And November brings starlings

Kirkstone Pass

These last few days have brought huge clouds of starlings; initially on the eastern side of Penzance, then perhaps 10,000 murmurating at Marazion Marshes last night and, just now, thousands of them whirling in a massive circle outside the back of the house. It’s been like a wonderful, waking dream.

As you can see from my previous post, the trip to Cumbria in September included a return to Jhonn Balance’s memorial. We spent some time at Bassenthwaite Lake, with only geese for company, near the hawthorn tree where Balance’s ashes were scattered, then made our way to the nearby woodland memorial. We had time here, too, to tidy up litter left by thoughtless visitors and to photograph the woodland. I was able to take in the surroundings more fully this time. The place is dearly important to me.

The trip was overwhelming for many reasons. We stayed in a house overlooked by Blencathra mountain on one side and the Helvellyn range on another and visited Castlerigg stone circle three times, such was its effect on us. On each visit the weather and light were radically different, the mountains surrounding the plateau on which the circle sits subtly changed as the sun came and went. On our first visit, we were lucky enough to have D, a local Pagan, quietly impart his extensive knowledge of the place. Thank you, D.

We also travelled east to Long Meg And Her Daughters, a stone circle so big that it contains several trees and a lane runs through it. Long Meg, outside the circle but seeming to keep a protective eye on it, has a beautiful spiral carved into her side. It is entirely different to Castlerigg but a fascinating place. On our last visit we were unable to meet up with Ian Johnstone (artist/farmer/Coil affiliate and Balance’s partner) but met with him twice this time. After several years of communicating with him, it was wonderful to meet face to face and we talked at length about many, many things.

JB Hawthorn & Dodd

Storylandia #15 – the issue devoted to my work – is now set for publication in January 2015. This means my deadline is two months’ shorter than I originally thought, but I’m happy that it’s going ahead so soon. Four short stories and one novella are now with the editor and I’m hoping that all of these will appear in the issue. I have one story that’s near to completion but won’t be ready in time and another with an anthology editor – this feels like a good momentum to have gained.

Balance: Penzance’s Winter Solstice festival

Penglaz in all her glory. Photo: http://www.cornishwitchcraft.co.uk

This from the Montol 2011 website:

“This Winter Solstice event is 5 years old and involves the revival of recorded traditions in Cornwall but in particular, West Penwith. It originated as an idea to have an event in PZ to ‘balance’ with the Midsummer’s Golowan Festival.

Reflecting the ‘death’ and ‘rebirth’ of the sun, Rivers of Fire are created, lantern-lit processions from different areas of the town, meeting at the highest point, Lescudjack Hillfort, an ancient fortress site. Here, the community gathers to watch The Lord of Misrule light the beacon, fireplay, dancing, drumming and the magical, mischievous Turkey Rhubarb Band. The site is lit by natural light from numerous lanterns and torches, crafted in the previous week at community workshops.

All return to Chapel Street in one ‘River of Fire’ where the guising, music, acrobatics, singing and mayhem begins, masked and dressed in tattered or ‘mock posh’ attire, as recorded in the history books. Later, another band-led torch lit procession begins from the top of Chapel Street, leading to a lower beacon behind the Barbican for community dancing, music and the Chalking of the Mock ceremony.

Visually spectacular, you will not be sorry if you pay a visit to Penzance on this mid winter night. Make a mask, dress up (or down!) and come along!

Montol 2011 Schedule of Events
(as at 14/11/11)

Friday 9th December, 8pm

Montol Fund Raising Ceilidh at the Magpies Football Club. Penzance. Callers and folk group ‘Smash The Window’.  Entry £5

Thursday 15th December. From 7.30pm.

Guising Tour of a Mummer’s Play around the pubs of Penzance.

Saturday 17th December. 10am to 4pm.

Exchange Gallery Penzance. Community Lantern/Mask Making Workshops. FREE!

Sunday 18th December. 7.30pm

St Mary’s Church Penzance. Montol Carol Concert. A rare chance to sing these Cornish Carols and watch a Cornish Candle Dance.

Tuesday 20th December from 8.30pm.

The Pirate Inn. Alverton. Another chance to watch the Guise Mummer’s Play during our regular Folk Night.

Wednesday 21st December. Montol Eve.

6pm.

Rivers of Fire Lantern Procession leaves St John’s Hall Penzance. Other ‘Rivers’ from various areas around the town.

6.30pm.

Lescudjack Hillfort Performance including the Lighting of the Beacon by the Lord of Misrule, fire-play, drumming, dancing and the Turkey Rhubarb Guise Band. Procession returns to Chapel Street.

8pm to 10pm.

Chapel Street Party. Guising, music, plays, fire/circus acts, Cornish dance and festive food stalls.

10pm.

Torchlit Procession led by the Turkey Rhubarb Guise Band from New Street to the car park between PZ Gallery and the Barbican. There, another Beacon will be lit, the ‘Mock’ will be ‘Chalked’ and more dancing will commence!!”

