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"Penda's Fen" by David Rudkin


jamie barter
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The main inspiration for the second part of the title of my thesis concerning the Blue School of Magick, Black and Blue Magick, etc., called “Metaphor & The Buried Crowley” [var. Metaphor, Media, Magick & the Buried Crowley]:

http://www.lashtal.com/pub_pdf/Metaphor.PDF

came from an unpublished neo-manichaean manuscript entitled “The Buried Jesus” that featured in a most truly unusual and thoroughly excellent 1974 instalment in an often unusual but excellent and intelligent (for a change for tv) groundbreaking series which used to be on BBC1 (British television) in the ’seventies called Play For Today – as Wiki succinctly and delightfully puts it, “the series as a whole was [therefore] viewed with suspicion by rightwing commentators and critics…”; at least two of them were banned, and the current right-wing Minister for Education Michael Gove has gone on record deflecting their artistic value by describing the plays as "exercises in viewer patronisation". 

The play involved was Penda’s Fen by David Rudkin, which was so named itself after Penda (d. 655), in effect the last Pagan king of England (or territorially Mercia, as it was called then, the main Anglo-Saxon sovereignty.)  Again according to the fount of knowledge Wiki,

In 2006, Vertigo magazine described Penda's Fen as “One of the great visionary works of English film”.

In 2011, Penda's Fen was chosen by Time Out London magazine as one of the 100 best British films. They described the play as:
"A multi-layered reading of contemporary society and its personal, social, sexual, psychic and metaphysical fault lines. Fusing Elgar’s “The Dream of Gerontius” with a heightened socialism of vibrantly localist empathy, and pagan belief systems with pre-Norman histories and a seriously committed – and prescient – ecological awareness, ‘Penda’s Fen’ is a unique and important statement."

I most thoroughly recommend viewing this if you ever have the chance to do so.
Norma N. Joy Conquest


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michaelclarke18
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hmmmm interesting - thanks for posting.


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jamie barter
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I am reliably told that PF may be currently available on youtube ref:  www.youtube.com/watch?v=5-YCj8OnEMo
although have not had the pleasure of trying to view it again myself.  Not having seen it for about 25 years I am very much trusting enchantment has not unfairly added greatly to the viewing & it will not disappoint when I choose to see it again.  In the meantime I would like to ask a favour though of anyone who does choose to watch it, if they could inform me if I have omitted or misinterpreted my memory of “The Buried Jesus” segments which I mentioned earlier, and if they could inform me if it is the same as recalled….

Ifenkyewmoskindly; God Save King Penda (the king, he dead: long live the king)
N. Joy


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michaelclarke18
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Indeed, a typescript called 'The Buried Jesus' does feature in PF. The subject appears to be about reconstructing the original teachings/gospels of Jesus which had been subsequently distorted and 'tampered with' to serve the purposes of the religious temples of the time following Jesus. In PF the apparent author is the Rev and father of the principle character.

The equivalent 'The Buried Crowley' would therefore relate to those groups after AC who have used and exploited his original work for their own enrichment, as opposed to following the original guidance. There are possibly a few candidates for that position, as far as the example of Crowley.

I did watch PF, but I found it slightly clunky and not especially focused. There are a few themes, but their relationship is rather loose. I liked the homo-erotic references, but like so many of the other themes in this play, they are never really developed less followed up and resolved. But that's just my view.


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jamie barter
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Thanks very much for your views on this Michael.  Your comments about the T/s ‘The Buried Jesus’ chime with my own recollections on the matter, although you raise an interesting correlation with a hypothetical actual ‘Buried Crowley’ equivalent which I hadn't considered myself – my use of it was strictly metaphorical without further extension into any literal parallelism.  As far as I recall it, the original in PF seemed to relate to reinterpreting the “original teachings/ gospels’ of J.C. in the context of a revisionist reading of the heresy of Manichaeism as being therefore “truer” and more in line with the suppressed originals.  This is possibly quite so, taking into account the Roman Catholic Church’s repression of all gnostic opposition & setting down in stone of the doctrine following Nicaea in 325 CE. 

