The Old Ways

In these days of restricted horizons and lowering cloud, Robert Macfarlane’s The Old Ways may well be the perfect antidote. It takes us on a quest to other places and other times, and like all the best quests, one that goes inside as well as out.

The book describes a series of journeys on foot by the author, following the tracks of ancient wanderers on paths which have been trodden, often, for thousands of years. At the same time it’s an account of the landscape, and the weather, of myth and folklore, of old ghosts and new demons, of philosophy, and the magical aspects of nature that binds all these things together.

The act of walking – the heartbeat of feet upon the ground, the wind in the face – is a meditative process that allows seeing with new eyes. It provides a connection with the deep past, and it allows us to travel far inside for understanding of who we are and what binds us to those who have gone.

Macfarlane’s powerful poetic prose takes us along with him, to the most dangerous path in Britain, off the Essex coast, which only appears briefly on the mudflats at low tide, along the prehistoric route across the South Downs, through the Scottish Highlands, and even to the Middle East.

His description of a terrifying, perhaps supernatural, event one night while sleeping in Chanctonbury Ring captures the mystical atmosphere that seeps into every votive trek.

I finished reading The Old Ways while in lockdown, where my whole world was a house and a garden, and for a brief time there were no boundaries at all.

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.