I was recently surprised to read a lovely review of Going Widdershins in the Sunday, April 7th edition of my local newspaper, The Arizona Daily Star. It was written by Helene Woodhams and read as follows:
“Widdershins” means counterclockwise—like earth’s orbit around the sun. It can also mean taking a direction opposite to the accepted norm, and that’s a good description of Summerland, an unorthodox women’s care facility that is the setting for Sherrye Cohn’s sensitive novel about the healing benefits of nature’s sacred rhythms. Emilena Lamb, by all accounts a good homemaker and devoted churchgoer, inexplicably arrives at a psychiatric hospital in the throes of a crisis. She is, by turns, catatonic, violent and anguished: hysteria is diagnosed. Although her doctors are stymied, alert readers will note that the novel is set in the pre-feminist, bad old days of 1958: Emilena’s single-minded adherence to soul-killing cultural norms caused her to literally — and painfully — lose her sense of self. Modern medicine can’t help, and threatens to do more harm than good, but when Emilena is admitted to Summerland for treatment, events take a surprising turn. Cohn, who lives in Tucson, is the author of three books; this is her first novel and was inspired by practices in contemporary Pagan communities in the Sonoran Desert.
If those in the Pagan communities of Tucson read this review, they may say, "What in the world...?" While Paganism is a serious spiritual path that I respect, the philosophy and practices of Summerland are often presented in a tongue-in-cheek manner, e.g. rolling in the morning dew so as to "absorb nature's essence." In other words, the story is not so much inspired by specific practices but rather, by their objective: to cultivate a personal relationship with the natural world through embodied action. Anyway, rolling in the dew wouldn't work too well in our cactus covered landscape.
One of the things that continues to enchant me about life in the Sonoran Desert is the abundance of alternatives to everything, be it religion, medicine, politics, foods, lifestyles, etc. The plethora of choices may not be apparent to the visitor, but getting to know Tucson is like peeling back the leaves on an artichoke. It takes time before the heart at its center is revealed.