Wednesday, 2 April 2014
FRANK EARP AND THE SURVIVAL OF PAGANISM IN NOTTINGHAMSHIRE
On Wednesday the 5th of March 2014 I travelled over to Nottingham to attend an informal lecture at the Theosophical Hall on Maid Marion Way. This hall plays host to several community groups, although it is itself owned and run by the Theosophical Society in England. That particular organisation was founded in New York City by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Henry Steel Olcott, William Quan Judge, and several others in 1875.
Tonight however, I was attending a meeting of the Empyrean Pagan Interest Group, an independent community group that has been in existence over a quarter of a century. The speaker for the monthly lecture in March was the eminent local historian and folklorist Frank Earp, who planned to discuss survivals of Paganism in the County of Nottinghamshire.
Mr Earp, a gentleman of learning and considerable mental astuteness; chose to speak without notes, to field questions as they arose and to focus primarily on two particular examples of local Nottinghamshire Folklore. Mr Earp’s primary hypothesis is that oral tradition is preserved within season festivals, which in turn provide a basis for a belief system. The two examples that he eventually chose to focus upon being the Wise men of Gotham and the Fair Maid of Clifton.
To begin with Mr Earp gave a general overview of mythological symbolism, from national to regional, before focusing on the local county level. The introduction was therefore a brief journey from a macrocosmic overview to a microcosmic one.
So from mentioning Heathfield in Sussex and linking that area to Dame Hethel, he was able to move to an old Nottinghamshire place name such as Vernometon. By linking this Roman name with that of nemeton, we are able to surmise that this was once the site of a sacred grove or spring
Frank Earp is therefore looking for clues found within the place names of villages, natural objects, rivers and hills. Two particular local examples being Breedon on the Hill, which literally means Hill-hill on the Hill having been named ‘the hill’ by three different groups of tribal settlers and the River Trent. He further noted that research postulated by the University of Wales, now suggests that the name of the river translates as ‘Great Feminine Highway.’ A suggestion that will be of obvious interest to contemporary Pagans, as it suggests that this great river is a physical link with the Goddess of the land.
Linking in fluid manner suggestions of the Genus Loci manifesting in hauntings and other paranormal events, Mr Earp further explored an international phenomenon called the ‘Hat Man.’ Seen in Nottinghamshire as a dark hooded figure near George’s Hill, off the Arnold to Calverton Road over Grimsmoor. The name Grim, the hood and the hat in this example, suggest the presence of the Saxon God, Woden.
The audience sat enthralled, whilst the brilliance of this scholarly mind, presented the mythological exegesis of local folklore. To speak for ninety minutes without notes, it is necessary to know one’s subject in-depth. True when fielding questions Mr Earp would occasionally lose his mark and have to take a step back, this is expected and quite common.
In examining more closely the two local legends of chosen focus, the Fair Maid of Clifton and the Wise Men of Gotham, Mr Earp was able to further postulate that Nottinghamshire has a particular venerative focus on spring.
In the story of the Fair maid, the main character whose name may be Margaret as a modernised form of a Spring Goddess, is courted by two men, one young and one old. The older man is given locally the name Farmer Germaine, his surname being Old English for old man. The younger man in some versions is called Bateman, which may mean boatman and may therefore suggest the liminal period of the spring equinox. Therefore we have in this local legend, a story of the Spring Goddess being courted by the Gods of Summer and Winter respectively.
The Wise Men of Gotham is a better known series of tales but it is suggested, totally misunderstood. The key here in the opinion of Mr Earp is the Cuckoo as a symbol of spring. Here he draws comparison with Callanish (the shining one is heralded by cuckoos), Cuckoo Pen in Cumbria and another in Cornwall, together with the numerous Cuckoo Mounds of Britain. Noting that on a hill above Gotham stands a Cuckoo Mound tumulus.
The significant elements of this story are King John riding in a chariot and being held up for three days on Gotham Moor, together with the tale of the people of Gotham attempting to pen in the Cuckoo. King John is the Sun in Splendour riding a solar chariot. The three days held up on the moor represent the three days of the Summer and Winter Solstices. The attempted capture of the Cuckoo is, it is suggested, a veneration of Spring and an attempt to extend the growing season.
Mr Earp took the audience on a journey linking hypotheses and exploring the primordial links if not the archetypal symbolism of these oft ignored local legends. To have done so without notes and without losing his thread, was truly impressive.
During a break in the proceedings, Frank politely consented to a photograph of the two of us together and we were joined by another local author, Karl Hernesson. Both of these two gentlemen are over six feet tall and I am only three inches over five feet. Although it is a lovely snapshot, which I include in this BLOG; I do rather look like the missing eighth dwarf.
I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Frank and I share a similar sartorial taste including jumpers, slacks and neckerchiefs. This has led me to suspect that we share the same tailor.
Picture of Frank Earp, the BLOG author and Karl Hernesson
Picture ©Donna Towsey 2014.
EMPYREAN is a Pagan and alternative spirituality interest group open to Pagans of all paths and non Pagans equally. The meeting is monthly and usually on the first Wednesday of every month in the Theosophical Hall, next to the Salutation Inn on Maid Marion Way in Nottingham.
The guest speakers come from varied backgrounds and represent a diverse area of expertise to discuss subjects that although not necessarily Pagan are of interest to Pagans and similar.
EMPYREAN on the Internet
EMPYREAN on Facebook
NOTTINGHAM HIDDEN HISTORY TEAM
THE THEOSOPHICAL SOCIETY IN ENGLAND