Review: Mapping the Contours by Nimue Brown

mapping the contours by nimue brownThere’s something old about the poems in this book, a bone-deep knowing, a merging of self and land which is reflected in the cover image. It speaks of a time when the hills were the contours of giantesses, the curves of beautiful goddesses, a time that still is and is not with us now.

‘Walking myself into the landscape, and walking the landscape into myself’ is the way bard and druid author Nimue Brown describes the process behind her new poetry collection Mapping the Contours. In the poem that provides the title she says ‘Human bodies are much like landscapes.’

In ‘Raised upon these hills’, one of the most beautiful hymns to a landscape I have ever read, Nimue evokes her lifelong relationship with the Cotswold Edge:

I was raised upon these hills,
My bones are made of limestone,
Sweet Jurassic limestone,
Grown from ancient seas.
I was raised upon these hills
My body made of fossils
Where the Cotswolds meet the Severn,
And the Severn seeks the sea.

She, land, and goddess are inseparable. In ‘Seeking Goddess’ Nimue speaks of going to the forest, rooting with the boar, sleeping with the lynx, making love with the trees, becoming ivy-templed and bird-haired, sharing milk and giving birth to bees. Inseparable too are the local animals and plants: urban foxes, an otter on a bus station, wild swans over the Severn, brambles, orchids, fly agaric. And most strangely a lonely ‘telephone bird’ ‘Outside my window impersonating / A ringing phone.’

There is a lot more uncanniness in this collection encountered in both the seen and unseen worlds. Trolls long to drink ‘the elixir of your terror’ and ‘dead things’ fall from the mouths of the dark siblings of the Shining Ones. In ‘Granny’s house’ ‘All chicken magic and bones’ Baba Yaga

…bears the knife
Opening bone truths
My shoulder blades
My wings
Beauty never dared
Whilst living.

As well as engaging with folklore Nimue provides a more homely and nourishing alternative take on old British myths originating from the Dark Ages of warlords and shining-browed bards. Her cauldron does not brew potions for ‘blinding flashes or ‘burning heads’ but ‘soil food, soul food’, ‘everyday gifts’. Her thirteen treasures are not weapons but a loom, a log, a seed, a cup, a candle…

Tongue-in-cheek she speaks of becoming ‘indigenous English’, a ‘Dirty Briton’, claiming back soil and soul. This act of reclaiming forms the heart of the book. I’d recommend it to all poets, Pagans, and nature lovers as a paradigmatic record of recovering an ancient way of being that lies within our bones and the bones of the land.

You can buy Mapping the Contours HERE and read Nimue’s blog, Druid Life, HERE.


Gatherer of Souls by Lorna Smithers, a Review

Gatherer of Souls has received an appreciative and insightful review on Finnchuill’s Mast.

‘Smithers work is one of deconstruction but most importantly offering new vision and insight, the work of a true poet. I will be rereading this one.’

Finnchuill's Mast

These are poems and stories that probe, lifting tissues of (mis)remembered pasts. Ghastly misdeeds of King Arthur and his ‘knights’ are here. Smithers gives voice to those that were decapitated & slaughtered, mutilated like the Very Black Witch of Orddu, the giants of the land whose beards were pulled out bloody and nasty. Gatherer of Souls on one hand is a work of disassembly, but through such it is prophetically freeing of those who were buried, covered up, cast out as monsters from a developing, eventually imperial narrative.

Essentially, this book is a retrieval of Annwn, the Brythonic underworld, and of Gwyn ap Nudd to whom it is dedicated, a psychopomp and leader of the wild host who has gathered multitudes over the millennia, and is associated with Glastonbury Tor among other places. She shares her experience in a way that is accessible to the reader and also intensely poetic…

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Interview and Review of Gatherer of Souls in the Winter Solstice 2018 issue of Eternal Haunted Summer


I have had an interview published in the Winter Solstice 2018 issue of Eternal Haunted Summer. In it I speak about Brythonic polytheism, the upcoming Awen & Awenydd anthology, and how I wrote Gatherer of Souls as a devotional book for Gwyn ap Nudd and as an Annuvian counter-narrative to Arthurian mythology.

In this issue author T J O’Hare has written a generous and poetic review of Gatherer of Souls:

‘it reads like a katana blade of silken steel, hammered so firmly from disparate bands until it too acquires the soul of the smith, the voice of the poet.

I would urge you to read this book. If it confirms your own instincts about the path you have chosen, then that is good. If, however, it challenges your path, then that too can only be a good thing, for it will make you return to your own roots and examine them for integrity. Trees bend in the wind to be strengthened when they meet a storm-wind.’

