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Paul Broadhurst on Secret Shrines, the Michael line, Hamish Miller and John Michell

Interview by Rupert White. Paul Broadhurst, author of several books, is best known for 'The Sun and the Serpent' (1989), an account of the giant ley line that links St Michael's Mount to Glastonbury.

 

 


When did you first come to Cornwall?

I came down about 1969. I was 17. I was living in South London. A friend said "I'm going down to Cornwall, to a place called Boscastle, why don't you come down for a few weeks - have a gas". Another friend said "I'm going to Somerset. Let's meet on Glastonbury Tor". So I hitch-hiked down and arrived very late at night and slept a very uncomfortable night on the Tor, full of weird dreams. I woke the next morning to a cow blowing his hot breath in my face.

I hitchhiked west to Boscastle, and slept in a hedge opposite the Wolsey Down (pub). I was covered in mud, but they gave me a pint and a pasty. Next morning I went to Boscastle and felt like I recognised the place. I felt at home immediately, and I've been there ever since.

I had done some candle-making, and I rented a stall opposite Camelot Pottery opposite the car-park, and started selling some candles. Then I moved into a little shop round the corner. 'The Other World'. We now specialise in mystical artefacts.



What do you remember of the Museum of Witchcraft, and its founder Cecil Williamson, back then, in the 70's?

Cecil lived in North Devon and didn't come down very much. But I did see him in the pub on occasions, and was an amusing character in many respects. Balding, fat, podgy little guy with two terriers. You wouldn't think he was the king of witch-craft, but when you started talking to him it was different. He had lot of hidden depth.

After Graham King bought the museum I helped him go through the archives, and the things we found were extraordinary. He (Cecil) was heavily involved in secret intelligence. It was because of Cecil that they repealed the Witchcraft act. Without him the Witchcraft Act would still be operating. He did a deal with the government - we found all the letters. As soon as he died, within 24 hours the men in black had turned up and burnt the lot. At home I've got some of the file boxes.

Cecil was a practising occultist. His laboratory, which we dismantled after his death, was absolutely full of ongoing projects at his house in Witheridge. He was a solitary practitioner and had various small shrines in his house. In his laboratory was a cage made from string, and right in the middle of it was a dead bird. I assume he'd put a live bird in there and had waited for it to die. When you met Cecil it was obvious that he used to mess around with the dark stuff.

The day he turned up the 'Secret Shrines' book launch he was very impressive. He wore a long robe. He was n't shy and retiring at all! He wasn't the dumpy little guy in the pub he'd suddenly transformed into a kind of Celtic bishop. He had a big staff with a rough Celtic cross at the top of it. He must have been inspired to move the museum to Boscastle because it was the absolute ideal spot.



But it has n't always been plain sailing...

There's always been a battle between the pagans and Christians in Boscastle. Right opposite the museum is the Harbour Lights run by Trixie Webber who's a real bible-basher. She gives out pamphlets saying that witchcraft is evil.

When Cecil had the museum he wasn't there a lot. There was just a little guy usually asleep in the booth who woke up when someone came in! The exhibits hadn't changed for a while, and it was all very 'News of the World', with the mannequins and the tar babies, but when Graham took it over he completely revamped the whole place and got rid of the old crap.

Then it became a viable thing, to where witches and pagans visited, and that's when Trixie started to take it on. The TV people who did the 'Island Parish' spent a lot of time in Boscastle, and they were desperate to stir up a war between the Christians and Pagans. They tried everything to create a confrontation. In the end they couldn't do it. They did a very boring series of programmes about the new women vicar.



How did you start writing books? Your first one being 'Secret Shrines', on holy wells...

I was a professional photographer working for newspapers and magazines. We started a newspaper called 'The Cornwall Courier' which started off in Launceston, and it was very successful. I was travelling around, and running the shop part time. At a sale at Jeffrey's in Lostwithiel was a box of books for a fiver, and in that box was a copy of the Quiller-Couch book 'Ancient and Holy Wells of Cornwall'. At that time no-one knew what Holy Wells were. They'd been forgotten.

