Thursday 23 April 2009

England: Isle of Fantasy and Magic

England doesn't exist, it is more fantasy than reality. The English believe in ghosts, built follies, founded Wicca - the modern religion based on witchcraft - and love to watch re-enactments of history that may or may not really have happened.

That was the view of Dutchman Peter Brusse back in the 1970s, when he wrote the book England Doesn't Exist. The London correspondent for a Dutch newspaper talked to members of the Ghost Club, visited the Museum of Witchcraft on the Isle of Man and had tea with the local witches, celebrated midsummer with druids at Stonehenge, took part in an English Civil War battle with re-enactment society The Sealed Knot and investigated the English fascination with all things antique and historic at auction houses, stately homes and on steam trains.

Although Brusse wrote his book more than a quarter of a century ago, I am proud to say England is still as fantastical as he described it. Wicca and druidry are perhaps even more popular as religions and you only have to look at all the programmes about antiques and history on TV to see that our fascination with the past is as strong as ever.

On St George's Day we celebrate what it means to be English, even though our patron saint probably never visited England. As I wrote in A Bad Witch's Blog last St George's Day, the real St George was from Cappadocia in Asia Minor, which is now Turkey, so he certainly wasn't English. We also tell the tale of St George killing a dragon, despite the fact that dragons don't exist.

April 23, St George's Day, is also celebrated as the birthday of Shakespeare - England's greatest poet. Yet there are those who say Shakespeare doesn't exist either, and that his plays were actually written by Francis Bacon. The evidence for Shakespeare's non-existence is that there are no known descriptions or portraits of him. Nevertheless, The Bard is one of England's greatest legends.

And I am proud to live in a country were people can look beyond reality and find meaning in myth, legend and magic. The English have traditionally loved eccentrics and been tolerant of those who express a variety of beliefs. UFO spotters, ghost hunters, Loch Ness Monster seekers and those who believe in fairies are a much-loved part of our culture. Plenty of people have teased me gently for being a witch, but I've rarely encountered serious prejudice in this country.

Peter Brusse ends his book by saying England's greatest contribution to civilisation is "the cult of eccentricity". He says:
"England is a state of mind, rather than a geographical expression, and although in theory an Englishman could happen anywhere ... this island is particularly conducive to bringing out the Englishness in people. It may be the weather, it may be the tea, but whatever the reason England produces more Englishmen than anywhere else. They are the products of their own imagination. Since this makes the Englishman an imaginary being it is hardly surprising that he believes in other imaginary beings. Which is why an Englishman believes in ghosts."
I am happy to admit that I am a fully signed up member of the English cult of eccentricity, and if the fantastical and magical Isle that is England ever slides away from reality entirely to join such fabled lands as Avalon, Lyonesse and Atlantis, I would rather go with it than give up the imaginary.

England Doesn't Exist by Peter Brusse is available secondhand through Amazon.

The image of Stonehenge was supplied by


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Eccentrics make life more interesting! For some reason, we here in the States don't have quite as much tolerance for it. Guess eccentricity gets in the way of making money or being famous or something.