The Third Age

It’s been simply ages since I last wrote a blog, and I started writing this particular post many months ago and then abandoned it as it seemed a bit self-indulgent.  However, since that time we have been in Lockdown due to the worldwide spread of the corona virus, Covid 19 and life has got not only bewildering but also on occasion, depressing.  For a while it looked like the silver lining to this crisis would be the realisation that the environment could be saved and protected from the ills of consumerism as it slowly but surely recovered.  Sadly as the restrictions were eased it appears that there has been an almost frenzied return to capitalism, right-wing fascism and unbelievable levels of rubbishing our countryside and wildlife.  In Cornwall as the tourist industry returns slowly, there have been harrowing tales of rudeness and trashing of our environment by seemingly uncaring visitors.  So many people appear to have no qualms about invading others’ personal space especially those who are vulnerable to this virus, and there is nothing but deception, hypocrisy and bluster coming from our so called government.  No wonder it is difficult to view the future with any sense of hope.

This is the very time then to remember that not everyone is uncaring and hateful and that there are good folks out there who are part of community who are doing wondrous things for others.  There are actually more decent folk in the world than the nasty ones – it’s just that the horrible people seem to get more air time thereby seeming to be more prolific.  So, time for some positivity!  🙂

As I reached my late sixties I began to notice how many folk of my generation were beginning to die at age 69.  It was quite marked and I was feeling considerable uneasiness when I too reached that age last year.  It was decided that it would be a good idea to arrange a 70th Birthday Party for me to celebrate having survived that anomaly.

We gave plenty of notice to everyone and asked that instead of buying me a present that they just bring a plate of food and something to drink.  We were holding the party in our local village hall which is not a licensed premises but could hold a large amount of people.  Our guest list was wonderfully diverse and included folk that I work and play alongside, together with locals I know well from the village.  I asked that any musicians to bring instruments so we could have some live music sessions as well as the entertainment I was secretly arranging.

There was a rather wonderful build up to the event as my sister Rosemary came over from Canada to help me celebrate and stayed in the village.  So my 70th birthday dawned with Laetitia presenting me with a truly wonderful and well thought out gift that I will treasure always – and then it was time to pick up Rosemary from the train station.  Barely had she landed than she was whisked off to a restaurant for my birthday dinner treat.  This was an excellent meal at the Godolphin Arms in Marazion.

Finally we let Rosemary go to her bed to catch up from jet lag, and we too had an early night because the next day was not only my party but also St Piran’s Day in Redruth.

Our Obby Oss, Penkevyll has been a regular performer in the St Piran’s Parade through Redruth for many years now – and this year was no exception.  It was great to see my sister thoroughly enjoying herself watching this spectacle and I was in my element joining in the fun.  😀

Following a quick lunch it was all hands to the tiller to prepare the village hall for the party.  That took several hours I can tell you!

Finally everything was prepared and we returned home to get me ready.  I had the full works, hair, make-up (which I rarely wear) and a newly purchased stylish outfit.  When I returned to the hall I was somewhat miffed by being told in no uncertain manner that I must not go into the small hall where all the food and drink was.  Mind you, all became clear when I eventually was allowed through.  What greeted my eyes was the most stunning cake I have ever seen.  Wow!

Isn’t it amazing?

This was made by Sue Exton, a dear friend who together with her husband John helped make my birthday a very special event.

Tia, Sue and Me

Then I was semi-kidnapped by the members of Boekka who insisted that I open their present as I would need it at the party.  I duly unwrapped the parcel and found a beautiful tankard with my name on.  However, when I turned the tankard around I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw a wonderfully engraved image of my beloved Penkevyll!  Wow again!  😀

I’m so proud of my tankard and it goes out with me every time I go to a pub!

By this time folk had started to arrive and there was a lot of people to meet and greet.  I was so moved that so many came from near and far.  Also my musician friends arrived so we quickly started to warm up with a few local tunes and the party really began to swing.  There was masses of food and drink and we actually had to bring out another trestle table as there wasn’t enough room in the side hall for all the produce.

Then rather wonderfully my surprise guests to the delight of everyone walked in – Beltane Border Morris.  It was a little surreal for my village friends who had never experienced the like before.  One local said to me that she thought a coach party had arrived when about 20 – 25 dark faced and tattered performers marched through the front door, walked through the hall and out backstage without a word!  😀

I didn’t explain anything and simply waited until they had set up and then introduced them as my special guests who very kindly agreed to perform at my party.  Then the dancing began…

They were electrifying!

For their last piece, the Beltane Fire Dance, I was called forward and presented with their latest CD and then given the slightly scary honour of being placed in the middle of this now famous dance.

My goodness me – that really is a ‘place between the worlds’ that has to be experienced to be appreciated.  An unforgettable occasion!

Then it was time to blow out the candles on my wonderful cake.

I was then treated to an amusing birthday song from Beltane.

Cutting the cake proved to be a mite difficult – hence the ‘Psycho’ pose with the knife!

I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed my 70th Birthday Party – it was ace!  It was great to play music with Steve, Julie, Mike, Fee and Courtney – and then went on to drum with Beltane when they arrived.  It gladdened my heart to see the village hall full of very diverse folk from all walks of life including our local Rector, all getting on famously with each other, many of whom had never met before – and the only common factor was myself and Tia.

After all the months of planning it all was over very quickly and it seemed like before I knew it, people were making their way home from what later on turned out to be the Party of the Year – as very swiftly following that we entered Lockdown.  Just in time – phew!

Despite what I had requested, I was inundated with presents and cards and I spent the next 24 hours opening them.  I was truly overwhelmed with the lovely gifts and messages.  Some of them were so thoughtfully and lovingly wrought that it brought tears to my eyes.  Some were magical items that I’m not going to photograph so as not to interfere with their energies; but take it from me, they were very skilfully crafted.  There were also umpteen bottles of wine and fizz that we slowly worked our way through over the following weeks – very much appreciated!  🙂

As a fine example of the dedication to detail of some gifts, I will use  the stunningly beautiful shawl that was hand made especially for me.  The making was quite a journey and I have the permission of the multi-talented Linsey Duncan-Pitt to publish the back story.

