Book Review: ‘The Magical History of Britain’ by Martin Wall

The period of British history which we call the Dark Ages was not dark at all – according to the author of this book, Martin Wall.The Magical History of Britain by Martin Wall

But we do know the period this term covers, between about 500 and 1000 BC, was marked by frequent warfare. Many of us choose to imagine it best probably through the medium of fantasy, in books, films and TV drama, such as The Lord of the Rings, or Game of Thrones.

The darkness only refers to our  lack of knowledge of the period. And this author was inspired by the discovery of the Staffordshire Horde, to pour what must have been exhaustive research into the writing of this book.

Reading ‘The Magical History of Britain‘ is a rewarding experience, if you would love to fill in the details of a profoundly obscure period of Britain’s history including the so-called Dark Ages, and the recurrent struggles over many generations between Christians and Pagans. The author states that he was inspired to write this book by the discovery of the Staffordshire Horde. And although I was enthralled, I did from time to time find myself wishing the author had resisted the urge to pack so much information in, often giving a blow-by-blow account of events in long, weighty paragraphs, and filling in the entire life history of every character he featured.

Nevertheless it was still a fascinating book and of one thing we can be sure – through all the centuries on this Island, the Celts, the Romans, the Britons, the Danes, the Pagans, the Christians, the Anglo Saxons and the Normans have all been every bit as bad as each other, when it comes to wholesale slaughter and sadistic punishments.

The author draws through his narrative a thread of myth and magic, and his treatment of the Arthurian mythology is particularly interesting – a mythology that I believe puts down very deep roots in our national psyche. Somehow we can all relate to that longing for the once and future king. I know I have long loved the stories of Arthur and Guinevere, and the knights of the round table, along with the enchantress Nimue and the wizard Merlin.

Towards the end of this challenging read, including a detailed account of the life and work of Aleister Crowley, it was a positive relief to come through to the conclusion of Martin Walls’s narrative and to read his account of the Inklings meeting in Oxford – bringing us back to two of my most beloved authors, JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis, along with a fellow-member of the Inklings and a great friend of theirs, Owen Barfield.

The book concludes with some astute and discerning remarks about the present state of Britain in regard to its history, its national psyche and its spiritual and magical mythologies.

 

SC Skillman

psychological, paranormal and mystery fiction

Author of Mystical Circles, A Passionate Spirit and Perilous Path

Oxfordshire Place of Inspiration: Castle Inn, Edgehill

A place of inspiration is any place which arouses strong emotions, or perhaps memories, dreams, or reflections. The Castle Inn at Edgehill Oxfordshire is one such place.Castle Inn Edge Hill image 1

A tavern was first built in this high location in 1742 – one hundred years after the date of the Battle of Edgehill which took place in the valley below. There, on  23rd October 1642 the forces of the Parliamentarians and the Royalists faced each other in the open field between Kineton and Radway. The English Civil War was just beginning. The King’s forces had been on their way to London via Birmingham and Kenilworth. The Parliamentarian forces had been heading for Worcester. And they accidentally came together in this bloody battle. The Civil War should have ended there. But it didn’t. The battle ended indecisively, but if the royalist forces had marched straight to London they would have gained the advantage, and the war would have been over.

Instead, they made one of those fateful wrong decisions upon which English history so often turns. The Parliamentarian forces got to London first, and a cruel war ensured. King Charles I had lost his best chance to win. His own personal story ended when he paid the highest price for his errors and bad choices, by being beheaded.

Castle Inn Edge Hill image 2.jpgOne of England’s most evocative and compelling ghost stories lingers around this place too. Since the time of the battle, haunting sounds and apparitions have been reported by many, at night, and particularly around the anniversary of the battle.

Above all this, the Castle Inn sits with its folly in the form of a castellated tower (in which you may book an overnight stay), a picturesque and intriguing attraction at Edgehill, offering refreshment, delicious meals and excellent service in its delightful beer garden, refurbished dining room and historic bar.

It’s one of my favourite pubs to visit, here in the heart of England. Though its attendant history is very sad – see the exhibition now on display at St Peter’s Church Radway – being a story full of tragedy and cruelty and fate, of the kind we love to reflect upon from our safe distance of centuries: until we start to compare it with several current situations of conflict in the world today.

