On Female Masculinity

Last week I recorded an an interview with my Radical Feminist pal, Finn Mackay. Finn has written a book with the intriguing title of Female Masculinities and the Gender Wars. The lovely people at Bristol Ideas wanted to do a feature on it, and I got asked to host.

Finn and I talked about an awful lot of stuff. It is an absolute delight to be able to have a deep and nuanced conversation about feminism and gender without some idiot fauxminist yelling “Penis!” at us. Hopefully the conversation will be illuminating for people who have hitherto only been exposed to the nonsense in the media.

If you would like to take a listen, you can do so here.

New Salon Futura

I know, it has been up for a week now, but I forgot to tell you about it here. Issue #35 has the following reviews:

  • Deep Wheel Orcadia by Harry Josephine Giles
  • Spear by Nicola Griffith
  • Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
  • Far from the Light of Heaven by Tade Thompson
  • Black Widow
  • Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey

There is also a lot of discussion of virtual conventions, and a preview of my Worldcon program schedule. You can find the issue here.

New Crater School Book on Pre-Order


The new Chaz Brenchey novel, Dust Up at the Crater School, is ready to go at last. The fabulous Ben Baldwin cover is above, and links to pre-order are available here. It is just Amazon and Kobo right now because the B&N website has been having a bit of a moment, but I have finally got the book uploaded so they should have it available soon.

Print copies will be a little longer coming because of the time of year, and the supply chain crisis. But the ebooks will be available on December 24th. That’s a significant date. Does it mean something? Why yes! Here’s the blurb:

Christmas is coming to the Crater School, so the girls must celebrate. So says the Earth calendar. But Mars does not respect school rules. Nor does the Red Planet have much respect for Earth weather. Why bother with a white Christmas when Martian weather can be far more dangerous?

Then again, perhaps this is for the best. The people most likely to arrive at the Crater School with snow on their boots are Russian spies.

Yes, we have a Christmas story for you. But before that we have the whole of the autumn term, so there’s plenty of time for our girls to get themselves into trouble. And they do, of course.

As you may have noticed, we have a front page quote from the inimitable Francis Spufford. He’s also provided a blurb for the book. Here it is:

Only in the laboratory of Chaz Brenchley could the British school story be lovingly sutured together with the Old Mars of the pulps, animated with the crackling static of a planetary dust storm, and sent lumbering down to the village. No – *skipping* down to the village, with a beret, and a paper bag full of bulls’-eyes, and a wholesome desire to excel at lacrosse.

Do keep an eye on the Wizard’s Tower Press Twitter feed (@WTPress) as I’ll be teasing a few things about the book over the next few weeks. Also Chaz has promised a few Christmas recipes from Mrs. Bailey, the school’s legendary cook.

Finally, if you read and enjoyed Three Twins, do please consider posting a review on Amazon. I’ve seen from Juliet and Tate what a massive difference getting to 50 reviews makes to sales. We currently have 36, so we don’t need many more.

Alternative Canada

This morning Kevin and I visited the McCord Museum. We chose it, of all the various cultural destiations in Montréal, because it has an exhibit devoted to the local indigenous people. There are, we were told, 11 different cultural groups native to the region we know as Quebec. They range from the Huron or Wendat people, who are related to other Iroquoian-speaking peoples from around the Great Lakes region, to the Inuit.

What you hope for from such exhibitions is to to learn fascinating things about these indigienous cultures. What you get, most of the time, is shameful tales about how badly they have been treated by Europeans. You get stories of massacres, of populations decimated by Western diseases, of broken treaties, of stolen children, of horrendous suicide rates among indigenous youth. Quebec is no exception.

I will note that the exhibition in the McCord was less despressing that the equivalent one in the museum in Hobart, Tasmania. There we were greeted with sorry photographs of the last known members of the native communties, dating from decades ago. There are over 1.6 million indigenous people living in Canada. Some 800 of them participated in the creation of the exhibition in the McCord. Some of them are on video venting their frustration at how badly they are treated, still.

