13 authors explore the threefold relationship between the landscape, the ancestors and ourselves. By focussing upon the essentials that shape Pagan and Heathen identity, this book reveals the connective pathways where beliefs, actions and metaphors lead to dynamic, practical and spiritual lives.
Penny Billington (Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids); Dr. Jenny Blain (Former Senior Lecturer in Sociology, Sheffield Hallam); Paul Davies (Quaker, Independent Druid) Introduction and Editor; Prof. Camelia Elias. (Roskilde University); Prof. Graham Harvey (Reader in Religious Studies OU) Foreword; Sarah Hollingham MSc res. (Geographer, Quaker & Mother); Prof. Ronald Hutton (University of Bristol) Afterword; David Loxley (Chief of Ancient Druid Order); Caitlin Matthews (Teacher and author) Joint Editor; Emma Restall Orr (Author); Philip Shallcrass (Chief of British Druid Order); Prof. Robert Wallis (University of Richmond, London); Dr. Luzie U. Wingen (Quantitative Geneticist at the John Innes Centre).
This Ancient Heart is essential reading for people with an interest in earth spirituality, our shared ancestors, sacred landscapes, shamanism, anthropology, archaeology, religion and heritage studies.
REVIEWS & ENDORSEMENTS
This Ancient Heart: Landscape, Ancestor, Self is a new compilation of essays on subjects at the core of many pagans’ spiritual beliefs - the relationship between the landscape, our ancestors and ourselves.
Edited by Caitlín Matthews, author of dozens of books including Singing the Soul Back Home and Celtic Visions, with druid and activist Paul Davies, This Ancient Heart offers 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. ~ Lucya Szachnowski, A Bad Witch's Blog
This book explores how we humans in the 21st century relate to the spirits of the lands in which we live, their other-than-human inhabitants, and our collective and individual ancestors. By a series of turns of fate, I'm writing my review in the ideal setting of a quiet garden, overlooked by an ancient oak tree that occasionally drops acorns around me as a pair of hunting Buzzards circle overhead, their piercing cries borne on a soft summer breeze. Ideal because it chimes so well with the subject matter of this hugely enjoyable, informative and thought-provoking book. Each of the thirteen writers brings a unique perspective, making it an absolute pleasure to read. Remarkable for its breadth and depth, this is the best-written, most refreshingly original anthology I've come across in years, ~ Philip Greywolf Shallcrass, http://greywolf.druidry.co.uk/2015/09/this-ancient-heart-landscape-ancestor-self/
This volume is an absolute treasure trove - a stunning collection of essays that offer much food for thought for every spiritual seeker. ~ Philip Carr Gomm, Chief of Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, Psychologist and author of 'Druid Mysteries' and 'Sacred Places'
This Ancient Heart perfectly expresses why I became a Pagan Druid in the first place; not as an act of rebellion against some church or any particular God, but because I fell deeply and irrevocably in love with our ancient common ancestress; Great Nature, “The Mother of Ten Thousand Things”. These words invite us to re-member our place in the universe, and to experience ecstatic re-union with All That Is; I am Goddess and You are God and so is every rock, seed, tree, bird, insect, river, fish, mountain, four legged and two legged in this sacred creation we inhabit. Holding to that awareness we may perhaps yet preserve a future for the Earth and her creatures. ~ Ellen Evert Hopman, author of 'A Legacy of Druids' and 'A Druids Herbal of Sacred Tree Medicine'
I found this book delightful. It brings us to old, ancient doors that have been waiting for us to open them for maybe millennia. With perspectives from liminal, threshold women and men like Emma Restall Orr, Caitlin Matthews, Jenny Blain, Greywolf and Robert Wallis who have lived and worked with our native traditions for most of their lives, there is a wealth of experience and wisdom here. A book to dip into for years to come. ~ Elen Sentier, author of The Celtic Chakras, Elen of the Ways and Trees of the Goddess
Most Pagans look to the past for inspiration. How we relate to our ancestors, who we even understand them to be, and what we carry, real or imagined, into the future is often a key question for modern Pagans. This book offers an intriguing array of insights, ideas, challenges and possibilities that help the reader consider their own relationship with issues of ancestry, identity and belonging. ~ Nimue Brown, author of Druidry and the Ancestors
What does the progress of humankind, the development of knowledge, technology and modern science mean when we lose the connection between our Soul, the All-Being and the Ancestors?
To restore the quiet dialogue with the Ancestors is the ultimate challenge of the authors of this book.
These chapters invite you, the reader, to follow in the footsteps of the authors and visit ancient sites and to find out, for yourself as a pilgrim, what these sites mean to you.
Beyond our power to think, we find a sea of imagination that open doorways to the unexpected, the curious and the fascinating. This place feels like a dream that is full of truths.
Open this doorway and let your imagination flow and the chapters within this book become a magical stream of letters that dance together in a timeless, secret message.
Osarkak, a storyteller of Greenland, says: ”All our sagas are experiences of men. They are true. What our wise ancestors passed on are no lies or rash phrases. If people of our time think that a lot of these episodes are not true it means that only their lifeforces are thinner than those of the Ancestors from whom we derive it.
The authors let no one stand before a closed door, so take the challenge, read the book, pass the doorway, the gateway and go on your quest, your pilgrimage.
~ Chantal Hoyberghs, Historian and Druid