From the Annals of the Beaker Folk of Husborne Crawley
Moonrise Over Crawley CrossingContents
2. An interview
3. The Ace New Scoopmeister
4. May Day
5. May Evening
6. Barking at the Moon
7. Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now
9. A Decision
10. Drayton Parslow
11. Down the Doily Mine
12. Pebbles and Tea Lights
14. An Exclusion
15. Beyond the Bookshelf
21. Moonrise over Crawley Crossing
24. The Carpet Crawl
25. In the Gulfing Room
26. Attaining Husborne Crawley
The Wicker Man loomed over the clearing. Maybe twenty feet high, and ten feet at widest. It stood on a slight rise in the ground, giving it another ten feet over its surroundings. The May Eve sun, red and fat and swollen, sunk towards its death in a copse of trees over a little north of west. As it kissed the treetops, a great yellow tongue leaped upwards from the heart of the Wicker Man. The assembled throng gave out a collective sigh of awe as the flames filled the frame. As the fire ripped around the torso, the figure gave what seemed to be a human groan – it was only the branches that made it up fracturing and splitting in the heat, but just for a moment you wondered. Within five minutes it had toppled forward onto one knee, and from there it was swiftly converted into a huge pile of kindling. Now on the ground, it would burn for hours.
Fifty pairs of eyes looked at the figure standing in front of the fire. The dark figure of a woman of above average height, holding in one hand an oaken staff that was a yard taller than herself. She was staring intently into the flames, as if mentally weighing up matters of great importance – death and life, sin and forgiveness, damnation and salvation. She looked around at the people who were – quite clearly – her followers, and gave a slight nod. She may have smiled, but in the flickering half-light it was hard to see. The others ran round the fire and starting dancing, manically, around the edge – apparently heedless of the showers of orange sparks that flew constantly around the periphery. Something primeval clutched at your stomach and pulled it around, then moved up to set the heart racing. These people were dancing for the very life of the light, in the heart of the darkness. Deeds of great power were being enacted here.
The dancing continued for some half an hour. The rhythm became more settled, more insistent. Gradually a chant rose on the wind, establishing its beat and then its tune. A cry of gladness that Summer was on the way.
“Old Sun sets;
New Sun rises;
Flame burns low;
Sun grows strong.”
Those words clearly brought strength to those taking part in the ceremony. The song built up, took on harmonies and counter-chants until the whole clearing was echoing and re-echoing with it, spinning off half-songs and new rhythms and colours to the chant. The coloured cloaks of the dancers span and floated as their wearers capered in the glow. The verse ended for maybe the thirtieth time. The worshippers – for in some way that was what they seemed to be – took breath. And then the woman’s voice pierced the gloom and killed the song dead.
Not massively loud, not shrill. Deep and resonant, and commanding immense power. The possessor of this voice was clearly someone to be reckoned with.
She indicated a point on the eastern horizon with her staff. The followers followed the line of the staff, and saw the first glimmers of the rising moon. They watched wordlessly for a full twenty minutes as it rose above the tree line and away from the yellow haze on the horizon, a quiet awe settling over them all. A few days past the full; yellow, and so big at that elevation. Some of the worshippers fell to their knees. As the moon became visible, a group of maybe a dozen men and women ran forward to a cairn of stones at the other end of the clearing. They bowed to the moon, then abruptly ran off into the dark, throwing their cloaks behind them as they went. They seemed to be throwing off other clothes as well, as the darkness enveloped them.
The remainder of the worshippers, now solemn and determined, went in turn to the cairn and picked something up from the top. Their leader bent and lit something from the fire – a taper? Then each of the worshippers approached, and she lit what appeared to be some kind of candle which each was holding. They stood around the fire in a loose circle. When they were all standing there, the woman spoke again.
“Our Beltane Fire speaks to us of the past. Yesterday our ancestors dance around a Beltane Fire. Today it is we. Tomorrow it is our children. The circle is unbroken.”
The worshippers responded, the words “the circle is unbroken” twittering and echoing for sometime. The woman continued.
“The dying sun speaks of death. But beyond death is life – and beyond that, death. The circle is unbroken.”
Again, the last words were echoed by her followers, and whispered around the clearing. The trees on the periphery seemed themselves to say the words, as the wind carried them. She planted the staff firmly into the ground, so that it stood upright.
“The tree that falls will sprout from the stump. The dying man holds his newborn grandchild. The circle is unbroken.”
“The circle is unbroken”.
I waited for the continuation, or a blessing of some kind. Yet we stood there wordless for maybe five minutes, the sizzling and spitting of the fire driving away any true silence just as the strengthening light of the moon pushed out the darkness the sun had left. Then she bowed her head, turned sharply, and left – the staff remaining where it had been planted. The others went to a pile of sticks and, taking one each, went through the edges of the fire apparently trying to spear things that were resting in the glowing ashes. After a while they all left, apparently carrying smallish, round objects on the ends of their sticks. Between the charring of the ash and the glowing of the fire it was hard to make out quite what the objects were. But were you to feel facetious, you might hazard a guess that they were potatoes.
2. An interview
I wandered across the clearing, quiet now. Glancing in the direction where the dancers had gone, I checked there was nobody around, then approached the remains of the Man, now a seething heap of ash, sparks and half-burnt timber. The moon was starting to add some light to the scene. I checked the ground around the fire for – well, for what? I wasn’t sure. Something incriminating? Something ancient? Maybe just something odd. Then a voice spoke just behind me – that same low, powerful woman’s voice I had heard earlier.
“Can I help you?”
“Eh… well, I hope so. I’ve been interested in your group for some time, and I was wondering… wondering, really…”
“If you can find out more?”
“Yes. That’s it. If I can find out more. Can I find out more?”
She beckoned to me, and I followed her out of the clearing. By the flickering light of the fire, and looking at her girlish form and graceful action as she left the clearing, I guessed she could only be in her early twenties. How could such a young thing seem to hold such mystic power over such a group, in the way I had just seen?
The clearing was set in the remains of an old orchard. We followed a path through the trees, out through the gate and down the slight hill towards where the house was now full of light and singing. Echoes of Lothlorien sung in my mind as we went in through the double doors into an old-fashioned English country house. Off a central reception hall led doors in all directions. My hostess took me through a door at the back of the hall; small and worn down in comparison to the other doors, which looked as though they led to drawing rooms and dining rooms. This was very definitely a door into the kitchen area, as evinced by a smell of old cabbage and kippers. We headed down this corridor, festooned with signs advertising the importance of hygiene and the dangers of food poisoning. By the end of this corridor I felt that I knew beyond any doubt which chopping board to use for fish, and which for raw vegetables. This knowledge, I felt, might serve me in good stead later.
