Summertime in New Zealand means roadtrips and exploring all that our lovely country has to offer. Me and mine decided to spend some time in the goldmining town of Waihi and of course as always this meant a lesson in history, in particular the area around the Karangahake Gorge.
The Karangahake Gorge is situated between the Coromandel and Kaimai ranges and was formed by the flow of the Ohinemuri River. It’s steep sides are covered in native bush, a haven for those wanting to experience the great outdoors. There are plenty of walks and cycle trails to enjoy or you can simply sit by the river and enjoy a picnic. However not so long ago the visitor would have been greeted by an entirely different scene.
On this visit we did the Windows Walk which takes you past and through several of the stamping batterys and the many associated building ruins then into the old tramway tunnels along the Waitawheta Gorge (an offshoot of the Karangahake Gorge). Unlike other goldmining areas, alluvial gold is rare in the gorge and almost all of the gold and silver recovered from here was done by deep quartz mining. This meant only the large well funded companies could afford to operate in the gorge. The three main players were the Talisman Mining Company, The Woodstock Mining Company and the Crown Mining Company. (The latter will ring some bells with those of you interested in Cornish mining history as they were a major player in the mining industry of Cornwall. In fact many of the miners came from Cornwall which was at the time undergoing a decline in mining. Their skills in hard rock mining was in great demand in colonial lands). Today so much of the ruins are covered in dense bush, their edges softened by vegetation and with the sound of either the Ohinemuri or Waitawheta rivers filling your ears it is hard to imagine this as a place of heavy industry.
“A continous rythmic thumping once filled the air here, as stamper batteries (gold recovery plants) of the Talisman, Woodstock and Crown Mining Companies pulverised quartz rock to free the gold within.” (taken from an information board at the beginning of the walk)
Much of the ore came from the steep sided Waitwheta Gorge and was then transported via aerial tramway across the gorge to the tramway and delivered to the stamping battery where it would undergo a series of crushings to extract the gold and silver which was then smelted into bullion bars. The Talisman and Crown Mines were two of the largest of their type in New Zealand and together produced in the region of four million ounces of gold bullion.
The following are some of the photographs taken during our time exploring the industrial archaeology of the Karangahake Gorge.
“Once the ore had been crushed in the upper levels of the battery the fine powder that resulted was subjected to the cyanide process. This involved mixing potassium cyanide with the finely crushed ore in tanks for several days then drawing off the solution and passing it through wooden boxes where the dissolved gold and silver precipitated as a black sludge on zinc shavings. The sludge was then treated with sulphuric acid to remove the zinc. The residue was then smelted into bullion bars (of gold and silver)” – From the above information board.
One of the main features of the Windows Walk is the tramway, part of which goes through the side of the gorge (a torch is a must if you do this walk). In its heyday, the ore was transported via tram but because of the steep sides of the gorge a trail had to be cut out of and through the rockface.
The Crown tramway…then…
A bit further on from the modern suspension bridge is the remains of the Crown Mine.
Today goldmining in the area is representated by the large open cast mine in nearby Waihi with the now defunct Cornish Pumphouse from the earlier 19th Century Martha Mine standing ever watchful over.
There are not many places within the city of Auckland where a person is able to get up close and personal with the early archaeology of the region, but the Ōtuataua Stonefields is one such place. Although this small pocket is classed as a protected site, it is part of a much wider area called Ihuamāto which sadly is under threat by developers. The stonefields did not exist in isolation and whilst the archaeology is not obvious to the untrained eye, it is undoubtedly there. It would be shameful if the council allowed work to proceed with out a full archaeological investigation. In general attitudes in New Zealand towards archaeology is a case of “there’s not a lot of archaeology here” with the implication because we do not have the lengthy timeframes as elsewhere in the world it is not as important. But this is erroneous and a result of a lack of knowledge – there are over 70,000 archaeological sites listed in New Zealand…The stonefields and Ihuamāto are an important part of New Zealand’s very early history and to say otherwise would deny a people their past and demonstrate a dismal lack of understanding.
The story of this landscape begins much further back in time with three significant eruptions and subsequent lava flows that began some ninety thousand years ago and ended around fifteen thousand years ago. As with much of the isthmus of Tamaki Makaurau Auckland the volcanic activity served to create rich, well drained soils ideal for gardening.
Two hundred years ago there were some 8000 hectares of volcanic stonefields in the Auckland area, today the 100 hectare reserve of Ōtuataua is all which remains. Dated to around 1300AD and situated near the international airport the reserve was established in 2001 to protect this important part of the archaeological record and is one of the last places where we can see large scale remains of how people once lived and worked in the volcanic areas of Auckland.
When the first Polynesians arrived in Aotearoa they bought with them the full range of tropical plants however the shorter growing season and colder temperatures meant that many of these tropical plants could not be grown. Only plants such as the kumara (sweet potato), taro, yams and gourds had any success, particularly in the volcanic stonefields of Auckland.
There are two opposing theories as to how the settlement and gardens evolved at Ōtuataua –
The initial focus was around the freshwater springs at the edge of the lava fields which then expanded to the volcanic cones later in the mid fourteenth to fifteenth centuries.
Horticulture began on the volcanic cones and expanded outwards onto the lava fields; with the fortification of the cones occurring at a later date.
At Ōtuataua it is possible to see low mounds of the volcanic scoria stone scattered throughout an area referred to as the mound garden used mainly to grow kumara they extended the growing season by about a month.
“The mounds were built as special garden plots, which used the stone’s heat absorbing properties to help warm the earth and retain moisture. Archaeologists have found that these types of mounds often contain specially modified soil, with added organic matter and ground shell.”