These inserts were included with the shawl and I only found these later on.

For those of you who are knitters and/or spinners, here is a link that describes in more detail how it was made.

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10158339736154548&type=3

All of this plus many more wonderful moments made my 70th Birthday celebrations the best yet.  Which brings me to the question – does reaching the age of 70 feel any different?  I can categorically state Yes!

Basically I recognise clearly that I am stepping over a threshold from adulthood into elderhood.  It’s a bit of a mixture of things really – it certainly focuses the mind when I consider that I might have only 10 – 15 years left to my life – or less.  Realising that anything could just remove you at any time.  I’m fully aware that this could happen at any age, but it takes up space more in the forefront of your mind when you reach your seventies.  However, it really does help develop a deep appreciation of all sorts of things – living in the moment; loving nature, friendship, community, music, grateful for reasonably good health and so on.

Another plus is realising that you don’t care so much about what people think of you.  Things that used to sometimes wound or upset me no longer do so.  I still care about people but I don’t tolerate bad behaviour anymore.  That is a great relief and brings with it a real sense of freedom.

Certainly I have slowed down physically speaking and there are a few things that I can no longer manage that I have learnt to give in gracefully to.  I now enjoy taking my time pottering around rather than trying to do 10 things all at once.  Taking time to smell the roses so to speak.  🙂

So to all those younger people who are secretly dreading growing older – it’s not that bad, in fact it’s got a lot going for it – it all depends on your point of view.

However, having said all that – it’s weird being the same age as old people!  😉

Lafrowda Impressions

Today has been an intensely charged day.  If you didn’t know better, you would have thought that there was a storm brewing.  It wasn’t until the local headlines via Facebook arrived that our community down here realised that one of their number, had quite suddenly departed.  Lafrowda is a community festival held in St Just which has grown from strength to strength over the years.  I didn’t personally know Paul, the landlord of a well known hostelry in St Just, but judging by the outpouring of shock and sadness that flooded my FB timeline, he was a well loved and respected member of his community.

For some reason it kept coming into my mind today how awful this morning must have been for Paul’s widow.  No husband to wake up with who was there just hours before…

When we reached St Just today to perform in the Golowan Band, it was overcast and misty –  typical West Cornwall weather most would think, but not typical of Lafrowda apparently, as I found when I talked with others I met there.  Then I noticed that the St Pirans flag was flying at half-mast from the church.  What a touching tribute to the man – and also his pub was ‘open for business’ as he would have wanted.  How poignant…

The day also seemed to be cursed by tiresome, melodramatic attention-seekers but, when put into context, was simply just irksome and annoying – not really of any importance or significance.

When finally we returned to our village I went to the village shop for supplies and found out that the proprietor was cousin to the previously mentioned widow.  She related to me details of a shocking tragedy that this woman had to endure earlier in her life.  How desperate she must be feeling right now, it doesn’t bear thinking about.  😦

I’m glad that the community has declared it’s respect and love for her husband so eloquently.  He was obviously someone of character and stature in his town.  In time, with this sort of quiet recognition, the family will heal and life will go on.  For tonight, even though I didn’t know you, I salute you Paul – you lived a life that mattered.

A Life That Matters

Ready or not, someday it will all come to an end.
There will be no more sunrises, no minutes, hours, days.
All the things you collected, whether treasured or forgotten, will pass to someone else.
Your wealth, fame and temporal power will shrivel to irrelevance.
It will not matter what you owned or what you were owed.
Your grudges, resentments, frustrations and jealousies will finally disappear.
So too, your hopes, ambitions, plans and to-do lists will expire.
The wins and losses that once seemed so important will fade away.
It won’t matter where you came from, or on what side of the tracks you lived.
At the end, whether you were beautiful or brilliant, male or female, even your skin colour won’t matter.

So what will matter? How will the value of your days be measured?
What will matter is not what you bought, but what you built; not what you got, but what you gave.
What will matter is not your success, but your significance.
What will matter is not what you learned, but what you taught.
What will matter is every act of integrity, compassion, courage or sacrifice that enriched, empowered or encouraged others.
What will matter is not your competence, but your character.
What will matter is not how many people you knew, but how many will feel a lasting loss when you’re gone.
What will matter is not your memories, but the memories that live in those who loved you.
Living a life that matters doesn’t happen by accident.
It’s not a matter of circumstance but of choice.
Choose to live a life that matters.

Michael Josephson

 

A Tale of Two Osses.

At Beltane this year we completed Penkevyll’s final makeover or maybe it would be more accurate to say, emergence.  We celebrated that with a photoshoot taken by the talented John Isaac.

 

Penkevyll’s journey from there to here has been dynamic, dramatic, poignant and at times a little spooky.  Just for clarification I need to say that the title of this post does not refer to her life, and then her afterlife as an Oss, but of how she used to be a Penglaz and then transitioned into Penkevyll.  I do see the need for a little background so, time to settle down and hear the story.  Ladies and gentlemen, I give you, A Tale of Two Osses!  😀

The year was 2008 and I had received a startling phone call that was to have ongoing repercussions for years to come had I but known it.  I had been Teazer to Penglaz the Penzance Oss for many years.  This was a role that had slowly evolved over the years, building on it’s tradition as it went.  That previous winter we celebrated the very first Montol festival and Penglaz was to play a crucial role within the festivities.  This turned out to be the one and only time that this particular Penglaz appeared at Montol.  In April I received the aforementioned unexpected phone call from the chap responsible for creating and riding Penglaz, to the effect that he would be retiring from Golowan and Montol and that he was taking his Oss with him.  Bombshell was an understatement!  :O

 

It was only 6 weeks to Mazey Day, when Penglaz traditionally made her appearance, and I had to make some quick decisions.  Once I had permission that I could recreate another Oss modelled on the previous style, I gathered through networking a small, select team of people with the appropriate skills to do just that.  Despite having to work my way through a lot of obstructions and petty politics as a result of a rival Penglaz being made hurriedly, our Oss eventually made her debut at Montol 2008.

