Friday, 28 December 2007

New online gallery

A new online gallery of selected paintings and drawings from the last 10 years by artist and illustrator Paul Atlas-Saunders is now up and running. Click here to view.

Paul has had many of his illustrations featured on websites and in magazines over the years. Featured left is a sample of Paul's work entitled "Elen, Lady of Nature".

Tuesday, 25 December 2007

Mysterium Artorius by Paul Weston

Reviewed by Alex Langstone

"Before going any further may we take it that the object of art is to obtain a partial revelation of that which is beyond human senses and human faculties – of that, in fact, which is spiritual? And that the means which we employ to induce this revelation are those very senses and faculties themselves?" Ralph Vaughan Williams

To review this book is to allow myself to indulge in some of my favourite pastimes. Enjoying the sublime and mystical qualities found within British classical music; reading the works of English novelist and historian Peter Ackroyd and an obsession with the sacred Arthurian landscape of the British Isles. For these are some of the central themes in this new book by Glastonbury visionary Paul Weston.

Paul has attempted to bring together some diverse historical, cultural and mythical themes and ideas which evoke Arthur, the Grail and a very British sense of place. We are introduced to Arthur as an archaic deity, dark age hero and Norman inspirer. We are then led on a grail journey through 12th century Europe, Dark Age heresies, Hermetic ideology, Sufism, the Templars and the building of the first Gothic cathedral in France. Paul then leads us to Glastonbury via the politics, idealism and esoterica and we end up visiting Tintagel, mystical jewel of North Cornwall - and a place very close to my own heart.

Upon entering Paul's Tintagel of the Heart via the famous and evocative Arnold Bax tone poem Tintagel, we are led into some of the deeper and less well known tales from the small North Cornish parish, inlcuding the Rudolph Steiner connection. From here we return to Avalon and delve into the Glastonbury Zodiac of Katherine Maltwood, and if by this point you are wondering where the proverbial kitchen sink is lurking; be assured that this is not a coffee table journey. Mysterium Artorius is a fine poetic evocation of many of the high points relating to the Matter of Britain, or as Paul calls it (borrowed, but modified from Ackroyd) British Music!

Dion Fortune's Avalon of the Heart and John Cowper Powys' A Glastonbury Romance are entwined with the beautiful music of Ralph Vaughan Williams and Elgar, and the book ends with a Dion Fortune inspired path working called A Glastonbury Qabalah, where we are invited to enter the inner realm of Glastonbury Tor.

Paul Weston has produced an inspirational lyrical evocation of his personal mythic, artistic and poetic vision of Albion, and because of this, the book is a great starting point for your own journey into the hidden heart of Britain.

A thoroughly enjoyable read. Click link below to buy your copy now.

www.mysteriumartorius.co.uk



Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Orbs, another take on a controversial paranormal conundrum!

My article Orbs: dust, pollen insects or just plain paranormal? has provoked some interest.

Sam Williams from the Orbfinder website has taken an interest and generally agrees that further research is needed. Her own website is full of interesting Orb photographs. Sam is now actively seeking Orbs, and is experimenting with dust and different sites and cameras to see what "results" she can achieve. The website is open minded and interactive and is seeking debate.

Check them out at www.freewebs.com/orbfinder/

Photos: Right -Castlerigg orbs at dawn.

Below: 1980's psychic research group New ERA visit the North Essex Saffron Walden Turf Maze. Is that a very young me in the centre? (Pic. credit: Claire Capon-Hawley)

The next image is from a Summer Solstice Druid gathering in West Cornwall in 1996.


For more debate and recent research on Orbs see Ross Hemsworth's excellent new book The Dead are Talking

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Fenland Folklore

A fresh look at some of the folklore and legends of Eastern England's mysterious Fen Country by Alex Langstone.

The Fens of Eastern England are strange! The folklore is even stranger. Take the skeletal remains of an elephant discovered at the ancient market town of Chatteris, or the lucky charms made from the severed hands of executed criminals; or maybe the local stories of witches who turn themselves into hares and you may perhaps, begin to see what I mean? (Author pic: Barb Lowe)

A landscape shaped, in part by 17th century Dutch engineers, who drained the land and created much of the arable farmland you see today. A landscape, which can appear bleak and uninteresting to some, but which can appear mysterious and intriguing to others. It is a landscape, which shares many qualities with the only other fen land region in England; the Somerset levels. But whereas the levels of central Somerset were drained (by the same Dutch engineers) for livestock rearing; the eastern fens were drained for arable farming. Hence the Somerset Levels green and pleasant land versus the Fens bleak, dark, broodiness. What the two landscapes do share though is the vast straight drainage channels and broad navigable waterways. Folklore abounds in these flat lands, and it is the lesser-known and largely ignored Eastern Fen Country that this article is about.

Tom Hickathrift and the giant of Wisbech depicted
on the Old Sun Inn, Saffron Walden.

