Merlin, by Elen Sentier

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Merlyn by Ishtaure Dawn

Merlin: Once and Future WizardMerlin: Once and Future Wizard, by Elen Sentier
Moon Books, 9781785354533, 112 pp., 2016.

Aside from, maybe, the Harry Potter series, I don’t think any literature was more influential or important to me growing up than the Arthurian legends. So, when I noticed that Pagan Portals had put out a book on Merlin, I was intrigued. However, after reading it, Merlin: Once and Future Wizard kind of missed the mark for me.

The Pagan Portals series by Moon Books is well-recognized in the occult community for its excellent, short introductory guides on a variety of topics related to Paganism and the Occult. I’ve read two or three of these titles prior to reading Merlin  and found them comprehensive and thorough for such small books.1 In one case though, when I read one pertaining to a specific goddess, I wished that the author had included more details about her personal relationship and experiences with the deity.

Now that I’ve read Merlin, I’ve had to reconsider that wish. My major complaint about this book is that the balance between information about Merlin and personal anecdote seems very skewed in favour of the personal. The author, Elen Sentier, practices British native shamanism, and recounts many of her lifelong experiences journeying with Merlin, including a rather uncomfortable one during her college years. Maybe it comes down to different backgrounds and approaches, but I didn’t know exactly what to make of these stories! I have no real experience with any branches of shamanism, so it’s very possible that what’s written here might resonate more with a different reader, but the content coupled with Sentier’s frank authorial voice read mostly as eccentric to me.

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Perhaps these inclusions might have worked in a longer book, but in a volume that doesn’t quite reach 100 pages, I wish (wishing again!) that it had erred on the side of providing more solid information.

At a glance, the scope of the book is ambitious. I was excited to see chapters on both Broceliande — a location in France that appears in Arthurian legend, but is also of personal significance in my creative writing — and Vivien, Merlin’s female counterpart, listed in the index. That is to say, for a brief primer, the book sets out to cover a good deal more than just Merlin’s personal history. But given the way it divides its focus between trying to inform and relating the author’s experiences with Merlin, I often found myself wondering what I was learning, and what I was meant to take away from the text. It does present some interesting ideas about liminality, and Merlin and Vivien as liminal powers, but with everything else happening around those ideas, I just can’t recall if a conclusion or a point was ever reached.

Maybe that’s exactly what makes me the wrong reader for this book: for someone on a shamanic path, the journey might be the point. But for me, especially when I’m meant to be reading an introductory book, what I’m interested in is the destination. What can I learn from the text? What can I take away from it and use in my own practice? What’s the point? In this case, I really don’t know. And as much as I’d like to give the book and its author the benefit of the doubt, and write this reading experience off as two people who present and process information in very different ways, I don’t have it in me to recommend Merlin: Once and Future Wizard.

Nevertheless, the figure of Merlin is still of interest to me — especially if it extends to include related topics like Broceliande and Vivien. If and when I want to read about him again, I think the bibliography in this book will be a useful resource. For anyone else who’s come across this review looking for a place to start, I’d suggest passing on this book, but I will nudge you in the direction of John and Caitlin Matthews who, between them, have published a large body of work related to Merlin and the Arthurian legends.

Image credits: Ishtaure Dawn

Footnotes:

  1. See Sharon’s review of Irish Paganism by Morgan Daimler. []

4 COMMENTS

  1. Hi, I see and read Spiral Nature quite a bit on twitter. I feel the need to express something here…. I have never seen SN post anything this many times let alone a “bad” review. In my opinion it is in poor taste to continuously post this. It’s seems it’s showing up daily on my page.

    • Hi Nikki,

      Thanks for your comments. Much of our social media coverage is automated as we try to promote each of our reviews and articles at different times of the day to catch readers when they’re on, but you raise an important point. In the future I’ll try to manage our scheduling better, and try to avoid over-promoting negative coverage.

      That said, I think negative reviews have their place. Indeed, I think all reviews have their place, and even those where a reviewer doesn’t love a book and has other suggestions, they can still be beneficial in letting readers know what’s available.

      There used to be a regular columnist in The Globe and Mail who would review books in such a way that I knew I’d love them, even if he didn’t. Thoughtful and in-depth coverage can reveal as much about a person as the book, and ultimately it’s up to the reader to decide whether and how they act on a review.

      Thanks again for your feedback. I’ll definitely take it into consideration with future coverage of things we less than loved.

      Best,

      Nico
      Editor-in-chief

  2. Thank you. I have always been pagan. I knew things as a child that no child could possibly know. Some of this knowledge was only proven to be true some 50 years later. I shared part of my life with a wiccan and the differences were as great as chalk and cheese. I did go through an experience whereby I fely the highs and lows of every lifetime I had lived. It took several hours and it was exhausting. I came out of it realising I was thousands of years old.

    Merlin is interesting. I identified an entety that I believed was my mentor as Merlin. To me he was a shape shifter and joker, but not in ha ha way. Far more subtle. To the extent that riddles and puzzles announced his presence. I would see something totally out of context and a bit of a puzzle but there would always be a clue that it was him. When I acknowledged his presence he would come forward.

    I really don’t have a clue as to which type of Pagan category I fall into. I just am. In the nether World I am a Warrior empowered with an assortment of skills and weaponry. I also chose to see entities that I associate with as Dragons who help when required.

    • Hi Mick,

      Thanks for sharing your story! Don’t worry too much about labels at this stage, it’s ok if you don’t have a defined path. Paganism is often used as an umbrella term to encompass many different kinds of beliefs that centre nature and worship, much in the same way “Christian” is used to refer to a variety of traditions that centre Jesus.

      You can find the origins and history of the term Paganism here, which might be helpful:
      spiralnature.com/spirituality/definition-of-paganism/

      But also, don’t be afraid to go your own way, and find what works for you.

      Best of luck!

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