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A Glimpse into the Magic of Lewes

January 19th, 2008



A Glimpse into the Magic of Lewes
by Philip Carr-Gomm

Illustration: Lewes Castle and Tump by Will Worthington

Many people feel drawn to Lewes in East Sussex, sensing that it is in some ways magical. Could this be true? The poet Francis Thompson, who lived in nearby Storrington, wrote ‘The Angels keep their ancient Places’ and Lewes is undoubtedly ancient. Let’s see if there are likely to be angels here too…
When we consider the magic of a place we need to consider three things: the influence of the Ancestors, the power of the land, and the power that resides in the name of the land.

The Influence of the Ancestors – the Past

Imagine you are hovering, like a hawk at dawn, over the sea at Newhaven, flying towards the coast and Lewes. The mist from the Ouse obscures your view of the land below, but then as the sun climbs higher the mist begins to clear and you see not the town as it is now, but the town as it was perhaps in ancient times…
Beyond the Brookland Basin you see the Mound – like a small version of Silbury Hill in Wiltshire – and then flying towards the castle you see not the ramparts and walls but six mounds stretching to the north-north-east, including the castle mound and Brack Mount, and four others as you fly in the direction of Pells pond. And then you see the Ouse, the Isis, snaking its way across the land towards Anderida, the Waste of Ondred, with the North Downs on the horizon in the far distance.

Swoop round to the south-east and fly back past the stone monolith standing where All Saints church now stands; see the water gushing from the sacred spring in Pinwell lane and then turn north and fly up the hill, along what is now Station Street to arrive in the High Street by the castle. As you come to land you find yourself back in the town now – in the early twenty-first century.
And here you find the Barbican museum, filled with fascinating local finds and an excellent bookshop. Go in and buy a booklet with the racy title: ‘Sussex Archaeological Collections Vol 135 1997 pp.131-42 A Romano-British (?) barrow cemetery and the origins of Lewes’ by John Bleach.
In the few pages of this publication you will find a treasure-trove of information that provides many clues on the influence of the ancestors in this small town. John Bleach explains how Lewes shares with at least two other sites in England an arrangement of a sequence of tumuli in a rough line. These can be found in the Bartlow Hills in Essex ( where four conical burial mounds survive of an original eight) and at The Devil’s Jumps on Monkton Down at Treyford, West Sussex, where six Bronze Age barrows in a line can be found.
Feng Shui and Earth Energy practitioners would say that the fact that there is this pattern here must have an influence on the energy field or atmosphere of this town.
When we look at these tumuli we discover that they are of at least two types. The Mount or Tump’s origin is disputed, but it does not appear to be a burial mound. Instead one theory, which I find the most convincing, is that it is an ancient ‘harvest mound’, echoing in many ways Silbury Hill in Wiltshire. Rodney Castleden’s book ‘The Wilmington Giant’ is the resource you need to explore the mound’s significance in detail – including the way he believes the mound was used as a giant astronomical clock by the ancients. In my ‘The Druid Way’ there is also a good deal of material on it.
As regards the other mounds, John Bleach is the man to turn to. Here’s a summary of his findings:
Castle Mound & Brack Mount – no-one is sure whether they were constructed from ground level up, but it is quite possible that already existing mounds or barrows were simply increased in size, since the castles at Chichester and Canterbury, founded at the same time as Lewes, seem to have been built on Roman tumuli.
The site of the Elephant & Castle – the pub was built in 1838 probably on the site of the Town Gallows. Barrows were often reused as gallows sites in south-east England. Here they found 13 ft down a perfect skeleton with a boar’s head. And in many ways the boar could be a totem for Lewes because boars’ tusks and other remains of animal sacrifices were found when workmen dug the reservoir west of St Anne’s Church on the High Street in 1834. It’s not clear whether these were in a mound, but they probably were, which would make Lewes a town with at least eight mounds, if we include the tump.
The site of Abinger House – an immense tumulus was removed for a Mr Barratt to build his home.
St John Sub Castro –two mounds were levelled here: one of these was called St.John’s Mount and was recorded by Gideon Mantell of dinosaur fame, who said skeletons, and a large quantity of boars’ and other animal bones were found. He suggests it was a site for ‘Druidical sepulchres’.
If you have a look on Google Earth, you can fly over these sites and track them quite well. Start at the tump which is easy to locate because it is near the railway track and south of the town. You can even spot its spiral pathway.
The fact that Lewes has this configuration of mounds lends weight to the theory that the town’s name means ‘The Place of the Sacred Mounds’. There are two possible etymologies of Lewes and these are summarised in John Bleach’s article in an appendix by Richard Coates, and I talk about them too in ‘The Druid Way’. To summarise:

