Most readers will be familiar with Gemma Gary’s work on Traditional Witchcraft and connected titles from her home publishing house »Troy Books«. Most probably they will reserve – I know I do – a very special place in their bookshelves for this distinctive publishing house from Cornwall and their beautifully illustrated, edited, and bound books on traditional and mostly – cornish – witchcraft. So it came as exciting news to me, when I discovered at the beginning of last year (2020), that very soon the very same people attempt to occupy such a special place in our witchy musical playlists: »Morvoren« – that is music for the Devil (and his friends) or put differently: the invocations from Gemma Gary’s book »The Devil’s Dozen – Thirteen Craft Rites of the Old One« turned into music. This for, Gemma took on the Bodhran – a kind of Irish framed drum and the percussion, while Jane Cox plays the guitar, synths and the bouzouki – a long necked lute – obviously the Cornish The Bouzouki is a flat backed Irish one in Irish tuning, not the greek type. New, but essential in this lineup is violinist Anna Dowling, who does not only play on her pyrographed violin (she sometimes also uses it as a guitar), but who also acts as a composer and gives the entire ensemble her voice.
Back then I took the chance to meet the three girls for her show at the Book launch party for Willmar Taal’s »The Gnome Manuscript« (Troy Books) at the Atlantis Bookstore in London, where they had a magic performance. During their loaded concert, two copies of the »Witches All« couldn’t help but literally jump out of the shelf and a fully charged camera decided to get the batteries drained in no time, so most of the concert was not filmed… Now, 9 months later, their first album was born and shipping started now, about one year later. On that occasion, Anna Dowling, Gemma and Jane were so kind to give us an interview for theoldcraft.com
AH: What does Morvoren mean? What does it mean to you specifically and why did you choose it as a band name for this project?
Anna Dowling / Morvoren: It is said to mean ‘mermaid’ in Cornish from mor ‘sea’ and voren, aspirated form of moren ‘maiden’, it is associated with the Mermaid of Zennor, a mysterious local legend from the small coastal village in West Cornwall. I think the liminal nature of the mermaid suits our music well!
Gemma Gary / Morvoren: Yes, it is the liminality of the ‘merfolk’ that made the name appealing to me, and suited the landscape in which the project was born, surrounded as we are on three sides by the sea. Merfolk are also symbolic of the initiate, operating in both the spiritual world (symbolized by the sea) and the material world, and Cornwall has its own version of traditional stories in which magical powers were gained by those who interacted favorably with a mermaid.
AH: It took a while after the recording and announcement of the album at last Samhain Eve to finally appear. Where can it be bought, where to will it be shipped and how can we get it if we want it in our digital playlist?
Anna Dowling / Morvoren: Good things come to those who wait! We experienced a bit
of Covid delay whilst recording, however we happy to announce that our album is now
available to buy from our webpage ( www.morvorenmusic.com ), we are shipping physical copies worldwide, you can also purchase a download version from there too.
AH: The music was inspired by Gemma’s “The Devils Dozen”, the lyrics are based on the rituals – what is the scope of the music (enjoyment or ritual, or both?)
Anna Dowling / Morvoren: I think it quite happily fits both. The music can be enjoyed in its own right, however, as an added bonus the lyrical content can be used for rituals. I have often memorised text to a tune, so hopefully it will help people to remember the incantations through music!
Jane Cox / Morvoren: For me it’s equally the music and Gemma’s words, when I first read the ‘Devils Dozen’ manuscript I was just loved how poetic Gemma’s invocations were and loved the book for that reason. As is kind of well-known, I’m not a practicing witch which surprises some people considering I’m with Gemma and what we do. I express my connection to nature and the changing seasons through music and festival. That’s not to say I haven’t been involved in a great many rituals over the years. The invocations really spoke to me and I knew they were special. It was quite a while before I had the light bulb moment where I thought they would work with music really well. It stayed just a thought for quite a while though as we had a lot going on in our lives at that time.
As I was thinking about who we might work with on the project we met Anna through the Penzance Montol mid-winter festival community band Raffidy Dumitz. I was drawn right
away to her amazing playing and talent, one day when talking to Anna she revealed that
she had some of Gemma’s books and soon after that I joined the dots that she was our
girl!. I had no idea atto that point that she could also sing. So, I put the idea to her and
right away she said yes and added “I sing a bit as well”. A is evident, “a bit” really
should have been “I have an amazing voice”.
