Signed copies of two of Neil's previous books (Sacred Manner I Live: Native American Wisdom and A Viking Ship-Burial on the Volga) plus a signed first edition hardback, the e-book and your name in the back of the book
Your place on a tour given by Neil of the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, talking about myth-related items in the collection. Plus a signed first edition hardback, the e-book and your name in the back of the book
A hand-signed original print by Lyuben Dimanov (Bulgarian, 1933- ) illustrating the Metamorphoses of Ovid plus a signed first edition hardback, the e-book and your name in the back of the book Numbers strictly limited
Come to lunch at Neil's home in West Oxfordshire, with the opportunity to browse his very extensive myth and folklore library. Plus a signed first edition hardback, the e-book and your name in the back of the book
Neil will visit your institution or society (within 60 miles of Oxford) to speak about myths and the book, plus ten signed first edition hardbacks (shipped together - only pay shipping once), ten e-books and ten names in the back of the book
We deliver to most countries worldwide. Enter your delivery address during checkout and we'll display the shipping cost when we know where to send your book.
How do supporter names work?
Every person who pledges to help to make a book gets their name included in a supporter section as a thank you as long as they pledge before the list closing deadline. If you want to add a different name, this can be changed in your account after you have completed your pledge.
Will the book and rewards that I receive look the same as the images shown on the Unbound website?
Book designs, cover and other images are for illustrative purposes and may differ from final design.
Still have a question? Visit our Help Centre to find out more.
“Absolutely fascinating. I think you've touched on so many absorbing and important topics here that it will be wonderful to read the whole thing. I can hardly think of anything more valuable, and I salute you for having the ambition to take it on.” Philip Pullman
"Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?”
In The Hidden Matrix, I will explore the world's mythology for answers to these perennial questions posed by Paul Gauguin. The Hidden Matrix is a very ambitious book, examining the nature, meaning, and importance of myth throughout the world and all through human history. And I want to link all that in with neuroscience, and evolutionary psychology, and anthropology, and religion. I want, in fact, to explain why myth has been and remains so crucially important to us.
I've been obsessed by myth since childhood. It seems to me that the need to create myths is a deeply rooted element of human consciousness. With one curious exception in the Amazon, every human culture that we know of has had its myths, its gods and goddesses, its superhuman heroes and heroines, and the richness of that mythology mirrors and expresses the essential nature and values of that culture.
To explore the great treasure chest of the world’s mythologies is to access a vast database of knowledge and creative thinking, and to unlock the secrets of our own minds. Myth is the name we give the metaphors through which we reconcile the world we see with the world we perceive. Myths are mental structures before they are narratives; concepts first, stories second. They are, in effect, tools, as real and as useful as a hand-axe or a computer.
Myths offer us stories and metaphors of how the world was created, and how it will end, life and love and death and everything in between - good and evil, moral ambiguity, the relationship between the visible world and the world of the spirits, the nature of divinity, ecology and civilisation and the meaning of time. Essentially, each society’s myths are a pattern-book for every aspect of that society’s culture. If we were imaginative enough, we could recreate the culture from the myths.
Mythology is the hidden matrix of the human mind, a deep structure hard-wired into the human brain. I believe that language, mythology, and religion evolved together, necessarily intertwined, and that the metaphorical thinking that shapes both myth and speech is the ground of all human culture. The territory of myth is also the territory of the poetic imagination. In a sense, this is a book about the poetics of belief, and how that poetry has shaped and been shaped by the innate human need for stories and storytelling.
Let me take you with me every step of the way on my journey into the mythworld.
