Memories of Newtimber Hill Part One – ‘The Old Sod’

“Roy promised to conduct a Samhain ceremony for us at some suitable site Doreen suggested this was available at Newtimber Hill a few miles outside Brighton which seemed a reasonable project to all  concerned so we agreed to congregate at that point on the 31st October. Gerard would pick some of us up in his Land Rover, and others would make their own arrangements. Roy would travel with his personal friends, and we were all to meet at a prearranged place and time. Since it was Doreen’s area, she would have to show us the actual spot she had in mind. Each of us would have to bring their own equipment which in my case consisted of a six foot forked stang, a hempen cord around my neck, and a dark warm woollen cloak with a hood. Otherwise we were normally dressed for the season, and for good measure I had brought a small oil lantern.

It was dark when we assembled in a field at the foot of the hill, but one of Roy’s disciples was wearing a miners helmet with a lamp, and he proposed to lead the way on the upward steep and difficult track. This in itself was supposed to be symbolic of life as an uphill climb with an eventual levelling out representing the relief of rest at the end of everything. You were supposed to pick up stones as you went to signify the burdens of responsibility gathered during a lifetime. These would be shed at the top of the hill to show how these might be laid down after death. They could either constitute a memorial cairn, or become the surrounds of a fire that cooked the communal food. Everyone brought something for the feast at the end which symbolised the individual contributions we all had to make towards human society and its consciousness. Seeing that this celebration was especially to honour the dead, we were to carry a photograph of, or something that had belonged to some departed relative or close family friend. I carried a small snapshot of my mother.

In more or less single file we trudged to the top of the hill by what I thought a somewhat perilous path, John, the one with the miners lamp and a sack of charcoal, leading. When we finally reached the top of the hill, I was only too glad to shed my few stones and sit down on the soft grass. I had read the requirements of this Rite, and knew what must be done. Roy was busily organising the placement of everything, and would give the signal when we should commence. Some were getting a fire going with the charcoal, and setting a cauldron on it which was partly filled with some dark fluid.

Presently Roy began binding the component parts of his stang together. A leafy wreath, two crossed arrows, and lastly a reaping hook, something called a sickle. The sickle stood for death, the arrows for transformation, and the garland for eternal life. This symbol was set up and fidelity sworn to the Faith it represented. Then the blessing of the Leaf-Mask was undergone individually.

Presently the men began to pace around the fire plunging our knives into the pot and chanting as we did this. When we finished the women came forward, elevated a platter on which something was bound with red and blue twine, then tipped it into the pot and retired to the outer perimeter. It was now the turn of the men who advanced and a sword being produced, this was plunged into the pot and its fluid scattered to the Quarters. Lastly the sword came under the control of an officer called the Summoner, who laid it, with the besom, as a bridge between the main circle and another adjacent one of smaller size which was to be used for the Mill.

Then the Maid of the ceremony, who happened to be Doreen, came forward and brandishing a ladle whirled it rapidly as a libation. She next filled a cup with the concoction and it was passed around those present in a Deosil direction, all partaking of the contents. The Summoner then kicked the cauldron over with his left heel so that it extinguished the fire and only the light from my lamp supplied any illumination.

Next came the Mill practice or the ‘Grinding of Fate.’ Everyone entered the smaller circle across the Sword-Bridge, males and females alternating. The Summoner led, and Roy as the ‘Devil’ of the group brought up the rear. His title as ‘Devil’ actually derived from the Sanskrit ‘Dev,’ meaning a God-being. The Romany word for God to this day is ‘Duval.’

He said that in the old days the group leader would frequently try and get his people going by lashing at them with his ceremonial cord and hence the phrase ‘Devil take the hindmost,’ because the slowest dancer usually got most of the blows. We scurried around the little circle widdershins, almost on top of each other, stamping and chanting as we went. Sooner or later someone fell flat andRoyhalted the rest of us with a sharp call. It was Doreen on the ground andRoycommanded her by various Deities to tell us what was being revealed to her.