 

 

Such, to me, qualifies it to be a place of spiritual resonance, because it affords us an opportunity to reflect upon our own lives, and upon the human story and its twists and turns of fate, from our perspective of centuries after the original historical events. When a place evokes strong feelings of pity, poignancy, compassion, to my mind, that makes it a special place.
The Castle Inn EdgehillAnd by the way the interior is delightful, the views are magnificent, the service excellent and the menu thoroughly enjoyable!

Echoes of “A Passionate Spirit” in Mystical Tales from British Folklore

Book Review:  “Faeries, Elves and Goblins: The Old Stories” by Rosalind Kerven, published by the National Trust

Faeries, Elves and Goblins by Rosalind Kerven

I bought this book recently in a National Trust gift shop, and found it captivating. Rosalind Kerven explores the raw material from which many of our great fantasy novelists have derived their archetypes. She includes “mystical tales of faery royalty, mischievous goblins, helpful house-elves, changelings and enchantments across the British isles”, with spotlight features on “faery folklore, faery morals, the various faery tribes, and spells and dealings between faeries and mortals”. As a paranormal thriller writer I loved this wonderful survey of centuries of folklore and faery mythology in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

The book reminded me too of why I was so fascinated by the idea of supernatural malevolence hidden beneath mystical beauty (a common theme in faery lore and in Arthurian legends) which was part of my inspiration for “A Passionate Spirit.”COVER DESIGN A PASSIONATE SPIRIT pub Matador

Rosalind Kerven covers all the major themes in traditional tales of the faery realm, including  what she describes as “typical Faery perversity”, spells that are both mischievous and malevolent, and the toxic nature of any deals struck by a faery with a mortal. Reading these tales reminds us that any mortal who ultimately comes out well from dealing with a faery, is extremely lucky!

Shakespeare had it exactly right with his fairies in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, showing them having fun with and mocking the folly of the human beings, then putting things to rights once they have tired of their sport, wryfully signing off with the words, “If we shadows have offended…” In widespread stories down through the centuries, faeries are shown behaving towards mortals rather like a supernatural gang of brigands running a protection racket. These tales made me reflect upon how much they say of the life experience of their creators; an explanation for the changing fortunes we all encounter in this world.

There is so much here that we can identify with on the level of our own unconscious: “The transformation of a familiar path into an endlessly looping labyrinth” – for which a well-known antidote is to “remove one’s coat, turn it inside out and put it on again”; the experience of being “pixy-led”; the idea of obtaining “faery sight” which reveals a parallel world. I can see from this book how deeply influenced JK Rowling was by British folklore, in the Harry Potter novels: Dobby is set free when his master gives him an item of clothing; Harry is deposited as a baby on the Dursleys’ doorstep, by magical agency; and the idea of veritaserum, to name just three examples among countless others.

Highly recommended for adults interested in a survey of archetypal themes in folklore and mythology, though not suitable as a storybook for young children; they are best introduced to fairy tales and folklore through the many other books aimed specifically at their age-groups.

The Dream of William Morris at Broadway Tower in the Cotswolds

My dream, wrote the designer William Morris, is a dream of what has never been… and therefore, since, the world is alive, and moving yet, my hope is the greater that it one day will be… dreams have before now come about of things so good… we scarcely think of them more than the daylight, though once people had to live without them, without even the hope of them.

view from the top of Broadway Tower 1 Oct 2013 (photo credit Jamie Robinson)
view from the top of Broadway Tower 1 Oct 2013 (photo credit Jamie Robinson)

William Morris, along with the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood, and the members of the Arts and Crafts Movement, was one who inherited and took forward all that was good in the Romantic Movement.

Among all things most romantic to me is a high place.

I go to high places for calmness and peace.

There are a number of high places I love to visit, from where I live in Warwickshire.

Broadway Tower, Cotswolds 1 Oct 2013 (photo credit Jamie Robinson)
Broadway Tower, Cotswolds 1 Oct 2013 (photo credit Jamie Robinson)

And just such a place, 35 minutes drive from my home,  is Broadway Tower in the heart of the Cotswolds, which I have visited many times, most  recently the day before writing this post.

From the top of the tower one may see, on a fine day, thirteen counties.

