Dr Sharon Blackie is a writer, a psychologist who has specialised both in neuroscience and narrative, and a mythologist with a specialisation in Celtic Studies. 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. She is the founder 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’. She 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 most recent book is If Women Rose Rooted, a nonfiction work which offers up a new Heroine’s Journey for this challenging age of social and ecological crisis, described by bestselling novelist Manda Scott as ‘mind-blowing in the most profound and exhilarating sense … an anthem for all we could be. It’s an essential book for this, the most critical of recent times.’ Her articles have been published in a wide range of popular and academic magazines and journals. Sharon is an experienced lecturer and workshop leader, and has performed at a number of book and other cultural festivals. She is currently working on a new book, The Enchanted Life, planned for publication in in spring 2018. Sharon was formerly a crofter on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, but now splits her time between the Maamturk mountains of Connemara and the hills of Donegal, in Ireland. 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. For more information about Sharon and her writing and research interests, please visit her website.
Psychology and mythology: the foundation-stones of my work
The primary focus of my work is the native mythology and traditions of Ireland and the British Isles, and their relevance to the social and environmental problems we face today. I believe that those stories and traditions offer insights into authentic and meaningful ways of being which are founded on a sense of belonging to place, a rootedness in the land we inhabit. Our old myths, folktales, and fairy tales offer a deep and grounded wisdom which we can draw on today to lead us back to the wild that we have lost, and to show us how to belong to the wider world again. I am particularly interested in the psychology and mythology of women.
I came to this work many years ago, while I was practicing psychology at the same time as studying for an MA in Creative Writing. This unusual combination of professional qualifications led me to develop a specialism in narrative psychology. I then developed an innovative intensive training course in the subject for an organisation which offered Continuing Professional Development for clinical psychologists and other health professionals within the NHS. And in my own practice, I worked with myth, story and therapeutic writing to encourage lasting and meaningful transformation in my clients. All of that work has been inspired by an early and abiding love, and later formal study, of literature, mythology and folklore. Although I don’t see individual clients in therapeutic settings right now, I work with individuals, small groups, and larger audiences, drawing attention to the ways in which myths and stories can lead us to wilder and more authentic ways of being in the world.
This way of working with myth and story also stems in part from my study of Jungian and Depth Psychology traditions. I believe that myths and wonder tales lodge themselves in our hearts and stay with us because they are particularly redolent with archetypes – images that bridge the personal and the universal. These images are like keys, unlocking an old, deep wisdom which all too often we don’t know we have. In the vehicle of a story they become more than mere images: they become energies, embedded with instructions which guide us through the complexities of life and show us what we may become – or how we may participate in the becoming of the world. It is in good part because of the resonance of these archetypal images that myth and story have such authority in informing our relationship with what we perceive to be ‘other’ – in particular, our relationship with the natural world. Stories, for example, can show us what it is to have a balanced relationship with the land. They can show us a world in which everything is animate in its own way. A world in which we can learn from everything: animal, plant, rock. Myths and stories help us to belong to the world, to see it as enchanted, rather than as a mere backdrop for human activity. Stories teach us that the land, and the nonhuman others who share it with us, carry meanings of their own. And at the heart of the native mythology of Britain and Ireland is our relationship with, and duty to, the land. I believe we can transform ourselves and the world around us by learning from these native mythologies and wisdom traditions — beginning always by exploring them in a way that is rooted in authentic study of the original sources, unfiltered by romanticisation, fantasy or modern cultural projections.
So it is that my work with myth and stories these days is in a sense ecopsychological, focusing on the storying and re-storying – the re-enchanting – of our relationship to land, place and nature. In spite of my own background as a psychologist, I’ve been concerned for a long time about the ways in which contemporary ‘therapy culture’ locks us inside our own heads and focuses us on our own ‘wellbeing’ to the exclusion of all else. Although for sure we have to do the difficult work on ourselves before we can hope to function well in the world, it means nothing if we do not then step back out into the world and see where we fit into it, what gifts we can bring to it, what we can learn from it. This re-immersion into and reconnection with the land – understanding it for its own sake, not just as a backdrop for our own activities, or for its ability to assist in our own healing – is what matters to me above all else.
If you’d like more specifics, there’s an interview with me about my approach to myth and story at this link.