Friday, 5 June 1998
Brian Bates: The Way of Wyrd (1983)
Review number: 62
This book arose from an academic look at "shamanism" in pre-Christian, Anglo-Saxony England. Bates looks at this culture through the eyes of an outsider, Wat Brand, a priest sent to learn how the shamans work so that the church can combat them as they move into the area (I think) now covered by the New Forest. He receives an education in the way of the Wyrd (the principle governing the pagan world-view) from the shaman Wulf.
It's an interesting education, forcing Brand to question many of the assumptions of his own world-view. He is a convincing medieval Christian, which is more than many historical novelists seem to be able to manage.
The problems with the book lie with the world-view of the author. Wulf is given all the advantages; throughout his is assumed to be the correct, insightful way to live a life. Bates is clearly sympathetic to the shamanic and antipathetic to Christianity; and the introduction of many elements from different shamanic cultures means that Wulf is putting forward a strongly New Age perspective. (A quick glance at the bibliography will show just how wide these borrowings are; they are principally North American and Asian, and some of them come from studies on the use of drugs in ritual which I believe have since been discredited.) The author deserves some credit for making the pagan culture more vicious than the standard wishy-washy New Age rubbish, but he certainly doesn't give the church a fair deal.