Through another door, and we were in an office. By comparison with the Gothick scene that had been enacted outside, this was – if such a thing is possible – a remarkably prosaic office. A map of the Luton area, and another of Milton Keynes, were pinned to the corkboard on the wall. Alongside were a selection of railway timetables. A framed picture of a couple standing by a hay bailer holding a baby. A wall time-planner – with just about every day having stuck to it at least two or three dots or stars or other shapes of sticky coloured paper. A laptop computer sat on a small table in the corner. My companion chose a seat behind a wide oak desk, and indicated to me to sit likewise, on a bench to the side of the room. The bench appeared to be a reclaimed church pew. Lined up as it was along the side wall, I had to turn to see her. Although the office was equipped with the regulation strip lights, they were turned off. The illumination in the room was provided by a small log fire that shivered in the grate, as if it knew its time was nearly up for the year, and a tall pillar candle that was placed on the desk between us. I reckoned that I had her age wrong out in the clearing. She was probably more like thirty-five.
“So, how can I help you, Mr….?”
“Brayfield. Will Brayfield.”
“Then I shall call you Will. Do you know who I am?”
“I’ve kind of guessed. Are you… Eileen?”
“My full name – which is very important, because our names carry our destinies and our characters – did you know that, Will… Brayfield? My full name is Eileen Michaela Fitzroy-Russell. But you can call me “Archdruid”.
“Thank you, Archdruid.”
“So, Will… Brayfield. What were you doing in my orchard?”
I gulped. She was quite direct; I had to give her that. I thought of running, but the window was closed and possibly locked, and for all I knew she had a couple of goons posted outside – brainwashed bodyguards who would protect her life with theirs and, more likely, mine.
“I was wondering… that is, I thought… it was only a thought mind you… that is to say, I was interested in…”
“Interested in joining us?”
“No, I mean, that is, yes. Interested in looking at considering looking into contemplating… joining you.”
“Well, that’s great. How much do you know about us?”
“Very little. Only what they told me at the White Horse.”
“Then it’s probably all untrue. I hope that you shall soon discover the truth.”
“Oh, so do I, Archdruid.” Stupid. Stupid. That wasn’t meant to come out. I hastened to cover up. “So how much does it cost to… join?”
“To join? To join costs nothing, if it’s financial cost that your soul weighs. Feel free to stay with us immediately - tonight. Get the feel of the place. You only need give what you desire. Do you work, Will… Brayfield?”
“No, I’m between jobs.”
“Excellent. Then you can wander around the place tomorrow and meet the members of our Community, and join the celebrations. May Morning is a very special morning. Do you have family?”
“No. No, I’ve no family. Never met the right girl I guess.”
“There is something I need to tell you early on, Will. You will find if you stay here, that we do not refer to adult human females as “girls”. We call them “women”, since that is what they are. Likewise we do not call them “ladies”. I am a lady – in the literal sense, as my father descended via illegitimate bloodlines from both Charles II and the Dukes of Woburn. The other women in this Community are not ladies in that sense. As far as I am aware, they are all of common birth. And none of us are “ladies” in the sense that we are to be patronised with false gentility. And above all, we are not girls. I hope you understand this?”
“Of course, Archdruid.”
“Good. Ardwulf will take you to your room, and I hope your stay with us proves to be a very long one.”
A door opened, and a strapping man of about fifty came in. Large of muscle, squeezing out of the black suit that he was wearing. He looked like one of the comedy heavies from a Carry On film. He beckoned to me to follow. I did not refuse.
Through a maze of corridors, and up three flights of stairs, Ardwulf led me. I attempted to make conversation but it’s not easy when somebody won’t speak and you’re travelling up stairs at pretty nearly a run to keep up with him.
“So have you been a member of this Community for long?”
“How do you find the Archdruid?”
“Were you outside at the celebration just now?”
What could have been a slight nod.
“Can you please slow down? I’ve got quite a stitch after running up those stairs.”
No discernible change of pace. I scampered down another corridor – in what appeared to have been the servants’ quarters. I was wondering where the music of Enya was coming from – it seemed to be piped into every corridor and staircase in the house, like the dwarves’ song at Disneyland.
Each door I passed had a sign above it with a different name inscribed on it – since one of them said “Stonehenge” I assumed they all related to some kind of sacred site. I followed Ardwulf past Great Rollright, Silbury, Five Knolls, Machu Picchu and Walsingham until we came to a door halfway down the corridor. It s sign said “Whispering Knights”.
Ardwulf opened the door. Well, when I say “opened the door”, given Ardwulf’s general shape and demeanour it was fortunate that the thing was left on its hinges. In any event, I walked in – wondering whether this was where I ended up tied to a radiator while a group of heavies did something unspeakable to me with pointy sticks. What I saw was basically a bedroom along the lines of a student Hall of Residence room. A bed, a washbasin, a wardrobe, a small table with two chairs. A row of pebbles and tea lights along the window sill. A timeplanning chart, again covered with coloured dots, was the only decoration on the wall. Thankfully, now I was in the room, there was only the faintest echo of Enya coming in through the door. I suspected that when I closed it, I wouldn’t be able to hear her at all. I turned to Ardwulf as he stood in the doorway and he spoke. A surprisingly high voice, in a Leeds accent.
“You’ll find a pair of pyjamas in the wardrobe. Tea-making facilities, showers and toilets at the end of the corridor.” He gestured to his right. “May morning celebration starts 5.15 am sharp. You’ll be needing to get some sleep. It’s well gone eleven now. Be at the Moot House and wear green hi-viz. Good night, and I hope you’ll stay with us for a very long time.”
The door banged shut and I was left with a silent, empty room. I sat on the bed, looked out of the window at the moon shining over the fields, and wondered what exactly I had let myself in for.
3. The Ace New Scoopmeister
I turned over the leaflet that my Editor had given me before I left. It was your standard touristy three-fold format that you find in hotel lobbies, B&Bs, pubs and tourist offices all over the country. Scattered across it were photos of happy middle-aged women - carrying tea lights, looking at pebbles, dancing around maypoles. There were others of earnest men chanting as they faced the rising sun. A moon motif was scattered freely around the pamphlet – first glimpse, crescent, gibbous, full – conveying a combination of deep mysticism and the healthy life of the outdoors. I read through it once again, trying to get some clues as to what I was trying to find out here.
“The Beaker Folk of Husborne Crawley.
Ancient spirituality, conveniently located in the Bedfordshire countryside.
Here at the Beaker Folk of Husborne Crawley, we know that the search for spiritual fulfilment is one of the great quests of modern men and women.
* Cut off from their ancestral roots;
* Out of touch with the rhythms of the season;
* Living the length of their lives under artificial light, so that even day and night are false concepts
We wanted to find a better life; a more natural way of being; closer to the Earth and yet also closer to our own spirits. We found that pattern in a group of people who lived in this land more than 3,000 years ago, and yet are our own ancestors: the Beaker People.
Consider what we know about the Beaker Folk:
* They were earlier than the Celts, so they must have been even more exotic and spiritual.
* They built Stonehenge.
* So they must have had druids.
* And the use of stones in worship. (We tend towards pebbles rather than 20 ton sarsen blocks. Easier to move).
* We like the word "folk". Makes you feel all comfy and Arran-sweaterish.
* They probably had tea lights. Obviously, not like our modern tea lights. Probably made of tallow and smelt disgusting, and they hadn’t discovered aluminium. But in an era before electricity, and without access to olive oil, they must have made use of some kind of tea light-related technology.