Neil Philip's passion for mythology was kindled as a child and has remained key to his thinking throughout his life. He has published a number of books on the subject, including Mythology (with Philip Wilkinson), Annotated Myths and Legends, Eyewitness Mythology, and The Illustrated Book of Myths (all Dorling Kindersley), Mythology of the World (Kingfisher), Myths in Minutes (Quercus), The Great Mystery: Myths of Native America (Clarion), and Odin's Family: Myths of the Vikings (Orchard). Neil's first book, A Fine Anger: A Critical Introduction to the Work of Alan Garner, was published in 1981, and he is currently working on an updated edition of this. Other books include The Cinderella Story, The Penguin Book of English Folktales, The Penguin Book of Scottish Folktales, translations of Perrault, Andersen, and Grimm, the novel The Tale of Sir Gawain, and three books of poetry. He is also the editor of The New Oxford Book of Children's Verse. Among a number of awards and honours, Neil's book Horse Hooves and Chicken Feet: Mexican Folktales won the Aesop Award of the American Folklore Society. Neil is married to the artist Emma Bradford. They live in the Cotswolds with two cats. Outside myth, folklore, and poetry, Neil's chief interests lie in the visual arts and the pleasures of friendship.
THE THREE GREAT QUESTIONS
Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?
The beast’s massive ochre shoulders were hunched in readiness to charge.
Its eye, limned with charcoal, still glimmered with inner life, after the
passage of perhaps 25,000 years.
It was a bison. All around it, living, dying, were other creatures. Horses,
red deer, boar. And the outline of a human hand upon the wall.
In that Ice Age bison in the caves of Altamira in northern Spain, I
recognised an essential life force. It was the summer of 1969, and I was
fourteen years old.
This was an experience of a different order to any other. One of those
experiences you seal up inside yourself, against the day you might hope to
understand them. I closed my eyes and let the images shimmer on the back of
In descending into the magically-charged atmosphere of Altamira, I trod in
the footsteps of an Ice Age shaman on a vision quest, seeking in the
stillness and darkness to merge into the spirit world.
When cave paintings such as those at Altamira and Lascaux were first
discovered in the late nineteenth century, they were dismissed as obvious
hoaxes. Clearly such potent works of art were beyond the mental or
aesthetic capabilities of the primitive hunter-gatherers of the Upper
But they were not hoaxes. Instead, they offer us a direct link to the
intellectual and spiritual world of our earliest ancestors. Partly through
comparison with cultures such as that of the San Bushmen of the Kalahari,
and partly through painstaking enquiry into the evolution of the mind, we
can, with our twenty-first century minds, even begin to decode the meaning
and importance of these extraordinary artworks.
The earliest rock art found, in the Chauvet Cave, dates back around 32,000
years. The modern humans of western Europe in the Upper Palaeolithic (who
lived from about 45,000 to about 10,000 years ago, and created the
paintings in the Chauvet Cave, Lascaux, and Altamira) demonstrate a command
of abstract thinking, symbolic behaviour, and image-making that strongly
suggest that what we think of as human consciousness (the sense of an “I”
who is in control of an individual’s private mindspace) had already emerged
in the period of the Middle to Upper Palaeolithic transition, between
45,000 and 35,000 years ago. This emerging consciousness was the crucible
in which culture, art, language, and religion were alchemised into what we
know as mythology.
Although the cave paintings are stunningly beautiful (Picasso observed
simply, “After Altamira, all is decadence”), the motive for creating them
was primarily religious rather than aesthetic. That is, they were painted
not to be admired, but to be used, in shamanic rituals of transformation
and ecstasy. The paintings themselves, representing either spirit animals
or shamans transformed into animals, appear to be at least in part attempts
to interpret the involuntary “back-of-the-retina” patterns known as
entoptic phenomena, such as dots, grids, zigzags, and meanders. These
patterns are as familiar now as they were in the Ice Age. Asserting
themselves in the twilight zone between wakefulness and sleep, or between
vision and hallucination, they may be the wellspring of mankind’s earliest
In the altered states of consciousness sought by the shaman, and the mind’s
capacity for hallucination, lie the origins of all religious experience. In
caves such as Altamira, the shamans of the Ice Age penetrated into the
realm of the spirits.
My own descent into the caves of Altamira affected me deeply. It was, I
know now, a sense of the sacred that lit the flame within me.
