Tuesday, 28 June 2016
On the 9th of March 2016 I travelled to Sheffield for a talk on so called Witch Marks. In this case, not marks made by witches or even those made by the Devil and placed on witches. No, these were marks made to deter witches and to defend against witchcraft. Having seen a rather fine example of the ‘daisy’ form at Little Moreton Hall in Cheshire, placed opposite the fireplace to prevent witches from entering the building down it, I found this subject to be of personal interest.
The talk, ‘Scribbles, Scorch Marks and Scribed Symbols’ was to be given by Andy Bentam at Bishops’ House. This charming, quaint Tudor, wood framed building is situated in Meersbrook Park of Norton Lees and is something of a little known treasure. An historical and aesthetic gem. The area itself is now a suburb of Sheffield but was only a few centuries ago, part of northern Derbyshire.
The building dates from the early sixteenth century and is a two story farmstead type building, not as grand as Little Moreton Hall but far above that of a peasant’s cottage. This was the home of a yeomanry family, landholding farmers that would eventually join the gentry and receive a grant of arms. This family of early owners were called Blythe. A remarkable local family that served at the Tudor court, produced two bishops in the form of two brothers. One brother became Bishop of Salisbury and Chancellor of Cambridge University, the other became Bishop of Lichfield, Coventry and Chester. High flyers indeed.
Arriving with friends from Sheffield, I was able to view the house in the semi darkness and standing on the hill, look across the city, lit up as it was on a clear night. Stepping inside we met up with friends from Nottingham, although there was some confusion here. One of my friends habitually travels with his Bengal and for a few moments, there was a discussion as to whether this qualified or not as a disabled companion animal. Once the guide cat was accepted however, we were able to enter and view the building.
The interior of the house is sparse to allow room for events but has exhibits of a local interest situated on both floors. This includes a room set up for a meal, a scold’s bridle upstairs and some attractive seventeenth century furniture. The timber framing and other items of interest, would form a subject for part of the talk.
Andy Bentam is a Peak Park Ranger and in the course of his work in the Peak District, he has come across many unusual marks left on the woodwork of several medieval and Tudor buildings. This fired his interest, encouraging him to begin documenting their occurrence in Derbyshire and the border counties of the Peak District.
This short but highly informative slideshow presentation, barely touched the surface that could have been explored. It was a taster, an overview of the fascinating apotropaic activities across the nearby Peakland. I could have listened to this man for hours and delved further into this ‘enchanting’ subject, the slides and his commentary were an absolute delight. Never before had I realised that such treasures lay hidden on my doorstep. Although admittedly and unfortunately, many are not accessible to the public. Mr Bentam’s professional activities gain him access to halls and houses, which your average member of the National Trust is not privy to.
Mr Bentam explained with obvious enthusiasm, that these apotropaic markings are divided broadly into two forms, although these two broad divisions can be divided further by the experts. In the basic form the two types are either of a straight line, scored in the wood or an actual graphic design, usually a daily or sun wheel. However, neither is easily identifiable in all cases and those consisting of straight lines are sometimes confused with construction marks and obviously, visa versa.
Indeed that last point was very important. Many construction and levelling marks can be found on the timber frames of building of this age. They were a common and necessary part of the building process. A timber frame would often be assembled and adjusted at a builder’s yard, the marks identified up and down, left, right and which part joined with another. Later when the frame was erected in situ, these marks would identify the correct order and assemblage. Rather like a giant flat packed wardrobe from Ikea. I can only hope that all the parts were there and the instructions in clear terms.
Many construction marks consisting as they do, of a series of straight lines, scored on the outer visible service of the frames, are mistaken for Marion marks. These marks consist of four lines placed to form the letter M. It is suggested that they are a charm calling upon the Blessed Virgin for protection. It is important to note that apotropaic marks habitually date from before the Reformation, they are of a predominately Catholic meaning and this would obviously include the crucifix type mark. Sometimes, possibly in representation of the Holy Trinity, such marks are grouped in a unit of three.