The final room of the exhibition encourages visitors to make a meaningful connection to indigenous people, and to start on the journey of becoming an ally. The way that they talked about listening to people, and being respectful of difference, was very similar to the things we say in the Diversity Trust training about becoming an ally to trans people. There’s a lesson in that, I suspect.

Settling In

As is the way of things with convention trips to other time zones, Kevin and I are now more or less used to Canadian time (in my case helped by their clocks going back on Sunday morning), but it is now time to start adjusting to our home time zones again.

We are settling in to Montréal in other ways too. We are eating very well, and have found the local farmers’ market so that we can sample the native cheeses. This one was rather good. We are a little hobbled due to the absence of the excellent Scott Edelman, but we shall do our best to channel his enthusiasm for fine dining and find some where spectacular to eat. We are in Montréal, that should’t be hard.

Another way in which we are getting acclimatised is that we are making like proper Canadians and going everywhere we can underground. This isn’t actually necessary. The weather has been fabulous — mostly in single digits but only very slightly negative overnght. But the underground routes are there for a reason and we are (re-)learning to use them. There’s no particular need for a coat.

I say “re-learning” because of course we learned all this in 2009 when we were here for Worldcon. This morning our route to breakfast took us past the convention center, and the fabulous Embassy Suites where Sissy Pantelis and I spent a happy week luxuriating in a superb hotel room. I want to stay in that hotel again.

However, all too soon it will be time to head home. We’ve done departure tests (though it looks like you don’t actually need one for the UK until after you have arrived, because the UK government is really keen on people spreading COVID as widely as possible). I shall have to find an excuse to come back.

Travel in the Time of COVID

So, Canada.

For the first time in my life I drove to Heathrow rather than go by train. I didn’t see any point in exposing myself to a carriage full of maskless, coughing people. Thankfully the M4 was very quiet.

Due to the additional screening involved, Air Canada asked us to arrive 3 hours before scheduled departure. I did so. There was one person in the check-in queue before me. I was through in 10 minutes.

Terrorisation was also very quick. They are trialling a new security system in T2 which does not require you to remove electronics from hand baggage. I was lucky enough to be selected. Again it was all very quick. I was airside with 2.5 hours to spare.

T2 was fairly empty. My flight was no more than a third full. Had I wanted it, I could have stretched out in a 4-set of seats. Except that masks were manadatory and my super power of falling asleep in moving vehicles does not work as well when wearing a mask.

Fortunately the entertainment was good. I saw Black Widow, and now want to see it again on a bigger screen. I also re-watched Thor: Ragnarok, because why wouldn’t I? If I can’t sleep on the way back I shall put on Fury Road.

And now I am in Montréal where the food is so good I’m putting on weight just looking at it. I gather that it is not so good if you are gluten intolerant, but I’m very happy. There is a convention going on, which is a nice bonus as I’m getting to catch up with a bunch of friends, some of whom, such as John Picacio, I haven’t seen in 10 years.

My World Fantasy Schedule

I have passed my “fit to fly” test and think that I have all of the other bits of paperwork that the Canadian government requires, so I am expecting to be flying out to Montreal tomorrow. Assuming that all goes according to plan, I will be on program at World Fantasy. Here’s what I have been scheduled for.

Friday 5th – Noon: Covid-19 and the BookWorld – Effects and Consequences
We don’t have a good picture on the consequences of the Pandemic for our industry and our genre, but the effects are huge, and they’re continuing to unfold, and will likely continue to unfold for years, with massive effects on the stability of writing as a career, on small presses, on major publishers, on printers, supply chains, on bookstore chains and independents, marketing, ebooks and audiobooks, and the industry at large.
With Joshua Palmatier, Ashley Hisson, Deanna Sjolander & Julie E. Czerneda

Saturday 6th – Noon: Works in Translation
The world of fantasy has many languages and translation is an important part of making literature available to a larger audience. The panel will discuss the challenges of translating a work from one language to another.
With Jean-Louis Trudel, Mathieu Lauzon-Dicso, Eugenia Triantafyllou

The Covid panel is in person only, but the translation one is hybrid, meaning that at least one of the panel will be attending virtually. The panel should be visiable to anyone with a virtual membership.

