Friday, 29 March 2019

Goodbye, Scott Tracy

I've just heard that Shane Rimmer, the voice of Scott Tracy, has died.
Shane Rimmer was a Canadian actor, who also appeared in The Spy Who Loved Me, with smaller parts in other James Bond films - he's believed to have appeared in more Bond films than any other actor apart from those in recurring roles.
He appeared in many films, including Star Wars, as a Rebel Fighter Technician!
In his long association with Supermarionation, not only did he provide the voice of Scott Tracy, but he also wrote scripts for Captain Scarlet, Joe 90 and Secret Service, as well as providing some of the uncredited voices. He also appeared in UFO and Space:1999.
He also appeared in Doctor Who's brush with the Wild West, The Gunfighters, and appeared in The Persuaders.
He was 89.

Thursday, 21 March 2019

More about Boscastle

I've got to go back - I only saw a fraction of what Boscastle has to offer.
When I got back to work, I found a guidebook to the area. It's by Jim Castling, and it's very comprehensive.
The map at the beginning of the book shows me that the pretty little river that flows through the village (the one that occasionally floods catastrophically) is the River Valency, and it's joined around the Wellington Hotel by the River Jordan.

The Wellington Hotel ran a daily coach and four service to Camelford Station until the beginning of the First World War, and famous visitors include Edward VII, Sir Henry Irving the actor, and Guy Gibson of the Dambusters.
Thomas Hardy stayed there when he was working as an architect (before he became a famous novelist) when he was working on refurbishing nearby St Juliot's church. and beside it was the Old Mill, which still has a (now only decorative) mill wheel.

I'd been looking around to see where the castle that gives its name to Boscastle was - and it's actually further up the Jordan valley, with a whole other part of the village that we never saw.
Even further up, on Forrabury Common, you can still see the medieval field system with the strips that were shared among the community. Each strip is about an acre in size, and the area covers 80 acres.
Forrabury Church is dedicated to the wonderfully named St Symphorian. Originally Norman, it was rebuilt in 1867, so there probably isn't much left to interest church-crawlers like myself.
There's also the Minster Church nearby, once the site of a medieval monastery.

The Cobweb pub, where we had lunch, was a warehouse up until 1947, for corn, coal, building materials and household items. The building itself dates back to the 17th century.
Boscastle Pottery, next door, used to be a bakery.
The Old Manor House pub we passed on the way to the Witchcraft Museum really was the old manor house, and amazingly there were once 18 pubs in the village!
The little National Trust bookshop, which we didn't have time to go in, further along, used to be a blacksmith's forge. The National Trust bought the entire harbour, right up to Forrabury Common, in 1955.

There's an old lime kiln by the Harbour restaurant. This was once the village hall, and the local cinema. The lime kiln wasn't the only industry in the village - another building, now called Seagulls, was a manganese mill, and then there were the "fish palaces" where fish were processed. There was even ship building along that stretch of river, and a service that carried passengers from Boscastle to Quebec and New York up until the 1850s!
In its heyday as a port, Boscastle handled up to 300 ships in a year, carrying anything from coal to wines and spirits into the port, and taking out cargos of slate and limestone from nearby quarries. This went on until the railway reached Camelford in 1893. The last cargo ship to come to Boscastle was the Francis Beddoe in 1916.

Tuesday, 19 March 2019


On the Sunday of the Pagan Conference, we all went down to Boscastle for the day. Boscastle is a small coastal village which is home to the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic, and they had agreed to let Conference goers into the museum free when we showed them our badges.
There are a lot of artefacts relating to the history of witchcraft, and information on famous witches of the past. One room is done out as a typical witch's cottage, with a tape on in the background talking about charms and spells. Upstairs is a case full of 'poppets' with pins in them - one sad case was a doll dressed as a nurse, with a nail through her belly, apparently made in 1941 by a nurse who had become pregnant, and who was hoping to cause a miscarriage.
Everywhere we looked there was something interesting, like the figure with a goats' head mask, holding a stang, (a sort of trident cum pitchfork) which was used in ritual magic.
It's a fascinating place, and we didn't really spend enough time there, because the Gloucestershire Pagans had booked lunch for 1pm at the nearby Cobweb pub, for 26 of us. The carvery was pretty good, and the pub itself was all flagged floors, low beams and local beer.
By the time we'd finished lunch the weather had worsened, but I was determined to get to the end of the harbour. I left my friends either sheltering in a gift shop or struggling along the path behind me, while I leaned into the wind, felt the hailstone coming in horizontally on my face, and danced along the path to the first harbour wall.
Up there, even I thought it was too windy to go any further, but I did take a photo to prove I'd been that far:

Back in the village, I treated myself to a yarn bowl from Roger the Potter at Boscastle Pottery. It's decorated in their unique mochaware style (with the use of a secret herb to make the tree like markings on the purple and green glaze). I've already used it to keep my ball of wool from rolling around the floor while I'm using my lucet.

