Midwinter of the Spirit

by Phil Rickman

Merrily Watkins is the Church of England's Deliverance Minister for the Herefordshire Diocese - the County Exorcist.

Merrily is also the axis mundi around which the books of Phil Rickman revolve.  They are a geomancer's delight.

All C of E Dioceses have a minister responsible for Deliverance, and the subject is rocketing up the ecclesiastical pole like a latter day Trollope.

Women priests have only recently been re-admitted, and the church is still adjusting.  The idea of a female deliverance minister is fascinating, for until recently any woman exploring these regions would have been labelled a witch.

A Lutheran minister in New York State has written that "what impresses me is how skilfully Phil Rickman handles the seeming absurdity of carrying out a medieval profession in the modern world...we...are even more aware of this than the people among whom we work."

Phil Rickman's books are a fine-grained exploration of our interactions with subtle forces which we detect and sometimes seek to influence by dowsing.

Dowsers occasionally find that a person and/or their house can entertain non-paying guests.  These attachments can be detected, and sometimes removed, via the pendulum (see the review of Raymon Grace's Techniques that work for me in last times DT), and remanence - the energetic survival of events at a particular location and the influence of those events on the present - was a key area of research for the likes of Lethbridge and - licensed to dig - Bond.

The land has a long memory.  It bears the imprint of everything we do.  In places like Herefordshire man may sit more lightly on the land than in London, but as a result the presence of the past is less diluted.  The ley-line system was rediscovered in Herefordshire, not the home counties.

And what of Good and Evil ?  The alignments in the land exist, but were the leys a 'good' thing ?  Were they used for good or ill ?  For the benefit of the community or control ?

Dowsers are nice people.  Their clients are usually nice people.  But the world is not wholly nice.  The books are set in rural Herefordshire, from which emerged Fred West.  Perhaps there is sometimes more at stake in our work that we are aware of.

Merrily Watkins may be fictional though "she is very real" as Rickman said in a recent talk to south Herefordshire Dowsers.  All too human, she reflects our triumphs and disasters regarding relationships, parenting, authority, and the problems of holding down a job whilst at the same time engaging with 'upstairs'.

The books may contain more dead bodies than a Morse pub-crawl on an average Saturday night in North Oxford, but there's nothing like being confronted by the vision of a completely mad and very dead woman flying towards you through the hop bines to make you reconsider your membership of The Ramblers.


  The Merrily Watkins Novels

The Smile of a Ghost ISBN 1405051698, is available in hardback from the BSD @ 17.99, due out in mid November 2005

Midwinter of the Spirit (a good one to start with); The Wine of Angels; A Crown of Lights; The Cure of Souls; The Lamp of the Wicked (Fred West); The Prayer of the Night Shepherd

Also by Phil Rickman and highly recommended :
Crybbe; The Chalice (Five Go Mad in Glastonbury)



This review first appeared in Dowsing Today No 290
December 2005.

Go back to the Articles section