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Category Archives: Hauntings

The Hallas Bridge Witch & the Psychogeography of the West Bradford Moors

The triangle of upland between the mill-towns of Bradford, Halifax and Keighley has no particular name of its own and is often overlooked in topographies of the area; yet this tract of the Pennines possesses a distinct identity, a palpable sense of place that over the centuries has bred a glut of remarkable lore and legend. The region is not excessively remote: it is criss-crossed by arterial roads and farmers have reclaimed much of the desolate moorland for pasture. These hills are also home to small towns such as Denholme and Queensbury—two of the highest municipalities in England—whilst the sprawl of the West Yorkshire conurbation is often visible in the valleys below.

The district borders Brontë Country and there is certainly no doubt that the literary sisters were familiar with this territory: they were born in the village of Thornton on its eastern edge and lived there for the earliest years of their childhood before moving to Haworth—itself barely a few miles away. Nonetheless, it feels discrete from the more characteristically “wuthering” landscape of the Worth Valley—which must be considered the Brontë heartland—and for the sake of convenience, I have come to refer to this area as the West Bradford Moors, although it is a shame that a more poetic and evocative name cannot be found.

One of the many hidden treasures of the West Bradford Moors is the wooded dell carved out by the Harden Beck as it flows from the watershed on Thornton Moor towards Bingley where it joins the River Aire. In the upper reaches of this valley, the stream tumbles down a series of charming cascades on its course through Goitstock Wood creating a veritable fairy glen. We know that Charlotte Brontë herself once strolled through this valley in the company of an old Chartist from whom she hoped to extract raw material for the literary endeavour that was ultimately published as “Shirley” in 1849 (although by all accounts he advised her against reopening old wounds).

The Harden Valley is so picturesque that it is difficult to conceive it might once have been a source of dread; yet so it was. Discussing the area at the end of the 19th Century, that indefatigable Yorkshire antiquary, Harry Speight, refers to a “sorceress or witch, who is believed to haunt the lane which descends to Hallas Bridge on the Cullingworth side of the beck. She is traditionally said to be coming down the hill at the cautious pace of seven straw breadths in the year, and when at last she reaches the bridge, woe betide any person or house that may then be upon the hill, for by one magic wave of her hand the hill will vanish, and of course everything upon it”.

The legend is corroborated in 1923 by Elizabeth Southwart, in her excellent book, “Brontë Moors from Haworth to Thornton”. As if to demonstrate the unique quality of the West Bradford Moors, she also notes the persistence of supernatural traditions in the area: “The ghost tale left Thornton, Wilsden and Cullingworth very reluctantly, whilst at Oxenhope and Haworth the only trace is to be found in books; the oldest inhabitants not only deny that they ever believed in ghosts, but that their forefathers ever did. On the other hand, the Thornton, Cullingworth and Wilsden folk, though obviously incredulous, half wish that the tales were true: in fact there are people still left who believe they are”.

The most curious facet of the tale of the Hallas Bridge witch is that whilst the legend is apparently unique in Yorkshire, the motif is more familiar in the extreme south-west of the country—albeit attached to ghosts rather than witches. Such apparitions are known as “cockstride ghosts”: spirits that have been only partially laid at some remote location and now advance homewards at no more than a “cockstride” every year (“cockstride” being an archaic term synonymous with any tiny increment). Examples of cockstride ghosts are familiar in Dorset, Devon and Cornwall but there are no obvious northern analogues and it is unclear how an isolated example the motif has migrated so far.

Similarly opaque are the means by which the “cockstride” motif has become syncretised with the figure of a witch and how the tradition became quite so apocalyptic. The threat that if the witch ever reached Hallas Bridge she would make the whole hillside disappear—Cullingworth included—is considerably more dire than the consequences should a cockstride ghost make it back to the house it used to haunt. However, as the surrounding hills are replete with toponyms such as Egypt, World’s End and the Walls of Jericho, we can surmise that the folk of the West Bradford Moors took their apocalypses very seriously indeed.

Perhaps they needed to in such a stark and windswept landscape; it is often remarked that pitiless places breed pitiless eschatology. Like most of the South Pennines, austere Non-Conformist denominations such as Primitive Methodism flourished on these moors—as did abstinence societies such as Independent Order of Rechabites. Meanwhile, in the late-18th and early-19th Century the area was a fertile breeding for millenarian sects who envisaged that the spiritual transformation of society foretold in the Book of Revelation was close at hand. Followers of self-proclaimed prophets such as Joanna Southcott, George Turner and John Wroe were drawn extensively from these townships.

There is also something about the West Bradford Moors that seems fundamentally liminal; i.e. pertaining to boundaries, borders and thresholds. As mentioned earlier, settlements such as Queensbury and Denholme are amongst the highest towns in Britain and hilltops have long been perceived as a threshold between the earth and the heavens. Liminality is expressed too in the area’s relationship with the surrounding centres of Bradford, Halifax and Keighley. It partakes in the character of all three, but is not wholly identifiable with any one and functions as an effective frontier between them.