The legend of Tom Hickathrift
Tom lived in marshes near the Isle
of Ely and although initially lazy and gluttonous, he was prodigiously tall and it soon became apparent that he had the strength of twenty men. Various proofs of his strength are given: he carried twenty hundredweight of straw and a tree as if they weighed nothing, kicked a football so far that nobody could find it and turned the tables on four men who tried to rob him. He eventually got a job carting beer in Wisbech, but the long journey tired him, so one day he cut across the land of the Wisbech Giant. The giant took this badly and fetched his club to beat Tom, but Tom ripped up a tree and stole a cartwheel from a passing cart and fought the giant. After a furious battle the giant was killed. Tom took his land and was from then on held in esteem by the people of the area. Tom's shadowy figure still haunts the flat-lands between Ely and Wisbech, especially on dark stormy nights, when he maybe glimpsed angrilly hurling his cartwheel at an unseen foe.

The Devil in March
It is said that many years ago the people of March wanted to build a church near the market place. The devil thought that the fens belonged to him and, when the building work started he pulled everything down so that each dawn saw the labours of the previous day were wasted. A cross was put up to drive the devil away, which had the desired effect, but the church was never built. The base of an old stone cross stands by the road between the market and St Wendreda's church and the story may been told to explain the existence of this cross. This legend abounds across much of rural England and Wales in many variants, and may suggest a pre-Christian origin of the site chosen for the church.

A fenland landscape

Jack O' Lanterns
The self igniting gas present in the swamps of the fens often appeared on the surface of the water as small flickering flames called Jack 0' Lanterns. These were greatly feared, as it was believed that they were the faerie folk of the fens, and could entice a wayfarer off the path after dark and to certain death in the marsh. Whistling was thought to encourage the Jack O' Lanterns to appear. The safest thing to do on seeing them was to make for the nearest shelter or if none were available to lie face down until the lights disappeared.

The Isle of Ely

The cathedral city of Ely is a beautiful gem in the heart of the fens. The ancient Isle rises only a few feet above the now drained marshes, but was once lonely and isolated. The Cathedral sits on the original site of the double Celtic style monastery, founded by Etheldreda, a Saxon
princess following the Celtic Christian tradition in the 7th century. The cathedral has many beautiful green men carvings (below right), which may allude to the Isle of Ely as a sacred pre-Christian site, and there is a large mound which rises steeply in the park adjacent the cathedral. Marked as a Motte and Bailey, the mound has a curious and mysterious atmosphere, and affords great views from the Sacred Isle of Ely across the vast flat plains of the east!

At the west end of the Cathedral you will find the shrine to St Etheldreda. Her remains were lost during the reformation, but her left hand did re-surface in 1810 on the Duke of Norfolk's Arundel estate in Sussex. it was found in a reliquary hidden behind a wall in a priests hole inside Arundel castle. It was returned to Ely and is no
w housed in a shrine in St Etheldreda's catholic church in the town. Her hand is said to haunt the town's historic Kings School, and frequently appears on the stairs in the school. Other ghostly encounters have been witnessed around the Cathedral, many ghostly monks have been sited over the years, especially around the old Monastic buildings near the Porta gate. These buildings have amazingly survived intact, and the whole complex of medieval monastic buildings, gardens, parkland and cathedral are very atmospheric and lend themselves to thoughts of the past history of the ancient fenland isle. The area around the cathedral has one of the largest number of former monastic buildings still in use, many of them now used by the King's School. The Great Hall, the brewery and the malting house can still be seen giving the visitor a feel of what the area looked like centuries ago.

The historic and picturesque waterside area of Ely is haunted, and many sitings have been reported over the years of a lady dressed in black who appears by the River Great Ouse without warning, then promptly vanishes again further down the river. The ghostly cries of help are often head late at night seeming to come from the river itself, but no-one is ever found. Another green man (left) can be found watching the modern-day shoppers hurrying past. He is carved into a cross beam of the city centre's Steeple Gate, and is now blackened with age.

Just outside the town on the fen edge the local Black Shuck haunts the watery levels. The Black Shuck seems to be unique to East Anglian folklore and is variously seen as an evil demon dog from hell to a more benign guardian of the landscape. The Ely Shuck is more of a friendly guardian, though his appearance is that of a terrifying demon! With a black shaggy coat and blazing red eyes, he appears on dark winter nights during the dark of the moon, and has guided people home from the marshes to the city for hundreds of years!


Friday, 26 October 2007

The Medieval Church our Pagan Heritage

Here is another superb article from the ASH Magazine archive. Published in ASH Magazine no. 6 Winter 1989. Written by leading writer and researcher on ancient mysteries and folklore Bob Trubshaw. Bob's Heart of Albion Press has published many excellent books on alternative thought over the years. Check out their website for details. www.hoap.co.uk. The illustration of the snowy cross scene by Jim Kirkwood was printed with this article in ASH, and is reproduced here for completion. The sketches of the Thorpe Arnold carvings were drawn by Dave Hunt. The green man painting is by Yuri Leitch. The photographed green man is from Southwell Minster, Nottinghamshire. The last two illustrations were not part of the original article, but have been added for reference.

The Medieval Church, our Pagan Heritage
by Bob Trubshaw.


