Saturday, 23 January 2021
Tuesday, 19 January 2021
Cornish Folklore of the Wild Hunt
The Wild Hunt folklore motif occurs across Europe and typically involves a ghostly or supernatural group of hunters, horses and dogs passing in a wild pursuit, sometimes seen flying across the sky or leaping across the land. One of the earliest recorded stories of the wild hunt in Britain comes from Peterborough, was recorded during the mid-twelfth century where the ghostly hunt was described as having “huge and hideous hunters, who rode on black horses and on black he-goats, and their hounds were jet black, with eyes like saucers”
|Cheney's Hounds of St Teath|
In North Cornwall we have Squire Cheney and his hounds, who haunt the countryside around St Teath during wild and stormy weather, and nearby at Pencarrow, the folkloric memory of Lord John Arscott’s seventeenth century hunt, sees their ghostly forms ride out from Pencarrow House to the cliffs around Port Isaac, and is said to end with the spectral hounds, huntsmen and horses jumping to their demise from the clifftops. At Bodmin, Robert Hunt recorded a vague childhood memory of the wild tale of Hender the Huntsman of Lanhydrock, and there is a tale of the wild hunt which haunts the ancient bridge which spans the River Ottery at Yeolmbridge, a couple of miles to the north of Launceston.
Up on the high ground of Bodmin Moor we have Cornwall’s most famous demonic ghost, Jan Tregeagle, and his anguished howls can be heard as he is chased by the Devil’s Dandy Dogs , which snap mercilessly at his heels around the shores of the desolate Dozmary Pool. By day his spirit lurks within the waters, tasked with emptying the lake with a holed limpet shell. But it is by night that his true demonic force is felt, as he is chased across the tors and through the coombes with the fangs of the hell-hounds snapping at his heels. Here he makes sport for the devil himself, who leads the wild hunt across the desolate bogs and over the rocky tors. On particularly stormy night you can hear his cries, as his Tregeagle howls are carried on the wind as it whips through the valleys.
|Tregeagle and the Demonic Wild Hunt|
On the banks of the Lynher river, near St Germans comes the old tale of Dando and his Dogs. This pack of ghostly hounds, led by the spirit of local priest Dando who rides a magnificent horse, black as night, with eyes that gleam like the brightest stars.
Robert Hunt recorded the tale, and is reproduced below.
In the neighbourhood of the lovely village of St. Germans formerly lived a priest connected with the old priory church of this parish, whose life does not appear to have been quite consistent with his vows.
He lived the life of the traditional "jolly friar." He ate and drank of the best the land could give him, or money buy; and it is said that his indulgences extended far beyond the ordinary limits of good living. The priest Dando was, notwithstanding all his vices, a man liked by the people. He was good-natured, and therefore blind to many of their sins. Indeed, he threw a cloak over his own iniquities, which was inscribed "charity," and he freely forgave all those who came to his confessional.
As a man increases in years he becomes more deeply dyed with the polluted waters through which he may have waded. It rarely happens that an old sinner is ever a repentant one, until the decay of nature has reduced him to a state of second childhood. As long as health allows him to enjoy the sensualities of life, he continues to gratify his passions, regardless of the cost. He becomes more selfish, and his own gratification is the rule of his existence. So it has ever been, and so was it with Dando.
The sinful priest was a capital huntsman, and scoured the country far and near in pursuit of game, which was in those days abundant and varied over this well-wooded district. Dando, in the eagerness of the chase, paid no regard to any kind of property. Many a corn-field has been trampled down, and many a cottage garden destroyed by the horses and dogs which this impetuous hunter would lead unthinkingly over them. Curses deep, though not loud, would follow the old man, as even those who suffered by his excesses were still in fear of his priestly power.
Any man may sell his soul to the devil without going through the stereotyped process of signing a deed with his blood. Give up your soul to Satan's darling sins, and he will help you for a season, until he has his claims carefully wound around you, when the links are suddenly closed, and he seizes his victim, who has no power to resist.
|Miserichord in St Germans church, |
featuring Dando and his Dogs.