(from ‘The Ōtuataua Stonefields – Official Opening Commemorative Brochure’ Manukau City Council)
It is safe to say that there is probably not a single stone which has not been moved by human hands. Walking towards the sea, you come across an area of low hills and gullies. The gully floors seem unnaturally free of stone, here the stone has been stacked on top of the hillocks to leave the gully floors free for cultivation.
On nearby Puketūtū Island, similar gardens were once present (very little if nothing remains of them today). In 1938 G. Fairfield recorded being told by a kaumātua from Māngere that “…each cultivation and sheltering wall was named after a particular ancestor or historical event…giving family groups their rights to occupy certain parts of the garden. In the corners of each of these walls there were upright stones that were never moved and considered tapu as they marked the limits of each family unit.” (from Shfiting Grounds: Deep Histories of Tamaki Makaurau Auckland L. Mackintosh pp29)
It would be fair to say that the same was occurring at Ōtuataua and beyond, thus creating a landscape that was deeply intertwined with the identity of those who lived and worked upon it.
Other interesting archaeological features at Ōtuataua include the pā (hillfort or defended settlement) which utilised the volcanic cone. Auckland has many volcanic cones, all of which were used and settled by the Māori throughout history. Here at Ōtuataua it is no different. Unfortunately this particular cone has been extensively quarried for scoria before the site became a reserve resulting in the loss of a large part of the pā. However, it is still possible to make out the terraces on the southern side – these are the level areas cut into the lower slopes and were where Māori lived.
Although the presence of a defensive structure such as the pā would suggest a time of unrest much of the Ōtuataua area consists of undefended settlements and gardens which tells a different story. One which is often left out of the histories. Past interpretations of pā have seen them as solely defensive structures used during periods of warfare and whilst this may be true on one level, it is likely that similar to the gardens, they represent more than the utilitarian. It has been recently suggested that pā could also have been part of the identity of the wider group/iwi, having a great deal to do with display and status (see another article on Kauri Point). When seen as a complete landscape the story of Ōtuataua becomes more than just gardens, houses and pā.
A second interesting feature is the site referred to as ‘The Big House’. On an outcrop about half way between the mound garden and the gullies is a rectangular outline of stone. This is believed to be the foundation of what was once a large house or structure, nearby are several shell middens. Having never been excavated it is difficult to say what this structure was used for but the presence of the shell middens on the slopes below would indicate meals were eaten here. Perhaps it was a communal place to share food whilst working in the gardens?
All over Ōtuataua shell middens can be found, not surprising given the proximity to the coast. Fishing, shell fish gathering and horticulture were the mainstays of the local economy.
In Polynesia crops such as kumara are left in the ground until they are needed however here in New Zealand with its cooler climate the early settlers found they could not do this as the kumara will rot. Instead it became necessary to harvest the kumara and store it. At Ōtuataua the visitor will occasionally come across a shallow depression in the ground, roughly rectangular in shape and usually found on slopes or ridges (for good drainage). These are all that remains of the storage pits for kumara. Originally these pits would have had timber walls and thatched roofs. It is interesting to note that the storage pits here at Ōtuataua are outside of the defended pā, further evidence that the people felt secure and safe here on the edge of the Manukau Harbour – war was not as endemic to Tamaki Makaura as previously thought.
Above right is a depiction of a kumara storage pit with its timber frontage. On the left is a Rongo stone – these are representations of the god of agriculture and peace. They were considered tapu and left in the fields to encourage fertility of the land.
NB – During my visit to the stonefields, trying not to lose both the kids and the dog I was walking along the edge of a eroded shell midden when my eye was caught by an unusual stone. Unusual because it was not scoria and was very smooth on one side. The flip side was shaped to fit into the palm of your hand and although I am not much of an expert I am reasonably certain this was a rubbing stone for turning root vegetables such as taro or fern roots into pulp. A necessary procedure if you wanted to eventually eat it.
On a cold and damp day in January the family and I decided to visit the famous site of Tintagel Castle in North Cornwall.
For hundreds of years the site of Tintagel Castle has fascinated visitors and locals alike. Even without knowing any of its past the place oozes with untold stories and imaginations can run riot (which they have). The Fiction
Ask almost anyone about Tintagel Castle and immediately King Arthur and Merlin will come to the fore. It was Geoffrey of Monmouth who wrote the History of the Kings of Britain sometime between the 1135 and 1138 who associated Tintagel with King Arthur as the place where Arthur’s father Uther Pendragon seduced/tricked Igerna into bedding him (Merlin and magic appear to be involved…) and so Tintagel became known as the place where King Arthur was conceived. It should be noted that at no time did Geoffrey of Monmouth ever suggest that Tintagel was Arthur’s home or that the castle belonged to him. The only connection was and is the story of his conception. “The History nowhere claims that Arthur was born at Tintagel, or that he ever visited the place later in life, or that in any sense the stronghold became his property when he was King…On so slight a foundation, almost every subsequent writer was able to expand the conception of Arthur at Tintagel to his birth there and, by implication, ownership and even residency.” (Thomas C. 1993) Whilst it is understandable, after all this part of Cornwall with its dramatic coastline rather lends itself to stories of magic, romance, skulduggery and drama. It seems a shame that the Arthur connections – real or imaginary – detract from the true story of the headland and its castle. The Facts The remains the visitor sees today can be divided roughly into two phases of occupation, post-Roman (5th- 7th centures AD) and after 1100AD. The occupation of the headland in the post-Roman era was originally believed to have represented the remains of early Celtic monastery. This theory has now been rejected and instead it is believed that the site is that of a “…high status secular settlement probably used by the Kings of Dumnonia between the Roman withdrawal in 410AD until the end of the seventh century AD, and it has now been identified as the Durocornouis (fortress of the Cornish)…” (Weatherhill C. 2009).
