There were four of us, though one was elsewhere in the strictly physical sense, gathered at the Wharfside Tea Rooms in Uphill Quarry. Twenty-four degrees, it was, the hottest day of the year so far – and this particular Pale Janet, forewarned and forearmed with Tesco’s Best, sprayed liberally, scenting the air with coconut, before the adventure began. Playful and serious in turn, we explored…
The lens of my pen’s camera zeroes in upon St Nicholas’ Church, high up and facing Brean Down. There were many more word pictures I could have shared. But this one bellowed to be heard. The actual images I took are locked in my phone, so stock pictures will have to do. Read on…
There was something inhuman, Fey, strange about St Nicholas’ Church. I felt increasingly agitated, anxious, pinched by fingers of mischief or malice; wanted, with an urgency I cannot explain, to escape, to get right out of the place. All the nerves in and around my right breast felt as if they had been trapped, a constant firing of pain’s tiny bullets.
It was so hot – and the vagina of wild nettles, leading back into the womb of the church, felt like a sharp and stinging deflowering, a passage of initiation into something odd, almost sneering, not quite in focus.
Uneasy, I felt. And then I saw the Changeling Child, romping about the graveyard with her goldeny-hazel-eyed dog (a young animal which matched her in colour and youth’s coltishness, and which shared an otherwordly, elfin aura). For this child (pre-teen, at a guess) spoke not one word while we were there, and her dog, not much more than a puppy, was equally silent.
Though vibrant in colour, there was something ethereal, almost ghostly, about the child. Clad in salmon-coloured shorts and a khaki top, she had foxy hair parted in the middle, a wide mouth and budding signs of puberty. But, for all the modern clothes, she felt as if she didn’t belong in this century: A wild creature, untouched by twenty-first century fads and preoccupations, as if translated from another time and another place for us to meet.
Her mother, or grandmother, was the church’s Custodian, Protector – but there was more to it than that, an undercurrent of active fellowship of some kind; a stream of visitors, mostly male, most with dogs. I had a very strong sense that we had interrupted something, and that communication (varied, prolific, esoteric, light-hearted, learned) was happening somewhere above the range of the human ear.
When we entered the church, the older woman was polishing an ancient chair in the East (under paintings of St Nicholas and, oddly, St Andrew), the girl sitting with her canine shadow (with its uncanny eyes – ‘eyes that see the dead’ came into my mind, for some reason) where the altar would have been. The smell of beeswax, so ancient and evocative, took me right back – and I could see the two women (one Maiden, the other, Crone) in a far earlier incarnation of the church, wearing simple mediaeval clothing, kneeling on the stone floor, readying the place for a funeral.
Were they the latest in a long line of Death Watchers? Psychopomps? Holders of the power which transcends individual religious belief and is common to all? Did we see here something of the ancient Priestess Tradition still at work, albeit in a highly diluted, possibly unconscious, form?
The child’s easy scurrying amongst, and fearless familiarity with, the gravestones, and the way she never ventured outside the gates, told its own story. It felt as if the two of them came with the place, had always been there in one form or another – and that the dogs (with all their wolf, fox, jackal ancestry and symbolism) had a special place, message and significance too.
There was a mystery there too in these two blood-linked females, for the information they gave (the Crone, verbally, the Maiden in her very essence) was oddly vague, sketchy, unfocused – as if the role of Guardian were merely a front for a very different purpose and a far longer tenure.
There was power in that place without a doubt. Power that was neither evil nor good. Closest I can come is to say it was like Old High Magic – and such things are almost always uncomfortable to be around and can stretch, even hurt, the body in the way that proximity to wild and exalted divinity so often does.
Initially, I thought the child and her dog were playing. Later, it occurred to me that they were patrolling, manning each gate in turn – and that there was nothing random about the large number of visitors (and their familiars) to this tiny church atop a Somerset hill on a hot Sunday afternoon.
Usually, I adore being in churches – and the older, the better! I soak up the atmosphere as if luxuriating in a deep psychic bath full of herbs, spices and honey.
I couldn’t wait to get away – and had a fierce gullet spasm as I walked down the steep slope onto the road. As if there had been something in the whole encounter I could not stomach. A wrongness, a sense of things being subtly out of kilter, which I cannot explain, but which my body both sensed and reacted to.
It wasn’t evil. But it was very old, elemental, linked to Brean Down (which we could see clearly, crouched like a watchful dog – and possibly calling-in all the flesh and blood ones – in the low tide mud and sand of the Bristol Channel) and Dion Fortune and the Sea Priestess (both novel and entity). The energy in St Nicholas’ Church was complementary, if embattled: A battle of wills and wits, of minds, of elementals, of vast power, between this tiny stone building and the green and rocky furthest point of the Mendips; a magicians’ duel designed to raise, and use, an enormous cone of power.
It wasn’t, in any conventional sense, a happy experience – but it gave me a whole metaphorical papyrus of ancient hieroglyphs to decode later.
But, then, we do not look for comfort or bodily ease when working magically, do we?
In contrast to the atmosphere of the church, nature was at its most early-summer magnificent:
The frizzing across hot meadows, festooned with blue butterflies fanning the warmth with tiny wings, clearly stirred the land’s deep libidinous pulse: The slopes were dotted with courting couples (some from 2016; most, hazy in heat and centuries of distance, from elsewhere on time’s looped belt) exploring one another’s bodies quite openly and without shame. Egrets, roosting like white candles in the dark green holder of the trees, delighted us when, in a graceful brightness of wings, they took to the air.
Is the farmhouse, crouched in the Uphill-facing lea of Brean Down, the heart, the powerhouse of the sensation I felt between these two places? It certainly called out to me. Something was emanating from it, without a doubt – a ray, a torch, picking out the kirk, illuminating and being illuminated in return.