This is where I'll be posting pictures and more info about some of the stories I relate in the book, The Circle of Nine. If you'd like to know more about the Woman in the Scarlet Raincoat, the Mother Stone on Easter Island or May Day in Padstow, read on!
The Woman in the Scarlet Raincoat Who was this extraordinary woman? For sure, she was a Lady of the Dance. Our cruise ship had berthed in Yalta, on the Black Sea, and to mark our departure a local orchestra had gathered on the dock to play us out. And then into their midst burst this lady wearing a scarlet hat and raincoat. She danced exuberantly, joyfully. She abandoned herself to the music but with such style and grace that she had to be a truly skilful dancer. We cheered and clapped, as she danced, apparently just for the love of it, as there was no chance to reward her except for a bottle of champagne that one of the crew brought out in tribute as she ended her performance. I have often wondered who she was – an out-of-work, Russian-trained ballerina? Or a woman whose passion was dance, and who longed to perform to a wider audience? Her story is still waiting to be told.
The Circle of Stones on Easter Island This is another story from a cruise – my husband and I worked as artist and lecturer respectively on various exciting voyages around the world. The most amazing trip we took was to Easter Island, or Rapa-Nui, which is the most remote inhabited island in the world, and five sailing days from the coast of Chile. Of course, we wanted to see the giant Moai heads, but in a guidebook I also found a brief mention of a circle of stones that had been built by the sea shore, no one knows how long ago. As it turned out, this was a stone circle dedicated especially to women, who come there for support and guidance during their pregnancy. We needed transport to get there, and it was our great good fortune that we found ourselves in the cab of the only female taxi driver on the island, as none of the others would have understood its purpose. Our guide led me into the circle and showed me how to place my hands on the ‘mother’ stone, to feel its energy. The Great Mother was present, and it just happened to be Mother’s Day in the UK too! My husband – who was allowed into the circle himself later – sketched us and this is the painting that resulted. I treasure this memory.
Queens of the Earth at Padstow! Padstow, in Cornwall, is famous for its May Day celebrations. All night, and all day, the town throbs to the sound of drum beats, and the air is full of singing and cheering. Everyone has a good time. The Queen of the Earth is linked, as I explain in the book, to the Queen of the May in old British traditions. In Padstow the Queen is represented by decking the town with flowers and branches of greenery, by women garlanding themselves with flowers, and musicians decorating their costumes and instruments. Young women – the ‘princesses of the earth’ – may be seized by the hobby horse (the old ‘oss’) and disappear out of sight, under his cavernous black hood, a kind of ritual impregnation which these days is very harmless and causes nothing but shrieks of laughter! I heard one girl tell her boyfriend off for getting drunk on the day – no need for that, she said, as everyone gets high enough on the spirit of the ceremony, and the flowering of the earth itself. Here's some of the many photos I took on the day - May 1st, 2015.
Russian Wise Woman - the Lady of Light I was deeply involved in Russian culture for many years. I travelled there nearly sixty times, owned a little house in an artists’ village, and studied Russian folk traditions. Mostly, this sprang from my business at the time, running a Russian arts gallery in the UK, but I became so absorbed in the life there that I decided to write a book about my discoveries: Russian Magic (or The Soul of Russia, as it was known in the UK). One of the women I talked to for this book was a Russian émigré in the US, who had been profoundly influenced by the traditions of the Russian Wise Woman – let us call her, here, the Lady of Light, who is associated with wisdom and healing. Natasha explained in her own words what this had meant to her: ‘My mother was a znaharka in her own right. In spite of having university education, she was very keen on learning from wise women and knew many of them. So I understood that they had a kind of underground network and learned from each other. My mother knew how to get rid of warts, ‘lichen’ (eruptive skin diseases), boils, rheumatic fever, and how to treat deep wounds, diabetes and gangrene. As far as I remember every treatment commenced with “Hail Mary…” Her greatest achievement was the health of my father who came home after the war dying of wounds and diabetes. His condition was so bad, that the Soviet hospitals refused to take him as “terminally ill”. My mother kept him alive with her herbs and spells for 19 years! Our house was a virtual herbal factory with drying herbs all over the place, which she gathered in the woods, meadows and from her own garden. I still remember the wonderful fragrance of drying herbs in her house. ‘When I was about to emigrate, she said: “Daughter, I don’t have anything to give you as a parting gift but this. Use it when you are in big trouble,” and handed me an old Slavonic magic spell. I used it few times and it works very well. I can’t give you the text, but can tell you that it is beautiful and begins with invocation of powers of Mother of God. However the text itself is definitely not in the Bible or any prayer book. She died in her sleep with a smile on her face. I am sending you her photograph taken shortly before she died. It is hard not to notice a kind of aura of blessedness around her. At least, this is what I feel about her.’ (You can read the story in full in Russian Magic, p108)