The buildings which are associated with this phase can be found clustered around the later medieval chapel, below on the cliff edge (just above the iron gate) and further along the headland. Many of the buildings were revealed after a scrub fire on the headland. Excavations have produced vast quantities of Mediterranean pottery such as amphorae dating to the fifth and sixth centuries. The amount of imported pottery exceeds the amounts found on all other known post-Roman sites in Britain. An often overlooked feature of the headland is the indentation known as Arthur’s footprint. It is an eroded hollow in the rock on the highest point of the headland and shaped roughly like a footprint. Its association with Arthur is irrelevant as it is more likely an indication of ceremonies enacted here during the post-Roman period if not earlier. In parts of Ireland and Scotland there are places which also have footprint type impression in rock and are associated with inauguration ceremonies of important people well into medieval times. Symbolically, placing a foot in a specific place is representative of a persons right to rule over the surrounding territory. Is it not possible that this example here at Tintagel was something similar and equally ancient. “It can be wondered. therefore, if the occasions when the Dumnonian ruler and his court – or any other major chieftain in the post-roman south-west – came to Tintagel included public recognition of a king as replacing his dead predecessor, and whether this rock-marking figured in ceremonies.” (Thomas C 1993). Perhaps the importance of Tintagel during this period cannot be over emphasised enough. In 2016 three weeks of excavations were carried out by the Cornwall Archaeological Unit as part of a long term research project undertaken by English Heritage. During this time the team dug opened trenches in two different parts of the island opening a small but fascinating window into Tintgels past. Over 200 sherds of imported Mediterranean pottery were found alongside some fragments of high quality glass vessels. All pointing to Tintagel being a place of great importance – unfortunately the dubious connection with King Arthur reared its head in the newspapers with headlines such as ‘Kings Arthurs Palace Found’ for which there is no evidence at all…For more well informed facts regarding last summers excavation follow this link to the EH blog – English Heritage Blog – Tintagel Castle Dig.
The second phase of settlement belongs in the twelfth century and is the result of building works done under the auspices of Richard the Earl of Cornwall. Richard was made Earl of Cornwall in 1227 and in 1233 bought Bossiney and Tintagel from Gervase de Hornicote although it does seem that building works had already begun by this time. Much of the impressive remains the visitor sees today are the ruins of Richards castle. The inner ward is on the island and the outer ward is on the mainland side. Originally there appears to have been a bridge between the two as by this time the land bridge had all but eroded away.
One question does need to be asked at this point – why did the Earl of Cornwall build a substantial castle here in Tintagel? It is far from the centers of Cornish commerce and it is no where near the main routes into and out of Cornwall. It defends nothing but open water. In short it has no military value or function and is that not what castles are for? So then, why Tintagel? Richard was the second son of King John and by all accounts was an ambitious and educated man who had decided to make a statement. He would have read Geoffry of Monmouth’s History and would have been told about Tintagel being the ancient seat of the rulers of Dumnonia. His decision to build a flashy castle here was his way of saying to the Cornish people and others – “Here I am, your Earl – from this ancient seat of power I will rule”.
Final Facts ·The headland has two freshwater wells. ·The Chapel is dedicated to St Juliot and is 12th century in date but seems to have earlier origins (see photo below). ·The tunnel is an enigma, dug into the stone bedrock of the island with small iron tools, it is most likely medieval in date and it has been suggested it was a cool store for foodstuffs such as meat (see photos below). ·Merlin’s Cave is a great place to explore at low tide but is unlikely to have anything to do with the Merlin of Arthurian myth. ·The beach below the headland is known as the Haven. In the end, it is fair to say the story of Tintagel Castle is not complete. I, as much as the next person have a great affection of the Arthurian stories and if such stories provide impetus for the average person to visit Tintagel then all the better. But personally the facts are the clincher – it is they which make the better story. Sources Thomas C. 1993 Tintagel – Arthur and Archaeology English Heritage/Batsford. Weatherhill C. 2009 Cornovia Ancient sites of Cornwall and Scilly 4000BC – 1000AD. Halsgrove.
The landscape of west Cornwall in the late Iron Age is one of hillforts, cliff castles, ancient trackways, enclosures, round houses and courtyard houses.
Many of these features are known throughout the landscap of prehistoric Britain but it is the courtyard house which offers a point of difference from the rest of the country. Courtyard houses appear to be a unique adaptation of the more traditional round house and are found only in the Land’s End peninsula. They are usually very substantial ranging in size from 15 – 30 meters with walls up to two meters thick. Their name is derived from the presence of a series of rooms situated around a central courtyard. The rooms are partially built into the thickness of the outer walls and may have served as spaces not only for living but also storage, workshops and byres.
“A typical courtyard house has a long recess on one side of the central yard, probably a stable or byre and, on the opposite side, a long, narrow room, perhaps a workshop or store. Between the two, and directly across the courtyard from the house entrance, is the largest room, circular or oval in shape, which was set aside for the living, eating and sleeping needs of the family. Other room may be present, too, and some living rooms have a back door leading out of the house. Stone lined and capped drains are a feature of these houses, as are stone hearths…”
(Weatherhill C 2009 ‘Cornovia’ page 35)
Many would have developed from open settlements of round houses set within fields for agricultural communities. A landscape already ancient. When the demand for tin increased during the second century AD there is no doubt that these farming communities would have engaged in this activity. Gradually these settlements were abandoned between the second and sixth centuries AD although the communities did not leave simply moved to lower ground.
There are around two dozen known courtyard house settlements surviving and at least ten have been destroyed during the last two hundred years. The best preserved and most easily visited of these sites are Chysauster and Carn Euny. Both of which represent examples of a village grouping, which included round houses and the mysterious structures known as Fogous (see the January issue of The Celtic Guidefor a discussion on Fogous).
The entrance to the fogou at Carn Euny – not the original entrance.
The entrance to the fogou at Chysauster.
