Archive for July, 2014


A Rise in Society: Cranbury Park on Bloomsday

July 26, 2014

Posted on the occasion of today’s New Moon, 26th July 2014


On Sunday 16th June 2013 I had a rare chance to wander around Cranbury Park, open to the public for just one day in the year as part of the National Garden Scheme (it wasn’t open this year because of storm damage). I don’t know whether I was aware of the coincidence of dates at the time, but thirteen months on and I (re)realised the strange conjunction of that Open Day with Bloomsday, observed each year, on June 16th, by Joyce enthusiasts worldwide to commemorate the day in 1904 on which the events of the novel, Ulysses, take place. Indeed, that (re)realisation of this auspicious date only came after I decided to start composing this post (on the morning of July 20th), in which I had resolved to write about the bird commemorated in the Cranbury placename: the Crane. This is the post that prompted me to compose and post up another two that day on this avian theme.

If I wasn’t conscious that it was Bloomsday, then this conjunction is all the stranger for a ‘ritual observance’ at the spring at the foot of the hill on which Cranbury House stands. For this observance drew its primary sense from, and can only be comprehended through, a particular passage of Molly Bloom’s closing soliloquy in Ulysses, as she recalls telling her fortune by cards:

he was on the cards this morning when I laid out the deck union with a young stranger neither dark nor fair you met before I thought it meant him but hes no chicken nor a stranger either besides my face was turned the other way what was the 7th card after that the 10 of spades for a journey by land then there was a letter on its way and scandals too the 3 queens and the 8 of diamonds for a rise in society yes wait it all came out and 2 red 8s for new garments


This water source, known as Wordsworth’s Spring is described here thus:

Spring 100 metres north of Cranbury House. Early C19. Vaulted chamber of coral, flint and
squared stone. Semicircular plan with flat front containing open arch, with
vault over. 3 round-headed reveals of rustic stonework. In that opposite
arch 2 tablets: “Written by WORDSWORTH on visiting this spring” and “Gentle
Reader view in me, An emblem of true Charity, Whe’ while my Bounty I bestow,
Am neither heard nor seen to flow, For ev’ry Drop of Water Giv’n, Repaid by
fresh supplies from Heav’n”.


James Joyce, through his characters, Stephen Dedalus in A Portrait and Ulysses and Shem the Penman in Finnegans Wake, assumed the role of ‘the scribe of the gods’, Thoth, ‘bearing upon his narrow ibis head the cusped moon’ (A Portrait, 225), who was responsible for the writing of The Book of the Dead. Indeed the nib of a pen is also the bill or beak of a bird.  The mythological association of the crane and the ibis with the invention of writing is a reminder of the world-forming nature of Joyce’s great work, his ‘book of the depth’, in which ‘the world, mind, is was and will be writing its own wrunes for ever’ (FW 19.35-36).

Thoth at the Luxor Temple. Photo: Jon Bodsworth (from here).

Thoth at the Luxor Temple. Photo: Jon Bodsworth (from here).

As a helper of Isis, Thoth also provided her with the words of power with which she was able to rouse Osiris: ‘Irise, Osirises!’ (FW 493.28). As Mark L. Troy explains in Mummeries of Resurrection, his interpretation of the Cycle of Osiris in Finnegans Wake:

Returning to the significance of Thoth within the cycle of Osiris, the revival of the dead god is dependent upon Thoth’s words of power, as well as on the power of Isis to rouse her brother-husband physically. At one point in FW, these two sorts of magic seem to merge. The Gaelic word for the “female-place” or genitals is toth-ball or toth-bhall,33 which Margaret Solomon has located in FW when a new dawn, and a new Sire are predicted for Issy. At the same time, Issy is advised to have patience:34 “Well but to remind to think, you where yestoday Ys Morganas war and that it is always tomorrow in toth’s tother’s place. Amen” (570.12).

