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Posts tagged ‘spiritual power’

Supernatural Power versus Rationalism: Sorcerers and Sceptics at Warwick Words Summer Festival 2014

Last night  I went to a fascinating discussion between two authors at the final event of the Warwick Words summer festival. The talk was held in the beautiful 15th century Great Hall of the Lord Leycester Hospital, Warwick.

Andrew Taylor and Ian Mathie (photo credit warwickwords.co.uk)

Andrew Taylor and Ian Mathie (photo credit warwickwords.co.uk)

Ian Mathie, author of Sorcerers and Orange Peel, spoke about his travels in remote African communities over many years and his experiences of spiritual power among the witchdoctors, some of which he believed could not be explained in rational terms. He was being challenged by the sceptical James Andrew Taylor, biographer, former TV journalist and author of Walking Wounded, an acclaimed biography of poet Vernon Scannell.

Each author gave his point of view upon the existence of the paranormal and the supernatural, then the debate was thrown open to the audience. I was interested to note that several among those who spoke from the audience had extensive experience of Africa, and that the general feeling among them seemed to be open-minded/sympathetic towards Ian Mathie’s point of view. I had expected many more sceptics. One questioner asked “What is reality?”

Andrew Taylor said reality was what he could experience with his senses. Then the questioner pointed out that our view of reality changes all the time; our reality in 2014 would have been considered unbelievable one hundred years ago; microscopic reality is unknown to the majority of us; and we are unable to say what new “realities” may become commonplace to those who live a hundred years in the future, that we now consider impossible.

Andrew Taylor made three intriguing points. He said:

1)  he would only consider something to be “reality” if it was repeatable in laboratory conditions.

2) he considered “magic” to be lazy; the way things are achieved in the “real” world is far more complex  and interesting.

3)  everything Ian Mathie had witnessed in traditional communities in Africa, which appeared to be achieved by supernatural power, he would say is all down to “the power of suggestion”.

I later asked Ian Mathie whether he saw anything equivalent to “the local witchdoctor” or “wise man/woman” anywhere in our contemporary English society.

He said no – and this is because most of us in our western culture have such a reductionist, rationalist outlook upon the world, that we are not open to such supernatural power.

I too have been drawn to Africa in a number of ways over the years, mostly through books, without ever having visited the continent; and I learned that Ian Mathie had met Laurens Van Der Post, as I too have done. See my blog post on Van Der Post here.

In my forthcoming psycho-spiritual suspense novel A Passionate Spirit:

1)   one of my principal characters wields such supernatural power – in the heart of a contemporary English community.

2)  the test of the reality of her power is met; she repeats her apparently supernatural acts over and over again.

3)  her power is not taken seriously by those who we might consider most likely to be alert to it – in our society.

If you are interested in these things –  the existence of supernatural/spiritual power, versus the rationalist outlook of our Western society – or have experiences or views about it, I invite your comments.

 

 

200 Years of Australian Art at the Royal Academy: Connections Between Painting and the Spiritual Realm

From indigenous art through to ‘discovery’ by European explorers, the arrival of the first British settlers, dismay, denial and idealization, to  acceptance, new understanding and redemption, this exhibition of Australian paintings at the Royal Academy in London took me on a journey through the spiritual heart of my own experience of this great continent.

AUSTRALIA EXHIBITION, Royal Academy of Arts

AUSTRALIA EXHIBITION, Royal Academy of Arts

As Russell Drysdale said, “In Australia there is a quality of strangeness that you do not find … anywhere else.”

Reviews of this exhibition have  been mixed, with a lot of  criticism levelled at it in the UK. But from the first painting of a  convict settlement, neat, peaceful, well spaced out and idealized, through to the contemporary paintings struggling to reconcile the wounded history of cruelty, misunderstanding and conflict between aboriginal people and European colonial settlers, this exhibition was for me an opportunity to revisit and relive my own experience of four and a half years living in this great continent.

In particular a swirling picture by a Queensland artist of the rainforest-clad mountains near Brisbane seemed to reflect exactly my own experience of this beautiful landscape.

The indigenous artworks were particularly moving, with their distinctive use of rarrk – the cross hatched patterns characteristic of aboriginal artists, as they depict rain running down dunes, undulating landscapes, waterholes and trees and spirit ancestors, believing that we tread the earth for a while then come out of it and become part of the ancestral realm again.

Two phrases seemed to touch the heart of this exhibition : “access to” and “isolation from”. Both of these were exemplified in a painting by John Brack, The Car (1955) which I couldn’t help responding to with amusement and yet behind it lay a profound resonance: a family in an ugly cheap car, out for a day trip, the father at the wheel, the mother smiling, the two children in the back staring straight at you, the viewer… and behind them the vastness of the Australian landscape.

And the picture “Australian Beach Pattern” by Charles Meere (1940) of the bronzed perfect bodies on the beach, men, women, children and babies, all strong, confident, was for me worryingly reminiscent of the kind of the pictures produced by artists in the Soviet Union as part of a propaganda campaign for the Soviet communist party. Yet later, the trauma of the Second World War affected the mood of optimism and this image was superseded by Albert Tucker with a painting of red,scorched hunks of flesh on another beach.

There was no painting of Sydney Opera House, my favourite of  all buildings; but there was one by Grace Cossington Smith of Sydney Harbour Bridge being built, (“The Bridge in Building”, 1929) viewed from below,  demonstrating pride, hope, creative enterprise, ingenuity, and above, beyond and around it a distinctly spiritual resonance.

The indigenous people of Australia  were the ones who fully understand and imbued the earth with sacred forces. They were the ones who gave this continent its air of mystery and spiritual power. And yet I can,too, be thankful to those eighteenth century settlers, because they prepared the way so that I,and many others, might have access to the most sublime of scenery. Even now when I drive up a steep winding road I think “Mount Glorious” . And when I saw Kenneth  McQueen’s picture I thought “Yes!” And my heart lifted. “Maiala Rainforest” – conveyed just as I experienced it and remember it now, in swirling patterns of movement.

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