Categotry Archives: faery



Between the Worlds: Contexts, Sources, and Analogues of Scandinavian Otherworld Journeys, edited by Matthias Egeler and Wilhelm Heizmann

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Categories: celtic, faery, germanic, paganism, underworld, Tags:

Between the Worlds coverMarking the 118th volume in De Gruyter’s Ergänzungsbände zum Reallexikon der Germanischen Altertumskunde series, Between the Worlds: Contexts, Sources, and Analogues of Scandinavian Otherworld Journeys is a comprehensive tome running to over 700 hundred pages. As its title makes clear, this is a consideration of how otherworld journeys in the literary corpus of the Scandinavian Middle Ages are fundamentally linked to the idea of spaces between worlds. These interstitial spaces are not just found within the narratives themselves but underlie their very construction, marking points of cultural intersection between different worldviews. There’s the treatment of pre-Christian mythology in texts from the Christian period treat; the appearance of apparently Christian motifs in what is thought to be pre-Christian material; the adaption by Scandinavian texts of literature from the Europe, Ireland, and the classical Mediterranean; and the incorporation of Scandinavian narrative patterns into Finnish ones.

Between the Worlds is comprised of seventeen contributions in all, divided into five categories of Die Altnordische und Altsächsisch-Altenglische Literarische Überlieferung, Archäologie, Mittellateinische und Keltische Überlieferungen, Die Antike Mittelmeerwelt und der Alte Orient, and Finno-Ugrische Perspektiven. The essays are written in either English or German and since this reviewer’s expertise in Deutsch is rudimentary at best, we will only be covering the English entries. For what it’s worth, the German contributions come from Matthias Teichert, Ji?í Starý, Richard North, Sigmund Oehrl, Horst Schneider, Andreas Hofeneder, Heinz-Günther Nesselrath, Christian Zgoll, Annette Zgoll, and Sabine Schmalzer. Of these, the most interesting are North’s search for traces of Loki in the depiction of the Garden of Eden from the West Saxon poem Genesis B, and Starý’s exploration of interstitial worlds in two High Middle Ages Scandinavian poems, Draumkvæði and Sólarljóð. That there are only seventeen essays here spread across the supra-700 pages is indicative of the kind of considered and exhaustive content here, with nothing coming in at under ten pages and many being considerable longer.

Between the Worlds spread

Jens Peter Schjødt’s Journeys to Other Worlds in Pre-Christian Scandinavian Mythology is the only English entry in the first Die Altnordische und Altsächsisch-Altenglische Literarische Überlieferung grouping of essays and it provides something of a basic grounding in the themes of this entire anthology, acting as an introduction, even if it isn’t labelled as such. He argues for a certain kind of system in Scandinavian depictions of otherworld journeys, employing an axial schema in which journeys along the horizontal usually indicate a hostile encounter with the giants and are associated with Þórr, whilst travel along the vertical axis is the preserve of Óðinn and involves descent into the underworld for the acquisition of numinous power.

Between the Worlds spread

Under the heading of Archaeology, the contributions of Flemming Kaul and Leszek Garde?a both address themes found in mortuary architecture, looking within them for clues to various eschatological cosmologies. Kaul’s The Possibilities for an Afterlife. Souls and Cosmology in the Nordic Bronze Age concerns itself with ideas of conveyance to the underworld, focusing heavily on the solar symbolism of bronze objects, such as the chariot of the sun found at Trundholm in Denmark, as well as the motif of solar ships, with theoretical journey of the sun to the underworld being mirrored by the souls of the departed. With The Slavic Way of Death. Archaeological Perspectives on Otherworld Journeys in Early Medieval Poland, Garde?a provides the longest entry here, presenting a comprehensive consideration of perceptions of the afterlife in Slavic culture. Garde?a acknowledges that, given the dearth of accounts of the underworld in pre-Christian Slavic belief, this is a difficult subject to consider, with the hints that can be gleamed from folklore being collected only relatively recently (within the preceding two centuries), and representing a patchwork of information whose sources are chronologically and geographically disparate. To head off this lack of definitive sources, Garde?a goes thorough instead, exhaustively considering practically everything that could be connected with death practices, both artefactually and textually.

Between the Worlds spread

The only English contribution to the next section on Medieval Latin and Celtic Traditions is by Séamus Mac Mathúna who assesses various Irish analogues of motifs found in Old Norse voyage tales from both fornaldarsögur and Saxo Grammaticus’ Gesta Danorum. This is a weighty study, effortlessly introducing categories of otherworld journeys from Irish literature, in both their echtrai and later immrama genres, before considering Old Norse parallels, particularly in the reverse-euhemerised retellings of Þórr’s encounters with the giant Geirröðr, where the thunder god’s role is played by the hero Þórstein (in fornaldarsögur) or Thorkillus (in the Gesta Danorum). Mathúna writes with a healthy dose of scepticism, never stating that a link betwixt Icelandic and Irish sources is categorical, simply presenting the examples with references to previous scholars, such as Rosemary Power, who have found the idea more convincing. Mathúna reasonably concludes that while Saxo and the various authors of the fornaldarsögur may have used story patterns akin to those in Hiberno-Latin and vernacular Irish visionary literature, there’s no smoking gun, nothing that can be seen as evidence of a direct influence. Whether one finds the idea appealing or not, there is much in this piece that will be of value for anyone with a broad interest in either Celtic or Icelandic otherworld encounters.

Between the Worlds spread

Christopher Metcalf’s Calypso and the Underworld: The Limits of Comparison is one of two contributions here that focuses on the underworld analogues visited by Odysseus in Homer’s Odyssey; with the other being Christian Zgoll’s preceding Märchenhexe oder göttliche Ritualexpertin? Kirke und Kult im Kontext der homerischen Nekyia, in which Circe and her island are discussed. Metcalf’s approach, as its circumspect title suggests, is the less fun of the two, being cautious about the comparison between the underworld and the island of the enchantress Calypso. Despite his scepticism, this is an idea that has been extant in scholarship for well over a hundred years, drawing on commonalities betwixt the island and depictions of the underworld in Greek myth, as well as employing comparative approaches from broader Indo-European mythology. Metcalf finds both those methods and the entire idea of Calypso as a veiled death goddess less convincing, and as a result, comes across as a bit of spoilsport and no fun.

