Review: A Dance with Hermes by Lindsay Clarke

A Dance with HermesA Dance with Hermes is the first full poetry collection by the British novelist Lindsay Clarke. Serving as a messenger for Hermes, the winged-footed messenger god of ancient Greece, Clarke brings his myths to life in the twenty-first century in this series of masterfully crafted verses.

In his introduction, ‘A Note at the Threshold’, Clarke writes about his creative process. As a poet and polytheist I found this fascinating. The book began life as a ‘hermaion’: a ‘windfall’ or ‘god-send’ beginning with a single poem called ‘Koinos Hermes’ based on the presiding presence of Hermes in the life of his friend, John Moat. I was fascinated by this sense of gifting.

Most of the poems consist of four quatrains steering between ‘half-rhymes to suggest the elusive nature of the god’ and ‘full rhymes echoing on his sudden presence.’ Cleverly they shift between ABAB and ABBA rhymes echoing the dancing beat of Hermes’ winged feet. I admired the way Clarke allowed Hermes to lead the dance rather than attempting to force his message into a predetermined structure. Fittingly the verses accumulated like ‘hermae’ (cairns).

Clarke’s dance with Hermes begins with his conception by ‘Zeus Almighty, randy top Olympian… making secret love / to shy-eyed Maia in her mountain cave’ and leads us through his stories. I particularly enjoyed the poems evoking Hermes’ presence in the modern world.

‘Tortoise Song’ retells Hermes’ invention of the lyre. With ‘No iPods yet, no Spotify’, Hermes picks up a ‘tortoise nibbling at the grass’, ‘scoops the creature out’, makes his ‘Stratocaster’ and ‘strikes / a chord, sets generations dancing at the trick’.

In ‘He Honours the Hospitable’, which is based on ‘Baukis and Philemon’, Hermes is described as ‘a god of wayfarers’ knowing the need for ‘shelter, food and drink, a bed – / a common act of charitable B&B.’

Clarke explores the multiple roles of Hermes documented in his praise-names. I loved the sibilance of the lines ‘Psitthyristis. He’s the whisperer. / Psst!’ In ‘He Giveth Tongue’ Hermes is hailed as the inventor of the ‘polyglottal possibilities’ of language, ‘he’s the SIM card in your phone / your satnav’s voice, your texts and Twitter, webcam’.

He’s ‘The Night Visitor’ opening ‘the hidden regions where our dreams reside’, a friendly psychopomp stealing ‘fear and grief’ and Mercurius Duplex ‘the agent of transformation’ in an alchemical journey through Nigredo, Albedo, Coniunctio, and Rubedo.

Whilst Hermes shifts through many guises I was struck by the way he is consistently portrayed as a trickster god with an abiding sense of justice. When he steals Apollo’s cattle he says, ‘All property / is theft: these might as well be mine.’ In ‘He’s Rated Triple A’ ‘Access All Areas’ he is a ‘god of boundaries’ and ‘guide to legal or illegal immigrants,’ who feels ‘profound contempt / for human meanness, and our silent shame’ when children drown fleeing war. This stuck with me as a part of Hermes’ personality he wanted Clarke to portray.

The most powerful part of the book, for me, was when Clarke shifted from poetry about Hermes to a more personal prayer addressing him directly as a psychopomp at the end of the envoi:

And so, Lord of the Threshold, deathless friend
who guides us into the Otherworld . . . O keep
me loyal to the soul that wakes in sleep,
and lead me gently homewards at my end.

In this subtle dance between the ancient and modern Clarke succeeds in his aim to show us that Hermes does not only reside in archaic myths, but is ‘dancing about us everywhere these days’.

*A Dance with Hermes can be purchased from Awen Publications HERE.

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Plotting the Fall of the King

Rhyd Wildermuth’s review of/response to The Broken Cauldron, extending my critique of Arthurian imperialism through colonial theory.

GODS & RADICALS

Said Arthur, “Is there any one of the marvels yet unobtained?”

Said one of his men, “There is–the blood of the witch Orddu, the daughter of the witch Orwen, of Penn Nant Govid, on the confines of Hell.”

From Culhwch and Olwen


B ritish colonialism soaks through English-speaking Paganism like fetid morning piss. Glance through the shelves of witch bookstores and, once you get past the how-to’s on crystal communication and appropriative dream-catcher spirituality, you find books full of it: delusions of chivalric murderers, bent-knee begging for noble sovereigns, and bourgeois rituals of lords and ladies playing sex by sticking dull knives into etsy-bought chalices.

