The DARK MONARCH
Spectre over Eagle’s Nest
An unnatural wisp of mist hangs
about Eagle’s Nest at Zennor...
I have often seen this travelling from St Ives back to St Just and I have never quite been sure if it wasn’t simply wood fire smoke or something more sinister.
Eagle’s Nest, once Patrick Heron’s home, is on the coast road above Zennor, on the edge of the moors and overlooking the patchwork quilt of Iron-Age fields and walls far beneath which stretches to the sea.
Bad things have happened here and only a few weeks ago a member of the Gurnard’s Head restaurant staff came a cropper taking a bend too quickly and wrote off his brand new VW. He was air-lifted to hospital.
This some times bleak spot tends to accumulate stories. The most sinister perhaps is the oft’ related tale of Aleister Crowley’s stay in the neighbourhood. Self styled Black wizard Crowley is supposed to have conjured up the Devil himself a walk away at Carn Cottage, the cottage most recently used by Margo Maeckelberghe and lived in for many years by Bryan Wynter.
The poet W S Graham who stayed there for a few months in 1950 referred to the druidical moor of rocks and standing stones saying, “Christ knows what has been done in the name of magic and worship.”
The Dark Monarch
The Dark Monarch is many things; a butterfly, a flower, a comic book character, even a child’s toy. West Penwith is its own interpretation, The Dark Monarch is the landscape itself. It is also a man and a book, and at Tate St Ives it will, this autumn, become an exhibition. The Belgrave Gallery in St Ives also promises an exhibition entitled The Dark Monarch.
It was St Ives artist/writer/poet Sven Berlin who coined the term Dark Monarch, stealing it apparently from notorious dabbler in the Black Arts, Aleister Crowley, who developed a concept of sovereignty of the individual with his precept "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law."
Berlin described the land of West Penwith as a slumbering creature,
the Dark Monarch, restless and riddled with labyrinthine caves, mines and superstitions.
In an article in Facet he describes, “The open coliseum of each little cove of sand and rock may be a theatre for any natural or supernatural or unnatural event. The unending presence of the sea breathing ceaselessly over the shoulder of each hill, the rock charged with a thousand sunsets and carved by a hundred years of rain… These events in some way act as the chanting of magicians to open the deeper rooms of experience in man, make him aware of his origins, of being part of nature and the universe at the head of a great unseen procession of Gods, Devils, Spectres and Dragons, of being a channel for unknown and undefined forces, of facing the mystery of life… stimulating painters like Bryan Wynter, John Wells, Barns-Graham, Peter Lanyon, Alfred Wallis, Nicholson, Gabo, Frost…”
“This was a recurring feature of the Cornwall I knew,” continued Berlin in The Coat of Many Colours, “Its primitive nature could not be ignored by those who came here and to whom in so many cases it spelt death or else spiritual anguish of the most devilish kind.”
A Book Withdrawn
In his infamous Dark Monarch published in 1962, Berlin describes, “This stretch of land, jutting out into the sea, seemed as though it was the backbone of some giant coelacanth thrown up by the waves thousands of years ago… This was a terrible landscape where the paramours of evil walked on the bare hills… Everywhere there was a brooding Presence… The Dark Monarch who wrecked men’s lives, smashing their ships on the rocks…”
With Dark Monarch Berlin wound up with a libel case against him having written about the St Ives art colony, its politics and various shenanigans under the guise of a novel about a seaside “Cuckoo Town”.
In the book St Ives is portrayed as Cuckoo Town with a cast of thinly disguised real life characters including the four plaintiffs who claimed that characters in the book were poorly-disguised representations of themselves and that, to these supposedly fictional characters, were attributed defamatory traits, in one case, a heroin addiction.
The libel case was, it is understood, listed for hearing at Exeter Assizes but was settled out of Court before the scheduled date. Damages were paid to the plaintiffs by both author and publisher. As part of this agreement, all printed copies were to be destroyed. In the event this proved impossible and several hundred copies are known to have survived. All these years later, these are still occasionally offered for sale at quite large sums of money. The episode, with writs tumbling through the letterbox, left lasting scars on Berlin.
The Dark Wizard
It is not surprising that Sven Berlin’s writing about
West Penwith was infused with the fleur de mal of Aleister Crowley’s legacy.
Edward Alexander Crowley or ‘Aleister’ Crowley has been called the
Picasso of the Occult. He was the most versatile and notorious wizard of his
age whose life was an Arabian Nights fantasia rather than a biography. On attaining
his mid-forties, he achieved the distinction of being called ‘The Wickedest
Man in the World’.
Tales told at Zennor have varying sequences of events. One reports,
“A young woman knocked on the door of the Eagle’s Nest – a house above Zennor – in a state of distress. The house was occupied by Katherine Arnold-Forster, formerly Ka Cox, one of the early loves of Rupert Brooke. Apparently something terrible had happened in the cottage above - an incident involving the notorious wizard, Aleister Crowley, then living at The Carn, Tregerthen, allegedly conducting strange rites at churches and ancient sites in the neighbourhood. Katherine Arnold-Forster hurried up to the cottage and confronted Crowley and his wicked set. An appalling argument ensued, after which she died, either trying to get back from The Carn or in the building itself. A report of the case was made but later it went missing or was destroyed. One of the men involved with Crowley – apparently a conjuration had taken place - was in a terrible state, gibbering mad.”