Two of the longest contributions here come from Clive Tolley and Frog in the final section on Finno-Ugric perspectives, although Tolley’s “Hard it is to stir my tongue”: Raiding the Otherworld for Poetic Inspiration is not as focussed on matters Finno-Ugric as its placement within this grouping might suggest. Instead, Tolley presents an utterly thorough 94 page exploration of encounters with the underworld as part of the acquisition of the gift of poetry, spreading his net wide to consider the motif from sources Norse, Finnish, Siberian, Greek, Anglo-Saxon, and Celtic in strains Irish, Scottish and Welsh. This makes for a vital contribution, one that, by its very nature, embraces a variety of themes beyond just those of poetic inspiration and otherworld journeys. The 124 pages of Frog’s Practice-Bound Variation in Cosmology? A Case Study of Movement between Worlds in Finno-Karelian Traditions feels more at home in this final section with its evident focus on Finno-Karelian myth and practices. This is another piece that justifies the entry price, with Frog exploring not just otherworldly travel in the Kalevala, but also so much more. He extends the investigation into matters experiential, considering similarly motifs in the work of traditional tietäjä (magic workers) and Karelian lamenters.

Between the Worlds spread

Even if only half the contributions are accessible for us monoglots, Between the Worlds is a valuable addition to the library of anyone with an interest in Scandinavian eschatology and otherworld journeys in general. There’s little here that feels well-trodden or overly familiar, with the authors each providing interesting avenues to explore. It is present to the usual high quality of De Gruyer, with the mass of pages bound in a sturdy red cloth hardback.

Published by De Gruyter


The Faeries’ Oracle – Brian Froud and Jessica Macbeth

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Categories: faery

The Faeries' Oracle coverFor children of the 1980s, and even beyond, Brian Froud should need no introduction, being responsible for the creature and conceptual design of two quintessentially 80s fantasy movies, Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal, as well as the latter’s 2019 prequel series on Netflix. In addition to his role in those films, Froud works principally as an illustrator, producing a variety of books on faeries and goblins, including the satirical Lady Cottington series of pressed faeries albums in collaboration with Terry Jones.

The Faeries’ Oracle draws upon one of these books, 1998’s Good Faeries/Bad Faeries, which Froud explains came as the result of wanting to create a faery-themed oracle deck (described more specifically later in the book as a “human tarot with faery in it”). After spending weeks to research and complete just a single card, Froud realised it would take him a life time to complete an entire deck in this manner, so he instead decided to include every faery image he thenceforth created in a future deck, thereby allowing the faeries themselves to shape its form and direction. This decade of work was first collected in Good Faeries/Bad Faeries, which Froud describes as a book through which the various faeries gave glimpses of their world and provided clues as to how humans might communicate with them.

The Faeries' Oracle cards

This attitude speaks to how Froud, despite his relatively mainstream status as a designer for big budget fantasy movies, identifies himself as a trafficker not in the dreams of Hollywood but in the reality of faery; as someone who very much believes in the faery as literal beings and their realm as an actual, if insubstantial, place. As co-author Jessica Macbeth writes, Froud is someone who lives at the boundary between Faery and this world, using his artwork to act as an ambassador across realms. It is worth noting that the term faery is used here as a catchall definition under which all manner of otherworld creatures, and not just the fae, can be counted. Thus, for Froud and Macbeth, faery encompasses elves, gnomes, domestic spirits of various stripes, otherworldly folk both small and large, and even, oh crumbs, angels. As a place, Faery is defined as a world that sits alongside our own, almost but not quite in synchronisation, overlapping in some situations and operating on a different level of energy.

The Faeries' Oracle spread

Froud is not the only one to pursue this personal and literal approach to the faery and Macbeth does likewise, describing the selection of the images for the deck as a process in which these creatures were intimately involved. She details how the images from Froud’s decade of work, about 120 paintings, were laid out before her to determine who amongst them would be included in the deck. They, that is the faeries, directed her to arrange the images in stacks, rows and circles, until after many hours they appear to have objected to the implicit hierarchy that such systems lent themselves to. Throughout this account, Macbeth refers to things that various faeries said, so while the literalness of her description could be open to interpretation, and the specifics are never mentioned, it creates an impression of a very active, near physical intersection with the otherworld.

The Faeries' Oracle cards

Froud’s card designs do reflect the decade-long process of image accumulation. While they are always in his indubitable and unique style, there are a variety of techniques and minor changes in composition that might not have been there if the approach had been more focused on the end goal. Thus, although the majority of the images are rendered in rich, colourful oils, the cards for Myk the Myomancer, Geeeeeooo the Slow and The Oak Men, for example, stand out in a jarring manner with their sketched grey pencil lines. They also appear to be taken from a single source image, meaning that the figures feel unnaturally cropped, as if they were never made to stand on their own or to fit into the dimensions of the card. This is particularly true of another of the pencil cards, Ta’Om the Poet, who is cropped on all sides, as if he’s been crammed into a prison-like frame, his head suffering worst of all when the border shears off the tips of his pointed ears and horns. The same sense of detail shots from a wider painting occurs amongst the cards in the low thirties (including the exquisitely, though inexplicably, named UnDressing of a Salad), which each share a similar background of a tangled brown mass of figures and foliage, against which a few hero figures stand out. Similarly disappointing is the artwork used for card 51, The Topsie Turvets, which will be familiar to anyone who handles the deck for a few seconds as it is also employed as the backing design on all the cards.

The Faeries' Oracle cards

Other variations of art styles are less noticeable, with a kinship between some that have a polished and pastoral quality, and others, such as the Singer cards and similar, which are more abstract, imbued with an angelic and celestial feeling due to the white highlights that convey a sense of fae luminescence. The most successful cards are those where figures stand alone, looking out at the viewer, surrounded by unearthly glows and spots of phosphorescence. It is these cards that give a real sense of beings leaking through from the fae realm to communicate with you.

The Faeries' Oracle cards

As is evident in the names of some of the faery, there is a Froudian sense of humour that permeates this deck, with many of the figures being cute, whimsical and basically little scamps. However, there is a depth to the cosmology that Froud is a conduit for, with these humorous characters being joined by more unknowable, ineffable ones, along with figures of profound elemental power and beings of clear mythological significance. Macbeth’s explanation of each card is detailed, with biographies of each faery and sometimes a back story about the painting they come from. Somewhat lacking, though, is a consistent explanation as to how this information was received and how these faeries were named, whether they were transmitted to Froud, or to Macbeth, or how much is drawn from traditional sources.

The Faeries' Oracle spread

Based on feedback on, it would appear that recent versions of The Faeries’ Oracle use poor card stock and have other production issues, but this original edition presents the cards at 3 by 5 inches on a sturdy stock whose weight is comparable to a set of playing cards. They sit comfortably in the hand, not too big to shuffle but not too small as to do a disservice to the artwork, which is framed in copper with a ragged edge on the left and a hard edge on the right The number of each card appears in the top right, while the name sits at the bottom, overlapping art and border, and rendered in a script face that, whilst charming and mysterious, occasionally risks veering into inscrutability with all of its spirals and filigree.