Monday, 18 March 2019

Pagan Phoenix - Miranda Aldhouse-Green

I'd been looking forward to the last talk of the afternoon. Miranda Aldhouse-Green is Emeritus Professor of Archaeology at Cardiff University, and under the name Miranda Green she's written books about Celtic Gods and Goddesses. I've got the one on Celtic Goddesses, and it's very good.
The title of the talk was Silent Gods? Spirits and the Sacred in Roman Britain.
She began with what Roman people thought of Britain - and even in the 3rdC AD, when Roman Britain had roads and cities and villas and every aspect of civilised life, Roman writers were claiming that the island was a swampy forest full of half naked savages!

There have been some interesting finds recently, though, which give us more of an insight into Celtic religion of the time. She mentioned the Le Cottilon hoard in Jersey, for instance, a solid lump of coins, gold torcs and silver jewellery - which was probably not just buried as a sort of bank, for safe keeping, but had a religious meaning. One of the pieces in the collection was an antique even to the people who buried the treasure - a Bronze Age spear head.
She also mentioned a bronze figure which had been found at Culver Hole in Gower, which may have been a moon goddess.

Something really exciting turned up at Chartres in 2005, though - an underground Roman shrine which included four incense burners, one for each of the four directions. Here there's no doubt about the Celtic nature of the worship, because the incense burners are marked with the word "Dru", meaning druid.
There's a theory that the owner of the shrine was consciously re-creating a pre-Roman belief system which was no longer being used. Also, the druid priests of the past may have been converted, in this re-creation, from human priests into spirits which could be worshipped.

Then we got something to be passed round the audience - replicas of "spoons" which often turn up in a religious context. They have no handle as such, apart from a bit at the top of the spoon bowl to hold it, and they always come in pairs, one of which has a raised cross on the bowl and the other has a small hole, off centre. The idea is that these are tools for divination, by which some sort of powder is blown down a straw through the hole, making patterns on the other spoon with the cross, as they are held together.

The head has always been important in Celtic myth, so it was interesting to discover that when Boudica attacked the Temple of Claudius in Colchester, they cut off the head of the statue of Claudius which stood outside and threw it in the river!
At Uley, in Gloucestershire, there was a Temple to Mercury - and the head of the statue of Mercury was buried when the shrine became Christianised. The statues of Mercury in Britain tend to have horns on their heads rather than the more classical wings. Uley is also one of the places where curse tablets can be found - curses inscribed into lead, mostly invoking horrible fates on people who have stolen the curser's property.

Meanwhile at Lydney Temple there seems to have been a special association with dogs - several figurines have been found there. Lydney was the Temple of Nodens, a god of healing, and overlooked the River Severn where there was a good view of the Severn bore.

Roman towns were laid out in the same way across the Empire, and one of the reasons for this was to allow "perambulations" between the most important buildings, something that an important Roman would do regularly to see and be seen.

Then we were off to Hadrian's Wall, where Roman and Celtic gods were being worshipped together. For instance there's an altar to Jupiter (Best and Greatest) at Maryport fort on the Wall, which was the official altar of the legion, but on the back is a carving of a wheel, symbol of a Celtic god who was obviously important to the troops stationed there.
Also at Hadrian's Wall was a temple to a god unknown anywhere else, Antenociticus, who is presumed to be a local deity, but was important enough to the builder of the temple to have a life sized statue.

Even further north, at the Antonine Wall, there was a Temple of Mithras I hadn't heard about before. It also had a mask of Sol with cut out mouth (so the priest could speak through it) and cut out rays around the head, so a light source behind the mask would make it look much more impressive.

Going back to Boudica - there's a tombstone in Corinium/Cirencester to a woman called Bodicacia.

And finally (the talk had over run a little because of problems with the slides earlier) at Bewcastle Roman Fort, again on Hadrian's Wall, there are five altars dedicated to the Germanic god Cocidius, and one dedicated to an amalgam god, Mars Cocidius. The Romans saw nothing wrong or strange about mixing their gods together and creating something new.

