“Collect the blood of Kingu from the great old sea,
And arrogate the primeval waters.
Inside your veins the power of the demon flow,
Have you ever searched for your descent?”
The Blood of Kingu – Therion
Deep within the subterranean labyrinth of tunnels and waterways, the atmosphere oppressive and heavy, she squats beside the fire pit, warming her chilled flesh as she waits. A scarlet shawl her only protection, darkened jewels and pearls at her neck. The air is filled with the musty aroma of death and decay, mingled with the rich, earthy scent of iron. Her moon-blood flows this night. The roots of The Tree of Death grow overhead, clinging to the walls of the cavern – Writhing, entangled and serpentine.
She watches as the flames leap and flicker, casting dancing patterns across the dank, moist walls. The fire spits and sizzles as she throws a handful of dust into the heart of it, sending the flames skyward as a heady perfume fills the chamber. She narrows her eyes against the smoke of the precisely portioned, sacred but poisonous wood as it curls around her, and strikes the Earth Beneath The Earth three times hard with her staff, curled and twisted; the sound reverberating across the cavernous space. Some say she is a Priestess, a guardian of the deep, dark, Forgotten Gates, others say a Seeress or an Oracle, some say she is a half- mad feral woman; a black-eyed Witch, with a heart even blacker. Still some have names for what she is, and for what she does, that dare not be uttered.
I’m a West London girl, born and raised, and there are many things I love about my home town. More often than not it’s those special places you wander across after straying off the beaten path. London is filled with hidden gems if you know where to look, or have a few spare hours to just meander through the streets, alleyways, gardens, peaking through hedgerows. It’s what hides under London that has always fascinated me the most, as beneath its skin of cement, stone and earth, lay chambers, crypts and tunnels, underground rivers, springs, caverns and labyrinthine passageways. Secret places beneath the city that will never see the light of day.
When anyone asks what River flows through London, most people can name only one – The Thames. A few might mention the Lea, the Fleet or the Effra, but what most people don’t realize is there are over twenty subterranean waterways flowing below the city’s streets. These rivers and streams once flowed openly through field and valley, winding their way through the many villages that now make up Greater London, which have now been culverted to run along pipes and sewers. They are buried deep beneath, but they are still very much alive; they are London’s nervous system. The Underworld influences life on the surface, and merges past and present with a continuous embrace.
Some of these waterways are but a shade of what they used to be, some bubble to the surface here and there, and some gush and course forever unseen below our feet. Down beneath the clay, within the water, the Old Things dwell still; the Spirits of these waterways are forgotten and hungry.
The hair rises over her body, her skin tingling, as she feels those familiar eyes upon her. Old eyes. Eyes that stare from the unfathomable watery chasm beneath the earth, from whence the primordial waters flow, piercing to her very core. Eyes you cannot hide from once you have revealed yourself. The air thickens still, murmuring is heard, and dark figures meander in her peripheral vision. Swiftly flickering. Entrancing. Beckoning.
She waits. She listens. She watches for the signals. For the right time. She is part of them, and yet alone she stands, the air growing colder. It is an intense time, and she is in danger of losing herself, but still she waits until she is fully in control as the smoke swirls furiously, ever closer, around her. Her body undulates to the buzzing in her head, and in reaching it’s crescendo it dictates the precise moment for her to plunge her crooked staff into the waters. And there it stands, within her underground mirror pool. The mirror that reflects the Shadow. She recites Unknown words across the stillness, her voice nothing more than a croon, opening the Watery Gates to the Night Side; not that those gates are ever fully closed to her. And as the woman becomes conjoined with the shadow itself, she gazes into the obsidian blackness of the Waters Under The Earth, stretching out before her.
William Bedwell in writing of springs in 1613, mentions a Holy spring ‘which ariseth out of the bottom of a cellar of a fayre house situated upon the side of a high hill, a parte of that on which the great wood is seated, of this spring is that part of this hill named “Mossy-Hill” ‘. Mossy-Hill is of course Muswell Hill in North London, and the ‘great wood’ is Highgate Woods (which were once part of the ancient Forest of Middlesex which covered much of London, Essex and Hertfordshire).