The largest known site of this type, founded during the first century BC it consists of eleven houses in total. Eight are arranged in pairs on either side of a street. One is southwest of the main cluster whilst the remaining two are further down the hill to the southwest. The fields of the village were to the north east and in 1984 rescue work revealed the remains of round houses and a Bronze Age barrow. It has also been tentatively suggested that cereals were grown in these fields. Although no pollen evidence has to date been found, furthermore the acidic quality of the soils in the area have resulted in no metal tools or bones being preserved. making any meaningful interpretations difficult. Attached to most of the houses are small terraced garden plots.
In 1873 William Copeland Borlase cleared out what is now known as house 6. Further excavation were done in 1897 on house 4 by two members of the local antiquarian society. The first major excavation did not take place until 1928 under the direction of T D Kendrick of the British Museum and Dr H. O’Neil Hencken. It was during this time that the land owner placed a large part of the site under the guardianship of the Office of Works.
In 1931 a fuller examination of the site was carried out by Hencken, excavating houses 5 and 7 with more work on houses 3, 4, 6 and 9. The term ‘courtyard house’ was first coined by Hencken during these early excavations. In 1984 the guardianship of the site passed on to the newly constituted English Heritage.
Although later excavations failed to reveal whether or not Chysauster was predated by an earlier site as with Carn Euny there is some suggestion that there is an earlier site further along the hillside yet to be found or indeed it could be associated with the fogou. A nineteenth century account reported that much of the old village had lately been removed that the fogou no longer lay within it as before (Christie P 1987). Suggesting that there was a much more substantial settlement on the hillside then what we see today.
This site is much smaller than Chysauster consisting of four interlocking structures in addition to a number of smaller roundhouses constructed in the first century BC. An earlier phase of the site consisted of timber built roundhouses which were occupied for at least 400 years.
The first investigations of the site were in the 1860s in the well preserved fogou but it was not until some hundred years later when a more systematic excavation was undertaken (see the journals Cornish Archaeology from the late 1960s for more detailed information on these excavations).
A paved entrance to one of the houses.
A quern stone.
One of the main discussions regarding this type of settlement site is in relation to how such massive structures were roofed. The generally accepted theory states that the individual rooms would be roofed with the central courtyard open to the elements. In 1997 Jacqui Wood proposed an alternative theory which saw the entire structure being covered by a single roof (Cornish Archaeology 1997 No 36). Interpretations boards at both sites show individual roofs over each room with some even having flat roofs.
The above two images are pictures taken from the interpretation boards at Carn Euny (left) and Chysauster (right).
The main objection to the conventional thinking relates to the issue of drainage. The conical roofs are depicted as sitting on top of the thick in-filled walls and given the amount of precipitation Cornwall receives every year, drainage off the roofs would have been an issue, even more so for the flat roofs. A large single roof would have prevented this and created a large and cosy interior, the now central courtyard would take on the appearance of a ‘hall’. With the creation of additional space within the roof space on top of the thick walls. Thus the courtyard house becomes a ‘galleried house’.
“The purpose of the substantial infill of the walls would now come into its own. There could have been another shorter ring of posts to support another ring beam nearer to the outer walls, adding stability to the roof. Looking at the structure from this viewpoint another possible use for the substantial infills becomes evident. The large flat areas at the top of the walls could have been covered with timbers to create another well supported floor.”
Objections to the single roof theory are based upon the size of the roof needed to cover such a large area, although as it has been pointed out equally large structures are known throughout prehistory in both Britain and on the European mainland. Of course this argument may never come to a satisfactory conclusion without the aid of a time machine, but it is still interesting to offer alternatives to conventional theories.
Carn Euny and Chysauster are just two of the many similar sites which can be found around West Penwith, others are not so easy to get to and are often overgrown with bracken and brambles. Standing on the hillside at Chysauster on a brisk winters day, looking down the valley it feels very easy to put yourself into the ancestors shoes as you hunker down behind the thick walls in an effort to keep warm.
One question which has not been addressed is who lived in these settlements and why are they only found in the west of Cornwall? Contrary to popular belief I do not believe that these sites belonged to your average Iron Age farming community – this is not to say they did not farm – but rather the people who lived in these substantial structures were different. Several factors support this idea –
The majority of courtyard house settlements have fogous within their bounds.
They are associated with hillforts.
They are not the only settlement type of this era within west Cornwall; isolated hamlets of round houses and ’round’ are much more prevalent than courtyard houses.
Some have suggested that a priestly class occupied these villages (hence the presence of the fogous). Without further research and excavation it is difficult to say exactly who lived here but I would certainly suggest they were not your average farming community. As to why courtyard houses are only found in west Cornwall…the jury is still out on that one. However, I do have an suspicion that there is a connection with the extraction of tin. It might just be coincedence that Chysauster, the largest courtyard house village, is only a short distance from Mounts Bay and a possible site of ‘Ictis’ where it is said the Cornish traded with merchants from the Mediterranean. Or Bosullow Trehyllys (another less well known and unexcavated site) situated on the slopes below Chun Castle an Iron Age (and later) hillfort is also on the path of a well known trackway called the Tinners Way.
All of which makes for interesting discussions…
Christie P. (1978) ‘The excavation of an Iron Age Souterrain and Settlement at Carn Euny, Sancreed Cornwall’ Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 44.
Christie P. (1987) Chysauster, Ancient Village. English Heritage.
Hencken H. (1933) ‘An excavation by H M Office of Works at Chysauster, Cornwall’ Archaeologia 83
Rowe T M (2005) Cornwall in Prehistory. Tempus
Weatherhill C. (2009) Cornovia. Ancient sites of Cornwall and Scilly 4000BC – 1000AD. Halsgrove
Wood J. (1997) ‘A new perspective on West Cornwall courtyard houses’ Cornish Archaeology No36.
