Thursday 29 December 2016

The British Myth - by Goeffrey Ashe (1971)

A discovery of 2016 was the work of Geoffrey Ashe from the early 1970s - with books discovered by me, gifted to me by John Fitzgerald, and lent me by my brother - this last being the really excellent Camelot and the Vision of Albion, from 1971.

I would strongly recommend Camelot and the Vision of Albion to all who are hopeful of an awakening of Albion  - by rights, this book should be regarded as a classic of British history of ideas.

Camelot and the Vision of Albion has many facets - a close analysis of the person of Arthur and his relationship to the successful (for several decades) resistance to Anglo-Saxon invasion - which changed the future of Albion. The implications of the South Cadbury excavations are described in detail.And the book also ranges extremely widely over national 'myths' of revival - including nationalism, communism, Gandhi and many other examples. There is a fascination section concerning the nature of 'Titans' throughout history, and how the Arthur myth absorbed many of these aspects.

Perhaps the most impressive part (for me) was the discussion of William Blake's prophetic books - Ashe provides a 'key' to these extraordinarily difficult yet profoundly mystical works by Albion's only poet-prophet; and in doing so Ashe makes an extremely important contribution to this vital aspect of understanding.

Here is a taste, which I have edited from pages 105-6:

Let us try to define the archetype which is constant throughout, the active ingredient in the spell. 

The stories vary, but they always tend the same way. There were gods before the gods, kings before the kings, Titans before Olympians, Britons before English; and their reign was a golden age. 

There was a profounder Christianity in the wave-encircled realm of the Celtic West, before the church as we know it. 

Then the glory faded. Injustice and tyranny flowed in. Zeus usurped the throne of heaven. Prometheus was bound. The sea encroached. The Round Table broke up. Arthur succumbed to Mordred. The Saxons conquered Britain. The Grail was lost and the land became waste. 

But the depths are formative. The place of apparent death is the place of life. The glory which was once real has never actually died. 

Somewhere, somehow, Cronus or Arthur is still living, enchanted or asleep through the ages. The Grail is still in safe keeping. The visionary kingdom is still invisibly 'there', latent...

This is the British myth, of which at least a large part can be shown to descend from remote antiquity. I know of no fully developed parallel myth anywhere else. 

As a poetic statement the British myth is indeed unique. But it is a statement of a broader psychological fact. It reflects a human phenomenon, a mode of thought and behaviour, that can be traced through the world in a profusion of forms: one of the strongest constituents in history, and one of the least recognised.

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