Written history is always from the pen of the victors and never more so than when the conflict is over faith and dogma. But the evidence of historical objects can sometimes clash badly with what history books try to tell us. Many churches have traces of Saxon or Norman carving. The relevant church guide books will proudly boast that the Christian faith has been followed on that site for eight hundred, nine hundred or even a thousand years. But there are also a greater number of churches with carvings of the medieval period which display motifs which have nothing to do with Christian teachings and everything to do with the old nature gods.
Many of these can be tentatively dated to the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, although similar carvings are clearly the efforts of Victorian restorers to 'restore' or copy these features. Although the older carvings are often among the best features of the church, the guide books rarely draw attention to them. This is so consistent one begins to suspect a 'conspiracy of silence' among church recorders and historians. Whether deliberate or not, any historian working only from written sources would entirely miss these impressive and widespread features.

What sort of carvings are so neglected by the churches' historians? Not the splendid Norman tympana and fonts which depict a soldier-cum-saint figure dispatching one or more dragonian beasts. These fit in neatly with the idea of St Michael, or another of the host of canonised dragon-slayers, putting paid to the forces of evil. It is beyond the scope of this article to argue why the carvers of such scenes would know by heart the Norse tale of Odin slaying the Midgard serpent, or those tales of Celtic heroes such as Beowulf and Llud dispatching local dragons, as have come down to us in the Welsh Mabinogian and Irish Celtic lore.

It is the term 'grotesque' which obliquely alludes to the figures which history disfavours. Grimacing gargoyles around the roof of the tower are, according to more than one parish guide, an illustration of how the forces of evil have been banished to the outside of the church. But why do so many naves and even chancel arches display corbel heads with similar features?

The most easily recognised pagan influence is where a man's head is not only surrounded by foliage but has branches sprouting from the mouth or nose. These are invariably recognised for what they are - Green Men, the Old God of fertility and rebirth.

Another for of these old gods was the Horned One, often known as Herne the Hunter. So far I have not discovered any stag-antlered heads but there are several with short cow-like horns. Many more look similar at first glance, but turn out to be faces with long ears. It may be that the ears are the result of later modifications to an over-provocative figure. Among the most hideous faces are those which are, literally pulling faces - with both hands, or occasionally only one, stretching the mouth. In the north of England until comparatively recently, face-pulling or 'girning' competitions were held. 'Girning' gargoyles - human and bestial - frequently repose around the roofs of our churches. There are also several excellent examples on the corbels within the naves of other churches. One church guide describes such a figure as 'a man with toothache'. But a less fanciful interpretation is that these faces appear to be a polite version of the Shiela-na-gig carvings, otherwise known as female exhibitionists, who evoke images of their fecundity by using their hands in a similar way to prominently display other parts of their anatomy.

It would be too much to expect the survival in a church of any carving whose masculinity was too obvious. But, just as the girning faces may be a polite version of female exhibitionists, so tongue-poking faces can be seen as the counterpart for the male. One of the four faces on the Norman font at Greetham in Leicestershire has a descending tongue whose length is as great as the face. The many medieval examples of tongue-pokers have less extreme anatomical distortions.

My superficial interest in such carvings was brought into focus a year or two ago when I read Guy Raglan Phillip's The Unpolluted God. Pert of this deals with a survey of ninety-nine churches throughout Britain and discusses the importance of carvings such as Green Men, face-pullers, ram's horns and about the pre-Christian origins of stone altar slabs, north doors and much else.

Phillips was most surprised that, not only were such carvings mad at least as late as the fourteenth century, but so many have survived various restorations and deliberate and literal ecclesiastical iconoclasm. It raises the question - when did England become Christian? Many of these pagan-inspired carvings appear to date from the 13th to 14th centuries, which is well after the time the royal court, and therefore the higher nobility, had accepted Christianity. But how deep did this acceptance go? As late as the fifteenth century the Divine Right of Kings, a distinctly pre-Christian concept, was still being invoked. If the nobility of the land still believed in a combination of old and new faiths, we can be sure that the common folk held onto beliefs and lore which had, at best, a superficially Christian appearance.

There is evidence to suggest that from the seventh century there was an attempt to forbid worship at sites other than churches. This was a simple law to circumvent the followers of the Old Faiths simply built images of their gods into the churches. The pre-reformation churches abound with images of gods - old and new together, and probably more of the former until the cult of the crucifixion slowly emerged in later Medieval times to dominate all the old rood screens, built to divide the chancel from the nave.

It was only in the sixteenth century that the church began to attack the beliefs of the common people. Witch trials have been a subject of fascination to many people. The trial records cited by Murray make it clear that quite often the leader of the witches' celebrations was the local priest, which suggests that the clergy of the sixteenth century were willing to support the spiritual requirements of their parishioners in a more enlightened manner than the dogma of the One True Way should allow. This indication of the rift between the senior, witch hunting clergy, and the 'grassroots' priests more than allows an explanation for at least the survival, if not the creation, of images of the old gods in churches.

Slim though the evidence is it seems that veneration for these old gods had remained more or less close to the surface of Church worship. Consciously or otherwise the incumbent allowed the old beliefs of his congregation to e more or less explicitly sustained.

In spite of all the efforts during and after the Reformation to rid the church of its all-too-visible pre-Christin roots, the current Anglican liturgy is still a rich source of survivals of the old faiths. Perhaps the clearest instance is the rite of baptism - petitionary prayers that but for a word or three would be spells supported by the sacred names of the old gods, with the timeless use of water and a candle that owes nothing to Biblical precedent and everything to what the self same Vicar might slander as 'Devil worship'.