I was travelling around, and I started visiting these wells, just to see what had happened to them in 100 years (picture above right is Paul Broadhurst in St Breward). Often the locals had forgotten about them. You'd have to knock on a lot of cottage doors to find someone who would remember that as a child they used to go and visit this place in the woods. So I started hacking my way through the undergrowth there were no signs in those days and rediscovering them. There was a terrific buzz to that. Not only are they the oldest sacred sites on earth, far older than megaliths, but they seem to have absorbed the entire history of humanity, because fresh water coming out of the ground is your number one priority. There are always rivers about, but you can't drink the water, but holy wells are full of pure water.

I used to collect the water from each holy well in wine bottles and have them on a rack in my cellar. When people came round I would say 'do you fancy a drop of St Cubyn 79'!. They all have different mineral content and taste. But it's not just the minerals. There is more going on. Anyone who goes and sits quietly at a remote holy well, there's an amazing atmosphere about it. They're like portals into another time-zone or something. My mind started to open up and I became more sensitive to subtle energies, I started to dowse and I realised that where the water comes out of the ground there is a spiral of energy. I didn't do a lot of dowsing in those days, only after I met Hamish Miller, but anyone can feel that energy however you pick it up, whether with a dowsing rod, or whether with your third eye or you just get the shiver up the spine. They're very powerful energetic places. So the holy aspect of them was also about communicating with other realms.



Were you reading Earth Mysteries material at the time?

I was reading Ithell Colquhoun. I was always into the esoteric side and had a group of friends, like Penny Harris the artist (who visited Ithell at Menwinnion). Everyone you bumped into was into stone circles. It was the hippy era the last dregs of it anyway.

Mark Thomas, who used to run the Quay Bookshop in Penzance, was a great focus in those days, and every time I was down there I would drop in and see him. He mentioned that he knew a woman, Cheryl Straffon, who was starting a magazine. So I went to see her, and she looked at the book and said 'Oh my Goddess'. And it was n't much later that she did her own cheaper version of it.

I agonised when I did the book. Do we really want loads of people trolling all over the shrines, and leaving coke cans and the like, or do we keep them secret? I thought, no, I think people do need to reconnect to the earth, and pilgrims used to come in large numbers in the old days so maybe its just a renaissance of that idea. And that's why I decided to do the book in the end.
 


It was a limited edition, and Colin Wilson contributed the foreword.

Limited edition of 500. I'd met Colin (picture above left at launch of 'Secret Shrines') because I'd been down taking photos of him for a newspaper, and as soon as we started talking we got on like a house on fire because I was into the same things that he was. It was a great privilege to meet him.

He was such a lovely man. Completely honest about everything. He told me about 'The Occult'. He said 'The publisher commissioned me to write a book debunking the Occult, but about 20 pages in I suddenly realised it was all true'. So there was a man who completely reversed his opinion when he'd done some research, and not a lot of academics are that open-minded, so I very much admired Colin for that.

When the newspaper closed down I started writing up the notes I'd collected over the years, and with a lump in my throat I wrote to Colin, one of my heroes; "would you please have a look at it and tell me what you think". He was so nice. He said "come down for supper, bring the manuscript, and well see what we can do".


He ended up writing an introduction for you...

He'd done all that research into the left-right brain stuff, and although he was an academic he was an outsider and so his mind ranged much further than most people's. A man of such incredible interests.



As did John Michell. How did that come about?

I knew about John Michell stuff, because everybody did. Colin said "the man you want is John". I said "OK right". Colin looked up his address and phone number. I wrote to John and he wrote back and said "Wow What a fantastic project". He loved Cornwall.

His family came from Cornwall. Many years later we found out that one of the constables of St Michael's Mount was a John Michell, and John said "oh yes, that was my great great grandfather". So like Colin he said "come up and bring the manuscript". He read it and liked what he saw and recommended it to his friends but he said you won't find a mainstream publisher (we tried Thames and Hudson), so he said "do it yourself".

