During the summer our daughter very kindly proposed a nostalgic trip to Wiltshire to see our original home area, so we ventured through border control. There was no difficulty, we both had Wiltshire birth certificates. We entered via Warminster, which has a large hill said to have been where regular sightings of Unidentified Flying Objects, UFO’s, were seen in the 1960s and 70s. Sightings of hovering lights, suddenly disappearing silently at very high speed, were among different claims. In the USA landings and abductions have also been alleged. Of course the top secret experimental station for aircraft at Boscombe Down is not far from Warminster, so may have had strange flights in the area. Perhaps they were even early models of the “drones” now available as toys. “Things that go whoosh in the night” are probably man made.
We visited Devizes Museum which was selling postcards of beautifully designed Crop Circles, photographed very close to the stone circles of Avebury and Stonehenge, both centres of ancient religions, including perhaps sun worship. Some people have said crop circles were produced by aliens, drawn to these old centres. Certainly some crop circles are so exquisitely designed that it is difficult to imagine them produced by human hands using only a plank of wood, rope, etc. Yet two men, Bower and Chorley, made these claims and demonstrated them from the 1970s. The circles are often where they may be seen from roads as well as near ancient monuments and some farmers have charged entry to their fields enabling cars to be parked nearby. Crop circles have now been found worldwide, although Wiltshire is still the acknowledged centre. Possibly the field size and type of cereals grown have significance. For some time Urchfont Manor College, Wiltshire, held residential summer schools to discuss the phenomenon. The music group Led Zeppelin have featured them on an album, and a member of the Troggs pop group, Reg Presley, used his royalties to fund research into the paranormal and published a book “Wild Things They Don’t Tell Us”. A Crop Circle Society had a considerable membership and produced a calendar with beautiful photographs of a circle each month. I grew up in Wiltshire and did not see any crop circles before the 1960s, but a 17th century book shows one produced by a man with a scythe, known as “The Mowing Devil”, but in this case the crop was cut, not folded down.
Magical unexplained entities have always been conjured up in man’s imagination. Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell has reported in the media of her post graduate research in astrophysics when she discovered Pulsars which produced regular “bleeps” of radio signals. These had not been noticed before and for a while she and her associates referred to them as “Little Green Men”. Why do we automatically think of alien beings as green or blue? It has been suggested that ancient man first worshipped trees, the original “tree huggers”, and even some churches have carvings of the Green Man on the wall, a semi-human face with hair and beard of leaves. The Green Man was a Celtic winter god and has more recently appeared in May Day celebrations when he is driven off by the May Goddess. Druids were Celtic religious men sometimes said to hold ritualistic human sacrifices but also to have worshipped the mistletoe plant, which they cut with ceremony using a silver knife or sickle. Possibly mistletoe was worshipped because it is a parasitic plant, growing on other trees, for example the oak. It also features in Norse mythology. We still kiss under the mistletoe, or in bygone days under a “kissing bush” when combined with other evergreens. In olden times holly was considered to be the home of woodland spirits, even as a witches’ tree, but ivy was acceptable to bring into the home.
Some historians suggest that early man also worshipped hills. Just think of Colmers Hill viewed from Bridport as you travel west. Celts worshipped at the winter solstice between Samhain in early November and Imbolc, early February, Celtic Calendar quarters, with ceremonies and feasts to ensure by magic that the New Year and Spring would return. The Romans took over the festival as Saturnalia, decorating their houses with evergreens, with master and men changing place for a week of revels. The festival was taken over again as Christmas. The chariot of Woden, the Norse god, flying through the night sky with gifts, became the sleigh of Father Christmas.
Ralph Whitlock, the West Country author, wrote “A Calendar of Country Customs” and says that at this season the rural community had spare time and needed a festival to cheer it up. Apart from milking the cows, feeding them and other livestock, little work could be done, the plough and other implements being put away for several weeks.
We wish you a very Happy Christmas! Before then Bridport History Society meet on December 8th in the United Church Main Hall, East Street, Bridport at 2.30pm to hear about My life on the Fairground from Kay Townsend – All the Fun of the Fair for Saturnalia!
Cecil Amor, President, Bridport History Society:
Tel. 01308 456876.