Compass in Paper


This took rather longer than expected due to the pandemic and the need to get the map re-done, but finally we have Juliet McKenna’s Aldabreshin Compass series back in print. The image above is of the paperbacks, and showcases Ben Baldwin’s brilliant new covers. I don’t have all of the hardcovers yet, but UPS has promised they’ll be delivered tomorrow and that should be before I have to leave for BristolCon.

I’m particularly pleased to have this series back in print because it shows that fantasy writers have been aware of diversty issues for some time. The majority of the people we meet in these books are black, and the US edition of Southern Fire had a good picture of Daish Kheda on the cover. It was published in 2003. The culture of the Aldabreshin Archipelago is also fascinating. Men have multiple wives, but their role in society is limited to law and war. Economic power is firmly vested in the women who do all of the trading. Eunuchs are commonplace. And magic is viewed with deep suspicion, if not horror.

Thanks to the worldwide paper shortage, and my being off to Canada next week, I won’t be able to fulfill orders from the Wizard’s Tower store swiftly, but the books should all be orderable from bookstores as of today. I will be looking for links and updating the Wizard’s Tower main site accordingly.

BristolCon Programme

No sign of a government u-turn as yet, so here’s my schedule for BristolCon. First up I am on this:

Panel Room 2: 13:00 – We’ve been ret-conned again!

Does the body of work always belong to the author, or can it be removed from them and become a readership property? From film directors issuing recuts, reworkings, removing originals from print, to the issues of author bigotry the panel discusses who truly owns a work of fiction once it’s been published and who controls it’s authority

Cheryl Morgan, S. Naomi Scott, R B (Rosa) Watkinson, Justin Lee Anderson , Kevlin Henney (M)

And then I am moderating this:

Panel Room 1: 16:00 – Why is there no democracy in epic fantasy?

The genre is still in thrall to the lure of kings and queens and dynastic power, let alone the Chosen One who’s just plain better than you. Where is the voice of the people and the emergence of democracy?

Adrian Tchaikovsky, Juliet E McKenna, Kate Macdonald, Justin Lee Anderson , Cheryl Morgan (M)

Both panels look like being a lot of fun. The rest of the time I will be in the Dealers’ Room. See some of you there.

Coronavirus – Day #567

This is about the time when I’d be telling you about my programming assignments for BristolCon and World Fantasy. However, I have no idea whether I will be at either of them.

Here’s the problem. COVID infections have been rising rapidly in the UK over the last couple of weeks. We are now over 50,000 new cases every day. For comparison, that’s roughly where we were at Christmas last year.

The government says that it is not worried, because the death rate is very low. It is just over 100 a day, which compares very well to the over 600 a day we were seeing last Christmas. Vaccines work. Of course 100 deaths a day is still horrific, but the government is very happy with it. Their ideology states that anyone who dies was obviously weak and not worth saving.

So a death rate of 100 a day isn’t going to result in any change in government policy. Probably 200 a day won’t either. But that’s not the number I’m watching. The key indicator is the number of people admitted to hospital, because that tells you whether the NHS is likely to be overloaded. That number has been rising steeply through October, and is roughly tracking the level we had last winter. That’s not good.

It doesn’t help that the situation here in the South West is far worse than the national average. This is in large part because one of the testing labs that serves the region had been discovered to be returning a large number of false negatives. This is apparrently what happens when you hand out government contracts on the basis of who you know and how much they donate to Tory Party funds, rather than their ability to do the job. Anyway, lots of people around here who had COVID were told they didn’t, and as a result infections have skyrocketed.

