In June 2005 Philena Bruce asked me if I would be interested in going to Spain to assist her in some psychic work. I said that I would be, and forgot about it. A month or two later she told me that the tickets were booked, which rather surprised me, since many of these projects never come off.
We caught a coach from Victoria at lunchtime on Thursday 15 September, a miserable rainy day, at least in England. At Stansted Airport I had the usual trouble getting through the metal detectors. I think the studs on my boots set them off. Then a man wanted to look in my bag, saying that an object in it had puzzled his colleague on the X-ray machine – it was my crystal-tipped Himalayan wand, which Philena had told me to bring. I found it difficult to explain that I use it in exorcism, but in the end he let me pass.
I find airports intensely irritating. Apart from all of the security precautions, they tell you that if you don’t get to your gate by a certain time you will not be allowed on the flight, but then fail to tell you the gate number until the last moment. On this occasion they announced it when there was only five minutes to go, and Lincoln, the third member of our team, had just disappeared to buy some sunglasses. When he did return, we had a very long walk, of course, but did make it somehow. I would hate to belong to the ‘jet set’ and have to go through this torture regularly.
I am susceptible to dizzy attacks, and the motion of an airplane is liable to set one off. A dash of spirits is a suitable antidote, but the airline’s rules stipulate that passengers must not consume their own alcohol during the flight. This of course is because they want you to pay an extortionate price for their own booze, but that would have been of little use to me anyhow, since an attack is most likely to come during take-off, and they don’t start selling refreshments until the plane has levelled out at thirty thousand feet. So, I had brought along a bottle of orange juice, which no-one was likely to guess was actually half vodka. In the event I was all right anyway.
We landed at Seville on a warm evening which contrasted starkly with the weather when we had boarded. I noticed that the baggage collection area was labelled ‘no fumedar’, but that many people were smoking anyway, including a group of middle aged English ladettes we had met on the flight, and that the officials in the room made no effort to enforce the rule. I felt that this was a civilised place.
In Arrivals we were met by our client, Angela, an English expatriate of about fifty. Outside the building a small white curly-haired dog was waiting. Angela said that his name was Liddell, and that he was so well behaved that you could leave him like that.
We were still one hundred miles from our destination. The centre of Seville is said to be a ‘must-see’ mediaeval city, so it was a bit frustrating to get a view only of such suburbs as are visible from the motorway. After an hour or so we were stopped at a police road block. Philena exclaimed, “Oh no, there’s a man with a gun!” I don’t know what they were looking for, but it wasn’t us. Since the nanny state nowadays pervades everywhere, an officer told us not to let Liddell sit on the back seat, as this could be dangerous in the event of a crash. We ignored him and drove off. A bit further on we stopped for supper at a restaurant near the hill town of Medina Sidonia. Outside the door Angela demonstrated how one says ‘Wait!’ firmly to Liddell. The meal was very good except that it contained fried mushrooms – I think they are much better raw. As we ate, Angela explained our mission. She is a property dealer, and some time ago had bought a patch of land out in the country with three ruined cottages on it, hoping to make it into a spiritual retreat. But she had had various problems and decided that the local earth energies were bad. This was what she wanted us to deal with.
As we got out of the car at our destination, the seaside town of Conil de la Frontera, Liddell started chasing a cat. Angela explained that although he was on the whole well behaved, she had not yet cured him of this habit. The cat sensibly ran beneath a car, where no dog could easily get at it.
Formerly a fishing village, with the spread of tourism down Spain’s Atlantic coast, Conil has grown considerably, and has many hotels and holiday homes. Fortunately, in those parts new buildings are usually erected according to old established architecture, so that one does no get the phenomenon, so common in parts of Europe, of a lovely old town centre surround by ugly new suburbs. We were to stay at a house, owned by Angela, which she normally lets out. It is just a few yards from her own home. It was an extremely pleasant dwelling with some antique furniture. The fridge had been generously stocked with food and wine. The living room was equipped with a CD player, which turned out not to work properly, and a television with a large selection of English videos. Later, I watched some Spanish TV programmes, which are just as bad as those everywhere else in the world.