I am writing these words on a limestone ridge in the Cotswolds, England,
looking down the Wychwood valley; a valley that itself was once at the
bottom of the ocean. A spring that rises in my garden is streaming down to
join the river Evenlode, and eventually the Thames. Dotted through the
landscape are fragmentary patches of ancient woodland, part of the original
This landscape—its streams, its rivers, its groves, its valleys, its
hills—was once sacred to the Dobunni, the British tribe who built their
hillfort on this ridge in the Iron Age, and who were later known as the
Hwicce. The name Wychwood comes from Hwicce, and it means “forest of the
sacred vessel”; the earlier name Dobunni means something like “the people
of the goddess of the sacred vessel”.
That sacred vessel was simultaneously the valley itself, a Grail-like
cauldron of plenty, and the womb of the Great Goddess.
The myth world surrounds and supports me, just as it did in Altamira.
The story of Faust, or Dr Faustus, selling his soul to the Devil has been told many times, notably by Christopher Marlowe and by Goethe. The figure of Faust is supposed to be based on a real-life scholar, Johann Georg Faust (c.1480-1540), but the idea is widespread. The concept of Souls Saved from the Devil takes up types 1170-1199 in Uther’s Types of International Folktales.
3rd January 2023Happy New Folktales
Happy New Year, one and all. Some of you might be interested in this interview I did with the excellent Folklore Podcast:
I trust that link will work, but if not, it's easily googled.
23rd December 2022Lost in Narnia
Well, it is that time of year again, of Happy Hanukkah, Blessed Midwinter, Merry Christmas, and all the rest of the nice things that can be wished. I particularly wish all my friends and supporters a happy, healthy, creative and fulfilled New Year. 2022 has been, to be honest, an awful year for me, and I am very much hoping things will look up in 2023.
The article I am linking to is one I wrote…
18th October 2022English Folktales Lost & Found
On Tuesday 11 October, The Watkins Book of English Folktales was published, a re-vamping of a book first published 30 years ago as The Penguin Book of English Folktales. The first edition vanished into the void; this new one, helped by a Neil Gaiman foreword and a marvellously supportive publisher, is getting rapturous acclaim. I was supposed to be giving a talk at the Bodleian Library in Oxford on…
18th September 2022Divine kingship?
Ever since the death of Queen Elizabeth II, it has been evident how completely British attitudes to the Royal Family are suffused with magical thinking. The newspapers have been full of omens and portents, while hundreds of thousands of pilgrims have queued for 14 hours to walk past the Queen's closed coffin, most looking rigidly ahead, not even glancing at the coffin itself, as if it were not for…
19th July 2022Sentient landscape?
Well, dear friends and subscribers, after six months of feeling rotten and getting very little done, I seem to have turned a corner. So I was able to fulfil my commitment to give a talk to the Keble College/University of Oxford conference organised by Diane Purkiss last week. The title of the talk was "All that he owned": Alan Garner and the Sentient Landscape. Many of you will know of my longterm…
20th April 2022Simulated worlds
Friends and supporters – sorry to have left so long between updates. I haven’t been very well so far this year, which has meant the list of undone and half-done things has grown and grown! One of the things I have been amusing myself with while under par has been making some versions, for my own pleasure, of poems by Rilke. I’ve done half a dozen of these in the past, but never tackled the Duino Elegies…
21st November 2021Light and Air
“Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.”
So opens a famous poem by Robert Frost, “Fire and Ice”. Mythologies, as well as being concerned with the mysteries of Creation, are also vehicles for mankind’s theories about Destruction. The end of all things in Norse myth is heralded by the dreaded fimbul-winter: “there will be a wind-age and a wolf-age before the world is wrecked…
23rd October 2020Seth and the Seed Goddess (or where did a week go?)