* They were peaceful and gentle - except when massacring their neighbours to steal their wives and sheep.
So welcome to the Beaker Folk of Husborne Crawley. In touch with the wisdom of the ancient world, rooted in the earth of the English countryside, steeped with the wisdom of two hundred generations and only an hour from London, Leicester or Birmingham. Just a mile from M1 junction 13, and handy for the St Pancras and Euston mainlines (take the Marston Vale Line to Ridgmont).”
Jim, my Editor had remarked, as he passed me the leaflet, that these Beaker Folk weren’t exactly a secretive cult. They had gone to a lot of trouble to advertise themselves widely through Health Food shops, New Age fairs and Women’s Institute meetings across the southern half of England. The website was freely accessible and contained a regularly updated programme of the week’s events. But, he said, something wasn’t quite right.
“Will,” he remarked, “there’s something odd in all this, Will. They’re all tree-hugging and fluffy bunnies, they’ve got a registration with the Charity Commission, but there’s half a dozen limited companies associated with the Great House, Husborne Crawley. Beaker Enterprises Ltd; Avebury Associates; Mrs Whimsey’s Doily Shops; they all look above board, but there’s just the odd irregularities when you delve into them. You’re my ace new Scoopmeister. The new kid on the block. You’re new to the scene here in Milton Keynes, and they don’t know you. So get down there and expose… well, expose whatever the hell it is these cable-knit sweater freaks are doing.”
He threw a clutch of company and charitable financial reports across the desk at me.
Naturally I was thrilled. On my first week in the Milton Keynes Clarion office I was expecting that they’d be giving me the minor stories while I settled in. Not that my track record at the Chipping Norton Advertiser and Advisor hadn’t been illustrious. Oh no. Over the in Cotswolds I was renowned as the guy that got the scoops: “Local Councillor gets own road salted when it’s not even on the gritting list” – that was one of the major scandals I uncovered. “Banbury Road – the kitty carnage scandal” – that was another as I fearlessly fought to get drivers to slow down, and cat-owners to keep their pets inside. “Mr Jones buys a new tractor” – that ran into a series over a period of weeks, as Mr Jones gave us exclusive shots of him buying the new tractor, filling it with diesel, ploughing. And pages and pages of technical specs comparing different makes and models of tractors, and whether you needed inflatable tyres or caterpillar tracks - I tell you, down Chipping Norton way I was hot stuff.
But you know how it is. It’s easy to be the big fish in a small pond. I needed the bright lights. The seamy underside of the big city. The hustle and the grime and the dirt and the vice. So when the job came up at the M.K. Chronicle, as we rather racily referred to it, how could I turn it down? And already to be given the chance for a major exposé – this was big-league. I had spent a week going through the papers, and now here I was, in a bedroom in the Husborne Crawley Great House, on the trail of whatever it was that Archdruid Eileen was pulling.
Musing in this way on what had brought me here, I fell into a doze. In my sleep the evening’s events replayed over and over, in different combinations – the woman by the fire; the people who had run off into the woods; the Wicker Man – they swirled in my mind until I was in the Wicker Man, watching the flames lick past me, crying out while the Beaker Folk sang “Summer is i-cumen” in complete with Christopher Lee playing the euphonium. And the constant beat of the drums, as the Folk drove their primeval rhythms into my soul.
I woke sweating and sat up sharply, still wearing last night’s clothes. But the drumming continued. Three raps, then three deeper thuds. Three raps then three deeper thuds – becoming louder and louder, closer and closer. I realised with relief that it was somebody walking down the corridor, banging on each door as they came. They reached my door. Three raps, then three deeper thuds as the unknown awakener moved on. I checked my watch. It was 4.30 in the morning. Time to get up for the May Morning event.
I lurched to the washbasin to throw some cold water over my face. In the mirror my face looked as drawn as I had expected, the eyes red and bloodshot with last night’s fire and the lack of sleep. My clothes stank from the wood smoke. I was going to have to put up with them until I could return home and pick up some clean clothes, I realised. Ardwulf had told me to get something out of the wardrobe. What was it? Something green that I hadn’t understood at the time. Hi-something?
I opened the wardrobe. Hanging in there were just six items of clothing – hi-visibility workmen’s vests in an assortment of colours. “Green hi-viz.” Ardwulf’s words made sense, at least in their own context. But why would I be wearing such an item of clothing for what was, it seemed, basically a religious event? I had no idea. But I had a job to do. I’m a reporter. In such circumstances you don’t sit around wondering, you take your opportunities with two hands and push on into the truth of the story. I was part of this story now and I wasn’t going to stand on the sidelines. The time to make my excuses and leave would come, I determined, at the point when I was being asked to participate in some nameless orgy involving dubious practices and blood. Putting a workman’s vest on wasn’t even close to that. I put it on and went out of my room.
Enya was still playing. I suspected it was “Orinoco Flow”, although I was no expert – not then, at any rate. I stumbled past “Callanish”, “Durrington Walls” and “Arbour Low” to use the toilet and then went into the kitchen.
I could see I had time for a cup of tea or coffee before 5.15, so I opened the cupboard to see what they had. Probably own-label instant coffee, I imagined. Or the kind of tea that has been swept off the floor after they’ve bagged up the decent stuff. But far from it. In fact there was nothing containing caffeine in the cupboard. Acorn coffee, lemonbalm or camomile tea – or orange zinger, if you liked a wild time. And even wild thyme. I ran myself a glass of water – frankly it seemed to be the most exciting thing on offer - and then headed off down the stairs to see what May Day involved.
4. May Day
It’s not generally known, but May Day as a festival has very little to do with the international emergency call. It’s not like the day they chose it as an emergency call was on May Day, so they just used the name. After all, it could have been Guy Fawkes’ Night, or the Fourth Sunday after Trinity, or Halloween. Can you imagine being on a ship going down, shouting “Rogation Sunday” into the radio? Doesn’t bear thinking about. But the thing that I’m trying to drive at here is, that May Day was quite an appropriate expression for how I was feeling as I went downstairs that morning. It was still dark, Enya seemed to be getting louder, and the green emergency lights glowed in that corridor as I followed the people that were now streaming out of their rooms. The corridor off which my room was situated was decorated at intervals of three or four feet with Health and Safety posters: “Think! Is your hard hat secure?” “Hi-vis – be seen and be safe.” “He should never have disconnected the chain guard”. Most had jolly pictures, or else pictures of hard hats and high visibility clothing. It was only the last one that threatened to put me off my breakfast, whenever breakfast might be.
Taking the stairs that I had climbed up the night before for two flights, we then traced along a much larger corridor towards the main staircase. This spiralled down from the first to the ground floor, evidently the chance for guests of old to make their grand descent for whatever ball or grand dinner was taking place at the Great House. On this occasion, however, it teemed with people in Arran sweaters and blue jeans, with a fair sprinkling of hippy shawls for the women. Many were already wearing their hi-viz vests, while others were carrying them ready for use. Out through the main door and then we stumbled across the lawn towards the orchard clearing which had been the scene of last night’s celebrations.