Right now the government is trying to bluster its way through the situation. They insist that there is nothing to worry about. This is rather like when a football club says that it has total confidence in the manager. You know that a dramatic u-turn is coming soon.

There’s also the attitude of other countries to consider. Morocco closed its borders to the UK last night. Other countries are likely to follow suit in the coming weeks. Canada might be one of them.

I’m still planning to go to both conventions, but anything could happen between now and the end of the month.

Mega McKenna Offers


Every so often an author finds herself storing rather a lot of author copies of some of her books. What are you going to do with them? Well, sell them, obviously. But you probably don’t have enough stock for a dealer table at a convention. Which is where your friendly, neighbourhood small press comes in. As I’m now selling paper, I can help.

I have just added a coupe of massive bargains to the Wizard’s Tower bookstore. You can get the complete series of The Chronicles of the Lescari Revolution, and The Hadrumal Crisis, for just £5 + postage each. The postage is as much as the cost of the books. And if you will be at BristolCon you can reserve copies to pick up there and not pay postage. Honestly, bargain. See here.

UK only, of course. Curse you, Brexit.

Green Men at BristolCon


Yes folks, BristolCon is fast approaching, and I will be in the Dealers’ Room with lots of lovely books for you to buy.

The book that will probably be most in demand is The Green Man’s Challenge. I should have enough paperbacks, but if you want a hardcover it would be best to reserve one. Equally if you want a copy of something else that is low on stock.

Anyway, the bookstore now sells paper books to UK customers. Mostly that means postage, but if you expect the pick up the book at a con then just select that delivery option instead. Please check any books that you want, because the website does have stock levels so it is easy to see if anything is in short supply.

Did I mention that you get a free copy of the ebook if you buy a paper book direct from us?

See (some of) you at BristolCon.

Kim Stanley Robinson in (Virtual) Bristol

It being October, BristolCon is not far away. However, to whet your appetite, there is another science fiction event taking place on Tuesday the 19th. As part of the Festival of the Future City, Bristol Ideas is doing an interview with Kim Stanley Robinson about his latest novel, The Ministry for the Future.

Stan will probably in the the UK at the time, but that’s because he’s been invited to speak at COP26. He had no idea what his schedule would be in advance, so the Bristol Ideas folks decided to pre-record the interview. And they kindly asked me to set the scene by giving an overview of Stan’s career.

That of course means that I was present for the pre-record, so I can promise you that Stan and interviewer, Andrew Kelly, put on a great show. If you are interested in practical political and economic ways to solve the climate change issue, you will probably find it fascinating too.

The event is free to attend. Further details are available here. And you will be able to watch it on YouTube.

Octocon This Weekend

Ireland’s national SF&F convention will be taking place virtually again this year. It is free to attend, and there is a lot going on. Details are available here.

I am on two panels. They are as follows.

Saturday, 21:00 How Not to Code Your Non-Humans
Writers often use traits of neurodiverse, non-binary, queer or disabled people as blueprints for their aliens, robots and monsters, but don’t allow their humans to share these characteristics. How can we build both human and non-human characters to exhibit a wide range of identities without resorting to mere ambiguous coding or else to using racist, sexist or other bigoted stereotypes?
With: Faranae, Kat Dodd, Angeline B. Adams & S.L. Dove Cooper

Sunday, 15:00 Uncovering the Hidden Treasures of the Past
Science fiction as a genre looks to the future, but authors of the past can still have a lot to say to us even though their work may have fallen out of print and become a distant memory. Why have some writers and works been consigned to the vaults of history while others have remained on the shelves, and what would our panel most like to see restored from the archives?
With: Ian Moore, Michael Carroll, Cora Buhlert & Deirdre Thornton

I will also be available in the Wizard’s Tower Press channel of the convention’s Discord.

Juliet McKenna is doing a couple of panels on Saturday, and a reading on Sunday.

