Review: Words of Re-Enchantment, by Anthony Nanson
Anthony Nanson is a storyteller and writer based in Stroud. He currently runs Awen Publications. Words of Re-Enchantment: Writings on Storytelling, Myth and Ecological Desire is a collection of essays originally written for various publications and occasions gathered into one text.
In his introduction, Anthony states that the core theme of his creative work is desire: ‘the longing for earthly paradise.’ This desire is connected with his ‘longstanding love of the natural world’, ‘ever-growing concern about the impact of human activities on nature, and thereby with the politics of the environment.’
Words of Re-Enchantment is divided into three sections: ‘Myth’, ‘Storytelling’ and ‘Eco-Bardic’. The subject matter is varied. The book is designed so it can be read from cover to cover or dipped into. I did the former and noticed the variegated pieces fit together through careful choice and arrangement as a coherent whole.
In the ‘Myth’ section I found ‘Mythscapes of Arcadia’ particularly enlightening as I have never visited Greece and was intrigued by Anthony’s account of his experiences at mythic sites in the modern day. Anthony spent a year in Greece with his spouse, Kirsty Hartsiotis. He describes the Styx ravine as ‘as a more intense example of the general awareness of easy access to death’ and notes evidence of pagan ritual at the Corycian Cave.
Anthony says the numinous placement of the ‘ancient temple sanctuaries’ evokes ‘a sense of the gods as potent elemental spirits, in contrast to the typically anthropomorphic depiction of the gods in the myths.’ In antithesis to experiencing the numinosity of the inspirited landscape he records his shock at the ‘thick littered’ beaches, fans of garbage fly-tipped down mountains and ‘the stink and pipework of petrochemical factories’ surrounding the ‘tiny oasis’ of green Eleusis. I was surprised and saddened to hear that even the big myths of Greece have failed to instil a strong enough sense of sanctity in the land to protect it from industrialisation and its consequences.
In the second section ‘Storytelling’ the essays which struck me the most, as someone with little knowledge of the area, were those addressing issues faced by Christian storytellers. In ‘The Meeting of Sacred and Secular’, Anthony notes ‘sensitivity is needed… in presenting biblical stories in secular contexts’ due to many peoples’ hostility toward the ‘institutional church’. His approach is one of re-imagination and re-interpretation rather than ‘preaching a narrow gospel message and expecting the audience to either take it or leave it.’
Anthony speaks of a performance of ‘Mark’ put on by ‘The Telling Place’, ‘an initiative to promote storytelling in the church and wider culture’. Anthony contrasts a comedic scene where Jesus walks on water with the ‘long prophetic speech before his arrest’: ‘The stage was bathed in blood-red light as Jesus grimly foretells the wars and suffering to come. With war brewing in the Middle East (March 2003), it was scary. As my companion pointed out, its strength came from one’s conviction in that moment that Dave was Jesus addressing us directly.’
Anthony’s account of this scene gave me goosebumps. It put me in mind of the rare occasions I’ve experienced the pagan gods speak through somebody. It illustrates the potential within our diverse religious traditions to draw upon the words of radical and prophetic figures to illuminate and critique our current political situation and also our responsibility as storytellers for our divinities.
The final section is ‘Ecobardic’. As the name suggests, the Ecobardic movement is rooted in the oral tradition of the ancient Bards and in commitment to tackling contemporary environmental and political issues. In ‘What Do You Mean, Ecobardic?’ Anthony discusses the five Ecobardic principles along with the problem of how to create art with a message that still functions as art.
My favourite essays in this section were those illustrated with examples from Anthony’s storytelling. In ‘Telling Stories from the Big Picture of Ecological History’, Anthony uses his telling of how the passenger pigeon became extinct to show how history can be made into story. In ‘How Can Storytelling Re-enchant the Natural World?’ he presents ‘Erysichton’, a Greek myth where a King cuts down a sacred oak in the grove of Demeter and is punished by a kiss from Hunger which compels him to eat everything around him then himself, as ‘a potent ecological parable for today’s world.’
Words of Re-Enchantment is a valuable repository of wisdom on storytelling written by a passionate and knowledgeable guide with a deep love of the natural world and a keen understanding of contemporary environmental and political concerns. I would recommend it to all storytellers and writers who are interested in how art can address ‘the challenges of our time’ and bring about social change.
You can purchase Words of Re-Enchantment from Awen Publications HERE.
Lorna Smithers is an awenydd, Brythonic polytheist and devotee of Gwyn ap Nudd based in Lancashire. She believes to change the world we must renew our myths. She is the author of Enchanting the Shadowlands, The Broken Cauldron, the editor of A Beautiful Resistance: The Fire is Here, and blogs at Signposts in the Mist. She is also a contributor to Awen ac Awenydd and Dun Brython.
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