presence settling around me. In the Book of the Law Ra-Hoor Khuit says: “Fear not at all; fear neither men nor Fates, nor gods, nor anything. Money fear not, nor laughter of the folk folly, nor any other power in heaven or upon the earth or under the earth. Nu is your refuge as Hadit your light; and I am the strength, force, vigour, of your arms.” That presence fuels my courage every day.

Magical Resistance Action Two: Make an offering, prayer, or connection to a warrior spirit.

Magical Resistance Tip Three: Use art to affirm peace, justice, love and life.

A warrior defends family and community against violence and oppression. We may be clear on what we are fighting against, but it’s also important to know what we are fighting for. What is our vision of the world? Here is mine: I believe passionately that every human being has a right to exist, to live without fear in a peaceful place, to have air, water, food, shelter, and health care, to love whoever they will, to express themselves to their fullest potential. Here is where art comes into its own: each time we draw, paint, write, sing our vision of the world we help to bring it into being. Light dispels shadow.

Magical Resistance Action Three: create an image, poem, blog post, video, meme expressing your vision of human rights. Here are some resources:

Magical Resistance Tip Four: Join a group.

Those of us who belong to covens, groves, orders, and other groups of like-minded friends can band together to do magic for peace and protection. For example many people are meeting to support the water protectors blocking the Dakota Access Pipeline. If you don’t already have a group there are many Facebook groups springing up, of Witches, Thelemites, and peoples of many diverse traditions, sharing ideas and support. Here’s one: Witches Working To Save Our World.

Magical Resistance Action Four: use your social media network to ask what groups your friends belong to.

Magical Resistance Tip Five: Get out into the street.

There are numerous direct actions occurring all over the country – women’s marches, Black Lives Matter demonstrations, Idle No More gatherings. Facebook events list places and times the gatherings happen.

The first time I went out to a direct action I was nervous. I didn’t know anyone, would I feel awkward? Actually I was greeted with enthusiasm and handed a sign. Now that I’m a veteran of numerous street demonstrations I know that people who stand in public are almost always happy to welcome any peaceful person who shows up.

I’m not going to pretend that I’m not nervous when I hold up a “Black Lives Matter” sign in public. Some people honk in support, others shout their disdain. There are places where police have stepped in with violence to disperse the demonstration so I am aware of the possibility of violence. Even with that awareness I have found direct action to be the most potent source of strength for the resistance.

While direct action isn’t magical in itself it is an opportunity to engage in magic: wear protective charms; sing an invocation to a warrior spirit; chant the outcome we desire. Direct action grounds the work in physical manifestation.

Magical Resistance Action Five: locate a direct action near you. Keep looking until you find one that inspires you to join in.

Magical Resistance Tip Six: Affirm the spirit of justice.

Many of us have a sense of the world gone wrong, of a harmony or accord being broken. There are ancient and strong spirits who act directly to protect peace and oppose injustice. The Egyptian goddess Ma’at personifies the pattern of the cosmos and acts to repair disruption. The Greek goddess Themis performs a similar function, along with her Roman counterpart Justitia, Lady Justice.

Offerings to Ma’at, Themis, Justitia and other spirits who pattern the cosmos are less about making altars with pictures, statues, and incense and more about right action. The little offerings are immediate: sending money to Oceti Sakowin Camp, picking up the phone to a lonely friend, visiting someone in a hospital or nursing home. The profound offering is living a life that matters – remaining compassionate while fighting fiercely for human rights.

Magical Resistance Action Six: take an action to help someone.

Magical Resistance Tip Seven: Connect with our ancestors.

Those of us who work with magic rooted in a particular family or culture can work directly with ancestral spirits. The people who have gone before us support those of us who walk in the living world. We can also work with our chosen ancestors, the teachers of our lineages. The Pagan philosopher Boethius wrote a book while he was imprisoned on a slanderous charge. I am finding his Consolation of Philosophy to be as relevant today as it was 1500 years ago.

Magical Resistance Action Seven: create or visit an ancestor altar.

Here is what I created for magical resistance actions three and seven: I read the story of Boethius from For the Love of the Gods.

Lady Liberty lives in me

I am Lady Liberty.

This year my dear sisters in the O.T.O. gifted me with a medallion featuring the statue of liberty. This was a thank-you to those of us who presented at the 2016 O.T.O. Women’s Symposium Ladies of Force and Fire. They chose “Liberty enlightening the world” as the icon of the event.

The statue in New York Harbor depicts the Roman goddess Libertas. Emma Lazarus’ poem A New Colossus is inscribed in her pedestal:

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles.

Last summer we were all riding high on the possibility that we might have our first woman president, Libertas was a well established virtue, and the poem an interesting historical note. Today the white supremacists who have overtaken the White House threaten to shut the doors of the country, blocking Muslims, favoring Christians, turning back refugees fleeing for their lives to face death. Images around the world depict Libertas beheaded, her torch extinguished.

I wore my Liberty medallion when I walked in the Women’s March on January 21. I’m wearing it all the time now. I understand how the Neo-Platonic saint Proklos (Proclus) must have felt when the temple of Athena was closed. Proklos said Athena came to him in a dream to tell him she would live in his house now. I realize that liberty is not a gift given to me by people in power, not the power of goddess to bestow. I have only the freedom that I fight to keep. We give it to each other when we band together to support each other.

Lady Liberty has taken up residence in my heart. It is up to each of us to keep her torch lit.