This afternoon in Chatham High Street I heard the angry cry:
“Odin, get ‘ere now!”
“I’m not gonna tell you again”
It was not an impromptu invocation to the pagan Norse god of wisdom and war – but a belligerent mother shouting at her 4 year old son.
The Wild Hunt come to Medway
I can only image that whatever occult working was being undertaken by the Totem of Liquid DNA(see right) is now complete. This totem was represented by a collection of full condoms, tied up to protect their sacred contents, affixed to a barbed wire fence on a pathway leading up to Fort Clarence. They have now perished in the elements. Was this the remenants of a powerful Sex Magick ritual – or the work of a mucky-boys’ circlejerk – we can only conjecture?
The spring is sprung the grass is riz…. Alban Eiler, the Vernal Equinox, the start of spring – it’s come and gone – and the planned blog for that day has been forgotten – the clocks have gone forward with the attendant lack of sleep and panic on Sunday morning, and bluer skies have kept me from the screen. I spent the day with a very good friend and his daughter. Nothing much happened.
It is a funny time of year though – when the hidden hand rises and we are surrounded by occult imagery for weeks without thinking about it. Easter is here, the ancient festival of Oestre – the goddess of spring and renewal – her eggs, resplendent imagery of the rebirth of the land after the death of winter. Yet this welter of pagan imagery is promulgated to children at playgroups throughout the land – Christian playgroups sing Easter bunny songs (the hare long known as a witchy symbol and also the animal most associated with Oestre).
In ancient Anglo-Saxon myth Oestre, (The Vikings knew her as Ostara, the goddess of dawn) is the personification of the rising sun, depicted with a Hare’s head or ears. In that capacity she is associated with the spring and is associated with fertility and ressurrection – this because of the hare and reabbit’s reputation of fecundity and sexual appetite. Eggs were decorated and left at her shrine. The Druid’s Egg – a ball of snake spit, also known as adderstones is protected by the hare, which is the symbol of Alban Eilir.
The hare is declining in Kent due mainly to the agribusiness management of our rural areas – the idea that the NFU and the Countryside Alliance promulgates of farmers as the custodians of the land is so risible. Widespread reductions in crop diversity have restricted the hare’s diet, and a switch from spring-sown to autumn-sown crops has created a food shortage in the summer. Increased livestock grazing densities have likely discouraged hares from many areas, and loss of hedgerows and woodland has reduced winter shelter. Silage cutting often coincides with peak leveret numbers and direct mortality from machinery is another factor affecting hares.
As I write this I hear a programme on the radio that made me think of the subsuming of the ancient by the Christian church and the subsequent regurgitation of the lot by post-religious popular culture into a stew from which it is hard to pick out the individual elements. The speakers discussed the replacement of the festival of The Holy Trinity in Soviet-era Russia by a non-religious Birch Tree Day. (This is further confused however by the fact that Holy Trinity Day coincided with a series of Slavic pagan holidays called Zeleniye Svyatki, or “Green Christmastide,” which focussed on the worship of the “Spirits of Greenery.”). However the speaker Margaret Paxon mentioned a ‘new’ tradition started since th collapse of the Soviet Union of tending the graves of relatives, speaking to them and even drinking with them on this day – something that she describes as being “deeper than the Orthodox Church or Soviet State.
G. K. Chesterton said When a Man stops believing in God he doesn’t then believe in nothing, he believes anything. I think he missed a trick there – I think what happens is that once the power of the the orthodoxy is removed, we tend to revert back to what we always believed deep down.
But let us not get too hung up on the pagan origins of Easter – in the same way as you youngsters wear denim jeans without once having toiled as agricultural workers or miners in Americaland – it is reasonable to expect these deep cultural symbols to migrate through the thin walls of observance. It is only as wrong as someone wearing Gloria Venderbilt jeans refusing to acknowledge the plight of the sharecropper.
The Textus Roffensis (The Book of Rochester – a register of the cathedral) It comes from the episcopacy of Ernulf, so that it is more than 800 years old. It was presumably written by a scribe in the monastery, perhaps Humphrey the Precentor.
[It includes] “…special masses to be used for ordeals by water and by fire, with directions for carrying out the ordeals.”
Surely never was there heard such a terrible curse as Ernulf found in these pages, for the unhappy evildoer is cursed by the Holy Trinity, the archangels, the patriarchs and prophets; he is cursed living and dying, eating and drinking, in his hunger and in his thirst, in his sleeping and in his waking, in his walking and in his standing, in his working and in his resting. Everything about him is cursed, his brain, his hair, his eyes, his mouth, his legs and arms, and every part of him no foregetting even his nails. “Fiat, fiat, Amen,” end this famous (or infamous) curse lying in these books for 800 years with nobody one penny the worse.”
So the Cathedral – beautiful and impressive a creation as it is, has it’s roots steeped in the blood of those drowned and burned in its name. No doubt these Homeland Security measures against the witchywisdom of the day seemed reasonable – but amid the welter of torture and ecclesiastical murder they failed to notice what Arthur Mee did – that the text of this excommunication is nothing but a curse – as satanic as anything they hoped to combat. Like imprisonment without trial being used to promote “freedom” – damning a soul in the name of Christ’s mercy is a circle that cannot be squared.
** If we are allowed to leave by the ruins of the cloister, to see the grinning faces looking down from the wall and the ancient arches in the deanery, we feel that we are in a quiet and far-off world. The little path runs by the old Norman arches and the west front of the chapter house, with its pillared doorway and three great arches above it. On the doorway is a demon putting out his tongue at the monks as they came into the chapter house.
