Tom Wareham

Walter Murray - Nature Mystic




“It sometimes happens, at rare moments in our lives, we are suddenly aware of an altogether new world, different completely from that in which we commonly live. We feel as though we stand at the threshold of an undiscovered kingdom; for brief moments we understand life interpreted, we perceive meaning instead of things.  In those golden minutes I understood every word on a single page of the magic book of life inscribed in a language neither written nor spoken.  There was sublime tranquillity in the level white mists of the valley, a symphony like the ascending melodies of Greig in the sun rays that climbed aslant the hill, a quiet strength in the stillness of the trees, a brotherhood of life in all living things. I was no longer a single life pushing a difficult way amidst material things, I was part of all creation …It was a baptism into a saner way of living and thinking. The soreness of the slave-collar was salved.  It was an outward and visible sign of my inward awareness of at-one-ment.”  (Murray)


The extract cited above, from Copsford, illustrates Murray’s sense of communion with nature. And it is comments like these, which liberally sprinkle his three nature books, that point us in the direction of Murray's mysticism.  Unlike Richard Jefferies, whose The Story of My Heart is a deliberate and conscious expression and exploration of his Nature Mysticism, Murray does not appear to have written specifically or directly about his thoughts on this. Indeed, in some ways he may not even have recognised his writing as an expression of Nature Mysticism: but it is clearly there in his books.


So, what is Nature Mysticism?


Nature Mystics are people who are accutely aware of a deep and powerful communion with nature, and who attempt to give expression to it.  This sense of deep communion encourages a new and expanded consciousness which helps us see the world - the cosmos - in a new way.  It brings a greater love for nature and in many people has a fundamental impact on their lives, changing their personal values.  It puts us in a different relationship with our own world - one in which we begin to care for it much more and become deeply concerned about what is happening to it and to the life that exists within it.  


There have been many exponents of Nature Mysticism.  Some famous, like William Wordsworth, Richard Jefferies, Henry Williamson, Ted Hughes - others perhaps a little less well known, like Mary Webb, Thomas Traherne.

And there are some very well known modern exponents like Robert Macfarlane, Michael McCarthy and Rob Cowen - to name a few.


Nature Mysticism is also becoming more important - though it may not be recognised - because of the growing awareness and concern for the state of our planet and its environment, the devastating loss of wildlife, and the destruction of natural habitat.


The reason why Nature Mysticism is not often recognised or identified is because it relies on an intuitive and emotive response to Nature.  May people sense it, and at different levels, but the full impact is hard to describe.  Indeed one the characteristics of Nature Mysticism is its inneffability.  


Walter Murray was aware of this difficulty and in A Sanctuary Planted he made the following observation: “There have been those few, those very few, who have pointed the way, but always we seem to have wandered off the track to become bemused in a maze of superficialities, and more recently, helplessly lost in a labyrinth of nomenclature and classification….As I sit in quiet contemplation in the Sanctuary among the company of trees I have gathered about me, I become aware of and feel the presence of life...I begin to feel the first wonder of a life so unlike my own. …While I am aware that that music is always there, and that only occasionally do I feel its full intensity, the experience of entering into the life of trees is preciously rare.  Find words to understand that experience I cannot, for how can one describe things in an entirely new world with the words of the old?  I can only struggle with analogy and simile, and even then perhaps only those who have had similar or near experiences will understand.’