As far as the rest of the programme goes, I’m looking forward to the great Shelly Bond talking about editing comics, Gillian Polack’s talk on Food in Fantasy, and S.L. Dove Cooper on Asexuality in SF&F. The full schedule is available here.

Hopefully I will see some of you there.

Publication Day


The Green Man’s Challenge is now out in the wild, and the several hundred people who pre-ordered the book should now have it on their reading devices.

If you haven’t ordered a copy yet and will be at BristolCon, I will be putting up links for you to reserve a copy for collection there. Or, if you are in the UK, you can order a copy to be mailed to you.

I note that if you buy paper books direct from Wizard’s Tower you can elect to have a copy of the ebook sent to you for free.

If you were at FantasyCon you might also have noticed a proof copy of the paperback of Southern Fire. The rest of the Aldabreshin Compass series will be following this month. It will be great to have that series back in print again, especially with those lovely Ben Baldwin covers.

Now that I’m doing actual physical sales from the website (again, apologies, UK only), a few other things will turn up there. Keep your eyes peeled.

Life on Transphobia Island

It is fairly well known now that the UK has become one of the most transphobic countries in the world. We aren’t as bad as places like Russia or Hungary yet, but the situation is not good. Most of you will probably think that the bulk of the problem is lack of reform of the Gender Recognition Act, and the constant flow of anti-trans propaganda in the mainstream media. Some of you may be aware that there is now around a 5 year waiting list to get a first appointment at a UK gender clinic, and that in five years time that delay will be much longer. These are the things that hit the headlines, but they are not all that is going on. Behind the scenes, much worse is happening.

I’m writing this post today because today is the first time that I have resorted to ordering medication over the internet. I’m hoping that I won’t have to use it, and there are some helpful people within the NHS who are trying to get me a new hormone prescription. But without the cooperation of a GP local to me they will probably fail.

The GP services in the UK are currently organised through things called Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs). There are lots of these around the country. While patients have a free choice of GPs within their local CCG, it is difficult to get care from anywhere else. A recent survey by Gender GP has discovered that 83% of CCGs in England do not have any policy in place regarding healthcare for trans people. That doesn’t necessarily mean no treatment. If you have a friendly GP whom you have know for years they will probably still prescribe. But increasingly GP services are run through large, multi-doctor surgeries where you never see the same doctor twice, and without an official trans healthcare policy from their CCG they will probably refuse treatment.

Note that I’m not asking for anything highly specialist here. The gender transition process is still handled by Gender Identity Clinics. But if, like me, you have had your gonads removed, you need an alternative source of hormones to stay healthy. In theory I should be getting a regular prescription of oestrogen. In practice GPs refuse to prescribe, even though they know I will get quite ill without it.

There are parts of the country that are not so bad. There’s that 17% of CCGs that do have a trans policy. Plus, if you happen to live in London, Manchester, Brighton or Liverpool there are specialist GP services you can go to. But for much of England there is a huge problem.

You might think that, in such a situation, someone in private practice would leap in to take advantage, but that doesn’t happen. I’ve tried three private GP services, including BUPA. All three said that they would not accept a trans person as a patient. Anyone who sets up in private practice specifically to help trans people is quickly hounded out of business by the medical authorities.

So healthcare is a problem, but a potentially far worse one is the removal of trans people’s civil rights through changes in police policy. The UK now has elected Police & Crime Commissioners (PCCs) for each local force. In England, inevitably, the majority of these are Conservatives. Recently there has been a coordinated push by these people to redefine the law as it applies to trans women. In a recent post on the right-wing website, Conservative Home, several PCCs stated their opposition to trans rights, and to the LGBT+ charity, Stonewall.

