Review of “Nature Mystics” by Rebecca Beattie

NatureMysticsThis week I read ‘Nature Mystics – The Literary Gateway to Modern Paganism’ by Rebecca Beattie. Nature Mystics discusses a varied group of writers: 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. The author asserts the work of these ten writers contributed to the cultural environment that allowed Modern Paganism to develop throughout the twentieth century.
With the exception of John Keats, all of these writers lived in the industrial age. The disparity between the man-made world and their love of nature, seemed to have sparked these extraordinary creative minds to seek out alternative ways of looking at the world and led them to explore different visions of experiencing life and love. Different as they are, they are bound by their vivid imagery of the natural world, its mysteries and our distinctly human position in it.
I like writers biographies, as they reveal certain things about the why of their work, and leave other questions unanswered. Extraordinary writers are of course shaped by their place in the world, but not defined. Understanding their background makes it easier to pinpoint at their uniqueness.
What struck me about the female writers in this group is the lack of acclaim they received in their lifetime and beyond. I had never even heard of a few of the female writers, whereas I read at least something either inside or outside of school by all the male writers. My personal favourite in this group, however controversial, is D.H. Lawrence. What I love about him -among other things- is the sexuality in his work: untamed, raw imagery of womanhood and manhood. I find the author’s inclusion of J.R.R. Tolkien debatable, as he was a devout Catholic throughout his life. Yet the author makes a strong case why he should be included. More than any of the other writers, his works of fantasy kindled the interest of the masses in the actual mythology of northern and western Europe. Did I miss anyone? Of course. “Nature Mystics” is an exploration, not a course book, and without a doubt many other authors could be perceived as having influenced the development of Modern Paganism. The poetry of Walt Whitman, for instance, has a distinct Pagan feel to me, even though he self-identified as religious sceptic.
If you are looking to loose yourself in literature this summer, Nature Mystics is a good guide to discover writers who are perhaps new to you. It might also be an invitation to get reacquainted with well known authors and read their works in a different light.

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