By now it was after midnight – I could not make out by how much, since although there were several clocks in the place, the mechanical ones had stopped, and the electric ones all told different times. There were three bedrooms, Philena was assigned one which had an extra large double bed which, she observed, would be good for three in a bed sex sessions. Unfortunately she did not get the chance.
Next day we drove out to the site, which is on a hilltop a few miles inland. According to Angela it is 2000 square metres, I guess about 40 metres by 50. It is surrounded by a hedge of prickly pears, which are commonly used for that purpose in those parts. This plant illustrates the perversity of nature. It is usually supposed that the reason some plants bear fruits is that, when animals eat them, they help distribute the seeds. But this does not explain why some, such as the pineapple, strongly resist eating. Prickly pears are another example: the plant is a sort of cactus with oval green fruits. The cactus spines are obvious, but the ‘pears’ are covered with tiny, almost invisible though still lethal needles, so that if you try to pick one you will then spend a painful half hour pulling them out of your hand. There are, however, ways of doing it. Later, Philena gathered some by spearing each fruit with a stick, knocking it off with a stone, and letting it fall into a bowl. Back in Conil, she speared each one again with a fork, cut it in half with a knife, and scooped out the innards with a spoon. The flavour is quite pleasant, though possibly not worth all that effort.
Two of the cottages had been splendidly renovated – Angela had even found an elderly local thatcher to restore the roofs. The third remained in ruins. The district has no electricity or running water, for which reason no-one lives on the nearby farms anymore, the farmers dwelling elsewhere and commuting. She had put up a windmill to generate electricity, though unfortunately on two separate occasions a kestrel had flown into the blades and been killed. She also installed a pump and a pipe to bring water from a well a couple of hundred yards down the road, although this is quite dirty. It was rather bizarre to be in a modern kitchen, the tap water of which was not drinkable. There was, though, a large supply of bottled water if you were thirsty. She had dug a well on her own land but failed to strike water. Philena picked up psychically that this had upset a local earth spirit (commonly called a gnome), who would need to be appeased. There had been vandalism: the water pipe had been cut, and after it was repaired the pump was stolen. These acts may have been perpetrated by a disgruntled former tenant, a German who had a criminal record. One of the cottages was let to an English ornithologist named Jonathan.
After seeing the place, we went for a late lunch – it was now about five o’clock – in a nearby village. Though I like Spanish cooking, most restaurants (unlike the first one we visited) do not particularly provide for vegetarians. Very often, the only meatless options on the menu will be salad and fried peppers, so that if you want a two course meal it will have to be salad followed by fried peppers (or fried peppers followed by salad). On this occasion I had salad.
Much of the rest of the day was spent planning the ritual and ‘tuning in’ to the site. I did find time to visit the beach. Angela told me that, to get there, I should go to the nearby roundabout, take the road with cafés on either side, and just keep straight on till I got to the sea. This was somewhat imprecise: after going in a straight line for two hundred yards, I reached the old town, the usual maze of winding narrow streets and alleys. Since the place is built on a hill, I reasoned that if at each junction I took a route leading downwards, I would get to the beach in the end, though even as I did so I wondered how I was going to find my way back. It so happens that I arrived at the spot where a river flows into the sea. It did not look to be a good spot for bathing, and it was only later that I realised that the main beach, thronged by tourists, was slightly further to the west. To the south east one could see a mediaeval tower, and beyond that, Cape Trafalgar. It occurred to me that October would be the bicentenary of the battle.
(I must pause here for one of my favourite jokes. Admiral Nelson was standing on the deck of his flagship when the news was brought: “There are a dozen French and Spanish ships on the horizon.” So he turned to his second-in-command, Hardy, and said: “Hardy, fetch my red jacket. Then, if I should be wounded, the blood will not show, which might demoralise the men.” After he had donned the red jacket, another message came: “There are now a hundred French and Spanish ships on the horizon.” So Nelson said: “Hardy, fetch my brown trousers.”)