The fog rolled in along the North Cornish coast blanketing the hills. Coming in fast behind it was a weather front of rain and blustering wind. What was I doing out in this weather? Why would anyone venture forth in such conditions, most sensible people were safe inside. But today I was a tourist and nothing was going to stand between myself and the place I wished to visit.
Tomorrow it would close for the winter and my chances of visiting again would be blown (it’s a long to come from NZ). My destination? The Museum of Witchcraft in the wee coastal village of Boscastle on the North Cornish coast. I had also dragged the husband and kids along (I needed a driver and there’s this funny law which says you can’t leave the kids at home alone…)
The museum is the home to the worlds’ largest collection of “witchcraft-related objects dating from the time of the witch-hunts to the present day.” A friend recently asked why I would want to visit the museum. Well, in short it is a fascinating subject because it tells a story of how people have viewed not only themselves but also the world around them on a very deep and personal level. So my question to her was – why wouldn’t you?
The museum was not always in Boscastle, originally it was based on the Isle of Man in Castleton. It was first opened by Cecil Williamson in 1951 (the same year the Witchcraft Act was repealed successfully). He employed Gerald Gardner – the father of modern witchcraft – as “Resident Witch” and the museum was very successful. But eventually as things go, the two men felt the museum should go in different directions and Williamson sold the building to Gardner and moved his collection to Windsor and then onto the Cotswolds. Unfortunately a lack of tolerance in the local area resulted in the museum being firebombed several times. Once more Williamson moved his collection but this time to Boscastle, where it has been ever since. The current owner is Graham King, who bought it from Williamson in 1996.
In 2004 the whole of Boscastle was brought to its knees when a flash flood filled the valley – the town was swamped by over three metres of flood waters. The museum was severely damaged however this did not deter King – clean up of the museum began as soon as possible with every inch of mud being sifted and every item found meticulously cleaned and disinfected. During this time the museum layout was redesigned and gradually the museum rose from mud and sewage all brand new. I recently read on Facebook, that once more the museum is having a bit of face lift for no other reason than “change is good”.
The museum itself is divided into sections, each section dealing with one particular aspect of the craft. The descriptions below are from a pamphlet bought at the museum during my visit.
Images of Witchcraft – “Although many people today are sceptical about the power of magic, there can be no doubt about the enduring power of the image of the witch.
Persecution – “Our display about the witch-hunts begins with a 17th Century copy of Daemonologie – a book condemning magic written by King James I. King James wrote it after personally interrogating the suspects in the North Berwick witchcraft case, who were accused of raising a storm to sink his ship”.
The Wheel of the Year – “Modern witches meet on, and celebrate, ancient seasonal festivals and call them Sabbats”.
Stangs – “Modern witches refer to forked or skull-topped staffs as stangs”.
Sacred Sites – “Ancient sacred sites are very important to many people who practise Modern Pagan Witchcraft today…however, the witches of the past centuries also valued sacred sites as places to practise magic.”
The Hare and Shape-Shifting – “Many legends and folktales tell of witches turning into animals – particularly hares, cats and owls. A traditional Cornish term for “cursed” is “owl-blasted”.
The Magic of Christianity – “Trial records show that most people who practised magic during the witch-hunts were Christians, and often used the sacred object of Christianity in their spells.
Herbs and Healing – “Healing has always been an important part of magic. Many people arrested for witchcraft were respected healers using charms and herbal remedies.
The Wise Woman – “Our wise woman in her cottage shows just how different real life witches were from the stereotype of the ugly hag muttering curses.”
Granny Boswell – a well known Cornish wise woman.
Protection Magic – “The use of objects as protection charms (also known as amulets) is one of the most ancient types of magic – and also one still widely used thoughout the world today.”
Magic in Wartime – “This display shows some of the ways people have used magic to help them cope with the stress and danger of war.”
Mandrakes – “According to William Shakespeare, human shaped mandrakes roots were worn as good luck charms.”
Curses – “Did people really use magic to put curses on their enemies? Of course they did!…Cursing was an instrument of natural justice, and a form of anger management.”
Ritual Magic and The Golden Dawn – “At the heart of the display are the colourful and dramatic tools developed by the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.”
The Richel Collection – “This collection of magical objects from the Netherlands bequeathed to the museum in 2000, is complex, challenging and sometimes downright mystifying – though sexual symbolism is a recurring theme.”
The Devil and the Horned God – “There can be little doubt that the horned Devil of medieval art had its origins in earlier horned deities of nature and fertility, such as the Egyptian goddess Hathor, the Celtic god Cerunnos and the Roman god Pan.”
Baphomet and the Green Man
Fortune Telling and Divination – “Of all the objects in the museum, the one that most intrigues and fascinates visitors is the dark mirror used by the museums founder Cecil Williamson.”
Spells and Charms – “Many of the exhibits in this museum illustrate a central principle of folk magic, that there is magic all around us in the natural objects of everyday life”.
Sea Witchcraft – “There are many accounts of witches selling the wind to sailors, by magically knotting it into a length of rope on a windy day.”
Tools of the Witch – “Knitting needles might not seem an obvious magical tool – but stitches are really knots, and knot magic is ancient and widespread.”
Modern Witchcraft – “Many of the objects in this section are personal and unusual, such as the Peruvian magic dolls used by Brownie Pate, or the painted altar stone made by Iain Steele, with its dragon like symbol in the centre.”
This may not be a museum for everyone, some might even find the occasional display uncomfortable (the sideways looks I kept getting from the hubby was proof of that). Even so, the effort to visit should be made. To learn about and educate ourselves in the ways of the craft and its history means that the past won’t be repeated. When it comes down to it, today witchcraft/paganism is just another form of spirituality which provides harmony and solace in the lives who follow that path.