Hlaewes – the Place of the Mounds

The origin of the name Lewes is popularly explained as deriving from the Old English hlaew, meaning a hill, but hlaew was very rarely if ever used in southern England to describe a natural hill. Instead it was used to denote an artificial mound or tumulus, and could be translated as ‘a mound of importance’ or ‘sacred mound’.
For this reason it has been suggested that Lewes is so-called because of the tumuli which dot the hills to the east and west of the town. But John Bleach’s paper shows there might have been at least seven mounds within the town itself, suggesting that the origin of the name may come not from the sacred mounds outside the town, but from those within it.
Hlaew becomes low and lew, and so we have places like Mutlow, Knightlow Hill, Ludlow in Shropshire which means ‘mound by the torrent’, Brinklow, Pathlow – which means ‘mound or tumulus by the path’ – and Harlow in Essex, which is named after a small hill by the railway station, which in ancient times was surmounted by a Roman temple.
The other theory, detailed by Richard Coates, is that the name derives from the Brittonic Lexowias, meaning hillsides or slopes.
This exploration of the town’s name leads us to consider the next topic in the trio of ideas I suggested for considering the magic of place:

The Power that Resides in the Name of the Land

The two great media of magic are sound and light, or sound and image. Students of eastern approaches will know this well in the way that mantras and yantras are used. Behind sound and music lies the power of numbers, as Pythagoras first explained. And of course light and space are, in essence, governed by number too. And it was Pythagoras who was the father of numerology – that ‘science’ that claims it can find the number that is exerting a determining influence through a name or birthdate. You can work out the numerology of your name and of where you live. Lewes according to Pythagorean numerology = 19 = 10 = 1.
Number one in numerology signifies a leader, a pioneer. Perhaps that is why Lewes has played such a leading role in the establishment of parliamentary democracy, thanks to the Battle of Lewes, and the rights of the individual, since Tom Paine, author of ‘The Rights of Man’ joined The Headstrong Club here. Perhaps that’s why it has recently become a role model as one of the first Transition Towns.
If you know your own number it can be interesting to look at this in relation to your location’s number. Say for example you are a 3 and you live here in Lewes or in another ‘1’ town: that means you are in the optimum environment for you to manifest in the most creative way, your individuality, your unique gift, your pioneering or leadership skills.
Whether numerology is valid or not is another issue, but let’s move on now to look at the third criteria for assessing the magic of a place:

The Power in the Land

Is Lewes magical because of a special energy that emanates from the land here? When I was giving a workshop on the ‘Sacred Landscape of Sussex’ at Flint House in Lewes, someone mentioned that a New Age teacher called Dick Sutphen had spoken about Lewes being one of the most powerful spots on earth – where there was a ‘psychic vortex’.
A little research reveals that Dick Sutphen talks about there being such a place, but not in Lewes specifically, but in Sussex. His book, written over 20 years ago is available as a free e-book on his website. As far as I know it was responsible all those years ago for much of the interest in ‘psychic vortexes’ and for making Sedona a centre for New Age pilgrimage.
Here’s an excerpt from the book’s opening page.
The first time I saw Sedona, in 1969, I knew this was a special place, not only because of its magnificent beauty but because of an undeniable spiritual vibration emanating throughout the area. Over the years I’ve become convinced, through my own experiences and the experiences of others, and through extensive research and investigation, that the psychic energy here is greater than anywhere else in the country.
The explanation for this may come from a book called The Romeo Error by biologist Lyall Watson. The following is a quote from that book:
“Navigation is bedeviled by the fact that the earth’s magnetic field is riddled with local deviations and irregularities. These faults have been very carefully plotted and the most persistent of them have become quite notorious. One of these lies off the Bahama Islands (the Bermuda Triangle), another in the English county of Sussex, and a third near Prescott in Arizona.”
What Watson is describing is a vortex—a positive or negative “power spot”—where a great concentration of energy emits from the earth. Positive vortexes expand and perpetuate energy; negative vortexes dissipate energy.
There are many vortexes on earth, and a good analogy might be to compare them to the acupressure points on the human body. Although there are many vortexes, there are very few major vortex areas;
Positive vortexes are charged in one of three ways, according to psychic Page Bryant:
Electric: These are “yang,” charged with the male force. When you enter the vibrational field or frequency, you will become charged emotionally and physically. The energy will stimulate and elevate consciousness. It is also ideal to eliminate depression. Some people, however, consider an electrical vortex to be a strain on someone with high blood pressure or heart problems.
Magnetic: These are “yin,” charged with the female force. When you enter the vibrational field or frequency, you can expect to open psychically, becoming much more perceptive, for the area primarily affects the subconscious mind
Electromagnetic: These vortexes are a combination of electrical and magnetic, or a combination of the yin-yang forces, resulting in a perfect state of balance. When you enter the vibrational field or frequency, you can expect an expansion and elevation of consciousness. This energy is ideal to stimulate past-life memories and psychic activities.
‘Sedona – Psychic Energy Vortexes’ by Dick Sutphen, 1974. page 1.