After that point our busy life got even busier and a house move to be closer to my
elderly mother in Devon was needed. After the move and things calmed down I gave
Anna a call and asked if she was still interested and the rest is history. The first demo
songs she sent us were amazing so Morvoren was a band from that point.
So for me the music is very special and I enjoy playing the tunes immensely, they have a
deep significance as they are very dear to my heart. I also hope that the more meditative synth and drum- based tunes will be useful for ritual. We plan to do a lot more music like that for ritual in the future.
AH: So if the music was inspired, by The Devil’s Dozen, do we have a track for every rite, or how many there are?
Anna Dowling / Morvoren: There are tracks for most of the rites, I picked the longest first as they were songs just waiting for a melody. Gemma’s writing is perfect for transforming into music and it flowed very naturally.
I thought we should stick to thirteen, being the devil’s dozen! The titles of the songs have been chosen to reflect the nature of the chapter they are from.
- I conjure Thee
- Dark Bull
- Spirit of the Wise
- Devils Candle
- Pace the Round
- The Wild Hunt
- Hidden Path
- Blasting Thorn
- Come Bucca
- Hallowes Night
- Old Goat God
- The Man in Black
- Lords Prayer
AH: Which one is your favorite and why?
Anna Dowling / Morvoren: I enjoyed the composition process for all the tracks. Quite often I come up with the melody first, then fit in the chords and arrangement around the track. However the track Come Bucca was one of my favorites as the melody just appeared in my head… ready composed!
There were a few mysterious goings on in our house whilst I was recording. I live in an old granite cottage that has a lot of history and a few resident spirits, whilst recording I certainly noticed that they were listening. Unusual noises and sightings are fairly regular here, but whilst recording and singing lines of the invocations repeatedly, with intent it seemed to intensify. My eldest son is also very sensitive and would wake up in the night after recording sessions after seeing and hearing people in his room! (I went in with full cleansing measures after!). We also heard footsteps in the rooms upstairs and feet moving at an incredible unnatural speed drumming on the floor. John (my husband) was mixing and engineering the album and he was poked several times during the recording
by an unseen person. After a few tracks I decided I would record in a circle with a candle lit as a protective measure. I also noticed a bit of activity after I recorded the Lords Prayer backwards! I loved recording that one, it was on a Sunday morning and the birds were singing loudly in the garden…I left them on the track. It was a challenge I enjoyed as I had to think about how it would sound reversed, so adjusted my singing and piano accordingly, I think it creates quite an atmospheric effect.
Jane Cox / Morvoren: I love them all but ‘Blasting Thorn’ I guess if I had to pick one as it’s so much fun to play and upbeat, also the words are very powerful. I also have a bit of a soft spot for ‘A Devil’s Candle’ as Anna based that on a tune a I wrote years ago, I’m not a composer by any means but one day this tune popped out when I was playing around on my guitar.
Gemma Gary / Morvoren: It really is difficult to pick favourites, I’m so delighted with the job Anna has done in turning things I’d only ever heard spoken in ritual into full-blown songs. I second her earlier point about the usefulness in aiding memory – there is one particular call in the book I have for some reason always struggled to remember fully in ritual, and so I’ve often changed the words on the spot. Since having the song version in my head the words come to mind effortlessly.
‘A Devil’s Candle’ is one that I have a particularly soft spot for – it is a tune of Jane’s I am particularly fond of. It was called ‘The Greyhound’ and we’d quickly come to associate it with our beloved hound Inky. What Anna has done with the tune has brought an added dimension and made it something quite spectacular. Another one I love is ‘I conjure Thee’. As the invocations of the virtues of the crossroads it sets the scene for the rest of the songs, just as its invocations set the scene for ritual.
AH: Jane, once surprisingly revealed, that she is actually not a practicing witch, and that she does not feel the calling, as she puts it. How about you, Anna, are you a witch?
Anna Dowling / Morvoren: Yes I am. I realized I was when I was a young girl. I always felt different and had an affinity with nature, history and being outdoors rather than your more usual teen activities. I had a few experiences when I was young, around 13 years, I was practicing my violin and heard footsteps approaching the bedroom door, I
went in a rage to shout at my younger brother for messing about whilst I was practicing,
only to find there was nobody there. This happened regularly when I was practicing.
