I was listening to the latest episode of T. Thorn Coyle’s podcast Elemental Castings during which she spoke of the way that Paganism(s) can ‘re-enchant the world’. For me this has been at the very heart of my Journey since I was a small child. I was born in that rocky and wild Celtic peninsula on the far west of Albion called Cornwall – a land rich in myth, legend and folklore. Stories of the Faerie still run through the granite veins of the coast and moor. From the Spriggans, Guardians of ancient Stone Circles, Fogous and Barrows, to the Knockers of Tin Mining legend. The lost land of Lyonesse lies just off the coast, and Arthur’s seat of Tintagel stands like a sentinel to the great Atlantic. I am truly proud of my Cornish birth. We moved away when I was very young but my blood and bones were built from the food and water from that land.
We moved to Sussex over 40 years ago, and here I have made my home (albeit with regular trips back to my birth home almost every year) ever since. Sussex is very different to Cornwall. Granite cliffs are replaced by chalk, moorland by the gentle rolling hills of the South Downs. Right now at Beltane there are few counties as beautiful as Sussex, and it still has the reputation for being England’s most wooded county.
Sussex was also one of the last places in Britain to be Christianised, probably because until the 6th century it was mostly swamp and forest (the great forest of Anderida stretched from Dover to Southampton, and it is said that a squirrel could jump from tree to tree all the way without touching the ground). It even had its own disease, the Ague, a form of Malaria. Odd then that it is now so developed and modern. But scrape away the veneer of modern Sussex life and the enchantment of the county’s folklore is still very much apparent.
To many people in this modern day the hills, rivers and oceans of Albion are just things. Beautiful, yes, but they have no life or story of their own. I’ve heard it said that to us in the ‘developed’ nations a mountain is a resource. It contains minerals and ore and who knows what else that we can take for our needs. It’s how many people are brought up to view and relate to their land. However, the tribe who once lived in the shadow of that mountain would have seen that it protected them from the storms that came from the north. They called it, Mighty Healer, as the water that flowed so freely from its roots healed and nourished the tribe for hundreds of years. Eagle showed them where the wild goats grazed, and the bodies of countless ancestors were left on that mountainside to feed the animals and birds, their spirits returning to the land.
No. Not many people in Sussex think like that anymore.
The Sussex Dragon is The Knucker and many tales tell of this ferocious creature that lived at the bottom of Knucker Holes, great bottomless ponds. Some of these ponds still remain.
Bevis the Giant once walked this land and helped to guard Arundel castle, that is until he fell in love with a woman from the depths of the ocean who broke his heart. Bevis’ Tomb, some say it’s a Long Barrow but what do they know, still stands to this day.
The two giants of the South Downs fought, one on Mount Caburn, the other on Windover Hill. They threw great clods of earth at each other until one was hit and fell on the side of Windover Hill where his outline still remains as the Long Man of Wilmington.
A knight in silver armour in a golden coffin lies within the Hollow Hill of Mount Caburn ready to return in Albion’s day of need. Some say the name Caburn comes from Caer Bryn, the Fort on the Hill, but others say it comes from the name of Arthur’s Sword, Caliburn, and that Mount Caburn is where he lies to this day.
To me this is a very Bardic and Pagan way of looking at the landscape around me, and one of my Bardic Quests is to add to that enchantment, and through music, story and song help, as T. Thorn Coyle said in her podcast, to re-enchant the world. To little by little help open closed eyes to the magic that lies all around us, in the hills and valleys, the rivers and streams, the moors and woodlands of this ancient and magical world.
If you haven’t already done so, I urge you to spend some time exploring the local folklore of your own area. I bet you will be surprised just how much you will find, and once you know those old stories, you’ll never be able to, let alone want to, look at where you live in the same way ever again.