No wonder idealists and romantics  went there in the nineteenth century after their friend took a lease on the Tower, following the death of the Tower’s creator and original owner, the Earl of Coventry. For the Tower, a picturesque folly on the summit of Broadway Hill, emerged from the romantic movement. So, too, flambuoyant, theatrical and sensual, did Painswick Rococo Garden emerge from this tradition, as I wrote in a recent review on Trip Adviser.

William Morris was just one of the many idealists and romantics who came here. His rich, complex and exquisite designs now adorn soft furnishings, and a selection of them may be seen on the second floor of the Tower.

William Morris design image 1 (photo credit Jamie Robinson)
William Morris design image 1 (photo credit Jamie Robinson)

He is a beacon of romantic idealism, combining a love of medieval craftsmanship and Gothic design elements.

And his association with Broadway Tower – together with that of his contemporaries of like mind – is appropriate.

William Morris design image 2 (photo credit Jamie Robinson)
William Morris design image 2 (photo credit Jamie Robinson)

It’s certainly true that I, too,  feel an affinity with the Romantics, the Pre-Raphaelites, the members of the Arts & Craft movement, and their dreams and visions.

For where would we be in this life if none among us aspired to, or dreamed of impossible ideals?

Impossible?

Read the full text of The Dream of William Morris here.

The Dream of William Morris (photo credit Jamie Robinson)
The Dream of William Morris (photo credit Jamie Robinson)

Sacred Spaces in the English Landscape and Places of Inspiration: Stonehenge and Salisbury Cathedral

Stonehenge 17 Aug 2013 (photo credit Jamie Robinson)
Stonehenge 17 Aug 2013 (photo credit Jamie Robinson)

Throughout the English landscape there’s evidence that our ancestors shaped the land, to conform to their own mythological landscape.

I’ve written before about sacred spaces. In that article, I looked at some renowned locations in England where people have felt they’re in touch with something bigger than themselves – a sense of the numinous.

All of these places work symbolically or metaphorically to express a place where we may be or a situation we may encounter in this life, that we recognise from our own experience.

And one such renowned location is Stonehenge – which I visited a few days ago with family members.

To walk slowly and attentively around Stonehenge, using the audio guide provided by English Heritage, is to experience something numinous, much bigger than ourselves.

The stones arrived here some time just before 2500 BC, to begin transforming the previously existing simple enclosure to something much different. And as we considered the huge effort that our ancestors put into moving the stones 19 miles from the Marlborough Downs in north Wiltshire, and 150 miles from the Preseli Hills in Wales, to this location, in order to  construct this massive circle, we were drawn in to the wonder and the mystery.

Salisbury Cathedral. Its spire is the tallest cathedral spire in England  (photo credit Jamie Robinson)
Salisbury Cathedral. Its spire is the tallest cathedral spire in England (photo credit Jamie Robinson)
Those who accept the theory of ley lines know that Stonehenge stands on the Old Sarum Ley which is aligned with Salisbury Cathedral, among other sacred places.
As the English Heritage guidebook points out, Stonehenge can perhaps be seen as the prehistoric equivalent of a great cathedral like that at nearby Salisbury, built for worship and as a place  where believers could come to find healing and hope and where important people can be buried.

Salisbury Cathedral, described as Britain’s finest 13th Century Cathedral, is another inspirational place.

From its glorious chancel roof                                                                                                               The chancel roof of Salisbury Cathedral (photo credit Jamie Robinson)

The chancel roof of Salisbury Cathedral (photo credit Jamie Robinson)

to the stunningly beautiful lapis lazuli of the Prisoners of Conscience windows,

this is a place to move and uplift and fill you with awe.

Prisoners of Conscience window in Salisbury Cathedral (designed by Gabriel Loire; dedicated to prisoners of conscience throughout the world. (photo credit Jamie Robinson)
Prisoners of Conscience window in Salisbury Cathedral (designed by Gabriel Loire; dedicated to prisoners of conscience throughout the world. (photo credit Jamie Robinson)

Here, the hearts and  minds of all those who enter, for worship or just to visit, may be lifted up to a bigger and clearer understanding of  God.