He did it in the old Victorian way - gather your subscribers until you've got enough to pay the printer. I printed some flyers and he gave them out to all his friends and I got a fantastic list of subscribers: Lord this and that, all the aristocrats. He was the darling of that era, used to hang out with the Stones. I spent quite a lot of time in Notting Hill after that. But John and Colin gave me the kick I needed. As an unpublished author it felt you were up again a brick wall. But it paid off.



So 'Secret Shrines' came out in '88, very close to the now infamous 'Sun and the Serpent'. How did you meet Hamish Miller, your co-author?

It was early November, 11/11 I think. I got an anonymous letter saying Hamish Miller will be talking about dowsing at St Mabyn Village Hall. Me and some mates went to the pub and had a drink beforehand and initially Hamish didn't think anyone was going to turn up. Hamish at that stage was deeply into a different type of dowsing, to do with subtle energies, earth energies, auras that sort of stuff, so by the end of the evening he'd got everyone in the hall walking around with coat hangers.

It is something that anyone can do to a better or worse degree, but when you realise that it's not you who is doing it, and when you get results you aren't expecting, you start to realise there must be something in it. It was the first time I'd done dowsing with a real dowser.

A few weeks later I was sitting in Merlin's Cave in Tintagel, one of my favourite places, and I got this very strong impression that Hamish and I had to do something together. It was so overwhelming I got in the car and drove straight down to his forge in Lelant, and I said we have to do something together. We started talking, and we went back to his place a few miles away, and we literally stayed up all night long, talking about all the things we were interested in, and come the dawn, with the help of a certain amber fluid beloved of Scotsman, we had the germ of an idea. We said 'let's go to St Michael's Mount now'. And I've still got that photo that I took of him. And as we dowsed across between the Mount and Marazion we found this huge band of energy. I don't know if we were sensitised because we'd been up all night, but we thought 'wow it looks like there is a big line coming out of the mount. What do we do now?' We thought 'there is only one thing we can do and that is follow it and see where it goes', and it led to Leedstown.

There is a church there built by Benson, the Bishop of Truro. We walked in there and there was this incredible, buzzy atmosphere, like it was full of electricity. And the line we were following went right through the building. We went back the next Sunday, with our dowsing rods clanking at our sides. The vicar looked up and said 'can I help you?' We said 'we're following a leyline from St Michael's Mount'. 'That'll be the Michael line then?' We were absolutely dumbfounded. 'Oh yes I know all about that that's why they sent me down here'. An amazing character. He'd studied earth energies under Don Petitpierre, the top guy in the Anglican church. 'If you'd have come in here 6 months ago you'd have been sick because there was such a noxious atmosphere in here'. 'I'm the exorcist by the way, and because the church is on the Michael line the church sent me down to clean it up'.

He would never have spoken to us if he'd known we were going to write a book about it, he just thought we were a couple of nutters and so he opened up, and I think he did get a bit embarrassed about later when the book became so successful.
 


How did the exorcist affect the energies in the church?

Through ritual, I suspect. Properly performed ritual. And an understanding of how to transmute low frequency to high frequency energy. Which is what the church should be doing. It's their job, but they've forgotten how to do this. I did meet him later when he'd been promoted to the diocesan exorcist. St Columb Major was the druid centre of Cornwall, and they were going to build Truro Cathedral in St Columb. But then Benson had a vision and it was built in Truro on the Michael Line.
 


How did you share the work when you were writing 'The Sun and the Serpent'?

I did all the writing. Hamish wasn't a writer. Hamish was a dowser. I'd been a reporter and a newspaper man, and I was used to taking notes and photos, which is what I did.

It's a journey of discovery and we discovered as we went a long. It took several outings over 3 or 4 years.
We were both completely broke at the time! We would go to the pub in Hayle and empty out the coppers in our pockets to see if we could pay for another half pint. And if we had enough money to put some petrol in the tank we would, and go, and do it. I was bringing up three children and Hamish was trying to earn a living repairing prams in his forge. We were really on our uppers so it became an act of stupidity or dedication; you can choose the word depending on what side of the fence you're on!