Sunday, 17 March 2019

Pagan Phoenix - Damh the Bard

Penstowe Manor asked people who wanted lunch to order it earlier in the morning, but even so the queue was slow-moving. We eventually shared a table with some of the group of Gloucestershire Pagans that my friend belongs to, which was very pleasant. Behind the table was a stall of stunningly good artwork - but I had already spent to my limit on CDs and songbooks of Damh the Bard's music.

He was the next speaker, on Y Mabinogi - the Four Branches: their History and the Bardic Mysteries.
I'd been looking forward to this, being reasonably familiar with the Mabinogion since I first read the Evangeline Walton series The Islands of the Mighty. They were published as part of the Ballantine Adult Fantasy range in the early 1970s and I came across them a little while after that.

The talk began with a quotation from Rowland Williams:
"For thee of English birth
But British heart
Our bardic harp neglected and unstrung
Moved to the soul
And at thy touch there start
Old harmonies to life
Our ancient tongue opens
Its buried treasure to impart"

Damh the Bard has been working on his version of the myths of the Four Branches, and two CDs were available on his stall. He starts with the tales of Pwll and Annwn, Rhiannon, and Bran.
The theme of the day, harking back to Andy Letcher that morning, seemed to be the tension between Mythos and Logos - the experience and the writing down. The tales of the Mabinogion were written down by Christian monks, but they are older and stranger, and very much part of an oral tradition.
They were almost forgotten in Wales, until Lady Charlotte Guest translated them into English, starting with the King Arthur stories. She married John Guest, of Dowlais ironworks near Merthyr Tydfil, in the early 19th century and, being an accomplished linguist, taught herself Welsh. It is thanks to her that the stories became known again.

Damh said that the stories could be divided into two parts - the stories of the family of Llyr, and the stories of the family of Don. The stories of Llyr are all associated with the sea, and tend to be emotional, while the stories of Don are associated with the land, and are earthy and practical - and both sets of stories show what happens when the characters make terrible mistakes!

The story of Blodeuedd, for instance, the Woman of Flowers, has Gwydion creating a bride for Llew Llaw Gyffes (who has been cursed by his mother Arianrhod to never have a human wife), without thinking of the consequences. She falls in love with another man, and plots to kill her husband - and is eventually turned into an owl as punishment. There is a standing stone in North Wales, Llech Ronw, near Blaenau Ffestiniog, which is associated with the legend - the hole in it supposedly shows the passage of the spear which kills Gronw, as revenge for trying to kill Llew. Another, modern stone stands on the bank of the River Dovey. This one was carved for the 1969 TV series The Owl Service, Alan Garner's re-telling of the myth.

Another important part of the stories is how closely they are tied into real places in Wales. You can go to the place where Llew and Blodeuedd lived, and visit valleys and hills that are mentioned in the tales.

There's a lot, too, about transformation - Blodeuedd is made from flowers; Gwydion himself is transformed into a series of animals, along with his brother Gilfaethwy, as punishment for the rape of King Math's foot-holder Goewin. They spend a year each as a breeding pair of deer, then pigs, then wolves, producing a fawn, a piglet and a cub, before they are restored to human form by Math. Llew Llaw Gyffes, after the attempt on his life, is transformed into an eagle, until Gwydion tracks him down and restores him to human form.

Friday, 15 March 2019

Pagan Phoenix - Carolyn Hillyer

After the coffee break, and opportunity for retail therapy, Carolyn Hillyer took the stage.

Where Andy Letcher's talk had been quite chatty and informal, this was more of a studied performance. She began by saying that she had been waiting impatiently to get old enough to write her new book, Book of Hag - Travels towards Ancientness! She performed fragments of the book, including a folk tale style story about an old woman and bear, which was very funny when they came to discuss what sort of folk tale the old woman was in. Was it, perhaps, one in which she and the bear had sex and created a race of half human half bears? The bear replied that this would be unlikely, since the bear was also female.
Later, she even got the audience chanting in Proto-Celtic to the beat of a drum.
It was a performance to experience, rather than take notes about.

In the evening, she provided the musical entertainment, but by that time we were all too tired (and the rain was too horizontal) for any of us to want to climb back up the hill from the chalet.

According to the programme, she lives at a farm on Dartmoor, where she's built a Neolithic-style round house, and is known as a musician, drum maker and writer.

