by Brian Bates.
It is a truth universally acknowledged (almost) that Britain today is undergoing a crisis of faith. The Church of England clings to its ‘established’ status for dear life, oscillating between sugary piety and saccharine-sweet liberal sentimentalism. Meanwhile, socialism and humanism, those great secular faiths, abase themselves before ‘market forces’ and the moronic consumer culture. In this downward spiral from Suffragettes to Spice Girls, social gospel to ‘rave services’, only the ecological movement holds out hope that we can avoid becoming a nation of sociopaths. Bates’s book aims to give the new green consciousness a spiritual underpinning, not through healing crystals, UFOs or recycled Buddhism, but through a rediscovery of the indigenous spiritual heritage of Northern Europe.
A psychologist and expert on Shamanism, Dr Bates believes that our post-Christian epoch insufficiently values the human imagination, the significance of dream and myth, the connections between landscape and culture. Threatened indigenous peoples, be they Saami in Lappland or Hopi in Arizona, can help us reconnect with our environment and make sense of our ancestral belief systems. The idea of the redeeming power of tribal peoples is not a new one. Where Bates departs refreshingly from liberal convention is his view that we should rescue our own ‘ancient wisdom’ as Anglo-Saxons, Scandinavians or Celts, rather than lift bits of other peoples’ into a pick-n-mix cultural salad bowl.
The concept and energy of [Wyrd] has lain just beneath the surface of our consciousness in a shadow world, awaiting the time when it may again be needed in the light. That time is now.
Wyrd is the underlying principle of Northern European spirituality. It is related to the word that today means strange or bizarre, but in ancient times it implied a mysterious power, the origin of life embedded in the earth and expressing itself through springs, mountains, trees and sacred sites, through changing weather patterns and unusual premonitions. From the modern world, he cites the example of a normally ‘non-superstitious’ female patient who was so terrified by the appearance of a dead crow on her balcony that she dared not touch it or go near it. To her, the crow was ‘a terrible visitation from another world’. Shortly afterwards, the woman was found to have an operable tumour, and she came to see the bird as an omen that had saved her life.
Bates is at his strongest when he describes the ruthlessness of the Christian missionaries and the kings they converted. “Let he who sacrifices to gods, save God alone, perish by death!” threatened Alfred, showing that in the ninth century paganism must still have been alive and well. Sacred trees were a favoured target for the Christians, beginning a long tradition of violence against nature. Yet Bates, disappointingly, stops short of a rigorous critique of Christianity, the religion of economic growth. His emphasis on the masculine principle as a positive force is heartening in these ‘Politically Correct’ times, yet in his constant stress on male/female balance he leaves out same-sex relationships altogether — a pity, because these are as live an issue amongst pagans as they are within the Church of England.