Which I now recognize is a way of going into trance. I also saw things moving off the
mantle piece and clocks jumping off the wall! I asked my mother about it and she said
she saw things too. After then I tried finding books on witchcraft, but only came across
more popular wiccan style writers. I quickly found this was something that I didn’t
resonate with and went about practicing in my own way. It was only years later when I
read Gemma’s Cornish book of ways that I felt an affinity…and realized I was a
traditional witch and had been doing things that way intuitively. It was an amazing
feeling to find that people practiced in the way that I did!
AH: How did you find to Witchcraft or maybe better, how came it Witchcraft found
Anna Dowling / Morvoren: I think witchcraft finds you. If it’s in your blood it’s difficult
to ignore! Unfortunately, I think many people are out of tune with nature and their own
inner voice, if you listen you find out what you need to know and what to do. I think I’m
lucky to have a hereditary line of craft, I remember my mother using tarot
cards and I have a family deck.
AH: How does your practice look like? Do you practice daily? And how does it
influence your every day life?
Anna Dowling / Morvoren: I practice when I can. I have a busy life with 5 children!
In our house we follow the wheel of the year and I make time to keep in tune with the
moon cycle. I often take long walks around the coastpath as it is an excellent way of
feeling the land energies and meditation.
AH: How did you, Gemma and Jane actually met and how was the idea born to put the invocations into music?
Anna Dowling / Morvoren: It was in Penzance through the Raffidy Dumitz band. Though it was Jane’s idea to form a band! I already had a few of Gemma’s books before I met them both, which I think was at my first Montol rehersal in 2014, the first tune I sent them was Hallowe’s Night, I remember worrying if they would like it!
AH: Do you meet often?
Anna Dowling / Morvoren: Not at the moment due to the pandemic, but we’rere looking forwards to rehearsals and gigs hopefully soon.
Jane Cox / Morvoren: Before Covid we got together about every couple of weeks and spent whatever time we could practicing and developing Morvoren. When it camen time to start recording the album we had a few sessions but of course Covid stopped us meeting up. After that I would play along with our recordings most days for practice, to be honest it’sit is something that has helped me though the lockdowns as music is something I have to do, I miss playing and sharing the experience so much, so that was the next best thing I could do. When it came to finishing the album we had to record our parts separately, laying our parts down over Anna’s and we finally managed to finish the album. We could not have done it without the amazing help and encouragement from Anna’s husband John who is an awesome banjo player. He also mixed the album and has a wonderful ear for it, we are very lucky to have him onboard with the project.
AH: What are your plans for the future, and the rest of year and thereafter? Will there be more shows/concerts and which are the ones you already can announce as far as we can plan that given the pandemic?
Anna Dowling / Morvoren: Hopefully once the world returns back to normal, we will be able to get out gigging again. We have a few ideas for further albums brewing in the cauldron which we will hopefully be working on soon.
Jane Cox / Morvoren: As Anna said we are hoping to be able to get out gigging again which I miss so much. We also want to shoot some more music videos for the current album when restrictions are lifted. We also have a lot of ideas for other albums based on Gemma’s words and also ritual music so it’s going to be interesting.
AH: Will these also be based on lyrics by Gemma or was this a one-time project and maybe concept-album?
Anna Dowling / Morvoren: I love writing to Gemmas lyrics, so we will keep working
with her words, they lend themselves beautifully to music, but I also have a few songs of
my own that I might throw in at some point!
AH: You guys are involved in “guising”. What exactly is this and what does it mean?
Anna Dowling / Morvoren: Guising (pronounced geeze-ing) is an old tradition from Cornwall in particular, though it can certainly be found in the other counties. The idea is to have a disguise, so you can enjoy creating ‘mis-rule’ over the dark winter months. There are different styles, wearing animal masks, cross dressing, mock formal and tatters.
Jane Cox / Morvoren: Anna explained it very well, for me it’s an outlet for my mischievous side! Putting on a mask and taking to the streets and pubs to entertain puts me in a whole different mindset! The idea of Misrule is to be mischievous and be more daring and do things you might not normally do and act other worldly, it’s very liberating. Sadly due to our move we haven’t been involved in the Penzance festivals since moving away but we have stuff planned for when life gets back to something approaching normal. We also have introduced it into Morvoren as along with our original material we play guising tunes. We have a part of our set where we play these tunes dressed in guise costume complete with masks. We get the audience up serpent dancing as well which is a dance where everyone links hands and weaves in and out of things and people, it always goes down well.