I wandered aimlessly back uphill until I found a spot that I recognised, and retraced my steps until I had found the house again. I then went to the local supermarket. The man in front of me in the checkout queue left one of his purchases behind, so the girl at the till ran down the street after him with it, a scene I do not anticipate ever seeing in London.
About ten we went to a restaurant recommended by Angela, the Blanco y Verde. The menu, I observed, was printed in Spanish, English, and German. This form of trilingualism was common in the neighbourhood, houses and apartments often displaying a notice:
The waiters were mostly monoglot, but were used enough to tourists to be adept at communicating by signs. Philena and Lincoln ate fish, quite large portions, whilst I had salad followed by fried peppers. We followed the meal with liqueurs. Philena had one that made her merry, so much so that she asked them for the brand name, only to be told, to her astonishment, that it had been an alcohol free cordial. On the way back we were accosted by a group of teenage girls who were hanging about on a street corner. One of them took a picture of me on her mobile, then showed it to the others, who for some reason seemed to find it very funny. They then asked us, if I understood them aright, whether Philena and Lincoln were my parents. Since Philena was only ten years old when I was born, and Lincoln is slightly younger than me, this was an unexpected question. “Amigos”, explained Philena.
Early the next day – relatively early, that is, since we are late risers – we went to buy various things which we needed for the ritual, including things to make a noise with, such as tambourines and horns. They included a rattle, which I was later given. It was bought in a Moroccan shop, though it has ‘Cuba’ inscribed on it. I was amazed at the variety of things on sale, in contrast to England. It was only after I had returned home that it occurred to me that I should have tried to buy some plain black t-shirts – that is, without silly slogans or pictures on them – as these seem now to be unobtainable in London.
Preparation for the ritual took some time. Philena set up an altar next to a palm tree in the forecourt of the ruined cottage. She also pulled a lot of nails out of the trunk of the tree, which had been used to hang things on, and said that the tree seemed to be grateful. Angela and Lincoln collected flowers and fruit for offerings. I had remarked that the nature spirits, who were presumed to be unhappy with the place, would be pleased if some of the rubbish was cleared away, as the whole place was covered with broken bricks, litter, empty rusting cans, and much more. I spent an hour filling a black bag, but even so this was not much more than a token gesture. Some fool had thrown a lot of junk into the prickly pear hedges, where presumably it will lie forever, unless a refuse collector comes along wearing full body armour.
Just then a Spanish couple arrived, having rented the other renovated cottage. I forget their names, but they had a small dog called Crispín. He kept trying to mount Liddell, who did not seem very happy about it.
The locals must have been well into their siesta by the time we got started. We began with the Gayatri mantra (Om, bhur, bhuvas svaha, &c.), then, seated around the altar, called upon various deities reverently with closed eyes. Unaware of the solemnity of the occasion, Crispín chose this moment to try to make friends, and kept jumping onto people’s laps expecting to be welcomed. I could have said to him: “Why don’t you go and bugger Liddell?”, but this would not have restored the religious atmosphere. Fortunately he gave up after a while.
We went down to the well, a huge concrete monstrosity with obviously dirty water in it. After tuning in, Philena got us to make offerings to its spirit – a Naiad, I suppose – and then told me to do whatever I felt inspired with the crystal wand. I was moved to point it, in undulating fashion, along the presumed underground course of the water from the higher part of the hill. A large bird flew overheard, which Angela said was either an eagle or a vulture. We then processed three times around it widdershins, I don’t know why, we all instinctively felt that it should be that way.
