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Macdiarmid, D. (1977). Layard, John. A Celtic quest. Zürich, Spring Publications, 1975. Pp. 254. £3.20.. J. Anal. Psychol., 22(1):76-77.

(1977). Journal of Analytical Psychology, 22(1):76-77

Layard, John. A Celtic quest. Zürich, Spring Publications, 1975. Pp. 254. £3.20.

Review by:
D. Macdiarmid

Edited by:
Kenneth Lambert

In analysis with John Layard I became used to him telling me what I should have done in my dreams. When I described grappling with a hag-like creature he responded instantly and confidently, ‘You should have killed her.’ Now, from this posthumously published book, I know much more of what was at the back of his mind when he said that.

It is a study of the Mabinogion story of Culhwch: of his birth in a pig-run, of his two mothers, and of how King Arthur helped him perform the impossible tasks necessary to win his bride—including a vast complex boar-hunt to get a comb, razor and shears carried between the ears of one of the boars, and the infliction of cruel and unusual deaths on the bride's father and, as a climax to the tasks, on the Black Witch (‘the hag whose jealous greed is the worst thing on earth, but whose blood is the most precious’). Layard amplifies and elucidates the bizarre detail and plot of the tale as a marvellously rich expression of central patterns of the psyche.

What he writes carries on from earlier publications of his such as The incest taboo and the Virgin archetype of 1945 and the paper on boar sacrifice in the very first issue of this Journal in 1955. He brings to his appreciation of the myth his unique profound familiarity with certain primitive people, their culture and their psychology, as well as the insights won in his own uniquely troubled life. So the reader may repeatedly glimpse patterns of resolution of what he recognizes as the deepest passions and fears of his own heart, patterns of resolution that were exemplary to another culture than ours, at another time.

I say ‘glimpse’, speaking for myself, for I did not find the book easy reading.

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