The deck is presented in a cardboard tray made from a metallic gold stock with a custom alcove for the cards, all of which is further housed in a large slipcase box with full colour wrap-around printing. A 208-page hardcover book with text by Macbeth sits above the deck in the box, providing the background to the cards and several methods of working with them, The lion share of the book is taken up with thorough explanations of each card (with the images rendered at a quarter the size of the page in a blue wash instead of colour or greyscale).

The Faeries' Oracle box, book and cards

For those drawn to them and their realm, The Faeries’ Oracle is a valuable and comprehensive tool that can be used either for divination, or for simply connecting with those energies. Froud’s depiction of faery is idiosyncratic to be sure, but there will be some, if not all, elements that ring true for anyone that has encountered it before. It also just pretty, and if none of it resonates on a spiritual level, there’s a least some lovely artwork to be had.

Published by Fireside


The Book of Merlin: Insights from the Merlin Conference – Edited by R.J. Stewart

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Categories: faery, folk, middle ages

First published in 1987 and then reprinted each year from 1989 to 1991, this book primarily compiles papers from the First Merlin Conference, held in London in 1986. It’s not clear, given the use of the ‘primarily’ qualifier, whether everything included here was presented as a paper, but if it is, the rather slight line-up is quite a remarkable one, with Geoffrey Ashe, Gareth Knight, John Matthews and Bob Stewart himself providing something of a Who’s Who of mid to late 80s esoteric Arthuriana. This is part of the charm of reviewing a title like this, harking back to a simpler time where re-encountering these authors is like slipping on some old familiar shoes. This nostalgia is compounded by the delicious, oh so occult 80s/90s cover art from Miranda Gray, whose delicately-stippled and hand-coloured image of a hooded Merlin is still stunning and evocative today despite being so of its time.

Things begin with an uncredited introduction that provides a brief overview of Merlin where, perhaps betraying Stewart’s authorship, there’s some typically salty invective about misconceptions surrounding him. You better not entertain the idea that Merlin is a vapid New Age pseudo-master or some doddering wizard with a star-spangled hat, otherwise, golly gosh, Stewart will hunt you down and severely castigate you.

But never fear, any vapid and New Age illusions are quickly put to rest with Geoffrey Ashe’s contribution, one of the most exhaustive here, providing a survey of Merlin’s earliest appearances, beginning with Geoffrey of Monmouth’s The Prophecies of Merlin and The History of the Kings of Britain and then working backwards to the primary sources he drew from. This is a strictly factual survey of the literature, expertly corralled by Ashe, but even he can’t help adding a little mystical resonance, almost attributing sentience to the coalescence of the various proto versions of Merlin into a singular figure, identifying an “indwelling godhead” re-emerging as a powerful tutelary entity that had been there all along. I can dig it.

The Book of Merlin page spread with artwork by Miranda Gray

The content within this book is divided into five parts and the second of these takes its name from its first contribution, Gareth Knight’s The Archetype of Merlin. After an introduction by Stewart, Knight takes a not entirely focussed journey, deriving greater meaning from some of the more admittedly superficial impressions of Merlin, before exploring Gandalf as an example of the continuation of the archetype. This is just as scattershot, with Knight careening all over the place in an unendearing manner, reaching its apex when a whole page is used to quote from an editorial in The Guardian about, would you believe, the Challenger space shuttle disaster. Knight concludes this section with two other contributions, one about the blue stones Merlin is said to have brought from afar when constructing Stonehenge, and the other about the mage’s relationship with Nimuë. These are both briefer and more focused than the piece that precedes them, ending almost too abruptly where the former lingers.

The book’s third section considers Merlin’s place in modern fiction, and other than an introduction from Stewart, this is entirely John Matthews’ time to shine, with two pieces: one that gives its name to this section, followed by a two-page poem called Merlin’s Song of the Stones. As someone who has read a fair bit of contemporary Arthurian fiction all her life, this is an interesting overview, touching on some familiar notable titles such as Marian Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon, Mary Stewart’s Merlin trilogy, T.H. White’s The Sword in the Stone and Parke Godwin’s Firelord, as well as other less familiar ones. Matthews doesn’t spend too long on each, grouping them together into similar themes, such as Merlin being associated with Atlantis (a surprisingly popular motif), or his roles as variously prophet, trickster and teacher.

The Book of Merlin page spread

Stewart provides the final paper here, and the book’s longest, with a consideration of Merlin and the wheel of life, drawing primarily from Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Vita Merlini in which he appears as a shamanic and prophetic wild man of the woods, passing through a seasonal round. As an adjunct to this discussion, and in an intersection with an abiding interest in the legends and mysticism surrounding Bath in south west England, Stewart also relates Merlin to a similar figure mentioned by Geoffrey in his The History of the Kings of Britain, King Bladud. Bladud is described as a worker of necromancy, a devotee of Minerva who built the therapeutic baths of Aquae Sulis, but other than appearing in Vita Merlini, there’s little connecting him with Merlin other than broad motifs, and Stewart’s attempt at a comparison seems strained if thorough.

The Book of Merlin concludes with an appendix of two primary sources, as well as a reprint of an essay from 1901 by Arthur Charles Lewis Brown concerning the figure of Barintus, the helmsman who steers Arthur to the Fortunate Isles. The first of the primary texts, introduced once again by Stewart, are extracts from Thomas Heywood’s, wait for it, The Life of Merlin, surnamed Ambrosius; his Prophecies and Predictions Interpreted, and their Truth Made Good by our English Annals: Being a Chronographical History of all the Kings and Memorable Passages of this Kingdom, from Brute to the reign of King Charles, phew. The excerpts show how Heywood can almost be described as a proto-novelist, taking the core provided by Geoffrey of Monmouth, and fleshing it out with his own take, with a particular emphasis on Merlin’s prophesies and their interpretation. The second text consists of extracts from The Birth of Merlin, a bawdy comedy probably written in whole or part by William Rowley but which in its first printing was attributed to Rowley and no less than William Shakespeare.

The Book of Merlin page spread with artwork by Miranda Gray

In all, The Book of Merlin makes an interesting if brief introduction to some ideas associated with Merlin. Given its status as documentation of a single conference, there are understandably not a lot of contributors here and the fruits that are range in appeal, with those by Ashe and Matthews being the highlights; and Stewart’s editorial voice permeating throughout. Formatting is understated but competent and in addition to her lovely cover image, Miranda Gray provides illustrations for many of the contributions, all in her trademark style of crisp, fine lines offset with a restrained use of stippled detail and shading. These are usually set against white space, with little background, all adding to their ephemeral and mystical quality.