The second form of mark is the daisy or sun wheel type, often geometrically perfect and formed using the traditional joiner’s tools. An attractive design that is both reminiscent of the Pennsylvania Dutch or more correctly, Deutche hex-marks and symbols found (am I told) in Slavic indigenous religion.
Once the presentation had ended we were as a group, able to explore the building itself. Bishops’ House has dozens of visible construction, carpenter’s or builder’s marks. There are equally of interest to those wishing to view the apotropaic marks, deliberate scorch marks on some of the doors. It was pointed out to us how clearly, by viewing the shape of the scorch mark; that they had been made with obvious intent. The shape suggested a candle had been held close to the wooden surface of the door, for a considerable length of time. It is believed that such scorch marks were placed to protect the house from fire and possibly lightning.
Of particular interest were the daisy marks, as Bishops’ House has on three of the ground floor doors, over fifty documented examples of these wheels. Many are small and difficult to see, many others are quite clear and distinct.
My trip was both enjoyable and educational, I came away with a list of further reading and an appreciation for the craft of the timber frame builder that I lacked before. I recommend to anyone visiting Sheffield to call at Bishops’ House if they can, noting that the Friends of Bishops’ House Trust regularly hold activities, lectures and displays.
An illustrated guide to Bishops’ House is available from the Friends of Bishops’ House Trust.
Saturday, 25 June 2016
Late on Monday the 20th of June, post our Sunday ritual and when most of the residue had been cleaned and tidied away. Our minds turned towards the possibility of a trip or pilgrimage for the 21st. It was eventually decided that the Hearth Defender and myself would travel to Wiltshire to observe the sunrise. We set off later than planned, at three o’clock in the morning.
We had several options open, including paying the excessive parking charge at Stonehenge or choosing an alternative location. The Hearth Defender has a particular fondness for Barbury Castle, an Iron Age hill fort in Wiltshire, one of several ‘hills with lumpy bits’ as I call them, that lie in that area and a pleasing alternative venue.
Our approach to the general area was complicated by a somewhat unreasonable ‘satnav,’ that sent us in a circle and caused us some slight delay. This delay and detour however, led us by chance to enjoy walking across the road in front of us and only a few yards away from the car, the sight of a muntjac deer. The early hour naturally meant that there was little traffic and the wildlife took full advantage of that situation.
Our delay also led to our observing the sunrise from a country lane, situated between two of these ‘hills with lumpy bits.’ We saw a most spectacular sunrise come over the top of one such hill and directly opposite as expected, a truly gorgeous full moon setting over the brow of the other.
Wisely ignoring the ‘satnav’ and driving by memory, we eventually pulled into the carpark at Barbury Castle and set off through the mist to find the ramparts. It was here overlooking a flat meadow with the enclosure behind us and to the accompaniment of skylarks; that we held our short observance, sharing a horn of mead. We then set off to walk the ramparts and spent an hour enjoying the fine views of the surrounding landscape.
The morning was quite beautiful, neither too warm nor cold, with a light mist slowly dissipating as the sun rose higher. Whilst walking the ramparts and on the walk back to the car, we were able to appreciate the peace and beauty of the Country Park. We were the only people present, seeing our first jogger as we approached the carpark. Having already delighted in observing skylarks and other birds that we had difficulty in identifying, we enjoyed watching buzzards, whitethroats and yellowhammers.
Returning to the car and it still being quite early, we set off not in search of lunch but breakfast. We drove through the rolling Wiltshire country, into and through Avebury, out past two white horses and on to Devizes. Devizes is an attractive town and we eventually found ourselves in the Bear Hotel being served by extraordinarily polite staff. These included an African gentleman by the name of Charley, who carried a permanent smile and an air of exceeding good humour.
The walk back to the car enabled us to explore the market, picking up a rather attractive circular board carved with a Tinners’ Hare design and a set of roebuck tines. We then set off proper for Avebury, clutching my National Trust membership so we would get ‘free postage’ once there. I was tired but the Defender knew I meant free parking.