Thursday, 14 March 2019

Pagan Phoenix - The English Magic Tarot

The venue for the Conference was at the back of the main building, through Stately Wayne Manor. The room has a bar area as you come in, with a sunken area in the middle with seating facing a stage, and two levels at the far end. Stalls selling all sorts of wonderful stuff were ranged round the sides of the hall. There were pyrography boxes and wands and jewellery and books and CDs and knitted goods and spell packs. Near the door was a big loaf sculpted into the shape of a phoenix, and made by one of the people at the Conference, who is a baker. There was also a table with prizes for a raffle, to raise money for two young people who are going to Kenya to do volunteer work soon. The raffle raised over £300 for them.

The proceedings opened with an Isis prayer, in Ancient Egyptian and English, and the first speaker was Andy Letcher, who wrote the book to go with the English Magic Tarot deck. In fact, he is immortalised as The Fool in the deck. The artist is Rex van Ryn, who has also been a student of Tarot for many years. He used to be a comic artist on 2000AD, so the pictures have that comic art look, with clean lines and a simple colour palette created by Steve Dooley. They just happen to be neighbours of Andy's in Devon.
The method he used to create the deck was interesting. He would meditate on a single card each morning, for about twenty minutes, and then he would sketch whatever came to mind. Which meant that, when Andy Letcher came to write the book, he had to rationalise why there were squirrels on one card, or why hares kept coming up in others. The style of the cards is consistently set in the period from the Reformation to the Restoration in English history, a hey day of English magic.
He also revives a Renaissance technique (used in the TV series Sherlock) of the memory palace, where magicians memorised things by imagining a building and placing images in certain places within it - he said it was also a way of looking at the cards differently so the reader could see different things within them.

I did write down the name of the artist who illustrated the traditional Rider-Waite pack, - she was Pamela Colwell-Smith, a member of the Golden Dawn who also illustrated actors in the days before photography was common - so she was good at showing people in action (in this case, the actors playing their parts).
The illustrator of the Aleister Crowley Thoth Tarot deck was another woman, Lady Freda Harris, and she had to incorporate some very precise imagery for each card.
However, Andy Letcher said that all sorts of things could be used to do a reading - including a jar full of buttons!

He also talked about meeting his hero Kit Williams, when a public footpath led him across the artist's garden. He was responsible for Masquerade, the picture book that gave clues to the whereabouts of a golden hare. The hare is now owned by some multi-national company, but they did bring it out to put it on display recently, so he got to see it up close ("the big guy lurking in the background of the photo was the security guard").

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

Pagan Phoenix Fiendish Quiz

I've just come back from a Pagan Conference in Cornwall, which was a fascinating weekend. We all had a great time (apart from the poor lady who couldn't face a night in the Very Cold Chalet with the Inadequate Heaters).
We were staying at Penstowe Manor Holiday Camp - they hadn't quite opened yet for the season, so we were the first people there.
The old Manor House itself is at the top of the hillside, once owned by the Grenville family (there were banners up around the bar). We took to calling it Stately Wayne Manor. A village of chalets of various types is scattered down the hill. Here's the back of ours, in the middle of the picture:

I've never been on a holiday camp holiday before, so I was surprised at how spacious the chalet was - there were 4 of us sharing a chalet that slept 6 (plus a sofa bed), so there were three bedrooms, bathroom, small kitchen, and a big open room with a dining table at one end and sofas at the other, with a picture window that looked out onto a hedge.
Beyond the hedge, this was in the distance:

It took all day to get there - I set out on the college bus from Hay at about 7am, and got to Stroud by about 11am, where I met the rest of the party, and we drove the rest of the way through mostly appalling weather and, when we got to Cornwall, fog. Through the fog, wind turbines loomed.

But we did get there in plenty of time for the Fiendish Quiz in the evening.
Quiz teams were supposed to be five people, but one potential member wandered off to sit with friends across the bar, and another was eating her dinner, so it ended up with the Herne's Hunters team only having two active members. I think we did quite well to get 14 points, especially as some of the questions really were fiendishly hard.
There was a picture round which was Name the Pagan Artist! By that time we were reduced to writing things like "Alistair Crowley's girlfriend?" and we didn't get any points for having seen one of the paintings in real life (MacGregor Mathers, which is in the Atlantic Bookshop near the British Museum, painted by his wife). There was also a difficult music round - but I was very pleased to get the Pink Floyd album Piper at the Gates of Dawn, for bonus points!
The Mad March Hares won the quiz with 27 points.

The friend who had invited us is one of the Gloucestershire contingent of Pagans, and we spent the rest of the evening very pleasantly in their company, before we crawled away to bed.
We discovered later that Damh the Bard had been singing in the bar after we left, which we were sorry to miss. He was one of the speakers at the conference the next day, so this was very impromptu