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Fountains of Hecate: An essay by Amy Hale on the occasion of Lucy Stein’s exhibition

Fountains of Hecate: An essay by Amy Hale on the occasion of Lucy Stein’s exhibition

Lucy Stein, El Sol (2021) Underglaze paint, acrylic, pencil, ink, Sennelier pastel on watercolour paper. Courtesy the artist and Gregor Staiger, Zurich

Here we tell stories of women who wander, of women encountering the land, creating new narratives of wonder, curiosity, challenge.

In the Chaldean Oracles, Hecate is the soul of matter, feminine in essence, infusing the material with the hot breath of life.  Sitting between worlds, Hecate animates dense substance with bristling divine energy.  She is also a Goddess of Witchcraft and the underworld, not to be trifled with.  In her 1957 proto earth mysteries guide to Cornwall, The Living Stones; Cornwall, Ithell Colquhoun refers to ‘Fountains of Hecate’ as the places where the energies of the earth are most potent, where humans can respond to them most keenly and cultivate etheric alignments and interdimensional relationships.  Colquhoun and mystical philosophers like Dion Fortune before her believed that for millennia humans have been marking these sites in various ways, primarily with stone monuments, indicating points of subterranean power, enchanted not only by their proximity to underground currents, but also by the rites conducted in and near them.  These rites are not only an acknowledgement of their power they are a gift of force in return that refreshes them in a continual flow.  These sacred markers serve as signals to other humans that in these charged and numinous places one can develop their own empowered connection to the earth. Fortune and Colquhoun were quite early in their advancement of these ideas, although today they form a central doctrine propelling the spiritual movements of the pilgrim, the psychogeographer, the sacred wanderer. However, when the wander is truly open to the myriad stories of place, the experiences have the potential to change them in ways untold.

Lucy Stein, Neolithic Feminism (2021) Underglaze paint, ink, Sennelier pastel on handmade Indian paper. Courtesy the artist and Gregor Staiger, Zurich


The Mary Line

The Michael line, which runs from St. Michaels Mount at the tip of Cornwall in a line to Hopton in Norfolk has been well known and trodden by pilgrims for much of the twentieth century, if not longer. In the 1940s and 1950s, the hilltop sites dedicated to St. Michael became a focus of post war pilgrimage intended to bring renewed light and spiritual regeneration to a war-torn Britain.  In 1989 Earth Mysteries pioneers Hamish Miller and Paul Broadhurst undertook their own Michael journey and through dowsing uncovered/created the Mary line, punctuated by sacred sites, twisting around the Michael line. Miller and Broadhurst’s theories elided with Colquhoun’s own, earlier experience of the Fountains of Hecate in the Cornish landscape. They were in agreement that these lines and sites marked an ancient and lost technology, one which Colquhoun believed was Atlantean in origin, connecting humans to the power of the earth.  The Earth Mysteries movement energetically expanded the original conception of the ley line as expressed by Alfred Watkins as early as 1922.  Initially ley lines were believed to be simply ancient pathways between important sites, but this idea became intertwined with a belief already existing in esoteric circles in the 1920s and 1930s that sacred sites marked wells of electromagnetic force under the earth. By the 1960s, ley lines became equated with lines of ‘dragon energy’ traversing the globe, a pulsing web of electricity detectable by sensitive humans and dousing instruments, believed to rejuvenate the soul.

The Michael and Mary lines are frequently undertaken as a single meandering pilgrimage of sacred sites, and some consider their entwinement to be symbolic of the union of masculine and feminine energies in the earth. The Michael line, by its very nature, is defined by its expressions of bold, fiery visibility.  Hilltop monuments and bonfires, dedicated to a martial figure charged with vanquishing the enemies of the light, psychically cleansing and purifying the countryside.  However, the Mary line, taken on her own, has a much quieter reputation. Unlike her more famous big brother, the Mary line features perhaps less well-known sites not as heavily saturated with the Celtic imaginary. The Mary line twists and turns, whispering her revelation to those who wish to attune themselves to this delicate frequency. The Mary line is an unfolding. Consider the implications for an intuitive journey of women, seeking the presence of the feminine marked energies of the earth, in a line symbolizing a bright figure of divine feminine power. For these seekers, Mary and Hecate conspire in their weaving of energetic spells in the landscape, inviting introspection and more broadly chthonic expeditions.  Although people tend to speak of their journeys along these ley lines as pilgrimages they might be better characterized as an allied form of the Situationist psychogeographic dérive, an inspired and intuitive wandering where the journey is driven less by destination and more by communion.

Situationist philosopher Guy Debord’s initial inspiration behind psychogeography was conceived of as a revolutionary response to the disenchantment and alienation of modern urban planning which forced people into proscribed movements and fixed interpretations of the various spaces within a city.  Debord called on people to wander off the beaten path, and most importantly to cultivate a psychic sensitivity through which people might come to know different, hidden stories held within the urban landscape.  Although psychogeography was initially a tactic that was forged within a specifically urban context, modern psychogeography inspires a variety of intuited reactions to landscapes and spaces, rural, urban and suburban, with the intent being to encounter hidden and forgotten tales, and importantly to let places reveal themselves directly.  Pilgrimages often suggest a journey that ends in a blessing, but the dérive asks us to sense and acknowledge the murky layers that exist in all spaces and to not be afraid to feel them.

