LONDON, THOU ART THE FLOWER OF CITIES ALL
London means many different things, from Cobbett’s description of it as “the Great Wen” through Dr. Johnson’s remark that “a man who is tired of London is tired of life”, and the man who says “I would rather be dead in London than preening my feathers in heaven” meets the response “Hell is a city much like London”. It can be seen as a parasite, sucking all the goodness out of other areas of the country, or as the heart which sustains the rest of the country. It offers community and culture, alienation and ugliness.
The Aquarian Guide is a collection of articles, mainly new but with some reprinted from an earlier period, about the legendary and spiritual aspects of the city. Caitlin Matthews writes about the Guardian Heads of Britain in the Celtic times. The head of Bran the Blessed was buried at the Tower of London as protection against invasion until it was dug up by Arthur who did not want Britain to be defended by any strength other than his own — the legend of the ravens of the Tower (“Bran” means “raven”) is perhaps a memory of this. Bob Stewart’s piece is called Merlin in London but concludes that there is no legendary connection of Merlin and London, though there are several late connections. Those who are interested in ley lines will find these discussed in Paul Devereux’ article, and Nigel Pennick writes about the Templars. Articles on the bell‑towers of London and on William Blake remind us that spirit can be found in the city as well as in the country, and that the city at its best provides a vital link between peoples from different parts of the country or the world. London witches and the goddesses of London are given their due in other articles.
Chesca Potter provides a very useful gazetteer of sacred sites in London, and she has illustrated the book. Many of our readers will know her work, which makes a good book even better. Illustrators are rarely given the respect they deserve, and, even though Chesca is a co‑editor of the book, her name as illustrator is given only in the acknowledgements and not on the title‑page where it belongs.
Survivors’ London, by contrast to the Aquarian Guide, is mainly about the practicalities of living in London. It covers a wide range of issues, from housing to computers, from personal growth to community projects, from pets to drugs. While certain of the addresses are only useful to Londoners, much of the information is of value to people in other towns or in the country (useful advice on plumbing, for instance). It is not the kind of book we usually review, but the section on spiritual traditions includes paganism and lists a number of groups and publications, including Wood and Water.
I recommend both these books highly. The Aquarian Guide is essential reading for anyone interested in the legends of London, while Survivors’ London is full of useful information, whether or not you live in London.
Wood and Water 36, Summer 1991
© Daniel Cohen