The pile of embers from the Wicker Man continued to smoulder. Whatever it had been built of it was clearly not wicker. Somewhere down the hill, closer to the main drive, I noticed a pile of pallets. The Beaker Folk formed into a loose semicircle around the hillock in the centre, up which the Archdruid climbed. She addressed them.
“Good morning, and a merry month of May to you all. We of the Beaker People celebrate the four compass points of the year – the Solstices and the Equinoxes. The Winter Solstice is the North of the year, the Summer Solstice its South. And yet we also celebrate the between-times; Beltane, or Mayday; Lammas; Samhain, or Halloween; Imbolc or Candlemass. The times that are, and yet aren’t quite. Today it is almost, and yet not quite, on the way to summer. This is the South-East of the year. For five thousand years the people of this island have come together on May morning, to celebrate the growing strength of the sun. They have danced round maypoles. They have sung their May carols. They have gathered the mayflower, with its deathly smell, and then thrown it away again because it’s unlucky to have it in the house. And as for those rich and thick enough, even as we speak there will be chinless wonders throwing themselves off Magdalen Bridge in Oxford, hoping to break their spines and make themselves heroes to their equally rich and chinless friends. Maybe that’s an echo of an ancient sacrifice to river gods at this time of year. Or maybe it’s just the result of a thousand years of good old-fashioned English upper-class inbreeding. But either way, it’s a tradition. And traditions must be respected.
“And now – the notices. Please can all Beaker Folk note that the Thin Place behind the llama shed is out of bounds. Young Keith jumped up and down on it yesterday while wearing metal toe-capped safety boots and it took us ages to get him back from the Astral Plane. Anyone wanting to take the minibus to Woburn - please sign the list in the dining room. And lastly – but definitely not least – welcome to our new visitor, Will Brayfield. Come up here, Will, and say hello!”
Reluctantly, and feeling fifty pairs of eyes weighing me up, I climbed the mound and stood next to the Archdruid. Was this, I wondered, where I got tied to the stake? I noticed the staff she had planted in the ground the night before, and the pile of pallets, and shuddered.
“So Will, tell us all something about yourself. Where are you from?”
“Originally from Bristol, but I’ve spent the last few years in the Cotswolds.”
“Lovely. And did you visit the Rollright Stones often, while you were in the Cotswolds?”
I had to admit that I had not. The Archdruid and her followers seemed quite sad. A murmur of disapproval went through the crowd. I felt I should win them back to my side.
“But I quite often wore an Arran sweater.”
This seemed to go down better. I thought I could push on.
“And I love the moon. The way it’s so… so big and white.”
A ripple of appreciation now ran through the crowd. They were obviously warming to me. Or perhaps they just thought I was an imbecile. The Archdruid took over the conversation again, perhaps worried that I was padding my act somewhat.
“Will is a Watcher for the time being. We hope that, in a few weeks’ time, he may wish to join the Noviciate. Until then, Will, please feel free and welcome. Our home is yours; our hearth is yours; our hearts are yours.”
The last sentence was repeated by the assembled Folk. I was obviously through the first step.
The rest of May Morning was an absolute riot. Once the ceremony of saluting the risen sun was over, we all headed off for a bit more sleep. Then after a quickly eaten breakfast, we went out to start the festivities.
I was given a guide – or possibly a minder – to take me around for the first day. This was a man of clearly fairly upper class breeding, well-spoken and with a passing resemblance to Vic Reeves. He handed me a card, which explained that Hnaef , apart from being the holder of an impressive number of degrees – one in “Applied Paper Products” was the Executive Assistant to the Archdruid. Quite a title, I thought. Also, it turned out, the possessor of unusual pronounciation – “Hnaef” is in fact pronounced “Nef”. An Anglo-Saxon name, Hnaef explained to me, but he was allowed to keep it because the unusual pronunciation made it exotic and therefore interesting. A fair number of additional people were now around the grounds – “day pilgrims”, as Hnaef called them – so that the whole lawn in front of the Great House had taken on the appearance of a village church fete. A hobby horse was jumping around the grounds, harassing passing Beaker maidens. Meanwhile a maypole had sprung up, and a group of Beaker Folk of various ages were dancing around it in a way quite dissimilar to that seen at the school summer fairs of my youth. The dancing was less elaborate – less pretty ribbon patterns – and more earthy and physical.
“The maypole was a Beaker invention, passed down via the Celts and Angles to modern times,” remarked Hnaef. “It was only in the 19th century that Victorian clergymen, ever keen to keep their congregations clean, respectable and repressed, made maypole dancing the preserve of children and took the sexuality out of it. We like to think we are – in our own way – restoring the tradition.”
I had a really lovely morning, taking part in the maypole festivities, running away from the Hobby Horse – “say what you like, he is genuinely inclusive,” remarked Hnaef - and participating in the Aunt Sally and orange rolling. Towards lunchtime, a group of Morris Dancers appeared, accompanied by a chap in a top hat and large black beard and carrying an accordion. But just as I was thinking how typically English this all appeared, the Beaker Folk starting throwing rocks at them. The Morris Dancers, stunned and rattled by this sudden and unexpected occurrence, tried vainly to fight back. They formed a reasonable fighting formation and started laying about them with their sticks. But I guess you can’t maintain a warlike exterior when you’re wearing red and blue ribbons and have bells attached to your feet. A second wave of Beaker Folk bore down on the left flank of the Morris Dancers, throwing lumps of sandstone at them, and the Morris Men’s morale broke. They turned and fled.
“That was a bit unfriendly, wasn’t it?” I asked. I was shocked by this sudden outbreak of violence from what I had taken to be a gentle and peaceful group of people.
“The only option,” replied Hnaef, wiping away the sweat he had built up while chasing a Morris Man down the drive. “They’re a blooming nuisance. They’re like moths to a light – attracted to any traditional activity where they think they can stick their hankies in and have a dance. Bloody Victorian re-inventions, again. We tell them to stay away but they’re back every year.
“Won’t they report you all to the police?”
“What, round here? No. The local Beds constabulary is represented by PC Crowther. And he’s the uncle of Young Keith over there. He’s more likely to arrest them for cross-dressing in a rural area.”
The sun was now well overhead. The warmth meant I was becoming increasingly aware of a certain headiness in the air around me, which I traced to the unwashed state of yesterday’s clothes. I thanked Hnaef for his kindness, shook his hand, said I’d see him later and headed home to pack.
5. May Evening
I returned to the Community in the evening, with my clothes in a suitcase and my stereo and CD collection in the back of my old Audi. As I carried them into the entrance hall, Ardwulf saw me and beckoned me over.
“If you’re moving in, your belongings need checkin’. For soundness. Wait ‘ere – I’ll get Hnaef.”
Hnaef emerged a few minutes later, and escorted me into his personal office. I noticed that it was a suitable degree smaller than Eileen’s, but many of the motifs of her office were repeated – the timeplanner, the maps, the timetables. A large chart carried a picture of the moon, with the various seas labelled. At the bottom of the chart, it said “Please turn over to see the Dark Side.”