History as the Church would want us to know it, is that the missionaries came and entirely novel religion took root and rapidly flourished with the prompt demise of any old faiths. History, as read between the lines, and by what physically survives, is that the missionaries came and adapted the sites, the festivals and the rite of the old faiths as little as possible. the new god's annual resurrection was a familiar concept. That He died to redeem everyone from sin and evil were a bit too intellectual compared to the more direct and tangible roles of Saxon deities.

The recent pagan revivalists may feel, with some justification, to be cast in a them versus us battle with the Church, but that should not blind us to what the Church's buildings tell about their history. Throughout Britain there are many reminders that followers of the old faiths were deliberately made to feel welcome. To what extent the medieval clergy practised a tangled web of old and new religions is now impossible to unravel, but I at least suspect that the reality owes little to what most history books try to sell us.

The illustrations to this article (right) are of the carvings in St Mary's church at Thorpe Arnold, Leicestershire (OS sheet 129: 770201). This hill-top church, surrounded on two sides by earth works of unknown age looks out over Melton Mowbray and the Wreak valley which has one of the highest concentrations of Viking place-names in Britain.

There is a Norman font depicting a sword-wielding man fighting five dragons (or are there two multi-cephalic beasts?). Nearby is a capital with a sun-burst face and a tongue poking face (not illustrated). Most interestingly there are eight superb corbels supporting the nave roof. These were probably carved in the thirteenth century. These include two girning faces (one human, one bestial), a green man, a horned cow and an intriguing figure with his upside down face appearing between his legs; an ambiguous feature on this carving could allow him to be interpreted as a well-endowed male exhibitionist.

Most of these motifs can be seen elsewhere in Leicestershire but Thorpe Arnold provides for the pagan church carving enthusiast the best example in the county for 'one stop shopping'.

References.
C.E. Lart 'Paganism in the churches' in the Hibbert Journal, vol. XXVI, No. 3 1928.
M.A. Murray, The Witch-Cult in Western Europe, Oxford, 1921; revised edition 1962.
G.R. Phillips, The Unpolluted God, 1987 Northern Lights.
R. Sheridan and A. Ross, Grotesques and gargoyles, David and Charles, 1975
R.N. Trubshaw, 'Ancient and modern myths of dragon-slaying saints' in Hidden History vol. 2 numbers 3 and 4. 1989.

Sunday, 21 October 2007

Fellowship of Isis online archive

A brand new Fellowship of Isis online archive is now being put together. It is hoped that the sites content can show the full history and scope of the Fellowship. The new website, called The Circle of Isis is billed as the official central global site of the Fellowship. Click the following link to view the site Circle of Isis.

Thanks to Caroline Wise for the information.

My 1993 interview with Olivia Robertson has now been officially archived and can be viewed here

A slightly shortened version of the same article can also be found in the ASH Magazine archive.

Saturday, 22 September 2007

Legends of Canewdon

It is with great pleasure, to mark the Autumnal Equinox 2007, that I hereby re-publish this interesting article from the archives of ASH Magazine. Mike Howard sent us this article for inclusion in issue number 4, Summer 1989 edition of the magazine. Although lots of subsequent research about the Witches of Canewdon has been published, often debunking the Pickingill lineage as fiction, I really think that this article holds merit; and is worthy of a wider readership - having been written by one of the countries leading experts in folk magic and witchcraft. Mike is still editor of the long standing and respected occult magazine The Cauldron. As always comments most welcome. Enjoy!


Legends of Canewdon by Mike Howard


Few villages in England posses such a long standing reputation for witchcraft as Canewdon, near Southend on sea. In old historical records the name of the place is variously spelt as Canevdun, Canudon and Canevdon. Legend has it that the name is associated with the Danish King Canute or Cnut, and means "Canute's Hill".

It is difficult to pinpoint exactly when Canewdon became associated with the Craft. In 1847, according to local historian Phillip Benton, the remains of a huge statue described as "a heathen deity" were unearthed near the village. Buried with it were a number of bones which crumbled to dust when exposed to the air. This stone idol, which may have dated from pre-Christrian times judging from the condition of the bones, was smashed up and used to repair the local road.

The first recorded instance of witchcraft in Canewdon dates from the 16th century when a local spinster, Rose Pye, was accused of bewitching a child to death. At the assizes in July 1580 she was acquitted of the charge. By the early 19th century the village had acquired a reputation for strange happenings and was firmly established in Essex folklore as the haunt of ghosts demons and witches. It was claimed that there would be six or seven witches living in the village as long as the church tower stood. Every time a stone fell from the tower a witch died and another took her place in the coven. Other legends linked the church, dedicated to St Nicholas, with magic, witchcraft and the devil. Anyone who walked around the tower at midnight was forced to dance with the coven, children danced around the churchyard as a protection against bewitchment and the devil was said to live under one of the tombstones. There were reports, even in recent years, of the ghost of an old witch materialising out of a grey mist by the church gate.

