I read recently (on the excellent http://www.megalithic.co.uk site) of the possibility that a Turf Maze once existed in Rochester. The location suggested is The Vines, where the Cathedral’s monks kept a vinyard. The following photographs are of an area which evidences some lumps and striations in the ground – due to shadow from trees, this might not be entirely evident in the images. Only a handful of these mazes, or labyrinths, remain in England – their origins remain obscure, but I have read that pilgrims and penitents would recite the rosary while navigating the pathways in a form of spiritual meditation.
The Vines today is more likely a venue for street drinkers than spiritual meditation. Someone exposed their genitals to me and a companion in the Vines one evening, the only time this has ever happened – I didn’t notice anything and only discovered it from the shocked whispers that followed the event.
It is interesting to note that the nearby Troy Town area of Rochester – now comprehensively built-over – may contain a clue to this lost site.
The following comes from Wikipedia:
Many turf mazes in England were named Troy Town, Troy-town or variations on that theme (such as Troy, The City of Troy, Troy’s Walls or The Walls of Troy) presumably because, in popular legend, the walls of the city of Troy were constructed in such a confusing and complex way that any enemy who entered them would be unable to find his way out. Welsh hilltop turf mazes (none of which now exist) were called “Caerdroia”, which can be translated as “City of Troy” (or perhaps “castle of turns”).
The name “Troy” has been associated with labyrinths from ancient times. An Etruscan terracotta wine-jar from Tragliatella, Italy, shows a seven-ring labyrinth marked with the word TRUIA (Troy). To its left, two armed soldiers appear to be riding out of the labyrinth on horseback, while on the right two couples are shown copulating. The vase dates from about 630 BC.
The Troy connection is also found in the names of Scandinavian stone-lined mazes of the classical labyrinth pattern: for instance, Trojaburg near Visby on the Swedish island of Gotland. In Denmark, which once had dozens of turf mazes, the name “Trojborg” or “Trelleborg” was commonly used: no historic examples survive but replicas have been made. At Grothornet, in Vartdal in the Sunnmore Province of Norway there is a stone-lined labyrinth called “Den Julianske Borg” (“Julian’s castle”).”
Further reading: Marilyn Clark on Turf Labyrinths
A curious set of portents began appearing in Rochester in the week beginning the run up to the Winter Solstice/Christmas/Sol Invictus/Yule/Midwinter ritual days. Regular readers might recall my discovery of a dead goldfinch in what I took to be ritual circumstances earlier in the year and my supposition that this was linked to the symbolic connection between the goldfinch and Jesus.
The dove is another bird with symbolic connections to the Christian Holy Trinity – in this instance as a representative of the Holy Spirit – for when Christ was baptised by John the Baptist the Holy Spirit took the physical form of a dove. It is interesting to note this second dead bird was found along the same route, but further down the hill, as the first. It is of course impossible to plot a line with only two points to work from – but this downhill route would appear at this stage to be referencing points between the neolithic Kits Coty monument and Rochester Cathedral.
I was clearly not the first person to notice the significance of this ritual. As I retraced the route, across one road and up to the alley where I found the goldfinch earlier in the year, I noticed that in a direct line between the two points a car was parked [pictured above] with a defiant message of militant Christianity disrupting the line of power. I have discussed elsewhere how I believe these cars are used as mobile units, charged with prayer, that can be parked in key positions in order to block or disrupt ongoing ritual workings.
Whatever happened here is still obscure – but by the next morning the dove’s body had been removed from the road – but carefully placed on the pavement, pointing due west, was a three-tined fork – a mini-trident? This presumably as a counter-weight to the wave of Christian prayer directed downhill.
The road in question is privately owned by Rochester’s Bridge Wardens – who are resposible for the bridge over the River Medway. Could the fork/trident be linked to some river-based ritual? The trident is both a symbol of enforcement or security during more obscure occult ceremonies and is also linked to the water god Neptune/Poseiden but also to Shamash, the Babylonian sun god, and god of law and justice who is said to have given mankind their laws.
In ancient Babylon most serious crimes were punished by death, most commonly by drowning or burning. Is the trident here symbolic of a water-based punishment being directed at the person/people who interrupted the flow of energy linked to a midwinter ritual?
William Wordsworth finished his sonnet “The world is too much with us”, with a sense of nostalgia for the lost richness of a world numinous with deities and of the trident weilding sea-gods of old:
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon,
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.–Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea.
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn
Or is it another reference to Christ and John the Baptist – a Christian counter curse disrupting the ritual?
Matthew 3:7 But when he (John the Baptist) saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? (8) “Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance; (9) and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father’; for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham. (10) “The axe is already laid at the root of the trees; therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. (11) “As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. (12) “His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
Whatever the answer – the references all seem to point to water – either baptismal or otherwise – and thus to the River Medway.
I was flicking through a copy of a 1936 book called 50 True Stories Stranger Than Fiction, a volume including stories with titles like ‘He Laughed At Death’, ‘Dope In Chinatown’ and ‘Lynch Law In The West‘, when I found this marvellous passage in a story by “Lord” George Sanger, the eccentric 19th Century circus entrepeneur entitled The Circus People Take Revenge.
He is describing an attack on a travelling show when it appeared in Bath, but extends his observations to take in a wider view: “I have, by the way, noticed that most cathedral cities – and in Britain I have visited them all – show remarkable contrasts in regard to their populations. At the top you have all that is best in the way of piety and learning, all that is enviable in the way of ease and dignity. At the bottom you will find dirt, degradation, misery and evil of the most appalling kinds. Why this should be I cannot say, but I have certainly observed it.”
The flashing blue lights and streams of blood and urine on Rochester High Street on a Friday and Saturday night bear out his observations. Sanger was eventually murdered by an “insane employee” in East Finchley in 1911.
A photograph from May’s Sweeps Festival in Rochester – a hat from a member of The Hunters Moon Morris side outside Rochester Cathedral – I notice from their website they are keen supporters of The Museum of Witchcraft at Boscastle – which was without doubt my favourite museum in the land, although I haven’t been back to visit since the disastrous flooding which all but destroyed the place.
The tree in the background looking suitably Lovecraftian (although I have little time for repressed white supremacists).
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.