Dando worshipped the sensual gods which he had created, and his external worship of the God of truth became every year more and more a hypocritical lie. The devil looked carefully after his prize. Of course to catch a dignitary of the church was a thing to cause rejoicings amongst the lost; and Dando was carefully lured to the undoing of his soul Health and wealth were secured to him, and by-and-by the measure of his sins was full, and he was left the victim to self-indulgences--a doomed man. With increasing years, and the immunities he enjoyed, Dando became more reckless. Wine and wassail, a board groaning with dishes which stimulated the sated appetite and the company of both sexes of dissolute habit exhausted his nights His days were devoted to the pursuits of the field, and to maintain the required excitement ardent drinks were supplied him by his wicked companions. It mattered not to Dando--provided the day was an auspicious one, if the scent would lie on the ground--even on the Sabbath, horses and hounds were ordered out, and the priest would be seen in full cry.One Sabbath morning Dando and his riotous rout were hunting over the Earth estate; game was plenty, and sport first-rate. Exhausted with a long and eager run, Dando called for drink. He had already exhausted the flasks of the attendant hunters.
"Drink, I say; give me drink," he cried.
"Whence can we get it?" asked one of the gang.
"Go to hell for it, if you can't get it on Earth," said the priest, with a bitter laugh at his own joke on the Earth estate.
At the moment, a dashing hunter, who had mingled with the throng unobserved, came forward, and presented a richly-mounted flask to Dando, saying:
"Here is some choice liquor distilled in the establishment you speak of. It will warm and revive you, I'll warrant. Drink deep; friend, drink."
Dando drank deep; the flask appeared to cling to his lips. The stranger hunter looked on with a rejoicing yet malignant expression;--a wicked smile playing over an otherwise tranquil face.
By-and-by Dando fetched a deep sigh, and removed the flask, exclaiming: "That was a drink indeed. Do the gods drink such nectar?"
"Devils do," said the hunter.
"An they do, I wish I were one," said Dando, who now rocked to and fro in a state of thorough intoxication, "methinks the drink is very like--" The impious expression died upon his lips.
Looking round with a half-idiotic stare, Dando saw that his new friend had appropriated several head of game. Notwithstanding his stupid intoxication, his selfishness asserted its power, and he seized the game, exclaiming, in a guttural, half-smothered voice: "None of these are thine."
"What I catch I keep," said the hunter.
"They're mine," stammered Dando.
The hunter quietly bowed.
Dando's wrath burst at once into a burning flame, uncontrolled by reason. He rolled himself off his horse, and rushed, staggering as he went, at the steed of his unknown friend, uttering most frightful oaths and curses. The strange hunter's horse was a splendid creature, black as night, and its eyes gleamed like the brightest stars, with unnatural lustre. The horse was turned adroitly aside, and Dando fell to the earth with much force. The fall appeared to add to his fury, and he roared with rage. Aided by his attendants, he was speedily on his legs, and again at the side of the hunter, who shook with laughter, shaking the game in derision, and quietly uttering: "They're mine."
"I'll go to hell after them, but I'll get them from thee," shouted Dando.
The name Dando, seems to have mutated to Dondo within the Rame peninsula and along the south coast. Between Rame and the cliffs around Looe the wild hunt of The Dondo still haunt the lonely lanes, wild cliffs and dark woodlands. Between Halloween and Candlemas, they can be witnessed on dark stormy nights, and are traditionally seen as an eerie portent to a shipwreck. The Dondo also hunts the souls of the recently deceased and is sometimes seen disappearing into the cliffs between the Brawn and the Long Stone, to the east of Downderry. The Dondo’s ghostly wagon can also be heard rattling along the nearby lanes carrying the dead and collecting the odd lost traveller for good measure.
Wednesday, 23 December 2020
The Roseland peninsula is situated roughly midway along the southern Cornish shore and lies between the Carrick Roads to the west and Mevagissey Bay in the east. The district boasts pretty villages, sandy beaches and the small town of St Mawes, which lies at mouth of the Percuil River. The small port is named after St Maudez, a 6th Century monk, who was popular in Brittany. [i] He may have been Welsh or Irish and had one of his first settlements on the south coast of Cornwall. The towns holy well is named after the saint, and may have formed part of his hermitage, as local lore claims that Maudez created a chair in the rock above the well. [ii] The old well later became a wishing well, where pins were dropped into it to gain favours. [iii]
At the other end of the peninsula lies the village of Veryan, where in the 19th century, vicar and local land owner Jeremiah Trist built the famous round house sentinels that guard the main road in and out of the village. They were built between 1815 and 1818 and each have a thatched roof crowned by a cross. The round nature of each building was described as ‘preventing the devil from entering the village, as there are no corners to hide in’.