Sorry I haven’t been posting updates—I have been working steadily but slowly on the book, as best as my current very trying circumstances allow. The short piece below about the Ancient Egyptian myth of Seth and the Seed Goddess, part of a much larger argument about sex and myth, has taken me all week to write. This is partly because every single source I consulted told me completely different things…
12th June 2020Adventure in the Land of Day
I've just written a chapter on underworld journeys and the like, of which this is an excerpt. I see that the longer quotes, though separated by line spaces, are no longer indented, but I hope it's still clear what's a quote and what's not. I also hope you are all coping with this strange in-between time of lockdown.
Knud Rasmussen’s Intellectual Culture of the Iglulik Eskimos examines…
24th February 2020Animals that become human, humans that become animals
We are used to thinking of humans and other animals as two mutually exclusive categories. The idea that the human-animal barrier can be breached, and that one category of being can transform into the other, survives only in the idea of the werewolf, and the idea of the werewolf is a literary and filmic device rather than a living belief.
Yet in many mythologies, especially those of peoples…
18th September 2019The Afterlife Journey
Making preparations this week for the funeral of my father-in-law, who has passed away at the age of 99, I’ve naturally been thinking about ideas of death and the afterlife in other cultures. Not just the great texts such as the Bardo Thodol or the Book of Coming Forth By Day, respectively known as the Tibetan and Egyptian Books of the Dead, but also mysterious items such as the gold plates buried…
16th August 2019Thoughts about the Muggletonians
When the philosophical or religious foundation of a mythology is under severe stress, either from reform or attack from within, from the pressures of war, famine, or plague, or from usurpation by a rival mythology, that mythology can either implode or explode. Myth erupts into everyday life with powerful forces of creation and destruction.
This is what happened in the Amarna period in Ancient…
2nd July 2019Lived Religion
It’s very easy when writing about a mythology to present it as a coherent monolithic belief system. I try to be constantly alert to the flexibility of myth, the way it mutates and transforms, not just over time but in the perception of different groups and different individuals.
A new book, Myth, Materiality and Lived Religion in Merovingian and Viking Scandinavia (ed. Wikström af Edholm et.…
15th April 2019A Man of Two Mythologies
In the summers of 1890 and 1891, anthropologist Franz Boas was researching the Salishan peoples of Washington and Oregon. Among “the once powerful tribes of the Clatsop and Chinook”, he could find only three people who partially remembered the Clatsop language and none who remembered the myths, and only two people, Charles Cultee (Q¡Eltē’) and Catherine, who could still speak Chinook. Even they in…
15th January 2019Navajo rugs
Happy New Year, everyone. Here are a few thoughts about Navajo rugs and their mythological significance, indebted to an excellent book Navajo Weaving Way by Noël Bennett and Tiana Bighorse.
Diné (Navajo) life is founded on a simple philosophical principle: sa’ah naagháí bik’eh hózhóón; in English, “the beauty of life created by the application of teachings that work.” In action, this principle…
12th December 2018The Ritual Year
Myth establishes ties of mutual obligation between mankind and the gods, establishes cultural cohesion, and shapes the cycle of the year.
The social function of myth is to bind a society together, to act as a charter for its laws and customs, and to embed a culture in its environment. The ritual year is not an abstraction, but an armature on which our lives are sculpted. Even the days of our week…
15th November 2018Some Thoughts on Myth and Science
Sorry for the long delay between Unbound updates - I've been working so hard on the book, and the tweets and what-have-you, I realise I have been short-changing my long-suffering subscribers. So here are some thoughts on myth and science. I expect the section on Isaac Luria's mythological "big bang" will evolve, as a new book on his kabbalistic thought arrived just this morning, and a translation…
12th August 2018Christianity and Paganism
While it has proved possible for Christianity in a few cases to absorb the energies and mould itself to the mental patterns of existing belief-structures, as with the Zinacantecs in Mexico or the Nuxalk in British Columbia, more usually Christianization has required a complete break with the previous “pagan” religion. The anthropologist Raymond Firth was able to observe this process up close with…
20th June 2018Maps of Meaning?