I cannot think of an equivalent to “groups after [AC] who have used and exploited his original work for their own enrichment”, unless one adopts the cynical viewpoint (not in itself an untenable position) and assesses e.g., the COTO or various rogue AA groups in that context.  But I don’t think even these groups are trying to ‘pervert the original doctrine’ as it were, unless, again, one were to take the cynical stance over e.g. f/k revisions.

Everybody viewing the play (or reading the script, which is (was) also available) would experience it differently of course but I was sorry if your finding it clunky and not especially focused interfered with your viewing pleasure.  Personally I consider it is one of those productions where a repeated viewing can sometimes draw things into focus more; also, despite being nearly forty years old it does not seem to have particularly dated, certainly not insofar as the issues (e.g. ecological, social, psychohistorical, etc.) are concerned.  If anything, they are just as, if not more, relevant now than when it first appeared in 1974.  The matter of Anglo-Saxon/ (pre-)Celtic godforms and religion (paganism) has been much neglected in magic(k) in favour of Sumerian and Egyptian deities these days & is an area which I am sure will significantly benefit further research.  Amado ‘Crowley’ – in one of the more worthwhile & productive areas of his activity – explores it to some extent in the later volumes of his Liber Lucis although his exposition is unfortunately not as clear as it could be.  Also Bryan Branston’s academic The Lost Gods of England (1957) goes into the matter quite respectably for those interested in an immediate first overview of the subject, where his principle focus is to do with Woden-ism and the wyrd.

From an armchair,
N. Joy


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michaelclarke18
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As far as I recall it, the original in PF seemed to relate to reinterpreting the “original teachings/ gospels’ of J.C. in the context of a revisionist reading of the heresy of Manichaeism as being therefore “truer” and more in line with the suppressed originals.  This is possibly quite so, taking into account the Roman Catholic Church’s repression of all gnostic opposition & setting down in stone of the doctrine following Nicaea in 325 CE.

Good point. But there weren't any specifics given in PF, so it's difficult to know who exactly who had 'tampered with' the gospels and for what purpose. I guess that sort of thing is common, in terms of the interpretation of [ambiguous] religious verse but PF seemed to be indicating significant modification of the gospels - perhaps closer to what you have described above.

The relevance of 'The Buried Jesus' to the story could be to do with the fact that the central character turns out to be gay, and that homosexuality is generally regarded as sinful i.e. 'Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination'. Therefore, when the Rev states that the later gospels were tampered with by the religious temples, it offers his adopted son religious understanding, instead of condemnation.

The references which foxed me, were the composer Edgar Elgar (apparently bisexual?) and the Fen itself - the site of 'government experiments' of some kind.


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jamie barter
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"michaelclarke18" wrote:

As far as I recall it, the original in PF seemed to relate to reinterpreting the “original teachings/ gospels’ of J.C. in the context of a revisionist reading of the heresy of Manichaeism as being therefore “truer” and more in line with the suppressed originals.  This is possibly quite so, taking into account the Roman Catholic Church’s repression of all gnostic opposition & setting down in stone of the doctrine following Nicaea in 325 CE.

Good point. But there weren't any specifics given in PF, so it's difficult to know who exactly who had 'tampered with' the gospels and for what purpose.

Yes this is true (as far as I know!  Remember I last saw this about 23 years ago): but it seemed to be some priest (who were virtually the only people who could read or write) in & representing the ‘established Church’ in some form or other who may have been responsible – by implication, this must have been either the Roman Catholic or the fledgling Augustinian English Church founded under the so-called “Gregorian mission” around c.595-604 CE in England: the main point being that it was the dominant Christian faction at the time between the 4th and the 7th centuries CE.  As to ‘for what purpose’, this seems a little more obscure & left to the imagination a bit, although the tampering appeared to relate to the mutuality & interdependence of light & darkness in duality along the lines of yin-yang (even though in the end the light aspect or ‘divine spark’ is ultimately transcendent, in both Gnosticism and Christianity.)