There is a curious tradition connected to Veryan parish church. It states that should the church clock strike on the Sunday morning during the singing of the hymn before the sermon, or before the ‘collect against perils’ at Evening Prayer, there will be a death in the parish before the following Sunday. [iv]
Just outside the village, around a mile or so lies Carne Beacon, a large Bronze Age barrow whose folkloric story lays claim to be the last resting place of King Gerennius. His body was brought across Gerrans Bay, from his castle at Dingerein, on a golden boat with silver oars, and both the boat, the oars and the king still wearing his crown were buried in the barrow.[v] Sadly, when Carne Beacon was excavated, only a cist with some cremated remains were discovered. Maybe they needed to dig deeper?
Nearby at Dingerein Castle hill fort lies the Mermaid’s Hole, a subterranean passage, which was said to link the castle to the sea.[vi] Possibly alluding to a lost tale or tradition. Folklorist Margaret Courtney had this to say about the legend of Dingerein and the Mermaid’s Hole:
His palace of Dingerein was in the neighbouring village of Gerrans. A subterranean passage, now known as Mermaid's Hole, one day discovered when ploughing a field, was supposed to have led from it to the sea.
There is a cave below Penarrin Point [vii] which is named after one of the most famous sons of Cornish folklore, Jan Tregeagle, and when storms rage across this part of the Roseland coast, it is blamed on Tregeagle’s spirit, which haunts the cave and conjures storms in league with the devil himself.
Just to the north of Veryan, lies the hamlet of Bessy Beneath, where oral tradition concludes that either a witch or highwaywoman was hanged and buried at the crossroads. However, the name may possibly be an English corruption of the Cornish bosveneth meaning a hillside dwelling [viii]
The ancient crossing at King Harry Ferry has an interesting tale associated with its founding. It was often repeated in days gone by that King Hal crossed the river at this spot with his queen on his back. The river here is several fathoms deep, so King Hal must have been a giant to be able to afford this great feat. Those that cross here today, will recall that just upstream of the ferry, mighty ocean-going ships are often laid up for repair, confirming how deep the river is at this particular crossing.
The old church at St Anthony, not far from the lighthouse, at the sea ward end of the peninsula, lies close to where the former priory of St Mary de Vale once stood. The site of the Priory is cursed. It was the last prior who laid the curse upon the site, after Henry VIII visited and told him that the priory and its surrounding lands days were numbered. The curse stated that the new owner and his family would all die prematurely. The new holder of the lands died soon after he took over, and so did all his family.[ix]
[i] The Saints of Cornwall by Catherine Rachel John, p 54
[ii] Ancient and Holy Wells by L & M Quiller Couch p 147
[iii] Ibid p 150
[iv] Cornish Feasts and Folklore by M A Courtney, p 102
[v] Popular Romances of the West of England by Robert Hunt, p 459
[vi] Cornish Feasts and Folklore by M A Courtney, p 103
[vii] The Folklore of Cornwall by Deane and Shaw p 84
[viii] A Concise Dictionary of Cornish Place-Names by Craig Weatherhill
[ix] Cornish Feasts and Folklore by M A Courtney, p 102
Friday, 11 December 2020
Thursday, 10 December 2020
The Folkloric Tradition of the Cornish Bunch
The Cornish Bunch is a lovely old custom, that allows us to easily make something authentic and creative for our homes at Christmas. Two withy hoops are fastened together at right angles, and these are covered with holly, ivy and other evergreens. Traditionally the foliage used would have been what was available to pick in the locality. A red candle is placed at the base and an apple is secured to hang down above it. These were hung from the ceiling on Winter Solstice eve, where just before midnight, the red candle was very carefully lit. Then those assembled would form a ring underneath the bush, and perform a dance to welcome the rebirth of the sun.
In much the same way as kissing under the Mistletoe, it is customary in Cornwall to kiss under the bunch, and by doing this, luck was procured for the coming New Year. For areas where Mistletoe doesn't naturally grow, and is hard to come by, this is a great alternative.
