May Event – read all about it!
MAGIC AND FOLKLORE ANCIENT AND MODERN
Many thanks to Joyce Froome for writing this summary of this fantastic day. Many people were saying it was one of the best day of talks they had been to.
Jonathan Hughes’ presentation on ‘Alchemy and the Occult and the English Kings’ plunged us into the complexities of medieval occult beliefs and politics. In fact Jonathan untangled it persuasively into the basic polarity of Mercury (white) and Sulphur (red) – with Mercury associated with Christ and spirituality, and Sulphur associated with the Devil, but also with worldly power and attributes such as military skill. Jonathan’s insights into how this alchemical symbolism was picked up by medieval kings cast fascinating new light on enigmatic figures such as Richard II, and enigmatic works such as the great magical poem ‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight’ – and also suggested a new dimension to the symbolism of the red and white Tudor Rose. Also fascinating was the intricate connection between alchemy and the Arthurian mythos, which, interestingly, began when English Christians were looking for a way to appropriate alchemy for themselves and deny its Middle Eastern Islamic origins.
In ‘Cthulhu in Cornwall: Adventures in the Lovecraftian Abyss’, Paul Weston drew some very intriguing comparisons between H.P. Lovecraft and Aleister Crowley, before describing some of his own weirdly significant experiences. His presentation was an evocative and often witty exploration of sea-related strangeness, taking in ancient gods, the subconscious, fish people, the Loch Ness Monster and Cornwall’s sea monster Morgawr. With the harbour so close it was of course particularly interesting (and maybe just a little unsettling) to be lured into reassessing our fascination with the ocean and its otherworldly depths.
The day of talks coincided with the official opening of the Museum’s first exhibition in the new temporary exhibition space – the remarkable artworks by Jos A. Smith that became the illustrations for Erica Jong’s book ‘Witches’. After lunch Jo allowed himself to be interviewed by our director Simon Costin, and talked about his working relationship with Erica Jong (often she based her text around his pictures, rather than the other way round), and how his work has been inspired by trance states, dreams and Shamanism. Discussing the relationship between magic and art, he described how both can be used to explore other worlds and transitional states. He also gave an entertaining account of his connection with the Heavy Metal music scene, as a result of several bands adopting one of his pictures as a tattoo. This photo shows Jos signing some fine art prints in the library. These limited edition prints are available for sale from our online shop.
The last talk was Alex Langstone’s ‘Folklore of Cornish Holy Wells’, a reminder of what beautiful, inspiring and powerful places Cornish Holy Wells are, and also of the extraordinary wealth of legends and folktales surrounding them. In spite of the long association of Holy Wells with healing, many also have an eerie or downright sinister side, particularly if they are not shown the respect they deserve. If you fail to leave an offering at St Nun’s Well at Pelynt, the Piskies will follow you home in the shape of moths. And the precipitous path than runs down the cliff past the Fairy Well at Lelant is haunted by the bizarre ‘Cliff Creature’ – and local children still dare each other to walk down the path at dusk and risk a terrifying encounter. As Alex remarked, Holy Wells are an embodiment of the magic of the landscape.
The afternoon was rounded off with a discussion of a selection of objects from the Museum, which had been chosen by Hannah and Joyce as being particularly mysterious or thought-provoking. The knowledgeable and perceptive comments from the audience demonstrated just how valuable a resource you, our supporters, are, with so many interesting ideas put forward that Deborah had to volunteer to write them all down!
In the evening Mark Norman on accordion and Jane Cox on guitar formed an unexpected but very successful impromptu musical partnership in the Wellington bar, bringing the day to a spirited and convivial end.
Many thanks to all the speakers, to Jason for his gracious hosting of the event, to Steve for all his organisational work, to Tamsin and the Wellington staff for the friendliness and helpfulness that make it such a great venue, and to everyone who attended. If we missed anyone who deserved thanking - we're sorry and thanks for your help!