I loved this book – attracted to it originally in the shop of the Royal Naval College Visitor Centre, Greenwich, by its delightful, playful cover design.
London: A Spiritual History by Edoardo Albert begins by telling the history of London from well before the Roman invasion, and then bringing us through to the present day, interspersed with plenty of personal observations from the author who spent several years as a TV repairman travelling the London streets and working in many different people’s homes.
Albert’s survey of London history is fascinating, and further enlivened by his own personal take on famous characters like Thomas Cromwell, (Henry VIII’s right-hand man), and William Blake, the visionary.
Then the author moves into his own personal spiritual search over many years, which interweaves with London and its multi-faceted character, from Catholicism through atheism and then onto the various magical and mystical groups with which London abounds.
I identified with so much of this, having lived in central London during my twenties, and having tried out many of these groups myself throughout the capital, such as the Theosophical Society and the Spiritualist Association of Great Britain – not to mention a passing flirtation with the Rosicrucians. though I can’t claim to have applied for membership of the Order of the Golden Dawn!
Albert’s final “epiphany” comes with such disarming simplicity it is genuinely moving. A highly recommended book.
psychological, paranormal mystery fiction
Mystical Circles, A Passionate Spirit, Perilous Path
This is the fifth in a series of blog posts in which I re-publish the articles in that blog tour.
So here’s the piece Sue first published on her blog on 5th September.
Inside a Spiritual Hothouse
My inspiration for Mystical Circles came from a wide variety of spiritual practices, philosophies and worldviews which I have myself explored over the past decades. I wanted to tell a tale of family relationships, and how they are affected when one member of a family becomes captivated by a new spiritual outlook. Inevitably as in the case of most fiction authors, I have drawn extensively on my own life and experience.
Also I believe it is true to say that when novelists create characters, although we certainly use real people we have met, most often those characters are a composite of different individuals. But one thing remains true: often there is a little bit of the author in every character. And that is true for Mystical Circles.
In my novel, I introduce my reader to Craig, the leader of the spiritual group Circle of Love. And Craig would be impossible for me to create if there wasn’t a little bit of me in him, in his beliefs, his ideals, his longings, the spiritual outlook he wants to share with others.
Craig’s teachings are based on three main strands:
The Toltec Philosophy of the Yaqui Indian Sorcerers, as presented to a Western audience in the writings of Carlos Castaneda (whose book The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge fascinated me). In this outlook, there are several different paths one may take, and one of those paths is the Path of the Warrior. There is a special group of skills which belong to the Warrior alone and one of those is to learn to erase your personal history. Craig takes up this concept, and aims to use it to teach his followers to move on from the past. For so many of us, the root of emotional and mental instability is that we persist in taking an emotional position about the past.
Shamanism – this plays a part in Tibetan Dream Yoga which I explored during my years living in Australia. Shamanism in our own culture derives from Celtic times and incorporates the idea of shapeshifting – which also makes an appearance in my novel.
The Human Potential Movement – the idea that we can be anything we want to be, if only we believe in ourselves, if only we master the arts of creative visualisation and positive thinking. I believe, from much experience, that this whole area, though extremely beguiling, must be handled with care… and we see some of its outworkings in my novel.
My own past experiences include exploration of such practices as past life visualisation using crystals (in Australia), attendance of lectures on Reincarnation and many workshops at the Theosophical Society in London; and floating in an isolation tank (again in Australia), along with many other investigations into spiritualism, Buddhism , Transcendental Meditation and Transpersonal Psychology among others.
In Craig, all this is presented in an extremely attractive and appealing Western package. The package incorporates a long-term stay in a gracious Cotswold manor house which many of us, myself included, might consider a highly desirable place to live, if only we had the money: an idyllic Country Homes type lifestyle. Craig himself dresses like a former cricket star turned TV personality, not like a traditional eastern guru at all. The lifestyle his followers lead is a rather indulgent one with lavish dinner parties and champagne. This hugely seductive package for his followers rests upon, we presume, though it is not stated, the fact that they have made over all their financial resources to Craig.
In fact Craig, though full of idealism, is dependent for his material survival upon his own personal dysfunctional relationship with his wealthy businessman father. He relies on his father’s major weakness: a compulsion to try and buy his son’s love.
