In the mid-1990's, I studied with the great Mortimer Chambers (Harvard and Oxford) at UCLA. His area of speciality is Classical Greece and the historian Thucydides (460 – 395 BCE). In his class, Herodotus (484 - 425 BCE), although approximately contemporaneous with the slightly younger historian, got short shrift; despite the fact that Herodotus predates Thucydides and is acclaimed as the first historian, the quasi-mythical sources for Herodotus' The Histories allow champions of Thucydides (and Chambers is one) to claim the latter as the first modern historian.

It should be noted, however, that Herodutus also has his champions in the modernity stakes and in addition to his paternal role in the birth of history he is also acclaimed as the father of comparative anthropology and ethnography. You pay your money and you take your choice: but what all this has meant for me is that I missed the bit in Herodutus about the Tin Islands, the first mention of Britain in the classical world.

Herodotus located the Tin Islands, or Casterides, beyond the Pillars of Hercules (now the Straits of Gibralter) and was referring specifically to Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. A hundred years after Herodotus, Aristotle, writing in De Mundo, notes that "the ocean flows round the earth, and in it are two very large islands called Albion (Britain) and Ierne (Ireland)".

Albion, you may remember, for a brief historical moment (1579), was destined to be the name of what we now call California (An Island on the Land). More precisely, it was to be named Nueva Albion - long before a portion of the continent's Atlantic coast was dubbed New England (1620).

But in the name Albion there is also a connection to a vision of Britain that pre-dates the Roman occupation and the establishment of Christian monotheism where the land is peopled with fairies, Druids and other dabblers in occult pantheism. This is a living tradition, burnished from time to time by fey Romantics. It is the tradition that accounts for this writer's accretion of ancient references and cosmic intimations: I am a prisoner of my coming of age in England in the 1960's - now California is the land upon which I cast the shadow of Casterides, of the Tin Islands, of Albion, the faerie kingdom.

It is not that this country doesn't have its share of Romantics. I'll get to that in a moment. It's just that living in Surrey in my late adolescence I developed a communion with the local countryside that still colors my view of the natural world: it was the age of paisley - need I say more?

Well yes, there was also that fascination with the occult that began with the pulp-fiction of Dennis Wheatley and progressed to a study of Aleister Crowley. There was a copy of the The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion, James George Frazer, London, 1890, in my high school library and 'the good bits' - those dealing with the dark arts - were well thumbed.

Enchantment with the occult is, after all, a mutant form of romanticism, and many of the great Romantic artists have come under its spell, from Coleridge, William Morris and W.B.Yeats to that great post-romantic, William S. Burroughs. The eighteenth and nineteenth century English nature-worshiping verse of Blake, Byron, Coleridge, Clare, Keats, Wordsworth, and Shelley has its roots in a spiritual connection with the universal spirit - which emanates from the natural world. The Transcendalists, most famously, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman, and Emily Dickinson, among many others, used the ungainly, rebarbative word 'Over-soul', which no one could mistake for fey romanticism, in explaining the mechanism by which God pervades nature (and man); yet the pantheistic demiurge remained fully intact.

Emerson was emphatic in his insistence that God is revealed through Nature, but his was a transcendant God - he was a theist rather than a pantheist. Whitman was of the belief that Nature is God, not just his handiwork; not just a medium for revelation as it was for Emerson. The Transcendentalists all believed themselves to be inspired by the Divine soul - Emerson's Over-soul - but its source remained a point of debate: was it immanent in the world (the Pantheist position) or was it transcendant, theistic - the deity behind the curtain of the material world?

The Romantic position has usually hewed close to the doctrine of Pantheism where the world is numinous - possessed of an all encompassing spirit existing in a sacred Universe. Whitman was confident that there was no personal, anthropomorphic or creator god: Nature was all. But the Transcendentalists were an eclectic bunch - they drew on Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity as well as Greek thought: Xenophanes and Heraclitus vie as the first Pantheist philosophers and predate our battling Historians by a century or more.

This eclecticism endeared Emerson to the Theosophists. Madame Blavatsky and Annie Besant (Wolf Oak) quoted him with approval and regarded him as a kindred spirit: they recognized a fellow seeker. Quite what Emerson would have made of Blavatsky's Masters of the Ancient Wisdom or Mahatmas is another matter. But Theosophists and Transcendentalists share a similar conception of God: Emerson's Over-soul is not so different from Blavatsky's Universal Divine Principle. However, the time and space travel undertaken by Besant, Blavatsky and Rudolf Steiner to meet with the Masters across the astral plane, tips Theosophy well into the realm of the occult.

Although Ojai houses one of the greatest occult libraries in the world, the Krotona Institute, and erstwhile Ojai stalwarts Krishnamurti and Annie Besant provide a direct link back to Madame Blavatsky, a simple Romantic love of Nature is probably more characteristic of the town's residents than an adherence to this occult tradition. While I might be tempted to make the case that the Chumash 'antap (Space and Practice II) were but a New World manifestation of the Druidic priestly class that held sway over Celtic Britain, the joy I take in nature is, most often, similarly unclouded by thoughts of the esoteric.

For example: there really is nothing like a shadowy oak grove of a sudden splashed with sunlight - the added frisson of a spiritual connection with some sort of universal energy (as we now tend to characterize Over-Soul) can make it a sublime experience. These revelations are one of the reasons I hang around in the chaparral and the oak meadowlands of Upper Ojai - it is my attempt at communion with nature in Nueva Albion.