Has Old Father Thames Lost His Virility? | Sacred Rivers


Dsc00321Last night I went to hear Peter Ackroyd speak on the South Bank (pictured here), ostensibly about his new book: Thames, Sacred River. It was a fine lecture on the thread of the sacred throughout the history of humanity’s interaction with London’s river, followed by a hilarious Q&A led by the Times’ Literary Editor, who had a torrid time trying to get anything much out of the old curmudgeon.

One recurring theme was the votive offerings that have been dug up from the Thames, covering pretty much every age for millennia. In more recent times churches have lined its banks, and one interesting observation by Ackroyd was the number of them dedicated to the Virgin Mary. There seems no rhyme or reason to this – and yet over the river’s 240 mile passage there are over 50 churches given that name. Ackroyd connected this with the deeper history of the river as a place for fertility rituals: women would come to bathe in the Thames’ waters before trying to conceive.

I got a brief chance to speak with him afterwards. I was interested in the idea of the sacred – in this case a river – as places for us to throw our shit. The votive offerings and the general detritus of society have emptied themselves into the Thames for so long, and I wondered if he thought the river would at some point call a halt and begin to fight back. “Of course not,” he growled, “the Thames is cleaner now than its ever been.”

Precisely. With its concreted banks and strict laws and worries about health and safety, the waters pass through the city now with no interruption. Nobody bathes, nobody enters the water. We pass over it atop buses and gaze down at the greying ripples. Our detachment from this river that has fed us and led us in worship for thousands of years, and carried off our shit, is now almost total.

The river-spirit flows through the centre of our capital in a well defended channel, leaving us dry. We cannot be fertilized by it now. We have, to corrupt Jung, purified ‘Old Father Thames’ to the point of sterility. Which makes me want to head to Putney and the boat houses, and have a swim.


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One response to “Has Old Father Thames Lost His Virility? | Sacred Rivers”

  1. Just when I give up on these Christians, you pull something like this outta yer arse. Nice one Kester.
    I’m glad I’m not the only one who lives like this; in blissful awareness of how desecrated/sacred this world is.
    I had a wonderful Guiness and a killer chilli steak roll in Camden Lock earlier this year. Even saw a Banksy. Fantastic.