Liminal locations are boundaries spiritually as much as geographically; places at which the veil between this world and the other is worn thin. As such, it is perhaps no surprise that the West Bradford Moors were once home to so many uncanny entities: phantom black hounds stalked every lane and rumours of a shadowy horned figure once gripped the neighbourhood. There was also a rich tradition cunning-folk, who were rarely wholly benign: one raised the Devil to recover a client’s lost property; others set out on a disastrous quest to recover a hoard of demon-guarded treasure—after getting lost in the fog, they were reported to ecclesiastic authorities and excommunicated.

The Witch of Hallas Bridge is just one panel in the region’s rich tapestry of curious lore, and the apocalyptic tone of the legend is easy to understand in the context of this environment. Survival here was tenuous; the end always near. Disaster and hardship hove over the horizon like the witch slowly advancing towards that ill-fated crossing whereupon she would whisk the hill away. In such elemental landscapes it is easy to conceive of these malign entities and we must face the prospect that our anthropological interpretations are merely rationalist fancies to sooth our eschatological angst. If I lived in Cullingworth, I’d certainly be worried: after all, the witch must have almost reached that bridge by now.

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The Victorian Occult Revival in West Yorkshire

Forming a sad, decaying conurbation on the eastern fringe of the South Pennines, today Bradford and the neighbouring town of Keighley scarcely seem the most obvious setting for occult drama. Yet in the 19th Century they were engines of the Industrial Revolution, prosperous municipalities brimming with an emergent middle class. As such, the region became arguably the most important locus of the Victorian occult revival outside London and whilst the city’s esoteric tradition is often overlooked, it represents a significant thread in both the social history of West Yorkshire and the development of occultism in Britain generally.

We will begin this tale of conflict and transformation with the foundation of a society, variously referred to as The Dew and the Light, the Ros. Crux Fraters or the Rosicrucian Fathers of Keighley, in 1870 by local man, David Lund. Lund was a typical product of the Victorian middle-class. A self-taught mechanic who co-owned a small engineering business with his brother Thomas at Albert Foundry, he held a degree in Political Economy thanks to the Oxford University Extension Scheme and was politically active as a member of the Keighley Foreign Affairs Committee.

Lund also had a long-standing interest in astrology and earned a supplemental income casting horoscopes, including some for the Liberal MP for Oakworth and Keighley at the time, Sir Isaac Holden. Doubtless such pursuits led him towards Rosicrucianism, an esoteric doctrine developed in early 17th Century Germany and regarded as widely influential, not only in European history of ideas, but as the basis of Freemasonry in Britain and most subsequent orders in the Western Hermetic Tradition.

Despite many of the philosophies which developed from it eventually mutating into neo-paganism in the Twentieth Century, Rosicrucianism itself was a firmly Christian theology, rooted in the Protestant Reformation and German Lutheranism. However, Rosicrucian orders were initiatory and hierarchical, seeking higher knowledge and a “universal reformation of mankind”. Influenced by Gnosticism and the symbolic, transformative aspects of alchemy, their rituals tended towards theurgy, aiming to achieve self-perfection and ultimately, union with the divine.

In the 1880s, the Dew and the Light produced a handwritten folio newsletter entitled Lamp of Thoth promising to reveal “mysteries of the great unknown” (Thoth was an Egyptian god of knowledge), the editorship of which was attributed only to a mysterious figure known as “Zanoni”. Surviving copies suggest the beliefs of the order were entirely consistent with Rosicrucian doctrine and the editor highly knowledgeable in this field. Such content belies the later charges of plagiarism and black magic which were levelled at the society by its rivals.

One local historian, Marie Campbell, speculates that the group may also have had what might now be described as a psychogeographical bent. She suggests that Daniel Murgatroyd, scion of the local landowning family who constructed East Riddlesden Hall, was once a member of the organisation. He was known to possess a “spell book” attributed to Sir Henry Clifford, the Second Earl of Cumberland, who occupied Skipton Castle and Barden Tower in the 16th Century and is remembered for practicing alchemy with the assistance of the monks at nearby Bolton Abbey.

Campbell refers to a title page, whether of Lamp of Thoth or otherwise is not made clear, headed “The Lands of the Dragon”, which depicts the symbol of a triangle inside a circle (a common alchemical motif) forming a map with Skipton, Keighley, Ilkley, Bingley, Baildon and Bolton Abbey as cardinal points in the circle, which would place the prehistoric sacred landscape of Rombalds Moor within the triangle. Campbell associates this chart with both Sir Henry Clifford and the Rosicrucian Fathers, but aside from the unproven Murgatroyd connection, there is little justification to suggest Clifford’s acquaintance with it.

The Society of the Dew and the Light must presumably have operated in Keighley without drawing any undue attention for the best part of two decades, from bases at 14 Parkwood Street prior to its demolition in 1881 and subsequently Lund’s home addresses, 190 Spring Gardens Lane and Fern Cottage on Highfield Lane. However, in the late 1880s, Lund and his organisation found themselves under attack on two fronts, attracting opposition from both the pious local authorities and rival camps in the Western Hermetic Tradition itself.

Lund’s troubles began in June 1887 with the first of several prosecutions related to his astrological services. It is uncertain why his activities provoked quite such ire from the authorities, especially as other astrologers advertised in the local press and practiced without hindrance in neighbouring towns. However, they were clearly willing to go to great lengths to indict Lund, as their first move against him would now be regarded as entrapment, with the police superintendent commissioning a horoscope under the false name, John Feather. Bizarrely, Lund was charged under the Vagrancy Act and fined £3 plus costs.

