Review: Kissing the Hag

Apparently I have triggered the right algorithm at They’re recommending Pagan books to me, not just from Llewellyn Publications or New Page Books now, but from publishers that I might never have heard of on my own, books that don’t show up on the shelves at my local Borders or Barnes & Noble. (My reading tastes are at the far end of the long tail.) One of the first of these off-the-beaten-path books I read was Kissing the Hag: The Dark Goddess and the Unacceptable Nature of Women. Not the most inviting of titles, which turned out to be the author’s point. But it was getting good reviews, including one from Thomas Moore, so I took a chance.

Kissing the Hag
Kissing the Hag: The Dark Goddess and the Unacceptable Nature of Women by Emma Restall Orr

Starting with a well-told retelling of the Arthurian tale “The Marriage of Gawain,” Orr explores seven goddesses (I keep thinking of them as archetypes): the virgin, the whore, the mother, the bitch, the witch, the old bag, and the hag. The book is written for a female audience, but the author welcomes male readers in the hopes that the book will help them understand the women they know a little better, and because under these various goddesses there’s a “current” that is common to human nature and nature as a whole. Orr maintains that any of these archetypes may be uncomfortable for a girl or woman to express, so that she ends up trying to suppress it, at the cost of censoring her true nature.

I almost gave up on this book at first, mostly because it didn’t sink in how she had structured it. She says at the beginning that although she quotes from many women, she relates each anecdote in the first person. I read that, forgot it, and read a good chunk of the book wondering how the narrator could have had so many contradictory experiences in her life. With that straightened out, though, it stopped distracting me, and the book instantly became more interesting to me. Some day I may have to reread it, remembering this from the start, and see if I think about those early chapters in a different way.

While I’m pretty sure I would’ve found this book to be a worthy read years ago, I don’t think I would’ve gotten nearly as much out of it then. I’m sure I wouldn’t have understood Orr’s takes on the witch, the old bag, or the hag when I was in my twenties, for instance. Overall, I would recommend it for women (or men) who’ve already done some self-exploration and/or who’ve had enough life experience by now to have some perspective on their lives.

My rating: 8 of 10 stars