In the past, the Cornish Bunch was hung from the central beam of farmhouse kitchens across Cornwall, and was a centre piece to the seasonal celebrations. It was also sometimes hung in the largest window, where it was believed to be a good luck charm.
How to make a Cornish bunch
I usually dispense with the candle, as I do not consider it is safe to have a lighted candle within the foliage. But a battery powered candle or lantern would suffice. As an alternative, I tend to finish the base with red berries.
All of the examples illustrated were handmade by myself, and are hung in the kitchen of our farm cottage in the Camel Valley. I usually make the Bunch a few days before the Winter Solstice, and remove it on New Year's Day.
It is a great way to observe the rebirth of the Winter Solstice sun; and to celebrate one of the old folk-traditions of a Cornish Christmas.
Tuesday, 24 November 2020
You can read all about my investigation into the witchcraft, cunning-folk, and the mysterious and enigmatic Sheela-na-Gig in the north-east Essex village of Easthorpe in my article -
The Easthorpe Witches, Essex Folk-Magic and the Sheela-na-gig.
Now published in the brand new edition of The Enquiring Eye: Journal of the Museum of Witchcraft & Magic
Monday, 3 August 2020
Friday, 17 April 2020
You can find out more about this folk tune in Merv Davey's article in Lien Gwerin 4
Do you know where Cornwall's only triple hare carving can be viewed? Find out in Lien Gwerin 4
Friday, 3 January 2020
I recently had the pleasure of visiting Kresen Kernow, the brand new Cornish archive centre in Redruth, where I donated a copy of my Cornish folklore title, From Granite to Sea, which explores the folklore and traditions of Bodmin Moor and East Cornwall. It will now proudly sit amongst their other Cornish folklore titles which came before to inspire me.
Monday, 18 March 2019
On Sunday 26th May, I will be presenting material from my recent book From Granite to Sea as part of the Pathways to the Past 2019 event. £5 entry, (CASPN members free). 8pm in the Mayor's Parlour, Old Town Hall, St Just, Penzance, Cornwall. I will have signed copies of the book for sale.
Friday, 14 December 2018
Guizing and Wassailing on the harbour side, outside the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic. All are welcome to this free event, celebrating some of the traditional Cornish folk-traditions of Midwinter. With Merv and Alison Davey, Alex Langstone and a host of guizers, mast-beasts and musicians.
Friday, 28 September 2018
|L - R. Dave Hunt, Claire Capon and Ian Dawson|
|L - R. Jim Kirkwood, Ian Dawson, Alex Langstone and Dave Hunt|
We all had our own ideas and we quickly became an interesting, productive and creative hub. We also attracted some well known names to write for us, and due to the broad subjects we were covering, we had a broader appeal than some of the other counter-culture and earth mysteries magazines of the 1980s.
Many side projects were spawned. Psychic quests manifested, music was written, marsh-magic was conjured and art was created, both out in the landscape and in the studio. A good time was had by the liminal shore.
At the magazine's height, two successive, successful 'Esoterica' conferences were staged, plus a book launch for Bega and the Sacred Ring. It was the time where the seeds of future aspirations were being sown upon the shore of dreams.
The original team were: Dave Hunt, Ian Dawson, Jim Kirkwood, Claire Capon and Alex Langstone, with others joining us later, including Yuri Leitch as illustrator.
Look out for the hashtag #ASHMag30 on social media for more memorabilia.
|Artwork by Yuri Leitch, capturing the spirit of the Michael Line Rally, 1991|
Jim Kirkwood's striking cover art for ASH no. 9
Thursday, 26 April 2018
"The Folklore of Bodmin Moor and East Cornwall"
More dates to be added....
Please click on the posters for more details
June 2nd Museum of Witchcraft and Magic Library ~ Boscastle
Saturday, 24 March 2018
I am very happy to announce the brand new edition of Lien Gwerin ~ A Journal of Cornish Folklore.
Lien Gwerin 2 contains 52 pages of classic reprints and new interpretation of folklore from across the Duchy. The journal is illustrated throughout and has original articles from Alan M. Kent, Cheryl Straffon, Alex Langstone and Kathy Wallis.
£5 plus shipping.
See here, to pre-order http://spiritofalbionbooks.blogspot.co.uk/2018/03/lien-gwerin-2.html