In presenting the story of Juliet’s investigations at the Wheel of Love, and how the impetuous Zoe reacts to her older sister’s interference, I take a non-didactic approach. I myself have shared the hopes and dreams (and for some of them, the emotional damage) of the characters in this novel. Dramatic tension is high. One reader wrote that it was “the dangerous group dynamics” which intrigued her most. If Mystical Circles sounds like your taste do try it!
The other day I saw an encore screening of George Bernard Shaw’s play “St Joan” from National Theatre Live. I studied this play at university. Then, as in my recent viewing, I was entranced by the character of Joan herself, and by the words Shaw puts into her mouth.
Joan has special resonance for me because when I was young, as a member of a children’s choir, I sang in a performance of Honneger’s “Joan of Arc at the Stake” – an oratorio with words by Paul Claudel, a Catholic poet. The performance was at the Royal Albert Hall; Mia Farrow played Joan, and Andre Previn conducted the London Symphony Orchestra. We sang the part of the children of Lorraine.
The character of Joan had a strong impact upon me. I remember several words from “Joan of Arc at the Stake” and they are largely from Joan herself, in which she described her visions and her mystical inspiration, in terms that totally encompassed their reality.
To me the central thing about Joan of Arc was “empowerment”.
Joan was an illiterate peasant girl who claimed she heard a trio of saints speaking to her; and on the basis of this she believed God wanted her to lead the French army to fight and defeat the English, and place Charles II on the throne of France. In 1431, when she was nineteen years old, the English led by the Earl of Warwick tried her on numerous charges, one of which was blasphemy, and sentenced her to be burnt at the stake. The part of the saints were sung by soloists in the music drama; and I felt that Paul Claudel handled the whole work from the viewpoint that Joan’s experiences were real. The work has been accused by critics of being several things, including weird, bizarre, sentimental and heavily Roman Catholic, but I loved it, just as I love Elgar’s “The Dream of Gerontius”, another musical work which has in the past had the same accusations levelled against it.
When I reflect upon Joan and the fascination she holds for me, I see her as someone who was marginalised, who had religious experiences which empowered her, and who refused to be controlled by her circumstances:
Whether or not a postmodern assessment concludes that her ‘voices’ may be accounted for by mental illness – perhaps schizophrenia, or psychosis – she definitely had profound religious experiences.
She acted upon these experiences.
She derived from them courage, strength and vision to prevail again huge male-dominated interests in Church, State and Army. Both Shaw and Claudel show her as clear sighted, strong and single minded against her powerful interrogators.
Part of the fascination of these individuals to me is that between them they usually demonstrate one of a number of recurring features, which tend to marginalise: these elements include being young, female, poor / of peasant background or illiterate; and suffering from serious illness, whether bodily or mental. Another element that often appears is the gift of healing. There are many other examples, of whom a good proportion have had visions or extraordinary powers of insight, on the basis of which they have gained enormous influence, and have captured the imagination of future generations.
What do you think? Can you offer other examples of young female visionaries who have had a big impact on the world and may have captured your imagination?
If you like thrillers with more than a touch of the paranormal this is for you!
Janice an Amazon reviewer, took A Passionate Spirit on holiday with her and says I loved it, I was hooked from the very beginning, the characters got inside my head, and I couldn’t put the book down. I was really very surprised at how spooked I felt considering I was on a sunny beach in Tenerife very far removed from the Cotswolds. Thank you for a great read.
If you do, I suggest you read Mystical Circles first because it may add more depth to the background of some of the characters.
Sue W, an Amazon reviewer, has read both books, and says: This is something that I like in a book series – being reintroduced to characters at a different point in their lives, without a specific cross reference to the first story. …A Passionate Spirit provokes the reader into reflecting on the motivations of the characters. One that particularly fascinated me was James – remembering him from Mystical Circles, I found myself wondering about how he would have got from his life then, to his life now…. another way of saying that the character was believable in himself and not just a plot device…
But Sue does add that the two books could be read in any order and would still be enjoyable.Enjoy your holidays… and happy reading!
I had a great time at the Leamington Peace Festival over the weekend, and enjoyed chatting to many interesting people at my local author stall.
