A key feature of contemporary Paganism is our relationship to place.
Curiously though, there seems to be little in the way of in-depth exploration from within the Pagan community of how we make and sustain our relationships with places, nor of place-making as a social or political practice.
There are some excellent scholarly books examining place-making – such as Corinne G. Dempsy’s Bringing the Sacred Down to Earth: Adventures in Comparative Religion (which I reviewed back in July) and Adrian Ivakhiv’s Claiming Sacred Ground: Pilgrims and Politics at Glastonbury and Sedona which argues that “sacred spaces” are heterotopic – where meaning is created, contested, and negotiated by different groups. Hopefully, The Wanton Green (Mandrake Books, Oxford, 2011, 222pp, p/bk) – an anthology of contemporary Pagan writing on our relationships with places – will inspire further explorations of Pagan approaches to place-making.
Edited by Gordon “the Toad” McLellan and Susan Cross, with a foreword from Graham Harvey, The Wanton Green features essays and poems by over twenty contributors representing different paths and approaches such as Wicca, Druidry, Heathens, Chaos Magic etc., giving a wide rnage of perspectives, from Robert J. Wallis’ Heathen approach to Mugwort to Stephen Grasso’s frenetic psychogeographical plunge through the streets of London; from Adrian Harris’ ethnographical account of road protest Pagans to Emma Restall Orr’s reflections on Pagan ecology and ethics. The contents page almost reads like a “who’s who” entry for the contemporary British Pagan & Occult scene, with contributions from well-known authors such as Jan Fries, Jenny Blain, Runic John, Susan Greenwood, Mogg Morgan and Julian Vayne.
Indeed, many of this books contributors are friends of mine, some of whom I’ve known for well over twenty years, and in reading their contributions to this thought-provoking volume, I find it impossible to stand back from those friendships. For example, Gordon McLellan’s short essay “Lud’s Church” brought back memories of being introduced to this place by Gordon on a bright winter’s morning; and Lou Hart’s piece, “Wild wild enchanted water…” recalled the many walks we’ve taken together.
If there’s one word which unites all the varied contributions to this anthology it would be “reflective” – there’s very little in the way of prescriptive writing, and few of the contributors have felt the need for attempting to frame their experiences into some grand speculative theory. Rather, The Wanton Green brings forth glimpses of personal and intimate journeys through place and space; journeys which include families, faeries, ancestors, histories; there are ponderings, musings, revelations and the joys of opening to the wonder of place.
I find it difficult, with such a diverse range of contributions to pick out particular favourites, but Stephen Grasso’s essay “Smoke and Mirrors” (see this extract published last year) is certainly a highlight of the book for me, as is Jenny Blain’s “Hills of the ancestors, townscapes of artisans” – a heartfelt meditation on her relationship with the town of Dundee since her childhood, and how that relationship, and the meanings that arise from it are shaped by her own family history, the changes Dundee has undergone, and much else. It’s a vivid reminder of how place and memory are intertwined.
Overall, this is an excellent book and I’d unreservedly recommend it to anyone with an interest in Pagan/Occult approaches to place-making – not so much as a “how-to-go-about-it” book, because this isn’t what The Wanton Green is really about, but as a book for provoking thought and discussion, a start-point for reflection and thinking out-of-the-box.
All royalties from The Wanton Green are being donated to Honouring the Ancient Dead – a British network organisation set up to ensure respect for ancient pagan human remains and related artefacts. For more information about The Wanton Green visit The Wanton Green bloodspot.