It was a fascinating museum and well worth the trip, the dreary weather adding to the atmosphere. To visit on a bright sunny day when Boscastle is thronging with tourists…
Contact details: The Museum of Witchcraft, The Harbour, Boscastle, Cornwall PL35 0HD.
In ‘A Viking Moon’- the first of Sarah’s adventures – our heroine is transported back in time to Viking Denmark. The story itself is set in roughly the mid 800s AD, a time of great change throughout Europe. The following is a brief overview of the Vikings as encountered by Sarah. For those who would like a lot more detail, my apologies but this is not the place for a lengthy discussion on Vikings. There are some great sources of information out there on the internet or even in your local library.
Sarah’s story begins when she comes into contact with a Viking rune stone. There are large numbers of rune stones throughout Scandinavia (some 3000), their name deriving from the runes written upon their surface. Runes were a form of lettering used by the Vikings. Rune stones were erected between the 4th and 12th Centuries and can be found anywhere the Vikings went. They served mainly as a memorial to the deceased but were also used to mark territory, explain inheritance, boast and bring glory and to tell of important events.
During the first twenty years or so of the 9th century, Danish politics were characterized by constant infighting and changes in kingship. Often kingship was held jointly as was the case in 812/13 where Harald Klak and Reginfred ruled jointly but only until the sons of Godfred (an earlier king who died in 810) turned up and promptly exiled them both. Harald and Reginfred then recruited an army but failed to win back the crown. By 819 Godfred’s sons were bickering amongst themselves and all goes to seed until finally Horik remains and manages to hold onto power until 853 when he was overthrown by a rebellion within his own family. It is during the reign of King Horik that Sarah finds herself and just prior to the civil war that was about to erupt.
Kings during this early period were not the most powerful, because most communities were loyal to their local chieftain. A king had to conduct religious rituals and lead his subjects into battle. He was expected to keep a force of fighting men and ships to protect his people and their property from attack. But when a king died, a new king would be chosen from the members of the reigning royal family. A person’s age, health, reputations and popularity were all taken into account.
The steading of Geir is situated in the southern part of the island of Zealand or Sjoeland as it was known at the time. One of the greatest concerns at this time were the raids from lands across the sea. It was not just the Danes, Norse and Swedes who raided their neighbours. In Sarah’s story the Kurlanders/Kurshes were often considered a great threat. Kurland (Courland) was situated in the north west corner of what is modern day Latvia. In reality the situation got so bad that in 853 the Danes launched a campaign against the Kurlanders, there was a major sea battle and the Danes were defeated. Another contributing factor to the brief civil war in Denmark that wiped out many of the contenders to the throne and ended Horic’s rule.
Geir was once a ‘styraesman’ or ship commander who through many successful raiding trips accrued enough wealth to buy land and a steading. It was possible using wealth and ambition for any man to become a member of the aristocracy and so it was for Geir who by the time Sarah turns up is referred to as a Jarl or Lord. Apart from kings society was divided into three main groups Jarls, Karls and Thralls.
Jarls were often the wealthiest and most powerful people, owning and ruling large tracts of land. A Jarl would usually have a small band of household warriors to fight for him if needed. The second tier of society belonged to the karls. They were free men and women who sometimes owned their own farmsteads or rented from the landowners. In Viking times the eldest son would inherit his father’s land, younger sons would need to make their own way either by joining raiding parties, become professional warriors or merchants. Some could become hunters, fishermen or crafts men. The poorest landless karls were servants or farm workers. At the very bottom of Viking society were the Thralls these were slaves who had no rights and were bought and sold like any other piece of property. Most slaves were captured during raids or battles, some were karls who had lost their freedom after going bankrupt or committing a crime.
Viking women enjoyed far greater respect and independence than many of their contemporaries in other parts of the world. They were allowed to own land and property and sometimes a daughter would inherit a share of her parents’ wealth. However, a women’s status varied according to her position in society. Thus, Astrid as wife of the Jarl would have considerably more freedom and authority then the wife of a farm worker. When a woman’s husband was away either trading or raiding, she was responsible for the smooth operation of the business or farm in his absence. A noble woman such as Astrid would be expected to make decisions and organise protection of the steading should it be necessary.
Some women had other jobs apart from being wives and mothers. There were female skalds (storytellers), carvers, merchants and others who played a part in the religious ceremonies. Certain women were thought to be prophetesses who could tell the future and give people advice in their daily lives.
Messing about in Boats
Actually the Vikings were highly skilled shipbuilders, producing some of the finest ships of their time. They were essential to the Viking way of life. They built vessels of many different shapes and sizes. In 1962 five ships were excavated near to the city of Roskilde in Denmark. There was a ‘knarr’ an ocean going trading vessel, with an open hold amidships, and only needed 6-8 men to crew; a ‘skeid’ or ocean going warship which was 30m long and 4m wide with space for 60 oars or a crew of 65-70 men; a ‘byrding’, a small trading or transport vessel only needing a crew of 5-8 men, wind powered and perfect for the Danish and Baltic coast; ‘snekke’, a small warship built for speed and maneuverability only needing a crew of 30men. The last vessel was rowing/sailing combo probably used for fishing or seal hunting.
The oarsmen did not have seats instead they would sit on their sea chests (wooden chests that would contain their personal belongings). If a vessel had need of a sail it would most likely have been made from wool with leather reinforcing strips. Another feature of most vessels would have been the steering oar – this was positioned on the right hand side at the rear and gives rise to the English word ‘starboard’ coming from the Norse word ‘styra’ or ‘to steer’. The vessels themselves were clinker built meaning that the planks of timber that made up the body would be overlapping each other and then the spaces between would be filled with moss, wool or animal hair drenched in tar to ensure water tightness. The decks would be open with little or no protection from the elements, at the best an oilskin tarpaulin was rigged up bivouac style.
