Chislehurst Caves

"It is not about been possessed by a spirit but it is about jumping voluntarily in the skin of an animal"

Sunday’s KINGDOM was mostly held in the dark where we attempted to enlighten ourselves with the true nature of magic, both in the past and its potential in the future. Whilst walking through Saxon and Druid dug tunnels we admired the carved marks both spontaneous and thoughtful; a range of ‘I was here’s’ amongst complex, primal and functional carvings, some featuring canary wharf; others ritual blood. 

We were led by a tour guide of tour guides, Darren, whose punchy wit, authority and rhythmic delivery was sure to impress all but the most cynical. For those brave enough he simulated total blackout (took our lamps away) and the intensity of an air raid (perhaps a steel gong beaten with the utmost enthusiasm) that echoed throughout the tunnels. Some of us choose to use this moment to make bad(good) jokes about others’ children being taken and sacrificed. Much to their horror.

We thought about solidarity in times of war and how quickly this can tip into survival mode when our common needs are not met due to rationing, or in more modern times austerity. We considered the spikes in witchhuntings in relation to the spikes in food shortages throughout the 1600s, and how this now relates to our contemporary witchhunts, migration and the EU vote.

We found out that Merlin was a feminist who worshiped the goddesses and that his predictions and mass of literature produced was seen as a vehicle for criticising the church. Therefore these were banned by the church and put on the list on prohibited books in the 16th century, a ban that stands to this day.

In the caves we were told that Chislehurst residents only own 4 foot beneath their houses, and the full system is now owned by Mushroom Something Limited (of course); many Men of Kent or Kent Men (apparently this is a thing and a big difference) still worship their very own God of Kent, Puck. We also found out in the 80’s a competition was run in which competitors must stay one night alone in the caves by the Lady of the Lake, with nothing but six candles for company. Over 500 people tried and ultimately only one young police officer staying (traumatized, but carved a pretty good horse) and leaving with his grand £5 prize. 

Out of one end of the cave we entered another; a place which allows participants to suspend reality in the UK’s ‘Premier’ Live Action Role Play experience. We entered as fairies, wizards, priests, dwarfs and the like were surfacing for air. We were led deep into the tavern where we learnt their rules, weapons and magic, and that they also have a class system. Here we also discussed the differences between black and white magic, that witch really means ‘wise one’ and that evil is live backwards. To enter Satanism you must first get a man in a position of power in a compromising position. 

We spent the rest of the afternoon witchhunting ourselves around a round table by candlelight and through violent poetic verse, we thought about moonmilk and what affect the decline of magic might have, and what have we lost in the age of reason.

Following our moving into strange worlds we surfaced but something equally as odd. The affluent gastro pub, here we scared the locals and their children by combining our garb offerings for the day into ritual, shamanic costumes and beating each other with sticks.

It was the best day. We came home with wild garlic. And broke records - with our highest turn out, most men and youngest explorer.

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"It is not about been possessed by a spirit but it is about jumping voluntarily in the skin of an animal"

A tour of the caves may not be suitable for those of a very nervous disposition or with an acute fear of darkness. According to The Women’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets by B G Walker (p 651), these caves were the most likely site of Merlin’s secret cave but in 1900 were opened as a ‘showplace’ of Chislehurst. Then, the Victorian guides told visitors the history of Romans, Druids and Saxons, Smuggling and Murder. For May’s KINGDOM we will visit and find out what they say now.

We wonder what role magic has in modern day Britain, and why its pagan roots are most often seen as a curious point of humour and eccentricity, rather than an enduring belief system and cultural legacy. Now with the caves a budding tourist destination, we want to question what it means when magic is appropriated by the mainstream and why this religion dug down instead of building up.

We will take pagan ritual’s invitation to ‘jump voluntarily in the skin of an animal’ where you decide to become something else…which, apparently, is much more exciting than becoming a demon. And, think about magic’s relationship to art, cave painting’s relationship to ‘I was here’ and death metals relationship to religious transcendence and witch hunting’s relationship to capitalist accumulation. 

Meet 10.30 at London Bridge by the entrance to platform 1 for the 10.44 train to Chislehurst. Please bring a packed lunch and £6 for the Cave Tour, as well as any ritualistic garb, i.e. full-faced masks, six-foot fur hats or wicker appendages. Please bring any text or activities you’d like to share with the group, such as beginner’s black magic, a guide to appropriating religions, or ritualistic head-banging for dummies. 

07964289731
contactourkingdom@gmail.com

We can’t wait to see you.

Extra thanks to Darren, John and Duncan from the Labrynthe Club for sharing your enthusiasm for LARPing, answering all our (Lucian's) questions and lending us your round table and of course, as ever, to those who ventured and gained.