Matthews, John

   This article and List developed by Chris Thornborrow.

   John Matthews is the most prolific Arthurian writer of our time. He and his wife Caitlin have written some forty books, over a dozen of which pertain to the Arthurian legend in some way. He competes for a place with Geoffrey Ashe at the top of the general public popularity stakes. His work is innovative and imaginative and always readable but like Geoffrey Ashe, and indeed anyone who treats the Legends as more than just stories, he has received criticism from scholars.
   John Matthews' first book on the subject appears in a series of titles published by Thames and Hudson. These are coffee table books with soft covers that include many colour plates and deal with the subject at hand at a high level. Geoffrey Ashe wrote the book in the series on Arthur and Matthews the one on the Grail [1].
   All of Matthews' books draw heavily on the Grail Lore within the Arthurian Legend as well as some of that external to the Legends. Matthews is definitely a serious scholar of the Legends and is a member of both the amateur Pendragon Society and the more scholarly International Arthurian Society. Despite this, Matthews concentrates on more off beat aspects of Arthurian Legend. His leaning toward the Grail legend in his works is the first indication of this.
   The 'Elements' series [6],[7] epitomise his approach. In these books, the Arthurian Legend and the Grail Legend are presented in a clear manner with a broad overview of the whole field. The whole, though, is placed in a context of spiritual enlightenment. The legends are treated as allegorical for a spiritual search for the divine. More than even this though, Matthews leans toward the old celtic pagan religions as a source for Grail study. Characters in the legend become pagan heros, events become rituals and the mythos as a whole becomes the old pagan culture. These two themes of the Legends as spiritual allegories and the origins of such allegories as celtic pagan, pervade all of John's works, and indeed Caitlin's.
   Occasionally, Matthews' work goes beyond even the allegorical. He has presented a system of Tarot magic based around the Arthurian legend [9,10] and rituals to perform to invoke the archetypes of the Legends. Many of the works include `path-workings' (mental journies or adventures) to encourage interaction with the mythos [6,7,9,10,12]. One early book is even subtitled "Magic and the Use of Imagination" [3].
   Both for his spiritual ideas, and his more extreme ideas on magic and the Legends, Matthews has evidently received much criticism. In the introduction to his latest book [12] the following words appear :
   The objection may be raised that the Arthurian tradition is `just a story', to be enjoyed within its own parameters, and that to make imaginative and magical connections between ourselves and this tradition is to be self-deluded. Our answer to this accusation is that the mythic story is a mirror wherein human understanding and experience is reflected.
   He then goes on for a paragraph to defend what must be a besieged point of view. Yet, if these besiegers were to put down their mental and verbal weapons for long enough to experience Matthews' work, they would find a scholar who is not afraid to expand and play with the mythos but who makes it clear when he is playing.
   This is not a complete collection of Matthews' works on the subject. It does not include his recent work on the links between Arthurian Legend and Russian Legends, nor does it include forewords, articles, papers or general mythological works.

[1] Grail: Quest for the Eternal, (Paperback May 1, 1991 -ast pub Thames and Hudson, '81)
[2] The Grail Seeker's Companion: A Guide to the Grail Quest in the Aquarian Age (The Aquarian Press, '86) with Marian Green
The best overall beginners look at the Grail mythos today as well as at the development of the legend from the earliest texts. Highly recommended.
[3] At the Table of the Grail: No One Who Sets Forth on the Grail Quest Remains Unchanged (Arkana, '87) editor
A mixed bag with some interesting contributors. Lots of content but will disappoint scholars due to the imaginative content and will disappoint magicians as the magic referred to in the title is sparse.
[4] Warriors of Arthur (Blandford Press, '87) with Bob Stewart
[5] An Arthurian Reader: Selections from Arthurian Legend, Scholarships and Story (The Aquarian Press ,'88). A low quality mix of views on the Arthurian subject, including some new stories. One or two good contributors do not make this book worth purchasing.
[6] The Elements of the Arthurian Tradition, (Paperback - Nov 1, 1991), Hardcover (Element Books, '90) Excellent introduction to the use of the Legends as a spiritual code. Very readable and down to earth for such a work.
[7] The Elements of the Grail Tradition (1997, 1st pub Element Books, '90) Similar to above but more in depth information. Good work.
[8] Sir Gawain: Knight of the Goddess (The Aquarian Press, '90)
An important scholarly work about a much maligned knight. This is well researched and full of information. Not as easy to read as much of the rest of John's works.
[9] Arthurian Tarot Deck and Book Set (The Aquarian Press, '90)
with Caitlin Matthews and Miranda Gray. The tarot cards are quite plain but well drawn, but the deck is difficult to use. The accompanying book offers nothing new in terms of Arthurian study. For tarot enthusiasts only.
[10] Hallowquest: The Arthurian Tarot Course: A Tarot Journey Through the Arthurian World (The Aquarian Press, '90) with Caitlin Matthews. The follow-up work to [9]. It includes [9] almost word for word but provides much more detail and imagination. No knew study here though either.
[11] Taliesin: Shamanism and the Bardic Mysteries in Britain and Ireland (Mandala '91)
[12] Ladies of the Lake (The Aquarian Press, 92) with Caitlin Matthews. An interesting and much needed study of the women of the Arthurian Legend. It will not be ranked among John's best works but is very readable, imaginative and enjoyable. The best source for the feminine in the legend.

Some of the Other Books By John Matthews

King Arthur: Dark Age Warrior and Mythic Hero
The Arthurian Tradition, 1997
A Celtic Reader: Selections from Celtic Legend, Scholarship and Story
The Druid Source Book
Healing the Wounded King: Soul Work and the Quest for the Grail, 1997
Merlin: The Wise Man at the Court of King Arthur
Mystic Grail
Secret Camelot: The Lost Legends of King Arthur
The Song of Taliesin: Stories and Poems from the Books of Broceliande, John Matthews, Stuart Littlejohn
Sources of the Grail
Celtic Totem Animals, John Matthews (Hardcover - May 2002)

Other Books With Caitlin Matthews

The Encyclopaedia of Celtic Myth and Legend : A Definitive Sourcebook of Magic, Vision, and Lore, John Matthews, Caitlin Matthews (Hardcover - March 1, 2004)
The Encyclopaedia of Celtic Wisdom: The Celtic Shaman's Sourcebook, Caitlin Matthews, John Matthews (Hardcover - December 1, 1994)
The Summer Solstice, John Matthews, Caitlin Matthews (Hardcover - April 26, 2002)
Taliesin: The Last Celtic Shaman, John Matthews, Caitlin Matthews (Paperback - April 30, 2002)
Walkers Between the Worlds: The Western Mysteries from Shaman to Magus by Caitlin Matthews, John Matthews (Paperback)
The Winter Solstice: The Sacred Traditions of Christmas by John Matthews, Caitlin Matthews (Paperback)

Books by Caitlin Matthews
King Arthur and the Goddess of the Land: The Divine Feminine in the Mabinogion
Mabon and the Guardians of Celtic Britain: Hero Myths in the Mabinogion