The reason for the complaints against Stonewall is that their training on the Equality Act correctly explains that trans women can only be excluded from “women-only” spaces if there is a good reason for doing so. This is in line with the official guidance regarding the Act produced by the Equality & Human Rights Commission (EHRC). Earlier this year an anti-trans lobby group spent a large amount of money to bring a court case demanding a judicial review of the EHRC guidance. The claimed that, under the Act, trans women should always be excluded from women-only spaces. The judge described their argument as “absurd” and “wrong in law”. Nevertheless, the media continues to put forward this anti-trans position as if it is fact, and now several PCCs have done so too.

The most extreme example is Philip Wilkinson, the PCC for Wiltshire, which happens to be where I live. He stated that he does not believe that “biological men” should be allowed into women-only spaces. The term, “biological men” is a favourite of anti-trans campaigners. Its meaning varies quite a bit. Some people say it means people with a Y chromosome, others that it means people who do not have ovaries, and others also want to exclude anyone with above average levels of testosterone in their body. But all of them agree that the term absoutely excludes all trans women.

Currently in the UK the Gender Recognition Act allows trans people to change their legal gender. That should allow them to be treated as an ordinary person of that gender in almost all circumstances. Equally, the Equality Act says that it is illegal to discrimiate against a person on the grounds that they have undergone, are undergoing or plan to undergo gender reassignment. By saying that he will bar trans women from women-only spaces, Mr Wilkinson is saying that he wants the police under his command to ignore the Gender Recognition Act and Equality Act, and to act with prejudice against any trans women they encounter.

Of course this is illegal, but if there is one thing that the current government in the UK has shown it is that they have no respect for the law, and believe that they can break it with impunity whenever they wish. The same is apparently true of Conservative PCCs. And while a trans woman who is arrested for using a toilet, or trying to buy clothes, might eventually have her day in court and win, that won’t make up for the trauma of the experience.

It is probably no accident that Mr Wilkinson’s statement was quickly followed up by the launch of a campaign by Wiltshire Police to target “sex offenders”. How they are likley to be able to spot potential rapists before they commit any rapes is a bit of a mystery. But it is axiomatic amongst the anti-trans movement that they “can always tell” if someone is trans, and Mr Wilkinson clearly believes that all trans women are, by definition, sex offenders. It is pretty obvious who the Wiltshire police will be on the lookout for.

Sadly the “we can always tell” manta is nonsense. The vast majority of people who get harrassed in public toilets and other women-only spaces on suspicion of being trans are cisgender women. They might have short hair and a fairly masculine style of dress; they might be wearing a wig for some innocent reason; or their might have lost their breasts to cancer. Many trans women are quite safe in comparison, but it doesn’t feel that way when you know that you are being hunted by the police.

So yeah, life here on Transphobia Island is not much fun right now. My advice to young trans people is to get out if you possibly can. It will get worse before it gets better.

Bristol on Saturday

It has been a long time. The last public event I did in Bristol was, I think, February 25 2020. I have done one in-person training course for the NHS there last summer, and of course a whole lot of virtual events, but this is very different.

What am I up to? Well, the Palace International Film Festival is taking place at St. Anne’s House in Brislington. It is a festival of queer cinema, and as part of the programme Tom Marshman and I will be Queer and Indecent. Well, that’s that it says on the website anyway. The longer version is, “As part of our Queer & Indecent Exhibition, join curator Kate Fahy as she talks to two local queer Bristol artists for a conversation about queer history, spaces and community.”

If you are able to attend, it is a 12:30 start. You may want to book a place as COVID security will mean a fairly limited attendance.

If you are in Bristol this weekend you may also want to check out the Queer Bristol Audio Tour put together by Anna Rutherford and collagues. If you go on the tour you might hear a familiar voice talking about Michael Dillon.

Outremer Returns


When I started Wizard’s Tower, my primary business plan was to help authors whose books had gone out of print to get them available to the public again. In particular I was looking at books for which an ebook edition never existed, because making an ebook was easy. Of course a lot of water has flowed under the bridge in the past 10 years. I certainly never expected to have a huge hit with original fiction published in paper. But equally I haven’t lost sight of the original goal. It is therefore with great pleasure that I can announce that Wizard’s Tower will be producing new editions of Chaz Brenchey’s Books of Outremer.

