The photographs here and on the associated Gallery were taken over the Summer Solstice recently in West Penwith, Cornwall. The title of this blog post is taken from the Martha Tilston song Who Turns, found on her Lucy and the Wolves cd.
The song is a meditation on the meaning of life and everything, using the metaphor of moonlight to suggest that we are more than just hapless creatures on the treadmill of life. Martha suggests that we all have a freedom and glory to our existence we may not currently realise.
The song’s refrain summarises this struggle :
How long, how many more will come
How long before we get it right
Who turns the wheel,
Are we all moons reflecting light?
The struggle for personal freedom can be found in a number of Martha’s other songs and reminds me of similar sentiments expressed by Joni Mitchell in her song Hejira some 40 years earlier. These are tensions which exist for any creative person, but perhaps come to a particular focus for creative and independently minded women. Acceding entirely to conventions around relationships and associated roles can lead to emotional, spiritual and creative frustration in both genders; following creative instincts requires change, dedication and sacrifice but continues to ensure development. There is sometimes little ‘safe’ space.
You know it never has been easy
Whether you do or you do not resign
Whether you travel the breadth of extremities
Or stick to some straighter line
Hejira Joni Mitchell
I saw Martha and her band at the Acorn Theatre in Penzance, Cornwall on Solstice 2017. It is a particularly congruent place to see Martha given that on another song she extols catching a train west ‘as far as you can get’. The western-born train stops eventually at Penzance; the only means to go further west is to board the Scillonian ferry or catch a plane from the nearby Lands End airport out over the great Atlantic ocean.
Penzance is part of an ancient landscape which has for millenia influenced its occupants principally through its granite rock formations, geographically isolated position and proximity to the sea; it is at one of the margins of the UK and, in common with other regions at the extremes of this country, has developed its own identity. It can be argued that the West Penwith peninsula has a character unique even within Cornwall; draw an imaginary line between St Ives and Penwith and the traveller enters another world.
The landscape has maintained a primordial aspect, foresaking its historical tin mining industry for people and industries driven by other perspectives but no less endeavour and risk. At Newlyn the fishing harbour still maintains its fleets of trawlers and trading market place, landing their catch whenever the tide is high. The inland fertile valleys grow flowers and vegetables, taking advantage of the temperate climate and mostly frost-free winters to reach early markets. The tourist has never enjoyed a wider range of accommodations from which to choose. The creative ( painter, writer, musician, potter ) are drawn by invisible lodestones and feed off the colours, changing light and vibrant energies which permeate every granite outcrop, cove and pathway. That within its boundaries it has given birth to internationally respected art movements can not be accidental.
The range of antiquities across its peninsula bears testament to older gods and belief systems which owe more to nature than any deity. Stone circles, fogues and holy wells occupy isolated spots, often hidden within a jumble of briar and thorn, and still visited on a regular basis by people who may not wholly trust a fractured world. The affinity between these spaces and people is often intensely personal and maintained as secret; the relationship can be considered similar to that of more popular pilgrimage sites anywhere within the world. Small gifts and offerings, mostly of intricately fashioned natural material, can be found on or beside stones; offerings which are a mixture of prayer and supplication given with a hope there will be some reciprocity, or return.
The Wells are dotted across from the south coast to the north coast. Historically they were places of healing skin diseases, fevers, scabies and eye aches, the natural elements carried in the waters bringing some relief. Today the healing role is more complex, and gifts are exchanged with the hope of a cure for illness often in others, or for the remembering of loved ones who have died. Theoretically, as the gift degrades through exposure to weathering the wish becomes manifest. They are also used to assist in matters of love and relationships; aching hearts find some solace and responsibility here.
These photographs ( and those in the associated Gallery ) were taken over Solstice 2017 at Madron, Sancreed and Carn Euny wells and portray some of the offerings which hang from branches of trees above the wells and their waters. Taken in the same time period that I saw Martha Tilston in Penzance, I believe it is possible to see these beautiful offerings too as ‘moons reflecting light’; that is personifications or avatars of those people who have left them here hoping for some positive variance in the world’s energies.
Who Turns can be heard on Martha’s website.