Chapter 7: Boundaries
Boundaries are primarily about ownership. Property rights, whether private, public or sacred, define the meaning of areas in culture and in law. Those who claim ownership to areas, which can range from a few square meters to a nation-state, essentially bar access to those areas by those whom the owners consider have no right to be there. This principle applies to areas deemed property as well as those deemed in the ownership of spiritual beings.
Boundaries are conceptual or physical lines of division between perceived areas, invisible or visible lines of demarcation that separate and define relationships between separated areas in contact with one another. Boundaries can be natural or artificial, passable or impassable. Natural boundaries like rivers, unclimbable ridges, mountains and seas are obvious to everyone; they create barriers to all that walk; only flying creatures may cross them without problems. These natural boundaries are geographical ‘givens’ with which human beings must come to terms. Human-made boundaries, though arbitrary, are invested with the characteristics of natural boundaries, backed up with human force.
Magic Circles and Conjuring Parsons
Although they are rarely viewed as such, megalithic circles in the landscape are de facto magic circles, the favored means of the magician who deals with spirits. Whether or not they were built for that purpose is, of course, unknown and unknowable, but they can certainly serve that function. Fairy rings, patterns on the grass caused by the growth of fungi, said to be the dancing-places of the wildfolk, are natural versions of the circles utilized by human magicians. Chapter 23 of H.C. Agrippa’s seminal work of magic, Three Books of Occult Philosophy (Antwerp, 1531) is titled, Of Geometrical Figures and Bodies, by what Virtue they are Powerful in Magic, and Which are Agreeable to each Element, and the Heaven. Of the circle, the 1651 English edition tells us: “Of these first of all, the circle doth answer to unity; for unity is the centre and circumference of all things .... a circle is called an infinite line ... whose beginning and end is in every point, whence also a circular motion is called infinite, not according to time but according to place; hence a circle being the largest [in relative area of any geometric figure – N.P.] and perfectest of all is judged to be most fit for bindings and conjurations; whence they who adjure evil spirits are wont to environ themselves about with a circle”. The circle functions as the magical protection of the magician who has called up powers that otherwise might destroy him or her.
As Agrippa described, the demonic empire has customarily been kept from entering the realm of humans through magical boundaries set up by magicians and magician-priests, and historically not only wizards and witches were adept in dealing with spirits. In the West Country, particularly in Cornwall, was a tradition of Conjuring Parsons, clergymen who practised the binding of demons and the laying of ghosts. In the West Country, as well as a triangular enclosure of ground, a magic circle is known as a ‘gallitrap’ and making such circles to trap and command spirits was the work of the conjuring parson. The best documentation comes from the seventeenth century, a period when such conjuration by those who were not clergymen laid them open to accusations of witchcraft. As far as can be told from the records, conjuring parsons appear to have practiced a form of folk-magic common with other cunning men. Parson Corker of Lamorna was a noted “huntsman, ghost-layer, and devil-driver”. As with Rudall, making a pentagram was part of his rites for subduing spirits: “the parson .... drew the magic pentagram and sacred triangle, within which they placed themselves for safety, and commenced the other ceremonies, only known to the learned, which are required for the effectual subjugation of restless spirits ...” (Rees 1898, 256). Conjuring parsons not only cast magic circles and expelled demons, but provided charms and talismans for protection and advantage. The Cornish story of Jackey Trevail and his wrestling-match with the Devil recounted by William Bottrell tells how the conjuring parson Wood helped him by giving him a charm: “”You must keep your word with the Devil ... I shall not go with you, yet depend on it I'll be near at hand to protect you against unfair play." Whilst saying this Mr. Wood took from his pocket-book a slip of parchment, on which certain mystic signs and words were traced or written. “Secure this in the left-hand side of your waistcoat,” said he, in giving it to Jackey; “don't change your waistcoat, and be “sure to wear it in the encounter ; above all, mind ye - show no fear, but behave with him precisely as you would with any ordinary wrestler, and don't spare him, or be fooled by his devices.”” (Bottrell 1880, 6). The banishment of spirits to the Red Sea by conjuring parsons of the West Country reflects the northern European traditional recognition of a kingdom of the dead beneath large bodies of water, both lakes and the open sea. The English word soul comes from an early Germanic word meaning “belonging to the lake”, referring directly to this ancient belief (Hasenfratz 2011, 72). In the northern tradition, seabound souls went to the goddess Ran, and in much later nautical tradition, to Davy Jones, in whose locker they are housed. Those who die on land may also go into the waters, to be reborn later as new babies. The motif of a baby being delivered by a stork is a remnant of this belief.