THE TRAVELLER'S GUIDE TO SACRED ENGLAND: A guide to the legends, lore and landscape of England's sacred places
By John Michell, published by Gothic Image at £14.95. 356pp including maps. ISBN 0-906362-63-6
This may be a strange time of year to review a guidebook but what the hell? Spring will soon be here and we'll all be out and about again.
John Michell will need very little introduction to most readers of WD as he has been involved in research into sacred landscapes, folklore, mythology, earth mysteries and allied fields in Britain for decades. This book is a reprint of a one originally published by a US publisher in the late 1980s .
It's difficult to decide quite which audience this book has been written for. Around two-thirds of the space has been given over to various Christian sites of interest to the mainstream tourist, ie places of pilgrimage, abbeys, cathedrals and churches, as well as a wide selection from London's churches, including very many of the ones built by Wren and his contemporaries to replace those destroyed by the Great Fire, all of which will be of limited interest to pagan readers unless they also have an interest in places associated with Christianity. In dealing with the specifically Christian sites, Michell mentions matters such as adjoining holy wells and the sacred geometry of the buildings but this is unlikely to off-set for a pagan reader the fact that this book is predominantly about Christian sacred places.
Relatively little space, therefore, is given over to the sorts of sites which most readers of WD and other pagans are likely to buy this book for. Included are Tintagel, Avebury, Stonehenge, the Cotswold long barrows, the Cerne Abbas Giant, Cornwall's holy wells and the stone circles of Cumbria which will undoubtedly interest pagan readers yet there are surprising omissions. Derbyshire and its megalithic sites have been bypassed completely so places like Arbor Low and Lud Church are missing, as is the Mithreum at Carrawburgh on Hadrian's Wall, the megalithic complex on Ilkley Moor in Yorkshire, the Rollrights and all but the most obvious megalithic sites in Wessex. In short, the book is clearly strongly skewed to the interests of the non-pagan reader.
It also needs to be mentioned that Michell holds firmly to a largely romantic view of prehistory and to some of the older ideas in earth mysteries which have been bypassed by more recent research and thinking in that field. He seems to be, for instance, a believer in the "Glastonbury Zodiac", although it was shown several decades ago that the zodiacal animals in the Glastonbury Landscape are a matter of wishful thinking, and somewhat speculatively depicts Mesolithic Britain as the lost golden age whose passing was mourned by poets. "Certain spots," he tells us, "where the old British nomads gathered at the shrine of some nature spirit, are now marked by cathedrals and churches." (p3) See what I mean?
This is not a poor book by any means but it's not one for your typical pagan reader, especially if he or she subscribes to the view that everything Christian is a Bad Thing. On the other hand, an open-minded reader might find it a useful addition to the shelf or the car glove box, and of course it may be an ideal gift for non-pagan friends or family.