Indie publisher Rough Trade Books has produced a beautiful pamphlet of David Bramwell‘s solo show, The Cult of Water, with artwork by Pete Fowler, best known for his work with Super Furry Animals. We’re pleased to reproduce an extract below
It is said that the most powerful forces in society are revealed
by our tallest buildings.
Once our skylines were dominated by palaces, parliaments,
cathedrals and churches.
Now it is skyscrapers and office blocks.
Commerce is the ruling power, dwarfing the stone and spires
of the old gods.
But there are always exceptions.
When I’m eight years old my family trade the damp fens
of Lincolnshire for a Yorkshire town—Doncaster, Donny
or Danum as she was formerly known.
Once a key Roman settlement.
A gateway between north and south.
From my new bedroom window I can see houses and trees
but the skyline is dominated by two pale, concrete towers.
The tallest buildings for miles.
What mysterious beings inhabit these strange, windowless
I cycle out to them, stare up in wonder.
Unknown to me the most powerful force in my landscape
—any landscape—is water.
All my life I’ve dreamed of water.
It’s the same relentless nightmare that leaves me breathless and
I’m in too deep, feet unable to find the bottom.
It’s called thalassophobia—the primal fear of dark water, of a
creature that lurks in the murky depths with the power to drag me
down into madness and death.
And perhaps – if I have the courage to face it—the power to save.
I feel its presence in murky rivers, coastal waters and deep
‘I am the spirit of dark and lonely waters,’ whispered Donald Pleasance
in a terrifying 1970s public information film, warning children of
the perils of larking about near rivers.
It worked for me.
But they did get one important detail wrong: the spirit of dark and
lonely water is female.
My family’s move to Doncaster coincides with the great heatwave
England is in the grip of a drought.
Forest fires break out daily, temperatures hit 36 degrees.
The land is scorched and bleached.
With the heatwave come soaring numbers of aphids.
Hot on their trail—a plague of ladybirds.
Huge clouds of them shimmer through the air.
They stick in your hair and to your clothes.
Open your mouth for too long at your peril.
When the aphids have gone the ladybirds starve to death.
Millions of them litter the streets and countryside.
This was a biblical prophecy, English-style.
Something even stranger happens that summer.
In the midst of the heatwave we take a family trip to the dark
waters of Ladybower Reservoir in Derbyshire to see the drowned
Building of the reservoir began in 1935, to provide water to
Manchester and surrounding towns.
Deep in the valley the villages of Derwent and Ashopton were
Residents were ordered to leave their homes forever in the name of
Derwent’s church held its last service in 1943.
But while the village was destroyed the church was left standing.
A mark of respect or superstition, perhaps?
And during times of severe drought, when the water levels of
Ladybower Reservoir fell sufficiently low, the church spire would
slowly re-emerge through the waters.
The Hillman Hunter parked up near Ladybower’s dam; mum, dad,
my sister and I bundle out and begin our walk to the water’s edge.
Within five minutes we’re all dripping with sweat from the heat.
Ice lollies are procured and greedily consumed.
Standing in the shade, at the far end of the dam, we gaze out at the
uncanny apparition of Derwent’s belfry, like a stone creature rising
from the depths.
A drowning God, coming up for air.
I was eight years old.
Some things, once seen, can never be forgotten.
It was the Don that, in 43AD, led the Romans to build a
settlement at the lowest crossing of the river, a fort to divide north
and south, and to keep out the fearsome Brigantes.
But the Don’s legacy is older than the Romans.
Once she would have been venerated as a goddess.
To our ancestors, wells and springs were entrances to other worlds.
Rivers, lakes, lochs—each had their own guardians, deities,
goddesses and nymphs.
The Romans named their new town Danum after Danu—Celtic
goddess of rivers, Hindu goddess of primordial waters.
Danu—the divine creator who birthed all things into being.
For those with the courage to sleep by her side she may divine the
future in her swirling eddies.
Danu, who gave her name to the Danube, the Duna, the Dane, the
Dunn, the Don.
Danu became Danum became Doncaster, a town built on a river
that has since forgotten its river.
An inconvenience it was shunted to the far side of the town,
neglected and unloved.
A river I grew up never knowing.
What happened to the Don, to Danu our river goddess?
What did we do to her?
Was there some mysterious connection between water and the
Seeking answers, I paid a visit to England’s greatest living wizard,
Over tea in his terraced Northampton home—‘Sea View’—the
hirsute author and magician shared his thoughts on the symbolism
‘There’s a fertility—a fecundity—to rivers, they bring life to the landscape.
In the East, undulant and natural lines like rivers are seen as the vectors of
good energy; straight lines are demonic. For the Chinese the dragon is an
auspicious symbol; it follows the shape of rivers and mountains. Here, since
the rise of Christianity at least, dragons are considered to be malevolent.
And, curiously, largely seen as female. It says something about the image of St
George spearing a dragon with his big, shiny lance.’
Throughout the world, water is largely seen as a female element. In the Tarot
deck its corresponding suit is cups, which symbolises compassion.
Of course male and female energies are both necessary for the creation of
anything, whether that be an idea or whether that be a universe. If one of
them is dominating however, that will lead to problems.’
One thing struck me after visiting the wizard, if male and female
need to be in balance, didn’t I need to see a witch?
Extracted from The Cult of Water by David Bramwell and Pete Fowler (Rough Trade Books, £7.99). Buy a copy here.