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Jul/Aug 2008 Book Reviews

Fear and Power in Ancient Myths

Bonnet, Dhivan, Padmacandra, Ratnagarbha, Eds.
Urthona: Issue 25.

Reviewed by Ann Skea


I must declare an interest from the start. I was recently contacted by one of the editors of Urthona, a magazine which I had not previously come across, with a request to use an essay of mine in a forthcoming issue. Contributors do not receive any payment, so I have no vested interest in promoting this magazine. However, I have found Urthona to be a beautifully produced journal full of a wide range of interesting articles, art work, photography, opinions and discussion.

Urthona was founded in 1997 by members of the Western Buddhist Order. Its focus is not wholly Buddhist however and the most recent issue explores the myths and cultural traditions associated with the Celtic peoples. Ratnagarbha, one of the editors, introduces this issue with a personal anecdote about a university lecturer who issued a dire warning to his students about the dangers of mythology. According to this lecturer, mythology was used by unscrupulous people to deprive others of their reason. This suggests a certain paranoia about the powers of the imagination, and certainly, myths are powerful stimulants to that. The continued existence of myth in every culture attests to the attraction of mythological stories and suggests that there is some common, deeply felt satisfaction in them. Psychologists like Jung see myths as reflecting valuable truths about human nature and about the sorts of worlds we create for ourselves.

Poets, too, have always known the power of myth, which is perhaps why Plato sought to ban poets from his ideal republic. In our own times, Seamus Heaney, as Ratnagarbha notes, has likened myth to the genetic code of the human spirit, and myths, as Heaney knows well, were the basis of much of the mystery and power of Celtic tradition,. To lose this wonderful Celtic treasury of stories, history, mystery and magic would be tragic. But this Celtic issue ofUrthona is steeped in Celtic myth. Maybe, to satisfy the likes of Ratnagarbha's lecturer, it should carry a warning on its cover. But it doesn't. Instead, it demonstrates very well the beauty and inspiration which myths can bring us.

Included in this issue are the story of Tristan and Iseult and its origins; a tracing of the footprints of Brigit, goddess of poetry, smithcraft and healing; a personal reflection on the White Goddess by the most recent editor of Robert Graves' book of that name; plus a variety of fine poems, reviews, photographs.

More information about the contents of this issue of Urthona may be found at www.urthona.com, together with an editorial, articles from earlier issues, and other information.

The stated aim of Urthona is to explore ways of envisioning a sacred element to the arts by linking the contemporary and the traditional. This issue shows very well how Spirit survives and is transmitted through the arts, even in our own machine-dominated, science-worshipping age.

 

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