The two trees in the Garden of Eden can be accounted for upon Egyptian ground, but on no other; one being the tree of the pole in the stellar mythos, the other the tree of life or of dawn in the garden eastward. The two typical trees are recognizable as Egyptian in the Book of the Dead. In one chapter (97th) they are called the two divine sycamores of heaven and earth. The sycamore of heaven is identified as the tree of Nut. It stands in the “lake of equipoise,” which is at the celestial pole. The tree of earth is the tree of Hathor and of dawn. Atum-Ra, the solar god, is also described as coming forth from betwixt the two trees…The tree of earth, or Hathor, and the tree of heaven, or Nut, were brought on together and united in the tree of burial for the mummy. Wherever it was possible the Egyptian coffin was made from wood of the sycamore tree, the khat-en-ankhu, or tree of life, so that the dead might be taken in the embrace of the mother of life, who was represented by the tree – Gerald Massey (Ancient Egypt: Light of the World)
Recently I finished the last of the blackberries I picked during the dregs of summer, before Michaelmas Day, at which point the devil pisses all over them and makes them inedible. This is the date on which the old feller is meant to have been cast out of heaven and tumbled to earth into brambles which he thus cursed.
But there are still rose hips – the fruit of the Dog Rose (rosa canina) to be had if you’re quick. A fantastic source of vitamin C and antioxidants, during the World War II children were co-opted to harvest rose hips in vast quantities to make syrup as a vitamin C replacement for the vital fruit from sunnier climes blockaded by the hunnish u-boats.
It’s connection to war is interesting, Bảo Ninh (Hoàng Ấu Phương) in his brilliant novel ‘The Sorrow Of War’, talks of NVA troops smoking the dried roots of rosa canina during what we call the Vietnam War (perhaps unsurprisingly the Vietnamese see things slightly differently and call it Kháng chiến chống Mỹ – The Resistance War Against America).
“One smoked to forget the daily hell of the soldiers’ life, smoked to forget hunger and suffering. Also to forget death. And totally, but totally, to forget tomorrow.”
I don’t need to forget tomorrow, so made a syrup. Here is the wartime Ministry of Food’s recipe for 2lb of hips.
Boil 3 pints of boiling water.
Mince hips in a course mincer and put immediately into the boiling water.
Bring to boil and then place aside for 15 minutes.
Pour into a flannel or linen crash jelly bag and allow to drip until the bulk of the liquid has come through.
Return the residue to the saucepan, add 1+1/2 pints of boiling water, stir and allow to stand for 10 minutes.
Pour back into the jelly bag and allow to drip.
To make sure all the sharp hairs are removed put back the first half cupful of liquid and allow to drip through again.
Put the mixed juice into a clean saucepan and boil down until the juice measures about 1+1/2 pints, then add 1+1/4 of sugar and boil for a further 5 minutes.
Pour into hot sterile bottles and seal at once.
If corks are used these should have been boiled for hour just previously and after insertion coated with melted paraffin wax.
It is advisable to use small bottles as the syrup will not keep for more than a week or two once the bottle is opened.
Store in a dark cupboard.
“And he shall take the two goats, and present them before the Lord at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. And Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats; one lot for the Lord , and the other lot for the scapegoat. And Aaron shall bring the goat upon which the Lord’s lot fell, and offer him for a sin offering. but the goat, on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat, shall be presented alive before the Lord, to make an atonement with him, and to let him go for a scapegoat into the wilderness.” – (Leviticus 16:7-10).
