Dowsing on the Isles of Scilly
A couple of dowsing generations seem to have passed, somehow, since we last worked with earth energies beyond the south western horizon. But for the little matters of a pandemic and a schism from Europe, we might have been celebrating a special birthday with a rail tour round the Baltic or somewhere similar - but instead we found ourselves in, arguably, some of the UK’s most exotic, exciting and enigmatic of places. Maybe such things are meant to happen.
These wild, westerly islands are, of course, a fairly modern innovation. In the late Bronze Age the legendary land of Lyonesse still stretched out towards the Cornish mainland and the isles we have left were just hilltops in a lush landscape in the process of being inundated by the rising sea-level. Glastonbury or Ely would probably have been no more accessible. Consequently, the dense cluster of ancient and archaeological sites in this windswept corner of the Kingdom has to be seen through the telescope of passing time and changing culture.
Right up to the middle ages, most of the larger islands were still inter-walkable as a group at low tide - and the sand bars and submerged ledges, that have proven so disastrous to shipping and sailors alike in recent centuries, were just the familiar, fading remnants of a once lively and inhabited landscape.
While away - and away from other distractions - I took the opportunity to catch up on some of the reading material that has sat sadly in an unread heap for more years than I care to remember. Of this, Cheryl Straffon’s excellent book Between the Realms seemed particularly appropriate for a week to be spent west of Land’s End. In her chapter about the Cornish little-people, she points out that it has been mooted that the unwary traveller can easily be ‘piskie-led’ away from their intended path in places such as this. Alas, I read it too late.
We had two trips out from our base in St Mary’s, the largest island, to the more northerly St Martin’s, which we had never set foot on before. This island has a concentration of that Scilly speciality, the (so-called) entrance grave. Even with a decent map and in good weather we found none of them. I could blame the seven-foot high bracken, gorse and brambles, but in truth we found lots of similar sites elsewhere without too much difficulty. I just have that funny feeling the piskies were having a bit of (essentially) harmless fun with us Anglelanders.
In fact, the entrance graves we did find on St Mary’s were not only accessible (thanks largely to English Heritage), but also provided some of the best dowsing of the week. None of them dowsed as being built as a grave at all - although some may have contained burials or cremated ashes in later periods.
One aspect of these ‘entrance graves’ that does deserve a mention is the presence in all the examples that we dowsed of a ‘propeller’ - a vortex of energy with the two-dimensional format of an infinity symbol, rotating in real time. In fact, we have sometimes found two such patterns, rotating in opposite directions, but over the same central point. The jury is still out as to whether the pivot itself also describes a figure-of-eight over time. Assuming the location of the propellers - which seem to be natural physical earth energy features - predates the human-made building itself, this could imply that the vortex was being employed as an integral element of the intended use of the site. We have found other instances of this phenomenon on the Channel Islands and in Brittany.
The stand-out site of this particular genre, if you are ever passing that way, is the hilltop tour de force at Porth Hellick . This is a profoundly female site, shot through with earth energies, leys and celestial grid lines - all of which have a definitively feminine aspect. It dowses as having been a place for women’s activities, including giving birth. While it may seem to be an exposed and inhospitable place for such an undertaking today, compared to the surrounding geography it must have seemed to be a real place of refuge and security on a stormy night to a lady in labour. An in situ ‘blocking’ stone across the entrance even partially obscures the view of anyone coming too close.
Female energy features were certainly one of the recurrent themes of our sojourn - capped by the discovery of a menhir and a ‘carved’ stone aligned to a section of the venusian celestial grid that heads out towards the south east. It also appears to cross the northern part of the now uninhabited (unless you are a seabird) island sanctuary of Nornour, on which a Roman shrine has been found, dedicated to their Goddess Venus. You just couldn’t make it up.
Man-modified landscapes have also been a recurring meme in our dowsing for quite a while now. Perhaps prompted by Peter Knight and Sue Wallace talking about anthropomorphic rock outcrops, we have found seemingly semi-sculpted rock formations in Brittany, and on Dartmoor and on Bodmin Moor - and here in Scillonia those ancient archaeo-artists appear to have been at work, too.
At the Water Rocks, between Porth Hellick and Normandy Downs, stands a group of stones that would have graced the studio garden of Barbara Hepworth. For all I know, it might have been what inspired her in the first place.
A graceful, but cosy, group of smooth-surfaced uprights - one holed at an improbable eye-height - stand a few metres away from a truly classic logan. The energy currents underpinning this assemblage carry a strong message. This was (and maybe still is) a profoundly sacred place - enhanced or not.
Nearby are two other rocks, shaped like raised seats, side by side - with one still containing rainwater ‘blessed’ by the energetic underflow.
The guidebook does not mention these - or indeed any other of the enigmatically shaped stones in the vicinity, other than to allude to a similar smoothed rock cut ‘seat’, known as the Druid’s Chair - an interesting, amusing but completely natural geological formation - of course.
More input from the female side of the spectrum came on the wettest day of the week, when we took refuge, as you do, in the local church of Hugh Town, dedicated, as you might expect, to St Mary. It is a comparatively modern structure, which my dowsing indicates was not located on a previously sacred site. However, energy lines have been drawn in and possibly water too.
The building is light, airy and comfortable with no discernable detrimental features. It was also open, and dry.
Before that current incarnation, the main church of the area was at Old Town, half a mile down the road.
If the new church is clear, spacious and classically elongated, this little shrine to St Mary is dark, square and intimate - with a dense, liminal atmosphere and no electric lighting.
It is very positive and sustaining, but you know you are in an ancient, private place. Aside from the now ubiquitous female flows, a ley streams obliquely across the main body of the church and through the centre of the altar.
Outside, and from the top of the crowded graveyard, you can pick up this ley running through the tiny cross on the east end of the church roof and pointing directly across to a (natural!) rock outcrop on the near horizon.
And for the benefit of your inner leyhunter, it also picks out the old main entrance to the church site, still physically protected by an improbably imposing stone ‘cattle grid’.
For good measure, almost parallel to the ley, and running about a metre to the north, is a lunar celestial grid line. It, too, crosses the ‘nave’ and also the great stone slab of the altar, which seems so oversized for such a small space - almost as if the Masonic builders had incorporated it surreptitiously to quietly embrace the transcendent Goddess energy of the old ways - but maybe I’m the one making it up now.
There are so many sites and so many dowsing experiences to be enjoyed on these not-so-remote islands that hopefully it will not be another 16 years before we are able return.
Tamar Dowsers, October 2021