Friday, 7 September 2007

Chesca Potter interview, 1992

It is with great pleasure that I can now re-publish an interview that ASH Magazine co-editor Dave Hunt produced for the Summer 1992 edition of the magazine. The interview is now 15 years old, so please bear this in mind when reading it! Chesca's Wild Wood Tarot is now unfortunately out of print but an online guide is available here: Green Wood tarot

This, the second in our occasional series of interviews with personalities within the esoteric scene takes us to meet one of the countries foremost "Magical Artists". Dave Hunt is the man with the questions.

Dave: When and how did you become involved in the esoteric?

Chesca: I was always mystically minded, but a deeper interest started about 10 years ago. Three specific occasions come to mind.

1. When I moved to Kings Cross and started having visions of a huge green and gold Goddess called Elen, standing over St Pancras old church. I spent years trying to understand what or who I had seen, whilst researching the lost mythology of London, some of which is written up in the book I edited "Legendary London" and in my booklet "Mysterious Kings Cross".

2. Whilst I was still living in Lancaster, I took a book out of the Library called "The Silbury Treasure" by Michael Dames. I can honestly say that book changed my life, not only did I rush down to Avebury and Silbury but it changed my way of looking at nature. I seemed to be able to tap into a sort of memory at some ancient places and interact with them, now in the present. Sometimes I see places with a sort of x-ray history, seeing who or what had been "worshipped" there in prehistoric times and how succeeding cultures changes and adapted their "worship" depending on their cultural belief system.

3. The third early influence for me was hearing about the Green Stone saga from Andrew Collins. I learned a lot from him, about the interaction between the physical world and the psychic.

Dave: What are your personal beliefs?

Chesca: I don't really know how to answer this. I am not a fundamentalist, meaning I don't have a rigid belief system. Having explored many aspects of the mysteries, I believe part of my purpose is to rediscover and make public the very ancient "green" mythologies, updating their relevance, so new people can meditate and contact ancient spirits of the land in order to empower woodland and nature.

Dave: From where do you derive inspiration for your art?

Chesca: The inspiration for my artwork comes from sacred places and my psychic or imaginative contact with the spirits of the land.

Dave: Did you have any formal training?

Chesca: I trained at Edinburgh in art history and print making.

Dave: Who are your favourite artists?

Chesca: My favourite artists are the so-called British Mystical landscape tradition, William Blake, Samuel Palmer, Turner. I also like 18th century prints of ancient sites and hand coloured natural history prints.

Dave: What are your artistic aspirations?

Chesca: I can only think of a couple of years at a time. At the moment I am working on the Green Wood Tarot with Mark Ryan. Redesigning and restructuring the tarot system to be based on the wheel of the year. My dream is to be a "site guardian" of a small woodland and spring, and to be caretaker on all levels, of the natural history and ecology, and to make sure the spirits of the place are strong and happy.

Dave: What are your views on the future of the British Pagan movement?

Chesca: I really don't know where the British pagan movement will go in the future. I would like to see less emphasis placed on individual experience, personal development and satisfaction. The land is in crisis and I feel that Pagans should take far more magical responsibility for the effects of their rites on the land. I think that some pagans are destroying ancient sites because they presume that any pagan rituals are good for them., but actually if the beings they call on do not belong to the place, or know the place, it can unbalance the energies. I think people are draining sacred places of their power by not feeding that power back to them!

Artwork by Chesca Potter, as submitted for the original interview. Questions by Dave Hunt.

Wednesday, 29 August 2007

Sea Henge: 8 years on...

To coincide with the news that what is left of the Sea Henge monument is to be displayed in the Museum of Kings Lynn by Easter 2008, I have taken another look at this controversial and interesting topic with the help of East Anglian corespondent Jane Cook.

In the spring of 2050 BC, a huge oak tree was felled and its stump upturned and half-buried on a site near to what is now Holme-next-the-Sea in Norfolk. The following year, a number of smaller oaks were felled and cut into 56 posts, which were arranged in a circle around the central stump. The Bronze-Age monument, said by some modern archaeologists to be among the most exciting ever discovered, may have formed some kind of religious site, associated with special astronomical significance.