Sadly although a few traditions can survive despite conflict and rivalry this was not the case in Penzance.  Although our Oss team was completely open to sharing and co-operating, the rival team were not and wanted to be ‘the only Penglaz in the town’.  After a couple of years of this during which I’m sure everyone got thoroughly fed up with the wrangling, it all came to a head.  The outcome was that our Oss was asked to withdraw, along with the rival Oss, and the original Penglaz and Rider returned.

 

If you’re thinking that I’m missing out a lot of detail here, you would be correct.  However, I really don’t think it would be helpful to the community in general to open up old wounds – especially as things have moved on so much since.  So, I will content myself with this briefest of outlines about our Oss’s previous life as a Penglaz.  (So those who were relishing a melodrama about it all can put away their popcorn and depart back to the sidelines!)

So, there we were with an Oss with no name or a function.  Over the years I had researched Osses and associated beasties in the West Country and knew there was, albeit sparse, documented evidence of a Lands End Oss who stalked the outer margins of West Penwith.  Since we were based in nearby St Buryan that seemed an ideal role to revive and recreate.  I also came across an archaic Cornish name for ‘horse’s head’ which was Penkivell or Penkevyll which we then adopted for her during a naming ceremony performed in March on my birthday 2011. It was at this time that I took the crucial decision to buy Penkevyll from the co-creators for a mutually agreed price which we shook hands on.  She has been happily stabled with us, definitely part of the household, and rather wonderfully the community, ever since.  😀

We worked on Penkevyll’s appearance giving her some new improved ears and mane.  The kit started off with black, midnight blue and blood red tatters and ribbons.  Our Oss had been created primarily as a processional, dancing Oss and thanks to the skills of a brilliant local engineer she is extremely versatile in her movements – however, the downside is that Penkevyll is also extremely heavy and can only be operated by a male of appropriate strength.  This is because of her weighty mechanism plus the fact that she was obviously a big horse of German descent with heavy bones.  However, we have always had Riders for Penkevyll and at that time we had a very lively and enthusiastic Rider in Laetitia’s son, Rhys.  We brought Penkevyll out for her very first appearance in the community at the Penwith Pagan Moot, which we were hosting that Spring Equinox, where she was received with warmth and delight.  🙂

The following few years were full of action and drama as I entered the Morris world for the first time and we introduced Penkevyll the Lands End Oss to Morris festivals up and down the country.  We created a dance team called Boekka (Cornish for scarecrow) to accompany Penkevyll, and special Oss and Teazer dances were devised by Laetitia in which we both danced and teased the Oss in a choreographed manner – very unlike the improvised madness that I had been used to on the streets of Penzance with Penglaz!  However these dances were quite spooky and atmospheric!  It was great to meet so many different Morris sides and performers and it definitely opened up a new world to me.  I truly never anticipated learning how to Morris dance in my sixties!  😀

Time moved on, and so did people.  There was an amendment to the kit colours as we were finding that all sorts of different shades of red were creeping in, including pink (!).  So it was decided to change this in favour of dark purple and it stayed that way until quite recently.  One thing that became more and more noticeable as the years passed was that it was quite difficult to get Morris dancing off the ground in Cornwall.  Ironic when you think that there is a school of thought that has referred to the bench ends of St Columb Church, Cornwall as the earliest evidence of Morris dancing in the country!  Some declare that Morris is too English for the Cornish and there certainly is a focus on Cornish dancing instead being more popular.  The outcome was it was getting increasingly more difficult to find members for our team who were willing to travel and perform elsewhere.  Add to this the pure logistics of travelling to venues outside of Cornwall and it became inevitable that the dance team would finally subside which it did in 2015.

However, all was not lost – far from it!  This meant we could concentrate more on the Oss and Teazers only and this is when it became really interesting…

I had always wanted to meet the famous Welsh Mari Lwyds and finally at long last it happened in 2014 – a year that was to prove quite a breakthrough for Penkevyll the Lands End Oss & Boekka.  I write in detail here about that initial meeting of a Cornish Oss with the Mari Lwyd:

Cornish Penkevyll makes history by meeting the Welsh Mari Lwyd

Something magical happened when that meeting occurred, because from that first contact,  wonderfully creative and exciting events have developed.  I have written extensively about this marvellous journey here:

All Hallows Gathering 2014

here:

All Hallows Gathering 2015 – Part One

All Hallows Gathering 2015 – Part Two

and here:

All Hallows Gathering 2016 – Part One

All Hallows Gathering 2016 – Part Two

Penkevyll has travelled widely within Britain including Scotland and Wales, but not Ireland as yet.  I would personally love to take Penkevyll to Brittany to complete her tour of the Celtic Nations!

Recently, and the reason for this blog post, we changed Penkevyll’s kit for the final time.  It was shortly before St Piran’s Day this year and I was admiring the lovely Cornish banners we had around our nearest town, Penzance.  It was then I had the idea of since our Oss is a sort of ambassador for Cornwall when she visits other towns and countries, and that Lands End is so iconic, it made sense that Penk (as she is affectionately known) would wear Cornish colours for her kit.  So, I leave you with Penkevyll the Lands End Oss, accompanied by her Teazers, resplendent in black, gold and white.

https://boekka.wordpress.com/picture-diary/

Kernow Bys Vyken!  (Cornwall For Ever!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Needs Must When the Devil Drives

Sadly this post will start off on a slightly negative note, but will hopefully soon rise above that and develop into something much more interesting.

About six months ago I was contacted by the Museum of Witchcraft managers and informed that the soundtrack to the Wisewoman’s Cottage tableau which I had narrated was being replaced by another that had been created by some of the Friends of the Museum.  Although I was initially rather miffed that I hadn’t been consulted before this decision was made, I did agree that it had been a long time since the original recording and that it was time for new material.