Lund and his society found themselves under further scrutiny, this time from fellow travellers, when a letter appeared in an 1889 edition of Lucifer, the journal of the Theosophical Society. Signed “One who has been duped” it protested, “They profess to be in the possession of much knowledge which they cannot give to the student, until he has attained to their state, and this knowledge is copied from books, which they either possess, or borrow or steal, and when they descend to originality it is simply one mass of error and nonsense.” The anonymous “dupe” also accused Lund and his followers of sacrificing goats and consorting with elementals.

It was followed by a letter from Dr. Wynn Westcott, distancing the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn from the Rosicrucian Fathers of Keighley. Whilst Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia was a well-known name at the time, having been founded in 1865, this was the first time the title of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn had appeared in the public domain. It had only been founded that year by Westcott and Samuel MacGregor Mathers, originally as an offshoot of the SRIA, which unlike its parent organisation would permit non-Christians, non-Freemasons and women to be members.

Lund replied to defend his organisation, but the correspondence rapidly degenerated into a slanging match between Lund, Westcott, Mathers and the “One who has been duped”. The London adepts were given succour by an editorial in Lucifer by the founder of the Theosophical Society, Madame Blavatsky herself in which she refers to Yorkshire as “overrun by fraudulent astrologers and fortune tellers who pretend to be Theosophists… (and) swindle a higher class of credulous patrons”. This was surely aimed at Lund, who had once been a member of the Theosophical Society and who had been so recently prosecuted.

Surviving issues of Lamp of Thoth have impressed modern occultists with their learning and so it must be concluded that the accusations brought against the Rosicrucian Fathers of Keighley were a naked attempt to discredit the society and promote the newly established Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn in its stead. It was a successful ruse, for whilst the slanders may have been unfounded, they clearly took their toll on either Lund’s enthusiasm or the society’s membership, as Lamp of Thoth ceased publication around the same time.

Needless to say, The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, with its compelling synthesis of Rosicrucianism, Kabbalah, Enochian magic, alchemy and mysticism, went on to become one of the most significant forces in the Victorian occult revival, wielding an influence on culture and alternative spirituality which persisted through the Twentieth Century. Its membership at one time or another included such illustrious figures as W.B. Yeats, Aleister Crowley, Algernon Blackwood, A.E. Waite, Arthur Machen, Maud Gonne, Florence Farr, Evelyn Underhill, William Sharp and Allan Bennett.

On 10th June 1888, the Order appointed Baildon watchmaker T.H. Pattinson, under his occult name of the Very Honoured Frater Vota Vita Mea, as Provincial Hierophant of Yorkshire Members and charged him to seek out potential members in the region. Pattinson was similarly a Freemason and member of Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia, having joined that order in Halifax on 16th November 1887. His demonstrable esoteric interests suggest that he may also have been a member of the Society of the Dew and Light and there has even been speculation that Pattinson was the true identity of the mysterious “One who has been duped” in the Lucifer correspondence.

Pattinson had greatly impressed many of the London adepts. Some years earlier, Reverend William Ayton, a noted authority on alchemy who was to become one of the first initiates of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn had commented following a meeting with the watchmaker “From what I then saw of the strong proclivities of Yorkshiremen for Occultism, I had the greatest desire to organise a Lodge somewhere in this neighbourhood for the carrying on the study of it.” He would later describe Pattinson and other members of the Yorkshire SRIA lodge as “men who really know something.”

Meanwhile, A.E. Waite felt that Pattinson was not “one who made up spectacles” and evidence of this cautious, sober approach can be seen in a letter Pattinson wrote to Westcott on 20th June 1888, entreating him not to accept candidates for the Order too readily, citing an astral vision from the “Crowned One” in support. This advice was readily accepted and Mathers transcribed Pattinson’s purported vision, adding embellishments of his own. It was subsequently the Order’s policy to refuse all initial requests for membership and advise an applicant to try again in six months time, in an attempt to deter dabblers and dilettantes.

The Bradford Horus Temple was subsequently established on 10th October 1888 in rooms at the now-demolished Alexandra Hotel in Great Horton Road (the manager of which, Carlos Faro was a member) and consecrated by Mathers himself on 19th October. Pattinson was appointed as Imperator, with F.D. Harrison and J. Leech Atherson as Praemonstrator and Sub-Praemonstrator, a tripartite division of responsibility which obtained for each Golden Dawn temple, borrowed from the structure of Masonic lodges.

However, whilst his erstwhile competitors flourished, further trouble was in store for David Lund. In May 1890 he was once again convicted for the practice of astrology, this time on charges of purporting to be a fortune teller and deceiving Her Majesty’s subjects. It is said that the police were forced to consult a local antiquarian society to ascertain legislation under which he could be prosecuted. Two of Lund’s clients, Lily Wrigley and Annie Stott testified against him and despite receiving support from the Keighley Herald, he was sentenced to spend a month in the notorious Armley Jail near Leeds.