In the sixteenth century Nordon gives an account which says ‘There was a chapel sometime bearing the name of our lady of Muswell’. This chapel was built by nuns on land owned by the Bishop of London, who was at the time the Lord of the Manor of Haringey, and had been granted 65 acres. In another report he states: ‘There was sometimes an image of the Lady of Muswell in the water resulting to a pilgrimage to the water for a cure, which people believed a King of the Scots who being strangely diseased was advised to take the water of a well in England named Muswell. This was found and performed the cure’. The area then became a popular place for healing in Medieval times.
The ‘burying’ and culverting of the Moselle, started back in 1836 and has since been driven underground completely through Haringey and only surfaces now at Tottenham Cemetery. The atmosphere upon the bridge that crosses these waters is not exactly comfortable. The trees growing alongside the Moselle block out the Sun and even on a clear, sunny day it seems perpetual twilight upon this bridge. One of the first things you notice when approaching the river is the smell; a pungent aroma of decay assaults your nostrils.
Standing beneath this canopy you can find it hard to believe that this river was ever used for healing or that it stems from a holy spring deep beneath Muswell Hill. Rivers, springs and streams (subterranean or no) are inhabited by Spirits that act as intermediaries between the mundane world and that beyond; the Otherworlds and Underworlds that litter myth and legend all over the world. The Moselle now barely resembles a river at all, snaking its way through consecrated and unconsecrated ground alike, the only company these old Spirits have are the dead of the cemetery it cleaves in two.
Casting her eyes over her staff, following the reflection down. Down and deep. As she raises the Cup of Abominations aloft, and whilst supping deep, she rubs the required red fluid into the once white wood of what was a branch from a lightning blasted tree. They pull. She falls. Down and deep and under, into the abyss beyond.
Not lost but freed, for she has embraced her shadows and knows what waits in the aquatic gloom, at the centre of every crossroad, where the sea laps upon the sand in the night, within the ebony depths of the hidden earth, upon the bridge of nowhere and no place, at a time that is not a time, in a season without name; the places of deepest dreaming, far memory, future past and searing vision.
One cannot help but think of the River Styx, or any other river that separates the Land of the Living from the Land of the Dead. Upon its banks, a solitary cawing crow as company, the river seems more like the river Cocytus; The River of Lamentation, where the unburied are said to wander for a hundred years. It had been a very long time since these Spirits have been remembered, let alone had offerings and petitions cast upon their currents. A lone Witch approached these waters with reverence, and a need. ‘Her feet go down to death and her steps lead into Hades’ (Prov. v. 5), and from there we descend into Tartarus; the deepest recessed of Hades reserved for the damned souls of the vilest evildoers. Where we meet with Tantalus, forever reaching for fruit that is eternally just beyond his grasp, within water which recedes as he tries to drink.
But things don’t have to be this way, for the Witch knows we don’t have to be slaves to Fate; when the stars, winds and tides are just right we can work, weave and forge our will to fulfill our desires and the destiny we carve out for ourselves through true grit and determination.
The waterways course and bubble through the tunnels at the roots of The Tree of Death which spring from deep within the earth. A ‘primordial ocean’ features in stories throughout the ancient world, especially creation myths, out of which they state the Gods and man arose. This water is home to the Great Serpent, She who owns the night, She who swallows all the water. She is Leviathan, the ancient chaos who lives in the meandrous labyrinths of the waters deep below the earth.
Here, deep within, one may find the darkened jewels, which lurk within the hidden places. The greasy, tainted water must be skimmed, crumbling rocks upturned, and then polished to see if they shine. Delving into Her black waters, with Her permission and aid, one may find themselves a step closer to the fountains of the deep – The elixir of life. The Philosopher’s Stone. Passion. Sin. Our darkest desires. Forbidden wisdom.
“Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.”
Kubla Khan – Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Text – Sarah-Jayne Farrer
“Gateway to Hell” and “The Tree Of Death” © Sarah-Jayne Farrer & Matt Baldwin-Ives
“Transcendence” © Emma Green & Matt Baldwin-Ives
“Tartarus” © Matt Baldwin-Ives (www.milescross.co.uk)
“Love is Blind” © Original art by Sarah-Jayne Farrer, digital manipulations by Matt Baldwin-Ives