Review: The Book of Onei by Christopher Scott Thompson

The Book of Onei by Christopher Scott Thompson is ‘an antinomian dream grimoire, providing deceptive yet true information about the art of Oneiromancy or dream magic in the form of poetry, fantasy, and intentionally ambiguous instructions.’

It is narrated in the voice of a ‘dark seer’, a ‘night wanderer’ drawn to seek the wisdom of the ‘beautiful chaos’ and ‘primal darkness’ and its ‘chthonic and horrifying entities’ rather than the light. Unlike similar narratives involving journeys to otherworlds he does not go with a benevolent aim such as bringing back a dead lover or relative. Following in the footsteps of his father, who stole The Book of Onei from the Great Library, this Promethean anti-hero goes instead to steal a secret – the knowledge of how to understand the book. “Prometheus didn’t give the fire back,” he tells his wife before setting out through the door in the basement.

The main thread of the narrative is this unnamed dark seer’s journey. The rest is composed of lore from The Book of Onei. This includes stories which take the form of powerful parables in a similar strain to Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathrustra, riddling poems, and lists of the Powers of Onei and how they might be invoked or exorcised through prayers, offerings, charms, symbols, and rituals.

The visionary scope of this book is immense and could only have been channelled from the depths of dream. One of the most striking characters is the prophet Eyes For Flowers, one of the Sons of Crow, who has huge sunflowers spilling through the eye-holes of his crow-mask. This image and the depiction of demons transformed into angels who ‘rose up from the husks of their bodies as burning wheels, as gears and eyes and wings’ put me in mind of the raw genius of Blake and Ted Hughes.

There is also a lot of animistic wonder. I was mesmerised by the song of the spider who sung to the Fool who would become Three-Times Exiled in his cage and by the words of the swaying serpent who teaches that ‘the Chaos Ocean is not a place you can walk to’ but lies ‘in the crevices between moments.’

As you might have guessed this book is packed with paradoxes. The places and powers in the Book of Onei may not exist in Onei itself and it remains unclear whether there is ‘a secret to be uncovered, or only lies within lies.’ The only way to discover the truth is ‘to go there in person.’ Deep contrary wisdom is conveyed about travelling otherworlds, drawn from fairylore, grimoires, alchemy, demonology, and, forthmost from the author’s experiences as a dreamwalker and visionary.

As a kindred spirit drawn to the beauty of the darkness I fell in love with The Book of Onei when it first started out as a series of blog posts and was delighted to hear it has been published in book form. When I read it in full I was not disappointed. It is a valuable contribution to visionary literature and dark mysticism that deserves to be preserved for longevity. Although not explicitly political it is a work that provides gnosis and guidance for facing dark truths in troubled times.

I would recommend it to anyone who has heard the call of the Veiled One who stirs her ‘cauldron made of swirling stars and galaxies’ or been haunted by the ‘eerie, dreadful dead’ of the Host. I don’t want to give away how it ends, only that it begs a follow up – more!!!

The Book of Onei can be purchased HERE.

Review: Deathwalking edited by Laura Perry

Deathwalking: Helping Them Cross the Bridge is a short book (88 pages) in the Moon Books Shaman Pathways series. It is edited by Pagan author and artist Laura Perry and features a dozen essays from Pagans and shamanic practitioners from various traditions and backgrounds.

Its focus is the little known or spoken about practice of deathwalking, or pyschopomping, which Laura explains is ‘helping the helping the spirits of the deceased move on from this world to the next.’

This interested me because, as a devotee of Gwyn ap Nudd, a god who guides the dead to the Annwn (the Brythonic Otherworld) I have been called on to retell the stories of the dead and to act as a guide on a couple of occasions, and wondered if I will be led to work more deeply in this area in the future.

If so, what might I expect? What guidance might someone new to psychopomping gain from this book?

As a relative newcomer to this area I found some of the essays easier to relate to than others. Perhaps because she is also an awenydd rooted in the Brythonic tradition, Elen Sentier’s spoke to me most. Her descriptions of washing the bodies of the dead, laid out on a kitchen table, with elder vinegar and a smoke wash from hedgerow herbs seemed so earthy and natural. Even in more difficult matters like helping a dead man pass by acting as a medium between him and his friend who killed him, and aiding her stepmother’s passing with thirteen friends, her words made intuitive sense.

Lucy Starza’s contribution on encountering Death as a ‘huge black bird’ who arrived to take a friend who had died of cardiac arrest in a nightclub, and to whom she prayed to aid the passing of her father, was moving and resonated deeply with my intuitions about birds as psychopomps.