Or, perhaps, they may receive fresh glimpses of eternity, in much the same way, perhaps, as the hearts and minds of those who built and used Stonehenge over the course of 1,400 years.

Another view of the spire of Salisbury Cathedral (photo credit: Jamie Robinson)
Another view of the spire of Salisbury Cathedral (photo credit: Jamie Robinson)

Page-Turning Psychological Suspense Free on Kindle

Mystical Circles cover image
Mystical Circles cover image

Mystical Circles

by SC Skillman

 

PAGE-TURNING ROMANTIC SUSPENSE   

FREE ON KINDLE

Download for free any time between 8pm on 24 November and 8am on 27 November

“Hi, you in crowded, stressed old London from me in the peaceful, perfect Cotswolds. Massive change of plan. I’m in love. Craig is gorgeous, sexy, intelligent. Paradise here. Staying forever.”

Juliet, concerned that her younger sister has fallen for the charismatic Craig, leader of the Wheel of Love, sets off for the Cotswold hills to investigate.

She arrives at Craig’s community hoping to rescue Zoe. But intrigues, liaisons and relationships flare and flourish or fizzle out quickly within this close circle and, despite her reservations, Juliet is drawn into the Wheel of Love – with completely unforeseen consequences.

PRAISE FOR MYSTICAL CIRCLES

“Skillman weaves romance and attraction with spiritual searching and emotional needs, powerful universal themes”
Marie Calvert (Arts Psychotherapist and Retreat Leader)

“Mystical Circles will captivate you from the first paragraph… From page one my antennas were up… like any good mystery the more I read the more questions I had.. if a great mystery would not keep you reading there was a touch of romance as well… Mystical Circles is definitely a page turner. I recommend this book.”
Marsha Randolph (US Book Reviewer)

“I highly recommend this book for anyone!”
Kristina Franken (Goodreads Book Reviewer)

“AMAZING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
Paddy O’Callaghan (Goodreads Book Reviewer)

Promises of Freedom and a World That Refuses To Be Healed

I’m off on holiday for a week. While I’m taking a break from my laptop my blog will be quiet. However there’s a post or two in the pipeline for when I get back – but you can expect a delayed response to any comments etc.

Mystical Circles new edition
Mystical Circles new edition pub. August 2012

Meanwhile, though, consider this thought from an excellent book I’ve just read, Jeff Goins’ “Wrecked”:

The world is broken and remains that way, in spite of our efforts to help it…. In a world that refuses to be healed, we must face the fact that we are not the heroes of our stories. It teaches us to rely on something bigger than ourselves and teaches the source of true compassion.”

I think this is a very profound statement: an acknowledgement that the world “refuses to be healed”.

I spent the first part of this book relating what Jeff Goins says to my own life experiences; and the next part seeing those experiences in a new light, and perhaps making sense of them. Finally the book challenged me to go beyond my comfort zone and to be willing to behave in ways that are “counterintuitive”. I found this book very moving and penetrating. It is full of wisdom, compassion and humanity.It’s an ideal book for young people to read – and the sort of book I wish I’d read during my university years.

In my romantic suspense novel “Mystical Circles” you will meet a number of people who ostensibly do want to be healed, and have come together – into a very beautiful, idyllic place – for that very purpose.

Not necessarily physical healing – but healing in mind and spirit.

You will also meet somebody who believes he can heal, and that he is the hero of his story.

We enter an esoteric community of people all of whom have come here with a range of different emotional and psychological and spiritual needs.

Freelance journalist Juliet believes she’s only here to rescue her sister from the arms of charismatic Craig, the group leader. And she feels distinctly put out when the group members start targeting her with questions about her own feelings and  “needs”.

“Therapy or treatment?” queries one of the group members, Edgar. “What about those, Juliet? Have you ever had any?”

“No. There’s nothing wrong with me.”

“There doesn’t have to be anything wrong with you, dear. But you’ll have needs. We all have those. And they are what have brought us here.”

Craig promises to “heal” the members of the group. This is what his brochure promises:

If you’ve been searching all your life, but have so far not found what you’ve been looking for, you’ve come to the right place. Here at the Wheel of Love, you may sharpen your subtle knife and cut a window into heaven. There are no limits to what you can achieve here: only those you impose upon yourself. You’ve chosen to come so we promise to supply the necessary tools. If you accept these tools and use them well, you’ll enter a freedom you’ve never dared dream of.

