Fogou : A Journey into the Underworld
Jo May-Prussak talks to the Tamar Dowsers
It’s not everyone who has an enigmatic underground passage in their garden.
Fogous, as they are known, are believed to date from the Iron Age, if not earlier. They have been described as storage facilities or refuges, but these just seem obvious theories, and no real evidence has been found to support the idea that they were ever built for either purpose.
They seem all too obvious and undefended to be anything to do with warfare or hoarding, and too substantially built and too deliberately placed to accommodate the attendant earth energy features, to just be convenient hidey-holes.
An archaeologist might be drawn to surmise some ‘ritual’ role, but that would just be guesswork too.
Taking account of the energy lines, and opening the mind to the wider non-physical, the dowser might conclude that some form of sacred space could give rise to a better understanding of these subterranean structures.
Fogous can be found at various sites in West Cornwall, and indeed across many of the former Celtic heartlands. Jo May was custodian of the one at Rosemerryn, near Lamorna Cove, for many years. However, rather than the resident hosting an archaeological hole in the ground, it was apparent that this was a period when the Fogou was served with faithful commitment by its nominal administrator.
Jo started his very personal presentation with a six-minute video, taken on his last day at the house. Clearly, it was a very emotional day for him but, for various more prosaic reasons, it was time for him to move on. The short film, replayed uncut and unedited, showed the wild splendour and deliberately unreconstructed nature of the ancient location. The only sounds were bird song and the persistent, steady roar of a stream.
Jo recounted a number of unexplained and psychic events that had befallen both himself and previous owners at Rosemerryn. He seemed sufficiently worldly-wise to take these in his stride, but it alerted him from Day 1 that this was no ordinary homestead. History and pre-history abounded. If Jo needed a portal to a reinvented life, he had one in the back lawn, neatly constructed in stone blocks, shafting away beneath the herbaceous border and yawning with inexplicable portent. It appeared that, far from him choosing the Fogou, she had lured him in.
Having set up Rosemerryn as an alternative educational facility (CAER), over the years numerous groups came to the house to work, study, converse and meditate – and where better to do just that than in the adjacent man-made cave.
The nature of the courses attracted many participants with an open-minded approach, and not a few with psychic and clairvoyant abilities. Jo explained that these included academic, religious and spiritual gatherings from across the world – some of whom were excited and inspired by visiting, spending time in, and even sleeping in, the tubular cellar below the greensward.
The Boleigh Fogou (to give it its academic title) had its fifteen minutes of fame in 1996, when it was the subject of an investigation/invasion by the famous Channel 4 Time Team crew, fronted by Tony Robinson. Jo appeared in the programme as the ‘interested local landowner’. This was in the early days of the TT series, before it became more formulaic – and various ideas were given their head for the weekend. In this case, dowsing was tried for the first (and probably the last) time. A local beardy man with ‘mediaeval’ divining tools (a.k.a. Hamish Miller) was asked to dowse for a lost extension to the passage. He couldn’t find it (because there wasn’t one), and when he did get a good response, sadly it turned out to be a rusty water pipe. In A Life Divined Hamish said that it was his worst experience as a dowser, and that he should never have taken the job on – but even the great and the good have to learn somewhere. In fact, at the behest of the then TT producer, Tim Taylor, a full dowsing survey was carried out by the dowser, Dan Wilson. A detailed, and very accurate, report on the site was duly submitted (and Jo had a copy for us to read). However, this didn’t make very photogenic television, and therefore didn’t feature in the final piece to camera.
To be fair, Hamish was full of praise for the TT’s Wiltshire-based archaeologist, Phil Harding, who took both dowsing and his results seriously. Both Hamish and Jo liked Tony Robinson, who was open enough to have a go himself. In fact, Tony subsequently used another dowser (my Earth Energies Group colleague, Derek Woodhead) in his 2016 series Britain’s Ancient Tracks, at Royston Cave.
Jo had made a fascinating pastiche of several cuts from the TT broadcast and played them for us at the end. I’m not sure what looked more dated, the pre-historical subterranean cavity or her cohort of hirsute, middle-aged men!
As to a definitive explanation for the Fogou . . . Well, the consensus, even among the professional historians, is that it was a place of spirituality, perhaps even of transformation and enlightenment. Maybe anti-monarchy or anti-clerical radicals may have hidden in it at a later date – and no doubt some potatoes did spend half a winter maturing in the cool atmosphere at some point – but that clearly wasn’t why this remarkable structure came into being in the first place.
A few have found a Fogou scary but, take away the mobile communications, the rapid transit devices, even the street lights, and the only scary thing left . . . is you. It’s not always comfortable to confront yourself but, if you do choose to, a private, dark, still, womb-like, energy-filled enclosure is the ideal place to be.
Many thanks to Jo May-Prussak for sharing this most personal set of experiences with us – and, as ever, to everyone who helped to stage this event.
Nigel Twinn, Tamar Dowsers, December 2017
Fogou : Journey into the Underworld – by Jo May – Gothic Image Books – ISBN: 0906362342