Published by Blandford

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The Well of Light: From Faery Healing to Earth Healing – R.J. Stewart


Categories: faery, underworld, Tags:

The Well of Light coverSome of the first reviews featured on Scriptus Recensera predated the creation of this website and provided ready-made content when we first launched. Two of these were reviews of works by R.J. Stewart, reflecting a long-standing personal affection for his brand of earth, faery and underworld-focused mysticism. This title is another entry in what Stewart defines as his UnderWorld and Faery series, which also includes the two previously reviewed titles, The Underworld Initiation and The Living World of Faery, as well as the seminal works, Earth Light and its sequel Power Within the Land. While those titles all considered their themes in a broad manner, this one, as its title indicates, has what promises to be a particular focus on healing, presenting a variety of practical exercises for faery healing and the idea that in the modern era this can lead to a broader healing of the earth itself, mending the relationship between humanity and the planet.

Stewart further delineates this process into three steps, defining the faery healing of the first as a transformation through interaction with the faery as well as other orders of life, rather than conventional modern healing, be it, one assumes medicinal or metaphysical. The second stage marks a meditation, in alliance with these other orders of being, on the subtle forces of life and death, while the earth healing of the third and final stage is itself defined as three further stages: cleansing and healing ecological areas adversely affected by humanity; healing rifts and imbalances both metaphysical and literal in the underworld; and finally an iatrical interaction with the living consciousness of the earth itself, taking place at its very core, a locus of power from which what Stewart terms the Earth Light and the Shining Ones originate.

Out of the gate, the practical side of The Well of Light meets a snag, with Stewart explaining how to use the book, the first stage of which is to listen to the CD all the way through. OK, I’ll get right on it… oh, wait, what CD? As miffed reviews on Amazon attest, this CD of empowered visions accompanied by flute and 80 stringed psaltery did not come with the book and had to be purchased separately. Should you feel it necessary, both book and CD appear to still be available for purchase from Stewart’s own website some seventeen years later.

Spread from The Well of Light

Foregoing the requirements of the compacted disc variety, the reader can dive into a few introductory essays that offer an overview of the nomenclature and entities of Stewart’s tradition. Written over a period of time to answer questions that arose in Stewart-led workshop, they provide a broad outline of some of the themes and practices considered in more depth later and begin by discussing several orders of beings: elementals, nature spirits, faeries, and deepest still, titans or giants. The consideration of the giants is, perhaps obviously, the most personally interesting here, with Stewart comparing Germanic, Classical and Celtic variations of the motif to sympathetically define these beings as primordial powers embodying the land and other natural forces, manifesting as energies of creation, growth and ultimately destruction. He provides several suggestions of ways for connecting with these titanic powers: using an altered perspective, meditating on the weather, visiting mountains in body or in spirit, and through the intercession of faery cousin and allies.

As a collection of separately written essays, some of this initial content can feel a little unfocused or hesitant, but still carries Stewart’s distinctive voice. He writes in a largely informal, conversational manner, occasionally dropping analogies and also, a little too often, making curmudgeonly jibes at various things in modernity that annoy him; take that, Sony Walkmans, and for an only slightly more current reference “trying to get our computers to download so-called time-saving free music.” I do love the mental image of Bob Stewart shaking his fist at a yellowing Compaq Presario going “Damn you Napster, why won’t you work?”

Once The Well of Light gets going, going it gets, with an initial deeper introduction to the faery races and inner contacts, as viewed from the perspective of what Stewart calls the Faery and UnderWorld tradition. The idiosyncratic formatting of UnderWorld is chosen to differentiate it from any ideas of organised crime that might be evoked by the term; not something that really occurred to me, but obviously of some concern to Stewart. Indeed, this concern with definitions is one that arises frequently, and Stewart is at pains to point out when something from his lexicon should not be seen in the way it might normally be. Faeries are the most obvious one here, with repeated insistences that they should not be viewed as they are in popular culture (or in, as Stewart scathingly notes, the “many superficial books currently on the market”) as whimsical and diaphanous.

Spread from The Well of Light

With definitions out of the way, Stewart introduces the first experiential part of the books with the concept of the aptitudes, faery healing’s seven areas of expertise. These seven aptitudes are inherent abilities or potentials, albeit perhaps unrealised, that everyone has at least one or more of, allowing the person to heal by working with stones, water, plants, living creatures, faery allies, touch and signatures. Stewart provides ways of discovering one’s particular aptitude, as well as broad ways of working with them, usually offering general guidelines, rather than exercises to be performed by rote. More depth is provided in the following chapter, where Stewart gives specific techniques, but only for working with the stone and water aptitudes, the practices acting as general models, with the onus on the possessors of other aptitudes to apply in kind.

If one expects a book with a title such as this to have pages of information about dubious energy healing and laying on of hands, then disappointment ahoy. There’s very little of such specifics, and not much in the way of any explicit definition of what ‘healing’ might mean in this situation, be it physical, psychic or mental. Instead, the concept of healing seems almost secondary, a side effect of what is presented here, which more often than not is a primer of working with the faery in general. This is particularly evident in the sixth chapter, Forms and Visions of Faery Healing, which, despite the title, contains a series of guided visualisations for encounters with various locations and characters in faery land; rather than a visit to a faery doctor. Effectively, the idea seems to be one of diplomacy, where the ongoing interaction between the practitioner and the denizens of the underworld creates a healing of the wounds betwixt the two worlds and its races.

This book contains a second part called The Mystery of the Double Rose, which is somewhat confusingly and ambiguously referenced in the cover art, and seemingly distinct from the main Well of Light section, but obviously thematically related. Counterintuitively, this section contains a considerably more explicit explanation of what is meant by faery healing than is found in the first half of the book. Along with some repetition of some similar information from the book’s first half, this affirms the status of The Mystery of the Double Rose as separate content that could have been better integrated into a single book; much like the introductory essays.

Diagrams from the The Mystery of the Double Rose section

In all, then, The Well of Light feels like a welcome but by no means required addition to Stewart’s oeuvre of underworld and faery, with his other books in this canon providing more focus and a more essential explication of its tradition and imagery. As always, the curmudgeonly side of Stewart’s writing can begin to grate after a while, especially with the way he imbues his objections with such passion and indignation; yeah, I’m looking at you, those who sexually mutilate flowers by cutting them.

Formatting in The Well of Light by Jenny Stracke (who also provided copy editing) is unspectacular but supremely functional, set in a large serif face with subheading, section headings and chapter headings in bold and small cap variations of the same. This capable hand is less obvious on the cover with its mess of typefaces and gradient background against which cover art by Martin Bridge is unflatteringly placed. Bridge also provides the book’s few internal illustrations, with various heavy-lined vector diagrams in the Mystery of the Double Rose section.