We published it in the time-honoured tradition of Secret Shrines. John Michell supported us. John was nobody's fool despite what Paul Devereux and people might say about him. He was a scientist but he was a mystical scientist.

When I told John that the Mary and Michael lines were n't straight lines, and that they wiggled all over the place he smirked a bit in that old Etonian way and said 'it doesnt surprise me because its the caduceus isn't it'. He wrote about it in the introduction. When he first went to Glastonbury and discovered the Michael line he painted a mural in the cafe there of the twin serpents. I didn't already know about this. This was later on when we'd already done some work on it. We weren't trying to fulfill anyone's vision when we discovered the second line, but it makes sense; yin and yang and all that.

We were expecting all hell and high water to break out because we were challenging all sorts of pre-conceptions. We thought 'the historians and the scientists are n't going to like this'. But it was the leyhunters who didn't like it. They were vi-tri-olic. Incredible. I'd never seen such an explosion of vitriol and hatred. We thought 'what's going on here?'. I'm a great admirer of Paul Devereux's work. But he took against it so vehemently that they devoted a whole edition of the Ley Hunter to denouncing the book, and he got all his writers to rubbish it. Which was fantastic because everybody all rushed out to buy the book to see what the fuss was about! 90% of our correspondents said 'this feels right. Its not just a projection by two nutters'. That just made it worse, and in the end it did destroy his magazine because it became so dogmatic.

We found it quite amusing They'd spent most of the last decade rubbishing the establishment, but they didn't realise that they'd become the establishment, and they were impervious to stuff they didn't like, the things that didn't fit their paradigm. This is the way of the world. It was n't long 'til their magazine folded and the whole thing fell apart and it's been like ley wars ever since, really. But I have to say that now everybody is into dowsing because it gives you the opportunity to interact with a site according to your talents and skills. The difference with Hamish, was that his mental discipline was exceptional. He trained himself through meditation to attune like a radio dial to a particular frequency. This is what water dowsers and people do.



But he was nt the only famous dowser in West Cornwall. In the 80's there was a TV documentary on Don Wilkins...

I got to know Don very well. Don told me a really good story about how he discovered earth energies. He was near Duloe stone circle finding water for the farmer. He was trying to find water in that field and he was getting interference. He was worried he was losing his powers, he was getting very confused. Then he looked over the hedge and saw the stone circle and realised he was picking up a line of earth energy from the circle. Earth energy is largely created by underground water, the pressure of water passing over fissures which are lined with crystal, creates a highly energetic field. There are a lot of crossovers here which is why dowsers have to be absolutely specific. If they're looking for copper or minerals they have to use a witness. So eg if you were looking for pure water, you'd hold a small phial of pure water in your hand as you were dowsing.
 


And Don Wilkins was involved with the restoration of the labyrinth on the Scilly Isles...

Here's another great controversy that has followed me about all my life!

The locals asked Don to restore the labyrinth on St Agnes (photo left prior to its restoration). I knew it from old, and it had become a shapeless mass even in those days, but it had got so bad that people had taken stones away and the shape had gone, so Tim Hicks, who owned the land asked Don to go down.

Don was a god on Scillies, because he'd given them water. They were so desperate that they'd paid a hydrological unit to go out and spend a week on there testing all the granite. They found a spot where they thought there was water, and they'd drill down but there was nothing, so they left in disgrace. So Don said 'I'll do it'. He went out there and within three days he'd found the spot. He shipped his drilling rig over there, and drilled it down and there was the water.

So when they wanted the labyrinth reconstructed they asked Don, and Don asked Hamish and me and Ed Prynn - well known megalith maniac. And the four of us trolled over there and had an incredible time. By the time we'd got there they'd levelled the site because it was in a terrible mess.