Lund was apparently the first Theosophist to be incarcerated at Armley, which attracted a great deal of interest from the prison chaplain. However, the astrologer would later remark that as a tee-total vegetarian, he did not find his tenure there especially arduous. Following his release, he returned to his single-storey residence at Fern Cottage and lived a solitary, hermitic existence whilst continuing to practice astrology until his death in January 1903 at the age of 63.

Meanwhile in Bradford, as the occult revival progressed through the 1890s, the adepts of the Horus Temple were not immune from factionalism and infighting of their own. This situation was not uncommon in the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn at large, which despite aiming at higher modes of being apparently could not escape the petty politics of the human sphere and was frequently riven by internecine squabbles, a tendency that would ultimately prove its undoing.

In 1892, a quarrel broke out between Pattinson and other members of the Horus Temple, including one the three chiefs, Francis Harrison, who were seeking to introduce a Theosophical element into the rituals. Annie Horniman, a renowned London theatre manager and Sub-Praemonstratrix of the capital’s Iris Urania Temple (not to mention Mathers’ primary financier in this period), was sent to Bradford on Septmber 25th of that year to rebuke them. Her intervention led to the suspension of Harrison, along with the resignation of two members by the names of Oliver and Florence Firth.

The report Horniman submitted to Mathers giving an account of the meeting suggests that it had rapidly descended into farce. Whilst Oliver Firth may have been described by Colonel Henry Olcott, the co-founder of the Theosophical Society, as “that joyous-hearted, keen-brained friend”, he was clearly not the most diplomatic of individuals. Horniman complained that “Instead of expressing penitence (Firth) gloried in doing as he felt inclined in the Temple, and said he would laugh there if he chose, even if turned out for so doing… Such a speech is bad enough in itself, but being made before Neophytes and other low grade Fratres and Sorores is destructive to their discipline.”

Specific transgressions by Firth mentioned by Horniman included referring to astrology as “mere divination”, showing “a rebellious wish to pick and choose his subjects of study”, refusing to wear “the sash of his grade in the Temple because of its similarity to Freemasonry” and “speaking disrespectfully of our ceremonies”. Moreover, “when requested by the Hierophant to act as auditor he refused rudely and disrespectfully and sitting down suddenly he exclaimed ‘I shan’t!'” A recently admitted neophyte had also complained of a “want of reverence on the part of some of the spectators at his Initiation” and “said how it lost in solemnity”.

Meanwhile, F.D. Harrison, despite being one of the founding members of the Horus Temple, was similarly insubordinate. He “sat in a lower place than his 3=8 grade allows and was source of or a party to an unquietness during the 0=0 ceremony,” “referred in a most disrespectful way to both communications read that day in open Temple” and spoke “as if the Ceremonies were only foolish mummeries in his eyes”. Perhaps most revealing in terms of the light it throws on the attitudes of the “Yorkshire Chelas” is Harrison’s reference to the expulsion of Theresa Jane O’Connell following a dispute with Mina Mathers as “a mere squabble between two women”.

The Horus Temple members were far from happy with Horniman’s intervention, particularly resenting interference from a female. Although women were permitted in the Golden Dawn, due to Mathers’ belief in their mediumistic abilities, the Bradford members’ background in the male-only environment of Rosicrucianism and Freemasonry seems to have left them uncomfortable with women performing any substantive role. Pattinson’s own wife may have been the first female member of the Horus Temple but she never rose beyond the lowly grade of Zelator, suggesting that her participation was merely the result of taking an interest in her husbands activities and that neither party was unduly committed to the arrangement.

Their distinctly unenlightened attitude in matters of gender politics has led one commentator to dismiss the Horus Temple as “good old boys” and it is a far cry from the progressive outlook of the London temple. Yet despite the attitude demonstrated by Harrison above, he went on to be influential in the determinedly unisex Order of Universal Co-Freemasonry in Great Britain, founded by Annie Besant, Madame Blavatsky’s successor as President of the Theosophical Society, in 1902. By contrast, Pattinson would only retreat further back into male-chauvinism, as his subsequent career attests.

The expulsion of Harrison left a gap in the Horus Temple’s ruling triumvirate, and his authority undermined, Pattinson decided to temporarily stand down from his principle role. This forced Dr. Wynn Westcott to adopt the position of Imperator and on November 2nd he circulated a letter to Bradford members informing them of his decision to “take charge of the Temple until it has once more its Three Chiefs”. Members were summoned to attend a meeting on November 13th at which he further explained the reasons for what the Bradford adepts clearly regarded as interference and apparently delivered a “stirring address”.

However, the strife continued, with some members reported as still being in contact with Harrison and Firth, causing Mathers himself to travel to Bradford from his new home in Paris in March 1893 in an attempt to mediate. He threatened the Temple with suspension if members did not cease communicating details of their activities to the expelled individuals. However, he also tried to emphasise that members of the Golden Dawn and Theosophical Society should not regard themselves as being in conflict and went on to reaffirm the “solemnity to be observed in the Ceremonies” and “the humility and self-denial necessary in every true occultist.”

The doctrinal differences which instigated this controversy seem remarkably involved. After all, whilst Pattinson may have been opposed to Theosophical ideas infiltrating the Rosicrucian ethos of the Golden Dawn, he was clearly not entirely averse to that philosophy in general as he is recorded as one of the first members of the Bradford Lodge of the Theosophical Society in 1891 and attended the funeral of Madame Blavatsky in May of the same year. Nor does he appear to have had any issue with Eastern doctrine influencing the Western Hermetic tradition, as illustrated by his later interests.

