The Modern Antiquarian is a hefty tome of some 430+ pages. It details the “pre-millennial odyssey” of one-time 80’s pop star turned earth-centred eco-warrior – Julian Cope. A journey into the quiet places of the land and the soul, to the ruins of over 300 sites of pre-historic Britain.
The material is split into two “books”. The first consists of extensive essays examining aspects of the earth-goddess in language and landscape. Although academics may consider the historical veracity of some claims debatable, Cope makes it clear throughout that he is concerned with the mythology and personal experience of these ancient places, rather than with a dry archaeological survey. The essays will seem less obtuse if you have a background reading in J D Frazer, Robert Graves, Nigel Pennick and others on Northern European earth mysteries. The excellent bibliography provides a number of other leads for the interested reader.
The second “book” is a glorious rainbow-coloured index of pagan sacred sites in Britain. An inventory of the stone circles, long barrows, round barrows, burial mounds, holy wells, recumbent and standing stones that Cope has visited over the past 8 years. All the old favourites are here (Glastonbury, Avebury, Stonehenge, Rollright, Newgrange, Callanish…), as well as a large number of smaller, less visited sites (including, on page 262, the Nine Ladies in the Peak District; a delightful little stone circle, bordered by woodland, tucked into a corner of a blustery moor. This site, incidentally, was until recently threatened with destruction by the extension of a nearby stone quarry).
This second “book” – The Gazetteer – is brimming full of Cope’s personal memories, poems, contemplations and photographs; laid out with clear instructions for locating the sites, many of which involve a long peaceful ramble into breathtaking tracts of untarmacked wilderness.
The Modern Antiquarian is a satisfying coffee-table book to simply dip into, to dream in, to connect with concepts of reverence for the earth, to while away these dark winter evenings. However, to really do justice to the copious reference material in this book, I suggest you’ll need a large recumbent stone to lay the book out on, you’ll need a compass, strong walking boots, a hoard of OS maps, your own transport and the long days of summer. I say, just buy the book, then WALK.
printed in Grassroots magazine 1998