Then just recently a link to Gemma Gary’s blog was circulated via the Museum’s Facebook page where it described the update of Joan’s Cottage by herself and others.  Upon reading it I decided to rise above the rather disparaging comments made about the previous soundtrack, as everyone is entitled to their personal opinions, although I’ve never understood why some feel the need to denigrate what preceded them; however I couldn’t ignore what was an inaccuracy within the text.  I politely pointed out to the Museum that despite what was stated, I did not get paid for narrating but gave my time and energy freely, and asked for the mistake to be rectified.  The Museum duly got back to me and said that they would contact Gemma Gary and wrote an explanatory note on their blog page (where Gemma’s link had also been posted).

Please note: If you follow the link to the article, you will see that it suggests that the person who provided the previous incarnation of Joan’s voice (Cassandra Latham Jones) was paid. In fact, she gave her time voluntarily. We remain grateful to everyone who has been involved in any project which has been of benefit to the Museum.

http://museumofwitchcraft.blogspot.co.uk/2015/08/joans-cottage.html

All well and good I thought, sorted without any complications.  Wrong!  😦

Far from discreetly amending her text, Gemma Gary in her wisdom chose to ‘up the ante’ and escalate the whole situation by writing the following:

“For many years now, visitors to the Museum have been able to hear the voice paid to represent ‘Old Joan’ [18/8/15 it has been brought to my attention that the provider of this voice claims to have volunteered her time. She was in fact paid to do ‘promotional work’ for the Museum. It was my understanding that the recording was part of this work] reciting (with the incongruous inclusion of the odd cold and sinister cackle) an extraordinary and wonderful collection of verbal charms and spells,”                                        

http://www.gemmagary.co.uk/old-joan-cecil-williamson-j-a-smith/

This, a blatantly untrue statement, is ludicrous when one considers that Gemma Gary was not present, or ever involved in any of these events which happened nearly 20 years ago.  No-one knows better than I, whether I was paid or not! Furthermore, I have never been paid for any promotional work for the Museum.  Someone needs to check the veracity of their so called ‘facts’.  As a direct result of this, Gemma Gary’s blog links were removed by the Museum from both the Facebook group and the Museum’s blog.  It remains to be seen whether that lie stays within her blog – but whilst it remains I think it says more about Gemma Gary than it does about me.

Anyway, enough of all this unpleasantness and on to more interesting things.  Although these events had unsettled me it did make me think about whether it might be a good idea to share exactly what did happen all that time ago as it’s quite an interesting tale.  Certainly it would add a bit more clarity, and might even avoid future inaccuracies and assumptions from certain quarters.

Let’s go back to the late nineties, to 1997 to be exact.  I had a phone call from Graham King who had recently purchased the Museum of Witchcraft from Cecil Williamson in Boscastle.  As a result of this call Graham came down and stayed overnight in my cottage in order to speak at our Pagan Moot later that evening.  It was the start of a long and stimulating friendship with Graham, the Museum and countless others who helped him initially to revamp the Museum in those early days.

Horned God tableau 1996
Horned God tableau 1996

One of the main objectives in the Museum’s transformation was the removal of the rather disturbing (to some) and sensationalist ‘Dennis Wheatley style’ tableaux.  These incidentally were fascinating to deconstruct, as some very unusual and enigmatic items came to light which wouldn’t have been seen by the average onlooker passing by.  Graham had some very definite ideas of what he wanted to put in their place and a reconstructed Wisewoman’s Cottage was top of the list.

Although Graham had to introduce and purchase a lot of new materials to replace old, outworn things, he wanted to use recycled materials whenever possible.  This not only fitted in with his environmentally friendly ethos, but he felt that this would have been the way that a wisewoman would have acted – utilising and reusing the materials available to her.  He was absolutely right – at least as far as this particular wisewoman is concerned.  🙂

I remember that there was a lot of discussion about how to get sufficient stones for the building of the cottage walls and how costly they were to obtain.  Graham admitted to me that after he had seen where I lived, it gave him inspiration for the Wisewoman’s Cottage planned for the Museum.  Just so that you can see what he meant, here’s my cottage as it was back then:

My cottage
My cottage in West Cornwall

Later that same night there was a storm at sea which managed to find its way into the inner harbour, because when Graham and Liz woke up the next day they found that a huge pile of stones had been deposited by the Museum door by the thrashing waves.  It appeared that the wind and sea gods had heard of their plight and had provided what was needed!

Graham and the team set to with gusto to create the inside of the Wisewoman’s cottage with the stones, wood and window frames recycled and/or found in the local dump and any skips they came across on their travels.  Once the ‘grunt’ work was achieved I was assigned the job of covering the walls with whitewash and painting the woodwork.  At one point Graham remonstrated with me that I was doing too neat a job and to roughen it all up a bit!

Once the cottage was starting to take shape,  Graham told me his plans to have a mannequin created of an old woman around age 70 years to represent the wisewoman.  He was going to call her Joan in honour and in remembrance of Joan Wytte the Guardian of the Museum (another story!)  Graham then asked me whether I would be willing to narrate a soundtape of charms as he specifically wanted a wisewoman to be the voice of Joan on tape.  It would mean travelling up to Hampshire to Graham’s friend who owned a sound studio.  I readily agreed to this and plans were made to travel within that week.