Not only did I sell some books to keen readers, and meet someone who was uncannily like one of my characters in Mystical Circles, who asked me for advice on how to start his own book, but also had a conversation about the paranormal involving a dog and the council and several fast-disappearing residents from a Birmingham house, which gave me ideas for future use in a novel!
I’d love to see you on Friday 24 June 11am to 2pm in Costa Coffee, Royal Priors, Leamington Spa, where again I’ll be selling signed copies of both novels. Do drop in if you’re in Leamington that day!
Add light to any situation, and it changes dramatically.
I have often thought the Shard in London looks like a mystical tower. Here in this view it certainly lives up to this image! Highlight one element of a picture and immediately it starts communicating its message – as you will see from these pictures of places I find inspiring: whether that be the view over the London skyline from Parliament Hill, Hampstead; Coventry Cathedral; or the reflective glass building at 250 Euston Street, London.
According to the gospel of John, Jesus Christ described himself as the “light of the world”. John picks up on this image of light many times – “the true light that was the light to every person coming into the world.” Here in Coventry Cathedral I didn’t realise how the the Graham Sutherland tapestry of Christ was illuminated, until I looked at my photo later:
I don’t like to see “darkness” necessarily equated with evil, or given any moral character at all, but when we see the pitiless acts of cruelty and hatred which have filled our news over the last weeks, months and years since so many bright (and perhaps false) hopes were raised at the millennium, we seem to crave words to convey our response, and we fall back on words like “black” and “darkness”. These words have acquired a spiritual resonance.
In the last few days I have been seeing just a few examples of the power of light to transform, and to convey a message.
Let’s hope that we can ourselves be creative…
…in how we shine light into the world, in however small a way, in our own situations.
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.”
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.
And as I watched it I had a strong feeling of Peter Jackson making the most of his final cinematic visit to Middle-earth. Everything was exploited to its fullest extent, the brutality of battle, the sublimity and peril of the landscape, the tragedy of a hero lost in his lust for gold, the goodness and simplicity and down-to-earth appeal of Bilbo, the ugliness and brutishness of the orcs, the grandeur and regality of the elves, the mystical presence of Galadriel.
As a lover of JRR Tolkien and the fantasy world he created, I first read The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, and the Silmarillion while I was at university. When I read the Hobbit I remember loving it even more, if that were possible, than The Lord of the Rings. I felt it contained all that the longer book contained, but within a smaller, more compact package. I don’t think it’s possible to think this about Peter Jackson’s Hobbit films! Even so, I felt in this final trip to Middle-earth Peter Jackson excelled himself in terms of long scenes of extended hazard, in archetypal themes of love and compassion versus cruelty, brutality, and the lust for gold. How glad I was when the Lady Galadriel appeared in the dark, craggy, landscape in her shining white robes. And when Bilbo finally said he was off home, I thought, Cue for the eagles to fly in and give him a ride back to The Shire. But no. He had to walk. I loved the way the landscape grew greener and more warm and welcoming as he approached closer to Hobbiton.
Considering the very unassuming and childlike way in which the original novel The Hobbit begins, who could ever have guessed it would lead on to such heights of creative imagination. And in the world he created, JRR Tolkien gave us many poignant and ominous reflections upon our own world, on the nature of life, and the human condition, as well as the spiritual purpose and destiny of the human race.
There, displayed for us in The Alternative Guide to the Universe, were the outpourings of unlicensed architects, off-beam physicists, self-taught artists, arcane code creators, numerologists and mystical theorizers; untrained farmer-inventors of automata and robots, constructors of imaginary buildings and cities from discarded packaging, and proponents of new theories to replace gravity and relativity.
We gazed at elaborate designs for a robot to roam the universe, and crack the mystery of life after death, with a complex scheme for a new language with which this robot would communicate these truths to the future inhabitants of planet earth.
We viewed images of exquisite dolls of children and young people which had been created by one man over 20 years, dressed in clothes he designed and made himself, then posed in numerous positions and photographed; and finally, packed away carefully, not to be seen again by anyone until after his death.
What makes art? I asked myself.
And answers immediately flooded in:
A long obedience in the same direction.
The creators of the works we saw were a direct inspiration and encouragement to me as a writer.
