Archive for the ‘Pagan Greenwich’ Category

Then and Now (9)

Monday, September 2nd, 2013

Haven’t had one of these for ages. This is the rustic fountain near the top of Lovers Walk in Greenwich park. I don’t know exactly when the photo was taken but this cars was sent on February 12th, 1909 as a birthday card to Violet from ‘Aunt’.

I tend to forget this funny little confection exists, tucked away as it is in a little dingly dell, and it does look like it’s been there forever.

Certainly if you read Chapter Four of the extraordinary Goddesses, Guardians and Groves, by Jack Gale, a book I thoroughly recommend for its utterly unique take on Greenwich’s spiritual history, you’d learn that, according to psychics, the stones that were used to create it in the 1860s (as a possible replacement for the Keepers Cottage nearby, which had served refreshments but was being demolished) had been moved to Greenwich Park long before that.

Gale calls it the Motherstone Fountain and tells us that psychic Carole Young, when tuning into the stones in 1988 had an acute awareness of the Bluebell Hill area of Kent, where you’ll find several magaliths, including Kit Coty’s House (well worth a trip BTW). She also felt that the site had ‘a powerful influence on its surroundings, sensing a brooding , serious and powerful atmosphere.” Indeed, she felt ‘a sense of Albion’s destiny; a place important to Britain itself; also the curious awareness of a prince returning to his consort.’

On top of that she sensed Greenwich Fair, subtle earth energies and a mysterious ‘Man in Black’ (we’ll deal with him another day, eh…)

Blimey. I recommend you read the book for more extraordinary insights into Greenwich’s spiritual side; today, I want to look at the postcard itself.

I was keen to get a shot from the same angle, but when I got there, I found I couldn’t. There was a walloping great nettle patch in my way and although my friend told me it wasn’t stinging season, I wasn’t taking any chances.

At first I thought the negative had been printed in reverse, but no – there was the path of Lovers Walk, and the trees, though slightly larger around the girth (aren’t we all…) were still there.

Perhaps there was an official path back in Edwardian times, or maybe the little unofficial trackway was a bit wide then. I guess the picture could have been taken at a different time of year when the nettles weren’t waist high.

Whatever – this is the closest I got to the exact angle:

It’s still a charming, quiet, slightly mysterious part of the park, near an even more charming, quiet and slightly mysterious dell. ┬áIn fact I actually think it looks better now than it did a hundred years ago – the greenery and slightly overgrown-ness suits it well.

Even if you don’t buy Jack Gale’s pagan interpretations of the stones, it’s worth a visit. Not that I recommend the water these days…

The Merry Month of May

Thursday, May 2nd, 2013

Julie's Photo

A lazy post from me today, thanks to Mike and Julie who sent me some fantastic shots of yesterday’s May celebrations. It’s always quite an eyeful to see a tree walking through the streets of Greenwich:

Julie's Photo

and I really love that it is still done on May Day itself, rather than the nearest weekend, even if it means I can’t always see it for myself – somehow it seems ‘right’ rather than ‘convenient.’

Mike's photo

So who are these brave souls who paint themselves green, wear rams’ horns or dress up as trees?

Mike's Photo

Well – they are the good folks of Fowler’s Troop and the splendid ‘tree’ is the Deptford Jack in the Green.

Mike's Photo

The tradition, from around 1906, was revived in the early 1980s by the Blackheath Morris Men (who, I assume, were out there on Blackheath yesterday morning at the sort of hour Phantoms are still tucked up in bed after a hard night’s haunting. One of these May Day’s I WILL get up early enough to see them…)

Julie's Photo

Some of the Jacks around the country have swollen into giant celebrations, with hundreds of people pitching up to see the fun. I rather like that although it’s not a secret (I always put it in the Parish News) it’s quite a ‘hidden’ affair, for people in the know and those who are surprised and delighted by it when it suddenly arrives.