Why this odd connection with a Christian place of worship with the Craft? Firstly, churches were often built on pagan sites. Secondly, the church tower was built to celebrate the English victory at Agincourt. Tradition has it that the Canewdon coven was founded in the 15th century buy a local landowner who fought in France and had been initiated into the French craft. This is the real reason why the church was significant to local witches.

According to popular belief, during the last century the Canewdon witches terrorised the neighbourhood. They allegedly inflicted plagues of lice on their enemies, "owl blinked" or overlooked wagons so their wheels would not turn and inflicted minor illnesses on the local population. Predictably most of these alleged witches were old women who lived alone who kept white mice as pets. These were regarded as imps or familiar spirits in animal form and had to be passed on when the witch made her final journey to the spirit world, although sometimes they were buried with their mistresses.

Whether these local beldames were real witches or just innocent victims of village gossip is difficult to prove. In rural communities isolated from the outside world witches were seldom regarded as benign. Whatever the truth of the matter folk tradition condemned them as servants of the powers of darkness who had soled their souls to the devil in exchange for magical powers. Belief in witches was prevalent in Canewdon for several generations and they were said to be under control of a male wizard (wise man)who was known as the master of the witches. This sounds genuine for a coven of female witches led by a male representative of the devil (the pagan horned god) was a common pattern in the traditional witch cult of the middle ages.

In the late nineteenth century the holder of the title Master of the Witches was a farm labourer George Pickingill or Pickingale (the family name was spelt both ways) who lived in an old cottage near the anchor public house a few hundred yards form the church. Pickingill was known as a cunning man who could charm warts and locate lost property by divining. He was the resident village character and when the first motor car came to Canewdon it was old George who was photographed alongside it. He had a sinister side to his image as the local eccentric for people said said he could stop farm machinery by staring at it with his intense blue eyes and curse those who offended him with his blackthorn walking stick.

St Nicholas church, Canewdon, Essex.

Craft tradition claims Pickingill was descended from a long line of East Anglian witches and that male members of the family had been priests of the Horned God since Saxon times. The first recorded member of the family was Julia Pickingill, the famous witch of Brandon who helped the \Normans hunt down Hereward the Wake and his rebels in the Norfolk fens. She was burned to death when the wooden tower she occupied was set alight by the Saxons.

Pickingill had gypsy blood ans was raised with the travelling people. His Romany kin venerated the black faced Mother Goddess of their ancestors and the young Pickinghill was encouraged to participate in there ceremonies involving ritual nudity and moon worship. This led Pickingill to become a devotee of the goddess and in later life he founded nine covens in southern England practising a heady mixture of East Anglian and French Craft, Romany folk magic and Scandinavian paganism. Each coven was led by a priestess of had to prove she had "witch blood" or had been inducted into an existing hereditary Craft tradition. Pickingill's use of priestesses, his veneration of the goddess and his contact with ceremonial magicians and occultists led many witches to condemn him as a renegade.

Pickingill passed into the spirit world in 1909 and was buried in an old (unconsecrated?) part of the churchyard. His powers, if local folklore can be believed, did not diminish with his death. On the day of his funeral as the hearse drew up at the church gate the horse trotted out of the shafts and cantered off up the lane. It was said that his imps haunted his empty cottage for many years until it was demolished and passers-by reported seeing their red eyes glowing in the darkness. Shortly before his death it is claimed Pickingill disbanded the Canewdon coven. Certainly little is heard of Craft activities in the village after the old magister died and his son, also called George, does not seem to have carried on the family tradition. Persistent rumours however suggest the Pickingill craft is still flourishing underground in the area and that remnants of the Nine Covens are still active elsewhere. Although the village has changed considerably in the last few years, with a modern housing estate replacing many of the old cottages, Canewdon still has an eerie atmosphere especially at dusk on a winter's evening.

After Halloween 1975 a pin studded doll was found next to a black candle in a wood near Canewdon which revived folk tales of the old witches. However this is more likely to have been the work of a practitioner of black magic than any modern witch. Legends persist though, and in 1977 a local resident pointed out to me the house of an old man in the village who was said to posses the power of the evil eye. In 1973 an Essex councillor claimed Canewdon was one of the last placed in England where witchcraft was still being practised. He said a coven meeting in the village was planning to cast a spell to prevent Maplin Sands being used as the site of the third London Airport.

Monday, 10 September 2007

The Peterborough Bardic Chair revived

PRESS RELEASE

The Search for the Chief Bard of the Fens is now on!

13th June 2007 – Flag Fen, Britain 's Bronze Age Centre announces the 2008 ‘Battle of the Bards' competition now open, for contestant's who wish to compete for title of ‘Chief Bard of the Fens'. The competition is part of the Flag Fen Eisteddfod, an open community festival of music, poetry and storytelling including stalls, workshops, art displays and children's activities, which will run on the 14th and 15th June 2008. Contestants will have 15 minutes to woo the judges and captivate the minds of the audience through stories, music or verse. The winner shall receive their title in a special chairing ceremony, on the Bardic Chair of Flag Fen.

According to legend 31 English cities were once ancient Bardic seats and therefore had the right to elect their own Bard each year through open competition. The Bardic tradition which is an offshoot of a much older Druidic practise has been largely revived today. The ancient Bardic seats, which were claimed by the Chief Bards of their locality, were usually associated to a sacred location within the city like a burial mound or man-made hill which makes Flag Fen the perfect location for the event.

