Visiting the historic Saltram House, near Plymouth, I was awed by the sight of a row of women working on the restoration of an antique carpet. They sat patiently, completely focused on their delicate work – a silent row of Weaving Mothers. This is an old Axminster carpet and can only be mended by those with the finest skills. The project will take over a year to complete.
This is a painting which my husband, Robert Lee-Wade, has just completed of The Nine Maidens stone circle at Belstone on Dartmoor. I’ve been there a few times – we struggled through the fog on our first visit – and love to visit this ancient site. The first thing you may notice is that there are more than nine stones. Why? Well, extensive research that I carried out for this book shows that the tradition of Nine Maidens (or Nine Mothers, Ladies, Sisters and so on) is embedded so strongly both in landscape and in mythology that no one minds very much if the literal number doesn’t match the sacred concept of ‘the Nine’. Our landscape here in the British Isles is studded with ancient ‘Nine Maidens’ landmarks and monuments called and so on. And practically none of them have nine stones or nine features! As I’ve written in the first chapter of Circle of Nine, the numbering probably stems from 3 x 3 (as in triple goddess). And it’s incredibly widespread throughout Europe, the Mediterranean and elsewhere. Historians and folklorists have tried to explain away the discrepancies, but even William Bottrell, the nineteenth century Cornish folklorist, who tried to deny the validity of ‘nine’ in the names of the megaliths nevertheless said: “You know everybody hereabouts uses nine in all their charms and many other matters.” Long live the Nine Maidens in the landscape!
These particular Maidens are said to be dancers frozen in time – but for those who have eyes to see, they come to life at midday, and begin their dance again…