A wonderful guest post from Liz Williams…
The title of this guest post is a tribute to Ursula Le Guin’s remarkable anthropological novel about a future West Coast American society that would prove appealing to many Druids, with its emphasis on tolerance and tribal wisdom. One of my abiding loves, and abiding preoccupations, are the books that I read as a child and which continue to influence the way in which I see the world, both as a writer and as a Druid.
We meet a great many people who come both to Glastonbury and to paganism for the first time, and often, they all say the same thing: ‘it’s like coming home.’ Yesterday, I spoke to a woman from Alberquerque – involved in the goddess movement, much of her meditational practice stems from the images depicted by Marion Zimmer Bradley in The Mists of Avalon. It’s easy to take issue with this book – I’ve done so myself – or, more accurately, with those of its readers who hold that it depicts a historic truth, but there is a deeper truth to it: it resonates with us on a poetic and mythological level which comes in part from its iconic imagery. Morgaine standing with power and loss at the water’s edge, summoning the mists; Arthur, running wild with the deer. The woman from Alberquerque told me how she had loved the Arthurian tales as a child and how they had, 30 years or so later, brought her to Glastonbury. She had, in a very real sense, come home – not just to a physical place, but to the place which embodies in its landscape the stories she had loved as a girl.
For me, it’s the same with many of the fantasy novels I read in my childhood and teens – Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain books, with the oracular pig Hen Wen. Those American stories led me back to the South Wales of my own family, to the Mabinogion, and the real Arawn (a nobler figure than Alexander’s villain). Or Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising series – filled with carols and red-eared hounds and flying may trees, with a silver-eyed dog that can see the wind and a woman who flees through time to betray her lover. Neither Alexander nor Cooper is, as far as I know, a pagan, but the sensibility of their writing is, to me, deeply so in that it draws on the old, twisted roots of British folklore. As do Lucy Boston’s books about the ancient house of Green Knowe, which aren’t ostensibly pagan at all, but with its ghosts, its yews, its secrets and its strangeness, Green Knowe seems to me to embody, again, a spirit that is peculiarly English (I use the term deliberately). In similar vein are the novels of Elizabeth Goudge, who was a devout Christian, but whose books again touch on something deep within the pagan psyche: a love of the natural world, a strangeness, a whisper of faery which is unhuman, and not at all twee. All of these childhood books relate to something within our spirits, regardless of which country or which faith their authors come from, and I think it is often this to which pagans refer when they meet paganism in whatever form for the first time. They really are coming home – to those early, half-forgotten stories of childhood, to that foreign country which is the past, to that deep well within the pagan psyche that longs for magic and which has not, through the years of adulthood, given up the hope of finding it. And which is found yet, in the pages of those childhood books, and thus beyond.