King Arthur’s Camlan – A Quest For The Truth by Laurence Main
(Meirion Publications 2006, ISBN 1-871974-11-9)
Reading this book reminded me of the Society of Leyhunters Moot held at Corris in 2003: one of the walks on offer that weekend was a guided tour of Arthurian sites led by Laurence Main. At that time I was just out for a good walk and knew very little of the Legends of King Arthur (King Arthur? He’s buried at Stonehenge, isn’t he? Founded the first church with Joseph of Arimathea… taught Jesus how to juggle at Glastonbury… hitch-hiked with Gandalf the Grey… Other such tosh filled my head). I hadn’t even read The Mabinogion.
As the author of almost 50 walking guides Laurence is clearly a proficient writer, yet King Arthur’s Camlan is far from being a simple, functional walking guide, throughout there is a feeling that this is a book Laurence wanted to write. The subject is both metaphorically and geographically close to Laurence’s heart, and the material has been evolving for many years; notably in 1989 as Arthur’s Camlan – a self-published booklet, then as Venison & Virgins serialised in The Free Pagan Press, all distilling into this current book – again self-published.
The main project of the book could be summarised as fixing a specific event in historical time to a specific geographical locality. In particular the book gathers together evidence that the scene of Camlan, King Arthur’s final fatal battle, was in sixth century Wales close to Dinas Mawddwy where the author currently lives.
The first half of the book puts forth the argument for Laurence’s siting of Camlan. In many ways this is conducted in a model “Earth Mysteries” spirit, an informed, direct intuitive interaction with the locale. Laurence knows this part of Wales well; his geomantic awareness and spiritual connectedness is rooted in local knowledge, of written & oral history, of geology & geography, of mythology & folklore, and is augmented by a life time of long rambles in remote places. A solid multi-disciplinary earth-mysteries take is evident.
But that’s not all.
With the major players in place, the bare historical bones of the story are then explored, fleshed out and peopled using time-honoured techniques which could most simply be described as “mystical” or “shamanistic”. Dowsing, ley-lines, fasting, pagan ceremonial, divination, ‘sleeping-out’ and dream incubation are all employed to make contact with and learn from not just the spirit/goddess of place, but also the living reincarnations of people who were close to the Camlan battle. The coils and tribulations of this Arthurian quest are drawn out and woven in to the real-life co-incidences, chance meetings, sacred dreamings, past-life memories and reactions of the reincarnated family of the historic Derfel Gadarn – an opponent of Arthur and a veteran of the fatal Camlan battle.
The second half of the book is given over to an Epic Poem – The Dream of Derfel, which retells the story of how Derfel Gadarn came to be fighting against the famed King Arthur, a fellow Welshman. It strikes me as wonderfully apposite that the raw material of Laurence’s Arthurian quest should finally be expressed as a long narrative poem. Poetry, with its rhythms & rhymes easily lends itself to being memorised and retold, repeated as stories, turned into songs, and acted out for entertainment, becoming part of oral tradition, myth and history. The Poetic Saga is a literary form that a Welsh warlord from the Dark Ages would himself have understood.
Aside from all this more esoteric stuff the book has an appendix of maps and, although it lacks index and bibliography, there are copious OS map references throughout. From all this I have slowly been able to revivify my memory of the 2003 Camlan Walk and to contextualise swathes of the landscape thereabouts.
Aside from anything else, reading this book reminded me that I still haven’t read The Mabinogion, perhaps now is a good time to start.
Printed in Cambridge Pagan Circle
and in The Society of Leyhunters Newsletter