Parking up and gathering our necessaries we set off for the circle, crossing the road and walking down a short lane, to climb the steps and enter the bank from the National Trust complex side. Here as is ‘traditional’ I gave three blasts upon the horn to mark our setting off. We then began our stroll amongst the stones in a deosil (clockwise) direction.
Leaving the Swindon Road stone we again crossed the road to approach the Cove. This magnificent structure hints at what the Avebury could have looked like before the removal of other stones, as the Cove is now only two stones of what was a larger feature. Here talking to other visitors, I permitted people to try the horn and then persuading a couple to stand with their palms on the larger stone, I demonstrated the resonance of the sound wave from the Cove, when the horn is blown in that direction. The vibrations are tangible and the bounce back, clearly experienced. In the distance but not too far away, we would hear the reply of another horn. A not uncommon occurrence at gatherings such as this.
Walking along the fence on a very conveniently mowed path, we re-joined the ring and paused to admire the so called ‘Catstone.’ Then progressing further, we came upon a group of young men and women, gathered about and sitting upon one of the larger stones. It transpired that the replying horn was a didgeridoo and so we stopped to chat, allowing two of their number to experiment with my instrument while I took snapshots. I declined to attempt the didgeridoo however, experience has taught me not to, as I find the breathing technique extraordinarily difficult.
Making our way across the next road, we climbed the outer bank by the famous Avebury ash-grove, stopping to admire the views and take more snapshots. The surveyed a ‘pleasing prospect’ as William Stukeley would have said. To one side of us a rolling meadow, climbing up to the low hills and ‘hedgehogs’ on the horizon A hedgehog being the local county name for a tumulus topped with a copse. On the other side, we looked down into the great bowl of Avebury, with the assorted stones and markers sweeping away towards the village proper.
Descending into the bowl we broke with tradition and rather than walk through the stones, skirted around the edge to approach the Kingstone Marker, from whence we departed the circle through the stones to cross to the final quarter of our walk. Here passing over the St. Michael Line we made our way to the final stone, here as is our want and in accordance with tradition, I signalled the end of our stroll with three more blasts upon the horn.
Time was catching up but it was not yet lunchtime, so we retraced our steps down the lane to the National Trust complex and visited the museums. The first I found a little disappointing, as it is really more an activity centre for children somewhat younger than ourselves but it did include some interesting snippets and its merit should not be disregarded. The examination of the internal structure of the barn itself held some interest for us and we could appreciate that a family group could spend considerable time exploring the displays.
We then moved to the second museum which was far more historically interesting, containing as it did some magnificent artefacts and displays. Of particular interest to me were the examples of pottery. I simply adore pottery, stylish mugs, cups and bowls. If they are hand thrown, then all the better. So to see such fine examples of Iron Age work, both plain and decorated, was something of a delight.
A display of unique interest, was a depiction of the construction of the circle made by Alexander Keiller for when his private museum first opened. Keiller was one of the first to undertake a proper archaeological survey of Avebury and many of the items on display originated in his collection. This particular item dating from 1938 was a museum artefact in its own right, adding a certain continuity to the arrangements.
Leaving the museum complex we returned to the circle, taking our position a little way from the St. Michael Line on a conveniently mowed spot. Here we faced a stone with the sun directly in line above, to hold our noon observance (local time 1.08pm approximately). This once again served as an excuse for a blast upon the horn and the necessary sharing of mead
Gathering ourselves together with our few items, we departed the circle and once again as is our tradition, settled down for lunch in the Red Lion. Here post meal we chatted to interested tourists who seemed quite enamoured by the day, the horn and our clothing. They don’t see many people wearing cloaks apparently. One couple even wanted to pose for photographs with us. Naturally we consented, it would have been rude not to.
Leaving the Red Lion we did our usual and yes traditional tour of the shops. Again stopping to talking to passes by and teach people how to give a blast on the horn. A group of French visitors expressed an interest in my wooden pendant, having spotted it when I had removed my green cloak in the pub. I noted significantly, than one gentleman in the group wore a Templar Cross signet ring.