In the end, four of us travelled up to a small village called Wherwell in Graham’s old van.  After a long and bumpy journey, (I think the suspension was a bit dodgy!) we arrived at the White Lion and had a few well-deserved pints and a bite to eat.

the-white-lion-inn-wherwell_070920091542140799
The White Lion Inn, Wherwell

The next morning at breakfast we were introduced to a couple of people I hadn’t met before, but who I still know and occasionally see today.  It was Paul Broadhurst and Vivienne Shanley.  Paul is well-known in the dowsing world as he used to team up and co-wrote with the famous and beloved dowser from Cornwall, Hamish Miller.  Vivienne, who was Paul’s partner at that time, was an accomplished artist who has produced many fine works of art, some of which can still be found within the Museum.  For example, a beautiful presentation of The Wheel of the Year:

wheel of the Year
The Wheel of the Year by Vivienne Shanley

Apparently our services weren’t required until later in the afternoon whilst the studio was being prepared, so we were free to explore the village – which we duly did.  There was no question that Wherwell was very picturesque, however as we wandered around the lanes and then the surrounding fields and meadows there was this distinct feeling of unease bordering on unreality…and then the penny dropped.  It was Fran, a member of the team at that time who pointed out that in the fields there was a huge amount of dead wood lying around, which down our way in West Cornwall wouldn’t have lasted five minutes.  It would have been gathered and collected ready to be stored for kindling and logs for the winter.  When we made our way back to the village lanes and walked past all the cottages, we noticed that there were logs stacked ready for open fires and log-burners – but they were uniform and neatly stacked, obviously delivered rather than harvest the same from the fields a few yards away.

Wherwell cottages
Wherwell Cottages

When we looked closer, we could see that the thatch and surrounding gardens were manicured and well-controlled – even the climbing ivy was chopped off in a straight line in an attempt to regiment and tidy up nature.  We realised that this was one of the places that had been taken over by the affluent who loved the idea of a country idyll often seen in copies of Country Life.  They lived in what used to be peasant and farm workers cottages, probably turfing out the locals who now were forced to live on council estates or in urban poverty.  It’s an elite fashion craze followed by folks that I call ‘Aga Louts’ or the ‘Green Wellie Brigade’!  I heard that in Knightsbridge, London where monied people drive around in needless (considering the terrain) 4 x 4 landrovers known colloquially as ‘Chelsea Tractors’, that they actually use spray on mud to make it look like they’ve been driving across the countryside!  I was dumbfounded when I first heard this – and I’m not entirely convinced that this is true…maybe it’s an urban myth (or should that read rural myth?)  A perfect example of approbation by the rich of what used to be a peasant/working class culture.  This has been mirrored in the occult world too, in my opinion, but that is another story for another day.

Back in Wherwell it was time to attend the recording session.  Firstly there was the Pagan Chants for background music to the Museum which was to be performed by Liz Crow and her friend Heike Robertson which was worked on and successfully completed after about an hour or so.  Then it was my turn.

I had my script of sayings and charms compiled by Levannah Morgan which I had familiarised myself with.  I am a trained theatre performer, but in one sense I didn’t have to act as such because I was already a working wisewoman.  All I had to do was add a few decades to my age as I was in my forties at the time.  Fortunately to all concerned I managed to record the whole script on the first take and I was just about to climb down off the stool I was perched on, when Graham’s voice came over the tannoy system -“Can you give us a selection of cackles please Cassandra?”  I have to say I was not expecting this, but duly gave them what was asked and then we were all released from our hours of intensive work and spilled out like naughty schoolchildren into the garden outside.

Graham and his friend said that they needed to spend the next day editing, adding sound effects and working on the tapes so we were left to our own devices.  Me, Fran and Liz went for a long, relaxing walk down a wooded lane to find what was locally known as the Witch’s Cottage.  It was situated as per tradition right on the outskirts of the village far away from any other dwelling.  It was a lovely spring evening and Liz gave us a beautiful rendition of ‘Lady of the Woods’.  She has a unique poignant quality to her voice and is especially skilled at singing laments.

When we returned it was time for dinner which was followed by an evening at the White Lion Folk Club which was very entertaining.  Me and Fran were doing our best to remain upright on this ancient leather sofa that dipped in the middle rather alarmingly – so much so, it felt that you were on one of those Waltzers that spin around at fairgrounds.  Mind you, this was probably enhanced by the many excellent real ales we sampled that night!  The evening was being facilitated by a rather bossy woman who could only be described as a ‘born-again Redcoat’!  You know the sort – they insist that everyone does a turn, in this case, either singing or playing an instrument.  Quite frankly Fran and me were incapable of performing anything because we were giggling so much.  This seemed to make this woman even more insistent…which made us laugh even more and…well I think you get the picture!  In the end she gave it up as a bad job and moved on to someone else, much to our relief and I’m sure to all the others as well!

The next day I emerged rather bleary-eyed.  I was sharing a room with Fran and what I didn’t realise was that she snored – very loudly and erratically.  I didn’t get much sleep so I was pleased to hear that we were visiting nearby Winchester that day.  This gave me the opportunity to purchase some ear-plugs – and I haven’t travelled anywhere without them since!

Before that we visited St Catherine’s Hill where there was a huge labyrinth cut into the turf on the summit of the hill.  I spent a spell-binding 20 mins walking that mazed path and, as usual when I do such things, felt my energy and consciousness shift into another level.

maze-on-st-catherine
St Catherine’s Hill Labyrinth

Winchester is the ancient capital of Wessex and you could feel history all around in spite of a lot of 21st Century trappings crowding the space.  I was entranced by Winchester Great Hall with its famous Round Table and was amused to find when I emerged into the yard, Liz madly rummaging through a skip she had found there.  She emerged victorious with yet another foraged prize for the Museum.  🙂

round table
The Great Hall Winchester

Soon it was time to return to Wherwell and to Graham who was well pleased with how the sound tapes had turned out.  We all returned to Boscastle that night battling through a seriously thick fog to the Museum, tired out but with a strong sense of achievement.

A few weeks later the commissioned mannequin arrived and was carefully and appropriately dressed by us girls and there was Old Joan ensconced within her newly crafted cottage and looking very much at home.  I have to admit that I was startled by her appearance at first because the finished Joan bore an uncanny resemblance to Rowena Cade (Creator of the Minack Theatre) who I had nursed about fifteen years ago.  It was all feeling a bit weird and deja-vu ish, especially when the soundtrack started up.  I felt like I was in the middle of an episode from the Twilight Zone!

