This opening stanza, read in the quiet nave of an old abbey, became a catalyst for the well-documented friendship between an Anglican Curate and an emerging Occultist. Those familiar with Gareth Knight’s work will know about the influence of Anthony Duncan’s provocative poetry and how it served to bring about a celebrated ‘meeting of the minds’ – but the poetry itself will be hitherto little known to them despite the fact that it has been privately praised by the likes of Kathleen Raine. Duncan chronicled his life through an extensive diary of poems, a few of which have received moderate self-publication and some small circulation around his various dioceses, but all showing a mastery of form (rhyme and metre) as well as providing various shades of insight as to his ecumenical service and philosophical imagination. The poems, which according to Knight comprise his best work, are private histories and yet therapeutic presentiments upon faith and mystery. Stylistically he tends to reach back to the more formal approaches of the late and post Victorians but there is none of the sulking scepticism of Tennyson and Browning here – but more the sort of sonorous devotional poetry that hearkens back to Christina Rossetti and Emily Brontë. Christ & Qabalah, or The Mind in the Heart collates the poems of Anthony Duncan for the first time in print and serves as a touching testament to a life of deep thought and compelling service.
The book also offers a unique historical backdrop and the reader will appreciate the reverence with which Gareth Knight glosses the poems and sketches in a few enlightening details. Following on from the “Lord of the Dance” chapter in his recent autobiography, I Called it Magic, and various entries in his book of collected letters, Yours Very Truly, Knight muses on the esoteric resonances resulting from what he saw as an unlikely friendship. Always keeping the poems central he illustrates how this intellectual sharing of ideas between them led to Duncan’s revered work, The Christ, Psychotherapy and Magic, as well as his own Experience of Inner Worlds, both of which have become companion texts of esoteric Christianity. He repeatedly elucidates how their paths alternately forked and merged in new and surprising ways, as referenced in this particular passage:
“But during our service a major change came upon each of us, with the force of a revelation. A compelling one at that, yet each of a different type. His, a series of mystical experiences that led him to become a minister in the Church of England. Mine, with almost as great a sense of revelation, coming upon the work of the occultist Dion Fortune and becoming an initiate in the Society of the Inner Light.”
Christ & Qabalah spans a period from 1964-1995 and the chapters follow Duncan’s priestly appointments at Tewkesbury, Parkend, Highnam, Newcastle, Warkworth, Whitley Mill and Corbridge – supplemented with a wonderful array of photographs. Although a church-appointed envoy of Christ, Duncan was always open to the ideas of his Qabalist friend and always fervent in his philosophical exploration of occulted ideas and themes – perhaps unprecedented for a man of the cloth at that time. He shows that faith and service don’t need to accompany a complete closing of the mind nor forgo any sense of mystical exploration. If anything, Anthony Duncan is a much-needed link to the great mystics of English church history – and he can take his place along with Richard Rolle, Julian of Norwich and the anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing.
Gareth Knight and Anthony Duncan had planned to co-author a book before the latter’s untimely passing in 2003 so Christ & Qabalah comes as a fulfilment of a long-held promise. The book will delight admirers of both authors with its intertextual interplay as well as a fresh exploration of the differences and similarities between a cleric and an occultist. Knight has described the book as an “organic process, almost an initiation, that has left me with a somewhat expanded consciousness.” Working back through the poems that chronicle his friend’s life has enabled him to come to some new revelations…
“As to our friendship and our work together, it seemed, like the pillars of the temple of wisdom, to make some kind of gateway, to generate some kind of dynamic, from which we both emerged changed, and in different ways enriched.”
Skylight Press is proud to offer this unique and timely collaboration. Readers are invited to share in the poetic machinations that sparked this dynamic relationship – one of “unplumbed depth” that keeps on giving.
Christ & Qabalah, or The Mind in the Heart is available from various retail outlets such as Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk or direct from the Skylight Press website.