This suggests that the “other place” of Thoth is the female toth.35 An Egyptian reference brought to mind by “toth’s tother’s place” is The Place of Thoth, name of the ancient shrine of the god, which cannot now be located; it is buried in time (Boylan, p. 147). The image of his “other place” as the female genitals is strengthened by “Amen” which follows “tother’s place”, for amen in middle Egyptian means “concealed, hidden”, and the god so named is, in Budge’s words, “the personification of the hidden and unknown creative power which was associated with the primal abyss gods in the creation of the world . . .” (Gods, II, 2).


The Isian dimension of Ulysses and Finnegans Wake is surely evident in this Bloomsday celebration:

Bloomsday has also been celebrated since 1994 in the Hungarian town of Szombathely, the fictional birthplace of Leopold Bloom’s father, Virág Rudolf, an emigrant Hungarian Jew. The event is usually centered on the Iseum, the remnants of an Isis temple from Roman times, and the Blum-mansion, commemorated to Joyce since 1997, at 40–41 Fő street, which used to be the property of an actual Jewish family called Blum.



Mushrooms, Magic and Rock Art

July 25, 2014



The Return of the Great Bustard

July 24, 2014


Watching a report on the local news about the latest developments in the project to reintroduce the Great Bustard to Salisbury Plain, it was pointed out that the bird-headed stone I wrote of here bore a striking resemblance to that great bird, the last one of which was shot on the Plain in 1832. Cue an internet search…

Great Bustard (Otis Tarda). Picture from here

Great Bustard (Otis Tarda). Picture from here.

Looking further, I found this report for October 22nd 2005 from the website of the Portland Bird Observatory:

A long and varied list of highlights today of which the most extraordinary involved a Great Bustard that was first seen flying south over Southwell during the afternoon. A little later it appeared over the Bill from where it flew back north along the West Cliffs and was last seen leaving the island heading north-east over Fortuneswell and Portland Harbour; the bird was wearing yellow wing-tags – seemingly number 06 – and is believed to have wandered from the Salisbury Plain reintroduction project.

Great Bustard, Portland, October 22nd 2005 © Martin Cade

Great Bustard, Portland, October 22nd 2005 © Martin Cade

Indeed, the bird – a female – had flown from Salisbury Plain, presumably one of the Russian birds first introduced in 2004, which had a tendency to disperse in a south-westerly direction, some even ending up in France. Today the Great Bustard Group, dedicated to the bird’s reintroduction, are hatching chicks from Spanish birds, the closest living population of Great Bustards to the original UK population before its extinction, and which are largely sedentary (see here). Less likelihood now of sightings over Portland Bill, I suppose…







Mother Goose in Dorset

July 24, 2014

Old Mother Goose, when
She wanted to wander,
Would ride through the air
On a very fine gander.


Further to my last post… Having had more time to look at the old map of Dorset, I’m wondering whether the ‘ornithomorphic geography’ of that county also encompasses the figure of the flying goddess (Aphrodite, Frau Holde, etc.) who has persisted in nursery rhyme as Mother Goose.

Dorset 1888

To better convey this image, I’ve dug out the coloured crayons and come up with this. It needs further work – the goose’s foot seems to be positioned too far down to be an anatomically correct representation.


Then again, the juxtaposition of goose and human foot would identify this picture as a representation of La Reine Pédauque, the goose-footed Bertha of medieval legend.


Aphrodite riding a goose



Ornithomorphic Dorset: taking off for the Beach in the Sky?

July 20, 2014

The perception or recognition of animal forms as geographical features is a well-attested phenomenon. To the Tikigaq people of Point Hope, Alaska, Point Hope itself, jutting into the strait, had once been a whale who was lured to its death by the song of a primal shamanic harpooner in mythic time, living on as the peninsula (Lowenstein 1993, cited in Whittle 2000: 251). Even the non-traditional, ‘disenchanted’ context of modern cartography has afforded the practice of a kind of cartomancy or divinatory geography, exemplified most obviously in the imagined (but no less real) arrangement of the landscape giants of the Glastonbury Zodiac, as first outlined by K.E. Maltwood in 1935 and further elaborated by researchers following in her wake.

