Tolerable news

cover 42My publisher has now written, or rather sent me electronic mail. One must begin with encouraging matters. I have a cover; or rather Acts of the Servant has now had its cover approved by the marketing department. The author’s name and the title will be embossed and given a gilt finish and apparently the line of rivets will also be embossed. I suppose these matters must be agreed well in advance, but I hope they understand there remains some three month’s work to complete the text that will go between the covers!

It rather looks the part and I cannot but wonder if the use of iron for the background was influenced by bardoftweeddale or if it is simply coincidence.

Iona Seminary today

Along with the cover the publisher also sent me the full text they have received from Sister Ethelnyd of the Iona Fellowship of Grace. This will go in the front papers immediately after MacGregor’s original preface.

I am uncertain if I regard this as good news or not, as it made for uncomfortable reading. She is a forthright woman and while her opinions are always fair, I find a little honesty between friends goes a long way… I suppose I should bite my tongue and let you judge for yourselves.

Introduction to the Anniversary Edition by Sister Ethelnyd

Vice-chancellor, Iona Fellowship of Grace, Scotland

I have known Nevil Warbrook for many years now and his dedication to bringing Scottish literature and poetry to a wider audience has always impressed me. His is a worthy and necessary quest but as he is the first to admit, not well rewarded, either financially or creatively. Indeed, I would suggest his willingness to subordinate his own creativity to promoting the work of an earlier generation is to be applauded but not altogether encouraged. He does not like praise but Nevil has a unique poetic voice and we should hear it more often!

As a champion of Tamburlaine MacGregor’s work Nevil has proved exemplary but he would not object to my saying that he and I disagree over his defence of MacGregor’s reputation. While I accept that some of the more lurid claims concerning Tamburlaine Bryce MacGregor and magick are unsupportable, Nevil has become too trenchant; opposed even to the possibility that MacGregor engaged in magick or that there is a message hidden deep within the text of Acts of the Servant and its successors.

Whether my friend’s advocacy comes from a heartfelt desire to defend MacGregor from critics such as Hendryk van Zelden, or a lingering suspicion of magick arising from his deep Christian faith, I cannot say, but while he and Mr van Zelden remain so opposed all reasonable debate on Tamburlaine MacGregor’s legacy is stifled.

For this reason, when I learned that Nevil was to edit a revised edition of Acts of the Servant I confess that I doubted he was the right man. Happily, he has proved my concerns wrong for I believe he has produced a text that is as close as we may ever get to the author’s original intentions. For this, I congratulate him and look forward to subsequent volumes in the series.

Regarding Acts of the Servant as a novel, I fear that my reading is too limited to permit an educated comparison with other works of fiction and so must leave such analysis to experts in literature. However, my particular expertise is the practise and teaching of magick and here I can make two useful points. The lesser of these is to confirm that Tamburlaine MacGregor’s portrayal of magick is, in the main, accurate. It is true that on occasion he simplifies matters and his characters arrive at insights for which the signs are really too scant or ambiguous, but I accept that the needs of the narrative must trump authenticity.

My second point is more complex. Whether MacGregor gained his knowledge as an observer, or as a practitioner of magick, has been the chief argument between Nevil Warbrook and Hendryk van Zelden. My own view is that the case remains unproven and until the discovery of a new text or a radical re-interpretation of an existing work, we are unlikely to ever know the truth.

Whichever the case, magick owes MacGregor an enormous debt.

In recent decades, our urban authorities have begun to remove the soot that had for so long besmirched the elegant stone and brick buildings of our townscapes to reveal once more the mellow pale-greys, yellows and reds that our forefathers saw. This soot was a product of an earlier age, an age of industry when coal burning in the boilers of great engines and the family hearth polluted everything with its sulphurous smoke. With coal came iron, the natural enemy of magick for its magnetic properties disrupt the delicate energy fields by which those with the sight receive their insights and perceptions.

But iron was the way forward and the protest of those affected by iron’s insidious power went unheeded. They were the enemies of science and social progress, enemies of the glorious and above all prosperous future industry offered and their powers were thought out-dated and no longer relevant. This new Age of Iron was but one chapter in a sorry saga. From the Holy Roman Empire of the 1600s when many thousands were persecuted and exiled, to the horrors of the anti-shamanic pogroms in Russia when some two hundred thousand practitioners and followers of magick were brutally slain, magick had been in slow, inexorable decline. Even nearer the present day magick continued to be suppressed for as recently as 1977 its practise was illegal in much of the American Republic.

But what has this to do with Tamburlaine MacGregor, you ask. It is this: for many years MacGregor’s interest in magick was thought quaint, the preoccupation of a man out of tune with his times, much like those Romantic Poets who spent their dotage raving against the intrusion of railways into their beloved mountains. Critics argued that MacGregor’s novels, particularly Acts of the Servant and its sequels were suitable only for those obsessed with the quaint and the fantastic.

Yet times change and in the past few decades as we came to understand the damage industry and progress have done to the world and to our true selves, many have turned again to MacGregor’s work and new editions of his novels have appeared; all alas still in the expurgated versions forced upon MacGregor by his publishers, but at least being read! At the same time, I have witnessed a resurgence of interest in the practise of magick and for many that interest began through reading Tamburlaine MacGregor.

Some have suggested that the practise of magick owes the Bard of Tweeddale a debt, believing that he is responsible for igniting the interest of a new generation, but I believe this understates MacGregor’s true significance.

Magick is vitally different from brick and stone: it is a living thing and its nature is capricious. It would not have waited for us to rediscover it beneath a layer of grime but slipped into the shadows and vanished altogether from the world of man. It would be as if the cleaners of those old buildings had removed the soot only to find beneath a rotten shell fit only for the wrecker’s ball for Magick, as a living, breathing force, would have faded from our lives as surely as the dodo. Had not Tamburlaine Bryce MacGregor kept the spark alive, we would only have memories, written accounts and the relics of magick, but its vitality would have left us. That Acts of the Servant and its sequels cost Tamburlaine Bryce MacGregor his health seems indisputable: what other price he may have paid remains the source of much speculation. We should be grateful and hope that whatever the price he thought it worth paying.

Finally, I should like to thank Nevil Warbrook and his publisher for asking me to write this introduction. It is my hope that this new edition of Tamburlaine MacGregor’s work will kindle in its reader a desire to nurture whatever fragment of the gift resides in their heart, for as Tamburlaine Bryce MacGregor has one of his characters say: You will go mad if you fight it and bring harm on others if it is not trained. Dare I say it is a message my friend Nevil Warbrook should heed.

Iona, February 2013

And the bad news to go with the good? It seems the publishers do intend asking Hendryk van Zelden for an introduction to the second volume, of This Iron Race. Ah well, I was warned. There is a great deal of magick in Works of the Master, rather more than in the first volume, so I can see the publisher’s logic in going to him for a few words. Van Zelden has, by any measure, the highest profile of any practising magician alive today, and if his piece restricts itself to commenting on his particular area of expertise, and goes no further, perhaps it will add something to the readers’ understanding of the book without distorting MacGregor’s literary legacy. If not, I will be compelled to write a rebuttal.

Bitterly cold again and interminable grey cloud. Have not set foot out the door all day.


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