Leaving Avebury behind us, we began our journey home to the Midlands, at first a totally uneventful experience, with the added joy of spotting red kites from the car. Unfortunately in attempting to negotiate the Oxford ring road we missed a turning, drove through the city centre and found ourselves heading in the general direction of Gloucester. This was not what we had planned.
We doubled back, joined the correct road and finally pulled in a Little Chef north of Oxford. This once again was a traditional stopping off point and it is famous in our circles, as the spot where the Most Ancient and Venerable Order of the Skylark and Hawthorne was founded in 2006. It would take far too long for me to explain the significance of our Order but one can clearly see how ancient we are, predating the foundation several of supermarkets in the local area.
Leaving Oxford behind once more, we set off north and homeward bound, passing close to Coventry as we did so. Although I am not absolutely certain on that last point, as we may have strayed from our route a second time.
Returning home at the end of a long, tiring and rewarding day, we could reflect that the day was almost like old times. Right down to the detours, remembering that we once set off for Penzance, changed our minds and went to Southampton instead. Like old times however, we had truly experienced a Solstice from dawn, through noon to dusk, touching the land as part of our journey.
Midsummer Adventures 2016 Part One
Another relevant blog:
The Bear Hotel
The Alexander Keiller Museum
Friday, 24 June 2016
Plans for organising the Midsummer observance of the Hearth of the Turning Wheel near went somewhat awry this year. Not for the first time and to the continued inconvenience of many, we have been incommoded by family and work commitments.
The date of the Solstice was itself open to serious scrutiny, the Sun entering Cancer on Monday the 20th of June 2016 at 22.34 GMT, meant that the astronomical and the astrological Solstice fell during the hours of darkness. This left many with the option to observe either the sunrise before (the Monday) or the sunrise post (the Tuesday). English Heritage, again not for the first time, chose the latter (the 21st of June 2016) and set something of a policy for many.
We in the Hearth did our best to make our own arrangements independently of others, as far as was reasonably possible of course. Noting that if we did organise a trip to Stonehenge for example, then it would have to be Tuesday the 21st of June. So it was that at shorter notice than we would have preferred, a date was set, a ritual from the Hearth archive was chosen and notifications were sent. Our final decision was to hold an eve of the Solstice observance on Sunday the 19th at an indoor location.
My Sunday began with my meeting a former work colleague for a midmorning ‘brunch’ and pot of tea at a relatively near garden centre. An enjoyable pastime that had the added convenience of my friend helping me harvest oak branches from the hedgerows. These oaken boughs together with a small branch of holly, would go on to form the decorations of the evening. So it was that I spent my Sunday afternoon hanging oak branches and making an oaken crown for the ritual.
The Hearth of the Turning Wheel, as a coterie (I do like that word) of somewhat independently minded individuals, representing something of a diversity of experience, interests and paths, remains a sovereign order. Taking our inspiration from a variety of sources, the local environment, folklore and tradition, is a vital and intrinsic element within our path. Our approach may to some outsiders appear idiosyncratic and arbitrary, yet there is a key to our understanding but unfortunately (perhaps), many cannot find the lock.
The Hearth of the Turning Wheel is a small, private group that does on occasion invite carefully selected guests. Our evening ritual was therefore, a small close affair and we had present two guests. The ritual this year was heavily focused upon poetry and fairy symbolism, we included several Shakespearian quotations.
One important key as it were, to our own understanding and practice; is a differentiation made in our perception regarding the beginning of the seasons, the height of those seasons and the symbolism of the Kings. Many a calendar will inform the reader that the Summer Solstice and the longest day, is the first day of summer. The fact that many practitioners know this time as Midsummer, should be enough to illustrate that there is a difference in perception.
A key that is perhaps more specific to the Hearth of the Turning Wheel and a few related groups, is our observance that the equinoxes (both spring and autumn) are equally the midpoints and not the beginning of the respective seasons. More than that however, is the distinction made that although the Maytide and the Hallowtide mark the approximate beginning of our summer and winter. The symbolic changeover of Oak King to Holly King and Holly King to Oak King, takes place not at the solstices or the quarter days mentioned, rather we judge that transformation to be at the equinoxes themselves, when the balance truly tips.