They took the stones away and levelled the ground, so there was a flat piece of land there ready to be rebuilt. We spent a few days selecting those lovely egg-shaped boulders from the beach and bringing them up. But the interesting thing here is that when we first got to that site Hamish and Don started dowsing it. Hamish said 'My God. The shape of the labyrinth is in the earth. You can dowse it!' and so they did. And Don had a yellow spray can thing, and they were dowsing and spraying the shape of the labyrinth. The story is that it was built by a bored lighthouse keeper. But no, that lighthouse keeper must have been invited to build on top of something that was already there. He was inspired in some way.

The hilarious bit is that Don used to use a carbon-fibre dowsing rod, one of the strongest materials on the planet, and when he got to the centre it snapped like a dry twig. And Don just stood there with his eyes bulging and said 'I've never found energy stronger than that'. So we rebuilt it according to its proper place, and the locals used to come out and bring us sandwiches and pasties and stories about how they didn't go to church when they were lads, they used to come to the labyrinth instead, and it was a tradition that went way back.

But of course it wasn't long until the Ley Hunters heard about this, and were fuming. Evidently we'd destroyed an ancient monument. Nigel Pennick was writing for the broadsheets. The St Agnes story got into the Guardian and it was quite vitriolic. Whenever you're dealing with new ideas and fresh research you court controversy. You've got to expect it with all the books I've done. All the academics say what a load of rubbish but after a while they loosen up a bit.
 

 

'The Sun and the Serpent' became very popular and was also made into a film. How did that come about?

'The Sun and the Serpent' documentary was syndicated all over the world. They were a local production company. John Neville and his wife. He worked at Falmouth College. They came across the book and decided it could make an interesting film. We said 'we don't mind doing it'. They said 'it'll be our copyright'. We ended up doing it for nothing, but they paid off their mortgage with the proceeds of that film, commissioned by Channel 4.

It ended up only being half an hour. It was a reenactment. What was interesting was the crew. They were very cynical at first, but by the time we got to Avebury the sound man was getting up at 6AM to do dowsing. By the time we got to Norfolk they were all looking at everything through completely different eyes and they realised we weren't nutters. They used the title 'Sun and the Serpent' which helped the book sales. And now its gone into folklore. And it wouldn't have done that if we'd made it all up. If it doesn't have a resonance of truth it doesn't last.
 


Whats your understanding of the origins of the Michael line? Who wrote about it before Michell popularised the concept?

Dion Fortune. Colquhoun also mentions the Michael Force. That's an old thing that started with Tudor Pole and Margaret Thornley. We go on about Margaret Thornley in 'Dance of the Dragon', the follow up book. Pole was a psychic soldier. He'd say 'there'd been a terrible battle in Libya and there's a thousand people dead and I've got to help them over', and he'd go into a trance and would welcome souls and try and tame their trauma. There were quite a few psychic soldiers in Churchill's army. There was a lot of magic and occult stuff going on in the war, and Tudor Pole was at the very heart of it. He had a vision in Carbis Bay when he came down to stay with Margaret Thornley of St Michael hovering in the sky over the bay, and he wrote a fantastic book called 'Michael Prince of Heaven'.

He was very much a theosophical type person. Based on that vision, he said that the new force that is going to take over the earth. Margaret Thornley used to go on pilgrimages all over Europe, and she wrote about her experiences.

Tudor Pole visited Chalice Well Gardens and decided to purchase them for the nation, and he almost bankrupted himself in the process. The Michael stuff has provided a spiritual cement between earth energies and the Church. Michael sites especially have a power about them. I accept the esoteric side of Christianity. Witches' spells always have Jesus in there.

St Michael is like a Christianised sun-god. The sun creates the energy in the earth, and the spinning of the earth creates energetic flows through the magnetic crust and the biosphere. Its not mysticism at all, it's spiritual science this stuff. And people are beginning to realise this now.


 

 

Paul Broadhurst's own website is http://www.mythospress.co.uk/

Interview originally conducted as research for 'The Reenchanted Landscape: Earth Mysteries, Paganism and Art in Cornwall' (2017)