Published by R.J. Stewart Books


Gwenevere and the Round Table – Wendy Berg

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Categories: faery, Tags:

This book by Wendy Berg addresses a conspicuously little known figure from Arthurian legend, presenting Queen Gwenevere, not as a mere adjunct to more familiar figures, but effectively as a central character around which many of the events revolve. In so doing, she becomes an initiatrix and guide in a series of workings that the reader can undertake.

At the outset, Berg addresses what can be described as the problem of Gwenevere, in that despite her fame, there is little extant information about her. This absence of evidence effectively plays into Berg’s core idea: that the reason Gwenevere is mysterious is because she ultimately embodies a mystery. Berg argues that Gwenevere’s minimal but unique roles point to her being, not a human, but a faery, for whom the marriage to Arthur is one of interaction between two realms, re-enacting the rituals of sacred kingship. Her subsequent appearances in legends, in which she is often abducted or goes into exile, fit this role too, with the idea being that in these instances she once again provides an interaction between the faery and human worlds.

This is an idea Berg has explored before in her theory-based book Red Tree, White Tree, but here there is more of a focus on practical application, and on the Round Table, which Berg notes has frequent associations with Gwenevere. It is the dowry she brings from Lyonesse, and its return is demanded by a mysterious knight following her death. For Berg, the table is a symbol of the relationship between the worlds of human and fae, and a template for both the order formed around it, and a mystery school attendant to this order. As a faery queen, and the realm’s ambassador, Gwenevere was the prime interpreter of the table’s wisdom, and initiator of the knights into its mysteries.

Berg’s discussion of her Gwenevere theory takes up but one chapter of the book and the rest is an exploration of a magickal system largely based around the division into four faery kingdoms, at the centre of which is a fifth realm, Listenois, the Grail Kingdom. These kingdoms, some more familiar than others, are Lyonesse in the east, Sorelois is in the south, Gorre in the west, and Oriande in the north. Each realm is attributed different characteristics, and progressed through one at a time, each imparting a new lesson.

Berg’s system is low on ritual or artifice and is instead composed almost entirely of guided pathworkings. These use an initial journey to the table as a device through which the other realms can be explored, effectively providing a hub world that the player seeker logs into, receives missions from Gwenevere, before departing to the other worlds and ultimately returning to the hub.

In addition to these general exploration of the faery kingdoms, Berg presents a couple of other techniques, integrated with these journeys but unique enough to stand out on their own. The first is a meditation on colour as a way of connecting with the faery, in which the participant is taught to appreciate a range of colours and to ‘see’ them through faery eyes. The second is a fairly successful system of astral magic where the constellations are used as an empowered guide to Arthurian cosmology. These constellations provide another take on the idea of the Round Table, a wheel of stellar arrays circling the night sky and representing various scenes or characters from Arthurian legend. In concert with this is the creation of a Book of Stars, documenting the journey through the constellations.

When it comes to a magickal system connected with faery and heavily dependent on guided pathworkings, it is inevitable for one’s mind to drift to the work of RJ Stewart. There is an element of this here, but there are some other noticeable styles that one could uncharitably call new age. There’s a lot of talk of consciousness and vibrations, and while there’s nothing wrong with those concepts, the nomenclature has an undeniable whiff of crystal shops and reiki readings. Another element that occurs periodically, and somewhat expectedly given the associations with grail mysticism, is a faery interpretation, shall we say, of Christianity, with a pathworking featuring a vision of the White Christ. This connects with another obvious touchstone, the writer Gareth Knight, with Berg often using his terminology and referring to an Atlantean Tradition that underlies both the faery and grail mysteries here.

As a largely mystical workbook, there’s not a huge amount of academic discussion here, with often only cursory consideration of Arthurian sources or any discursive analysis. And while this is to be expected given the format, it does lead to jarring moments that cause one to pause and wish a more thorough approach had been taken to make for a more convincing argument. Berg often draws from diverse Arthurian sources to build her core concept, but nowhere does she mention the question, let alone suggest an answer, as to how these disparate authors, divided by both time and geography, could have glommed onto some secret truth about Gwenevere and the fae. These sources are not some holy writ that has, at the very least, a pretence of originating from a singular culture or belief system. Instead, they are the works of a diverse group of authors who, one would pragmatically argue, were only interested in telling stories. One could argue otherwise and handwave with hints at some mystical link that Arthurian writers have that taps into mysterious realms of the fae, or something, but because this isn’t done, quibbles like this are more glaring than they need to be.

Similarly, throughout the book there’s an almost disingenuous presentation of information where the lack of thoroughness effectively becomes lying by omission. In discussing what she describes as the faery kingdom of Oriande, and its ruler Madaglan and his sister Jandree, Berg fails to mention that the two could just as easily be seen as Saracens, given that in the chansons de geste the word Oriandes, so redolent of ‘Orient,’ refers to Saracen women, while Oriande is the name of a Saracen town. This is even more likely given that Madaglan and Jandree are shown as being theologically at odds with Arthur and his court, rejecting his New Law in favour of their Old Law, for which Islam is surely intended. This doesn’t invalidate Berg’s argument, indeed, one could argue that the status of Muslims as the penultimate symbol of The Other in courtly literature made them an effective gloss for the equally Other(worldly) faery. But because such a caveat is not made, and given that the source for the idea of Oriande as a kingdom, faery or not, is just one text, the Perlesvaus, one finds oneself becoming something of a cynical reader (well, moreso, right kids?).

It is this kind of thing that means when Berg relays the story of another adversarial knight, Meleagant, son of the King of Gorre, you find yourself running off to fact check against a copy of Lancelot, le Chevalier de la Charrette. Berg has Meleagant refer to a group of nobles he has held hostage as “human prisoners,” thereby highlighting a stark racial distinction between the apparently faery knight and his captives. But Chrétien de Troyes uses no such term, simply referring to them as “knights, ladies, and damsels who belong to thy dominion and household.” While there is a case to be made for Meleagant being more than just a human adversary, given the distinctly otherworldly characteristics of the kingdom of Gorre, it seems deceitful to present this, not as an interpretation, but as something detailed verbatim in Chrétien’s story. This, unfortunately, is a pretty common technique here: mention the source, relay the story as if you’re telling it as it appears in said source, sprinkle liberally with usage of the word ‘faery’ not in said source.