Both the circle and the people who built it were long forgotten before the land on which it stood became submerged by the sea. Its existence had vanished even from folk memory until, almost 4,000 years after its construction, the shifting sands off the East Anglian coast moved again to reveal its presence. The ancient site quickly became known as Sea Henge, and was soon to become very controversial, as English Heritage decided that they were going to remove it and conserve it miles away from its location. Druids and Pagans quickly organised sit-in protests against English Heritage's decision, and a bitter war of words raged right up to the point of removal.

Agreement was eventually reached over the future of the 'henge' and, in the summer of 1999, it was finally recorded and removed to the Flag Fen Bronze Age Centre, near Peterborough. There, as well as being preserved, the ancient timbers were subjected to detailed tree-ring dating. It was from these that a precise date was arrived at for the felling of the trees that make up the Sea Henge circle. The tree rings gave three possible dates, which were narrowed down to just one – 2050 BC – after comparisons with a series of carbon dating tests. The time of year – between April and June – was obtained by an examination of the final growth ring of the main stump, which showed that the tree had been felled in the spring. For further information on the area and Sea Henge visit: http://www.northcoastal.freeserve.co.uk/henge.htm

SEA HENGE RETURNS

The newly refurbished Kings Lynn museum will be the permanent home of the iconic sea henge monument. All the timbers have undergone specialist conservation at the Mary Rose Trust in Portsmouth. Work has included immersing the timbers in a liquid wax solution, which replaced the water and supported the cell structure. The timbers were then freeze-dried to remove any remaining water. The display is set to be completed and open to the public at Easter 2008.

STRANGE DAYS SURROUNDING THE SEA HENGE DEBACLE

A report by Jane Cook

During the Sea henge debacle I was living in Suffolk so I could follow events on the local news that probably never reached the rest of the country. Although I couldn't go to Holme, I managed to contact an elderly gentleman who had lived in the area all his 90 odd years. He said the stumps had been successively covered and uncovered by the sea and sand for as long as he could remember and they had not been significantly worn away. He was furious at what he saw as the interference of English Heritage, insisting the Henge was part of the area and should stay there.

I then contacted English Heritage and put to them that, once removed from their original site, the timbers became nothing but that: lumps of wood. I tried to explain the significance of the placing of such items; the fact that it was done as a form of "earth acupuncture" to modify energy lines in particular places, often in order to avoid undesirable effects. I was met with a response that was little short of abusive. The removal of the timbers went ahead, and they were taken to the Flag Fen Centre in order to undergo archaeological conservation.

Over the following months several news items appeared which I doubt many but myself connected with Sea henge. However, I have never believed in coincidences, and the location of a succession of freak accidents in that area seemed to me significant. One such was the disappearance to two highly experienced sailors - life boat men - who were delivering a boat they had built. They had left in calm weather to travel a few miles along the coast but they never arrived.

The ultimate bizarre event was when the Flag Fen Centre burned down, during January 2000, leaving undamaged only the building that housed the tanks containing the Sea henge timbers. Despite a thorough investigation, a cause for the fire could not be established.

Last week I saw on the news that the Sea henge timbers are finally going on display. What a pointless exercise! Even leaving aside the spate of accidents, surely the resources of English Heritage could have been far better spent.

What do you think? Please let us know.

Friday, 10 August 2007

The Witch Sticks of Finchingfield



An Investigation by Alex Langstone
Way back in the summer of 1994 I was lucky enough to have a private viewing of two unique artefacts from the strange and interesting history of Essex witchcraft. Having grown up in the historic witch county of Essex, I was intrigued to find out more about these 18th century “witch sticks”.

Only a couple of written reference to the Finchingfield Witch Sticks can be found prior to my interest. One of which can be seen in a book entitled Haunted East Anglia by Joan Forman. The other is a report in the Halstead Gazette in July 1979. So, with this in mind, here is my account of the known history and folklore surrounding these hidden gems of Essex Witch history. Shortly after the war, the late Dan Peddar inherited a 17th century cottage deep in the north Essex countryside, close to the historic, and much photographed village of Finchingfield. Dan and his wife moved from the south coast and settled down in their ancestral home, in Howe Street, Finchingfield. The cottage is a beautiful 17th century beamed building, a typical village house of the period, and soon after they moved in, Dan set about doing some repairs to the east wall. Whilst this work was in progress, Dan made a curious discovery. Hidden in the old masonry he found a carved walking stick. Made of rosewood and slightly longer than an average walking stick, it had two coiled serpents carved around it, each snaking in opposite directions to each other.