Reconstructed Bronze Age Roundhouses at Flag Fen

Flag Fen's Bardic Chair is being made by a local rustic furniture maker, with locally sourced bog oak in keeping with the theme. A smaller version of the chair already used by storyteller's can be seen in the Iron Age Roundhouse at Flag Fen. The Bardic Chair will remain at Flag Fen and the ‘Chief Bard of the Fens' has a duty to attend their chair at least twice in their title year. With chairs already revived in Glastonbury, Bath and London, Peterborough is set to be next on the Bardic map.

Jody Williams, Organiser, commented “We hope the Eisteddfod will spark the imaginations in the young and the old as stories are a great way of bringing communities together and learning about different cultures. This is important in a city such as Peterborough that has a vast multi-cultural population as stories can deepen cultural understanding and bring a sense of acceptance and belonging whether historical or fiction. Oral stories bring communities to life allowing audiences to soak themselves in historical imagery as the teller and listener journey together to different places meeting a range of characters. We hope the Eisteddfod and our other storytelling projects will encourage more people to explore their creative side and take an active interest in local literary projects which aim to raise the standards of local talent.“

Peterborough Cathedral

The Eisteddfod has been announced a year and a day in keeping in with ancient tradition and is also supported by Peterborough's Central Library who will be hosting their ‘Young Poets of the Year 2008' final on the Saturday.

For further details on the Eisteddfod and how you can enter the competition please visit the website at www.theancientmuse.co.uk or email eisteddfod@theancientmuse.co.uk

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.

Saturday, 25 August 2007

Orbs: Dust, pollen, insects or just plain paranormal?

A personal view by Alex Langstone.
Part 1.

I have been involved in paranormal investigation and psychic questing for over 20 years, and during that time I have experienced many things that I would perceive as being paranormal in origin. Originally a confirmed believer in my twenties, then for many years a complete sceptic, in recent years I have learned to just accept the many strange and unusual things that occur, as I now firmly believe that trying to prove that paranormal phenomena exists is a fruitless and in many ways a pointless exercise.

There has been absolutely no scientific move forwards within parapsycology for many years now. The scientists just continue to be sceptical and obstructive. They dismiss everything as either coincidence or as having a normal origin (as opposed to a paranormal one!) I therefore want to put forward this article about the “Orb phenomenon”. It is just my opinion, and has absolutely no scientific basis at all.

Since we do not know what orbs truly are, it just seems that they are to be found mainly in areas where there is or has been paranormal activity. In my experience on an average paranormal investigation or field trip there are about 10 people using 10 different cameras, 35mm and digital, and many speeds and brands of film. They all get their film developed at separate places. Let's say only about half of these people get some orb photos. Are these water spots or dirt on the lens? That would mean that 5 people all had similar dirt on their lens and all 5 did not clean their lens either. Are these orbs film processing errors? Well the 35mm cameras probably had their film developed in different locations and used different film so that is unlikely. The digital cameras don't have film-processing errors, for obvious reasons!


I am aware that some people feel that the orbs on a digital camera are an error in the digital processing of the image. When that error does occur in digital photos, the objects tend to be square in nature, not round and they cannot be semi-transparent, the pixel behind would have to be corrupt
ed also.

So what about dust and dirt being stirred up? Can that be the cause of the orbs? Well possibly some orb photography can be explained away as dust, but if that were the case always, I would tend to think that there would be lots of orb photos in a sequence of photos from the same camera and location. In my experience, this is not the case. All of the shots in a sequence should have the dust or dirt in it, and therefore orbs in the photos too! I have found in the majority of cases that orb photos do not appear in consecutive photography. All photographers present in a n investigation should get orbs if it is dust being stirred up. So what are Orbs?

One popular orb theory is that the orb is the energy being transferred from a source such as power lines, heat, batteries and so on. Energy like a globule of water in zero gravity is drawn together to form a sphere. Orbs may also have something to do with human bio-energy and may be an effect of the energy of the aura. I have certainly seen orbs around people's heads on the odd occasion, both using photography and whilst giving healing. Another theory is that they could be ghosts beginning to manifest, or spirit entities of the sites being photographed, or some other unknown energy or paranormal presence. Alternatively they could be produced by light reflecting off water droplets, dust or insects. Nearly all of the orb photos I have in my collection have been caught at special places of spiritual significance or at a sacred sites in the British landscape. So lets have a look at some of the photographic examples and see if we can work out what may be happening?

This photograph was taken on the 29th September 2006 on the shore of Lake Bassenthwaite in Cumbria. It was a dull afternoon, but the flash was turned off. Are they water droplets falling from the tree? It had been raining, so maybe. Orcould they be something else? Perhaps we have captured the life energy of the tree itself or the spirit of place beginning to manifest? It is for you to decide.


This next image (right) was taken the same afternoon at the same site, but under a different tree. It shows myself, and psychic and researcher Carole Young. We were in the area taking photos for my book Spirit Chaser. Was the orb caused by water, or was it something paranormal?