“OK, Will. Nothing serious, this. But we have to check the belongings of Watchers when they move into the community. Anything that is of a dubious nature, we have to… keep. And when you leave – if you ever do – you will of course receive them back.”
Something about the words “if you ever do” made me nervous, but I figured I needed to go through it. I had been half-expecting them to search my room, so I was not unduly worried.
“Clothes. They’re all fine. You’ve the appropriate hi-viz in your room already?” I nodded.
“OK. CD player. Fine – although you’ll need to get batteries if you want to play it outside the Hours of Power. CD collection. Fleetwood Mac. That’s good. That’s very good. Michael Jackson…. OK then, I guess. Sex Pistols? Sorry – you won’t be able to keep that with you. I hope you understand. It’s the lyrics of “Who Killed Bambi”. The implication that you cannot trust a hippy. You could upset somebody. And a guiding principle of the Beaker Folk is that we try never to upset anybody. This is very important.”
“I get it back?”
“Of course. If and when you leave. If you ever do. It just goes in the safe here.”
I handed it over. Seeing the way the wind was blowing I handed over my AC/DC collection and anything featuring hip-hop.
“No Enya?” asked Hnaef
“Don’t blame you. Can’t stand her myself. Apart from anything else she’s Celtic.” He shuddered. “But she helps put people in a spiritual frame of mind, and that’s the important thing. And you can have as many Enya CDs as you like. If fact, there’s a stack of them over there – take a few.”
I took a couple. It seemed only diplomatic.
“So what do I do now?”
Take yourself off and unpack. The day’s programme is always on the notice board in the Dining Hall. Being a Holy Day today, there’s a special Saluting the Moon tonight, starting at sunset at 8.20. And then I think a few people are planning to slope off to the pub. That’s normally the way these things happen.
And so it was. Saluting the Moon was much the same as the latter parts of the May Eve ceremony. No Wicker Man this time, but the same attention to the moon as it rose – and a small bonfire made of wood from the pallets. The ceremony was much shorter than the previous night, and then the Beaker People trooped away to the house.
One of the younger members of the community came over to me as we went back. A tall man of around twenty-five years of age, with a small beard and long fair hair. He could have fitted in at Woodstock, no questions asked.
“Hi – you’re Will, aren’t you?”
I indicated that this was indeed so.
“I’m Keith. We’re off to the pub. You coming?”
The pub. Now that’s the place to go if you want to find out secrets. In vino veritas, as they say. We dumped our hi-viz on hooks in the vestibule and headed across the fields to the White Horse.
Nice pub, the White Horse. On what was now turning into quite a chilly evening given the time of year, the wood-burning stove was lit in the room with the pool table. We ordered our pints and grabbed a table down by the stove. There were about eight or nine Beaker People in there. I noticed that the locals had given a slight shudder as we entered, but paid no attention thereafter.
“So how long have you been a Beaker Person, Keith?” I asked him.
“About four years. It’s great.”
“You enjoy this?”
“Oh yeah. It gives you – it gives you a rhythm in your life. You know – knowing what’s going to happen each day – the pattern. Pouring out of Beakers every morning; Filling up of Beakers each evening. The moon waxes, the moon wanes. The sun rises and sets. Everything in its place, everything fitting together. Plus – it’s cheaper than renting and I only work in Bedford so it’s really convenient.”
“You have a job then?”
“Yes – quite a lot of us have jobs. The long-timers, that is. Obviously, the people who come for weekend visits or day pilgrimages – they mostly have jobs as well. But they come and go, they’re not part of our… our rhythm. And those who don’t have jobs – the retired people, and those who can afford not to work. Well, they get all that extra time for contemplation. And there’s always the Doily Mines.”
“Do you work, Will?”
“No – not at the moment.”
“Then you’ll get to know about the Doily Mines. Everyone has to do something useful – it’s part of spiritual growth. Even Hnaef – Executive Assistant Druid as he is – has a job.”
“Something in the paper trade, I guess? He told me about his qualifications.”
“No. He gave that up once he’d settled here and set up the Doily operation. No, he wanted to put something back into the community after all those years of selling it sub-standard paper products. He runs an archery school for people with no thumbs.”
“Isn’t that a bit of a niche market?”
“Well, he gets plenty of bookings. They come for residentials – they stay in the Old Cow Shed and shoot out in Lower Meadow. But it’s a bit dangerous. What with them having no thumbs, I mean. Sometimes he comes into the Moot House absolutely covered in nicks and grazes.”
I thought it was time to change the subject. Maybe get a bit more information on the people I was dealing with. You know, get under the skin of the Beaker faith.
“Last night – when the moon rose. A bunch of people rushed off into the woods. They seemed to be…”
“Taking their clothes off?”
“Yes. Them. Who are they?”
“They’re the Fertility Folk. They have a slightly different twist on the Beaker Way. The Archdruid and her team – they’re all very into the meditation, the turning of the earth, the yin and the yang of it all. But the Fertility Folk – they’re a group who think that the Beaker ritual was originally just about ensuring the fertility of the crops, the fruit of the womb, the growth of the flock and the tribe.”
“So basically they’re just into…”
“… shagging, yes.”
“So, Keith – I’ve spent just the twenty-four hours here and haven’t understood this yet – if there is a difference there – if the Fertility Folk are into…
“As you say. But if the others don’t have that at the same level of priority, so to speak, in the Beaker Way – just what exactly do the Beaker Folk believe?”
Kevin looked baffled.
“You know,” I pressed, “what do they think God is like? Or do you believe in gods? Do you believe in the afterlife – or Nirvana? Or some kind of reincarnation?”
“Do you know,” Keith reflected, “I’m not really sure. I don’t think the Archdruid’s ever really mentioned that.”
“But aren’t you meant to be a religious community?”
“I guess so, yeah. But I think it’s fair to say that we’re more interested in spirituality than religion as such. Certainly nobody’s ever expected me to actually believe in anything. Sure, the Archdruid will refer to a Christian saint, or give us an example from Hindu philosophy, or quote the words of Morrissey, but I wouldn’t say we’ve ever really been asked to believe anything. I don’t think the Archdruid would approve.”
“So – no creeds? No catechism?” I pressed, remembering my time at St Mary’s Primary.
“I don’t know what a catechism is, or a creed.”
“A list of things you have to believe so you can join?”
“Oh, no. The Archdruid always says – “you belong before you believe”.”
“So you belong before you believe what?”
“I don’t know. I just follow the rituals. They seem to work.”
I gave up at this point. Clearly I wasn’t going to get any further with understanding Beaker beliefs by asking Young Keith. I would need to go to someone more senior.