As yet there seems to be no attempt to further ‘de-Pagan’ the event. Last year the local press was full of outrage and horror and two of the people involved in the event – who happened to be witches – were treated abysmally and not allowed to participate. As a result it all felt a bit flat, although the Pagan elements were still very much in evidence. Cast a spell to encourage a bit more open mindedness and respect!

“Magic prefers circles”*

Troy Books has just published the memoirs/guide to witching by West Penwith witch/wise woman Cassandra Latham Jones. I haven’t read it yet but it’s something I must get hold of. Cassandra led the main parade at Mazey Day for many years, casting a spell for good weather and was teazer for Penglaz at the Montol (Winter Solstice) festival in Penzance. It should be a fascinating insight into modern witchcraft. Hallowe’en is approaching and year by year the real meaning drifts a little further away. The de-Paganing of the event, to the extent that it’s just a fun night for children to dress up as their favourite horror/Harry Potter character and collect sweets, is sad and frustrating. Cassandra’s book would be a far better ‘treat’ gift!

Little People's stone circle

On a recent trip, taking an old friend to Boscawen-Un stone circle near Crows-an-Wra, we found what seems to be another sacred site. Not noted anywhere, but recently cleared, it resembles a burial site of some kind, with a tiny stone circle. The photo above shows the nine stones but not the scale – it’s just a few feet across. What it actually is and when it was created is something I’ve yet to find out, but the ‘vibe’ at the place is amazingly calm and peaceful, the energy even better than at the nearby site.

POST SCRIPT (30 Oct): The comment by Troy Books includes a link to The Megalithic Portal, which has some details: the site is Creeg Tol, a natural rock formation. The stone circle is generally agreed to be reasonably recent, but no one seems to know any more than that. The vibe at the site, especially before it was cleared, is also generally agreed to be quite horrendous. People talk of being watched from the hole in the rocks. I’ll be going back there soon to check it out in more detail.

* Tallis Zawn, Launceston, Cornwall, 2010

Story accepted/Julian Cope and The Modern Antiquarian

Cross Bound has been accepted by Aphelionan American webzine, for their next issue. I’m assuming that to be October 2011 but have asked for confirmation. This is great news for several reasons. I seem to have got a real momentum going which I’m determined to continue. Having five stories published during the course of a year is probably no great shakes to some writers but for me it’s a real achievement. Better access to the Internet has certainly helped me find suitable magazines/outlets, and I’ve been lucky in that the two pieces I had in Kimota magazine were re-printed in the anthology, but I also feel I’m in a better frame of mind for writing. I’d placed just about all my completed short stories when I relocated to Cornwall (and was finishing off Darkworlds) and spent years writing two novels and the initial chapters of a book on punk rock ‘n’ roll band Green Day. When that fell through I returned to the short story. It is not, as someone insisted to me the other day, a way of ‘working up to writing novels’! It is a completely different art form. I wrote the two novels because that was the only way of telling those stories. Since then I have finished one novelette (Cross Bound), one short story (The Ferocious Night – with another editor as I write), have nearly completed another long short story (The Falling Man) and have sketched out a new, more concise horror short, (working title Pieces) that had me crawling out of bed the other morning to make notes on it before it disappeared from my sleepy head. I’m aiming to have this one in at under 5,000 words, mostly because I think that’s all I’ll need to tell the story but also because I want to make sure I can still do such a thing. I’m incredibly relieved to know that my more recent, post-novel, work still cuts it. Cross Bound is very different to everything else I’ve done – as I’ve said before, it’s definitely dark fantasy rather than having a crossover with horror. Some of the references to witchcraft and witch hunts come from the Pendle witch trials of the early 17th century, with bits from German witch hunts of the same era, so thanks to R. Hart’s Witchcraft and The Encyclopaedia of Witchcraft and Demonology for essential details. Also to Coil’s Musick To Play In The Dark Vol 2, which has provided the soundtrack to the writing. Coincidentally (if you believe in such things) there was a programme on BBC4 a few weeks back about the Pendle witch trials, which was very well done, with some animation creeping over the brooding Lancashire hills and Simon Armitage walking around in the mizzle.

Holy well, St Agnes, IoS. Photo: Teresa Knight

When my family lived in London I would occasionally meet my parents at Regents Park. One time, around my 30th or 31st birthday, they presented me with a very heavy parcel. It was the recently published The Modern Antiquarian by Julian Cope, in all its blue and orangeness. They’d even got a signed edition. The book has survived many house moves since then and is still in almost perfect condition. Obviously, it’s not a tome that can be taken on trips to sacred sites (and Cope has recently stated that it will always be reprinted in its original format, never as a paperback) but it’s a constant source of information and reference. I’ve always been interested in archaeology but found the more academic work to be dry and without passion. Along with knowing his subject very well, Cope is passionate beyond words. The book has notes written at every site visited, often in howling winds and rain, and he gives a sense of the place, the vibe if you like. It reignited my interest and made me feel that someone like me, who didn’t know the ins and outs of archaeology, could get into it again. And the spiritual side – Paganism, Goddess worship, is as close as you’ll get to where I am – has just exploded in recent years. Try TMA’s website for huge amounts of information on sites all around the UK. The website has branched out to mainland Europe, but I haven’t got that far yet. In another life, perhaps.