Craig will reach deep down into your spirit and touch a part of it you never knew was there.

Read the novel, and judge for yourself whether Craig – and numerous people like him whom you may meet  – delivers on his promises.

Mystical Circles – Is Everything Really As Perfect As It Seems?

For those who’ve been following my series on “Mystical Experiences and Glimpses of Eternity” you may recognise this as the perennial question – unspoken – in the mind of anyone on the spiritual journey I describe.

And it’s certainly the question behind much of my exploring."Mystical Circles" new print edition published August 2012

My heroine Juliet explores this too – in an idyllic farmhouse in the Cotswolds.

Hi, you in crowded, stressed old London from me in the peaceful, perfect Cotswolds. Massive change of plan. I’m in love. Craig is gorgeous, sexy, intelligent. Paradise here. Staying forever.

Juliet, concerned that her younger sister has fallen for the charismatic Craig, leader of the Wheel of Love, sets off for the Cotswolds to investigate.

She arrives at Craig’s community hoping to rescue Zoe. But intrigues, liaisons and relationships flare and flourish or fizzle out quickly within this close circle, and despite her reservations, Juliet is drawn into the Wheel of Love with completely unforeseen consequences.

“Mystical Circles” is available now in the new print edition from Booklocker. The new edition has a well-designed interior & is a smaller size than the previous (US Trade) edition. Plus a brand new cover design. If you enjoy romantic suspense why not try it out here? You can try before you buy – and download the first three chapters. Enjoy!

“Mystical Experiences and Glimpses of Eternity” Mini Series Part 1: Stirred By A Scientist to Share a Childhood Religious Experience

What’s the difference between nature or music appreciation… and a mystical experience?

Early Morning Mist, Beddgelert, Wales (deryckdillon.co.uk)
Early Morning Mist, Beddgelert, Wales (deryckdillon.co.uk)

When does “being moved by something beautiful” become a religious experience?

Surely the criterion for a mystical experience is that it changes your life?

In my case, it did.

My early childhood mystical experiences ultimately led me on a spiritual journey of many years – which, along the way, bore fruition in my novel “Mystical Circles”, and is now bearing fruit in my new novel  “A Passionate Spirit.”

And for me this spiritual journey didn’t start by opening a book or listening to a clergyman. It started with a direct personal encounter with Divine Reality.

And the person who encouraged me to take it forward was a Scientist.

The name of the scientist was Sir Alister Hardy, Marine Biologist, who wrote the book “The Biology of God: A Scientist’s Study of Man the Religious Animal.”

Sir Alister Hardy, founder of the Religious Experience Research Centre, and winner of The Templeton Prize 1985
Sir Alister Hardy, founder of the Religious Experience Research Centre, and winner of The Templeton Prize 1985

At the University of Wales, Lampeter, you’ll find the Alister Hardy Religious Experience Research Centre. Find out about it here if you want to enquire further, or contribute an experience of your own.

Sir Alister found in a study of 3000 contributed experiences that there were 21 triggers for spontaneous mystical experiences. These included such things as childbirth, the prospect of death, illness and crises in personal relations. But top of the list came  depression/despair, and then prayer and meditation, and then, natural beauty.

A few months before my 17th birthday, I wrote to Sir Alister, having read an article in The Times about him.

He appealed “to all those who have at any time felt that their lives have been affected by some power beyond themselves, to write an account of their experience and the effect it has had on their lives” and to send it to him.

I wrote the story of my childhood religious experiences, and sent it to Sir Alister. In his reply to me, he wrote that my experiences were “the feeling of an ecstatic joy in relation to the universe brought on by some particular aspect of nature… what Rudolf Otto called the numinous, the sense of the Holy.”

Thus began a journey of many years – a fascinating journey of spiritual enquiry and research – and several more mystical experiences along the way.

For me, then, University intervened, but after my graduation and return home, I wrote to the R.E.R.U. at Oxford again.

“What can I get involved in?” I asked. “How can I further my spiritual search?”

Edward Robinson, the new Director, replied, and pointed me to this organisation:

The Centre for Spiritual and Psychological Studies.