It was beautiful walk back to the Great House along School Lane. The last daylight was just slipping away, and a slight chill could be felt in the air. We could hear the dull rumble of traffic from the M1 over to our right, and an orange glow over in that direction. But otherwise it was dark and still, and the moon was rising again over Crawley Crossing. The outline of St James’s Church could still be seen against the skyline in much the same direction. But where we were was in relative darkness. We walked a few hundred yards, discussing whether any major shocks could be expected in the last week of the football season. And then took the left turn just before we reached Crow Lane. And there we were back at the Great House. Light was streaming out of the windows and we heard what could have been elven song issuing across the lawns. On closer approach it turned out to be, inevitably, Enya.
6. Barking at the Moon
I had assumed that there would be some kind of instruction for beginning Beaker People – something like a confirmation course. That was what my old Catholic school had treated us to. But there seemed to be no instruction at all. We attended the various Occasions as the days went by – normally five times a day. During the day, these ceremonies could be of various kinds – often involving holding pebbles, lighting tea lights or chanting. Pouring out of Beakers and Filling up of Beakers normally marked the beginning and end of the day. If there was something going on involving the Moon, then that would be another event.
But the most challenging was “Watching for the Moon”, which took place at the time of new moon.
The job of the Moonwatchers was to stay up each night from the day that the old moon finally waned to nothing, until the moment that the new moon first appeared. So that first of what would be three evenings, I picked up a couple of thermos flasks of black coffee from the kitchen after Fililng up of Beakers, and headed for the Watching Step.
The Watching Step was a large, flattish piece of sandstone which formed a kind of threshold for the House of Watching. From it we had to look out towards the eastern sky, waiting for the first glimpse of the new moon. Then we had to ring the Watching Bell to let our fellow Beaker Folk back at the Great House know that the moon had risen. It all seemed rather strange and prehistoric, but then as Young Keith remarked, it was supposed to be.
My companions for this activity were Marston Moretaine, a thick-set bloke of about forty with a receding hairline, and a woman of about the same age. Now I say that Stacey Bushes was a woman of about that age – that would be a guess. She was somewhere between thirty and fifty, and had made a name for herself as the Community’s middle-aged man magnet. Being on the younger side of middle age, I was fairly safe. But Marston was slap bang in the gold of Stacey’s target. That first night was always going to be wearing – not least because we were never going to see the moon that night. But to spend hours listening to Stacey’s banter as she flirted with Marston was mind-grinding. Not least because Marston was in a class of his own as the dullest member of the Beaker Folk. He was only there at all because his mother, the rather wondrously named Druxella, had insisted he accompany her. And Druxella, being one of those rather powerful women who are retired but still active enough to make interfering a full-time job, loved the Beaker Folk.
“So, is there a Mrs Moretaine somewhere, Marston?” I heard floating across from the Watching Step.
“There’s probably loads of them. I mean, we Moretaines are quite common.”
“I’ve never heard the surname before. It sounds quite... quite aristocratic to me.”
“Not aristocratic. We’ve never even had an Ariston. My mum’s always preferred Hotpoint.”
“Oh Marston – you’re so funny!”
Tinkling laughter from Stacey and a kind of dull huh-huh-huh from Marston.
It was a cold, cold night – an area of High Pressure had chosen to plonk itself right across Husborne Crawley – and I had been huddled in the Watch-House, wrapped in a blanket in Cameron tartan and trying to get some life back into the pile of bits of broken pallet and stick which I was persisting in pretending was a fire. The smoke – of which there was plenty – hung in the air, stung my eyes, rose caressingly round the Watching Bell and then seeped – in accordance with archaeological theories – up through the thatched roof. I had had enough.
“Look, you two come and have a sit down and try and get warm. I’ll go and watch for a bit.”
I blundered out to the Watching step. Stacey, giggling girlishly to me,
“Oh Willi – I don’t know what you think we’ll get up to, to keep warm.”
She dragged the hapless Marston into the House. I heard the “clang” as Marston hit his head on the Watch Bell. Then I watched the very few clouds that were around drifting across the sky, luminous in the lights from the Amazon warehouse. I listened to the low grumble of the M1, just half a mile away across the flat fields out where the Husborne Brook flowed east. I tried to ignore the insistent sexiness of Stacey’s insistent flirting. And after a short while, I heard the sound of snoring. Marston, his brain unable to keep up with the conversation or the hour, had fallen asleep.
Stacey brushed irately out of the Watch-House and tottered in her safety stilettos across the field and back to the Great House. I heard the sound of Marston’s snoring, looked up at the starry, moonless sky and pulled my tartan blanket around me. It was going to be a long, lonely night.
The next night was clear and cold again, and still no chance of a moon. By Hnaef’s calculations it was due to rise at about 5am, but would have been so thin a sliver as to be pretty well invisible. The Dayfolk wouldn’t see it either, because it was so close to the sun, so there would be a third night of Watching. I wasn’t happy. And I didn’t see why I couldn’t have just left it to the third night.
Stacey’s experiences of the previous evening had not made her think she had any further chance of success with Marston, or so I gathered as I saw her wandering down the pub around 8 o’clock with a few of the Folk in their forties. And Marston, if it were possible, had retreated even further into his shell.
Around eleven thirty, I heard the sounds of Stacey and her little group coming back.
“Oops! Drayton! You’ll be the death of me. Now – are you coming back from a cup of coffee?”
I knew something of Drayton, the Number Three to Eileen and Hnaef. I certainly knew enough that the chances of Stacey having pulled Drayton were next-door to zero. I got the impression that, while Marston might be amenable to a certain amount of Fertility-related frolicking, assuming he could stay awake long enough and instructed in what to do, Drayton would rather keep a two-foot exclusion round his entire body. Still, full marks to Stacey for trying.
Marston, meanwhile, was a lot more awake tonight. Not any brighter in terms of communication, though. He had worked in a cheese factory before his mother had dragged him into the Community, which can’t have helped him expand his vocabulary. So his main topics of conversation were the cheese mites you find on different types of cheese, the precise delimitation of the Stilton geographical region, and the funny noise bluebottles make when they land on an Insectocutor. On the whole, by around 2am I wished he’d decided to spend the night asleep in the Watch-House again.
Marston had taken the precaution to stash a 4-pint bottle of scrumpy cider in the Watch-House. Being the kind, generous type as he was, he didn’t offer to share it. And when I suggested he might like to, he growled slightly before suggesting I should have brought my own. But it meant that every half-hour, he headed back into the Watch-House to top up his glass. And every half-hour I heard the “clang” as he hit his head on the bell yet again. He really didn’t learn fast, old Marston. And after his second pint he started hitting his head on the way out as well as on the way in.
About 3 am the amount of cider he had consumed had really got too much for him, and he excused himself as he went off for a call of nature. Ignoring my suggestion that he just go up against a tree, he headed off for the Great House. And it was then that I realised just how lonely it was.
The main buildings were a couple of hundred yards away. In the opposite direction, it was a good quarter of a mile to School Lane, which connected the hamlets that formed Husborne Crawley. I felt a long way from anything. I was in the middle of a meadow, on the edge of a wood, in the grounds of a Community that spent its time, it would appear, looking for the spiritual secrets that had been forgotten by our ancestors. I felt the weight of the years upon my shoulders. I felt that Fell Beasts might be lurking and waiting for my blood. I felt I was disturbing the Order of Things. I felt a presence – something dark. Something approaching.