You can take at least 3 approaches to this information: It’s not true. It’s true. Maybe it’s true. If you think it’s not true, you’ll take heart from this: Sutphen got his information on Sussex from Lyall Watson’s Romeo Error (p170 if you have a copy). Watson in turn gets it from J.A.Keel, since he annotates his source for his statement as J.A.Keel’s ‘Our Haunted Planet’ Neville Spearman, 1971. This book can be viewed online on Google Books. Having run the source of this idea to ground it’s worth quoting:
‘ ‘The angels keep their ancient places,’ poet Francis Thompson wrote. Thus there are many haunted places all over the world, shunned by ancient man or made sacred by him. These are precise geographical locations, and anyone digging into the history and lore of such locations will find thousands of accounts of ghosts, demons, monsters, and flying saucers pinpointed within a few square miles and covering a thousand years or more of time. To UFO cultists such places are Windows: entry points for spaceships from some distant planet. Occultists teach that these are Gateways, weak spots in the earth’s etheric envelope through which beings from other space-time continuums seep into our reality. Sussex County in England is one Gateway, as are the Mississipi Valley, the Ohio Valley, and parts of our western States, such as the area around Prescott, Arizona.’

Notice how Lyall Watson has changed the information by the way, keeping Sussex and Prescott, but dropping the Ohio and Mississippi valleys in favour of the Bermuda Triangle.
Unfortunately Keel goes on to list the paranormal phenomena in these places, such as UFO sitings, ghosts etc, saying they tend to occur on Wednesdays, and the 10th or 24th of the month, and he concludes his book by suggesting that the earth is a farm for extra-terrestrials, and that we humans are their crop.
Even though we may decide that Keel is nuts, we don’t have to throw the baby out with the bathwater, and who knows, perhaps we have here an electromagnetic power vortex that acts like a window between this world and the Otherworld, to use Keel’s words.
Certainly from a Feng Shui point of view the town seems optimally cited and a practitioner recently told me she believed the town is indeed situated in what Sutphen terms an electromagnetic vortex.


It is possible that we live in a power vortex here in Lewes, perhaps at a particular conjunction of leylines. We may live in a place influenced subtly by the fact that it was sacred centuries ago with its seven or more Holy Mounds. It is even possible that this city of the sacred mounds was chosen by the Knights Templar to shelter the Holy Grail in the first Templar church in Britain, which was in Albion Street in Lewes. This church of the Holy Sephulchre was visited by the head of the Templars Hugues de Payen.
All these things are possible and may or may not be true. But what we do know is true is that Lewes is a magical place today: it must be the first town in Britain to have a ceremony shop. It has become the hometown for two of the most wonderful spiritual groups in the world, which are both known by funny-sounding acronyms: SUBUD and OBOD, which is the world’s largest druid movement. The chair of Lewes council was until recently Marina Pepper, a Witch who organised a Winter Solstice celebration and breakfast for councillors and who now enlightens us in Pepper’s Revenge in Viva Lewes. We have Viva Lewes – for heaven’s sake – which is magical in itself, and our mayor is called Merlin Milner – with his surname mysteriously being an anagram of Merlin. And the Associated Conjurers of East Sussex meets on the 2nd Wednesday of each month here.
And what is the best magic of all in this town? It is the amazingly creative people who live here and the rich cultural mix and matrix of consciousness that they produce.

Philip Carr-Gomm

Lewes January 08

Illustration by Will Worthington: Map of Lewes and its surroundings for ‘The Druid Way’

Druid Way Map

19 Responses to “A Glimpse into the Magic of Lewes”

  1. Your descriptions of Lewes in ‘The Druid Way’ inspired me to visit when I was back in the UK several years ago. I wasn’t disappointed. I had some amazing experiences there and from the moment I arrived felt a powerful sacred energy in the place. This post reminded me again of that visit and now I’m restless to get back there.

  2. Wonderful article Philip, thank you. You probably didn’t know that Lyall Watson was a member of Subud, which you mention in a separate passage.

  3. Yep – I have now been googling away for places to stay in Lewes because of what I’ve read here.

    Mind you, if the Vicar of Firle resides just up the road, I might have an ulterior motive for popping down for a visit (hehe!).

    Do you think that if enough people BELIEVE that they live somewhere ‘special’ it becomes special? Whether that’s conjoining ley lines; stone circles etc? The opposite would also apply – if they believed that they lived somewhere gawd-awful it would become a dreadful place? Or am I being too simplistic?