AH: Where do these costumes come from? Which ones are yours (and why/what is their significance)?
Anna Dowling / Morvoren: All costumes tend to be home made, as it adds personality and individuality to them.
I have hat with a veil, so it doesn’t interfere with singing or my glasses! Though I do have an owl costume that I wear on odd occasions and an Oss called Tarosvan Mor. I made the Oss from an old cow skull that my husband found, it took some work to create
though I had help from Gemma and Jane who had me a few Osses before.
Gemma Gary / Morvoren: Making masks, Osses and costumes for guising has been a labour of love. To date, Jane and I have made four Osses – three mare skull Osses and one ram skull Oss. I was the original ‘rider’ of one of our mare Osses, Kasek Nos (Cornish for ‘night mare’) in which I would dance during the Montol festival through the streets of Penzance and around a large bonfire in the middle of an often very muddy park. It was a wonderful way of manifesting the force and virtue of the seasonal tide, but enormously hard work and is really better suited to someone stronger and more physically capable of carrying the sheer weight. I took on the ‘teaser’ role instead for a while before Jane and I moved to be closer to her mother. Kasek Nos and another Oss – Pen Hood – are now looked after for us by their current riders, the other two Osses were sadly pinched! We have plans to make more Osses, but won’t be letting them out of our sight! Jane and I have also made a number of masks, such as a Cornish Chough (a member of the crow family), an owl, a hare and a badger which is currently Jane’s favourite. I tend to wear a veil mostly as it’s more comfortable. The important thing is that element of disguise, and the ability to let the persona be overtaken or ‘ridden’ by those chaotic and otherworldly forces given free rein for the night at the nadir of the year.
AH: Speaking of music … which are your own musical preferences, and who does inspire you… When it comes to music in general … And occult-themed or styled music
Anna Dowling / Morvoren: I love listening to all styles of music, though I have always had a special love for folk and roots musicians. I studied as a classical violinist, though I would always play Irish jigs and western swing as well as my classical pieces.
I’ve been inspired by many artists over the years, however I think Rufus Wainwright is one of my all-time heroes!
Jane Cox / Morvoren: I was a teenager in the late seventies and I adored electronic music, Gary Numan and Kraftwerk OMD amongst others had a big impact on me which is evident today I guess as I play a bit of synth in Morvoren. I never really liked a lot to the mainstream pop but was always drawn to the more unusual stuff and often introduced music to friends they would not normally have heard. Divo was another band that I loved and turned people on to. I adored ‘The Cramps’, I loved the punk psycho billy style and their versions of old tunes. I had the pleasure of seeing them play live in the 80’s and they were amazing, they had such stage presence. Their music was always a little off beat and unpolished which I love. I also love folk music, I think The Pogues were sort of my first introduction into folk music.
Gemma Gary / Morvoren: My musical tastes tend to differ depending on mood or what I happen to be doing. I have loved Classical music from a young age, one of my first tape cassettes as a child was Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, another was a compilation of harpsichord and chamber music. Alongside this I adored punk, particularly Siouxsie and the Banshees and have long been a bit of a folkie too with a love of Clannad, Steeleye Span, Pentangle etc. I adore the often experimental and improvised strangeness of the Third Ear Band and
have even worked ritual to the backdrop of their 1969 Alchemy album!
AH: When is the next time we will hear from you?
Anna Dowling / Morvoren: On our album very soon! Plus I think we might have a new
music video or two appearing over the year.
AH: Ok, then let’s come to our two traditional questions: first: what is your top ten book list and second: what is your take on Aleister Crowley?
Anna Dowling / Morvoren: With Aleister Crowley…I think he’s fascinating as a man and certainly character. I have a few of his books and have found them quite hard to read but interesting. His style of magic doesn’t fit in with my own practice, but he was certainly detailed! He came to Cornwall a few times, and there’s rumours of him performing a few rituals down in Zennor.
My top ten books (This is super difficult as I have too many books and love them all!):
- Devils Dozen… beautifully written practical book. The first time I read it I knew this was the right book for me!
- Cornish book of ways… again Gemma’s gorgeous writing style and artwork, great for beginner witches and filled in knowledge gaps for me. I think I read it all without putting it down.
- mastering witchcraft by Paul Huson, a vintage number but very practical. I like his spells and charms.
- lord of the rings… Tolkien. Must have read it at least 4 times! It keeps drawing me back!