Upon making further investigations Dan found out that his family had lived in the cottage since it had been built in the seventeenth century, and that one of the houses 18th century occupants was a family member called Goofy Mumford. Goofy was known in the village as a witch, and was the local school mistress. Goofy used to teach some of her school girls the ancient craft of witchery after school hours in the cottage. At first the villagers respected Goofy and used to ask for advice and for healing, but one autumn some of the local crops failed, and Goofy was blamed. The village quickly turned against her, and on one particular occasion in 1780, the locals tuned up at the cottage and beat Goofy with a stick, before stoning her to death. This stick was then placed into the cottage wall as a charm and Goofy Mumford was buried at the nearby crossroads.

Dan later found a second stick hidden in the roof thatch near to the chimney, this stick is slightly shorter that the first one, and is marked with the images of birds, bees, hares, butterflies, flowers and a bull leading three cows. The top of the stick is extremely phallic in it's shape, suggesting that this may be a fertility stick. These images are all burned into the wood.

Dan took the two sticks to the British Museum, and they told him that they believed that the sticks were protection charms. The sticks are certainly interesting magical artefacts, which were probably some of Goofy's tools of the trade, although the story does state that Goofy was beaten by one of the sticks, this could be a later addition to the tale to give the artefact some credence as a charm of protection against witchcraft. I believe that these sticks were used for healing and sorcery, they certainly look the part. In recent years since the death of Dan Peddar, the Witch Sticks have become lost, and unfortunately, I have no idea where their location is today. The cottage is now under new ownership, and despite attempts to contact the present owners, no new information is forthcoming. *

The story didn't end there however. One hot summers afternoon Dan was digging in his garden, when he was pushed in the small of his back. He turned around expecting to see his wife, but no one was there. He continued digging, and shortly afterwards the same thing happened again. He carried on digging, but was a little concerned at the pushing to his back. It happened a third time, and as it did, his spade hit something in the ground. He dug around and unearthed a box containing two pewter mugs. He believed that the spirit of Goofy Mumford was trying to attract his attention to tell him about the mugs.

For many years now the cottage had built up a reputation as being a witch's cottage, and during the 1960s and 1970s tourists used to turn up to make a wish at the well in the garden, and to view the witch sticks. Stories are told about the wishes quickly coming true for some folk, including one story about a man who wished his wife dead. This wish manifested incredibly quickly, and after which, visitors were cautioned on the living magical properties of the wishing well.

*UPDATE
During the early part of 2015, the Finchingfield witch sticks finally resurfaced. They went on permanent display at Finchingfield museum, having been donated by a family member, and can now be viewed by all.

References.
Haunted East Anglia by Joan Forman. 1985
Mysterious Essex video. 1994
Special thanks to Carole Young for supplying her original article, photographs and research notes, which were invaluable in putting this feature together. Stills taken from Mysterious Essex video by Heritage Films. Author photo by Carole Young.
Halstead Gazette, July 1979
Buy Mysterious Essex volumes 1 and 2 on DVD here

Thursday, 12 July 2007

Rotherwas Serpent

Workers discover ancient 'snake'
An aerial view of the 4000 year old 'Rotherwas Ribbon'



Diggers constructing a new access road have uncovered a mysterious serpent-shaped feature, dating from the early bronze age.

The 197ft (60m) long ribbon of stones, found in Rotherwas, near Hereford, is thought to date from the same period as Stonehenge, roughly 2000 BC.

County archaeologist Dr Keith Ray said as far as he is aware the stone feature is unique in Europe.

"We can only speculate it may have been used in some kind of ritual," he said.

International significance.

The Rotherwas Ribbon, as it is being called, is made up of a series of deliberately fire-cracked stones and appears to have been deliberately sculptured to undulate through the whole of its length that has so far been uncovered.

"This is an exciting find, not just for Herefordshire and the UK, but apparently, so far, unique in Europe. It has international significance," Dr Ray said.

Archaeologists said although the practice of laying stones in small level pavements is known at sites in Pembrokeshire and elsewhere, the closest parallel to the Rotherwas Ribbon is the "Great Serpent Mound", in Ohio, USA, which is thought to have been built between 200 BC and 400 AD.

The Serpent Mound is a 1,330ft (405m) long effigy of a serpent.

