ECOS 38 (5)
RE-ENCHANTING THE FOREST
Meaningful ritual in a secular world
Vale Publishing Cooperative
ISBN: 978 190 8363145
Paperback RRP: £12.99
Review by Peter Taylor
Going deeper with Nature ritual
I approached William Ayot’s Re-enchanting the Forest with some trepidation. Seeking enchantment in Nature has become fashionable, but often that romance simply means the same jaded minds seeking an excitement or magic missing from humdrum existence. I have been waiting for a book that starts with re-enchanting the person - without which no re-enchantment of Nature can begin. This is such a book.
The author begins with his own personal and honest story and it resonates with everything I know of true magic - not the wand-wielding fantasies of modern fiction, but the alignment with the magic of what is and just how hard that is to achieve in our modern world. Alignment always begins with ritual, and Ayot's awakening to ritual begins with an intiatory Rite of Passage for men at Cae Mabon in Snowdonia - by his time then 'well established'. I know Cae Mabon - helping in those early times nearly 30 years ago to build the Celtic round-house and participating in the establishment of the male-mystery rites. A group of 14 men, most of us teachers of a kind, all closely connected to Nature and the forest, began inventing the rituals we had sorely missed in the teens of our own magical education. Only then could we begin to teach our own children now pressing at the gates of manhood.
However, this awakening to ritual and the necessity of alignment is preceded by the author's personal story of an abusive childhood very far from enchantment and followed by some dysfunctional attempts at the adult world where any awakening came quite late. Eventually he finds his way to the acknowledged shamanic healers and teachers of the West - Native American and African medicine-men and women dedicated to sharing their techniques of tribal initiation - ritual techniques that open up the damaged western psyche by feeling the reality of Nature, which is to say, to the web and flow of life, of power and mystery, and to honour these powers with gratitude and humility. Words cannot convey the full meaning of this story, and for a writer to achieve much, he or she needs to tell personal stories right from the heart. Herein there are plenty - carefully leavened with philosophical reflections on the nature of initiation and ritual.
I like the balance of story and reflection. There is little new for me - I have shared much the same journey, though with far less damage during childhood. As a kid, I could feel the magic but there was no reference point in my culture. Eventually, my excellent biology teacher converted me to the beautiful symmetries of biochemistry. My own awakening came only after break-up of a marriage and break-down of the unfeeling self that a decade of scientific consciousness had fostered. Unlike Ayot, and a good many who now follow the Western shamanic path, I first turned East for healing - to Himalayan masters, equally shamanic in their ways, but with a deeper relation, I find, to love and devotion to the divinity they perceive at the heart of the natural world. I doubt I would have made it through some of the shamanic initiations that Ayot has followed in traditional North, Meso or South American teachings, nor through the 'witchcraft' of shamanic Africa - all with their 'hungry ghost' perceptions of the Otherworld, without that grounding in unity, consciousness and strengthening of the heart brought to us from the East.
By the time I arrived at Cae Mabon, I was part of the shamanic revival that began with the neo-Druid 'Oak Dragon' teaching camps where we started to integrate the teachings of eastern yoga, African dance, and Native American vision-quest into the Celtic heritage, such as it was. It is not a criticism of this book, more a lament, that there is not more of the forest that we all became enchanted by! The great beauty of the modern British awakening - which is a human rewilding, is the awakening to the power of forest animals - their mythic past and their archetypal qualities. Ayot has some encounters with Crow and Badger. I would have liked more such stories, and of plant-spirit-medicine, so dear to the Celtic heritage.
Ayot's great strength lies in his understanding of the male psyche and its needs for challenge. There is little here of the feminine - both inside and outside of the man. Little then of the serpent and the dragon, and of yoga tantra! Little also of the Underworld part of the Otherworld - the world of archetypes and the emotional shadow-play of western repressed and damaged psyches. These elements are not entirely absent - they are reflected in the stories of those who come to him late in his life for rituals, for healing and alignment.
I am heartened that Ayot's fine book emerges at this time. It is the fruit of two or more decades of an elemental growth for the British psyche in particular - a catch-up to a women's awakening and enchantment of the forest that began a little earlier. This awakening may not yet reflect a mainstream growth of consciousness but Ayot has certainly laid part of its foundation and he now works ceaselessly to build upon it.
ECOS 38 (5): Contents
Inheritors of the Earth by Chris Thomas
Review by Peter Shirley
The Nature Fix by Florence Williams
Review by Andrew Blewett
Rewild by Nick Baker
Review by Peter Taylor
Re-enchanting the Forest by William Ayot
Review by Peter Taylor
Woodland Development by George Peterken and Edward Mountford
Review by Simon Leadbeater
The Red Squirrel by Neil McIntyre & Polly Pullar
Review by John Savory
Camera Trapping for Wildlife Research by Francesco Rovero and Fridolin Zimmermann (eds.)
Review by Rick Minter