The most famous type of vessel is the ‘drekar’ or dragon ship, the name derived from the wooden carvings on the front of the ships. They were the finest of all warships, very ornate and well built. A common misconception is that warships would sail with the shields over the oar ports – it is unlikely this happened unless in port as it would be far too easy to lose a valuable shield overboard.
The Vikings used the sun, the moon and the stars to navigate but they would also use the depth and temperature of the ocean to judge their position. They also used their knowledge of the habits of seabirds and mammals to guide them.
There are a great many books and internet sites that deal with the plethora of Viking gods, goddesses and all things otherworldly. Viking deities were divided into two groups the Vanir who came before and were a race of peaceful gods, Freya and Frey being examples and then there is the Aesir who came later and deposed many of the Vanir. They were a warrior race of gods and include gods such as Thor and Odin. The following is a brief (and probably unsatisfactory) account of those that Sarah encounters in ‘A Viking Moon’.
The first goddess to turn up is Freya an indigenous goddess who is being held hostage by the Aesir to maintain spiritual peace. She is very powerful and her areas of expertise include love, sex, fertility, magic, witchcraft and death. Her priestesses are called ‘volvas’ and are greatly feared by the general population. In later times she is labelled the ‘Queen of the Witches’ by Christian priests and her followers were heavily persecuted. Cats are also special to Freya, her chariot is drawn by two huge gray cats called Bee Gold (honey) and Tree Gold (amber). To be kind to cats was to invite Freya’s blessings. In the story Astrid offers a prayer to Freya but at the same time she is spinning wool. Spinning has a magical quality about it and was once associated with divination, the magical art of transformation and the cycle of life. But it is also associated with the goddess Frigga, Odin’s wife.
Later in the story Sarah has an encounter with a ‘volur, women who were believed to have prophetic powers. These women would travel around the countryside staying at the halls of local leaders, interpreting dreams and predicting the future. During the ceremony the chief prophetess would sit on a platform or special chair whilst her companions would chant sacred songs and she fell into a trance. It was believed that her soul left her body and soared over the earth giving her great wisdom and insight. The ‘volur’ would carry a wand of alder to signify her power as a representative of the goddess.
In the final chapters Sarah meets Thor and Aegir (sort of). Thor was and is a very popular Viking god and as such much has been written about him. He is the god of thunder, lightening, wind, rain, physical strength, good weather and crops. As such he was very popular among the farmers of the Viking countryside. His hammer was called Mjollnir, archaeologically his popularity can be attested to by the significant numbers of hammer pendents found. He was regarded as a straightforward and reliable god even if he was not the sharpest knife in the draw. Aegir is regarded as the god of the sea and fishing and would be well known to the sons of Geir. It is not unusual for sudden and violent storms to sweep across the Baltic, sometimes it is even possible to think that have been sent by the gods…
A Thor hammer pendent (modern design by Hayman Celtic Jewellery).
On a final note, sacrifices to the gods and goddesses were common. The kind of sacrifice made would very much depend on what you wanted. They could range from a simple offering of food at a field-side shrine for a good harvest to the death of an prize animal or even in some cases a person perhaps in exchange for success in battle. It went without saying that a simple prayer to deity was not enough, there must be payment if you wanted them to listen.
In 1999 I visited the fascinating island of Malta with my then boyfriend (now husband), dragging the poor lad around more archaeology than he had seen in all his life…
Whilst there is a huge amount of archaeology in Malta, from all periods in time, it was the megalithic monuments which caught my attention during this trip. Not to mention we only had a week on the island and you would probably need a whole lot more time to visit all the archaeological sites Malta has to offer.
Unfortunately at the time of our visit the Hypogeum or Hal Saflieni was closed for some desperately needed love and attention – much to my disappointment.
It is believed the first human inhabitants of Malta came from Sicily in the Neolithic. This early phase is named for the site that epitomises this time – Ghar Dalam, a cave site in the south of the island. This early phase begins approximately 5000BC and ends with the first temples being built around 4100BC. The Temple Period is divided into four phases.
Zebbug – 4100-3700BC
Mgarr – 3800-3600BC
Safliene – 3300-3000BC
Tarxien – 3150-2500BC
The temples for which the first two phases are named have now disappeared either under the urban sprawl of Valetta or as is the case of Mgarr subsumed into the backstreets of the town itself. The Safliene phase is characterised by Hal Safliene (Hypogeum), a subterranean temple carved out of the limestone bedrock to accommodate 7000 dead.
The final Tarxien phase is the one visitors to Malta will be most aware of. The temple complexes of Tarxien, Mnajdra, Hagar Qim on Malta and Ggantija on Gozo constitute the climax of the temple building phase.
Although the temples complexes span quite a period of time they do have some common features in terms of the architecture. To begin each will have a oval forecourt bounded by the temple facade constructed of large stone slabs. The doorways all consist of two large uprights topped with an equally large lintel. The passageways are always paved. Once inside the complex, the visitor finds themselves in an open area which then gives way to a series of D-shaped chambers or ‘apses’.
Plan of the main temple of Hagar Qim. (from ‘Malta An Archaeological Paradise’ by A Bonanno)
Plan of the lower and middle temples at Mnajdra. (from ‘Malta An Archaeological Paradise’ by A Bonanno)
Plan of the central part of the Tarxien temple complex. (from ‘Malta An Archaeological Paradise’ by A Bonanno)
The main variation from one site to another is the number of ‘apses’. Often the walls of the temples are decorated with carvings in relief of spirals and naturalistic forms of plants and animals. Cup marks are also a popular form of decoration.
Here are some of the photos of this trip.
Facade of Hagar Qim showing the main entrance.
Detail of one of the doorways of Hagar Qim showing the stone stippling which is a common decoration form at this time.
