Philosopher, musician, writer, game designer, professor and Pagan, Dr. Brendan Myers is a creative and prolific creator of words, thoughts and music. Deemed a “dangerous man” by the late, great Isaac Bonewits, Dr. Myers prolifically writes fiction and non-fiction with the passionate intensity of a true visionary.
After growing up in the picturesque small town of Elora, Ontario, Myers went on to earn his PhD in philosophy from the National University of Ireland, Galway. This launched his professional career as a professor of philosophy, leading him to teach in six different institutions in both Canada and Europe.This summer, Dr. Myers accomplished a rare feat. He published his sixteenth book, Elderdown It is the fourth and final book in the Hidden Houses fantasy series. When recently interviewed for The Wild Hunt, Myers had this to say about this to say about Elderdown:
Elderdown is about a group of refugees, the remnants of a once-proud Celtic clan and their allies, hunted by the Roman-descended demigods of House DiAngelo. Yet these refugees are also divided among themselves. Some want to continue fighting their ancient enemies; some want to build a new home for themselves on the faraway secret island of Elderdown.
The series in general is about an ancient pagan idea: the gods of mythology had mortal children, and their descendants still live among us today. Imagine House of Cards or Game of Thrones, but with Celtic warriors versus the descendants of Roman emperors, and played out in a small town in modern Canada.
It’s a fantasy adventure, but it’s also an human adventure. It features magical characters but it’s not about magic. It’s about what it means to have a home, and to belong somewhere. It’s about the tragedy of the blood feud, and how to escape it. It’s about how we handle grief and loneliness, and whether conflicted or wounded people can still be heroes.
Fiction may be Myers most recent writing adventure, but it is his non-fiction writing that first made him a regular feature at Pagan events across Canada and beyond. These books are where philosophy and Pagan themes meet. “A Pagan Testament: The Literary Heritage of the World’s Oldest New Religion” published in 2008 was a prime example of this. The work garnered praise from other high profile Pagan writers. Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone called it “A remarkable resource for anyone following the Wicca/Pagan path. It gives an insight equally into wiccan philosophy, as well as history and practice. We highly recommend it. A useful book for the individual witch; but an essential book on any coven’s bookshelf”.
So, for fans of the non-fiction writing, does Dr. Myers have another offering on the way? In our interview, we asked him. He said:
Brendan Myers: I do, and I think it’s going to be exciting. The working title is Ecology and Civilization. Many of us enter the pagan world because of a not-well-defined yet nagging feeling that there is something wrong with civilization, especially Western civilization. It might have to do with the destruction of the environment, or the patriarchy, or the cultural genocide of Aboriginal people, or some kind of intrinsic absurdity. So I want to ask: what is civilization? What’s wrong with it? What can we do about it? Big questions! My working hypothesis right now is that the science of ecology may point the way to some answers. I’m also going to look at economics, anthropology, political science, and of course my own field, philosophy. At this moment I’m 15,000 words into the manuscript. I expect to be finished by the end of 2015.
The Wild Hunt: With sixteen books published since 2004, you have had an incredibly busy writing career, full of challenges and adventures. But what is the highlight that really stands out for you?
BM: The biggest highlight so far has been the evening in 2013 when I was one of the invited speakers at a TEDx conference at the University of Guelph. My presentation was based on the ideas in Loneliness and Revelation, the book of mine which has earned the most critical praise (and the least commercial success). TED is like a nerd’s paradise. It brings together people who think about things in weird new ways, people who make weird new things, and the like, and it invites the public to contemplate and to celebrate their ideas. People dress up in their Sunday best for it. After a childhood and teen years where I was ignored or severely bullied for having nerdy interests, appearing on TED after publishing a book felt like a vindication.
TWH: You’ve said that the wide and varied themes and topics in your books reflect your own love of travel, and for the interesting people and places you meets along the way.
BM: If it is not too bold: I’d like to suggest a new (actually very old) pagan tradition: the long distance pilgrimage. Celts of Ireland used to gather at places like Uisneach and Tara for annual political and Druidic assemblies. Greeks used to hike to Olympus or Delphi, seeking spiritual bounty. Ancient pre-Muslim Persians made the journey to the temple of Zoroaster. I think this custom should be revived. Let’s encourage each other to travel to a spiritual centre of each person’s choosing: a destination of no small cultural or historic importance, and as far away from home as your finances and your physical health will allow. Let’s encourage a culture of traveler’s tales, adventurism, and worldly knowledge. Let’s take short adventures once a year, and a longer one to somewhere very far, perhaps on another continent, at least once in a lifetime. By proposing this, I do not intend to diminish the importance of local values like environmental awareness, or community solidarity. Yet very few activities teach courage, open-mindedness to difference, adult responsibility, generosity, and thankfulness for the generosity of others, like long distance travel.