I felt someone shaking my shoulder. It was, I was relieved to discover – or at least fairly relieved – Marston.
“You alright, mate?”
“Fine – thanks Marston. I must have fallen asleep.”
“Fallen asleep? Fallen asleep standing up?”
“I dreamt that there was something tearing at me – some kind of a… a dog?”
“A dog? Big black ‘un?”
“That’s right. And then it went away, and I must have just kind of… dozed off?”
“You wusn’t asleep mate, and that wusn’t no dog. That were a Shuck.”
“Owd Black Shuck. The Ghost Dog of the East. He’s vicious. You didn’t shout at ‘en?”
I admitted that I hadn’t been able to bring myself to shout, and wondered why Marston had started talking in that portmanteau rural dialect. I knew fully well he came from Hampstead – so why had his accent just wandered all the way from Norwich to Cornwall?”
“You’ve had a lucky escape, you have, mate.” Owd Black Shuck – if you’d shouted at him he’d have ‘ad you. He’s worse than the Duck Man, is that ‘en.”
I left it at that. It seemed better than asking for any more information.
And the next night, as sometimes happens in the spring, as the sun warms the earth and the sea stays cold, the weather broke.
Stacey Bushes had once again refused to sit in the Watching House. It was just Marston and I again. This time we’d both made the necessary preparations – he with another flask of cider and I with a small bottle of rum to go with my coffee.
The weather was hideous. Rain lashed down upon, and sometimes through, the thatched roof. The lightning lit up the view towards School Lane and illuminated the church from time to time. There was an apocalyptic amount of thunder rolling around the Greensand Ridge. Once again I got the sense of all the spirits of Ancient Britain gathering to pounce. Marston, on the other hand, seemed absolutely delighted. This was the type of weather that seemed to bring out the best in him. I wouldn’t personally have stood out in the middle of a field, during a thunderstorm, holding an ash staff and waving it in friendly greeting to the storm gods. But if that was what he wanted to do, I for one wasn’t going to go out and get close enough to drag him back in.
But whatever else it meant, it was going to be pretty well impossible to see the moon. Over where we knew the infant moon should be there was just a pile of cloud heading for Cranfield. So I found a quiet corner of the Watching House, away from the drips, wrapped my plastic mac around me, and went to sleep.
And then it was morning. The rain was no longer beating on the roof, and instead I could smell the sweet smell of wet grass. I could hear the birdsong starting to echo round the place. The first light of the pre-dawn was creeping in through the door of the Watching House. And afar off, I could hear barking.
I rubbed my eyes and sat up. Screwing my eyes up against the light, I peered out through the door. And there, framed within the doorway, was the new moon – just a sliver like a child’s toenail clipping, hanging against the pinky-blueness of sky. The clouds had gone. And I could still hear barking. Barking and singing.
I staggered out into the open air, wondering where Marston was. Across the field, gathered around the Great Trilithon, I could see a group of Beaker people, including the Archdruid and Marston. So that answered that question. They were singing a Beaker moon anthem. Meanwhile the barking noise was coming from a small group that were further off. They were quite literally barking at the moon.
I wandered over to join the group, keeping my eyes lowered to the ground so as not to meet Eileen’s. She was leading the singing, and as it drifted to an end she raised her hands in the air.
“May the sun be not too hot
And the moon light your nights.
May your paths be smooth
And the wind be gentle
And the stars be kind
Until we meet again.”
And then they were all gone. I turned to go, but I felt a hand tug my arm. A hand strong enough that you wouldn’t want to argue with it. It was Ardwulf.
“OK, Ardwulf. Off you go,” Eileen instructed. “Now, then. You missed the moon rise.”
“I did. It was just so foul, so I thought we’d never see it.”
“A mistake we all make in life, Will… Brayfield. We can think the bad times will last forever – and forget to look out for that break in the clouds that means the weather is changing. We can scorch in the sun – and forget to look for the cloud no bigger than a man’s – or woman’s fist. Or we can just curl up in the Watch House and go to sleep. All these options are available to us.”
“So there must be some penance for this? Some… some discipline?”
“Will… Brayfield. You will have to learn our ways better than this. There is no discipline except what you yourself apply. No punishment worse than the one a man – or woman – applies to him- or her-self.”
“So did Marston ring the Bell?”
“No, it was Stacey. She may be a frustrated man-eater but she seems to have a seventh sense when it comes to knowing what the moon is going to do.”
“So what do I do now?”
“I’d suggest you come in and get some breakfast. That’s where I’m going. But chop chop! We’ll be back here pouring out beakers before the hour’s out!”
“But what about them?” I asked her, gesturing towards the small group that were still howling and barking at the Moon.
“Oh? The Moon Gibbon folk? They get very excited when the moon re-appears. It means it’s not been eaten after all. A devout bunch, the Moon Gibbon folk. But not over-bright, and prone to misunderstandings.”
And with that, she was off for breakfast.
7. Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now
22 May. Not a day that is mostly associated with great things. But you could feel the buzz of excitement around the community as we built up to it. People were chalking the days off. It was just like the countdown to Christmas.
Then the morning itself dawned, dull and gray. Which was appropriate. When the piped music cut in at 8am, it was not Enya that was shaking us awake. Instead it was a more post-modern tone.
“Girlfriend in a coma. I know, I know. It’s really serious.”
The Beaker Folk tended to be quiet at breakfast, which was a self-service, buffet kind of affair consisting of croissants and bread rolls. Some would be trying to understand the dreams of the previous night. Others would be envisaging the coming day and the delights and trials it would bring. While others were simply hung over. I grabbed the seat next to Hnaef.
“Morrissey. Why exactly are we marking Morrissey’s birthday?”
“It’s in the nature of faith to have saints, Willibrord. The Christians mark their apostles – the Islamic faith remembers imams and martyrs. The Sikhs have their gurus. And we remember those people who make spirituality most accessible to modern life.”
“Among others, yes. Not forgetting the members of the Undertones, Judith Chalmers and the supreme deity of fertility and plenty, Nigella Lawson. To those who grew up in the 80s, Morrisey was the prophet of isolation. The bard of disconnection.”
“The guru of being slightly camp and unsettlingly weird?” suggested Keith, joining us.
“That as well. That as well.”
Unusually for a Beaker ceremony there was a written order of service for St Morrissey’s day. It was written in the form of what, with my Catholic background, I thought was probably a Litany.
Archdruid: “I was happy in the haze of a drunken hour.”
All: “And heaven knows I’m miserable now.”
Archdruid: “I was looking for a job and then I found a job.”
All: “And heaven knows I’m miserable now.”
And a lot more along the same lines. Even more unusually for the Beaker Folk, who had no concept of sin and merely referred to “mistakes”, there was a ritual for absolution and forgiveness. This consisted of everyone wandering around, saying to everyone who had offended them in the last twelve months, “William, it was really nothing.”
As Keith remarked at lunch, they could have expanded it to include a healing ritual for those who didn’t quite believe in it:
Archdruid: “Does the body rule the mind, or does the mind rule the body? I don’t know.”