In Spring 1897, Dr. Wynn Westcott was forced to resign from his role as Chief Adept in Anglia under pressure from within the English political establishment which regarded such high-profile association with occultism as inappropriate for a Crown Coroner. His successor was the formidable Florence Farr, an actress and close ally of W.B. Yeats, who had already held the position of Praemonstratrix of the Isis-Urania Temple for some while. With Mathers still firmly ensconced in Paris, she was now essentially responsible the day-to-day running of the Golden Dawn.

However, her ascension was not universally accepted. Farr was rather severe in her authority and uncompromising when it came to the minutiae of ceremony and in 1897 she harshly reprimanded a member by the name of Frederick Leigh Gardner for his inappropriate attitude towards the Order’s hierarchy and ritual. Gardner wrote to Mathers to complain, but despite Gardner’s financial influence he refused to undermine Farr’s position and instead, suggested that Gardner transfer from the Isis-Urania Temple to the Horus Temple as a corresponding member.

Gardner evidently found a sympathetic reception from the Horus Temple and in a letter to him dated 16th February 1898, Pattinson states “All the Horus fellows agree that they could not conform in any way to such treatment or pander to its dogmatic control… No petticoat government will do for us…” Pattinson subsequently wrote to Mathers in Paris petitioning him to assume direct control of the Horus Temple and so release them from Farr’s control, insisting that “common sense and good fellowship” were held in higher esteem by Bradford members than ceremonial hierarchies. Pattinson records that Mathers “seems to regard it as a compliment”.

Yet although Pattinson clearly believed him to be a better option than Florence Farr, he does not seem to have been especially enamoured of Mathers either and wrote to Gardner “You have no need to fear Mathers getting the top end of the Horus Temple chaps”. This attitude may be partly explained as loyalty to Dr. Wynn Westcott, whose friendship with Pattinson preceded the Golden Dawn. When, in February 1900, an increasingly paranoid Mathers accused Wescott of having forged the Anna Sprengel letters upon which the Golden Dawn was founded, Pattinson sympathies clearly lay with Westcott.

Following Mathers’ accusations, Westcott sought affidavits affirming his good character and Pattinson complied, writing “I consider Mr. Mathers’ mental state to be a peculiar one because he now claims the name of MacGregor to which he was not born and also considers himself to be… Jacobite nobility to which he never hinted any claim during the years when I saw most of him… On the other hand, Dr. Westcott always was and still is, a clear headed man of business and an earnest literary student, of whose character no suspicion has ever been raised in the presence of myself or of my associates, except by this Mr. Mathers aforesaid.”

However, by the end of 1900, there were clearly rumblings of discontent in the Horus ranks, the temple acting as a microcosm of the wider disquiet in the Order. In a letter dated October 6th of that year, the three chiefs of the Horus Temple circulated a letter to members explaining how efforts to “take a room in Bradford to be used as a head centre for the development of such occult projects… especially for the promotion of advanced study” were thwarted by an “undercurrent… not in accordance with that harmonious and confident zeal which has been so characteristic of the Horus brotherhood in the past.”

Whilst the Horus Temple endured until at least 1902, briefly surviving the 1900 schism which marked the end of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn as a movement of any consequence, the uncertainty during this period clearly left Pattinson further disillusioned. In its stead, he began to transfer his enthusiasm to a Higher Degree of Freemasonry which styled itself the August Order of Light, Otherwise Called the Mysteries of Perfection of Sikha (Apex) and of the Ekata (Unity).

The Order had been founded in 1881 by Dr. Maurice Vidal Portman, one-time governor of the Anderman Islands. It was rooted in Hindu mysticism and the Royal Oriental Order of Sat B’hai, the only other Eastern influenced philosophy in Freemasonry, and which slightly predated Portman’s teaching. Such “Orders Beyond the Craft” were only open to master masons and thus inevitably, women were excluded from membership. Pattinson’s interest represents a retrenchment into his Masonic roots and given the Eastern character of the order, it seems to corroborate the notion that Orientalism was not the aspect of Theosophy to which he had objected in 1892.

Dr. Portman retired from Freemasonry in 1900 through dissatisfaction with many of its strictures and passed control of the August Order of Light to Pattinson. Pattinson and Dr. B.E.J. Edwards, Praemostrator of the Horus Temple, revised the rituals and with themselves as Arch-Presidents of the Order or “Guardians of the Light”, established the Garuda Temple in Bradford in the cellar rooms of a pub at 81 Kings Parade in 1902. Sixteen members of the former Horus Temple were in attendance at the inaugural meeting.

As an offshoot of the more stable Freemasons, the August Order of Light persisted for a much longer period than the Golden Dawn and indeed, it still exists today. However, its most active phase appears to have been during the early part of the Twentieth Century when its membership stood at around fifty. One of the Guardians of Light during this period was Sir John Arthur Godwin, who between 1906 and 1907 was the first Mayor of the newly incorporated City of Bradford, whilst a Memorial Book published in 1924 upon the death of Dr. B.E.J. Edwards counted Rudyard Kipling amongst its subscribers.

