LILLARD, History Column 1989, Issue 4




WE ARE SO USED TO DEALING WITH cliches about ourselves—California North, wee bit of olde England, the Tall Totem Trail—we sometimes believe them ourselves.

Phyllis A. Whitney, in a recent romance novel, Feather on the Moon (Fawcett Crest, 1989), was able to hilariously parody Victoria's touristy view of itself as an English enclave.

But the general view that B.C. has always been California North—full of goofy mystics in the woods—persists even though history shows us many explorers of the spiritual and occult in our midst were not necessarily kooks. Robin Skelton, Canada's literary expert on witchcraft and magic, may look like an unrepentant Tennyson but when he begins to talk he emerges as the scholar and knowledgeable enthusiast he is. His many books include Spellcraft (M&S 1978) and Talismanic Magic.

Skelton stands at one end of our spiritual/occult tradition in B.C., the European end--while Indian shamans and Indian mythology exist at the other. Mircea Eliade's Shamanism (Princeton University Press, 1972) remains the standard text on its subject. Locally, Marius Barbeau's Medicine Men of the North Pacific Coast (National Museum of Canada, 1958), The Religion of the Kwakiutl Indians (Columbia University Press, 1930) by Franz Boas, and Pamela Amoss' Coast Salish Spirit Dancing (University of Washington Press, 1978) are equally valuable.

The classic trickster on B.C.'s west coast is Raven while Coyote fulfills this role in the interior as "ambiguous creator and destroyer, cheater and cheated, subhuman and superhuman". Paul Radin's The Trickster (Schocken Books, 1972) has long been the standard introduction to this subject.

Those who wish to turn to 'original' versions of the ever-evolving Raven stories will find the perfect starting point in Franz Boas' "Tsimshian Mythology" contained in Thirty-First Annual of the Bureau of American Ethnology, 1909-1910. Robert Ayre's Sketco the Raven (Macmillan, 1961) is perhaps the finest of many modern versions of the Raven myth.

As an introduction to the Coyote stories, Jarold Ramsey's Coyote Was Going There (University of Washington Press, 1977) can't be beaten, in spite of its subtitle: Indian Literature of the Oregon Country. An indispensable guide to what one might want to seek locally is Ralph Maud's A Guide to B.C. Indian Myth and Legend (Talonbooks, 1982).

One early attempt to bridge the spiritual gap between cultures was B.A. McKelvie's coastal novel, Huldowget (J.M. Dent and Sons Ltd., 1926), but the author was too much concerned with plot to create completely realized characters. Other early efforts were A.M.D. Fairbairn's Plays of the Pacific Coast (Samuel French, 1935), Marius Barbeau's The Downfall of Temlaham (Hurtig Publishers, 1973), and Old Man Coyote (T.Y. Crowell & Co., 1908) by Clara Kern Bayliss.

Eventually Christie Harris's Sky Man on the Totem Pole (McClelland and Stewart, 1975) and Secret in the Stlalakum Wild (McClelland and Stewart, 1972) did more than throw up a bridge; they were guides that led us across and into the rainforest of the indigenous imagination. Written for children, her books repay the adult reader's attention. Another book to make the crossing at this time was Susan Musgrave's Entrance of the Celebrant (Fuller d'Arch Smith Ltd., 1972). Hers was the first attempt by a woman to merge poetically with the landscape. Musgrave was soon followed by a dozen or more other women making similar experiments.

At about the time Musgrave was writing her Entrance poems, thousands of hippies--and just plain fiddlefooted youngsters--were moving into every blank spot in British Columbia. Two of their heroes or chief spiritual guides were poet Gary Snyder--a connection to the spiritual world of the Canadian and U.S. north-west and pop philosopher Alan Watts, who led them toward the wisdom of the East.

An earlier B.C. precedent for Alan Watts’ influence was L.A. Beck, author of The Story of Oriental Philosophy (The New Horne Library, 1943). A world-famous author, Lily Adams Beck (her other pen names were Louis Moresby and E. Barrington) wrote all of her thirty or more books in Victoria in less than ten years.

The publications of L.A. Beck and The Brother, XII, must be considered the first serious religious writing done outside the established churches of Vancouver Island, and perhaps in British Columbia.

Yet another English connection to mysticism that moves between the 1920s and today is Lily Adams Beck's The House of Fulfilment (T. Fisher Unwin Ltd., 1927), a fictional study of Katherine Maltwood. The rediscoverer of the Glastonbury Zodiac--as described in H. Lampo's Arthur and the Grail (Sidgwick, Kackson, 1988)--Maltwood later became a noted British Columbia artist and collector.

About 1930 a Vancouver resident by the name of Alfred J. Parker started a group known as the Kabalarians. This B.C. group would seem to have been based somewhat loosely on the work and beliefs of Madame Blavatsky, the founder of the Theosophical Society. Whether Parker and the others wrote a body of work is unknown.

Also writing in Vancouver at this time was an associate of Alistair Crawley's named Charles Robert Stansfeld Jones--also known as "Father Achad". UBC's W.H. New, author of Articulating West (1972), found Jones' books listed in a newspaper article. To say that Jones' work, such as the Crystal Vision and The Chalice of Ecstasy, is rare is to be optimistic.

Whether Jones was a serious theosopher or a crank is not known; his claim for being remembered is based on his possible influence on Malcolm Lowry.