Why Not?

Why Not?

For years I’ve entertained the thought that the Isle of Portland and the long stretch of Chesil Beach which runs up to it, together form the head and neck of a large aquatic bird. After all, Portland Bill, at the tip of the bird’s beak, is a toponymic suggestion of this. (In respect to the last post on a portable stone ‘bird-head’ found in my garden, Portland and Chesil can be seen as a gigantic version of the same). Similarly suggestive, at the other end of the Fleet (the lagoon enclosed by Chesil Beach and the Dorset mainland) which forms the bird’s long neck, is Abbotsbury Swannery, the only managed colony of nesting mute swans in the world. Formerly managed by the monks of the Benedictine monastery of St Peter’s, prior to its dissolution by Henry VIII in 1539, a swannery has been recorded here as early as 1393, and is likely much older (see here).  With such unique associations it wasn’t hard to imagine a swan sculpted in rock and shingle, its wings spreading inland.

Portland Crane

This stretch of Dorset coastline was the setting for J. Meade Faulkner’s book, Moonfleet (1898), which I enjoyed reading at school. Further ornithomorphic associations can be drawn from this.  In 1757, Meade Faulkner’s Moonfleet (based on a real place, East Fleet) is a small village which gets its name from a formerly prominent local family, the Mohunes, whose coat of arms includes a symbol shaped like a capital ‘Y’. The local inn, called the Mohune Arms, is nicknamed the Why Not? because of its sign with the Mohune ‘Y’. It is this little detail from a work of fiction which offers a schematic depiction of a long-necked bird with swept-back wings in mid-flight.


Juvenile crane in flight (from here).

Looking at the morphology of the Isle of Portland, I wonder whether the closest match for a bird species is the crane. Whatever the species – goose, swan, crane or cormorant – the angle of the head of Portland to the neck of Chesil suggests a range of postures: that the bird is about to take off, has just landed, is standing upright, or has tilted its head before taking a plunge.


Satellite image of Chesil Beach and Portland (From here)

This is ‘landscape art’ on a vast scale, however, and is much larger than the image rippling in the contours of the hills surrounding Glastonbury, suggested by Kathy Jones as the figure of a crone riding a swan. Flying west, the outstretched neck and head of the swan is formed by Wearyall Hill, the head and pointed nose of the crone is Windmill Hill, her breast is Chalice Hill and the Tor is her womb (Jones 1996, 1990).


Aphrodite Riding a Goose (British Museum Cat. No. London D2 Beazley Archive)

Assuming a body in proportion to the Portland head, if the wings are upraised or outstretched in the act of descending or ascending, then most of Dorset could form the bird’s body, conceivably! In which case, the upraised wing-tip reaches Swanage (appropriately enough) and the feet and tail extend to Lyme Regis and Marshwood Vale.

Dorset 1888

To Christopher Tilley’s essay, ‘The Beach in the Sky’, a chapter of his book, Metaphor and Material Culture (1999), I owe part of the title of this post. Of the early settlement of Portland, he writes of a Mesolithic occupation at Culver Well around 6100-5700 BC. I find some affirmation for the imagined ornithomorphic landscape of the area in the name of this spring: culver, the traditional name of the cliff-dwelling bird which has made itself at home among the artificial cliffs of towns and cities as the pigeon. As a word, culver is derived from the Latin word for the dove and pigeon: columba. This etymology allows a digression into a realm of speculation around the illuminated text, The Book of Kells (from here):

St. Columba was from the Druid tradition, that’s why he is called a Crane Cleric. The crane being Cygnus, and connected to Manannan and his Crane Bag in which he kept his treasures. The treasures being the Ogham tract, including the vowels, consonants and diphthongs, plus the rolled up strip of the Whale’s back. The beginning of Columba’s name is Col. Coll is the Hazel, the Hazels of Wisdom.

As to the actual existence of the great Dorset swan/crane/goose/cormorant… well, why not?