Debord’s exhortation to attune ourselves to the unseen histories of the places we wander is still radical in that it encourages us to challenge what is laid out before us, and to be sensitive to the dark, the painful and the ugly. Spaces and places contain so many layers of history and story, yet the revelation of a site is necessarily shaped by our own perceptions and lenses.  When we experience the magic of place in and through our bodies, it feels like the deepest, most undeniable truth, but we can only understand these events, any of them, through what we bring to them, our own interpretive framework, our history, our lives.  In our wanderings our stories will intersect with the many layers of history that are also present, tales we will never know and can never know, of the joys and sorrows of all who have passed by and all who have lingered.  Only the land itself holds those collective memories, and it is our charge to be present, and open, and to listen.

The many layers of Cornwall

Cornwall has been believed to be a place of exceptional magic and psychic sensitivity for centuries. In the 1700s the inspired antiquarian William Borlase imagined the stone monuments of Cornwall as sites for Druidic sacrifice and suggested that, as Celts, the native Cornish were the inheritors of Druidic wisdom.  In subsequent centuries, antiquarians and folklorists helped build the perception that Cornwall is a land of enchantment, and that the numerous sacred sites, monuments and supernatural stories of place which saturate the built heritage of the Duchy were testimony to this ancient legacy. Yet the romantic interpretations of Cornwall do not frequently capture the multifaceted life of modern Kernow, the industry, the loss, the poverty and the ghosts.  Visitors to Cornwall crave magic and romance, often at the expense and history of the people who actually live there and the stories they want to tell about themselves.

The ancient technologies believed to be contained at these sites is often entangled with the rhetoric of connection to “the ancestors”, but the question begs whose ancestors?   The idea that there was a single origin story, function and even a sense of ownership for any site forces a dominant narrative onto both site and visitor. This narrative might generate a deep affective experience of a relationship that feels like truth. How does this adoption of a tricky empiricism redacted through bodily sensation, emotion and longing for cultural continuity serve the history of the sites themselves, which shine like dark jewels with many facets?  Who and what is erased in the process?

Dark caverns, milky waters

As Michael is the lord of the fiery hilltops and blazing beacons, what will Mary tell us about the depths, the hidden and unseen, the broken and disrupted, that which is not so pristine? What can these sites reveal about our own concealed and complicated journeys? The Mary line highlights places in Cornwall that ooze and drip, hidden by moss covered granite, often unrecognized. Places that are not well known or popularly associated with the sacred sites of Cornwall because they are entwined with Cornwall’s industrial heartland and in many cases are proximal to the economic and social devastation that has emerged from neglect and lack of development.  These are not merely places subject to the tourist gaze, sitting quietly in depopulated areas.  People live and work near them, they are integrated into the fabric of Cornish life and history.

Consider Menacuddle well. It’s a sweet little well in the middle of St. Austell, a clay mining town with a rather rough reputation. The well is fed by the river that served the China clay mining community, which often ran a milky white.  St. Germoe’s well, also close to a mining area, is an exceptionally modest offering, sitting adjacent to a roadside, not magically waiting to be revealed in a thick wood.  Lostwithiel with its picturesque Norman castle on the hill, was once a Stannary town, managing tin coinage, taxes and the legal affairs of tinners.  The truly magnificent sties of The Hurlers and the Cheesewring on windy Bodmin Moor serve and are served by the village of Minions in the East of Cornwall. Given the proximity of so many ancient monuments to this town, strategically developed to have a central role in mining, we might consider that the sacred sites so often portrayed by antiquarians and pilgrims as empty, imagined as quiet places of contemplation or ritual, were once central to busy communities of living, working people.

The aesthetic of the sites we consider to be magical almost demands that they are portrayed as part of a depeopled ‘natural’ landscape, hard to access, so that making the modern journey to ‘discover’ them feels even more profound. Yet these sites were often designed to be accessible and connected to communities and lives. What are the implications of not ignoring the communities, settlements, roadways and disagreeable stories existing in the neighbourhoods of the sacred sites? Can we acknowledge the industry, the estates, the highways, the beauty and the blight? Instead of desacralizing the sites which many would hope to keep pristine, might this, in fact, shine a hallowed light onto a richer understanding of their persistence?

All the stories are sacred, and the ‘Fountains of Hecate’ are nurtured by these offerings. Perhaps this revelation of the Mary line, experienced in the tales of these wandering women, is about reclaiming the total and chaotic blessedness of the hidden places and of ourselves, the light of the Gods that lives in all things.


Words: destabilize, haunt, places are complex, and if we treat them as having spirit, we want to recognize and honour their layers. Affect.