As a workbook there’s a pleasing completeness to the system presented by Berg. It has a coherent structure engendered by both the Round Table and the faery kingdoms, even if I have reservations about the historical and literary rigour given to said realms. The system and its results feel very personal-growth orientated, using that type of nomenclature, rather than the usual veiled occult references to unspecified wisdom. The book is competently laid out in the manner one expects from Skylight Press, with a pleasing typographic hierarchy,

Published by Skylight Press


Craft of the Untamed: An Inspired Vision of Traditional Witchcraft – Nicholaj de Mattos Frisvold

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Categories: faery, folk, sabbatic craft, witchcraft, Tags:

craftoftheuntamedThere is no shortage of books about Traditional Witchcraft upon the shelves in the Scriptus Recensera library, filled as it is with worthy contributions from Michael Howard, Gemma Gary, Shani Oates, Andrew Chumbley, Nigel Jackson and others. And that’s not to mention the works of the pretenders and imitators that haven’t been granted access to these hallowed halls. The question that arises, then, is whether Nicholaj de Mattos Frisvold is able to bring anything new to the table. Frisvold certainly seems to think so, cutting my musings off at the pass and making his case early on for one major point of difference: a focus not just on the British and Scandinavian sources for witches, but on the parallels that are to be found in Italy and even further afield in South American expressions of magic, especially those connected with African diasporic religions. Thus, a consideration of the crossroad in witchcraft inevitably makes a brief detour into the comparable symbolism in Yoruba belief and Vodou, facilitating a full circle of motifs when ‘the kingdom’ from the Cult of Exu finds an analogue in the Witches’ Sabbath.

Frisvold makes another distinction at the outset, noting that similar books are often highly eclectic in their approach, uncritically embracing myths and legends, with an attendant use of etymology and epistemology. However, there is often little to differentiate what is presented in this book with the style of, say, Michael Howard, Nigel Jackson and Shani Oates, three authors who, to my mind, have often written with an encyclopaedic, info-dump approach that embraces folklore, legend, myth and etymology in a rather broad manner. Frisvold’s sources are a little different from those of Howard, Jackson and Oates, though there are certainly some common ones; and titles from Cappall Bann do make a significant contribution to the bibliography. Instead, Frisvold draws heavily on material from Hermeticism and the Western Tradition, with an obvious and fairly frequently fondled touchstone being found in Cornelius Agrippa.

There is a utilitarian approach to the writing here with a conversational tone that precludes much in the way of scene setting or background exposition when information is presented. Frisvold obviously knows his stuff (except perhaps for the bit about Robert Johnson dying at the crossroads, wahhh?), so there’s no feeling of him skimping on the details out of ignorance, and while you don’t need to over explain things to an occult audience (where a certain familiarity with the material is expected), it still feels like more context could be provided before the nuggets of knowledge are dropped. The brevity of Frisvold’s writing is also evident in a lack of transitional phrases tying paragraphs together, with ideas often being abruptly introduced as if they have no immediate relation, to the subjects that have gone before. This leads to a jarring effect when blocks of information appear, if only briefly, as if they are non sequiturs, barren of any relation to the wider discussion.

This slight lack of focus bleeds into the chapters, which, although given clear titles and themes, don’t necessarily reflect an obvious flow throughout the book; suggesting, although I have no evidence to corroborate it, that they started as individual essays. These chapters cover off various areas of witchcraft, with the first one being the aforementioned consideration of the symbolism of the crossroads. Chapter two, Solomonic Magic, is a wide-ranging slightly unfocused discussion that covers more than what its title would suggest, lurching from grimoire magic, to folk concepts of the Devil, to liminal Roman and Etruscan deities and ultimately to inverted crosses. The focus is tightened a little more in a discussion of blood and ancestry in systems of witchcraft and, inevitably, beyond. Arguably the most successful chapter is one in which the gaze lingers on a central theme for longer with a consideration of the Witches’ Sabbath and the traditions surrounding the Mount of Venus. I am rather partial to the emphasis Frisvold gives to Hela, focusing on Her role as an initiatory goddess of witchcraft and the underworld, addressing Her as “Ninefold Mother, Hel, Herodias, Holda. Queen of Elphame, Queen of Venus’ mount.”

Many of the chapters conclude with a practical activity that put into action what has just been discussed. Thus, a chapter that could be broadly said to be concerned with sympathetic magick concludes with a series of brief malefic spells, such as a poppet charm for harm and healing, and a procedure for creating a mojo bag for protection. In the chapter on the Witches’ Sabbath, instructions are given for a rite of transvection using flying ointments, while the consideration of blood ties is concluded with a procedure for feeding the ancestors


Each chapter in Craft of the Untamed is prefaced with a black and white illustration by Audrey Melo, who also provides the painting that features on the cover. The reproduction of these internal illustration varies widely in quality, with everything from acceptable to quite pixelated, to goodness me, they’ve put pixels in their pixels so they can pixel when they pixel. These images are also wildly inconsistent in style, with Melo having no discernible look of her own and instead riffing on the aesthetics of various familiar esoteric artists. There’s a few atavistic Austin Osman Spare motifs, a fairly convincing Aubrey Beardsley pastiche, and a couple of images that are an obvious tribute to the unknown artists of a thousand wishful metal album covers scrawled across a thousand school exercise books. One image takes Brian Froud as its inspiration and by inspiration I mean that at its centre is one of his rather distinctive characters, economically traced, without credit.

Craft of the Untamed is better formatted than many Mandrake of Oxford titles, with none of the cramped styling that is usually found amongst their books. In place of it, though, and proving I’m never satisfied, is an overly generous leading that almost approaches double line spacing in depth and which, although allowing things to breathe, does result in just 30 lines of text on a page. This count is reduced even more when the style is applied to what ends up being rather spaced out invokations that can’t help but be read in a stilted, broken tone worthy of William Shatner. There’s an unfortunately typical lack of attention to detail in the formatting and proofing: chapter headings can’t decide if they’re meant to be bolded or not, the first page of each chapter flaunts convention and includes the header with the book’s author and title in it (as do all other pages, regardless of the content), and there’s a reckless disregard for punctuation, with a surfeit of missing, redundant or misplaced commas.

With its overgenerous leading, Craft of the Untamed makes for what feels like a slimmer volume than its tally of 180 pages would suggest. When this is twinned with Frisvold’s brisk style of writing, the reader can find themselves skipping quickly through the pages. As an overview of some of witchcraft’s themes, Craft of the Untamed meets its brief, and the point of difference, largely unpromised at the start, is a tendency to relate these to Western Occultism and Hermeticism, with Frisvold’s affiliation as a Traditionalist occasionally coming through via this approach.

Published by Mandrake of Oxford


Secrets of a Faery Landscape – Coleston Brown

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Categories: faery

Secrets of a Faery Landscape coverSubtitled New Light on the Glastonbury Zodiac, this book has as its focus the series of natural and constructed earthworks surrounding Glastonbury, Somerset, discovered in 1925 by Katherine Maltwood. The first figure she found was a leonine form, which emerged out of the hills and hollows outlined on a surveyor’s map of the area, and other less impressive shapes soon followed. These she identified as representations of different constellations, although some might say that a few of the designs resemble not so much constellations as they do amorphous splats; I, for example, might say that.