The image (left) of me and my partner under the same tree (as second image) taken four minutes later than the first image. (We had taken other photographs between these two, which showed no orbs at all). The orb appears to be very similar to the first one, and markedly different to the larger one taken one minute before this image in the same location. What is going on then? We were all just mucking about taking snaps after a busy few days of more serious photography. I have been to this location many times, and never before have I caught a single orb on camera here, despite having taken many photographs of the area. Also it should be noted that much paranormal activity has been recorded over the years at this site, this will all be made public in my new book Spirit Chaser, which will be out soon.


The next image was taken in a friends garden in Somerset on 17th June 2005 at 6.25 pm. It was a sunny evening, and we were just relaxing in the sun both before and after the photograph was taken. Jane, who's garden it was, had just told us that she felt sure that this area of her garden was where the garden elementals lived. It should be said that Jane is a psychic and a healer, and is very open to strange phenomena. However we didn't expect to capture anything on camera, but were delighted when we did! Can anyone explain what may have caused this one, or is it a horticultural paranormal experience?

This image was taken at the ancient holy site of Madron Celtic Baptistry, Boswarthen, Cornwall on 16th July 2005 at 11.09 am. Again it was very sunny. I was on my own, and nothing was seen in the well chamber before the photo was taken. This is the only double orb that I have in my collection. And the only photo I have seen where two orbs overlap.

I will post another article and more interesting photo's on this site in due course. Including orbs that have seemingly appeared to order, and an orb that seemed to open the fabric of time and space itself. Watch this space folks!

Friday, 10 August 2007

Earth Mysteries childrens stories by Cara Louise

THE LADY OF THE ROCK
by Cara Louise.
Cover illustration by Yuri Leitch.

Near the village where Edward lives is a great rock face in which he can see the figure of a mysterious lady. Her appearance changes from a laughing young girl in spring to the mother of fruit and grain at harvest time, to a barren, wizened hag in winter. When a greedy landowner decides to quarry the rock, Mother Earth proves in a dramatic way that she is mightier than man.

22 page booklet for readers aged 9-12. £2.50 including post and packing.
Order by sending an email to:
caralouise@talk21.com. Paypal, cheque or postal order.

THE SERPENT OF THE WOOD
by Cara Louise.
Cover illustration by Yuri Leitch.

Mysterious Park Wood gives Sally the chance to escape from the hassles of school. But when the woods are threatened by plans to build a hypermarket, the strange serpent-spirit of the land begins to stir. Sally must listen to the voice of the woods and rally her friends to take on the might of the local council and big business. This story is set in Park Wood, in the Glastonbury Zodiac. The cover illustration is by Yuri Leitch who has just brought out his own new book on Glastonbury.

Special limited edition - 25 copies only.
£2.50 inc. p&p. Order by sending e-mail to caralouise@talk21.com . Paypal, cheque or postal order. 21 page story for readers aged 7-11.


BIFFY AND THE BARROW
by Cara Louise.

Cover illustration by Yuri Leitch.

Biffy understands the mysterious beings who live inside the ancient burial mound near his home. When Jacko and his gang begin to use the mound as a scrambling ground for their motorbikes, Biffy’s warnings of trouble come dramatically true.

20 page story for re
aders aged 7-11.
£2.50 including p&p. Order using Paypal, cheque, postal order by e-mailing caralouise@talk21.com. Limited edition - 25
copies.

Friday, 27 July 2007

Lady Olivia Robertson interview, 1993

As part of our ongoing project to re-publish some of the back catalogue of articles from ASH Magazine and The Lighthouse, it is my pleasure to reproduce an interview I did for The Lighthouse magazine, issue number 2, autumn equinox 1993, where I had the great honour of exclusively interviewing Lady Olivia Robertson.

Founder of the internationally renowned Fellowship of Isis, and long standing elder of the world wide Goddess community, Lady Olivia was born on Friday April 13th 1917, in London. Of Irish descent Olivia studied at the Grovesnor School of Modern Art in London before embarking on a very creative career as a novelist and artist before deciding to found the Fellowship of Isis in 1976. Now in her 90th year, she still tours all over the world and attends the Glastonbury Goddess conference each year. Lady Olivia Robertson has inspired countless millions of people to get in touch with their own personal goddess-centred spirituality.

Please bear in mind that the interview was held 15 years ago in 1992, so some questions and answers may seem a little out of context now. Enjoy!
--------------------------

Lady Olivia Robertson

On April 29th 1993 I found myself sitting in the offices of Psychic News in central London. I was there to interview Olivia Robertson, co founder of the Fellowship of Isis. She had flown into London for the re launch of her book The Call of Isis, which had been re published by Neptune Press. I took the opportunity to speak with her before the party began.

Alex: Your book The Call of Isis has been described as a psychic autobiography. When did you first hear this call?

Olivia: I would say ever since I was born. You might say that going to the pantomime to see Cinderella, and seeing the fairy godmother throw off her black cloak and revealing herself was my first call, but it is always a secret call, you don't realise it is there. I really didn't think I would be doing all of this. I was a perfectly respectable Anglo-Irish writer. People used to ask if I was writing any more books, and I used to reply, yes I'm doing the Fellowship of Isis, and they used to reply, no, your books! They wouldn't accept it. When I first saw the goddess, or rather, when I use the word Goddess I mean there is a whole hierarchy of beings more evolved than we are, She was made of pure white light. I think in some ways they are connected to ancient chariots that go across the sky. People don't seem to like this idea, but why not? Then I saw the gold lady. She is the one you see when you go to sleep. She had long gold hair and a turquoise blue robe. I believe in the god as well, and i have seen male beings. I just feel that humanity at the moment needs the female aspect.