I thought Veela Keelakantan and Danu Forest provided sound accounts of the myths and rites surrounding death in the Hindu and Celtic traditions. Laura Perry’s experiences of being opened to psychopomping as a child and Ilmelda Almqvist’s work with child psychopomps were illuminating.

The essays about more advanced shamanic techniques were challenging and real eye-openers. Midwife to the dead, Kenn Day, provides a poignant account of tracking down the ancestors of a dying woman who had lost her connection with them and reuniting her with her grandmother after death. Yvonne Ryves shares her experiences of performing ‘entity removals’: removing lost spirits who have attached themselves to clients through negotiating with them and providing them with a vessel.

In ‘Deathwalking with Reluctant Spirits’ Dorothy Abrams speaks of flying in spirit to Aleppo (presumably from her home in New York) to aid the passing of sixteen boys and their Imam who were killed by a bomb. I had always assumed shamanic practitoners serve mainly within their locality and tradition so this surprised me and raised questions about how far one’s responsibilities extend.

The piece I found it hardest to engage with was ‘Dealing with Misplaced Energy’ by Janet Elizabeth Gale. Some of the language was poorly chosen. For example ghosts are referred to as ‘aberrations’. I felt it could have benefited from an introductory discussion for beginners on how to discern when it is right to clear a place or a move a spirit on and when it best to leave them alone. It seemed implicit that one should follow the guidance of one’s spirits but, for me, this wasn’t made explicit enough.

Deathwalking is an eye-opening collection and I commend the contributors for having the courage to share their experiences of helping the dead to pass. Many are difficult and intimate and challenge the worldviews of secular society and the Abrahamic faiths by evidencing communications with spirits.

It has given me a clearer idea of what it is like to care for the dying and guide the dead. As the first book on this topic I would recommend it as a valuable resource for practicing psychopomps, those who are drawn to the practice, and any open-minded person with an interest in death and what lies beyond.

Deathwalking is available from Moon Books HERE.

Gatherer of Souls – a review

A thoughtful and touching review of Gatherer of Souls from Nimue Brown at Druid Life.

‘I find the creative responses she’s shared in this book answer a need in me. A hunger I didn’t know I had for some other, wilder, and not-kingly take on things.’

Druid Life

Gatherer of Souls, by Lorna Smithers, is a collection of poetry and short stories about Gwyn ap Nudd that offers a radical re-think of Arthurian mythology. Physically speaking, this is a small book – 114 pages – but what it covers is both vast and important.

Lorna has been studying Arthurian mythology for some time, going into older texts, and reading in more detail than most of us do. What she’s unearthed – and followers of her blog will already know about this – is the questionable nature of Arthur’s activities. We’re been sold Arthur as chivalric hero, protector of Britain, once and future king… but get into his stories and it’s all slaughter and theft. He’s a personification of patriarchy, and a killer of old mysteries and magics.

This is a book that assumes its readers have probably read some of the Arthurian material and aren’t basing all their…

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Gatherer of Souls – a review

A brilliantly written and knowledgeable review of Gatherer of Souls from Dr Kevan Manwaring at The Bardic Academic.

‘In its authenticity and whole-hearted commitment Gatherer of Souls offers a refreshing counter-blast to the Postmodern posturing of so many poets with their ironic word-games. For those who like their poetic fix pagan, dark and strong, this is for you.’

I never thought I’d see my work compared to David Jones!

The Bardic Academic

Gatherer of Souls by Lorna Smithers

a review by Kevan Manwaring

Gatherer of Souls FC Med

This extraordinary collection from self-defining ‘awenydd’ (a spirit worker and inspired poet) Lorna Smithers is the culmination of a full-blooded dedication to the Brythonic god, Gwyn ap Nudd. It charts a contemporary Underworld initiation, a journey to Annwn (the Celtic Hades) and back, with Gwyn as the poet’s psychopompic muse. A figure neglected, or even redacted from the spiritual tradition of the Britannic Isles, Lorna has sought to re-instate Gwyn as ‘warrior-protector of Britain’, a position she feels was usurped by King Arthur. As Lorna herself puts it: ‘After centuries of soul-loss Gwyn re-opened those doors and challenged me to ride with him through war-torn centuries to recover his forgotten mythos.’ Her collection of poetry and prose is a ‘record of [that] journey’.  In its six ‘acts’ or ‘books’ Gatherer of Souls charts a mythopoeiac counter-history of…

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