Passages: Bert Jansch and Diane Cilento

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  October 7, 2011 — 10 Comments

This week has seen an unusually high number of high-profile deaths, from Apple co-founder Steve Jobs to civil rights icon Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, but perhaps lost among the many (deserved) tributes and remembrances are two other figures who have had an indirect but palpable influence on modern Pagan culture: Bert Jansch and Diane Cilento. Jansch, who died on Wednesday from lung cancer was a hugely influential guitarist and founding member of the British folk-rock band Pentangle. Pentangle, along with Fairport Convention, The Incredible String Band, and Nick Drake were part of a movement that re-contextualized and reinvigorated folk music and tradition in the late 1960s and early 1970s. They also, as historian Rob Young notes, had striking parallels with the emerging British Witchcraft traditions, and ended up providing an inspirational soundtrack for the nascent movement.

“In terms of their status in popular understanding, British Pagan Witchcraft and folk music are strikingly similar. Both are believed, even by many of the people who practice them, to afford a link to the distant medieval past or pre-Christian antiquity, but many of their identifying features are actually relatively modern inventions.”

Bert Jansch

Bert Jansch

During his career Jansch recorded at least 25 albums and toured consistently, inspiring Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin and Johnny Marr of The Smiths with his unique guitar style. Towards the end of his career he collaborated with contemporary artists like Hope Sandoval (of Mazzy Star), Beth Orton and Devendra Banhart, inspiring a new generation of psych-folk and “freak” folk performers. Still, to many of us, he’ll be remembered as part of that band with the pentagram logo, which, along with the mythological and folkloric themes in their music, was more than enough to consider them one of “our” bands in the Pagan movement’s early stirrings. For his deep contributions to music, and for all those he inspired, Bert Jansch will live on for generations to come.

Another death that will have reverberations among many modern Pagans is the passing of actress Diane Cilento, famous to many as the first wife of Sean Connery, but beloved to us as “Miss Rose” in the 1973 cult-classic film “The Wicker Man”.

Cilento would go on to marry “Wicker Man” writer Anthony Shaffer, and was a spiritual seeker who eventually studied Sufism.

Diane Cilento

Diane Cilento

“It doesn’t really matter what basically the religion is, it’s all the same thing. It’s all oneness. And I don’t think you can divorce or segregate or pigeonhole life in that way much. It is just life, and poetry’s part of that.”

Cilento was also the mother of Jason Connery, who played the second Robin Hood in the Pagan-drenched English series “Robin of Sherwood.” Her role in creating a “microcosm of what sacred and profane life in a village might be like if Christianity had never been imported to the Isles” will forever endear her to generations of modern Pagans. May her spirit be united with the oneness she sought in life.

Jason Pitzl-Waters