Nature Mystics: the Literary Gateway to Modern Paganism – Rebecca Beattie

Bargain-priced paperback contains erudite and in-depth examinations of ten British literary antecedents of modern Paganism.


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Alresford, Hants, UK: Moon Books (John Hunt Publishing),2015. 131 pages. Paperback. New

One of the Pagan Portals series, the author is a PhD student, but her writing style is accessible and not overly ‘academic.’ Despite this book’s size, it packs in a large amount of critical analysis of ten writers who, in Beattie’s opinion, are of great significance in the development of Paganism in twentieth-century Britain. Ronald Hutton’s Triumph of the Moon examined the prevalence of Pan and Nature worship in Edwardian English literature; Beattie goes further and takes a close look at ten poets and novelists – John Keats, Mary Webb, Thomas Hardy, Sylvia Townsend Warner, D.H. Lawrence, Elizabeth von Arnim, W.B. Yeats, Mary Butts, J.R.R. Tolkien and E. Nesbit. It is not Beattie’s argument that these were all practising magicians or witches (with the exceptions of Butts and Yeats); rather, that their work spoke of pantheistic forces in nature that paralleled the explicit pantheism of Paganism in its Gardnerian and post-Gardnerian aspects.

Some of these will be familiar, others not. Mary Butts deserves to be more than just a footnote in the history of Aleister Crowley and of Thelema, and here she is justly given her due here as a writer of worth, deserving of our attention. Similarly, Nature Mystics gives a useful introduction to the work of Mary Webb, perhaps known only as the author of Gone to Earth (later filmed by Powell & Pressburger), and whose novels set in Webb’s native Shropshire countryside were the target of Cold Comfort Farm’s parody.