At the time of this interview, Myers was packing his bags to head to Czech Republic for research and adventure purposes. A 40-minute video with his impressions of this trip can be found here.
TWH: Outline the difference between writing fiction and non-fiction.
BM: In nonfiction it’s more obvious that I write with my own voice. But every character in a work of fiction is the author’s self-portrait. In fiction it’s more obvious that I’m telling a story—that is the very meaning of fiction. But good nonfiction tells a story, too. An argument is pursued to a conclusion; evidence and counter-arguments may be met along the way; the conclusion itself is the climax of a rising logical action. A reader might enjoy a well-crafted argument in the same way she might enjoy music. I often call chapters in my nonfiction books movements for that reason.
It seems to me that the differences between fiction and nonfiction are matters of emphasis and style, not essence. Both attempt to reveal something which the reader might not have encountered before, and (following George Orwell’s advice) both attempt to change the way we think about something. Where fiction and nonfiction differ most is perhaps only in the way they are marketed!
Writers who work in both fiction and nonfiction aren’t unusual. Among philosophers, there’s Umberto Eco, and Iris Murdoch, for instance. Among pagan writers there’s Gerald Gardner himself, Stewart Farrar, Aleister Crowley, and Starhawk. There are writers best known for fiction who also write journalism or polemics: Margaret Atwood, and Neil Gaiman, for instance. I like to imagine that by writing both, I am in good company.
TWH: Elderdown was published under your own publishing imprint, Northwest Passage Books. What prompted your to take this route to get your books out there?
BM: Originally, I created it to publish just one book: Clear and Present Thinking, the free college-level textbook on logic and critical reasoning that I launched on Kickstarter a few years back. Having my own imprint allows me to issue ISBNs to myself at no cost. Soon it occurred to me that I can use the imprint to publish my fiction, and to offer self-publishing assistance to other writers. (I still seek traditional publishing for my nonfiction.) At the time, self-publishing was taking off in a big way. Some well established writers were moving to it; industry analysts were calling it the wave of the future; platforms like Kindle, Nook, and Kobo were easy to use. I did shop my first novels to literary agents, but admittedly I didn’t look long. But creating my own imprint taught me a lot about writing and about the publishing industry. I‘m proud of what I’ve published this way.
TWH: With so many accomplishments under your belt, and so many varied interests, how do you choose to see yourself?
BM: I think of myself as an human being and a philosopher first, and everything else second. But between you and I, the word philosopher means rather more to me than a particular kind of professor (although it happens I am a professor, too). The quest for good answers to the highest and deepest questions—the philosophical quest—is for me a deeply spiritual activity. This is so because, for one thing, pagans invented philosophy. Yet for another, the method of philosophy, systematic critical reason, is one way that we mere mortals can discover the immensities, and put ourselves into a better relationship with them. The sacred is that which acts as your partner in your search for the highest and deepest things; the sacred is that which emerges from your relationship with those partners. For me, the most important of them, after my friends and the land where I live, are my predecessors in the western philosophical tradition. And some of them, the philosophers of Greek, Roman, Celtic, and Germanic antiquity, were pagans, living in a pagan culture.
TWH: It will be hard for fans of the Hidden Houses series to say goodbye to it. What can you say to fans?
BM: Now that the main series is complete, I plan to write spinoff books, set in the same world but featuring different characters. I’m following the precedent of Charles de Lint’s Newford and Terry Pratchett’s Diskworld here. I’ve published two spinoffs already: “The Seekers” and “A Trick of The Light”. An entire volume of more is in the works. I’ve also got a tabletop RPG set in the world of the Hidden Houses: the text is 90% complete, and there might be a Kickstarter campaign in the near future to pay for the artists.
Although I’m best known in the pagan world for my nonfiction, I think my novels may be among the most heartfelt and personally revealing works of art I’ve made so far. Like any writer, I hope for commercial success; but I shall consider them truly successful if they are read, studied, argued about, and loved, by good people.
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