In 1939, the Order leased the two upper floors of a building at 52 Godwin Street, as they required a location in which they could install electric lighting. The lower storey was employed as a “clubhouse”, whilst the windowless attic room was decorated as a temple, by millworkers supplied by the Shipley industrialist Henry Williamson. Recollections from long-term member Andrew Stephenson and sign-writer Harry Fryer, who was employed to retouch the temple murals in the 1950s, indicate the room possessed a throne and ornate pillars, whilst representations of Egyptian deities and occult symbols adorned the walls and carpet.

During the late 1960s, Bradford City Council discussed plans for the complete redevelopment of the city centre and began to issue compulsory purchase orders to many buildings in the district. Faced with eviction and a dwindling, aging membership, the August Order of Light decided to abandon their Godwin Street premises and in 1971 established two new temples in London and York (the latter of which would subsequently move to Halifax), finally bringing to a close the continuity of occult tradition in Bradford.

In a curious postscript, the Godwin Street temple was uncovered in October 1983 by new owners Cindy and Salvo Illardi, who had converted the building into Gobbles restaurant. Whilst renovating the attic room, they revealed old wall-paintings depicting Horus and the sun setting over the sea, along with a ceremonial oath inscribed above the doorway. The discovery caused a certain sensation in the local press, and despite it only being twelve years since the temple had been abandoned, the work was heralded as belonging to the original Golden Dawn Horus Temple. There was even talk of preserving it as an occult museum.

However, the truth finally emerged when Harry Fryer and his colleague Malcolm Brook contacted the newspapers to reveal that they had worked on the temple during the 1950s. The initial identification of the site as the Horus Temple appears to have come from Chris Bray, proprietor of the Leeds-based occult supply shop Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Bray was also responsible for publishing an occult journal at the time which borrowed its name from David Lund’s Lamp of Thoth and reprinted some of the original articles, alongside more modern treatises on ritual and chaos magick, bringing West Yorkshire’s esoteric history full circle.

Bibliography:
Blavatsky, H.P. (Ed.) “Lucifer: A Theosophical Magazine Vol. IV (March to August 1889)”
Bradford Star, 3rd November 1983, “Temple of mystery”
Bradford Star, 10th November 1983, “Temple find just magic”
Bradford Star, 17th November 1983, “Temple is no mystery”
Bradford Star, 24th November 1983, “Signwriter’s brush with Horus horror”
Campbell, Marie “Curious Tales of Old West Yorkshire” (1999)
Campbell, Marie “Strange World of the Brontes” (2001)
Gilbert, R.A. “Revelations of the Golden Dawn” (1997)
Greer, Mary “Women of the Golden Dawn: Rebels and Priestesses” (1996)
Greer, Mary & Kuntz, Darcy “The Chronology of the Golden Dawn” (1999)
Haigh, Mike “Esoteric Keighley” (19??)
Hanson, Malcolm “Keighley’s Darkest Secrets” (2009)
Howe, Ellic (Ed.) “Magicians of the Golden Dawn: Documentary History of a Magical Order” (1978)
Howe, Ellic (Ed.) “The Alchemist of the Golden Dawn: Letters of the Rev. William Ayton” (1985)
Lofthouse, Jessica “North Country Folklore” (1976)
Owen, Alex “The Place of Enchantment: British Occultism & the Culture of the Modern” (2004)
Stephenson, Andrew B. “The History and Work of the August Order of Light” (1992)
Telegraph & Argus, 12th November 1983, “That occult tale is bunkum”

 

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Thoughts on the Black Walker of the Ford

“Rather more than a century ago, there lived at Amhulaich, in Rannoch, a miller, much addicted to the use of tobacco, and when unable to get it, was like most smokers, very short and quick in the temper. On one occasion, he ran out of tobacco, and sent for a supply by some Lochaber men, who were passing through Rannoch on their way to Perth. The mill-stream ran close to his house, and he had to cross it on stepping-stones in going to and from the mill. As he was returning home one evening in the dusk, and was about to enter the house, he heard the sound of footsteps coming to the ford.He called out, who is there? But received no answer. Being crusty for want of tobacco, and thinking it might be the Lochaber men returning, he called out a second time, very peremptorily and impatiently. He still received no answer. He called out a third time, turning down to the ford, and saying aloud, that, whether it was man or devil, he would make it answer. The thing then spoke, and said it (or he) was the Black Walker of the Ford.

What further passed between the two never transpired, but every evening after that, for a year or more, the miller left home at dusk, crossed the stream, and went to a small clump of trees about half a mile away, whence loud cries and yells were heard during the night. Before daybreak he came home, with his knife or dirk covered with blood. When examined by the light, the blood proved to be merely earth.

An attempt was made on one occasion by some young men to follow him to the rendezvous, but he became aware in some mysterious way of the attempt, and turning back warned them not to follow. It was enough, he said, for himself to go, without their periling their souls.

On the last night of his going to meet the Black Walker, such terrific outcries were heard from the clump of trees that the people of the neighbouring villages, Amhulaich and Cragganour, came to the doors to listen. It was a winter night, and next morning marks of a foot or knee were found in the snow, along with the miller’s own footsteps, as if something had been engaged in a struggle with him.