The back of Hagar Qim.
Inside one of the apses at Hagar Qim.
A porthole entrance encased by a trilithon at the middle temple at Mnajdra.
Another of the square entrances with stone stippling, this time at the lower temple of Mnajdra.
A low altar depicting in low relief a plant growing from a pot. In the background a spiral relief – From Hagar Qim.
Entrance to Tarxien – this temple complexcan be found in the suburbs of Valetta.
The remains of Tarxien (and a rather ‘over it’ boyfriend)…
A large basin discovered in the first left apse of the middel temple of Tarxien – it was hewn from a single block of stone.
In the first apse on the right of the south temple in Tarxien is the remains of this statue. It would have dominated the space standing at least two metres tall.
“The village of Zennor, about a quarter of a mile distant (from Morvah), lies in a wild and stony district. Within the very interesting church are some quaint bench ends, one which depicts a mermaid…” (The Cornish Riviera 1911)
Zennor is a small but perfectly formed village nestled into the rugged landscape of west Penwith. It has an air of having been around since the beginning of time and a quick survey of the surrounding landscape would seem to confirm this. The ancient past is all around you in this part of Cornwall, whether it is the stone walls that snake across the land, the portal dolmens dating back to the Neolithic or the remains of circular huts with dates in the Bronze and Iron Ages.
But perhaps the most well known aspect of Zennor is its connection with mermaids. In the church there is an ancient oak bench, which at one end has carved into it a mermaid holding a comb in one hand and a mirror in the other (the mirror is sometimes referred to either as a quince or a pomegranate). As with all matters in this land of stories there is a legend attached to the chair.
“One Christmas morning, long ago, so the local tradition runs, the mermaid came to the church, attracted by the marvellous singing of the squire’s son, a handsome youth, who considered by the ladies of Zennor the most desirable “future husband” in the district. Moreover, so the story goes, the mermaid changed herself into a beautiful human maid wearing a gown of woven silver filament, which gave off a bright incandescence, and sitting beside the squire’s son she cast a spell on him. Suddenly a terrific storm raged around the church and several flashes of lightening zigzagged at the windows, filling the church with a blinding glare. The storm only lasted a few moments, and when it had abated the mermaid had vanished – and so had the squire’s son.” (Cornwall by R. Thurston Hopkins date unknown).
There are a few variations on this version but the essentials stay the same. In the official pamphlet from the church at Zennor the legend tells “…how a beautiful young woman in a long dress used to sit at the back of the church listening to the singing of a chorister, Matthew Trewhella. One evening she succeeded in luring him down to the stream which runs through the village. Together they went down the stream and into the sea at Pendour Cove, now known as Mermaid’s Cove. It is said that if you listen carefully on warm summer’s evening you can hear the pair of lovers singing together.”
It is believed that the carved chair which commemorates this story dates back to the late Medieval some five to six hundred years ago. Stories of mermaids go back centuries, the first record of a mermaid tradition comes from the Assyrians and in Ancient Greece the mermaid was the symbol of Aphrodite who was not only the goddess of love but also the sea. Tumultuous and unpredictable, both can be said of the sea and love. In many stories surrounding mermaids they are both beautiful/kind and ugly/evil – the two sides of the same coin.
It is not surprising then to learn that in the churchyard at Zennor there are many unmarked graves of unknown sailors who died during shipwrecks on this perilous stretch of coastline. The sea can be both kind and bounteous but can turn in an instant taking life without remorse.
“It is a fact that, to this day, the women of the choir at Zennor sit between the male choristers and the church porch, and this, the village people say, is to protect their menfolk from the wiles of seductive “merry maidens”.” (R. Thurston Hopkins)
During the Middle Ages the mermaid appears in carvings at churches around the UK, becoming a symbol for the evils of lust, the fishy tail reminiscent of the scales on a serpent providing a link to the idea of ‘original sin’. The mirror and the comb features in many depictions and are sometimes regarded as symbols of the mermaids (and thus female) vanity and it is through vanity that sin occurs.
Throughout time men have gone to sea to make their fortune or simply to provide for their families, it is a fact that some have never returned leaving families behind wondering what had happened to their menfolk. Perhaps the legend is born from a truth – the mermaid is the capricious sea – a beautiful woman who lures men away often never to be seen again. Is it not said that the sea is a ‘harsh mistress’?
Other Point of Interest in Zennor
The Church itself is dedicated to St Senara – the earliest record of a church here dates to 1150 AD but the circular shape of the churchyard and the 6th century saints name would indicate that there has been a church here from around the earlier date. St Senara is often associated with the legend of Princess Asenara of Brittany who married King Goello. Her stepmother was jealous of her beauty and accused her of infidelity condemning her to be burnt however when it was found that she was pregnant her gaolers nailed her into a barrel and set her to sea. It is said the child was born in the barrel and named Budoc, eventually the barrel washed up onto the Irish coast and Asenara and Budoc stayed for awhile. As in all good stories King Goello discovered the truth of the matter and Asenara returned to Brittany with Budoc via Cornwall. Along the way they founded the parishes of Zennor and Budoc (near Falmouth).
Within the church there are two fonts, one is Norman in date and the other is 13th/14th century in date and is still in use today.
In 1270 the church was appropriated by the Provost and Canons of Glasney College, at this time much of it was rebuilt. The builders were housed in what is now ‘The Tinners Arms’, the local pub which was built in 1271. In 1450 the tower and north aisle were added to the church.
Apart from all the great scenic walks (‘the coffin way’ to St Ives being one) around the area there is also a working water wheel and local museum – ‘The Wayside Folk Museum’. This is a private museum of rural and local artefacts with everything from stone axeheads dating from the Neolithic to farm implements from the 18th century.
NB – It has come to my attention that The Wayside Folk Museum has closed and was sold recently (2016).