In this work, Coleston Brown is less concerned with recapitulating Maltwood’s discovery and instead attempts to use the forms with more of a metaphysical focus. In this investigation, Brown is aided and abetted by Jessie Skillen who provides the cover image and a smattering of internal illustrations rendered in pencil. Her style is very much what you would expect to find in a new age shop in Glastonbury, all wisp and whimsy and it does act as an able companion to Brown’s themes.

While obviously indebted to Maltwood and her discovery of the figures at Glastonbury, Brown stresses early on where the two of them diverge. Maltwood’s identification of the figures with the conventional classical zodiac (something continued by almost everyone that has subsequently considered them) is seen as a somewhat limiting action and the result, Brown says, of her attempts to seek validation from academic authorities of the day. Brown does see the designs at Glastonbury as having a stellar component, but one that reaches beyond the confines of the ecliptic, with the figures having much more of the faery about them than the zodiac. For Brown, then, the figures represent Thirteen Dreamers, great faery figures that lie across the land and are simultaneously represented in the stars. It is within these earthy forms that the stars sleep when night turns to day and the sky’s nocturnal inhabitants pass into the underworld; or UnderRealm as Brown insists on calling it. This theme is something hinted at in Maltwood’s early works when she variously refers to the Glastonbury figures as Nature Gods, Star Giants and Giant Cosmic Deities.


So instead of identifying the shapes by their classical zodiac names, Brown list these Thirteen Dreamers as the Quest, the Queen, the King, the Radiant Child, the Faery Boat, the Havens, the Sisterhood, the Faery Cat, the Stone/Sigils, the Horned One, the Swan, the Faery Fish and the Well of Stars. Various patterns of interaction between these Dreamers can be identified, with them being divided into triunes of animals, artefacts, guardians and a royal family comprised of queen, king and child. These Dreamers can be related to various elements of Celtic mythology, the Faery Fish is the Salmon of Knowledge, for example, while the Sisterhood are the nine women whose breath keeps the fire beneath the Cauldron of Inspiration lit.

Brown uses the Glastonbury figures to cast a wider thematic net within which a number of motifs can also be considered. The wild hunt led by Gwynn ap Nudd, for example, is discussed in the way it partakes of the same matrix of liminal imagery as the star enclosure with its themes of seasonal interactions between this world and the other. Similarly, Brown touches on the persistent references to the star enclosure as a cauldron, creating an interesting image in which the historical flooding of the Somerset Levels suggests a filling cauldron with the water rising to different levels around the various Dreamer earthworks. Brown identifies this tidal flooding as a powerful illustration of an interaction between the underworld and the land, with the water rising up through streams and wells, bringing with it the chthonic energy from below the ground.


Brown has a final chapter talking about stellar alignments and the concept of the birth of a Radiant Faery Child, whatever that is (and linking it with the somewhat overstated galactic alignment of 2012), and then it’s all over a little too quickly. At 132 pages, including glossary and index, and with text rendered in a rather large point size, Secrets of a Faery Landscape is a brisk read and one that practically ends at page 86 when it gives way to annotated illustrations and diagrams to make or reiterate previous points. This abrupt end is a little disappointing, as most of the preceding writing feels like a preamble to a practical application that never comes. There is an appendix, written several years earlier, on working with sacred places that can be applied to the locations of the Thirteen Dreamers, but it feels strange that this content wasn’t more fully integrated into the main body.

Published by Green Fire Publishing. ISBN 9780986591228


Both Sides of Heaven – Edited by Sorita d’Este

Categories: faery, luciferian, Tags:

bothsidesofheavenAvalonia’s Both Sides of Heaven is a collection of essays on angels, fallen angels and demons that suggests that, were the contributors made to choose, it would be the darker side of heaven on which they would sit. There is a preponderance of pieces exploring the fallen angels, whereas their heavenly counterparts are only occasionally present, but such is the dark glamour of the fallen ones that this is, perhaps, inevitable.

With eighteen contributions, there is a wide range of material here, and as one would expect, it is of varying quality and worth. Some of the highlights include Kim Huggens’ Between Gods and Men, a survey of the idea of daimons from a cross section of classical source, while a similar mytho-anthropological approach is taken by Payam Nabarz in a consideration of the angels and demons of Zoroastrian cosmology. Both pieces are well written and thoroughly referenced, making them a joy to read.

There are also strong contributions from Michael Howard and David Rankine. Howard’s The Myth of the Fallen Ones is effectively a summary of the material from his books The Pillars of Tubal Cain and The Book of Fallen Angels, while Rankine gives an overview of the goetic spirits that appear to be fallen angels. In Madeline Montalban, Elemental and Fallen Angels, Julia Philips covers similar material to Howard, although there is substantially less about Montalban than you would have expected based on the title, being limited to a few paragraphs.

On the weak side are pieces like Diana Allam’s Azazel & Shemyaza: Sex, Drugs & Rock ‘n’ Roll, which is a measly two page reflection on how they see Azazel (apparently as “every female’s fantasy in one package;” how wonderfully essentialist) and to a lesser extent, Shemyaza, who they see as a father figure; providing psychological insights I wasn’t really looking for. Adele Nozedar’s Thirteen Unicycles in the Woods is also unsatisfying, using five pages to give a personal account of seeing an angel and a demon in the wild; an anecdote that may be fine as something to tell like a ghost story around a campfire but one that feels lacking in any relevance or insight for a greater audience. Some of the other pieces are distinctly amateurish and entry level, such as Demons and Devils from the peculiarly-named Maestro Nestor. This is a rambling summary of demonology that is punctuated with personal recollections about how they once contemplated summoning a demon to do housework (they thought better of it because it would have been “just too disrespectful”), and how they made a pact with Satan, which they managed to break thanks to a ritual from Arthur Waite’s Book of Ceremonial Magic; phew, that was lucky. Equally rambling is Fallen Angels and the Legends of the Fall, subtitled a rather human perspective, in which author Rufus Harrington’s day job as a Consultant Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist appears to have given him the skill to write for several pages without actually saying much.

Less egregious but still irritating is Aaron Leitch’s The “Enochians,” which promises to show you the true identity of the angels of Dr. John Dee. Unfortunately, Leitch bases his piece on a false dilemma, arguing that occultists favour the exotic Enochian angels that Dee and Kelley encountered as they delved deeper into their system and that they have wilfully ignored the more familiar angels with which Dee worked. For Leitch, the true identity of the angels is just the archangels that Dee, as a student of western occultism, summoned and encountered at the beginning of his experiments: Gabriel, Uriel, Michael and Raphael. So that’s no great revelation and the fact that another piece in this volume, On the Wings of Rebirth by Katherine Sutherland, specifically discusses Dee’s work with these angels suggests that Leitch’s idea of some occult cover-up to hide Dee’s conversations with conventional angels  is vastly overstated.

