The Might of the Myth, the new book released this week by veteran music promoter Jeff Merrifield, is by his own admission a 73-years-in-the-making magnum opus. Better known in Shetland for his JAWS work than for his fortean writing, Alex Garrick-Wright went along to the launch on Wednesday night to gain a little insight into the book.
The Might of the Myth is the culmination of decades of interest and experience, a journey first started by Merrifield and his friend Ken Campbell, the late actor and theatrical experimentalist, in the mid-1990s.
On an adventure to investigate spontaneous human combustion in the Alps, the writer fondly reminisces about the intrepid pair stumbling across the frankly surreal Federation of Damanhur, a spiritual eco-commune in the Italian Alps, where they found the Temple of Humankind; a huge subterranean complex dug by hand into a mountain some 30 miles from Turin, which he described as the “Eighth Wonder of the World”.
Words can barely express the dreamlike strangeness of the place that inspired this new book. Even the author admitted that when he first encountered the Temple he was ‘freaked out’. It is easy to see why.
Merrifield screened some documentary clips which showed cavernous, frescoed temple chambers, secret doors in marble walls, a mosaic floor depicting a tarot card that opened into a trapdoor, and a semi-autonomous commune where people claim to have travelled in time.
The Temple of Humankind, we were told, was built on the nexus of multiple lines of earth energy, and has its own University, which offers courses on astral projection, alchemy and pre-Atlantean history (sadly not available for distance-learning. Maybe the UHI should consider expanding its prospectus?).
Merrifield said that he had been invited back to this uncanny place last year, where he was asked if he would like to contribute in some way to the newly-formed Institute of the Mythology of Humankind. The Might of the Myth is that contribution.
It is clear that this work is deeply personal; he discussed his experiences and the book excitedly and with a great deal of passion.
His description of the text as a “broad canvas “is a masterpiece of understatement. From the humble acorn of a spiritual commune run by temple-building time-travellers, a mighty oak has grown. The book is not so much about “mythology” as it is about perception.
Reading an excerpt, Merrifield discussed how mankind inherently makes legends of people, eroding their flaws until all that remains is a perfect hero – such as Winston Churchill, who is remembered as one of the greatest prime ministers and Britons to ever walk the earth.
Wilfully forgotten, he hastens to point out, were his numerous military disasters and his staunch beliefs in eugenics, forced sterilisation and the hierarchy of races (his 1937 speech in Parliament advocating the supremacy of white Anglo-Saxons the product of “a thoroughly warped mind”).
In addition to this, the book discusses collective unconscious, morphic resonance, human instinct, Swiss banking and Rupert Murdoch, complete with an extraordinary variety of colour illustrations (Hieronymous Bosch, the Black Madonna and Albert Einstein all depicted in one chapter).
Merrifield’s own autobiographical anecdotes are woven throughout the text; most notably one about how he and a group of drama students narrowly avoided being killed in the bombing of an Italian railway station.
As book launches go, this was truly unique (book launches normally answer questions about the text, rather than create more). In terms of drumming up a bit of interest, it certainly worked – The Might of the Myth certainly looks to be one of the most interesting books to grace Shetland in a long time, and is available now from the Shetland Times Bookshop and will be shortly be on Amazon.
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