This Ancient Heart is a collection of essays by well known Pagan and spiritual authors on our relationships with and connections to landscape and the ancestors.
In the Forward by Graham Harvey the scene is set where he says “Much of the curious, unexpected and fascinating is revealed in the book you are now reading” and then asks us to begin to think about our own perspectives on the subject by reminding us that “It is, as with any book, important that readers begin with some reflections about their own expectations and anticipations.”
The Introduction by Paul Davies sets the scene more firmly where he talks of the ancestors, stating “Their bodies are part of this earth and this earth is equally part of us – in flesh, in DNA as much as in spirit. In this way, we are the ancestors reborn. I like that thought…..”
He mentions the reburial issues and debates that were raised at Avebury and Stonehenge, but makes the point that the book “extends these ideas about ancestry beyond reburial and goes some way to describing and addressing the eternal quest for spiritual identity in a fundamentally secular world.”
And indeed they do.
Of course with any anthology of writings by different authors with differing perspectives some of the essays will resonate more than others. The book begins with a beautiful and powerful piece by Emma Restall Orr, asking questions that provoke the reader look deeply into my own beliefs about what happens when we die and how we perceive and treat those who have died. Her arguments are not without critics but for me they are highly persuasive and offer a deeper explanation of the beliefs that led to her founding the Honouring the Ancient Dead initiative.
In the next essay, Philip Shallcrass (Greywolf) continues the theme of ancestral spirits influencing who we are today, this time through the spirit of animal ancestors. His deeply personal experiences and stories are beautifully evocative in showing how such ongoing relationship with the landscape and nature can affect and enrich our lives.
In addition to the two essays by Emma and Philip mentioned above I particularly enjoyed:
- Jenny Blain’s wonderful explanation of her relationship with Seidr (a shamanic technique that has always fascinated me) in her essay “Ancestors and Place: Seidr and Other Ways of Knowing”, where we learn that in Heathenry “Ancestors, though, do matter, very greatly, but can be understood as people in the land and the stories of place – that is, not only physical ‘ancestors’ but those who have been related to where we are now, and those who have given us the knowledge,tools, ways of being that we now use in both mundane andspiritual lives.”
- Caitlin Matthews words on Healing the Ancestral Communion: Pilgrimage Beyond Time and Space where she makes the point that “in traditional animist cultures throughout the world, from North America to Australia, ancestors are understood as everything that is, whether we would regard it as a sentient being, such as an animal or a tree, or as something we don’t think of as alive, like a rock or the land we walk upon, or indeed, whether it would be regarded as having existence at all, such as a faery, a spirit, the presence of a deceased forebear, or a divinity.”
- Penny Billington on Heart of the Land: The Druidic Connection, where with exquisite romantic vision she tells us that “To access earth wisdom we start not by journeying to mysterious landscapes, but through exploring nature in our locality,where in a long gone and simpler world the buzzing of the bees sang the story of the honey that would be eaten on homemade bread.”
From words taking a deeply spiritual and religious perspective through to ones affirming a more scientific perspective, every essay in this collection is equally thought provoking and well written. For anyone seeking to understand and deepen their relationship with landscape and the ancestors (and who amongst us shouldn’t be doing that!) it is essential reading.
Published by Moon Books
Edited by Paul Davies and Caitlín Matthews it contains contributions from 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)