This should not surprise us. Wicca–the most prevalent of the Pagan traditions–was started by a British Colonial Administrator (Gerald Gardner) and a one-time member of two British fascist groups (Doreen Valiente; National Front and Northern League). Why wouldn’t modern Paganism find itself stained with…

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Review: When We Are Vanished by Nimue Brown

42497_original_9dfb889b-31ef-4c08-803a-a044d1cf1a21_largeNimue Brown is a Druid author based in Stroud. I’ve enjoyed a number of her publications on Paganism and Druidry and her Bardic poetry books. When We Are Vanished is the first of her works of fiction I have got my hands on. It is a speculative mystery novel set in a not-so-distant future where hackers have shut down the global computer network to bring an end to ‘war, finance and government’. When the book opens, the system is in its death throes. Job centres, the police force and scientific laboratories are just about hanging on, relying on new ‘cellulose tech’, which has a mind of its own and a wicked sense of humour. And people are vanishing, suddenly, inexplicably, from the outskirts of civilisation one by one…

At the core of the story is a family: a father who has vanished; three sisters at various stages of vanishing named Kim, Epona and Maria; and their mother, Amanda, who is struggling to deal with it all. The character who I connected with most was the intelligent, erratic Epona. On several occasions her connections with her namesake, the Gallo-Roman horse goddess and psychopomp, are subtly referenced. For example, a computer screen run on the tricksy cellulose tech reads, ‘Eponine Matthews will tell you she is made of chalk’ (referencing the White Horse of Uffington). ‘Tell her to go home and not show her long face again.’ More deeply, Epona is the user of a technical device which allows her to plug into other realities, relating to the horse goddess’s movement between worlds. As I followed the plot, I was intrigued by how this would play out. It did not turn out how I expected!

Nimue has worked extensively with dreams and this shows throughout the book. Its twists and turns and much of the language evoke the non-logic of the dreamworld; metaphorical, absurdly funny, frightening, exquisitely beautiful. As Kim vanishes, ‘Meanings floated away from her. Fish, fish, fish. Sounds like wish… Set the wish fish swimming into the skies. Wish fish, wish fish and if you stare at the clouds for long enough, they would vanish too… She feels threadbare, a word too often repeated. A cloud stared out of the sky.’ Kim’s reflections on time also touch on the mystical. A recurring scene that haunted me was the one pictured on the front cover, ‘yellow dresses and ancestral women made of twigs, turning in a tight circle dance.’

When We Are Vanished succeeds in combining the numinous with an implicit critique of the flaws of our current civilisation: our over-reliance on technology and an inhuman system, our misplaced faith in irritating and badly written self-help books, the impossibility of shutting out wild nature and our wild selves, and the illusion that this world is the only reality. I would recommend it to readers who enjoy a plot rich in references to mythology, folklore and fairytales with surprising twists and to those who are fascinated by the possibilities of future worlds and other realities. As the illusion of liberal democracy slowly melts away from the Western world and alternatives awaken, the situation evoked does not feel far off…

You can purchase When We Are Vanished HERE.

Review of The Broken Cauldron on The Druid Way

The Broken Cauldron has received its third review at A Druid Way. The reviewer describes it as ‘a challenging prophetic vision of psychic and environmental shattering in the image of the Cauldron… spiritual vessel, military-industrial grail’ containing ‘both dream and nightmare.’ You can read the review in full HERE.

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The Destruction of the Cauldron of Rebirth by T. Pryterch, Wikipedia Commons

Words of Re-Enchantment by Anthony Nanson reviewed on Gods & Radicals

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I have recently reviewed Anthony Nanson’s Words of Re-Enchantment: Writings on Stotytelling, Myth, and Ecological Desire ‘a valuable repository of wisdom on storytelling written by a passionate and knowledgeable guide with a deep love of the natural world and a keen understanding of contemporary environmental and political concerns’ on the Gods & Radicals website HERE.

Arthur of Britain – Questioning his Legacy by Greg

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King Arthur – Illustration from Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae

In his review of The Broken Cauldron, Greg has decided to tackle a certain theme – questioning the legacy of Arthur. He poses the question ‘Do we need to re-assess the status of Arthur in British mythic and legendary history?’

Greg’s review and thoughts on the matter can be read  on his blog ‘The Way of the Awenydd’ HERE.

I’d be interested to hear your opinions!

Review of The Broken Cauldron by James Nichol

The Broken Cauldron has received its first review from James Nichol. James is the editor of Contemplative Druidry and blogs about contemplative practice, his work with Sophia and development of the ‘Headless Way’ and other topics at Contemplative Inquiry. His review can be read HERE. I was touched by the connection James felt with the story of Morfran/Sea Raven/Afagddu, an outsider who takes the form of a cormorant, who I feel particularly close to.

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