Another version has Mrs Ka Arnold-Forster going up to Carn Cottage to comfort the ill wife of the writer Gerald Vaughan: “The following morning Mrs Vaughan was found quite mad while Mrs Arnold-Forster was quite dead”…
In yet another version it is the husband of Mrs Arnold-Forster who is found to be a gibbering wreck and lived out his life in a mad-house in Bodmin! In whatever circumstances Katherine met an early death at the age of 51. The year was 1938.
Attracted to an array of so-far unsubstantiated rumours writer
Paul Newman after a meticulous investigation published quite recently The Tregerthen
Horror. He was surprised to discover the association with Aleister Crowley and
magical activities in Zennor date back to 1917, “and the entourage of
D.H. Lawrence which included the brilliant yet highly volatile musician, Philip
Heseltine, and the babbling psychotherapist and ex-Crowley disciple, Meredith
Starr, and his black wife, Lady Mary Stamford, both of whom fasted and
undertook occult experiments in mines. Also present was the composer, Cecil Gray, who thought the region a 'spiritual black country'. Yet he managed to lure the poetess HD away from her husband and into the large house he rented there, resulting in the birth of a child, Perdita, who Gray quickly disowned. Both Gray and Heseltine later became involved with Crowley's drug-set and performed rituals to ensure the music they composed should attain the immortality they thought it deserved.”
It is little wonder that such a tangled web of intrigue continues to cast a shadow over the moors above Zennor. And yet the dark is easily dispelled by bright Cornish sunshine and spring flowers. In the spring of 1975 as a second year art student visiting from London, I knocked on the door of Eagle’s Nest with the calling card of having had Alexander Mackenzie as my tutor in Plymouth. Patrick Heron was away in London but I was granted the liberty to wander around the house looking at the paintings. The house was full of harmony and light. Certainly no spectre seemed to hang over the place on such a blue sky and sun-filled spring day.
Crowley was notorious during his lifetime, he was frequently
attacked in the tabloid press. After founding an organization which was based
on his personal philosophies, the Abbey of Thelema, he was expelled from Italy.
After losing a court case in 1934, Crowley was declared bankrupt after trying
to sue the artist Nina Hamnett for calling him a black magician in her 1932
book, Laughing Torso. On the day of the verdict Patricia "Deirdre"
MacAlpine approached Crowley and offered to bear him a child, this they did
and he named the boy Aleister Ataturk. She sought no role in Crowley's life
and rarely saw him after the birth.
Crowley often used drugs and kept record of his experiences with laudanum, opium, cocaine, hashish, alcohol, ether, mescaline and heroin. He developed his drug addiction after a doctor prescribed heroin for his asthma and bronchitis. Crowley died in Hastings on 1 December 1947 at the age of 72 from a respiratory infection.
(1) William Edward Arnold-Forster (8 May 1886-1951) artist, author & Labour politician, married Katherine "Ka" Laird Cox in 1918. They moved to Eagle's Nest in 1920.
(2) Details of the garden at Eagle’s Nest taking shape in the 1920s can be found in W Arnold-Forster’s book Shrubs for the Milder Counties. First published in 1948, it is a classic in its field. The modern edition features a drawing of Eagle’s Nest by Patrick Heron.
Susanna Heron has written; “In 1806 a cottage was built there, probably by a Mr Batten from Penzance, becoming known as Batten's Folly. It is uncertain if he lived there but it had already been named Eagles Nest in 1873 when it was sold to Professor John Westlake from London. Within three years he had doubled its size, later renaming it Tregerthen Cottage. Further extensions were built in 1890. In 1921 Professor Westlake's widow Alice Westlake sold it to Will Arnold-Forster who completed the current structure of the house and revived the name of Eagles Nest. He lived there until his death in 1953 and his book 'Shrubs for the Milder Counties' - Country Life 1948 - was based on his experience in making the garden. In 1955 my father bought the house from his son, Mark Arnold-Forster, and my family - my father Patrick Heron, my mother Delia, my sister Katharine - and myself, aged five, moved there from London.”
“I lived with my husband & small son at 'Noon Veor' cottage up on Lady Downs about 1949 having moved from Boswarthen temporarily. It was in site of the Quoit also the cottage right beneath it where some artist friends lived. Very beautiful but very haunted too, Cairn cottage rather than Noon Veor. I actually had my 2nd child in the cottage prematurely. Next day 6 ambulance men carried me on a stretcher across the moors. Last time I visited in 1979 there was still a stone in the garden of Cairn Cottage. Aleister Crowley had lived there so its not surprising strange things occurred there, you got used to them. Mrs Forster who lived at Eagles Nest on the main road was said to be responsible for running him out of Cornwall. He got his revenge though. Zennor was the last place where witchcraft was practised, so they say.”
Stephen Prince May 2009