A controversial book by psychologist Jordan B. Peterson, Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief, has brought back into vogue the ideas about mythology as embodying universal mental archetypes first put forward by Carl Jung, and promulgated by Joseph Campbell. Now, I don’t want to get into a whole review of Maps of Meaning, except to say that I fundamentally disagree with this approach, and any…
10th May 2018A Cultural Revolution in Ancient Egypt
The social function of myth is to bind a society together, to act as a charter for its laws and customs, and to embed a culture in its environment. The advantage of myth in performing this role lies in its innate flexibility. Societies and cultures develop and change, sometimes slowly, sometimes in precipitous leaps. Myth is supple enough to accommodate even calamitous change and gloss it over with…
17th April 2018The Father of All Trees
One of the most interesting aspects of living mythological systems is how flexible and adaptable they are, easily able to accomodate new realities. I've just come across a charming example of this in The Faith of a Coast Salish Indian by Diamond Jenness. Published in 1955 as Anthropology in British Columbia Memoir no. 3, this monograph was based on interviews in 1936 with "Old Pierre, a Katzie man…
29th March 2018Belief Systems
I think it fair to describe mythologies as belief systems. They are flexible and subject to change both over time and between communities and even individuals, but they contain within themselves a whole world view, coherent and complete in itself.
But are different mythologies incompatible with each other? The answer, surprisingly, is no. One mythology can simply swallow another whole…
28th February 2018Scoundrel of the Sun
Actions that breach a society's sense of morality may cause outrage or amusement; actions that undermine a society's sense of mythology may cause it to doubt its own validity. When the Emperor Caligula fell in love with his horse Incitatus, it was seen as an eccentric joke; distasteful, but nothing to get worried about. But when in CE220, the Emperor born Varius Avitus Bassianus married the Vestal…
19th February 2018Mythtelling
Because we mostly encounter myths as written texts, we are inclined to regard them as essentially narratives made out of words. But of course the printed text on the page radically misrepresents the essential nature of mythtelling. Even if a myth is delivered as an oral narrative, it is a spoken text, and dependent on all kinds of variables to do with audience, context, purpose, and the teller themselves…
11th February 2018Greek city-states and emplaced myth
The foundation myths of city-states were crucial to the morale of the citizens, binding patriotism and common interest with a thread of divine authority. When we think of the mythology of the ancient Greeks, we think of a pantheon of gods and a sequence of stories about them. But to the Greeks themselves, myth was intensely local. Pausanias's Guide to Greece chronicles all kinds of local cults, from…
7th February 2018THE HIDDEN MATRIX?
In 1734, in his Principles of a New Science, Giambattista Vico launched the search for a universal “language of the mind”. This quest was pursued in the 20th century by scholars of linguistics, such as Noam Chomsky. When I conceived this book, my idea of myth as “the hidden matrix” of the human mind was consciously modelled on Chomsky’s notion of universal grammar, an inbuilt linguistic instinct shared…
6th February 2018Myth and the Blues
To define myth in a single sentence is as foolhardy as to attempt to define poetry—which doesn’t, of course, stop people trying. The definition of myth that has always rung truest for me is that of the filmmaker and anthropologist Maya Deren.
In the 1940s, Maya Deren plunged headfirst into the whirlpool of Haitian voodoo, in an attempt to understand myth from the inside. When she re-emerged—having…
These people are helping to fund The Hidden Matrix: Myth and the Human Mind.
Neil I have been fascinated by Alan Garner's writing since I lived at Whisterfield as a child. in your update you say the text of your recent Garner lecture is available on request; how may I request it? Looking forward to publication of The Hidden Matrix!
Hi Helen, Took me a while to find where your question was! If you email me on firstname.lastname@example.org I will send you the Garner talk.
Neil I have long had an interest in works of Alan Garner; how may I request the full text of your recent talk AG and the Sentient Landscape Helen Smith
Hi Helen, I tried to answer this but I don't think the reply "took". Please email me on email@example.com and I will send you the talk.