on 11 January 2002
The evocatively titled "Haunted Land" perfectly complements Paul Devereux's previous book, "The Sacred Place". Different in both format and content, the "Haunted Land" nevertheless touches on a number of themes from the previous book, but from a very different perspective. While the former book explored the subtle interface between human beings and the places they inhabit or revere as being sacred, the "Haunted Land" shifts focus to pay closer attention to the invisible (and occasionally visible) denizens of the spirit pathways and trackways that conjoin the world of everyday reality. Devereux ranges widely over a vast terrain which encompasses the passage of spirits and the flight of shamans in the Americas; vampires, werewolves, and witches in Old Europe; death roads and funeral paths; and hooded figures, spectral animals, corpse candles, and phantom vehicles in the present and recent past in Britain.
This is not an academic book, and as such Devereux is not constrained by the normal cautions of academic writing. This is both a strength and a weakness of his writing. It is a strength in that it gives Devereux free rein to build his argument on the foundations of stories and descriptions gleaned from a variety of different cultures and historical periods. It is a weakness insofar as it doesn't provide Devereux with the scope to pay due attention to the controversial nature of some of the academic material that he uses to construct his argument. This is particular true of his use of the work of the Italian historian Carlo Ginzburg on the origins of European witchcraft, and extends also to his discussion of archetypes and what he conceives as an archaic shamanic substrate that underpins many of the traditional practices he writes about. The beauty of Devereux's writing, though, is that even when one doesn't agree with all of his conclusions, the reader finishes the book feeling they have learnt something new, and something wholly in keeping with Devereux's unique understanding of the world...
Accompanying Devereux on his journey into the "Haunted Land" will lead to an enhanced appreciation of the (apparently) empty spaces of the imagined places we inhabit. Fascinating in its detail and provocative (if a tad speculative!) in its conclusions, this is a book to 'think with' in the best sense of the term.
on 11 October 2013
I was expecting either a more detached, scientific analysis of the source material OR an imaginative, psychogeographical exploration of the human sense of place and time - I very much enjoy the novels of Peter Ackroyd (eg Hawksmoor) and Hilary Mantel (eg Fludd, Beyond Black) that explore the "psychic place-memories" that echo down to the present day. This book however is a fairly dull plod through the "evidence" and folklore that has pretty much been covered elsewhere. Having said that, it would make a useful introduction to someone interested in going on to explore psychogeography, place-based folklore or esoterica, as its subject matter isn't confined to the UK or Ireland. Reading this book should give you a fair indication of whether more detailed "esoterica" or pagan-type literature will float your boat, or whether you'll need such a large pinch of salt as to induce nausea. However, for the rock-bottom price, its well worth a look.