Keizaburo Tejima, woodcut from Swan Sky, 1983


Anonymous (Katharine Emma Maltwood). 1935. A Guide to Glastonbury’s Temple of the Stars. London: John M. Watkins.

Kathy Jones. 1990. The Goddess in Glastonbury. Glastonbury: Ariadne Publications (updated 1996 edition).

Christopher Tilley. 1999. Metaphor and Material Culture. Oxford: Blackwell.

Alasdair Whittle. 2000. ‘Very Like a Whale’: Menhirs, Motifs and Myths in the Mesolithic-Neolithic Transition of Northwest Europe. Cambridge Archaeological Journal 10:2. 243-59.


A Bird-Headed Stone

July 20, 2014

I awoke on Saturday morning invaded by thoughts that I should write about Cranes (Grus grus). This train of thought had been prompted by memories of my last visit to Cranbury Park, thirteen months ago. By early afternoon I had three crane-related posts on the go. This post isn’t one of them.


For the last few years this bird-headed stone, dug up in the garden, has adorned the cairn marking our chickens’ grave – at least, the two headless bodies found out of the three the fox got. It was heart-rending to lose our Kluxons (they had a collective name as we couldn’t tell them apart). Even as I write, for the first time I’m reflecting on the irony of a bird-headed stone marking the grave of two headless birds.


A few weeks ago we planted a pear tree on the spot (without disturbing the Kluxons). It was good to find, again, this special stone, so evocative in shape.


In my attitude to this found, natural object is an element of the fetishism decried by civilising rationalists like Max Müller, who saw in it the misguided adoration of objects that are ‘intrinsically worthless… stones, shells, bones and such like things’. For Müller fetishism was ‘a certain inferior disposition or weakness to which anyone at any place or any time is, in principle, susceptible’ (reference here).


So perfectly formed is this stone it can actually be stood upright on its smooth, level base to resemble some long-necked bird – an ostrich, rhea or crane – peering across the grassland or over the reeds of the marshes.


Such are the bizarre congruences* of chance that yesterday, as I was preoccupied with hopping frenetically between the writing of three crane-related posts, I was astonished and delighted to be greeted with this new post from one of the few blogs I’m following. It is a collage and accompanying text concerning The Legend of the Crane.


To quote from the text: ‘The Crane may conceivably be the oldest bird on earth; there is fossil proof that they existed over 60 million years ago. Greek and Roman myth tended to portray the dance of cranes as a love of joy and a celebration of life’.


* ‘Congruity is that apparent similarity between two (or more) things, actions, or ideas. Festus, the grammarian was also of the opinion that the words congruous, and similar derivatives are from grues, from Latin grus, crane [An etymological dictionary of the Latin language,  p.97], apparently from the sound of their calls which formed the root of the word ‘congruence,’ from Latin congruus, from congruere, ‘to agree’. This word reflects the highly coordinated and cooperative behavior typical of cranes.’

Retrieved 20/7/14 from

Edit: 20/7/14 at 14:42 – Ha! Just found this (without looking for anything) posted up on my FB!  Wallpaper Design, by The Silver Studio, English School, ca 1890.

Crane wallpaper


Tunbridge Wells: ‘Are the Naiads offended?’

July 8, 2014

Back in May, I posted here an extract from my document, The World’s End, which included an extensive discussion about the circumstances surrounding the discovery, in 1606, of the chalybeate spring around which the spa town of Tunbridge Wells grew, as well as a tradition linking it to the story of St Dunstan and the Devil. What I didn’t realise at the time was that just three weeks before, on May 5th, those iron-rich waters – which stain red – had run dry. In fact, it was only through the sharing a couple of days ago of this newspaper report from June 25th that I found out. I hope the waters do flow there again, but I cannot help thinking the drying up of this source, for the first time in over 400 years, is ominous. As one columnist commented here, jokingly: ‘Are the Naiads offended?’

