Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Old Ways and the Supernatural

Macfarlane's journey begins on the Icknield Way, which runs over the chalk downs of Sussex. He starts out on a bicycle along an old Roman road that runs past an Iron Age hill-fort. As he cycles past the hill-fort he falls, damages his bicyle, and breaks a rib.However, Macfarlane gets up and continues his journey. He views the accident as

A warning, I thought superstitiously, had been issued to me: that the going would not be easy and that romanticism would be quickly punished. It was only a few miles later that I remembered the letter a friend had sent me when I told him about my plan to walk the Icknield Way. Take care as you pass the ring-fort, he had written back. When I mentioned the fall later, he was unamazed."This was an entry fee to the old ways, charged at one of the usual tollbooths, " he said. "Now you can proceed. You're in. Bone for chalk: you've paid your due." It was the first of several incidents along the old ways that I still find hard to explain away rationally." (p.43).

Throughout the book, Macfarlane risks meeting the supernatural. He spends the nights camping near Iron Age barrows. He sleeps in circular Pictish shielings. Finally he decides to sleep in Chanctonbury RIng in Sussex because author Laurie Lee had slept there while walking over England in the 1930's.

I first learned about Chanctonbury Ring when I read about called Sussex Cottage written by Esther Meynell in 1936. The ring contains a temple built by the Romans on a previously inhabited Bronze and Iron Age fort site. According to legend, Julius Caesar and his legions ride around the ring. It is also possible to summon the devil by running around it a certain number of times. There are a number of internet sites with chilling stories of uncanny experiences in Chanctonbury Ring:

Oblivious to the possibility that he may be rousing some kind of supernatural being, Macfarlane spends a night in Chanctonbury Ring, but gets little rest. First he walks around the ring, then beds down for the night. He is awoken by  human-sounding voices moving around the ring until two voices meet directly over his head. Eventually the voices go away and he is able to go back to sleep although he does not feel rested in the morning. Later in the day Macfarlane meets up up with an archaeologist friend and they discuss why it was a bad idea to sleep in the ring. However, it is not until he gets home that Macfarlane researches the folklore of Chanctonbury Ring and realizes that it is one of the most malevolently haunted spots in England.

What's interesting is that while Macfarlane is aware of the many centuries of human history that his paths have run through, and of the theories that the paths exist throughout time, he does little research on the supernatural history of the places where he travels. These places seem to do their best to make him aware of their history and their special qualities. The supernatural seems to forcibly come to him although he does his best to remain ignorant of its existence.

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