Rowena Cade
Rowena Cade
Joan3
Joan in the Wisewoman’s Cottage

I have included this link because this film commissioned for the Museum wonderfully conjures up the atmosphere of this unique place – it also contains some excerpts of the original Wisewoman tape.

https://www.youtube.com/all_comments?v=C5ZJMw9hG0s

So here we are back in 2015 and things have moved on.  Graham has handed the Museum on to a new owner who is redesigning a lot of the presentation of the exhibits into a more up-to-date genre.  Joan’s voice is now different and is now more motherly and I suppose as a result, more acceptable/accessible – although to be honest I have heard some call it “a bit like Jackanory”.  I guess in comparison I would have sounded something like Granny Weatherwax (without the cackle!) but I make no apologies for being ‘Old School’.  That’s the one thing we can always guarantee – All Things Will Change.  🙂

Update – Candlemas 2019

Several months ago Simon Costin, presented me with the last remaining copy of the Wisewoman Spells and Charms soundtrack that was created for Joan’s Cottage in the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic in 1997.  Recently, Laetitia had one of her brainwaves…

There are many people who have bewailed the loss of the original soundtrack, and those who have yet to hear it. Being that the CD is no longer in the public domain we thought we would create a video filmed in my cottage using the soundtrack in the background whilst I worked at the hearth.  I’m nearly 70 now so much closer in age to what I was attempting to portray all those years ago.  The footage is not of the highest quality due to the spirits as usual playing around but then I’m used to that sort of thing when I work.  However, it is atmospheric with no gimmicks or techno-wizardry to distract from the energies evoked.  Here’s the finished video – we hope you enjoy it.

The Terrors of Public Speaking.

FearofPublicSpeaking-KatieMunoz-300x300

I’ll always remember the very first public talk I gave about my work as a Village Wisewoman.  I went through a whole gamut of emotions, and my nervousness conjured up, in my dreams and waking hours in the days leading up to the event, all sorts of imagined scenarios.  My doubts and fears concentrated on things inevitably going wrong in some way.

We’ve all seen it happen with others,  and in my time I’ve seen many speakers that quite honestly should just stick to writing and leave it at that!  However, they are often pressurised by their publishers to give talks in order to promote their books, and I have witnessed first-hand the tortures and mental anguish that they (and their audiences) suffer as a consequence!

Standing up on stage in front of perhaps a hundred odd people is a very lonely and exposed place and can be terrifying.  You will be closely scrutinised by everyone in the audience for most of the talk, so appearance really plays an important part.  We don’t realise sometimes how our body language and mannerisms can say so much about who we are.  Some try to counteract this by hiding behind stage furniture such as lecterns and tables or bury themselves in sheaves of notes that invariably get dropped or muddled up.  In this technical age many resort to slideshows or Powerpoint presentations in order to avoid the relentless public gaze.  This to a certain extent can work to distract, but equipment is known to be notorious for breaking down at the crucial point, or showing the wrong slide and any machine is only as effective as its operator.  Besides which, if you have become known as an author, many folks want to see what the writer is like in the flesh so to speak, so this kind of curiosity is to be expected.

Some advocate staring into ‘the middle distance’ in order to focus and concentrate but often this method produces the effect of the talk being pitched at the audience which isn’t in my opinion very inclusive.  I’ve seen this way employed by many lecturers who have swathes of information that they endeavour to instil into their listeners.  Unfortunately this can have the effect of sending the audience into a semi-trance because they are not being actively engaged by the talk.  No matter how interesting the topic may be, if you don’t have at least occasional eye contact with your audience, then they can either get restless or worse – fall asleep!  Fortunately this has never happened to me, yet!

bored-audience1

Nowadays most talks are conducted with the aid of a microphone which neatly deals with the problems of voice projection, but care is needed especially with old equipment to avoid feedback howling and the like.   Tone of voice, pitch and attitude is also crucial for obvious reasons.  No-one wants to be dictated to in any kind of hectoring way,  but it’s also important to avoid monotone voices which inevitably leads to monotonous boredom.

I think that most people’s biggest fear of public speaking is ‘drying up’.  This can be literal, so it’s always a good idea to have water handy.  Take sips only, gulps can cause choking if it ‘goes down the wrong way’ – and watch out for those ice cubes that some helpfully add to the water, they can be lethal!  Mostly though, what I’m talking about here is the dreaded mind going blank scenario.  This can happen at any time to anyone, and all I can say is that it’s down to the individual personality as to how this is handled.  A lot depends on your audience and your relationship with it.  It’s always well to remember that (1) you will never please everyone – there will always be detractors, and (2) there will always be some who are there supporting and agreeing with you.

I feel that it is important to allow time for questions at the end, as folk can feel a little cheated if this is denied to them by a speaker rattling on over time.  I know that this can be particularly nerve-racking as you never know what people might ask you. If you know your subject thoroughly and are ready to expect the unexpected then you’ll be fine, and may actually enjoy it!

Finally, how did I get on with my first talk?  Well, it actually went very well.  The person introducing me thought it was a clever idea to start telling the audience some of the anecdotal material that I was going to include later.  I was so incensed by this that I forgot my nerves and started with “For a moment there I thought he was going to do the talk for me!”  This produced supportive laughter from the audience and I was away and off to a good start.  I had formed a rapport which to me is the most important thing to have between yourself and your audience.  I loved my subject matter and it showed through my animation.

Reading back, I think I have definitely written on the ‘terrors’ of public speaking.  The only helpful advice I can give is:

If you’re passionate about your subject matter, then try and share that enthusiasm with your audience.

Be yourself, whatever that is.  It just won’t work if you’re trying to be something that you’re not, because on that stage you will fool nobody, so you might as well be natural.

