When I was offered a fresh batch of books to review, Lisa pointed out that I liked visiting Italy, and she had a book on Roman foundational stories that I would probably enjoy. "Oh good," I thought. "Romulus and Remus, I got this, no problem." Imagine my dazed, stepped-on-a-rake look when I saw that the book was about Lupa. I am telling on myself here; I had no idea that the wolf in that story had ever been more than a narrative device to explain how the boys had lived. Chastened, I dove in with a will, determined to get up to speed on this blind spot. Fortunately, this is what the Pagan Portals series from Moon Books is all about - filling in the gaps or starting the new student from scratch on the topic.

Also, fortunately, Rachel S. Roberts is very good at what they do. Their prose is inviting, and their passion for the subject is manifest. This is highlighted from the outset as they share their journey with the term "she-wolf" that she would come across in her medieaval studies of Queenship, and then the broader population of women in that time. Latching on to the subject, she followed the thread to the forests from which Rome sprouted; to Lupa, the erstwhile predator who nevertheless suckled the boys who would figure principally in the foundational myths of Rome. Men in later times labeled women as "she-wolves" to disparage their wild and untamed natures, which, as Roberts points out, usually meant that they weren't succumbing to the role the patriarchs fitted for them. And, much like Lupa, not behaving as expected wasn't usually the crime the patriarchs wanted it to be.

However much she has receded into the background, during the time of the Etruscans, Lupa loomed as the patron of the small settlement of Rome. As Rome grew, the standard of the wolf was carried forth as she was the Divine Mother of Rome. The author spends a significant portion of the book, and rightly so, setting the stage for the society from which Lupa emerged and how she grew as her patronized society did. Even into the Common Era, relics involving wolves were sacred; Pliny tells us that a wolf's tooth could protect children. Roberts shows how Lupa's role morphs but does not diminish - she may have lost primacy in the foundation stories but was still the culture's protector, particularly of children.

I don't mean to regurgitate the entire book, merely to demonstrate how rich the material is that Roberts works with and to highlight her excellent job of communicating to the reader. There is even a small section, seated between the historical explanations and the potential for including Lupa in your own practice, in which the author retells Lupa's story. I confess, these sorts of prose diversions often come off as a contrivance, but here, they pull it off wonderfully, honoring the original tale while also bringing forth and highlighting what there is about the story that could be most valuable to a modern reader. In all aspects, Lupa: She-Wolf of Rome and Mother of Destiny gives its subject the due deference she deserves.

~review by: Wanderer

Author: Rachel S. Roberts
Moon Books, 2023
104 pp., $12.95