Back at the site, we went to the failed well, and tried to appease the angry gnome – Philena remarked that gnomes always seem to be angry – by getting Angela to apologise formally for disturbing its territory, and making various offerings to it, including incense and beer. After that, it was time for crystal healing. This involved going all over the site, and at every relevant spot, Philena and Lincoln got out their crystal pendulums, and asked them questions, like, “Are there bad energies here?” The pendulum might, say, turn clockwise for ‘yes’, and anti-clockwise for ‘no’. If the answer was ‘yes’, then they would further ask, “Are you able and willing to remove these energies?”, the ‘you’ I suppose being the good spirits guiding the pendulums. If the answer was ‘yes’, which it usually was, they would let the pendulums go wild until this was done. Afterwards, I used the crystal-tipped wand to banish anything remaining, by making the sign of the equal armed cross with it.
Since we had to go fairly minutely over 2000 square metres, this took until early evening. By then other people were starting to arrive, as Philena had said that we had to round off with some large group activity, then a party. Most of them were other English expatriates, who are common in enough in those parts for one of them to have found it profitable to open a bookshop specialising in English language works, though he also stocked material in Spanish and German. Whilst the media are getting concerned about the level of immigration into Britain, asylum seekers and so on, it is clear than these people merely balance out the emigration rate. Back home, many of my neighbours are of non-British origin, but most of the people I met in Spain were English. Living in one’s own country is becoming a minority practice. Some time after this, I met a young Brazilian woman who told me that she had been living in London for a year, during which time she had greatly improved her knowledge of Spanish, as she had been lodging with a Venezuelan family, and working in a café where most of the staff were Colombian. If she had really wanted to learn English, she should have gone to Spain.
Once everyone was there – in all there were eleven of us, which with the two dogs made a coven of thirteen – we performed a Dragon Dance. This involved processing in a line around the property chanting, and regularly stopping, at which point we all made a noise with our horns and tambourines and rattles. After that, we went into one of the cottages, where I got everyone to intone the Gifu rune. I was very impressed by how everyone got into the spirit of things – usually, if you ask a group of strangers to do chanting and the like, the result is not very good. I wondered if they were a spiritual development group or something, but I discovered that, though they were all friends of Angela’s, they hardly knew each other.
Outside again, I recited the Orphic Hymn to the Moon, which was rising, at the full, among the trees. Finally, we lit a sacred fire, and got everyone to write down on a piece of paper something that they would like to be rid of in life, and something that they wanted in its place. They were then to explain it aloud, if they chose, and throw the paper into the fire. This went fine, except for a Dutch woman who owned a local hotel, and went on for what seemed like half an hour about her aims and ambitions in life. I said that I wanted to be rid of my tendency to waste the day in unnecessary activities, and hence to get more done. I further wanted to be rid of some of the clutter in my home, particularly in the kitchen, which might be fulfilled if the previous wish was, as I would spend more time on housework. Thirdly, I wished to be rid of the flies in my kitchen, which might well happen if I cleared it up, as before wished.
This was followed by an open air dinner party. The food was excellent, and though of course it included salad and fried peppers, there was much more besides, and seemingly unlimited wine. Everyone got on together as if they were lifelong friends. Philena started to reminisce about her days in Spain on the hippy trail, which had apparently been a dazed round of getting drunk, stoned, and occasionally laid. Towards the end of the evening, the ornithologist remarked that a couple of owls, who normally only hoot soon after sunset, had been at it all evening. I am afraid that I had not noticed them, but it seemed like a good omen, as their taxonomic genus, he told me, was athena – the owl was sacred to Athena, whom I had invoked at the start.
The remainder of the week was simply meant to be a holiday, but did it not go entirely smoothly. On the Sunday morning Philena went with Lincoln to a café for breakfast, and was unwise enough to eat a croissant. It seems that this, on top of meat, was enough to give her constipation, which, since she had a hernia, was disastrous. We had planned a late lunch at a restaurant on the beach, but she had to be taken there by taxi. I forget what the others ate, but I had fried peppers with salad. After, Philena went to sleep on the beach for a couple of hours, but she needed to get a taxi back, and was then confined to bed – alone – for two days. (The following year her hernia was successfully operated on at St. Thomas’s Hospital.)
