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Pan’s people

Whatever it was that Arthur Machen encountered in the Welsh woods one long-ago summer, it utterly changed his life. Richard Stanley on Ritual and Other Stories

Ritual and Other Stories
by Arthur Machen
390pp, Tartarus Press, £35

Mankind in its arrogance knows little of the earth. Even as we plunder the dying oceans and the nearer reaches of space, a rambler in the Welsh valleys might still feel a chill as the shadows lengthen and the airy silence presses in. This quickening of the heart, one part terror, one part exhilaration in the face of nature at its most sublime, is panic in its primal sense, what our forefathers knew as the proximity of the pagan deity Pan, the hieratic embodiment of the earth’s fecundity, misunderstood and maligned by the people of the Book as the horned essence of evil itself.

The poet and mystic Arthur Machen came of age in those remote backwoods. Born in 1863, he spent his formative years at Llandewi Rectory in Gwent, where one solitary summer afternoon he took an unfamiliar path through the hills and encountered something that touched his soul and chafed against his Christian upbringing – something that, for the rest of his life, he struggled to put into words.

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