Some years after this, a man who had been away in America, entered Amhulaich Mill. The miller at the time was dressing the mill-stone, and whenever he observed the American, threw at him the pick he had in his hand, and nearly killed another, who was standing near. He told him never to appear in his presence again, that he had had enough of him. Many surmised it was this man who had troubled him before, but whether it was or not he never appeared.”

The above story appears in John Gregorson Campbell’s peerless collection of Scottish folklore Witchcraft and Second Sight in the Highlands and Islands, published posthumously in 1902 from material gathered in the 1850s and 1860s. I would argue that it’s one of the most unusual and unnerving tales I’ve encountered in a folkloric context and for many years now, it has exercised a powerful hold on my imagination. Yet despite its unique character, not to mention its concrete location in the typically Scottish moorland landscape of Rannoch, I have not seen it referenced in any other study of Highland folklore.Perhaps this is because it’s difficult to know quite what to make of it. Later in the article I hope to demonstrate that this ambiguity is precisely the story’s strength. However, it certainly makes it hard to categorise for writers trying to produce neat anthologies for popular consumption. Although I believe it exhibits many typically folkloric tropes, the narrative does not fit comfortably into the familiar taxonomies of bodachs, fachans, urisks or the each-uisge.

Campbell himself includes the story in a chapter titled “Hobgoblins”, which he seems to use as a catch-all term for a variety of unclassifiable otherworldly manifestations, admitting in his introduction to the section: “The term bòcan is a general name for terrifying objects seen at night and taken to be supernatural”. The designation seems to have much in common with that favourite term from Yorkshire and Lancashire – boggart – which was once applied by local folk to myriad strange phenomena, from what we might now describe as poltergeist activity to degraded faerie lore.

One particularly curious facet of the narrative is the degree of verisimilitude it strives for with its introduction and coda. I’m undecided as to whether these digressions strengthen the basic narrative or are irrelevant to it. However, by offering such context, it certainly grounds the story in a familiar and concrete milieu which seems to elevate the reader’s response to more than just the “friend-of-a-friend story” impression these hoary old tales so often leave. It doesn’t come across as a story unanchored in time or place. Rather it suggests the story could be the folk memory of an actual historical occurrence.

This particularity produces a narrative tension with the details of the strange and unexplained occurrences themselves, undercutting their perceived reality whilst simultaneously reinforcing its credibility. It is a device often employed by literary ghost story writers, who so often impress upon the reader the veracity of their tale by placing it in the mouth of a hardened sceptic and introducing certain qualifiers. As M.R. James once remarked, “It is not amiss sometimes to leave a loophole for a natural explanation, but I would say, let the loophole be so narrow as not to be quite practicable”.

The technique is so classically employed here that I would not rule out its addition being poetic license on Campbell’s part. Firstly, it presents the miller as a man addicted to nicotine and suffering from the symptoms of withdrawal, which suggests the whole episode may be some fevered hallucinatory experience. Admittedly the vicissitudes of nicotine withdrawal are rarely so dramatic but nonetheless, it insinuates the idea of the miller as an unreliable perceiver. Yet at the same time it fails to convince, for although it may account for the first meeting, that still leaves the subsequent nocturnal activity unexplained.

Secondly there is the coda in which many years later the miller assaults a man lately returned from America. Again, this prosaic explanation for such peculiar events fails to satisfy the reader but this otherwise unnecessary appendage to the story reinforces the authenticity of the tale by providing a veneer of historical realism. A good storyteller would not conclude a yarn with such a deflationary explanation, yet it is precisely the sort of speculation which would arise in the local gossip pertaining to an actual event.

Such realism is unusual as otherwise the story seems to have all the hallmarks of what we might refer to as a “folkloric haunting”, by which I mean those instances in which an apparition is well-established in the folk-memory of a community but which rarely have specific sightings ascribed to them. Examples in this category include headless horsemen, white ladies and phantom black dogs. Often in these cases everybody knows that a particular locale is supposed to be thus haunted but firsthand witness reports of an encounter with the wraith are conspicuously lacking.

Folkloric hauntings tend to be symbolic rather than literal and often they are corrupted remembrances of older traditions, some of which may be pre-Christian in origin. For example, in an article for Folklore entitled The White Lady of Great Britain and Ireland, Jane C. Beck opines that this figure has “been degraded from a form of mother goddess to a kind of fairy and finally to a ghost”. White ladies are often associated with pools or rivers and it does not stretch credulity to suggest that they may represent the vestiges of an earlier belief in the tutelary spirit of sacred waters.

This is relevant because the basic narrative of the Black Walker of the Ford displays traits which we may recognise as typically folkloric. In particular, it invokes the concept of liminality which is so often an attribute of ancient folk traditions. The liminal zone exists at thresholds and boundaries, a “betwixt and between” state detached from the demarcations of our everyday reality. To the pre-modern modes of thinking such regions were the point at which the “other world” intersected most tightly with our own and where its was possible to cross from to the other, hence why so many folkloric hauntings are found at liminal sites.

The story of the Black Walker at the Ford embodies liminality in at least three distinct senses. To start with the least obvious or integral example, at the first encounter the miller himself is arguably in a liminal state of consciousness. His experience of nicotine withdrawal places him in a intermediary state, neither one of intoxication nor one of sobriety. Again the altered state of consciousness produced by nicotine or its withdrawal is far from pronounced, but such attention is drawn to the miller’s predicament that the reader cannot help but draw some implication from it.