(find out about more about my involvement with this organisation here)

And thus, with a weekend symposium in rural Gloucestershire and a group of diverse and sometimes eccentric people of many religious backgrounds (celebrated, in fictional form, in my novel “Mystical Circles”) I began my long spiritual journey.

But don’t forget, as T.S. Eliot says in his poem ‘Little Gidding’, the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time (tweet this).

My first childhood religious experience involved a mountain in the early morning. And my journey took me to another mountain at the other side of the world where I was to recapture that same experience, early in the morning.

In this mini-series I’m going to tell you about some of my “glimpses of eternity” and also introduce you to a few of the fascinating individuals who’ve been way-markers on that spiritual journey.

Join me in my next few posts and find out about my roll-call of spiritual guides (saints as well as sinners).

And do share your own experiences with me, if you wish!

Romantic Moments

What are the most romantic moments of your life?

Cotswold house in a romantic setting
Cotswold house in a romantic setting

 As a mystery romance novelist I have my own ideas!

The setting for my novel Mystical Circles is a gracious farmhouse in the Cotswolds; surrounded by garden, orchard, and its own land rising up the steep side of the valley to a ridge overlooking  the panorama of the Severn Vale, it also boasts a fine tithe barn. It’s my idea of a romantic location. Though I will admit that some of the things that go on in it do not quite qualify for that description! For intrigues, liaisons and relationships flare and flourish or fizzle out quickly within this close circle.

Nevertheless, there are genuinely romantic moments in my novel. There is a sunken garden with a water lily pond; an African thatched gazebo reached by a winding path through azaleas and rhododendrons; and up the wooded slope behind the farmhouse, a hermitage, ideal for “one-to-one counselling sessions”. Also the sitting room, with its leaded window panes, through which the morning sun streams, tinting the oak floor timbers gold, and enriching the colours of the silk long- fringed rugs is often the venue for a romantic get-together; or maybe the library, with its mellow oak panelling, the dreamy atmosphere, the softly glowing lamps.  These are all suitable locations for romantic moments.

But in real life true romantic moments are few and far between.

To me, the essence of a traditional romantic moment is this: a serendipitous conjunction of beauty, happiness, dreams, and a loving relationship between a man and a woman. Notice my use of the word ‘traditional’!

You need to inhabit a romantic moment fully to claim it.

I can think of moments which had most of the ingredients of being romantic… except that I lacked the confidence to be fully alive to them.

You need to be relaxed, accepting, and totally at one in the moment.

These are some examples of romantic moments garnered from my own memories (the names of the ‘romantic heroes’ concerned are disguised!:

1.  lemon souffle in a restaurant in Albemarle Street, London, with Mr X

2.  on a London underground escalator when Mr X turned to me and said: “One day we’ll be together forever.”

3. On the shore of a certain Balearic Island, near dusk, watching a sea that looked like caramel silk, when Mr X turned to me and said “When I become Y (naming the promotion he was hoping to get, which we’d discussed), we’ll come back here and stay at the Z Hotel (naming the Hotel Romantic-but-Very-Posh-and-Expensive which we on that trip had been unable to afford to stay in).

Here are my further ideas of what would constitute a romantic moment:

1) A chance meeting with an ex-lover in a supremely beautiful place (and I spent ages trying to  make that work in a previous novel but it just didn’t come off).

2) The “bone fida mini-break” beloved of Bridget Jones –  in a fine country house hotel such as the one which Daniel Cleaver whisked Bridget off to, filmed at Stoke Park  (although it all went sour when they met up in the foyer with Mark Darcy and his attractive companion Natasha).

3) The spontaneous / surprise weekend in Paris in the springtime (referred to in a stage farce I greatly enjoyed, when the main character, a philanderer played by Leslie Phillips, spirited his mistress Janie off on just such a break, having purchased  beautiful lingerie to lay out on the bed for her, and was then interrupted by other visitors whom he hadn’t bargained for).

True romantic moments are few and far between in real life. That is, of course, the nature of serendipity. And it’s why romance fiction is the most popular literary genre.

I hope that when those moments come, you are able to fully inhabit them.

What are your romantic moments? Dare you let me know about them in your comments – disguising the name of the romantic hero, of course?