Julie's Photo

If you ever feel like getting involved with Fowler’s Troop, do look at the website and send an email to regular Phantophile Sarah, who can tell you all about it…

Caution – May Contain Fingernails…

Friday, June 5th, 2009

They kept this one quiet, folks. A bizarre artefact dug up back in 2004 in Greenwich has turned out to be a 17th Century Witch Bottle – complete with its frankly unsavoury contents.

It’s no magic lamp. You didn’t rub it for a witch to pop out and grant your every wish; it was more an insurance policy against witches casting evil spells on you.

You got yourself a bottle – this one’s a salt-glazed 9″ job (which I’m informed is a Bellarmine jar – there’s a splendid one in Greenwich Heritage Centre found near the Woolwich Ferry) with a flower and a jolly beardy face stamped into it (it’s either The Green Man – or our very own Rod in a former life*) and filled it up with urine, to represent the witch’s bladder.

Then you added a sprinkling of nails, pins, hair, fingernails – anything that would be seriously uncomfortable to said witch every time she needed a pee.

Recipe complete, you stoppered the whole lot up and gave it a good shake. The witch would be in such agony she’d reverse the spell. Bish-bosh…

As a final precuation, you buried it in the back garden.

Because Greenwich gets all the best finds, ours is the only one ever that’s been found complete with its contents – yup, including that 17th Century wee-wee. Usually they’re found empty – or whoever’s unearthed them has taken one sniff and tipped the whole lot down the sink.

But when the Maritime Trust dug this up, they shook it and it splashed around, despite being sealed, so they did the right thing and sent it Alan Massey, who’s an expert on such things.

The New Scientist’s article tells me that he did some CT scans and X-rays,which revealed urine, bent nails, a nail-pierced leather ‘heart,’ fingernail clippings hair and belly-button fluff. What I want to know is how any one found enough of the latter to know it was naval fluff…

Interestingly, a sample of the 380 year-old urine, after being carefully syringed out (now there’s a job…) showed that whoever supplied it was a smoker, and the nail clippings were manicured, so they were procured from someone who didn’t have to work all day long…

And finally, slooshing around in that lot, was some brimstone, just in case the hell-fire, damnation and naval-fluff didn’t work…


All this puts me in mind of a very strange (and little-known) character called Edward Lovett, who used to hang around these parts, collecting strange folkloric objects, many of which have ended up in the delightfully eccentric Cuming Museum and the equally-curious Wellcome Collection.

Which brings me rather neatly to an event this Sunday (7th) and the following Sunday (14th June, where Ross Macfarlane, who I heard speaking on this very subject a few weeks ago, will be conducting a Medical London Walk around Greenwich.

It’s the one included in the very fine Medical London boxed set and, if the rain holds off, one that I can recommend wholeheartedly.

But I’m going off-topic. For my Londonist friends, I am on the case about exactly where the witch bottle was dug up. It’s not as easy as it first looks – it was found by the Maritime Trust – who look after the Cutty Sark – and I can’t see that they would have been digging 1.5 metres under the dry dock at that time. Or at all for that matter. Breaking seals on dry docks are generally not recommended…

However they were also responsible for the Gipsy Moth IV, which, if memory serves, left Greenwich in 2004. She was in dry dock too; I can’t remember what happened to that, maybe it was demolished. More research is needed…

Update: I have now heard that it was discovered in a cellar and is in posession of the Greenwich Foundation. Just where that mystery cellar is, is still – well – a mystery…

Hopefully more will be revealed when I get my sweaty paws on the full report on ye olde witch bottle in the latest edition ofBritish Archaeology. And I’ve heard that the bottle itself will eventually go on show at the Naval College – in the new Discovery Centre, perhaps?

A tip of the tricorn to Roger for flagging this up…

*Just joshing there, folks. The Hairy One is supposed to be a German civic dignitary, sumbolising prosperity. The name ‘Bellarmine’ was a snigger at the unpopular Cardinal Bellarmine, partially because he persecuted Protestants, but mainly for his opposition to alcohol…