As is obvious, the problem with this volume is the disparity in the quality of  contributions and contributors. Pieces that have an even mildly academic approach outshine the more personal anecdotes that offer nothing but unwelcome insight into the none-too-flattering mindset of some magickal practitioners.  With some quality control, the eighteen contributions could have been whittled down to make a slimmer but more satisfying volume. As with all Avalonia releases, this book is competently formatted and printed, and the reasonable pricing means that despite the chaff, there’s no reason not to buy this for what wheat there is.

Published by Avalonia. ISBN 978-1-905297-26-9


The Living World of Faery – R.J. Stewart

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Categories: faery, folk, underworld

livingworldoffaeryAlthough much of Bob Stewart’s work concerns itself with the faery realm, this book sets out to focus specifically on the faeries themselves, and their appearances in traditional lore. It combines explanatory chapters, with explorations of folk songs and rhymes, as well as guided workings, with many based on the folk songs. Some of the workings included in this book have appeared in other Stewart books such as Earth Light and Power within the Land, and indeed contribute to a general feeling that much of the material is recycled, and the words simply rephrased. Stewart is, as ever, somewhat dogmatic in lamenting the state of modern occultism and the stereotypes about faeries, and after a while, this curmudgeonly approach begins to grate. It’s not that he’s necessarily wrong in his views, it’s just that once would be enough without the need for condescension.

The book is most useful for its considerations of the faery content of traditional songs and tales, with the ballad of Young Tam Lin and the song of Thomas the Rhymer being essential items of study. From a Helish perspective, a chapter on the inverted Underworld Tree, which features a pathworking to the hall of the Fairy Queen, makes for interesting and evocative reading, and can be adapted more specifically for Hela. Other visualisations include a diving through a moon pool and an exploration of the four otherworld cities from Irish mythology: Murias, Falias, Gorias and Findias.

As with some of his other works, Stewart incorporates elements of Qabalah into his discussion, prefacing it with an overview of the way in which the faery folk were often associated with the fallen angels of biblical lore. Stewart argues that, like faeries, angels have undergone a shift in representation that turns them from powerful, slightly terrifying, beings into “sugary, ethereal, white robed beings who pull us out of difficulties or encourage us with religious platitudes.” With this and a subsequent discussion of the role of Lucifer in faery lore, Stewart’s presentation evokes echoes of the dual–faith observance that is found in Andrew Chumbley’s Sabbatic Craft.

The second half of The Living World of Faery is made up of what could be called primary sources, which, when originally published in the days before digital archives of public domain works, would have been an invaluable resource. These include a reprint of an interview on faery matters with the mystical artist and writer AE (George William Russell, 1867–1935), and extracts from the Reverend Robert Kirk’s 1691/1692 work The Secret Commonwealth. With its almost anthropological notes of faeries, Kirk’s work clearly informs, or corroborates, the exercises in the first half of the book.

Overall, this is not an essential Stewart book, since so much of it is covered elsewhere, but for the completest, it is worth getting. It is nicely formatted and illustrated throughout.

Published by Mercury Publishing, North Carolina, USA. ISBN 1-892137-09-7


Realm of the Ring Lords – Laurence Gardner

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Categories: faery, folk, mesopotamian

This is the third part of Laurence Gardner’s holy bloodline trilogy following on from his Bloodline of the Holy Grail and Genesis of the Grail Kings, in which he picked up the torch left by Baigent, Lincoln, and Leigh’s The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, and ran with it. For this instalment, Gardner turns largely to Western European folklore and legend to see how his supposition of an ancient bloodline stretching back to Mesopotamia was carried through by those in the know.

As the title and inside cover suggests, this third volume seems to be an attempt to cash in on the popularity of the Lord of the Rings by emphasising the apparent link between this royal bloodline and the symbol of the ring; going so far as to clumsily call the members of the bloodline Ring Lords though out the book. This attempt at tapping into what was at the time a red hot Tolkien mania obviously dates this book to the start of the millennium, as Gardner’s more recent book titles and cover art now ape the works of Dan Brown in a rather self-consuming Ouroboros-like circle of meta mania; just as his first two book covers were evocative of Baigent, Lincoln, and Leigh.

As it is, the making of mileage out of Tolkien is quickly abandoned early on, following a brief summary of his work, the equivalent of a listing in, let’s date this, the Encarta multimedia encyclopaedia. Despite the book’s claim to reveal the mythological underpinnings of Tolkien’s oeuvre and the One Ring in particular (a rich field, as the Tolkien legendarium section of the Scriptus Recensera library attests), this does not occur and Gardner swiftly moves on to more familiar areas of legend and folklore, never really touching on Tolkien again.

That is indicative of the problems with this book, you can see the seams. Because he has written two books on his main argument of an ancient royal bloodline that stretches back to antiquity (and stretches credulity with its continuity), Gardner does not feel the need to reargue it here; and if the previous two books didn’t necessarily convince you, this doesn’t help. As a result, everything after the first chapter is interesting only in and of itself, but does nothing to convince you of his main argument.

So why is this book of interest? In much the same way that Gardner’s theory rather grandly over-reaches itself with a vision from the dawn of time to the present, this book tends to look at practically everything from legend and folk lore and sees it as relating to these Royal Ring Lords who had nothing better to do than breed down through history, perpetuating their diluted bloodline. In this broad consideration, we find werewolves, Arthurian legend, elves, witches, Robin Hood, vampires, Santa Claus, Lorna Doone, and more, all somehow tied back to the Annunaki of Mesopotamia. You won’t get the most detailed and comprehensive consideration of these topics but with Gardner’s broad brush strokes there is enough considered to fire your own connections and make you want to look deeper elsewhere.

This broadness is the major flaw in Gardner’s whole argument, as he seems to have little regard for how indigenous belief and folklore operates, instead proposing a blanket lux orientalis, in which every single thing anyone ever imagined was somehow a reference to some ancient land no one had ever heard of, let alone been to. Like any theory which seeks to totally explain myth or legend, it ends up doing those forms a disservice. But putting aside the conclusions he reaches and considering the information he presents, the data itself is valid, especially because much of it can be related to indigenous systems of belief.

The book is thoroughly footnoted and referenced, and written in such a way as to convey a sense of scholarship. The real sense though is one of belief, and an immersion in a theory that has resulted in a little too many trees being seen instead of the forest. Nice colour plates though.

Published by Multi MediaQuest International Ltd, England.