In fact, this question isn’t so frivolous when viewed in the context of a narrative theme I wove into The World’s End: the motif of the Swan Maiden. This genre of stories offered the allegorical framework within which to interpret the discovery and subsequent exploitation of the chalybeate spring. An otherworldly female with bird or animal characteristics, she is captured by a human and becomes his bride. In some mediæval accounts she is identified as the magical founder of feudal dynasties, an example being  the legendary figure, Melusine and her association with the House of Lusignan. In such narratives, a slight or an act of violence against her on the part of the temporal, patriarchal authority by which she has been appropriated precipitates her flight, a departure or withdrawal of favour which brings misfortune to the House.

Heinrich Vogeler Melusine (c1910) Detail from a triptych

Heinrich Vogeler Melusine (c1910) Detail from a triptych

In The World’s End I attempted to trace some ‘psychogeographic regularities’ of social domination, as revealed by Swan Maiden narratives, using James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake as an interpretive device, through the application of a kind of ‘SORTES VIRGINIANAE’ (FW 281), in quest of some kind of ‘liberating magic’. For the collapse of the feudal worldview has not banished such domination; rather, it continues in the discourse of ‘the appropriation of nature’, mobilised by the ‘scientific revolution’ and the Aristotelianism of its ‘impossible and fictitious logical segregations of the truth of things’ (Bruno 1583, cited in Yates 1966:252).


Perhaps this is the true import of a dream I had last September about the kind of mundane, cracked saucer left over from a lost tea service, which is used to put potted plants on, with the characteristic accumulated, earthy, tide-marked encrustation of many waterings. In the dream this everyday object was a magical and dangerous vessel, bearing a rusty, dry residue, which was either the congealed ‘blood of the saints’, the blood of a goddess or of the Magdalene, but demanding the addition of water to ‘enliven’ it.


The Abergavenny Arms

I have to say, when I read that the chalybeate spring had dried up, I immediately thought of ‘the dash for gas’ and the irreversible poisoning and disruption of water sources that hydraulic fracturing (fracking) would bring about. The scientific revolution has continued apace, but so divorced from the lifeworld is the abstract objectivity of scientism and its corollary, political economy, that such a manifestation of suicide capitalism can be seriously entertained and pushed through.  Fracking truly poses an existential threat to life and wellbeing and the disappearance of the spring at Tunbridge Wells, though not directly attributable to fracking, is just the kind of disaster I can see more of if this process is allowed.

SYRINX: Gods, protectors of innocence,
     Naiads, nymphs of these streams,
     I implore your assistance here.

(Syrinx throws herself in the waters.)

PAN: (following Syrinx into the lake where she has hurled herself)
To what are you exposing yourself? What new prodigies?
     The nymph’s been changed into roses? (the wind rushes through the roses and makes them utter a plaintive sound)
     Alas! what noise! What do I hear? Ah, what new voices!
     The nymph is trying to express her regrets.
     How sweet her murmur is! How attractive is her complaint.
     Let’s not cease complaining with her.
     Let’s reanimate the charming remains
     Of a nymph who was so beautiful.
     She’s still responding to our laments.
     Let’s not cease complaining with her.

(Pan gives the roses to shepherds, to Satyrs, and to Woodland creatures who form a concert with flutes.)

PAN: The eyes that charmed me will never see day any more.
     Was it thus, cruel Love
     That you must avenge yourself on a rebellious beauty?
     Wouldn’t it have sufficed to render yourself conqueror
     And to see her insensitive heart in your fetters,
     Burning with mine in an eternal passion?
     Let all feel my torments.

PAN AND TWO SHEPHERDS: (accompanied by a concert of flutes)
Let’s revive the charming remains
     Of a nymph who was so beautiful.
     She’s still responding to our laments.
     Let’s not stop from complaining with her.

(Argus begins to sigh, Mercury disguised as a shepherd approaches him and ends by putting him to sleep by touching him with his caduceus.)

PAN: Let these plaintive roses be forever loved.

Isis: Libretto by Philippe Quinault (trans. Frank J. Morlock 2003) for Jean-Baptiste Lully’s tragedie lyrique (1677).