Source: BBC News

The above was reported earlier this month and once again raises some important questions about road building, archaeology and our national heritage. This find surely has to be one of the most important recent finds in Britain? So what are they going to do? Bury it! Please visit the links below to help save this important site.Click here to sign the online petition now. http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/rotherwas/

Rotherwas Serpent campaign website http://www.rotherwasribbon.com


Thursday, 5 July 2007

Golowan

Golowan: The Feast of St John
a personal review by Alex Langstone
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FESTIVAL HISTORY
Golowan, the Feast of St. John, is one of Britain's greatest annual arts festivals, a bubbling cauldron of traditions thrown together in glorious chaotic revelry! Pagan Celtic traditions dance along side traditional civic pomp. Christian worship blends with the colourful and iconic street parades of Mazey day, and Penglaz (the grizzly headed 'Obby 'Oss of Penzance) leads the midnight serpent dance in celebration of the newly elected Mock Mayor of the Quay. This week long folk festival of music, dance, theatre, storytelling and film culminates in a two day spectacular weekend event. Saturday is Mazey Day, which in local dialect means a bit dazed and confused, and you will be after joining in! Sunday sees the traditional Quay fair day, where the sea is the focus and many activities are centred around the promenade and historic harbour and docks.

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The Cornish Fire Festival of Midsummer's Eve is generally acknowledged to stretch back to pre-Christian times. Originating as a festival of fertility and sun worship at the time of the summer solstice it owes its survival, in part to its Christian association with St John's Eve thus the name Golowan (Gol feast, (J)owan John). Its continuation as a living tradition into the 21st century is thanks to the efforts of the Old Cornwall Societies who hold bonfire ceremonies on ancient hill tops the length and breadth of Cornwall on Midsummer's Eve. References to the bonfires and Midsummer celebrations can be found in Bottrel's "Traditions and Hearth side stories of West Cornwall" (published 1870). For the town of Penzance, this time of year holds special significance as the town's patron saint is St John the Baptist, and the towns seal depicts the severed head of St John on a platter! For anyone walking around the town this seal can be seen on top of many of the directional signs.


Cornwall is one of the few places in Britain where the ancient observances of the summer solstice are still honoured as mainstream. As the last glimmers of the setting sun light up the western ocean, glimmers of light flicker; sacred fire beacons blaze upon hilltops from Lands End in the far west to Kit Hill on the Devon border. These bonfires are a celebration of the Summer with the sun at its strongest. Believed to be Druidic in origin, the ceremony is spoken in Cornish, and climaxes with the Lady of the Flowers casting into the now roaring flames a bunch of summer herbs. Festivals in Cornwall celebrated the Summer Solstice as the wedding of Heaven and Earth. Goddess manifests as Mother Earth and God as Sun King. Bonfires were lit to celebrate the Sun at its height of power and to ask the Sun not to withdraw into winter darkness. Midsummer Eve festivals in the countryside of Cornwall, would have firelight shining from every hill and peak. Dancers adorned in garlands and flowers jumped through the tall flames. This ancient Cornwall Summer Bonfire tradition has been revived during the 1920's and is still a popular festival. The spiral is a symbol associated with the Solstices and creation by the patterns of sacred geometry. Ancient dances follow the Sun's movement like a spiral. People joined hands weaving through the streets, winding into a decreasing spiral into the middle then unwinding back out again. The Sun moving from contraction at the centre of the spiral at winter solstice to expansion at Summer Solstice and back again. Midsummer is truly a celebration of the primal creative force of the universe. God at the peak of His powers and Goddess in Her manifestation as the Mother. 
 
Here in Penzance the week long celebrations of Golowan festival culminate on Mazey Eve, where the town spills onto the streets in party mood. Fireworks are set off at the sea front, and as midnight approaches, crowds gather by the docks to help the Golowan band entice Penglaz, the grizzly headed 'obby 'oss from her stable with music and dancing! Penglaz then leads the mysterious serpent dance through the ancient streets around the docks. This chaotic dance runs well into the small hours and is great fun to be a part of, as it sets you up for the following days festivities of Mazey Day.

