Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Dreaming the Serpent Spear: Epic of Boudica

I finally finished 'Dreaming the Serpent Spear', the last book in Manda Scott's series about the legendary queen of ancient Britain, Boudica. I had forced myself to read it as slowly as possible, not wishing it to come to an end. She is an extraordinary writer. For some one like me, who has spent a lifetime studying the pathways of dreaming and those 'of the gods', her work resonates in my very soul.

Nonetheless, I only came slowly to a true comprehension of the fundamental bedrock that was the basis of these novels. I had thought initially that they were high quality 'historical romance', telling the tale of the Boudica or Boadicea as her name sometimes is spelled. In fact, the titles of the books themselves should have made it clear that they are primarily novels that explore the spiritual world and its link to this reality.

Manda Scott manages to weave the threads of many different traditions into a tapestry of ancient mystery religions. She writes about Mithras as well as many of the ancient cults of the British Isles, from Briga to the Horned God. She makes no claims as to the veracity of any of her imaginings, for they are dream explorations. Even so, they speak eloquently of the other realm and thus lay their own claim to truth.

Her prose is vivid and yet exquisite. She has a firsthand knowledge and abiding love of animals that makes her exploration of ancient tribes of the North even more compelling as they were known throughout the ancient world for THEIR love of and connection with their animals. At the same time, her grasp of the forge as well as military science is sound. She understands the spirit of metalworking that elevated great smiths to the position of gods in the ancient world. So little is known of that period in the history of England except from Roman sources and yet she has given flesh to the bare bones of the life of the warrior queen who came to represent the very spirit of Britain.

One short passage from the final book. The exchange occurs on the eve of the last great battle, when the two will face one another as enemies:

'Valerius gave the salute of warrior to warrior and said, 'Until tomorrow then, and whatever comes after. If I cross the river to the gods first, I will wait for you, however long it takes.'

'Will your gods allow it, when they are not mine?'

Corvus had never dared voice that doubt before, to himself or any one. He watched Valerius pause on his own side of the river and search within in a way he had never done in his younger days. The answer then, when it came, was quiet and solid and certain, and settled in Corvus' heart as a bandage ready for expected pain.

'They will always allow it. It's only men who need ownership. The gods allow more freedom.'


It is what I always have believed, of course. In every religion I have studied I have doubted the need of any God for all the petty rules and regulations laid down by human beings.

There are few books that I read more than once, few that accompany me through the years. Tolkien's 'Lord of the Rings' is one. I expect 'Boudica' to be another. I believe that when I take it up again to reread it, I shall experience even greater pleasure and satisfaction...

For a reader, the relationship with great books truly is akin to friendship. One meets for the first time to discover common interests, to admire, even thrill to certain images or the turn of a phrase. One then seeks them out again and again, almost like old friends, renewing that kinship and sense of common perception. Part of it mirrors the eternal quest for beauty and truth but part of it is the knowledge that one is not alone in this world, that there are kindred spirits, even if they have far more talent to express what is in one's own soul or mind. A writer, like any artist, transcends his/her own limitations as a human being when a great work is crafted. It is how any artist achieves immortality even during his/her lifetime.

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