There are of course good reasons for the observance of these changes at the times mentioned above, including the fall of Baldur at the Summer Solstice and the rise of the Avenger at the Winter Solstice (see blog link below), yet here in the English Midlands the land is verdant and the Oak is at his peak. This we reflect in our rituals, the Oak King reigns still and he is not yet ready to pass his crown to another.
Another relevant blog post:
Hekate, Ancient Goddess, Modern Devotion. Origins, Myth and Worship in the present day a talk given by Vicky Newton.
Early in July 2015 I travelled to one of my favourite cities, the vibrant and ever welcoming city of Leeds. This visit was to attend a talk by a friend of mine at the Halifax Moot, in the town outside of Leeds and on the other side of Bradford.
The train journey was uneventful and my arrival in Leeds was as always welcoming. Stopping only for a moment to check my bearings and my map once outside of the Railway Station, a local woman paused on her own journey to give me directions voluntarily and without prompting. That is how Yorkshire folk roll.
Once my orientation was satisfied I took a leisurely walk across the centre of the metropolis to reach the Travelodge on Vicar Lane, set just off the main shopping areas. Dropping my light overnight bag with a most helpful concierge, I set off to find a suitable eatery.
I finally decided on Nash’s Fish and Chip Restaurant on Harrogate Road, close to the Opera House. After climbing what I found to be an excessive number of stairs due to recent illness, I settled down in the very comfortable surroundings of this delightful restaurant.
Here I enjoyed the experience of a truly exceptional table service and thoroughly enjoyed the vegetarian special of the day. Now of course it may seem odd that a self-professed vegetarian, no matter how hypocritical in his personal life with regard the wearing of leather shoes, would choose to dine at a fish and chip restaurant. However, from the outside the restaurant had a rather appealing look and on entering, I found the stylish décor equally appealing to my pretentious and perhaps rather snobbish nature.
The restaurant was reasonably busy, catering for the matinee audience eating before the show started in the nearby Opera House. Much to my amusement I was asked if I also was attending by the staff, this gave me the pleasure of explaining no but I had already seen Glen Carter in Jesus Christ Superstar precisely one week previous. I was able add with equally honest pleasure, that it was a truly great show.
Returning to the hotel after lunch via the side street running alongside the Opera House and thereby making a mental note of the queuing crowds, I settled myself into my room for a period of rest, before it was time to meet my friend once more.
So it was that late that afternoon in the hotel foyer, I met my friend Vicky Newton, the presenter of the evening talk that I had journeyed to hear. Although we are in regular communication, it had been some months since our last meeting, so it was a great pleasure to meet once more. We repeated my slow walk of earlier in the day in reverse, to catch our train to Halifax.
Halifax is an attractive town nestled in a wooded valley, the land around looked good walking country. Vicky Newton was booked to present her talk on the Goddess Hekate in a pub, just a short uphill walk from the station itself.
The Railway Pub is situated on a street corner at 29 Horton Street, Halifax, (HX1 1QE West Yorkshire), it is a pleasant Victorian public house. The bar staff were friendly and helpful, although the pub did not serve mead, it did a good quality Irish whiskey. Bushmill’s is the next best thing as far as I am concerned, so I was quite happy with my tipple for the evening.
The gathering was small, intimate and friendly, hosted by Jon Hoyle the proprietor of a shop called the Friendly Dragon, situated at 24 Horton Street (Halifax, West Yorkshire) a short uphill walk from the pub.
The evening began with a brief introduction, first by Mr Hoyle and then elaborated further by Mrs Newton herself. Vicky Newton describes herself as a solitary practitioner of a craft ‘undefined;’ blending as it does an interest in British prehistory and folk tradition, to create her own unique praxis. Mrs Newton has been she tells us, Pagan for some sixteen years but during the last five, Vicky has been a devotee of Hekate.
This focused devotion upon this most enigmatic and important Goddess, has led Mrs Newton to further develop her personal praxis. Hekate is, as Vicky was at pains to emphasise; known to lead her devotees down many paths, both in terms of experience, revelation and research. In the service of Hekate, Vicky Newton has found herself stretched and tested.
