STRAIGHT WALKING by Paul Devereux
I have been thumbing through the 1932 edition of E.O. Gordon's Prehistoric London and have noted her comments on "the Win Ton". What she has to say is of striking relevance to the idea of a holy hill alignment at the place. I give a slightly abridged quote:
Winton (Winchester)...under Molmutius had become the supreme seat of civil government... The most striking feature of Royal Winchester today, as of yore, is the Great Seat of the Winton (wyn, white or holy, ton = a sacred mound), now called St. Katherine Hill, a circular chalk down standing boldly out in the valley of the Itchen, As on Silbury Hill and Glastonbury Tor, the graded slopes and encircling lines are still plainly visible, and stamp it at once as a prehistoric Gorsedd, the centre in purely Druidic times of civil and religious administration commanding the old "White City" of Caer Gwent (the white or holy fortified enclosure, so called from the white walls of chalk with which Dunwal Molautius enclosed the city)... The earliest traditions of the Winton, like those of our London mounds, have come down along the ages embalmed in its descriptive Keltic name, which survives to this day as the official title and signature of the Mayor and the Municipality, and of the Bishop and the Diocese of Winton. Wykeham (ED. William of Wykeham, surveyor - geomant? - and secretary to Edward III), also the founder of national education, with his consumate knowledge of the traditions of the Gorsedd acquired in the reorganization of the British sixth century Order on the Windsor "Round Table" Mound, styles his college St. Mary de Winton, and not by the Romanized form of the name Winchester. We may look, therefore, on the majestic "Holy Hill" as the Psalmist of old looked on his hills in Judea, as a sort of inspired testimony to the righteous government of God and the indestructibleness of His Church.
King Cnut made Winchester his capital... The annals of the Cathedral record that Cnut gave to the old Minster a property of three hides, called "Hilles". The Danish monarch thus followed the precedent set by his predecessor, the British King Arviragus, at Glastonbury, in presenting the "royal seat" as a gift to the Church. In this the Winton passed into the hands of the Benedictines of St. Swithin's Priory, From them St. Katherine's Hill (as it came to be called from the dedication of a chapel built on the summit) was purchased by Wykeham, who ordained, by statute, that twice daily his "seventy black-gowned scholars" should ascent the "Holy Hill" dedicated to their use as the recreation ground of his college. Lord Selbourne, in his Quincentenary Poem, thus alludes to one of the most cherished memories of Old Wykehamites:
Four hundred years and fifty their rolling course have sped
Since the first serge-clad scholar to Wykeham's feet was led
And still his seventy faithful boys, in these presumptuous days,
Learn the old truths, speak the old words, tread in the ancient ways,
Still for their daily horisons resounds the matin chine:
Still linked in bands of brotherhood St. Catherine's steep they climb.
The Winton stands at about the same distance from the circle as does Silbury from Avebury. That Winchester Cathedral was erected on the site of a Druidic circle is practically certain from the fact that several Druidic stones were at one time to be seen in the Close.
Gordon reproduces an engraving of the "Going to Hilles" (not in the current American Artisan Sales edition of her book) which she show here. (The quality of the original is very poor).
The illustration clearly shows a straight line of scholars on their way to St. Catherine's Hill. Could this be along the course of the ley? It is difficult to say, as the track from Wykeham's college is now lost. However, John Michell tells me he thinks the course of the ley goes very close to the commencement of this track. But this image of straight walking triggers some other thoughts. In TLH 89 Jim Kimmis put forward some fascinating etymological research. He drew attention to the Indo-European stem *reg-, which Eric Partridge in Origins says originally meant "movement along a straight line". Kimmis went on to show how this stem eventually evolved into words that extended its physical, spatial meaning in an abstract sense, so that straight linear movement became an analogue of honesty. Justice and social order. Amongst examples he gave were: reign, regime, regiment, regular, right, righteous, erect, correct, direct, rule. "Between the physical and abstract senses of this complex word stand a small group of cognates which all signify 'ruler' or 'king' "Kimmis wrote. So it is that the English word "ruler" can mean either a king for other leader as well as a straightedge. Hence "ruling the land" (Another example of the same word having a spatial and abstract sense is "direction" - movement through the landscape, or an instruction.) We may have here a profound clue as to the nature of . Certainly, all the parts fit at Winchester.
It is a pattern repeated at Cuzco, Peru, where the Inca, the Son of the Sun, had his Temple of the Sun at the centre of radiating lines called ceques (now photographed in infra red by Tony Morrison - they are dead straight), or, again, at Versailles where another "Sun King" had his palace at the focus of straig ht lines. There are other examples, ancient and more recent.