The rest of the stay was fairly laid back. Lincoln and I went to visit Baelia Claudia, the ruins of one of the first Roman towns in the Iberian Peninsula. After, we were driven back by way of Cape Trafalgar and Barbate, said to be the main town where heroin is smuggled in from Morocco, though to the casual visitor it seemed a peaceful place. In the evening we watched a video of Hamlet which had been filmed in Blenheim Palace. The next evening we went to a café where I ate some salad and a fried pepper which, in an unusual innovation, had been stuffed with rice and herbs.
I felt as if I could stay there forever – it is the only place I have ever been that has had that effect on me. Philena seemed to think the same, and we spent some time discussing the practicalities of it. In reality, there are three reasons why I do not think I would be happy there in the long term: firstly, I would miss my friends; secondly, I would miss having access to large libraries; thirdly, I would never get used to a diet of fried peppers and salad.
On the last day, Philena and I went shopping in Vejer, an amazing Moorish town built on a hill top. I can never think what presents people might want, so I settled for a pack of cigars for my friend Mark McCann, and a bottle of whisky for David Farrant. These at least I was sure would be appreciated. We were then meant to meet Angela in the restaurant of the Hotel del Califa on the Plaza d l’Espagnol. Unfortunately, when speaking Spanish Philena is unable to relinquish her upper class English accent – she was brought up in Hampton Court Palace – and, when asking for directions, her “Donde la Plaza de l’Espagnol?” produced some peculiar responses which made it evident that she was not understood. One woman said “Maria”, as if that were an answer to the question. Once people did grasp what she meant, they indicated the way by signs. When we finally got there, she spoke in her version of Spanish to a waitress who promptly brought us menus printed in English. To my delight, they had a wide vegetarian selection, and I felt that I could eat the lot. In the end I settled for harira, a Moroccan soup with chickpeas, and cous-cous with vegetables in a spicy sauce, along with a particularly fine pot of tea.
Finally, we were driven back to the airport. Cadiz, said to be the oldest city in Europe, could be seen only faintly in the distance from the motorway, but we did get to drive around Jerez, where Tio Pepe is made (it sounds an unlikely etymology, but ‘sherry’ is derived from ‘Jerez’), and where Philena had lived during her hippy period. Of Seville, once again we saw only the suburbs. Then, we were off back to our cold, damp homeland. Angela was able to sell the patch of land a few months later.
I must apologise for the lack of illustrations – none of us remembered to bring along a camera. GJM.
Postscript: One thing that mystified me at the time was a tower just to the east of Conil. According to the guidebooks, this is all that remains of a mediaeval castle. Now, around the year 1500, changing methods of warfare made castles redundant, so that many were demolished and the stones used to build something else. So, why did they leave the one tower? Moreover, exactly the same thing happened to a castle outside Havant on the south coast of England, which has disappeared except for a single tower, which is perfectly intact. More recently it occurred to me that the Conil tower is only a few yards from the seashore, and the Havant one a couple of minutes walk away. Most likely, people still wanted watchtowers to alert them to possible invasion fleets, and indeed several were constructed on the Italian coast in the sixteenth century to look out for the Turks.
(c) Gareth J. Medway
Vice President of the British Psychic and Occult Society Gareth J. Medway is a respected author and historian of the occult. He is a prolific contributor to Magonia Magazine and Fortean Times, and a popular speaker at The Moot With No Name (now known as The Atlantis Bookshop Presents) and The Secret Chiefs pagan moot as well at various UK conferences pertaining to the arcane. Gareth is an officiating priest within The Fellowship of Isis, and is also actively involved in paranormal research. He regularly assists with spirit release work and healing circles with other professionals in the field. He also makes appearances in TV documentaries which explore the world of the unknown, often filmed on location in Europe and beyond.