Good luck – you’re going to need it!  🙂

dice

 

 

 

 

Make Do and Mend

50kid

I was born in a time of austerity.  It was shortly after the Second World War in a time of rationing.  We didn’t have much to eat – I remember sugar sandwiches and bread and dripping – not considered terribly healthy but we appeared to thrive on such meagre victuals.  There were not too many fat people around and obesity was very rare indeed.  Mind you there were a lot of medical oddities walking around as a result of various mineral and vitamin deficiencies.  It was still the early days of penicillin and antibiotics so there were childhood deaths due to the incidence of TB, diptheria and polio.

Bathtime was a tin bath in front of a stove as we didn’t possess a bathroom.  There were no such things as washing machines, just a gas fired copper which clothes were boiled in and later put through a hand turned wringer before hanging on the line or drapped around the kitchen on clothes horses.  The only heating we had was a stove in the kitchen and a coal fire in the living room which was used sparingly.  There wasn’t a fridge, instead we had a larder with a meat safe and terracotta covers for the milk bottles.  Nothing was thrown out until everything was used up, from scraping butter wrappers/or keeping them for later use in greasing cake tins, to (if times were particularly hard) opening up toothpaste tubes to get out the remnants.  Left overs and hand-me-downs were par the course and if you needed something new you saved for it, which often took a long time.  The watchword that was drummed into us was ‘Make Do and Mend’!

The Kitchen in the 1950's

A lot of our toys were home/handmade and lasted for ages as we knew they wouldn’t be replaced if lost or broken.  I would spend hours playing with big cardboard boxes to make caves, castles and houses and was forever making dens outside and in with the use of everyday items that were magically turned into …well, anything I wanted them to be.  I developed a very rich imagination which stood me in very good stead for most of my life – especially useful for my magical and spiritual work.

At first we didn’t have a TV and used to go on occasions to a neighbour’s house to crowd around with others to watch their black & white set, which was often ‘on the blink’.  We did have a valve wireless though which took ages to warm up and was listened to every evening.  Most of our spare time was spent outdoors whenever possible and/or doing something constructive.  Lots of children made models which certainly taught us a degree of dexterity.  My brother made model aeroplanes and Meccano sets and I did my best with Airfix kits which were all the rage – loads of glue and paint everywhere.   I recall the smell of solvents permeating most of the house – particularly something called ‘dope’ which coated the wings of model aeroplanes.  Given that most of paint was lead based then and flies were attacked with flit-guns which used to squirt a fine spray of DDT over us, I’m surprised some of us survived!  Having said that, we developed very robust immune systems as we were exposed to so much.

Another pursuit I thoroughly enjoyed was I-Spy books.  These were wonderful spotter guides that covered all sorts of environments – the seaside, countryside, farmyard etc.  They were little booklets that gave a brief outline and description of an item and when you spotted them, you ticked them off.  The aim was to fill the booklet up and send them off to get a small prize – I’m not sure what that was as I didn’t ever send one off – it was enough to take part in the various hunts for different items.  Of course it would be easy to cheat but you didn’t because Big Chief I-Spy would know(!)…besides where was the point?  😉

1-spy

If you were a boy then you joined the local cub group and as a girl I joined the Brownies.  Our troup was run by a couple of women called Brown Owl and Tawny Owl – it consisted of different sub-groups which were divided into various Fey Folk – there were Sprites, Fairies, Elves and I joined the Goblins (which for those who know me is not surprising!) – and believe it or not we used to end every meeting by skipping around a mock Fly Agaric Toadstool!  We were taught all sorts of countryside skills like fire building, foraging and went on camps which were great fun.  Once a year we all went out into the neighbourhood for ‘Bob-a-Job’ week.  This basically meant you called on your neighbours who paid you a whole shilling (a Bob – old money roughly equivilant to 5p) to perform some service like cleaning cars, shoes, windows, cutting the lawn, getting shopping  and so on.  They filled in your card and at the end of the week all money collected would go towards some local charity.  Hard work but very rewarding and really helped with the local community spirit.

The main thing was all these childhood pursuits were not only fun, they helped build a body of knowledge and skills that has stayed with me all my life.  Also I have the ability to live frugally which is a real asset when your chosen profession does not produce a high financial income and especially nowadays given the present political economical situation!  Looking back at the things I enjoyed doing when I was a child, I suppose it’s not too surprising that I ended up at the ‘grubby’ end of witchcraft by becoming a village wisewoman as it suits my nature and temperament.

In my opinion so much of rural witchcraft comes from an upbringing where connection to community and the surrounding countryside was a crucial factor to understanding the spirit of place and thereby the essence of the local magic.  I suppose this is why I get a bit irritated, or ‘teazy’ as they say down here in West Cornwall, when I read about all these fine limited edition witchcraft/occult books covered in rather distasteful materials like toad skin that cost a small fortune to buy.  What kind of a person will pay out a couple of hundred pounds for a book that can be bought as a paperback for £10 – £15?  Would it actually be used – or will it end up in a glass display case along with other, albeit beautifully crafted but equally impractical ‘talismanic’ objects?  I must admit I never dreamed that such a homespun tradition like rural witchcraft would become so elevated and elite – but there we go…there’s no accounting for taste and obviously some people have more money than sense and there will always be some who will market that propensity!

In the meantime I am happy and content with my rather shambolic but very effective wise craft.  🙂

Brownie

The Brownie Promise:
I promise that I will do my best,
To be true to myself and develop my beliefs,
To serve the Queen and my community,
To help other people,
And to keep the Brownie Guide Law.

The Brownie Guide Law is:

A Brownie Guide thinks of others before herself and does a good turn every day.

The Brownie Guide Motto is:  ‘Lend a hand’

In Memory of Mab

Here’s something else that didn’t make it into my book:

Apex Photo Agency

In Memory of Mab

I have described in my book, Village Witch how Mab came into my life and the important part she played in it.  However, she has since sadly died and life is definitely not the same without her.  This is what happened…

Mab was in her 13th year, so was a Grand Old Lady in cat years.  One day in the Spring of 2004 she presented with flu’ type symptoms and a few lumps on her back.  Then I noticed that her pupils were unequal and off to the vets we went.  I came back knowing that Mab’s days were numbered as she had incurable bone cancer.  Her demise was rapid as she became blind, and I cancelled all commitments so I could care for her 24/7.  Those 3 weeks of quality time with Mab are very precious to me, and also very moving as she followed the sound of my voice at all times.  She also took to sleeping with me under the quilt curled up against my tummy – something that was unheard of before.