Secondly, all the principle events in the drama occur at twilight – the miller first meets the Black Walker at dusk (technically defined as the later stages of twilight) whilst subsequently it is the hour at which he embarks on his nocturnal peregrinations – and that transition period between sunset and night has long been recognised as an important liminal phase in time. Whilst darkness is symbolically considered the proper time for devilish powers, the association between the supernatural and the twilight in particular is firmly established and phrases such as the “twilight zone” remain familiar idioms.

However, the most apparent and important manifestation of liminality is geographical. Water-crossings such as fords are the classic liminal region; an explicit representation of the “no-mans land” of the threshold. Indeed, the water-crossing motif signifies a kind of double liminality for not only does it connect two discrete areas of land but it traverses a space which is part of neither and which is always impermanent, always uncertain. Running water is the very embodiment of the ambiguity and flux at the heart of concept of liminality.

Water also held an especial fascination for the pre-modern mind beyond its perceived liminality. There is no doubt that animistic cultures regard water as profoundly sacred, an unpredictable force which can both nurture and destroy life on a whim. British folklore abounds with water spirits, especially as the personification of treacherous stretches. Across northern Britain, the kelpie or dobbie was always ready to drag the unwary riverside traveller to a watery grave, whilst more localised examples include Crooker, the malevolent genius loci of the River Derwent in the Peak District, or Peg O’ Nell who claimed a sacrifice every seven years for the River Ribble in Lancashire.

There can be no doubt that water crossings in particular have been a focus for supernatural belief over the ages and in The Haunted: A Social History of Ghosts Owen Davies opines, “The bridge acted not only as a practical, physical crossing point but also as a spirit access point”. This idea of the bridge or ford as a common gateway is supported by a survey of hauntings connected to water by Janet and Colin Bord in their seminal study of British water lore “Sacred Waters”, over a quarter of which occurred near bridges.

That our ancestors regarded water-crossings as places where one required protection from supernatural forces is evident in the discovery of the archaic stone carved head motif on many bridges. The image of the head possessed an apotropaic function in many pre-modern cultures, especially Celtic and descendant traditions. The symbol persisted in the South Pennines for many centuries and notable 18th Century examples can be found at Agden Bridge in South Yorkshire or on the aqueduct over the River Calder at Hebden Bridge.

The ubiquity of such belief suggests that not only were water crossings perceived as liminal zones – threshold locations which pressed close against the Otherworld and could be used as a portal to it – but also that the potency of water itself was frequently anthropomorphised into elemental figures. The bridge or ford was not just a boundary in space in the same manner as gateways or crossroads; water itself was fundamentally supernatural. The traveller on the crossing would be beset by the Otherworld on all sides and hence such places presented profound spiritual as well as physical danger.

With these themes in mind, it is not difficult to recognise the Black Walker as a manifestation of the tutelary spirit of the ford, both a guardian at the threshold and the personification of the constant threat represented by the river itself, demanding obeisance from those bold enough to cross. What the Black Walker demands of the miller is never revealed but in the image of his return from nightly visits to that copse with a knife covered in something that appears to be blood but is revealed as earth, there is a hint of strange rites and transubstantiations to appease Otherworldly powers.

Yet whilst it is possible to make sense of the narrative by identifying such folkloric tropes, much of the story’s hold over the imagination derives from precisely its enigma and ambiguity. I’m reminded of a quote from the poet Sacheverell Sitwell and used by the writer Robert Aickman to preface a collection of his own frequently impenetrable weird tales, “In the end it is the mystery that lasts and not the explanation”.

By failing to reveal what passes between the Black Walker and the miller at their first meeting, or exactly what transpired during those nocturnal visits to the wood, the story allows our imagination to rove freely over the possibilities. It demands of us a cognitive state which John Keats described as “negative capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason”.

But ultimately by refusing to provide any explanation the story forces us to confront the terrible insinuation of things that cannot be imagined, a final irresolvable uncertainty which is more unnerving than anything we can conceive. As Aickman himself comments “The ghost story draws on the unconscious mind, in the manner of poetry; it need offer neither logic nor moral… (it) does not close a door and leave inside it another definition, a still further solution. On the contrary, it must open a door… and at the end leave it open, or possibly ajar”.

Tales which achieve this are not just disposable bedtime stories to scare the credulous. By confronting us with the prospect that final explanations might always elude us, they undermine the comfortable categories and structures of our cosmology and emerge as a fundamentally existential form; an invocation of the angst we feel when comprehension forsakes us and we’re forced to grapple with the infinite, clamouring possibilities exposed in its absence, a time when Keats’ negative capability is most essential to our psychic survival.

In preserving its essential mystery, a narrative such as the Black Walker of the Ford forces us to cross the boundaries of understanding and reveals the liminal spaces of our own being, beyond truth and fiction, cause and effect, right and wrong, beyond all the codes and systems of thought that confine us. And once there we begin to recognise that our existence is full of liminal zones, territories where ambiguity and uncertainty forever reign, which we cannot help but traverse and traffic with whatever strange entities might also have found access there.

 

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