Book Review

Treasury of Folklore: Stars and Skies: Sun Gods, Storm Witches and Soaring Steeds by Willow Winsham ~ Book Review

Treasury of Folklore: Stars and Skies: Sun Gods, Storm Witches and Soaring Steeds by Willow Winsham ~ Book Review

I’m a bit late to this celestial party. But what with all the aurora borealis excitement this month, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to read Stars & Skies given my slight, ahem, obsession with trying to count seven stars for seven nights on 211 consecutive days between 2020 and 2021.

Stars & Skies is the third book in the Treasury of Folklore series, the previous two being Treasury of Folklore: Woodlands & Forests: Wild Gods, World Trees and Werewolves and Treasury of Folklore: Seas & Rivers: Sirens, Selkies and Ghost Ships both co-written by seasoned authors and folklorists, Willow Winsham and Dee Dee Chainey, founders of the addictive and incredibly successful hashtag #FolkloreThursday and repository of all things folklore, the Folklore Thursday website. Stars & Skies, however, is written by Willow alone and is no less enchanting.

Not going to lie, the first thing I did when I received the book was give it a good sniff. It’s one of those books that looks so beautiful (illustrations by Joe McLaren) that you just hope it smells proper. And it did, a proper promise of a good book smell. And the interior of the book is also an absolute delight. Willow weaves folklore, folktales and a healthy dose of scientific explanation seamlessly together to provide a narrative that takes us from one horizon to another. The reader is treated to beliefs and stories from around the world from the deities of Japan and Polynesia, to the birdlore of the Xhosa people of South Africa, to eclipse folklore of Siberia, to tales of Orkney storm witches. She effortlessly entwines both the commonalities of traditions from cultures geographically opposed and the differing beliefs of neighbours. 

The book is a fascinating portrait of the things we tell ourselves to make meaning of the world around us. Stories like how Mole was convinced by his friend Fox to climb to the moon to get himself some moon worms (he never made it, apparently Parrot got jealous and pecked at the rope causing Mole to fall. But Fox did, and that’s why the people of Peru see a fox, rather than a man, in the moon). Or the one about the prince-vomiting witch of Romania, part of how the Morning and Evening Star became. Or how the Mongolian horse-headed fiddle was created from the Tulpar, a winged horse from Central Asia. And of course there are many folklore rules, many of which are ritual year related (which obviously made me very happy) such as the belief that whatever day of the week Christmas Day falls on, it will foretell what that winter’s weather will be. According to Willow, we’ll have to wait until Christmas 2026 if you want to build a snowman.

Stars & Skies is the perfect companion for watching the heavens and because it looks and feels so beautiful (did I mention the tactile cover?), it also makes for the perfect gift. So to quote Willow at the end of the Conclusion, ‘Keep on looking upward. You never know what you might see.”

Treasury of Folklore: Stars & Skies: Sun Gods, Storm Witches and Soaring Steeds by Willow Winsham is published by Batsford and is available online and in all good bookshops. Please support your local independent bookshop whenever you can!

Published by Liza Frank

Author of My Celebrity Boyfriend. Obsessed with hula hooping, sons of preachermen and fresh dates, sometimes all at the same time. Curator of Folklore Agony and The Everyday Lore Project.

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