- the weird stone of brisingamen by Alan Garner… a book from my childhood that spurred on a love of folklore and wizards, I never looked back and always knew there was something else in the world after that book.
- sabbats by edain McCoy… I bought this as a teenager, it was my first reference point for the wheel of the year and I like the informative historical context.
- natural magic Doreen Valiente… beautiful book, easy to ready and informative. She’s one of my hero’s!
- under the bramble arch Corrine Boyer… I love my herbal remedies and foraging for medicinal plants. This book includes some folklore, practical spells and lovely recipes.
- hedgerow medicine Julie burton-Seal… my favourite herbal bible! I’ve made most of the remedies in this book. Useful for myself and my family.
- treading the mill …Nigel Pearson… I love Nigel’s sense humour and writing style, it’s informative, accessible and a great read. I’d recommend this to anybody just starting out on the path.
Jena Cox / Morvoren: Surprisingly perhaps for a publisher I was never an avid reader of books as such. I read some science fiction as a child as I loved Star Trek and Doctor who. I loved Isaac Asimov’s ‘I Robot’ and in particular the short story “Runaround” because it explored the 3 laws of robotics, the rules that should govern AI. As a child I didn’t fully grasp the full implications of it, but it stayed with me. Of course these days I do a lot of reading as there are always manuscripts to review.
I was always I guess a nerdy child and loved science, chemistry was one of my fav and best subjects at School, perhaps because I have always had an enquiring mind, hence being drawn to science fiction I guess.
I also loved fantasy tales, we read ‘Lord of the Rings’ and ‘The Hobbit’ at School both of which I loved.
As an animal lover I loved the James Herriot books and read ‘It Shouldn’t happen to a vet’ having grown up in the countryside in wellies the book struck a chord with me.
Moving on back in the 90’s I read a book I got for my Dad that he wanted titled Quantum Golf’! It’s an odd title but a very interesting book and a great read even if you don’t play golf. It’s a book that was supposed to help golfers improve their game through meditation and imagining playing the perfect game. I read it out of curiosity and loved it, my dad swore that it vastly improved his game.
Of course I have to include some of our book, Gemma’s books of course and of course top of the list is ‘Traditional Witchcraft a Cornish book of Ways’, as it’s the book launched Troy Books. I loved Gemma’s poetic style of writing and her ability to put you in the places she so describing. I knew the moment I read the first draft of the book that it was going to change our lives, which it did.
‘The Devils Dozen’ of course because the invocations were the inspiration for Morvoren.
Graham Kings book the ‘British book of spells and charms’ is another favourite as Graham explores how we have integrated magic into our every day lives and don’t really know it. Who didn’t chant ‘rain rain go away and come again another day’ as a child! Basically a spell. It’s a fascinating book that explores this and one that really educated and entertained me.
Also Cheryl Straffons book ‘Between the Realms’ and Alex Langstone’s book from ‘Granite to Sea’, both explore the folklore of my beloved Cornwall so are firm favourites because of that.
Gemma Gary / Morvoren: The first book I remember being completely enthralled by as a child was ‘The Reluctant Vampire’ by comedian Eric Morecambe, so that will always be a favourite. I remember being fascinated also by a book my grandparents had about lycanthropy and included rituals for becoming a werewolf such as by wearing a belt of wolfskin. I cannot remember what it was called but will have to track it down one day. The ‘AA Book of the Countryside’ was another favourite with great snippets of information on a wide variety of things such as British trees, birds and folklore. My father gave me the wonderful ‘Folklore, Myths and Legends of Britain’ with its beautiful cover featuring the Dorset Ooser. Sadly it was ‘borrowed’ many years ago and never returned, along with another favorite ‘A Folk Herbal’ by Jon Hyslop and Paul Ratcliffe which is a little magical treasure-trove. Craft-wise I have always had a soft spot for the books of Doreen Valiente and always recommend ‘The Rebirth of Witchcraft’ and ‘Witchcraft for Tomorrow’ in particular to those first setting out to explore the Craft. Personal favourites in my own early explorations include ‘Popular Romances of the West of England’ by Robert Hunt, ‘Cornish Feasts and Folklore’ by M.A. Courtney and ‘The Witchcraft and Folklore of Dartmoor’ by Ruth E. St Leger-Gordon.
One could describe Aleister Crowley as a terrible person in many respects, certainly, but a genius and pioneer in others. The breadth of his contribution to and influence upon modern occultism cannot be denied.
AH: Thank you!