Confessions of a Pagan Nun

by Kate Horsley

Reviewed by Margaret Donsbach

Confessions of a Pagan Nun, Kate Horsley Confessions of a Pagan Nun is a novel in the form of a personal religious memoir. The setting is the period of transition from paganism to Christianity in Ireland around 500 A.D. The narrator, Gwynneve, studied to become a druid before deciding to join the Christian convent of "Saint Brigit or the goddess Brigit, whatever it is her wish to be called."

A clever preface in the form of a "Translator's Note" prepares the reader for a well-researched and realistic historical novel, without a trace of fantasy. It tells us the codex containing Gwynneve's memoir was preserved over the centuries "in a sealed box made of clay and iron, among artifacts in a well or narrow pit used to hold human remains, agricultural offerings, and other religious items." Much of the novel accurately reflects the fluid nature of the Irish transition to Christianity, in which druids might become practicing Christians without necessarily losing their status as druids. But Horsley does take liberties with the historical record, intensifying the contrast between the pagan and Christian world views by condensing time to write of a Christianity more typical of later centuries, misogynistic and harshly antagonistic to pagan traditions, than the Christianity first adopted in Celtic areas.

In the opening chapters, which drift between memories and essay, the pious requests for forgiveness that pepper the narrative can become repetitious. ("God forgive me if I blaspheme. I am humbly recounting the events as they occurred before my understanding of the Church's merciful authority.") But as Confessions of a Pagan Nun gathers steam and Gwynneve searches her heart and mind in a reconsideration of her religious views, it becomes more interesting. The final chapter, titled "Last Entry," is especially thoughtful, poetic and moving. (2001, 191 pages)

More info about Confessions of a Pagan Nun from Powell's Books

Other novels about the transition from paganism to Christianity in Ireland:

Patrick: Son of Ireland by Stephen Lawhead (2003), a novel about Saint Patrick's "missing years" before he began his ministry to Ireland; some fantasy elements. More info

Daughter of Ireland by Juliene Osborne-McKnight (2003), historical fantasy about a druid priestess and the king who first brought Christianity to Ireland. More info

Brigid of Ireland by Cindy Thomson (2006), historical fantasy with a Christian message about a fifth century Irish woman and her conversion to Christianity. More info

Level-headed nonfiction about druids and early Christians in Ireland:

The Druids by Peter Berresford Ellis (1994). More info

How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill (1995). More info

The Celtic Alternative: A Reminder of the Christianity We Lost by Shirley Toulson (1987). More info from

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