Alex: The FOI states that anyone can join no matter what ones other religion, creed or background, and more importantly, that they can retain their other allegiances and be a full and active member of the fellowship. How compatible is, lets say mainstream Christianity to the FOI?

Olivia: Well we do have a lot of mainstream Christians as members. We have Tony Grist, the clergyman who writes for the guardian and we have two Roman Catholic monks, one who works in the Vatican, he's a Jesuit, and a Benedictine monk, who actually got us into the Parliament of World Religions. We are the first goddess based religion that has been acknowledged. They have been all men up to now, nothing but long beards, bald heads and dog collars could be seen. We are going to give them a bit of a surprise I think!

Alex: (Laughing) What made you decide to initially set up th FOI?

Olivia: Looking back I am the most unorganized person. I am an author and a painter. I love solitary meditation. I love parties too, but I do like being on my own. I was guided by the goddess to do it, along with my (late) brother Lawrence who is an ordained clergy man and his late wife Pamela.

Alex: The FOI manifesto states that you have no rules. There are no vows of secrecy or regulations. In fact the FOI is probably the worlds only open occult society. Why did you decide to have this policy?

Olivia: Well we were and still are living in Ireland where Catholics and Protestants are still shooting at each other. This made us feel that we should have an organisation where people could find their own spirituality, there own path. You see people who join seem to have all there own ideas and backgrounds; a Jesuit is going to have all his own ideas, rules and regulations just as a member of an occult order has theirs. Therefore we couldn't have any rules because everyone else has there own! For instance the Nigerian members each have many wives. I got a bit puzzled when I got a letter saying Mr. this and Mrs. that and then a whole lot more Mrs!

(At this point the Tea arrives, and we take a welcome slurp or two...)

Alex: So why do you think the FOI has so many members in Nigeria?

Olivia: Well I think that perhaps Nigeria is more untouched than some other African countries, for instance there are less white settlers, therefore less missionaries to stamp out native traditions. I have no idea where they heard about us, word of mouth I suppose.

Alex: Why did you set up a priesthood in an organisation which appears to be non-hierarchical?

Olivia: We were asked by a lady who wanted to be a priestess. Nearly everything we do is because someone asks us to do it. The FOI is non-hierarchical because we are modern. I mean all this prostrating and bowing and occult orders bossing people around. We just don't like that.

Alex: The Druid Clan of Dana is one of the more recent formations of the fellowship. Why another Druid order when there are so many already?

Olivia: Because the poor Irish druids who are among the oldest seemed to be totally ignored. So we thought we could do something about this. We felt that although there are druids in Ireland anyway, we could enable something to manifest. My brother and I were initiated by an aged hermit called Mr. Fox. He actually saw the ancient race of Ireland in vision. He introduced me to the Sidhe. I was given an initiation by this holy man who lived by the river Slaney at an ancient site. It was totally overgrown and people wouldn't go there because they were afraid.

Alex: When was this?

Olivia: When I was a child of about 10, during the 1930s. Later on I began to see a white lady who told me that her name was Dana. At the time I didn't want to give her a name but she told me three times, so I had to accept it! She is queen of the whole earth. I am very against the racism of the Celts. I have a theory that the white race is going downhill rapidly, and feels it's being submerged. People actually pay Americans to adopt Irish children because they are not black. They actually try to bribe Irish mothers because there children are regarded as white Celts. Neo-Nazis no longer call themselves Arian or Nordic, instead they decide to be Celtic! Therefore Celtic racism can be a sort of gentile way, (rather like talking about the bog, instead you refer to the loo or the comfort station). The only sort of people who can be used as a subterfuge for racism is the Celt! Therefore we particularly want to say that Dana is queen of the whole earth, and we have no racism in the FOI. Anyone can join and use the holy spirits of their own lands. Do you know I have had people say to me that you cannot practice Druidry unless you are Celtic, and you cannot enter the Isles of the Blessed unless you are born of our sacred race. This is serious, just look at Bosnia.

Alex: Yes exactly! Racism has no place at all, ever in any religion or indeed anywhere! People need to become more tolerant and inclusive. On a lighter note my last question is this: what would you say a typical day at Clonegal Castle would be?

Clonegal Castle, foundation centre for the Fellowship of Isis

Olivia: Well I get up at 5.30 am every day and at 6.30 I go into the Temple of Isis and anoint my brow. Here I meditate until 8.30. Then in the evenings, again from 6.30 until 8.30 we have mediation in the temple. I feel these attunement times are important. Many people attune with us from all over the world at these times.

Alex: Thank you Olivia, it has been a joy to meet you.


Special thanks to Ronnie Hudson, priestess of Isis, for encouraging me to re-publish this long out of print interview.

Photographs taken from authors private collection, donated by Olivia in 1994.

For further information on the FOI click here: www.fellowshipofisis.com