At some point in the early to mid-1970s, I had what I regard as the great good fortune to read Dennis Wheatley’s superb black magic novel The Devil Rides Out and it was a “watcher of the skies” moment for me. I didn’t share the author’s politics, prejudices or purported belief in the ‘Lords of Light’, while his style has long gone out of fashion, but I was nonetheless enthralled by this dark tale of the occult duel between De Richleau and Mocata that raged across Britain from central London to the wilds of Salisbury Plain.
In its way, it was as influential upon me as any of the books I read during the course of my classical studies and while The Devil Rides Out was a work of fiction, it was still packed with all manner of mesmerising “forgotten lore” concerning the Druids, numerology, black magic, ceremonial magic, hypnotism and the like. These and other subjects are invariably dismissed as pure fantasy at best or dangerous nonsense at worst by our new priesthood of scientists, but over the course of the forty years or so that have passed since I first read this book, I’ve discovered that it’s substantially true in most areas, as least as far as I can tell from my personal experiences of these matters.
Robert Macfarlane recently published an essay in the Guardian entitled “The eeriness of the English countryside” that touches on these things and I suppose that if you’re in search of a supernatural experience, then eeriness is more than enough of a reward for those prepared to travel to some of Britain’s stranger and more haunting locations. For my part, I feel I’ve been rewarded with far more than just a shiver running down my spine, while I’m certain that there’s far more ‘out there’ to be discovered or experienced, as I’ve learned from the curious business of being regularly visited at night and in the early evening by the foxes in whose ancient, wooded realm I’m lucky enough to dwell.
I’ve made a point of visiting as many ‘special places’ as I can in my time, although there are many other strange paths I still yearn to tread, most notably the aisle in this church in Bungay, where Black Shuck once ran amok to join the small but select list of other supernatural monsters in Britain that have taken human lives.
I’ve written about some of my experiences elsewhere, but now I feel it’s time I started trying to record them properly, for the benefit of those that might be interested in such things, so I’m going to make a determined attempt to write down my memories of lucid dreams, prophetic dreams, black dogs, haunted lanes, the Little People, fulfilled prophecies, phantom horsemen, mediums, disembodied voices, revenants, vampire-infested graveyards, past lives, totemic animals, Blakean visions, trolls, ghostly animals, haunted houses, haunted battlefields, ancient structures being home to a form of consciousness, fires in the sky, dream states, predictions, pareidolia, special landscapes and other mystifying wonders I’ve encountered – without being in any way psychic – during the course of my fifty-five years and counting on this planet.
I’ve decided to call this volume ‘Otherworld’, because I think it’s pleasing and appropriate, but also because I couldn’t think of one with pomegranate seeds in the title that was either elegant or engaging. God only knows how the text will turn out, because it’s been a while since I embarked on anything like this and I’ve learned that there rapidly comes a point when the vocabulary to adequately describe these experiences is exhausted, but if I can manage to convey to others just once the sheer exhilaration and wonderment I’ve felt when I’ve found myself in the presence of something not strictly of this world, then I’ll be pleased enough.
“When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has glean’d my teeming brain”.
My grateful thanks once again to Hannah Gardiner, researcher and bibliophile, this time for her photograph of the aisle of St Mary’s Church, Bungay.