Ethelflaeda was a pious woman, so they said. Devoted to God and to his service. And in those long ago days before the first millennium had come and emptily gone who was to say that the unorthodox methods of her worship were to be condemned? They say she used to stand naked in the river in the heart of the night, in the coldest heart of the coldest night, and chant prayers to the Almighty.
She was a strong leader of the sisters under her rule and the abbey in the marshes, at Rum’s Eg, flourished. And she continued her private devotions in the heart of the night, in the river, in the only garments her God had given her.
History does not record what happened to her after her death, but the Church declared her a saint for her devotions and her leadership.
Eight hundred years later, a blink of the eye to some, a gravedigger named Mr Major was digging in the grounds of the abbey and discovered a coffin whose presence was previously unknown and unmarked. What happened next is given in his own words (and spellings)
“Wee began the work with the pickax and shovell, witch is the proper tools for excavation. Wee came on a led coffin. I acquainted the Vicar of the discovery. I was to find if thare was any bones in it. If so, it was not to be removed. I tried by making a hole on the top. I thrusted my hand to the head of the coffin to find the scull. I found no bones but a scalp of feamial [female] hair as bright as any living ladies hair I have ever seen. There was 1 finger bone. It became dust immediately the air came to it. This is a Trew History of the hair and the coffin.”
There was no body there, no bones, nor remains except for one finger bone which turned to dust as soon as the air (or sunlight) touched it. But the occupant’s hair remained, bizarrely (miraculously) preserved. Traces of the scalp remain.
The scalp and hair are displayed now, a museum curiousity, and while tests have been carried out on the artefact they have revealed only an estimated date of around the first millennium for the person whose hair this was, and traces of pine resin in the hair (not native to the area) and evidence that her diet included fish.
Ethelflaeda was a real person and I’m not going to slander her memory with bizarre and dark speculations. However in the spirit of fiction and appropriating writhing grubs of history for cultivation into winged stories here are some ways this strange find at Romsey Abbey may be used in a Trail of Cthulhu setting.
Who was Ethelflaeda worshipping in her extreme and private devotions? Naked river praying was not orthodox behaviour even in the early Saxon church (I wouldn’t put anything past the more inventive Celts of the period, or any period really) so who was the recipient of her prayers? The abbey was on the very edge of the marshes too which adds a fetid air to the whole proceedings. My inclinations would be toward making her a devotee of Shub Niggurath, that writhing goddess of fertile and over-fertile life in all its forms, accepting the priestess as her servant and perhaps the prayers of Ethelflaeda’s sisters, unknowingly offered in the wrong direction. Fish came to the abbey and the area in abundance, and there were strange oils and resins in the preserved scalp that did not come from local vegetation. Since no great harm seems to have been done to the area or its people then it is unlikely the goddess herself paid too close attention to the rites being undertaken, or perhaps too little time had passed by the time of Ethelflaeda’s death for Shub Niggurath to stir herself and take notice.
But there were effects of course and as we know the the life force of the devotees of the unknowable gods hastes not from their charnel clay and in this case though the body itself decayed and departed without leaving a trace that mysteriously preserved grisly scalp still seethes with the earthbound soul of the priestess. If it were to be taken from its museum case, what then?
Suppose a student of ancient lore looked deeply into the history of the area and saw past the official church interpretation of the matters. The Romans had put down barbaric revels in the area around Rum’s Eg long before the Saxons had come. They had smashed votive stones and put worshippers to the sword in a way that the usually pragmatic legions avoided. After the Romans withdrew the old ways resurfaced for a short time, old songs were song in the dank marshlands and when the strange lights moved on the damp trackways all other folk kept far away from them. No wonder King Edgar wanted to build an abbey there, a counterpoint to the horrors beyond the fringe of civilisation. But the old songs keep on being heard and voices answer. The scholar of such things would read of Ethelflaeda’s devotions and begin to wonder… and they would find the scalp so lovingly and reverently displayed,,, and they would wonder about that too.
It would be a matter of a few moments of daring to break the glass and take the rank thing, to squirrel it away in answer to a growing obsession or need. And then that scholar would brood over it and keep on wondering.,, his dreams filled with images of burgeoning plant life and luxuriant rich vegetation. Plants can be grafted onto living stems… He would begin to hear the old songs raised at night time, in his dreams, in the voice of a woman calling across the centuries. Plants can be grafted onto living stems…
Stealing a living stem would be harder than stealing the hair and scalp ever was. A living stem would struggle and scream as it was prepared, as the living… sap… flowed from the newly cleared graft site.
Oh but if the graft was to take. What glorious new growth might there be?
|Carved Corbel at Romsey Abbey depicting a female figure giving birth|