(Book Review) Blood & Honey Icons: Biosemiotics & Bioculinary reviewed by Donna Snyder

A review of Blood & Honey Icons:  Biosemiotics & Bioculinary by Danica Anderson

Blood & Honey Icons by Danica Anderson Cover Art
Blood & Honey Icons by Danica Anderson
Cover Art

I bought this book to support work with survivors of the Balkan conflicts of the late 20th Century.  For my money I got a multifaceted lesson on healing practices useful for victims of violence anywhere, including the El Paso/Juárez region, where I live.  The horrors of femicide, narco wars, and military violence in Juárez are known throughout the world.

The author, Danica Anderson, is a forensic psychotherapist and a fellow with the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress.  Anderson has worked in Bosnia since March 1999, as well as in Africa for the International Criminal Court, India with tsunami survivors, Sri Lanka with civil war survivors, Haiti with victims of terror, and the U.S.A with members of the military.

Anderson’s experience as the child of immigrants mirrors the life of many here, with families still surrounded by the culture of the country left behind.  Her father, a rural man, and her mother, who had been interred in a World War II prison camp, immigrated to the United States as refugees.  Although born here, Anderson did not learn English until second grade, and was then called upon to interpret for her elders.  She thus shared in the traumas of refugees in the South Slavic community in Chicago.  Ethnic traditions were also inculcated into her heart, particularly kolo circle dances and the songs previously sung by women working the fields and at the hearth.

The book’s first section is written in academic language, comprising a study of how neurobiology of South Slavic women was affected by violence and then expressed non-verbally through archetypes.  The jargon is dense, but not impenetrable, due to illustration of scholarly concepts with examples from Anderson’s own life.  There are endnotes and an index, reflecting Anderson’s work pursuing a PhD while continuing her international relief.  The book’s structure reflects the circling of the kolo, with information repeated in various sections in order to integrate memory with understanding.

The icons are adapted from prehistoric art and folk tales of the Balkan region, and can be downloaded from Anderson’s website at  http://kolocollaboration.org.  Instructions are provided on how to use them to find insight into your own history, drawing on the kolo as the basic pattern for interpretation. The images are beautiful, conveying complex data from many millennia of life in the Balkan region, but can reflect a universal consciousness. The description of Cloud Woman, and girls dancing dressed as trees, hoping to invoke rain, reminded me of indigenous dances from our own region.  Anderson says the iconic representations are understood through “the hardwiring already present in our bodies and brains.”

Anderson relates each icon to the current situation of individual Balkan war survivors.  These stories are moving, even horrific, yet are shown in the context of movement toward an organic form of healing.  She is committed to relating these stories, saying, “Bearing witness and hearing first person stories are thunderbolts . . . thrown into your . . . consciousness.”

Each icon is also associated with a recipe, what Anderson calls “bioculinary,” the integration of mythology into traditional recipes for nutritious, locally-grown foods.  These recipes mirror the current upsurge of interest in local products of El Paso’s permaculture movement, which has ties to the work of La Mujer Obrera, the El Paso region’s garment worker organization, primarily founded by and for women, and the permaculture movement found throughout society. According to Anderson, we live in a participatory universe, where everything throughout humanity is intimately connected.  Everything in this book relates to the healing power of “Moist Mother Earth,” a Slavic term with universal significance.

Because of Anderson’s focus on the healing of widows and victims of war violence such as mass rape, she concentrates on women’s traditional forms of community.  In her culture, one practice is the reading of tea leaves or coffee remnants after sharing a hot drink and sweet bread.  The book provides instruction.

Reading this book I became enamored with South Slavic cultural imagery.  I developed an admiration of the folk ways of these women, the passing of memory from mother to daughter, both in their homeland and in immigrant communities.  I found hope for healing, not only for the women of the kolo, but for our own sisters and brothers, families of the murdered women and girls of Juárez, and the entire community wracked by years of narco wars and military violence, as well as similar survivors and victims of mass trauma throughout the world.

A similar version of this review was previously published in the El Paso Times on June 9, 2013 and can be found at http://www.elpasotimes.com/living/ci_23419790/healing-tradition-has-power-from-balkans-our-border