Books

Book Reviews: Freemasons, Gypsies and the Gullah Bible

Only three books this week, due to people staying and there being less time to read than normal.

The Gullah Bible

518S91KXA0L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_I found this last year when I was in South Carolina, and I knew I had to have a copy. Gullah is an English creole language spoken off the coast of the Carolinas and Georgia by people descended from those who used to be enslaved there.

There’s a brilliant little art gallery near the Springmaid pier at Myrtle Beach, and when I went they had a lot of information, books and art from and about the Gullah community. I picked up a book and leafed through it, and quickly realised it was comprehensible to English speakers, like many creoles are.

I wanted a book that I knew well, so that I could work out what it was saying more easily, so I bought a New Testament because I grew up reading the Bible constantly and I knew I’d be able to work out what people were saying.

I didn’t read the whole thing, because I’ve spent too much of my life reading the Bible already, but I did read Revelation, which was my favourite book because of all the crazy imagery.

The Lord's Prayer in Gullah
The Lord’s Prayer in Gullah

I loved it. Gullah is a fascinating language – you can see how phrases from Gullah have made their way into South Carolinian colloquial English, and you can also see how words from island creoles have made their way into common speech, probably through music. The word for ‘ask’ is aks, for example, which means all those language nuts that rant about young black people not pronouncing ‘ask’ properly are actually ridiculing a genuine language, rather than promoting “proper English” (what even is that, anyway?).

If you’re interested in language and culture, Gullah will fascinate you. I think I might have to pick up some more Gullah books next time I’m there.

Our Ancient Brethren by Castells

Our Ancient Brethren by CastellsThis is an old library book that was withdrawn years ago, and still has the stamps from the first time it was checked out in November 1938. It smelled amazing. I love books with a little history.

Our Ancient Brethren was written by a freemason who was trying to decipher the history of the brotherhood, and to work out the fact-to-fiction ratio of some of the most common beliefs on the subject.

I have no particular fascination with freemasonry, except that I sometimes stumble upon a book like this one, which is old and interesting, and I end up reading it. Light-Bearers of Darkness has been my favourite so far, but Our Ancient Brethren was pretty good too.

Taking a walk through Kabbalah and Rosicrucianism, it details various influences on freemasonry and talks about how some of the rituals evolved from other, much older, belief systems.

Lavengro by George Borrow

Lavengro by George BorrowI found this book in a charity shop in Brighton. I was browsing the boxes of cheap books near the door, when a Romani word jumped out at me. You don’t see a lot of Romani words in bookshops, so I was pretty excited, and of course I bought the book.

George Borrow was a writer and a diddikoi, or friend of the Gypsies, in the early-to-mid 1800s. Lavengro, a Romani term meaning “word-smith”, is his autobiography.

I loved it. He’s quite a relatable guy – I keep reading books at the moment where the authors remind me of myself, and that’s always a nice feeling.

Some of my favourite bits:

“A lover of nooks and retired corners, I was as a child in the habit of fleeing from society.”

“His not answering me shows his sense, for it has never been the custom of the wise to fling away their words in indifferent talk and conversation.”

He describes his hobbies, which sound very much like mine:

“And after I had declined four Armenian nouns, of different declensions, I rose from the side of the pit, and wandered about amongst the various groups of people scattered over the green.”

And a few wise words:

Borrow

A couple of chapters will be difficult to follow if you don’t speak Romani, but on the whole it’s an accessible read for anyone. And it’s fun and interesting, and will make you want to go out and live your life.

What have you read this week? What do you think I should read next? 

Do you have a book you’d like me to review? Drop me a line through the Contact form.

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