The idea of straight walking causes me to cast my mind back to the early 1970s, when Andrew York and I were carrying out our Earth Mysteries study of the county of Leicestershire. In our archival work we came across a curious tradition known as "hay strewing", in which hay was gathered from a particular part of a particular meadow on a certain date and carried to a nearby church where it was strewn along the nave. Four or five locations in Leicestershire had once had such a tradition, but all had died out by the turn of the century. We found that one village with this hay strewing tradition, Ashby Folville, had its church' s hay gathered from a field known at "The Bartholomews", and the part dedicated for the hay was marked by a triangular arrangement of old stones. We very much wanted to find these stones, but our fieldwork (literally!) was not successful - it seemed The Bartholomews had been engulfed by modern enlarged f ield patterns, and with it, its stones. However, another village, Enderby, a few miles south of Leicester, al so had a haystrewing tradition. The name of the meadow involved here was "The Wether". Although no stones were reported in the scanty literature available, we were hopeful that there might be some, as there had been at Ashby Folville and because the name "Wether" (sheep or castrated ram) might be a reference to stones looking like sheep in a field (as in Grey Wethers, Wiltshire). But before finding the meadow, we first had to find Enderby!
This was not quite so simple as it sounds, because the old Enderby of hay strewing tradition had been located next to the River Soar. Due to regular flooding, however, the village was refounded a couple of miles away. Our enquiries in the present Enderby as to the whereabouts of The Wether drew a blank. No one seemed to know precisely where it was, although they all agreed it was on the banks of the Soar within a specified area. Each May there was ritual auctioning of the rights to the meadow for a nominal sum: it took place in the local pub and only those able to keep a long clay pipe alight were eligible to take part, apparently. People we talked to said this auction was really just an excuse to keep the pub open longer! Obviously, someone knew where the meadow was, but we didn't bump into them.
So one bright Sunday morning Andy and I resolved to walk along the appropriate length of the Soar to see what we could find. In our dappled sunlight jaunt beneath bank-side trees, we encountered an old fellow, sawing wood next to an old riverside shack. He looked for all the world like Vasudeva from Herman Hesse's Siddartha. Yes, he knew of The Wheter. He'd played there as a lad more than fifty years previously, but hadn 't been there since. No, he didn't know "owt" (anything) about any stones. Our hearts sank, Could he tell us how to get to the meadow? "Certainly, me ducks, he chortled ("Me duck" is a Leicestershire term of friendliness or affection). He drew what was essentially a field boundary map on a piece of hardboard. He talked us through it, saying we would finally come to a " straight green road". If we followed it to its end, we'd be in The Wether.
We followed his directions, and, sure enough, we came to a section of straight, grassed track. This had been truncated due to later (but still old) field boundaries. We walked along it, negotiating a fallen tree, and suddenly our view opened out onto an expanse of meadow in a loop of the Soar (the Anglicised version of "Loire", incidentally). We squinted: there was a small dark shape near the centre of the meadow. We rushed to it - it was a stone! Then we saw another.... Then another - then a fourth ! An arrangement of four old stones - unknown to anyone at that time, it seemed. Certainly unrecorded. Here was the plot from which the hay was taken to the former Enderby church. The real relevance to this article was that tradition had stated no iron was allowed to touch this hay and it had to be carried in a straight line to the church! It was our guess that at least part of that journey would have been down the old straight green track we had just come along ourselves. A fragment of landscape lore just beyond the fingertips of folk memory.
Another piece in this tantalizing straight-walking puzzle was brought to my attention very recently by Perwina Hague, TLH reader and member of the London Earth Mysteries group. While exploring the library at County Hall, London, she came across House Decoration in Nubia by Marian Wezel (D uckworth, 1972). The relevant item concerned Kashm el-Girba, a resettlement site for the Sudanese Nubian population. Wezel records the account of architect Abdulla Sabbar, born in Ashkeit, who went to Kashm el-Girba for the first Id festival, following Ramadan, since the people had been moved:
It was the custom in Ashkeit for the entire village, men and boys, to progress from certain house to certain house, these houses being community gather places, one for each small area. The men used to go in a straight line from place to place, as the village was laid out in a straight line along the Nile, and they stopped to have coffee in each selected house in the order in which it came. This they did all day, In Khashm el-Girba they wanted to retain this custom, but unfortunately the village was laid out in a square. This led to a long discussion among the men as to which was the most important aspect of the custom, the order of the houses or the straightness was the more important, and arranged to bisect the square, divided into groups, so that each group went in a straight line.
Sabbar also noted that the resettlement site does not have flat-topped hills near it, as was the case in th e people's home landscape, but that there was one hill forty kilometers away and the residents of Khahm el-Girba made regular excursions to look at it.
So the pieces so far leave the picture incomplete. But there is a sort of deep, resonant note in our consciousness, in our linguistic roots, in our dying ancient traditions, in the linear arrangements of temples in widely separated cultures, in old straight tracks still marked - as with the Andes Lines, in the understanding of spirit paths, that tells of the straight line mystery in the landscape. When we have more pieces, when the picture becomes clearer, a powerful archetypal memory will be triggered in us - a memory that has nearly slipped beyond our present recall, a memory that seems to have almost been repressed.
To me, this process of rediscovery, this genuine learning process, is worth far more than the current crop of unfounded (and dreary!) notions of "ley energies" that are presently being scatter around like confetti, which, in my opinion, have more to do with fantasies about what is desired about leys than what is being researched and actually found out:. 20th century conceptual inventions being projected instead of the uncovering of deep secrets that relate to the landscape, our own psyches and their interrelationship. It is only that latter process which can move us on into areas our own current mentality has not already prefigured.