Some are long-term residents in psychiatric institutions, others are on the fringes of society, just inside the cusp of (apparent) normality.
And they are all remarkable, exceptional people.
And they all have this in common:
They are focussed, committed, and they direct all their energy into one project consistently, over a number of years which can range from one to three decades.
If you have this kind of commitment you too could in theory create exquisite things.
Your ideas might not ‘work’, but if you are creative in this life, and you leave a body of work behind you that is intriguing and beguiling and fills people with wonder and amazement and awe, you have added something of lasting value to this world. You may even have fulfilled your God-given purpose.
Throughout this series, mountains have been an important image for me. And now we arrive at the end of my mini-series, we find ourselves on a mountain again. And this mountain is on the opposite side of the world to the mountain where I had my first childhood experience – in Australia.
I’ve told this story before on this blog. And so it is with important experiences – the story must be told again and again.
On the border of Queensland and New South Wales, behind the Gold Coast, you may find the Macpherson mountain range, part of the Great Dividing Range. The road leads from Southport via Nerang up through Mount Tamborine to the town of Canungra where you may continue your journey to one of two mountain resorts: Binna Burra or O’Reilly’s. I was negotiating the mountain passes on the way to O’Reilly’s. In the passenger seat was my 18 year old niece Caroline, who was visiting Australia for a month (where I lived at the time).
Caroline had mentioned that she and her friend Jo (her fellow traveller to Australia) had gone to Sydney to stay in a house of students who they knew nothing of. And discovered that they were all committed Christians – just like Caroline and Jo. Caroline found that wonderful. I said, “Well, like attracts like” – for I at the time believed that this apparent coincidence was the operation of the Universal system / the principle of “reality follows thought.” But Caroline was having none of this. “No, it was God,” she said.
I didn’t want to argue with her. Especially as I was driving up a perilous mountain road at the time. My own beliefs were a mixture of NeoPaganism, Pantheism and Eastern Mysticism. I pursued gurus, tried Buddhism, practised eastern forms of meditation and various esoteric philosophies, teachings and techniques.
I prepared to go into “indulgent tolerance” mode whilst we climbed higher up the mountain range. It was because of that very black-and-white “certainty” that I had long mistrusted evangelical Christianity.
But Caroline then launched into a full exposition of the gospel and of the fact that Jesus Christ had come to bridge that divide between God and humankind; and when we reached our cabin in the resort, she drew for me a picture of a cross bridging that chasm. All the time I was in tolerance mode. I didn’t need evangelising. I considered myself knowledgable about the bible, & had been good at R.K. at school. So I just let Caroline do her thing, until she at last got distracted by a snake lying in the path.
For the next year I continued in my usual way, following my own spiritual interests, occasionally thinking of this episode. OK I hadn’t liked being evangelised. But I was impressed by her conviction, by her belief that her religion wasn’t a private matter, it was to be shared; and by her courage. I thought, “I wouldn’t do that.” It’s a personality thing too, but I actually believed everyone has a right to their own beliefs & it was no business of mine to try and convert someone else to my beliefs. But Caroline believed she not only had a right but a responsibility to tell me what she believes. I was impressed by that. But I didn’t do anything about it until 1991 a few months after I’d returned to live in England, with my parents in their Kent village near Tonbridge – and it changed my life.
Have you ever changed your life as a result of a conversation with one person? Or was it a long process, involving several people, covering a number of years? Please share your own stories with me!
Here is a list of some of my glimpses of eternity, listed by one identifier or the place where the experience occurred:
Mountain at end of road in Wales.
Hedge parsley in Kent.
Dream of the sea
Mount Neel Kanth in India.
Violin passage in Bach’s “St Matthew Passion”
Twilight on the beach at Mynt, Pembrokeshire coastline, West Wales
Taize service in church
Chalice Well Gardens in Glastonbury
The woodland between Conishead Priory & Morecambe Bay, Barrow-in-Furness
St Cuthbert’s Tomb in Durham Cathedral
On the mountain top at Binna Burra, Queensland.
Journey through the Cambrian Mountains to Aberystwyth in Wales
Do you identify with this journey? Share your thoughts and feelings with me about this journey of the spirit. I’d love to have your comments!