    BTW – Will Worthington’s map and illustration – stupendously good, as usual 🙂

  4. Well I’m sure you have a point there Alison. There is a book and website called ‘Crap Towns’ where residents’ contribute their views! Must be pretty depressing but perhaps the humour paradoxically makes them less depressing places. A sort of alchemy!

  5. Thanks for this on the Magic of Lewes. I am in the USA, visted west England last year and spent a good deal of time near Avebury and the area where my partner Eric was raised, then on up to Penrith & Shap which is the setting of the novel I am writing. Just got to the part where my fictional Margot de Warren (1175 ish) needed to tell something of her story and googled myself to Lewes which I understand was the de Warren family seat. It took my breath away. Margot is a witch mentor for the main characters–and I had no idea of the magic of Lewes. It is on my list of places for my next trip!

    Now I need to get Druid’s Way and see what else you have to say.

    So you know, we are a large community of neo pagans which connect with the ADF (US Druids) and others here in central NY State around the Finger Lakes amid Indian Mounds, Ley Lines and real magic. Good to meet you! Dorothy

  6. Good to meet you Dorothy! Your book sounds wonderful – Shap is the most extraordinary place – I think it has the most snowfall in England. Good luck with the writing!

  7. Thanks! Which is to say in comparison to Central New York not much snow. We measure it in feet here, 5 – 10 feet per winter-though thankfully not all at once. Didn’t know Shap held that distinction though the on line photos of winter are beautiful. Though I understand the winter of 1056 when it was still the seat of Strathclyde was brutal. Clearly I am not up to date! Ordered your book yesterday! Dorothy

  8. Dear Philip,

    This message has been a long time coming!

    First let me say that I love your article about Lewes! For me it is a soul journey to this wonderful place and resonates as a kindred source of pleasure, inspiration and insight with my own ongoing explorations, research and intuitions of place – replete with a plethora of landmarks, pathways and sacred sites of passionate interest, such as Francis Thompson’s “The Kingdom of God” – a poem pulsating with the central leitmotiv and leyline of my life – to whose magical umbilicus of music and meaning I am deeply and dearly nourished, bonded and led.

    My own affinity to numbers, letters, and numerology is also mirrored here where “the angels keep their ancient places” in your words.
    In my practice as a singer/musician, this affinity is very tangible on a daily experiential basis. Ringing equally true for me are connections between place and person; between the numerology of a place/place-name and that of a person/person’s name. I find this a wonderfully synchronistic way of illustrating the vibrational information felt intuitively in a subjective experience of, response to and relationship with specific places – and those of each place to the person!

    I was wondering if you could help with the following queries and requests:

    When calculating a person’s name in relationship to that of a place,
    is the complete name given at birth: first, middle and surname necessary, or does the first name (given at birth) alone suffice?
    After calculating the person-name number and place-name number, which combinations of numbers are especially fortuitous (aside from the case when person-name and place-name numbers come up as the same obviously), which less compatible? Could you also suggest some good books on numerology that you especially enjoy and have found most useful?

    With many blessings and thanks upon you and Lewes,


  9. I’m ashamed to say I’ve never been to Lewes, in spite of living relatively close (Lancing, W. Sussex). I must remedy this. Your article was really fascinating. Thanks Philip!

    Love and Light


  10. hello Philip,
    I am trying to find the location of the Grail Line – I saw it on a map in a book in Avebury and it seemed to go through Lewes. I cannot find anything about it on the web apart from a link to you.
    can you help me?
    I want to see exactly the line it takes through Sussex and beyond.

    went to the talk you gave on why lewes is so magical – really inspiring and am enjoying the druids way
    thanks for sharing all this,
    don’t know how to contact you apart from here,
    thank you, Marion

  11. For some reason I just needed to google the tump lewes to see a picture, I came across this site. Funny that I live in Sedona Arizona. Maybe a trip to the Sussex area is in my future.

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  13. I spent a magical year in Sussex when I was 5 years old. I knew absolutely that it was a magical place. As one who had to spend most of my growing up in a place I detested (to be courteous, I’ll only disclose that it was 14,000 miles away!), it concentrated my awareness to realize that some places are particularly alive and blessed, and some are- not. This is a fact (a cruel one).
    My big puzzle was to work out why my religious upbringing could not adequately convey the spiritual dimension of place. And painfully, by protracted absence, I discovered that the earth itself has spirit- and that reverence for this has been suppressed, crushed out by a false, disembodied religious practice.
    Sussex is still in my heart. I belong to it (even if it doesn’t belong to me!). It is more ‘me’ than my grown self. And as a child I danced and felt all of its wisdom in a precious time before I was nearly dismembered by Catholicism.

    • Thank you Emily. Much appreciated. There is a lot of story between the lines in your post. Good to know the land of Sussex is in your heart. It’s wonderful how the land can be healing.

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