Edited by Caitlín Matthews, author of dozens of books including Singing the Soul Back Homeand Celtic Visions,with druid and activist Paul Davies, This Ancient Heartoffers ten different perspectives on how our place of birth, the country we live in, those who have lived before us and those we share the land with now, can inspire and affect our spirituality.
It starts with beautiful and inspiring writing from Emma Restall Orr and Philip Shallcrass (Bobcat and Greywolf) and ends with an afterword by celebrated historian Professor Ronald Hutton, author of Pagan Britain. The words of other luminaries grace the pages in between.
Emma offers an impassioned call to respect the bones of those who have died – for them to remain buried rather than be dug up by archaeologists and put in museums. She has long campaigned for this as a founder of Honouring the Ancient Dead, and in her essay here she explains her thoughts and feelings on this subject. I know her writing is powerful because it made me question how I had thought about this in the past.
Questioning is good. This is, overall, a book that makes you question preconceived ideas, not a book that reaffirms comfortable complacency. Professor Ronald Hutton, at the end of the book, states that some may feel aggrieved over this, “but they should not, if they really intend this book to have some effect on readers.”
The essays are extremely wide-ranging in their subjects and styles. Greywolf talks about his connection with a tribe of wolf spirits – how that came about where it led him, including his own questioning of whether to eat a venison feast offered to him despite previously having been vegetarian.
Jenny Blain looks at how the “spiritual ways of ‘seidr’ might give some insight to an understanding of the interaction of place and human-person, and how in turn relationships with wights [land spirits] and ancestors form part of how seidr is worked”.
Robert J Wallis offers an evocative description of falconry on a cold winter morning and how it fits into the world-view of a heathen archaeologist.
Caitlin Matthews, as well as co-editing the book,has written a chapter called Healing the Ancestral Communion: Pilgrimage Beyond Time and Space. This offers a practical guide to spiritually connecting with the land in which one lives and also the land of one’s birth. As Caitlin points out, these can be very different. She provided meditative and sensory exercises to heal the rift of disconnection.
Camelia Elias offers a eulogy for a modern ancestor of tradition, Colin Murray. “Throughout the 1970s and 80s Murray was responsible for the revival of all things Celtic in a way that was quite unprecedented.”
Pagans are not the only ones who find meditating on nature can be a spiritual practice. Quaker Sarah Hollingham offers examples and practical exercises in Tuning into the Landscape, that people of all spiritual paths and none could learn from.
Science is addressed in How Genetics Unravels the Role of the Landscape in the Relationship Between Ancestors and Present by Luzie U Wingen.
David Loxley looks at linguistics and how the way we frame sentences affects our view of the past, present and future.
In The Heart of the Land: The Druidic Connection, Penny Billington looks at the importance of keeping balance – symmetry – between literal reality and spiritual yearning. She asks the reader to “imagine yourself for a moment on a hill at sunset, with the quiet buzzing of the insects invisible in the soft light.” She continues:
From your vantage point you look over the dark lake to the west, where the molten streaks of light reflect in a shimmering water-path leading to you, and with the quiet stars appearing in the deep blue overhead. This momentary turning of our attention to the world of nature, even in the imaginal realm, can prompt a surprising sense of relaxation that slows our breathing and our over-busy brains.She points out: “Science backs up these instincts”.
Perhaps that is the overall message of the book, that it is good for us to feel a connection with the landscape and with those who have gone before us. Whether we follow a religion or spiritual path, or whether we are atheists, it is good to know where we are and where we come from, and spending time in the natural world can be healing.
This Ancient Heart: Landscape, Ancestor, Selfis published by Moon Books and can be ordered via Amazon.
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This Ancient Heart: Landscape, Ancestor, Self