The idea that the sins of the people might be transferred to a goat, which, driven into the wilderness to die, carried away the moral trespasses with which he was symbolically loaded, doubtless had much to do with the change which came over the complexion of the Great God Pan, when Christianity commenced to rewrite the ancient heathen mythology. Gently Pan, who harmed no one beyond creating terror, became first Satanic, and then, in the end, Satan himself. In the middle ages, men believed that the Evil One took the form of a goat on earth, when he wished to work his wicked will unseen of men in his true character. Therefore Satan gradually grew both horns and tail! – from The Masonic Goat
The ancient pagan Celtic peoples of Britian worshipped a goat headed deity – Cernnunos the horned god of the Wood. It has been suggested that the English legend of Herne the Hunter is an allusion to Cernunnos, though this seems doubtful as Herne is thought to be a survival of Saxon, rather than Celtic, beliefs and is first mentioned in 1597 in Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor (Act 4, Scene 4). It is, however, possible that Herne is a much-diluted incarnation of Cernunnos absorbed into Saxon folklore. It’s Kentish link is further diluted by Margaret Murray’s claim in The God of the Witches (1931) that Herne is a very localized legend not found outside Berkshire and the regions of the surrounding counties into which Windsor Forest once spread.
Seán Mac Mathúna in his Evidence of worship of the Horned God in early Celtic London writes:
…that worship of the Horned God in London and the South-East of Britain would have been widespread before the Saxon’s drove our Celtic forebears from the area around 560 AD (even though the Celts by this time were largely Christians and the Saxons were Pagans). Thus, we can assume that from historical records, that London was Celtic (and therefore largely Welsh-speaking) until at least the 6th century AD. Evidence that worship of the Horned God was still widespread in the 7th century is found in an edict issued by the Pope in 669 AD. He had been forced to send a mission to southern England and led by Theodore the Greek, who became the new Archbishop of Canterbury. One of his first actions was to issue a series of laws that forbade pagan practices. One of the most famous of these concerned the wearing of animal masks and costumes during the Twelve Days of Yule:
Whoever at the kalends (first) of January goes about in the form of a stag, that is changing himself into the form of an animal, dressing in the skin of a horned beast, and putting on the head of a beast, for those who in such wise transform themselves into the appearance of a wild animal, penance for three years, because it is devilish.
While out walking the same streets day in, day out one starts noticing increasingly minor details. I have been discovering the world of street furniture, the access ports to gas, water and drains – the underground utilities, the silent world beneath our feet. I’ve been enchanted by the water mains, the individual covers of many have been cast with a specific date and the initials of the water works – the Gravesend & Milton Water Works Company, the Chatham & District Water Company, the Higham & Hundred of Hoo Water Company and others that I can’t work out.
The earliest I have found so far is outside Rochester Cathedral and dates from 1902. Beautifully worn by the relentless scuffing of tourists’ feet, the letters softened from municipal utility into a new life of beauty.
Enthralled by this I have begun to scour the streets of the Medway Towns for more examples. The 1930’s were a boom time with many examples readily available. I had begun to formulate a romantic notion that they revealed the tragedy of everyday life – I haven’t been able so far to discover any dated during the Great War, 1912 and 1913 then the gaping hole through which nearly a million British lives were poured into the sewer of war. I have however found evidence that the Second World War still saw the installation of water mains with the 1944 specimen I found on Rochester’s Love Lane.
This presents the perfect opportunity for urban drifting – roads taken at random for what the might provide – routes planned and abandoned on whim while searching for ideal streets to provide new cast-iron gems.
Yesterday at the War Memorial outside the Cathedral on Rochester High Street I noticed a small white ‘package’ sitting on the plinth.
I waked around to the other side and there was another – consisting of a small sheet of cotton wool held in place by stones and sticks.
No suggestion of what this might have meant – an art-school installation, a meditation on Joseph Beuys with cotton wool standing in for Tartar felt, or some cryptic ritual? Or perhaps the cotton wool represents the approach of the heritage industry in a town like Rochester. Small scraps are wrapped in cotton wool while the rest is left to the market place.
I walked around the Cathedral in an anticlockwise direction and found myself in front of the ancient catalpa (Indian Bean Tree) where a further votive offering had been left on the railing protecting the tree from ‘vandals’.
Delightful as it is to come across such eldritch communications, I am left with a small disappointment because my hunger for meaning hasn’t been assuaged.