"michaelclarke18" wrote:
I guess that sort of thing is common, in terms of the interpretation of [ambiguous] religious verse but PF seemed to be indicating significant modification of the gospels - perhaps closer to what you have described above.

The implication in PF seemed to be that there had been deliberate ‘significant modification’ intent – but although “tampering” was the word I think was used, in the course of transcribing & translating ancient texts the same resultant effect could equally happen ‘accidentally’ as well.

"michaelclarke18" wrote:
The relevance of 'The Buried Jesus' to the story could be to do with the fact that the central character turns out to be gay, and that homosexuality is generally regarded as sinful i.e. 'Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination'. Therefore, when the Rev states that the later gospels were tampered with by the religious temples, it offers his adopted son religious understanding, instead of condemnation.

This could be so, as there is a definite homosexual subtext to the play, although I am not sure it is going quite so far as to suggest that it was the fact that Jesus might have been gay which was buried!  Considering the year it was first transmitted (1974), this was quite advanced in itself for those times on peak-time transmission on mainstream telly on the principal channel out of only 3 terrestrial stations: when homosexual acts between consenting adults had themselves only been made legal then for six years.

"michaelclarke18" wrote:
The references which foxed me, were the composer Edgar Elgar (apparently bisexual?) and the Fen itself - the site of 'government experiments' of some kind.

I wish I could lay my hands on my copy of the typescript at the moment which might conceivably throw more light upon things (– I bought it just after the play was first transmitted & now it is changing hands on-eBay for £75!)  Elgar may or may not have been homosexual or bi – maybe someone else can clarify that one – but the key relevance of him to the play was that he ‘embodied’ in his music the presence of the ‘pagan’ spirit of the landscape, the Malvern hills around Worcestershire, which was also under Penda’s domain and in which his spirit or energy of his belief also lingered.  What some have regarded as Elgar’s masterpiece the ‘Enigma’ Variations and ‘The Dream of Gerontius’ - ostensibly extremely Catholic in subject matter - was also meant to have a (neo-)manichaeist sub-text, I think, in terms of what is meant to happen to everyone after they die and are released from the bonds – ‘the prison’ - of matter.

I agree that the Fen itself as the basis of ‘government experiments’ explored by the revolutionary (Arne was it?? I cannot recall his name) could have been gone into a bit more, as although well done as far as it went rather left the issue up in mid-air – for example, the incident of the reveller in the car who went for a piss and then came back suffering from mysterious (radiation?) burns could have been developed further.  I suppose if the concept had been made into a mini-series along the lines of Twin Peaks this sort of thing could have been answered & gone into a bit more fully, but since it was only a 90 minute play it could not try to explain everything, unfortunately, and left the remainder up to the viewer’s imagination (rather like The Prisoner, which maybe explained why a lot of the reviews of Play for Today/ The Wednesday Play at the time, apart from the handful which acknowledged its true value, consisted of baffled incomprehension.)

I am no tv critic but hope this may have helped further?!
N. Joy


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Jamie J Barter
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I thought I would just mention I'd just got around to viewing this again for the first time since about 1990, and I'm delighted to confirm that even though it is now over 40 years old it doesn't appear to have dated one iota and is as fresh and inspiring, affective and revelatory as when it was first transmitted. (Unfortunately) They don't seem to produce intelligent films for television of this superb calibre any more: in my opinion definitely up there as one of the finest and most thought-provoking plays to have ever been broadcast, as a profound exhumation of buried realities it is also subversive of the established order in a highly subtle manner. If you're at a loss for things to do over the forthcoming Yule, and have not come across this before and fancy watching something a little bit different, I unhesitatingly recommend this magnificent treat for your viewing delectation and assimilation. (Youtube access reference given above).

(Non) Co-operatively yours & wishing a happy festivities to all lashtalians:
N Joy


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