I read these books back in 2004 and was struck by how they provided a nuanced and understanding view of the Crusades at a time when simplistic and Islamophobic Crusader imagery was being widely deployed in support of the Iraq War, and that they featured a gay relationship between two major characters. In 2004 that was massive. But Chaz was a UK writer largely cut off from the UK scene, and positive coverage in Emerald City wasn’t enough to break him in America. These days he lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, so hopefully the new editions will find their way to US conventions, at least on the West Coast.

An interesting piece of synchronicity is that John Jarrold, who was the commissioning editor at Random House back in the 1990s who originally bought the books, is now Chaz’s agent and was responsible for negotiating the deal with me.

Those who know the books will have questions. Here are some answers. We will publish the series in six volumes as per the US edition. There will be new cover art. (I’ve given Ben Baldwin some ideas.) And there will be hardcovers. The first book will be out early in 2022, hopefully for LGBT History Month here in the UK. The rest of the books will follow over time, but we have the Crater School books to do as well and there’s a limit to how quickly Chaz and I, not to mention Ben, can get through all of this.

If you are unfamiliar with the books (and don’t mind spoilers) there is a website devoted to the series. Also I reviewed all 6 books for Emerald City.

John’s official press release is here.

And I am a very happy publisher.

Spider Divination and Divine Androgyny

“What on Earth do those two things have in common?”, you may well ask. It goes like this.

Having given a 2-hour webinar on trans issues this morning I took a little me time and spent the afternon watching a mini academic conference celebrating the 50th anniversary of Sir Keith Thomas’s legendary history book, Religion and the Decline of Magic.

The papers were from people such as my friend Will Pooley who know far more than I do about magic in the early modern period. That was fun, and I learned stuff, including that there are now academics who study magical thinking amongst fringe groups on the internet. This is just as well, given the amount of nonsense being spread by the alt-right.

However, the thing that got me to sit up and take notice was a mention by an anthropologist that some people in Africa do divination with the aid of spiders. Someone in the audience posted a helpful link to the chat, so now I know how it is done.

The method used by various peoples from Cameroon uses large spiders that live in burrows — presumably a form of tarantula. The diviner has a collection of cards that are scattered around the entrance to the spider’s burrow. The whole assemblage is then covered over. The spider, thinking that her burrow has collapsed, comes out and thrashes around for a while trying to work out what has happened to the sun. Eventually the cover is removed, and the pattern of cards left by the spider is read to produce the divination.

There’s more on this, and other forms of animal divination, here. Land crabs can apparently be used in a very similar way. But in reading the article I came across this:

Androgyny seems to be a common goal among the African cultures where diviners engage in cross-gender dressing. Examples can be found among peoples from West, Central, and Southern Africa. I have long thought that this might reflect an understanding of spiritual entities as androgynous themselves (as opposed to mere humans of single sexes), and that such a posture would have value for the diviner when dealing with male and female clients.

Anyone who has done a bit of anthropology knows that in various tribal cultures around the world, non-binary people are viewed as being especially holy and often as having magical powers. Similar beliefs are found in ancient cultures such as the Scythians and the Inca.

It is generally agreed these days that the idea of a world that is gradually progressing from a belief in magic, to a belief in religion, to a belief in science, is much too simplistic. But we can occasionally see shamanistic beliefs re-purposed in organised religion. Which brings me to this article, published today in The Independent, which looks at the Graeco-Roman deity known as Hermaphroditus. Classicists now mostly accept that statues of Hermaphroditus were not pornographic jokes, as has been assumed by cis male historians for the past couple of hundred years, but rather were expressions of a mystical union of male and female.

So bascially God is non-binary (which Michelangelo understood when he painted the Sistine Chapel). They are doubtless deeply unimpressed with the current fashion for anti-trans extremism.