When I came to seek this impudent demon, I found two of them, one on each side of the doorway. One of them (with impressive curlicue horns… see above) seems to have lost his face – either because some pious individual became irritated by the relentless tongue-waggling (like the Devil in the peerless 1920 Danish film “Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages“) and smashed his face off, or possibly more likely the relentless pollution sluicing down across its ugly mug have eroded it beyond repair.
His brother, facing him since 1080CE, is similarly disfigured although his horns too still stand proud and visible, if his tongue has long since shrivelled – perhaps with no monks to leer at anymore the game became too unrewarding. Jaded school-parties with clip boards are too CGI-savvy to be shocked by a stone devil and his tongue. The only other person (apart from the bored children and I) in the cloisters this afternoon when I went to take these photographs was a late middle-aged woman sitting on a bench working her way through a copy of Puzzler magazine. Probably they just realised their diabolic work on Earth was done.
Perhaps the most famous of these is found in Margate – where unsurprisingly a great mystery has accreted around the Shell Grotto. This is a place I had long wanted to visit – ticking all the boxes as it did – not least beacause it is a privately run museum rather than a ghastly Local Authority administered morgue with the soul siphoned from it and replaced with ‘interactive exhibits’ Modern curating labours under the misapprehension that the museumgoer gains more from pushing buttons on a broken perspex display board than looking at a 19th century cabinet full of moth-eaten taxidermy and handwritten labels.
I’m afraid to disappoint you, but there is no rotting taxidermy at the Shell Grotto, but that’s the only disappointment there – it is visually stunning and this overlayed by their fantastic line in mythography; suggesting at the same time that the mystical symbolism rendered on the walls in the grotto links it to everything from a pagan worship site, a masonic temple and even drags Dan Brown’s weary Knights Templar into the picture (damn busy chaps they were). Their descriptions of the lavish shell patterns on the wall are lush and stunning – “…we see Phallic signs, a Fountain, ears of wheat, a palm branch, the ram’s horns, the snake panel, various winged solar discs, many flowers and other signs” [The Shell Grotto of Margate – An ancient underground shell Temple (no date)] – but undiscernable to the eye of the casual observer as the Wikipedia entry states… “the abstract nature of the designs make these suggestions rather subjective”
Before mention is made of the Roman and Jutish occupation of Gillingham, a few words must be said about the local deneholes. These are subterranean chambers of various types, cut out of the chalk, and are mostly found in those parts of Kent and Essex which are situated on or near the banks of the Thames and Medway. The word itself is probably a derivative of the Old English ‘den (hole or valley), though some consider that it is a corruption of ‘Dane,’ and believe, accordingly, that the hole’ were dug in order to hide goods away from the Danish invaders.
Most of the deneholes consist of a narrow vertical shaft in the earth, which widens out into a large spherical chamber cut out of the chalk, so that the whole, in section, is not unlike a huge flask in shape. Of this type of denehole there are at least three in Gillingham, all situated in the wood which lies at the bottom of the Darland Bank, at Speke’s Bottom.
There is, however, another and more complicated type of denehole, and of this kind there is a fine example at the top of Twydall Lane. This type is entered by either a vertical or a sloping shaft, from the bottom of which tunnels radiate and lead to chambers cut out of the chalk. The Twydall Lane denehole is such an interesting example of these peculiar underground workings that a full account of it is well worth while. (Reference should be made to the plan facing page 19).
The denehole was discovered by Mr. Harlow, in 1931. He noticed a subsidence of the soil at the spot marked C, and on clearing away some of the earth he discovered avertical shaft from the bottom of which a tunnel opened out at D. This tunnel was blocked: so, after having noted the direction in which it ran, he drove a shaft at E, and the entire denehole was then laid bare. The roofs of the chambers and the tunnels were about nine feet from the surface of the earth, and the entire denehole had been cut out of solid chalk. The marks of the tools which had been used could still be seen on roofs and walls: these marks were small grooves about two inches in length and a quar:er of an inch in breadth. Another interesting feature was that in all the chambers, at an average height of about three feet from the floor, a stratum of flints had been laid bare. The denehole was disappointingly devoid of evidence as to when, or for what purpose, it had been constructed.
At F a large heap of flints in an unworkcd state, was found; and at G there were two skeletons. These crumbled into dust on being touched; but Mr. Harlow kept one of the
teeth, and it was later established that this was a sheep’s tooth, but it was impossible to date it. A curious feature was that at points A and B niches were found. These were
about nine feet in height, but did not reach to the surface of the earth. The shafts did not start from the floor of the chamber, but had been commenced at a height of two feet. It is impossible to say for certain the purpose which these ‘niches’ fulfilled: but as the shafts were blackened with smoke, they may have served as chimneys for torches or
None of the deneholes which have so far been explored has yielded much evidence from which either the date or the purpose of construction may be inferred. It has been found that the marks on the walls and roofs must almost certainly have been made with horn or bone picks. This would date the deneholes back to pre-Roman times, at least: but it is impossible to date these underground workings with any degree of accuracy. It is equally impossible to state with certainty the purpose which they were meant to serve.
Many archaeologists incline to the view that they were intended for the storage of grain, in times when marauders were frequent: but other solutions of the problem must not be discounted. For example, it is possible that some deneholes were nothing more than flint-mines. It is quite feasible that the underground chamber laid bare at Lower Twydall by the chalk quarrymen, was, a denehole: and this chamber undoubtedly contained primitive implements, as has been seen. In this case it is likely that in origin the deneholes go back to very ancient times indeed. The Twydall Lane denehole contained both sheep and flints: and it may be that here is a clue to the problem of what these holes were used for. It is possible that some were dug for flints, while others were dug for storage purposes, and even for refuge. In other words, no one simple solution will probably fit all cases.
A History of Gillingham (Kent) by Philip Rogers (1947)