Thursday, 3 April 2014

The Winter Solstice 2013

Within the Hearth of the Turning Wheel it has become something of a tradition as with many, to make a pilgrimage to a particular sacred site or place on one or other of the Solstices. This pilgrimage which has taken the form of camping trips, short breaks or simply a one day trip; is sometimes to a local site and sometimes to one of some notable distance. These trips have happened so often and it is with a nod to Professor Hutton; that we often referred to them as 'something we have always done.'

So it was that in the early hours of the 21st of December 2013 a small number of us journeyed to Stonehenge by car with the aim of meeting friends and watching the sunrise. As usual we travelled in hopeful expectation of a visible sunrise, in the full knowledge that such an occurrence is rare. The further south we travelled, the heavier the rain appeared to become and we were forced not unexpectedly, to accept that our hope was a vain one.

Parking up at about six we found ourselves directed to a lane reasonably close to the stones, joining a single file of parked vehicles that extended behind us as more joined the line. This gave us almost an hour before the police would allow access and so we settled down for a nap, it had been a long enough journey with only one 'refreshment' stop and our designated driver appreciated the break.

During this time we had a telephone call from the friends we were expecting to meet and were pleased to discover, that they had parked up only a few cars behind. So it was that once the all clear was given by the Police, some half dozen of us made our way along the lane to the gate and our entry into the site.

The weather did not really improve and I was grateful that I had come in my heavier winter cloak, as it kept me quite warm and importantly dry, underneath. Standing on the bank we awaited the dawn, if one can call it that and had a moment of peace, amongst the grey clouds and the increasingly heavy rain.

We walked our way around the circle, preferring in my case to keep to the perimeter and avoid the crowd in the centre. I was rather slower in my perambulatory circumnavigation, as I kept bumping into people I knew or being asked to stop and pose for a photograph. You would think people had never seen a man in a woollen green cloak carrying a horn before.

Amongst these friendly enquirers was the usual grouping of journalists and semi-professional photographers, including a young lady by the name of Emma Wood who took the picture I use on this BLOG post. By the time I had finished playing the part of a media tart, posing with and for various curious solstice attendees and blowing my horn for the professionals, my friends had not only completed their own circuit but started a second.

Photograph of the Summoner at Stonehenge on the 21st December 2013.
Picture copyright Emma Wood photography 2013:

Post this wet, grey dawn we travelled on to Woodhenge, so that those members of the Most Ancient and Venerable Order of the Skylark and Hawthorne, could claim another mark towards their eventual chivalric knighthoods. Here too the wind and the rain continued and we were eager to return to the cars and depart for Avebury.

At Avebury as per our wants and obviously it is something we have always done, our own tradition as it were, we lunched at the Red Lion before taking our walk around the stones. Once again we bumped into one or two people we knew, including Bill Willth Thorpe, a Druid from Swindon. Indeed in the Venerable Order of the Skylark and Hawthorne, Bill is titled as a Knight of Swindon.

Our walk about the Avebury Stones themselves, in continuing heavy rain was also subject to strong gusts of wind. So strong and bearing in mind that many of us had cloaks, that part of the walk along the bank was at times dangerous. It was however, a very pleasant and worthwhile day.

On the 22nd of December and allowing a day for recovery, the Hearth of the Turning Wheel met at Caer Bran for our Yuletide observance and our usual exchange of gifts. Our Yuletide ritual includes our version of the Secret Santa, which we like to refer to as the Secret Odin. This once again has become something we have always done. This year the ritual was written by Lady Jane, an invited guest who renamed the ritual as Rudolphmas.

Yuletide is a celebration and the exchange of gifts, coupled with a little humour, can lift our spirits in the depth of winter, which is obviously an important element of any mid-winter festival.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014


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



Tuesday, 1 April 2014



People say that we should ‘count our blessings’ more that we perhaps do. Reflecting upon the positive elements of our existence, those treasured moments of memory and experience.

What is a blessing? How can we define such and is a blessing different for each of us? If one is a parent then it is likely that you will regard your children as your blessings. Others may have other special parts of their lives that are regarded as a blessing.


My blessings are my family and my friendships. I count amongst these friendships treasured individuals, supportive, loving and very often inspiring. This latter group of friends are often so inspiring, that at times I am left in awe of their talent, their skill, their learning and quite often; their total lack of faith in their own abilities.


On this last point I can at least enjoy some part of a mutual and equal experience of self doubt. I write but I do not actually think I am any good. I mess about with a camera but I know what is wrong with my pictures, even if others do not notice the flaws.

So when I look at my amazing friends who are actors, artists, writers and craftspeople, I am awed because I am not an artist. I cannot touch them emotionally as a peer but stand transfixed and often mesmerised like a child, by their display of self-effacing skill.


I have pictures, prints given me by the artists, in which a few brush strokes or a line of pen and ink, create images of beauty and motion. I have books, signed by authors whose skill I can never hope to equal. I have clothes made by a friend, who is so talented with a needle that it is beyond expression, yet whose talent is undervalued. I have glasses engraved with the badge of the Hearth of the Turning Wheel, by a dear boy who is embarrassed when asked to undertake a commission, because he has no appreciation of his own talent.


I have jewellery that is hand crafted by a talented lady in London and more by an equally talented silversmith in the USA, whose imagination and skill is beyond words. These people, these wonderful, talented friendships are my blessings and I have not mentioned them all.


If these friendships are my blessings what are theirs? Is whatever inspires them their own blessing? That indefinable spark, that divine muse that burns inside an artist or artisan, is that their blessing? Perhaps it is but my blessing is the knowing of these people and the being able to share in some small way, their own inspiration because it does inspire me.







ZhaKrisstol: Chaos in motion