There are not many people who know more about the earth mysteries of ancient Cornwall than Cheryl Straffon - and two years ago there was a goodly turnout to hear her give a presentation on this, her specialist subject. However, at the start of our eighth season, over forty TDs, friends and members of the public ventured out bravely, on a day that had started inauspiciously with snow and ice, to hear her latest offering. They were not to be disappointed.
This illustrated talk took us far beyond her adopted homeland - to Ireland, the Hebrides, Brittany - and even into outer space . . . but I digress.
The essence of this seminar was to describe her experience of the interaction of the movement of the Sun and the Moon on the megalithic monuments of the Celtic world. It has long been recognised that the pre-Roman communities of the Atlantic Arc had developed advanced astronomical awareness. Although Stonehenge might represent the zenith of this activity, there are countless equally remarkable structures that display precise alignments of the significant stations of both the Sun and the Moon - from the massive bunkers of the Boyne Valley in Ireland to the curiously-constructed stone circles of north east Scotland, from the gracefully gothic standing stones of Brittany to carefully crafted sacred spaces of West Cornwall.
There are the well-known and, in this day of webcams and live internet links, heavily publicised astro-archaeological events at places such as New Grange or Maes Howe - where you can watch the midsummer sunrise or the midwinter moonset in real time in the comfort of your cosy apartment in Sydney or Seattle. Cheryl’s approach is very different; she gets out to live the experience for herself - in the dark, in the cold, in the real world. It is at this point that her work interfaces directly with the parallel world of the dowser.
Many of these ancient places have been brought into being to display, at least in part and perhaps only to an initiated few, the wonder of the neighbouring heavenly bodies at their most extreme. People like ourselves have dowsed at solar and lunar eclipses and felt the sensory changes that they wring. However, it doesn’t have to be the celestial fireworks of a total eclipse that give rise to spiritual sensations. The moon, captured briefly at its rare standstill in the crisp Gallic sky, or the sun bursting through the horizon on a brittle midsummer’s morning, can also have a profound effect in the realms of subtle energy. Cheryl challenged us to try it out for ourselves.
Dowsers have a distinct advantage over the visual astronomer. While the early morning sunrise or the mid-winter moonset are, as often as not, literally lost in the mist - for the dowser this is not a catastrophe. Experience has shown very clearly that the energetic effects of planetary alignments are undimmed by the absence of a visual stimulus - that the impact of a solar eclipse can be studied as clearly in a dismal, rain-sodden field in Orkney as in the marvellous majesty of the scorching Sahara. Similarly, the impact of an astronomical event on the special energy of the sacred site should be just as detectable, just as measurable, in the dense fog or the driving rain, as in the bright sunshine - even if it is not quite so pleasant for the dowser.
It has long been acknowledged that dowsing results are affected by the time of the day, the phase of the moon and the passing of the seasons. Yet, there are few studies that detail these effects.
What Cheryl’s personal experience suggests is that the energy of highly charged sites could react more strongly on particular dates and times, but it’s up to us as dowsers to investigate.
From the places that Cheryl has visited, it is clear that ancient cultures registered, and captured in stone, the passing of time. Doubtless this was to assist with the planting of seeds or the harvesting of crops. It must also have helped a pre-scientific society to make some sense of the cycles of the natural world and the dramatic events that sometimes overwhelmed their worldview. It may also have been that the beautifully fashioned enclosures and timeless temples played another role - preparing the more sensitive members of the clan for the appointed time that the earth energies changed and when a brief internal dialogue with the spirit of the earth brought enlightenment.
There is some scientific evidence for this change of subtle sensation.
At the Easter Aquorthies stone circle in Aberdeenshire, measurements of radiation present around the major standstill moonset indicate a clear spike of energy activity. There are other studies of this type, but many are partial or anecdotal. Does the energy at sacred sites peak at sunrise or sunset, moonrise or moonset, on certain days? Some evidence implies that the actual burst of sensory activity can be a few hours, or even a few days, prior to the actual event. Cheryl noted that calendars have changed over the years and that, in some cases, account needs to be taken of when sites were constructed with reference to contemporary time-counting systems. It also has to be acknowledged that the movement of the sun and the moon though space, relative to the earth, over the millennia will have affected the accuracy of these petrified diaries.
Cheryl even noted that one site, when corrected for the night sky of its era, accurately marked the midsummer rising of the Pleiades, the Seven Sisters star cluster that has fascinated mankind since the dawn of time.
In a land of legends, Cheryl Straffon has become something of a legend in her own right. Her periodic publication Meyn Mamvro, the journal of the Cornwall Earth Mysteries Group, has a cult following - and it now also includes the activities and the unfolding discoveries of the dowsing groups of Cornwall.
Many thanks, as ever, to all those who helped to get the hall organised and to all those who helped with the refreshments. From the string of questions asked, the animated conversations over tea and the number of books sold, I am sure we will be only too pleased to welcome Cheryl back before too long.
Meyn Mamvro (and back issues) can be ordered from email@example.com and from 51, Carn Bosavern, St Just, Penzance, Cornwall TR19 7QX or via 01736-787612
Books by Cheryl Straffon include Megalithic Mysteries of Cornwall, Pagan Cornwall,
Fentynyow Kernow - Holy Wells of Cornwall and various local Earth Mysteries Guides