Into The Wilds

The Dionysian Mysteries were a ritual of ancient Greece and Rome which sometimes used intoxicants and other trance-inducing techniques (like dance and music) to remove inhibitions and social constraints, liberating the individual to return to a natural state.

We all need to return to that natural state from time to time – if not, too much sanity will drive us mad.  It’s particularly important for creative people.  This is how you tap into the unconscious where stories and art and music are borne.

It won’t happen naturally.  How you do it is down to you – I have many ways that work for me.  One is to make sure I get away into the wilds a few times a year.  Trek across wind-swept moors where there’s not a soul around for miles.  Sleep under the stars.  Dive into the ocean and let the swell carry you.  The Wild forces the front-brain to switch off.

And when you do, you start to see strands of myth all around you – like the installation above. And myth is the way the Wild communicates directly with the unconscious – the real – you.

I took this photo at the Eden Project (Motto: Transformation: it’s in our nature) on a recent journey through Cornwall, one of my favourite places.  If you want to see more of what I do in my life, make sure you follow me on Instagram.

The Stories We Need To Tell Ourselves

There is a shiny red apple filled with poison and a crone with eyes like steel. There is a virginal girl as pure as snow, a sleep like death, and a kiss that wakes her into a new life of Happy Ever After.

This tale has survived from ancient times because it was always more than just entertainment. It was an instruction for living.

We’re moving into a new age now, one of unparalleled and accelerating technological change. Every aspect of our existence is being transformed. Hang around in the coffee shops and bars and you will catch murmurs of unease. Old friends are vanishing by the day. Familiar, comforting ways of doing things lost. Nowhere seems safe.

Never has there been a more important time for stories that instruct and guide and explain. A new narrative for a new age.

Read it all here, by me, on Medium.

Why We Need Camelot

Arthurian lore is stitched deeply into my new book, Pendragon, published in just a few short days.  This is a story-telling tradition that may well go back one thousand five hundred years.  Perhaps even longer, if – as some think – Arthur was not a real, historical figure but based on a mythic hero arising out of tales of Annwn, the Welsh Otherworld of gods and magical beings.

Arthur matches the promise embedded in T H White’s title, The Once and Future King, by returning time and again in fireside tales, books, films, radio dramas, comics, and in every one slightly reinvented to speak to the concerns of the time in which the story is being told.  That’s because Arthur’s true importance is as a symbol, rather than as an historical figure.

And it’s a consideration of this element which lies at the heart of my telling: why do we need the myth of King Arthur so much that we keep bringing him back in new forms?

Pendragon is set one hundred years before Arthur was supposed to have lived and looks at how the man, the legend, both entwined, might have arisen out of historical events.  It’s decidedly and defiantly different from the Arthurian fiction you may be used to – no re-telling of oft-told tales.  All the familiar elements are there, but we come at them from oblique angles in the hope that the reader might see them in a new light.  In that way it’s a meditation on the meaning of King Arthur, as much as being about Arthur himself.

Or as the review from Parmenion Books says:

Pendragon…. the name just screams Arthur, Genevieve, Lancelot and all that goes with it. Well take that preconception and throw it out the window. Not since Bernard Cornwall took on the Arthur myth has any writer provided such a new and innovative view of the Arthurian story.

This constant reinvention of Arthur is a turbulent process, but the anchors remain the same to hold the idea fast – Excalibur, Camelot, the Round Table and the rest.  And they too are symbols, more powerful than their mundane appearance suggests.

Folklore speaks to why we keep calling Arthur back into our world.  He is the hero who sleeps beneath the hill with his loyal band of followers, waiting to be summoned in the hour of England’s – or the world’s – greatest need.  The saviour.  The ideal.  The non-religious symbol of something greater than ourselves that speaks to the highest callings – of service, of sacrifice, of the values, the striving for goodness, that bind us all together.

There are times when we need Camelot more than ever.

This is one of them, I think.

The UK has never been more divided.  The US too.  Divided socially, politically, geographically, financially, divided in how we see ourselves, in our purpose.  It’s important to look to greater principles to find those ties that bind, if divisions are ever to be overcome.

And lest we forget, symbols are more powerful than words, more powerful indeed than the men and women who purport to lead us.  Countries which marshall their national symbols thrive.  Those which don’t, struggle.  The USA, a country built on symbols, now almost wholly communicates with them.  From images of an eagle, or stars and stripes, or the gunslinger standing alone in desolate landscape, we understand very complex, multi-faceted ideas about the philosophy of that nation.  And that communication is more powerful than anything when the USA is selling itself across the world.

King Arthur is also a symbol of Britain.  He sells a layered but powerful idea of who we are as a nation.  As we edge out into an uncertain world, we need that too.

Winter Stories

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Winter is a time for imagination.  For reflection.  For stories.  We bolt the door and huddle around the fire, listening to the voices whispering in the chimney.  Ghosts, of the past year, of the family members we’ve lost, of ancient ancestors.  Ghosts as metaphor, ghosts as memory, ghosts as the very essence of all we fear, and sometimes all we desire.

Tuesday December 22 is the Winter Solstice, when the sunlight hours are barely there and the night reaches on and on.  It’s a time I value.  The traditions.  Crouching next to the warmth and mulling on things gone, and things yet to come.

Today the last deep coal mine in Britain closed.  Soon there will be ghosts of entire industries.  King Coal used to rule round these parts.  I remember my grandfather telling me of the ghosts of dead miners that haunted the long, lonely tunnels.  When they were working alone, sometimes the men would hear these spirits knocking, or calling out, urging the living to join them in the dark.  The tales weren’t peculiar to this area.  As far as I can tell, they existed all over the country, and in tin mines as well as coal mines.  Nobody will hear the dead miners any more.  But they will echo on in the stories, as they do in this one I tell you, which will live on in your head, and, perhaps, be passed on by your tongue.  The stories never die.

We’ve been thinking about this for a long time.  The primary axis of Stonehenge is aligned to the winter solstice sunrise, as is the entrance tunnel to the neolithic monument at Newgrange in County Meath, Ireland.  This moment has always been important to us.

Here in the old Kingdom of Mercia, ghosts flicker in the forest that presses tight around my house.  Along the old Roman road that curves around my boundary hedge.  I listen to what they say, and I learn.

Mythonauts

Anyone who thinks mythology doesn’t matter hasn’t been paying attention for…oh…five thousand years. Mythology is both the secret language of the unconscious mind and the code that rewrites the physical world around us.  Mythology shapes the psyche, and through it the lives of people who engage with it.  It defines politics – wave at every successful politician from JFK to Obama.  It shapes business, brands, actors, musicians, culture, artists, movements.

If you want success, find the door to mythology.  Leave the mundane world behind.  Find the mythology for your sense of place – the deep south of the Blues musicians, Haight-Ashbury for the sixties counterculture, Scotland for Nicola Sturgeon.  Find that mythological superstructure for your own ego.  You are not normal.  No one is.  You exist in a world beyond this.

Cut the ties that bind.  Explore.