All: “Am I still ill?”
It being St Morrissey’s Day, we were subject to more than the usual amount of moral and theological instruction that day. We were informed by the Archdruid that sorrow and misery was a part of every life. But if we approached these things with the right attitude at mind, we could achieve what she called the “martyr complex”. This would be where every minor ailment we had, every slight sorrow and every snub from a friend, colleague or loved one could be turned into a major negative event.
“Do not underestimate the power of the Spotty Mind of the Eternal Teenager,” she informed us at the Nine o’Clock Thought, before Morrissey’s Day came to an end and we could all cheer up. “If the world is constantly against you, you have immense power over it. All problems are somebody else’s fault. And all set-backs and illnesses prove what a hero you are to continue to struggle against them. And above all – your Facebook status need never be a problem again. And you will always have something interesting to blog – interesting, at least, to you and your fellow martyrs.”
We filed away back to a life of relative happiness. I felt like I had really gained something from the day. I may have been a second-rate hack, clinging desperately onto a new job while trying to wring some revelation from a bunch of lunatics in the Bedfordshire backwoods. But at least I wasn’t Morrissey.
It was a couple of weeks after this when I was called back for another interview in Eileen’s office. Part of the pattern of the Community was the ritual of the “Visiting List”. Every morning at 8 am the List went up on the notice board. The List consisted of three columns: one with “Eileen” at the top and the others with “”Hnaef” and “Drayton”. The rows represented ten-minute periods between 2 and 4 in the afternoon. If anyone put in their names, they booked that ten minute slot so they could discuss whatever spiritual or other issues were worrying them. And if one of the leaders wrote your name in one of the boxes, then you were summoned.
I was down for half-past three, and I had been called in by Eileen to discuss my “Novitiative”.
“Now, Will… Brayfield. It has been nearly a lunar month that you have been a Watcher. How have you found it?
“Archdruid, it’s been fascinating. I’ve seen so many things. Met lots of good people. Taken part in some deep ceremonies. All that stuff with sunrise and moonset. And the Pouring out of Beakers. And the Filling up of Beakers. Tell me… what’s that all about?
“The Beakers? Well, the Beakers were found among the grave goods of the Beaker Folk – which is how the Folk received their name. Of course, they left no writings, so we do not know why the Beakers were so important. It could be that they were used for drinking – maybe the Beaker Folk had discovered the secret of making alcoholic beverages – sure, earlier tribes would have known that the juice of rotten fruit was alcoholic, but maybe the Beaker People worked out how to make it to order – fruit wine or maybe, far stronger and more exciting, mead? Maybe that was the secret to the Beaker People. A whole new religious experience – because, let’s face it, to those that hadn’t come across it before, drinking a Beaker of mead would have been a religious experience.”
“But the Pouring out and Filling up of Beakers?”
“Well, let’s face it, Will… Brayfield. As a responsible religious community we could hardly go encouraging people to be consuming large amounts of mead to have religious experiences. We have had to sublimate the Beaker experience. And so every night we fill the Beakers with water from the Husborne Spring. And we leave them out all night to absorb the quiet Power of the Night. And every morning we pour the water out of the Beakers and onto the floor, to share that power with the Land.”
It was odd how the Archdruid could seem to capitalise the important words when she was talking. She was certainly an impressive woman, quiet but with a strong – you could say intense - personality. But still the unanswered questions I’d had for Young Keith went unaddressed. So I tried again.
“But the Beaker Folk themselves. Not the ones here, now – dressed in hi-visibility clothing for important ceremonies. I mean the ones that you base yourselves on. What did they believe?”
“Well, Will… Brayfield. In many ways, it is shrouded as might be in a shadowy mystery – and yet there is so much we can imagine.”
“So you don’t know, then?”
“We… we have re-imagined their practices. We do not claim definitive truth – but then who can? There is no definitive truth because we all come to truth from our own reference points. But what we have… we have imagination.”
“And what have you re-imagined about the Beaker Folk?”
“Consider what the archaeologists tell us, Will.”
“Can I stop you there, Archdruid ? That’s the first time you’ve used only my first name. You normally pause for a while and then say my surname as well.”
“Normally? No. Not normally. Not any more. It is my practice, when we receive a new Watcher, to ensure that I have learnt his or her name. As the Archdruid I feel it is my responsibility to know who everyone is. And so I ensure that I say each Watcher’s forename and surname, together, seventeen times to ensure they have been thoroughly assimilated into my memory. The seventeenth time occurred when you asked me what the Beaker Folk believed. This means that I now… well, in a way I now own a little part of you. I have appropriated your name, to a degree. I can now dispense with repeating your surname. However, it now puts us at a parting of the ways. And you must choose which path you will take.”
I felt a slight chill. To have this women announcing that she owned me – even a very small part of me. Well, I didn’t ask her to let her own part of me, did I? She’s just taken ownership of me. What right has she got?
“Will, you’re probably wondering what right I have to suddenly start owning part of you.”
“Well, actually, yes I was.”
“I’m afraid that’s a function of this modern habit of just going around being glib with names. It’s easy to go around shouting about who you are, but before you know it you end up being owned by people. Every time you share your name; your job; your football team – you share a piece of yourself. Now, there’s nothing wrong with this. In the Beaker Folk we recognise the way that the cult of individualism has broken society, removed moral cohesion and separated one from another. We reject this individualism. You are me, and he is she, and we are all together.”
“I am the Walrus?”
“In part, quite probably. In the quantum reality that we all share you may well be, at least in part of your cosmic waveform, a little bit of a walrus. I wouldn’t like to say which bit… We are all cords in the web of life that connects the universe, and chords in the divine music. If one strand is lost, the web frays. But to share is dangerous. To share is to give of ourselves. And we all need to keep something of ourselves back- otherwise we might as well be on Reality TV. And frankly I don’t need another record deal. Not after last time.
“Will, I’m rambling. Let me come to the point. When I’ve repeated your first and surname seven times, I own sufficient of you that you need a new name. And when that happens it means it’s time for your Novitiative.”
“Is that a real word?”
“Will, if I use a word and others know what it means, then it’s a real word. And the Beaker Folk know all about the Novitiative. It’s the stage of Beaker life in which you are a Novitiate. In other words, the time is come for you to leave Watcher status. You must make a choice. You can enter your Novitiative. Take on some of the responsibilities of the Beaker Way. And receive a new name. Or, basically, you can leave with our blessing. Sling your hook, if you will. The choice is yours.”
“Oh right. I hadn’t realised that my time as a Watcher was up.”
“That’s the way it goes, Will. That’s the way life goes. You sit around thinking things are great and things will never change, and then suddenly… you’re dead. Think of it as a training for life. An insight into the way things are. I’ll need your answer by sunset, Will. Now, if you’ll excuse me…”
And somehow I was outside in the corridor, with a deadline. And still I didn’t know what the original Beaker People believed. Or what the Beaker Folk of Husborne Crawley did, for that matter. How was I supposed to make my decision?
Forward to Summer