Importantly, one of those tests for Vicky Newton is the sharing of her experience and learning with others, in writing and in lecturing. Which quite obviously, leads us to our meeting in Halifax.
Vicky Newton opened her presentation with a question, who is Hekate? Noting importantly that she chooses deliberately to use the older Greek spelling with a K, as opposed to the Latin C. We were taken through the possible origins of the Goddess from the Anatolian region of modern Turkey through to the Hellenic development. A Goddess of many layers was presented, a Goddess of the Crossroads, the Restless Dead, liminal, earthy and the Torchbearer.
Our knowledge of this all important Goddess is derived from a variety of sources, mythological, archaeological and literary. The Hekate we perceive today in some modern and rather new age influenced works, bears little resemblance to her more ancient depictions.
These ancient beginnings are suggested by her Anatolian origin outside of Greece and that in the sacred mythologies of the Hellenic age, Hekate is a Titan pre-dating the Olympian Pantheon. As a daughter of Perses and Asteria, Hekate is the inheritor of a portion of the Earth, the Sky and the Unfruitful Seas.
The sources themselves were listed for the audience to facilitate further study, they included the Orphic Hymns, the Chaldean Oracles, the famous Greek Magical Papyri (Papyi Graecae Magicae), the Eleusinian Mysteries, the writings of the Neo-Platonic school and the various mythologies already alluded to.
Moving on to the question of depictions visual of the Goddess, we looked upon the classical triformis manifestation. Hekate not simply a crone figure and not the elder of the modern triple goddess depiction, so beloved todays’ Pagans. Hekate stands rather as a strong, regal woman of indeterminate age, a trinity of identical queenly features.
Many of the more ancient texts speak of Hekate not as a crone but as a maiden (in the older sense). Mrs Newton suggests that this confusion with other crone figures in mythology, is based on their shared apotropaic abilities with Hekate.
In looking at those symbols associated with Hekate, we gained a brief overview of such ubiquitous items as the Dagger, the Cord and the Torch, Keys, Doors and perhaps most famously, the Crossroad. Finally leading to that most enigmatic of Hekatean symbols, the Strophalos (Heakate’s Wheel). The (om)phalos or central hub is unsurprisingly, the axis around which other energies or symbols rotate. It is the flame around which the serpent twists in a spiral and both are symbols of Her knowledge.
Finally as the evening drew to a close, Mrs Newton made a brief mention, regarding the confusion of Hekate with the minor Egyptian Goddess Heka. An unfortunate conflation derived from a similarity in pronunciation and the croak of frogs in a humorous work. This proposed link between the two Goddesses although once popular, is now often dismissed as a literary error. Our speaker did not spend a great deal of time explaining what some now consider to be a theological cul-de-sac but focused rather on the references and their disputed relevance.
Dismissing this quickly, Mrs Newton began to close her presentation with a concise overview of the modern Hekatean movement, ranging from the Covenant of Hekate, Mystai of the Moon and Primal Craft; whilst observing that there are numerous small, independent groups devoted to the service of Hekate.
Hekate it should be noted, is a challenging patron and yet her service is a reward in itself. As one would expect from such a well versed speaker, the presentation was equally challenging, bringing its own reward, both in the knowledge displayed and the stimulus for further research.
RELEVANT PLACES IN LEEDS AND HALIFAX
Travelodge Vicar Lane Leeds:
Nash’s Fish and Chip Restaurant: http://www.originalnashs.co.uk/
The Railway Pub 29 Horton Street, HX1 1QE Halifax, West Yorkshire
The Halifax Moot is hosted by Jon Hoyle of the shop the Friendly Dragon at 24 Horton Street Halifax, West Yorkshire:
BLOGS BY VICKY NEWTON
OTHER RELEVANT BLOGS
JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR
DAY OF MYSTERIES AND MAGIC II (SATURDAY 25th OCTOBER 2014) LEEDS UK
PAGAN PRIDE (NOTTINGHAM UK) 2nd August 2015