Sunday, 29 March 2009

Time out to remember

A book I am currently reading has taken my mind back to a place I lived in with my then partner some 37 years ago. A small wooded valley on the Lancashire side of the Yorkshire moors, Wycoller was at that time mainly empty. Abandoned by the hand loom weavers as the nearby industrialised textile mills took over the trade in the early 19th century, many of its houses lay open and deserted. Over the beck which flowed through the village were several very old stone bridges. This is the pack horse bridge, about 800 years old:

And this, the clam bridge, some claim to be neolithic -dating back 10000 years- although most simply claim it to be over 1000 years old.

There in the middle of the village was the ruined Wycoller Hall, reputed to be the inspiration for Ferndean Manor in Jane Eyre

Much of my time while living in Wycoller was spent exploring the moors above. Empty spaces now inhabited mainly by sheep and the birds that soared overhead, or hovered, circling, looking for prey. The sky there was big and open and the winds always present. Sometimes, I would roam as far as the old ruined farm of Top Withens, reputed to be the setting for Wuthering Heights In the winter, a cold and desolate spot. Inhospitable and unforgiving. A place where death could seem very imminent and there were constant reminders of its presence - such as the stinking carcases of dead ewes.

In the distance, from the trailer we were living in, could always be seen the brooding shape of Pendle Hill -where during the early years of the Society of Friends, also known as Quakers, their founder George Fox experienced a vision, and which was the locus for one of the most famous English witch trials.

In the early 70s, however, these things were not a matter of dry historical record. Witches still existed and were active in people's lives. This was not in a neo-Pagan, Gardnerian, sense of the term, however, but a much older one. I remember the farmer on whose land we were living coming down to the trailer one day and asking me to find an excuse to visit in about 40 minutes and then not to leave the kitchen after I had entered. He did not explain why, but I duly did what he had asked. He was not alone in the kitchen when I entered, there was a woman with him - who did not seem too pleased to see me. I stayed, however, and after a while she left. Joe then explained that she was a local witch and that she fancied him but the last man to turn her down had died suddenly. So he needed me to be there so that he di not have to turn her down. He was not kidding. He believed this. He was, literally, frightened for his life if she felt slighted. He was not in any way a New Ager, but a hard-working hill farmer, devoted to his family. And also, for the short time I knew him, a friend.

There were other signs of such beliefs, such as figurines placed in streams. This was all unspoken - the closest that it ever came to being openly acknowledged in my presence was a nod and what was close to a wink - some things are not spoken about, they just are, and human lives have to adjust to take account of them. A general sense of deeper powers that had to be acknowledged and honoured was prevalent even among those who attended church regularly. The uncanny was ever present. Often it was just a feeling - a sort of knowledge that there was something lurking just beyond the border of awareness - like shapes glimpsed from the corner of the eye. It seemed that there were other beings, other awarenesses, just slightly out of reach There were times, however, when worlds seemed to meet. Once, we were walking on the hill overlooking the trailer and heard the music of a flute. We followed the sound to its apparent source, the other side of a rock formation known as Foster's Leap. Just as we came up to it, the music stopped. Nowhere was there any sign of a musician.

It was here I first became aware of Goddess. A vision, while sitting in the ruins of the old hall, of a place where women were free to be who they are and not conform to the old and sterile expectations and that my life purpose was to help bring this about. I knew this absolutely - a clear certainty permeated the picture I saw. Even today, after so many years. I can still see and feel it. I did not have the vocabulary then to speak of Goddess but know now that it was then She first spoke to me.

This was the land of Brigantia and of the people who became known, disparagingly, as brigands. The Pennines, now known as the backbone of England, retain in their very name the memory of a time when English was not heard. "Pen" - head, mountain, hill. It is even clearer in the name of nearby hill - "Pen Y Ghent" - pure Welsh. All around seemed then to be a place in which history, although it had of course passed, had followed a different course and the attitudes of the city and adherence to the cult of reason had not really penetrated. The people I met then were strong and independent and, to my surprise, seemed totally acceptant of a southern-accented city refugee such as me. I felt, for the first time in my life, that I fully belonged and did not have to bend and twist myself to fit another's expectation. I was welcomed, and it seemed to be a full and unequivocal welcome. I was welcome as me - and I did not have to do anything to earn that welcome.

This is how it seemed to me then, and still does now. I wanted to stay there and never leave but this turned out to be impossible. The time there was a time out of time - a time to rest and feel the roots of the land that had birthed me. It was a time in which I was able to rest and gain the strength I would need for the often nightmare that lay ahead. It was my first true experience of a real, tangible, immanent presence which I can now call Goddess. I felt that presence every day and She never fully left me. A seed was planted then that was slow to grow and is only now beginning to flower

Then, I now know, I felt the presence of Brigantia. Later, the Lady of Avalon was to call me through the mists and teach me so much. Now, I hear Her voice as that of Inanna, whose messenger I am. For this is what I heard Her say, clearly and unambiguously, one evening when I was alone in the Budapest Goddess Temple.

This post follows some in which i have looked out at the activities of others. I needed to look inside, to reminisce, to remember - and to see where my own vision was and how it has developed over the years. And I found that there is a consistency and continuity to it - even when I thought that I had wandered up blind alleys and into dark. forsaken, places. It was all part of the path to which I have been called and of which my first real taste was given to me all those years ago in Wycoller.

I went back there a few years ago and all had changed. Twee and cute are the words i would use to describe the now country park with its craft centre and waymarked walks. ( BTW, whoever wrote the copy on the craft centre's website does not even seem to have read the very books that they are marketing - referring not to Mr Rochester, but Lord Rochester - a very different character indeed, whose poetry, if written here, might well get me flagged!). Of course, it could not have continued as it was - hill farming was getting less and less viable and places of beauty and peace have a market value - even though the very act of marketing destroys or at least distorts the beauty and peace that is marketed. I was reluctant to leave all those years ago, but am glad that I did since I avoided seeing the decline that is termed progress. I was both lucky and blessed to have been able to experience all that I did in the short time I was there. There, I was given the strength and the vision that still informs and inspires me.


Paul said...

Lovely memories of a very special part of England with its own distinctive history and traditions. I love the landscape of the Pennines and Pen y Ghent is quite a landmark. Shepherds in those hills retained many Welsh words into the 20th century and in living memory some counted sheep using Welsh numbers.
Your sense of ancient presence is very real and others have reported 'phantom' music and the phenomena known as 'hummadruz'

Morgaine said...

I have so enjoyed reading this post Brian, wonderful, Sorry I havnt come along sooner I didnt see you and that you had left a comment on my site until today , I was going through the pics and taking some off , decided to leave that one on and noticed your comment, and glad I did,