She began to giggle, and then said in an elderly and quavering voice, quite unlike her normal tones: ‘Snow! Snow! It’s going to be a long, hard winter.’ When we finally got her to her feet again, we abandoned the Mill practice by common consent. The subsequent winter was one of the mildest of the century.

From the Mill we went into the Summoning of the Spirit. Roy remained in the small circle, while the rest of us grouped closely in the large one with our left arms around the shoulders of our neighbour, right hand clutching our individual stangs.

The Summoner took charge, and began to recite an invocation in Anglo-Saxon which said in translation: ‘Blessed Goddess of the Horn, beyond and above all, who made and fashioned the gentle Earth, Thou art Love most merciful, blessed and formed by wondrous Fate. O Love, Pour forth! Love Pour forth.  Greatest of all is Love.’ During this we kept up an undertone chant of ‘Ah, Aha, Eu, Eu, Ah,’ at the end of which we uttered a sharp cry as we raised our stangs and brought their ends down on earth as hard as we could. This procedure was repeated several times and then we fell silent and waited, all of us, as we had been instructed, sending out power in the direction of Roy now crouching in his circle facing us. There seemed to be a strange sort of luminosity around him.

It was difficult to see very clearly, but we all felt the intensification of the atmosphere and heard the curiously increased sighing of what was probably a wind in the nearby trees. Somewhere an owl gave three distinct hoots, and everything was enveloped by the type of silence which always seems a lot louder than any sound.

Whatever happened then, occurred entirely inside ourselves.

Afterwards, everyone described it differently, though all agreed it was a sharp psychic shock. Roy was on his feet with outflung arms in our direction, when he suddenly raised them above his head and swept them downwards and sideways with a convulsive movement, at the same time emitting an indescribable sound. It was piercingly penetrating, not very prolonged, and I would not have thought an ordinary human male could have uttered it. It was far more like the heart cry of a woman attempting to convey in a single second all the agony and pent-up passion of many millennia. There was something desperate in it as if everything in creation depended on the comprehension of its hearers and their ability to understand its urgency.

Later, one or two claimed to have seen a lightning-flash image of their Goddess appear over Roy’s indistinct form, and others thought they heard intimately whispered words of care within their ears. I neither saw nor heard anything like that, but I was very well aware of a most potently powerful Presence, which was unmistakably a feminine force of a most compelling character.

For a few moments we remained rooted to the ground, and then Roy rejoined us by the bridge into our central circle saying in a perfectly natural tone: Come my children, let us cheer ourselves with wit and wine.’ We stirred ourselves and followed him out into the area we have previously chosen as a sheltered social gathering place. Some lit another fire, others fussed with food, and one or two of us endeavoured to record immediate impressions and thoughts. Presently the whole circle was in animated conversation, mostly with comparisons of individual experiences.

All had some story to tell which was worth listening to.

Our new friend John had fresh false teeth which hurt so much, he took them out and lost them somewhere. Everyone searched frantically for a while until a strangled screech announced that he had found them himself – by sitting on them. The absurdity of a situation which enabled a man to bite his own bottom had us in helpless laughter a long time.

We broke up before dawn, most of us returning to Doreen’s place for a short sleep prior to seeking our proper homes. Bobby [the wife of William Gray] was the last one coming down the hill, and she could have sworn she heard footsteps behind her all the way, until at the end she realised they were phantom ones. It had all been an experience I would not willingly have missed.”

Credits

The above account has been reproduced from ‘THE OLD SOD: THE ODD LIFE AND INNER WORK OF WILLIAM G. GRAY’
Alan Richardson & Marcus ClaridgeISBN: 978-1-908011-12-1

Copyright: Marcus Claridge, Alan Richardson

Published January 31st 2011: Skylight Press

http://www.skylightpress.co.uk/

Many Thanks to Alan and Marcus for giving me permission to share this.

Many  thanks to Matt Baldwin-Ives @Miles Cross (http://www.milescross.co.uk/) for the fantastic photography accompanying this piece.

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5 thoughts on “Memories of Newtimber Hill Part One – ‘The Old Sod’

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  3. Pingback: Memories of Newtimber Hill Part Two – The Legacy Continued « downstrodden

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