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PERSONAL FESTIVAL
Saturday 16th June.
This years festival got off to a quieter start for Paul and I as we attended a performance of Rachmaninov's Russian Vespers. Performed within the somewhat austere surroundings of St Mary's neo-gothic harbour side church, by Truro Cathedral's Three Spires Singers. Stood beneath the stunning and colourful east window depicting Stella Maris, the choir sang beautifully, and despite the somewhat dilapidated interior of the church, their voices soared taking the audience to a more sublime place!
In the first two months of 1915, when he wrote Vespers, Rachmaninov was 41 years old and internationally famous. He led the hectic life of a touring piano virtuoso and a composer whose popular piano works were known all over the world. Restricted in his movements by the war and wanting to do all that he could for his disunited and threatened homeland, Rachmaninov turned to Russian liturgy and chant. In composing Vespers he created both a devotional masterpiece and a powerful statement of Russian nationalism.
Vespers, as a service of evening prayer, is observed in many Christian churches. The Russian Orthodox church went further and held an "all-night vigil" before major feast days, beginning at 6 pm. on Saturday and ending at 9 am. on Sunday. By Rachmaninov's time this was done only at major monasteries, and the liturgy of the all-night vigil had been condensed into a three hour service on Saturday evening. Rachmaninov titled his work All-Night Vigil, but Vespers is also an accurate title. Rachmaninov's great liturgy ranks among the highest achievements in the history of Russian church music.
Friday 22nd June.
Mazey eve saw us out and about around the harbour and seafront for the annual "summer fire" fireworks, which we observed from St Anthony's Gardens situated on the promenade. This area of the town is the heart of Golowan, with the funfair and festival marquee both close by. Nearby is the Dolphin public house which sits directly opposite the docks, and it is here that after the fireworks, crowds gathered to witness one of the towns more obscure and mysterious attractions. At the stroke of midnight the Golowan band's pipes, strings and drums stirred in a repetitive and catchy Celtic refrain. The crowd's excitement continued as we all tried to entice Penglaz from her stable. At once the stable door opened and out of the darkness appeared the skeletal form of Penglaz. Dancing, teasing and snapping her jaws she leads the crowds around the ancient maze of narrow and cobbled streets, under the pale and tantalising light of a half moon.

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Penglaz, is the towns midsummer 'Oss of fertility, always crowned with a posy of flowers and decked in greenery, she is at the heart of the ancient festivities. Many other towns in Britain have 'Obby 'Oss days. Notably at Padstow, in Cornwall and Minehead in Somerset who both celebrate their days on Beltane (May Day). Interestingly another very similar 'Oss can be found in South Wales in particular in Gwent and Glamorgan. Mari Lwyd (meaning Grey Mare) is, like Penglaz, a skeletal 'Oss, but whereas Penglaz is a midsummer tradition; Mari Lwyd is celebrated at midwinter! Mari Lwyd can still be seen today at Llangynwyd, near Maesteg, every New Year's Eve. The Llangynwyd celebrations also include a torch lit procession around the village.
This years Penglaz led Serpent Dance was the busiest I have ever seen. There were so many people wanting to join in, that the whole dance ground to a halt several times! Everyone involved seemed to be enjoying themselves though, and Paul and I had a great time.
MAZEY DAY. Saturday 23rd June.
This years Mazey Day was as colourful as always, but seemed busier than ever before; proving the popularity and increasing interest of all things Cornish and Celtic. After hearing the addresses given by the Mayor of Penzance and The Mock Mayor of the Quay (who was elected the previous night at the "Mock Mayor Elections" held in the festival marquee), the festivities began. Many local school children took part in three different colourful parades through the town centre, and the streets were lined with stalls selling local produce, crafts and music. Many musicians gave free and impromptu performances around the town, we witnessed many sounds from across the globe including native American fusion-folk by Pachamerica, the exotic beats and rhythms of Pensamba, the musicians and dancers of Tatters Border Morris, the pipes and drums of the Mid Argyll Pipe Band, the Acorn choir and many others.

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In the festival marquee local bands played through the afternoon, warming the place up in readiness for the main marquee event, when later that night the African beats of Lolou, an 8 piece Senegalese band took the stage for a fantastic and lively concert.

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Mazey Day was a truly amazing day, with a real cosmopolitan feel. And from it's Celtic roots; the wider festival of Golowan has become a cultural melting pot of pure pleasure. From the Cornish Serpent Dance, to the sounds of Scottish pipes. The chants of native Americans to the folk music and dance of English Border Morris. The soaring and ethereal sound of Rachmaninov's All Night Vigil to the beats and bass lines from Senegal. With jazz, silver bands, classical and rock music all thrown in for good measure Golowan and the people of Penzance have come up trumps with this fantastic community festival. But don't take my word for it, come see for yourself next June!