Then the day I was dreading came.  Mab went very quiet and withdrawn and flinched when touched – Mab was in pain.  I had promised that once this point was reached that I would release her from pain and suffering, and so I made the phone call to the vets.  I specifically asked for a home visit, and fortunately for me, a close friend was with me at the time.  On arrival the vet confirmed that Mab was indeed now suffering and prepared the lethal injection.  I held Mab close as the anaesthetic was given – she was so weak that she could hardly hold her head up.  I was expecting her to just slip quietly away, but that was not to be…

To mine, and everybody else’s horror, she had a bad reaction to the drug and began to fight like a hellcat.  It took all my physical and emotional strength to hold on to Mab.  Five injections later, she eventually succumbed and died in my arms.
Other friends arrived and helped me to ‘lay her out’ on the hearth where she stayed overnight.  Many came to pay their respects, and not all of them human – the cat flap was banging most of the night.

The next day was spent over at Penwith Pet Cemetery where Mab was taken to be cremated.  Her ashes are now in a beautiful casket in a place of honour in my cottage.  When I die Mab will be buried with me.

The next few days were an agony for me.  I felt awful because she fought for life so much.  Then, quite by chance, one of my friends came out with a quote from Dylan Thomas that made everything fall into place:

Do not go gentle into that goodnight

Rage!  Rage against the dying of the light.

This encapsulated Mab’s experience so well.  Mab was such a drama queen; there is no way she would depart quietly.  She was going to have a memorable exit!

Another friend sent me a piece of writing that helped tremendously and I include it here so that it may help others who have had similar experiences:

Pet Epitaph

If it should be that I grow weak,

And pain should keep me from my sleep,

Then you must do what must be done,

For this last battle can’t be won.

 

You will be sad – I understand,

Don’t let grief then stay your hand,

For this day more than all the rest,

Your love for me must stand the test.

 

We’ve had so many happy years,

What is to come can hold no fears,

You’d not want me to suffer so,

The time has come, please let me go.

 

Take me where my needs they’ll tend,

And please stay with me till the end,

Hold me firm and speak to me,

Until my eyes no longer see.

 

I know in time that you will see,

The kindness that you do for me,

Although my tail it’s last has waved,

From pain and suffering I’ve been saved.

 

Please do not grieve it must be so,

Who has this painful thing to do,

We’ve been so close we two these years,

Don’t let your heart hold back the tears.

 

The Curious Cat

catbreedpicturesg.blogspot.com

Three weeks ago a Facebook group was set up about my book, Village Witch for anyone who’s interested in the stories behind the story so to speak.  Here’s the description and link:

‘This group is for discussion about the book Village Witch, the life and work of Wisewomen. Feel free to ask any questions relating to the book and Village Witchcraft, Folk Magic and work within a village Community.
The emphasis will be on down to earth practical application of Cunning Craft.’

https://www.facebook.com/groups/137514883114996/

It’s been going well and we now have 70 members.  I haven’t been quite sure of what the members would enjoy but certainly for me, some of the comments have triggered off quite a few memories of events and anecdotes that failed to make it to the book – so I’ll talk about a few here and on the group.  🙂

So…about the curious cat.  I need to give a bit of background first.  Back in the late nineties I was approached by a woman called Carolynn Townsend who ran a group described as: ‘Nature’s Way is a monthly series of talks and events to stimulate the mind, body and spirit.’  It was my pleasure to give talks for this organisation three times whilst it was based in Buckinghamshire.  Carolynn and her husband Edward were very warm hosts during my visits and I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed myself at these functions.  Sometimes though I must have appeared a bit like a country bumpkin to some folks I met because there was a great difference in lifestyle/income; but I was never aware of any condescending attitudes from them, just an avid interest in old country ways.

In 2003 Carolynn & Edward relocated to a small but very lively old village in Somerset called Roadwater and she started Nature’s Way again.  In 2004 she contacted me again for another talk that October in the village hall…

www.optimumheating.co.uk
Roadwater Village Hall

I was walking around outside watching folks arrive, some of them standing around chatting before they took their places for the talk.  Out of the night appeared a beautiful grey cat who approached various people in a friendly way and got lots of attention as a result.  I could hear folks asking each other whose cat it was as it hadn’t been seen before – this became the subject of some discussion as they all seemed to know everyone and their cat in the community.  Soon it was time to start my talk and I waited at the back of the hall to be introduced.

Once in front of my audience I realised that unbeknownst to me, the grey cat had entered the hall and was sitting alert on a chair in the front row!  Apparently no-one had the heart to remove the cat and it appeared to be well-behaved, so there it stayed.  It watched me walk up and down the space delivering my talk and then came up to me,  pawed my leg and meowed.  I responded by saying that Question Time was after the break and that it should sit quietly until then.  Much to the merriment of the audience, it did just that.  During the interval it curled up on its seat until we restarted when it sat up again constantly watching me as I answered queries from the floor.  During this time when my attention was elsewhere it must have left the building as I never saw it go.   It  disappeared into the night just as mysteriously as it had appeared, and to my knowledge has never been seen again.

It was an extraordinary experience and very poignant for me as I had lost my beloved familiar, Mab just 6 months previously who was also a highly intelligent and crafty, grey cat…now I wonder what that cat was all about?

In a moving footnote I learnt that Carolynn sadly died four years later and the village still continue with Nature’s Way in her memory.

Carolynn Townsend
Carolynn Townsend

R.I.P. Carolynn – you had a very kind heart and I raise my glass to you.  I hope you are having a jolly good time in the Afterlife/Summerlands!

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