Encountering the Otherworld
Cheryl Straffon at North Hill Village Hall
In the introduction to her book Between the Realms, Cornwall based author Cheryl Straffon comments that ‘Too often (encounters with supernatural beings) are presented nowadays as quaint survivals of a long lost era, one that was governed by superstition and irrationality. However, I have always believed that there is more in these stories and legends than meets the eye.’
Few have such an encyclopaedic knowledge of the social history and fading memories of Cornwall. But while such information is available in an academic form in various archives, Cheryl brings the concept of the otherworld – the world that is always there, but just beyond the veil – to life, by merging it with the landscape of her county of birth.
In this presentation she was able to indicate some of the places where the seen and the unseen juxtapose and interact, in ways that would confound and confuse the mainstream interpretation of remaindered folklore.
Cheryl adds another span to that virtual bridge between the solid and the sensed. Tales that have lapsed into half-forgotten legends are retold and reconsidered in their original geographical setting – but with some of the elements of both viewpoints, placed side by side. History is infused with oral tradition and in turn with mythology; fact with enhanced fact with experiential fact. Defining the line where the story ends and the narration begins is as blurred and indistinct as the reality itself that swirls around us and invades our perception.
From a dowser’s perspective the transition between the realms is as important as it is transcendent. People, as real as ourselves, walked the ancient tracks and lived out their lives in the long over-developed villages. Today, we can still trace them, their activities and their emotions. More importantly, we can dowse the same forces, energies and information that guided their existence. Leys, earth energies, underground water veins, crystalline rocks and megaliths that were ancient even in the time of old Kernow, still course through and populate the countryside that hosts their living memory. History may be the record of the chronologically dead, but it lives on subtly, and it is still being played out today – if we have the silence and the sensitivity to pay it heed.
Cheryl highlighted common threads between the stories of Cornwall and those of the other Celtic homelands – such as dancing maidens turned to stone and musicians petrified for not observing the Sabbath. Such is the common currency of such tales that they are found throughout the world, which would seem a little surprising for something that was merely and entirely superstition. While much of the context and detail may have been lost in translation between the old lore and the new orthodoxy, the themes rumble on, like the music and merriment in the wind, or the distant, ominous sound of the rock-fall in the mine.
The tableau changes, year by year, but the undercurrents weave through regardless.
When trying to understand what people may have meant – or even seen – in times gone by, so much depends on the way we interpret the common information available to both ourselves and themselves. We are all too keen to brush away the personal experiences of humans who lived in the far west of these islands. We imagine, or would like to imagine, that what they saw, heard or felt were just everyday natural occurrences, long since explained away by science or religion. Yet these were articulate, intelligent people with perceptive abilities not unlike our own, and a processing brain almost identical in size and complexity to the modern cranium. Even thousands of years ago, these were modern people in every sense but fashion and foible.
When the ancients spoke of the beings from the otherworld, they may not have couched their sensations in terms of energy fields or quantum physics, but equally they weren’t making it up either. They may have been frightened by the storm and spooked by the dark, just like most of us – and they may have put their fears and concerns down to factors that seem odd today – but their sensations were as real as our own.
In decades past, there was a very distinct fault line in the dowsing spectrum between those who only worked in the world of matter and those who largely communed with the realm of spirit. Today, such black and white thinking is starting to look decidedly old hat. Whether or not the folk from the otherworld are giants or pixies, have wings or claws or fishy tails, their potential existence is edging back into focus. If you can imagine something, it can exist, and if it exists, you can dowse for it.
There are those who would rush to the other end of the spectrum and inform you that you can play mind games with elves or football with fairies, but life is never so simple, nor dull. What we seem to be re-appreciating – and this is where Cheryl’s ideas are of great relevance – is that we all interpret the sensations we perceive in our own terms – the Gods always speak English, and rather loudly.
The movements, patterns and disturbances of the ether, that previous generations might have attributed to kindly little people or malevolent ogres, may now be described in the language of sub-atomic and emerging science. But they are none the less real – at least to those of us who can discern them.
See saw, Margery Daw, Sold her bed and lay on straw,
Sold her bed and lay on hay, And pisky came and carried her away.
Many thanks to Cheryl Straffon, and the readings by Lana Jarvis, for getting the TDs 2017/8 winter season of talks off to a most enjoyable, and very well-attended start. Thanks also to everyone who helped at the hall to make this event another excellent corporate effort.
Nigel Twinn Tamar Dowsers October 2017
Between the Realms – Troy books – isbn 978-1-909602-06-9
Maen Mamvro – 51 Carn Bosavern, St Just, Penzance, Cornwall TR19 7QX