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Thursday
Oct082009

The Path of the Blue Raven by Mark Townsend

You may have read our interview with Mark some months back when we reviewed his book The Wizard's Gift. This month Mark has kindly sent through the introduction to his new book The Path of the Blue Raven which I'm sure you will enjoy reading.

Colin.

Ravens glisten in our dreams. For millennia, they have inspired the Native American, Asian, Norse and Celtic worlds. The raven, whose black coat shimmers with a translucent blueness in the sun, is a powerful symbol of transformation. To many cultures, the raven symbolizes initiation into a magical path. Like the infamous and oft misunderstood death card of the tarot deck, the raven speaks of leaving one stage of life’s journey to discover another – a fresh opening through which earlier struggles, now understood, become the pathway toward spiritual gold.

This is a perfect picture of my current situation, for it has been a painful coming to terms with all the mess of the past and a gradual uncovering of what I call our ‘inner gold’ – the magic of the true self. I am beginning to develop a sense of the magic that flows through every molecule of our awesome planet. My blue raven is a mythic soul‑friend who beckons me forward to face new challenges, open myself to life’s mysteries and trust that I too can fly. And because she symbolizes my journey so powerfully I have not only used two raven myths (for the Prologue and Epilogue), but have also selected some of my favourite raven quotes and passages to head all the chapters of Part Two – Into The Realm of the Ravens.

Thus the book you now hold is the story of a struggling man who all his life has wrestled with questions, searched for meaning and discovered it in unexpected places. It has no ulterior motive to convert, influence or argue an opinion; nor will it claim any particular religious path, philosophy or theory to be the ‘ultimate truth’. It is simply an attempt to be honest, human and realistic about what we might call the quest for enchantment. As Thomas More says, ‘The soul has an absolute, unforgiving need for regular excursions into enchantment. It requires them like the body needs food and the mind needs thought.’

I feel that need. Every day I experience a magnetic pull towards wonder and mystery. For many years I thought I could satisfy my desire by immersing myself within a religious organisation. Those years were special. I learned many things, but I did not find the long lasting, soul enriching enchantment I longed for.

I started to uncover the reasons for my dissatisfaction as I wrote my first book, The Gospel of Falling Down. Writing often brings with it the therapeutic experience of self-teaching. It is as if the very act of opening ourselves to our deepest thoughts unlocks a voice within that is not often adequately listened to.

That book taught me many lessons. One of them is that we stand on hidden treasure, and only prolong its discovery by searching for it elsewhere. I was struggling within a religious world that seemed to place the object of our quest somewhere ‘out there.’ It saw the spiritual life as a constant climbing of a ladder towards a ‘God’ who was placed out of reach. The task was to struggle, strain and strive to get close to the reward, the ‘treasure’ of salvation. However life has taught me that the greatest treasure is often found when we collapse from our egotistical efforts to climb and achieve, into a broken heap at the bottom of the ladder, where our cracked shell exposes the hidden gold at last – our divine-self. I can now understand why the rigid and burdensome world of organised religion never really freed me. It was a barrier to the divine rather than a doorway.

I’m not alone. Many people are in a similar situation - a place of deep openness towards spiritual things, yet profound disenchantment with formal, mainstream religion. The religion I come from is a Christian tradition. Indeed I served as a Priest for ten years. I still find the person of Jesus intensely exciting. His stories continue to send shivers down my spine. I have not tired of the Church’s founder, but I am tired of Churchianity. In this book I will seek out what for many in that tradition have been forbidden fruits, exploring the rich terrain of the more native, druidic and earth-based spiritualities.

As well as being an ordained Priest I am a magician (conjurer). Magic has been a happy companion of mine throughout these years of disillusionment. I have performed, semi-professionally, for over ten years and my performances have changed dramatically over that period. My magical journey is a necessary part of this story because it has brought the deepest insights into how to live an enchanted life. Stage magic (the art of illusion) keeps alive the possibility of real magic. In such a rationalistic, left-brain western world, magic has fanned the flames of my more intuitive and imaginative faculties. And within a perfection driven, success orientated and often literalistic modern Church culture, magic has been a powerful symbol of the more mysterious and mythic dimensions to faith.

So this book represents the beginning of a new adventure in my life. It is the closure of one door and the opening of another. The door of disillusionment that I close is the world of institutional religion. The door of re‑enchantment that I step through is the world of non-dogmatic spirituality. It is a strange feeling. I am in two states at once – both extreme disillusionment and profound re-enchantment! It is a journey that is taking place as I write, and I want to describe much of it as it happens.

It is divided into three parts:

Part One, Disenchantment, tells the story of my long-term love / hate relationship with the Church. A word of warning! It is (out of necessity) rather irreverent in places. It’s the way I cope when thinking about past experiences, some of which would have crushed me completely were I not to find the humour within them. In any case when I laugh, my loudest cries are always directed at me and the ridiculous situations I got myself into. Learning to laugh at oneself is one of life’s greatest forms of liberation! Not laughter as ridicule, but laughter as a gentle acknowledgement of how what seemed so serious is all really very trivial.

Part Two, Into the Realm of the Ravens, describes how a ‘chance’ encounter with a spiritual tradition vastly different to my own, triggered a new phase in my journey - an opening up to deeper enchantment. Being a nature-based path this experience has helped me to understand and tie together the many quasi-druidic experiences I’ve had over previous years. The process of re-enchantment is occurring as I write and, because I want the book to be totally authentic, I will describe some of it as it happens.

Part Three, Tales from Beyond the Magic Doorway, is a beautiful collection of real-life accounts of others who’ve stepped through a similar ‘magic doorway’ into the re-enchanted world of nature-based spirituality. Among their company are an International Bestselling Novelist, a Christian Bishop, a French Canadian Potter, an American Indian Artist and a US Navy Sailor (who was once a Catholic Monk!). I invited them to share their unique stories because I am utterly convinced they will ring loud bells and offer much comfort to like-minded seekers.

If you are, or have been, part of a traditional faith and feel you are missing something, or if you are seeking the magic of the divine within, then this book is for you! In sharing my journey, and the stories of others, you will be introduced to a world of like-minded people - ordinary people who have stepped off the mainstream, onto the path of personal magic. I invite you to walk with me as I tread this well-worn path. And who knows? Perhaps together we shall be enchanted, inspired and brought close again to the magic that dances under our feet.  

Mark Townsend.