Film ID: YFA 3388 Video of YFA_3388 Plant Magic 1978 PLANT MAGIC c.1978 Visitor TabsDescription This is a well-made and highly informative documentary, made by Roy Vickers, on the folklore and medicinal uses of many common plants. Filmed in Chevin Forest Park near Otley, it shows the plants in their habitant, with an expert presentation from Martin Parsons. Title - RTV Presents - Plant Magic The film begins showing in close up some summer fruits, as the commentary lists some of the uses of plants in the history of mankind. A woman in medieval clothing gathers wood for a fire on which she hangs a cooking pot, into which she places some herbs. The commentary gives a short account of the persecution of witches, suggesting that they may have just had a good knowledge of herb law. As a horse is led pulling along a felled tree trunk, the commentator, Martin Parsons, appears in front of the camera, and states that our folklore is rooted in the plants. He is in Chevin Forest Park near Otley in Wharfedale, near the gate for Branhope Lane. A girl rides past on horseback, and there is a deer in the wood. A man cuts down an Alder tree, while the commentator explains some of its features and the myths associated with it. He explains some of the uses it has been put to, including making water pipes, and he shows an old one that had been dug up from nearby. He next looks at the properties of other common plants, including Coltsfoot, also known as "poor man's baccy", which he tries in his pipe; and also how the bark of the Willow was used for medicinal purposes, and that the active ingredient is now incorporated in aspirin. He then explains the doctrine of signatures, whereby the shape of the plant was taken as a clue from God as to what its use might be. An example of this is pilewort, which Martin Parsons uproots and cleans to reveal the tubers that resemble piles; hence its use to relieve that condition. He goes on to explain that the association of the cuckoo with spring led to many spring flowers being given this name. One such is woods sorrel, called 'cuckoo bread', 'cuckoo meat' and similar names. This is filmed close-up, with Martin Parsons stating that it can be eaten, though in moderation. Another is Lady's Smock or 'cuckoos spice', as it was known in Yorkshire. Martin Parsons recounts some of the folklore and medicinal uses for this, as he does also for the Greater Stitchwort, which was believed to cause thunderstorms if picked. Tormentil was as a cure for diarrhoea and to make a red dye. Then on to the pignut, which has a small edible tuber. Martin Parsons explains that if a plant wasn't useful for food then it was often attributed magical properties, such as 'Bird's Foot', or Trefoil, believed to be the incarnation of Tom Thumb, as the leaves look like the Devil's fingers of folk tradition. Common Ragwort also gave rise to flights of fancy. The film then shows Foxglove, a sign of high summer in the woodland, again explaining its mythology and medicinal uses. Then on to the uses of valerian and heather, used as bedding; and he gives this a try by lying on some heather. The film moves to a factory where natural medicines are made, where some of the processing and packaging is shown. Title - Narration Martin Parsons Acknowledgements to Potters Herbal Supplies and Ron Broadbent, Margaret Poole as the Sorceress A Roy Vickers Production Context Roy Vickers was a member of Leeds Movie Makers who made a number of excellent documentary films during the 1970s and ‘80s, as well as a nice fictional film about two boys who find a lost lamb, Day of the Lamb (1981). Roy started making films when, as a metal spinner, he wished to make a portrayal of what it was to be a metal worker, and found that film was the best way. So, around 1975 he made Metal Craft, with the help of Mercury Movie Makers Cine Club of Leeds. Roy joined the group and has been making films with them, and winning prizes, ever since. Indeed, in the 1980s Roy became a professional filmmaker, specialising in weddings, but also making corporate films. The early documentaries that Roy made tended to be of practices or crafts which have a long history, but which survive into the present age. This film has a broader theme than the others, with Martin Parsons providing a historical overview of the uses, customs and folklore relating to many wild plants. The whole film has the feel of a professional television production, and one that certainly stands up to the standards of a typical documentary of that period – the title may be a play on the children’s TV series Animal Magic which ran for twenty years, featuring the many voices of Johnny Morris. The Friends of Chevin Forest have provided an historical overview of the area (References). What is today Chevin Forest Park was part of the Danefield Estate owned by the Fawkes family. Most of the old trees were cut down for use during the Second World War. The owner, Major Legender G.W. Horton-Fawkes of Farnley Hall, then decided to pass the estate to the people of Otley in August 1944 as a memorial to all who fought in the war. This was the first time the area had become open to the public since the Land Enclosure Acts of the 1780s. The 1950s saw the replanting of trees, and the management of the estate passed from Otley Urban District Council to Leeds City Council in 1974. Just before then, in 1972 the Sam Chippendale Foundation purchased land at Beacon Hill (today known as Surprise View) including Jenny’s Cottage and land around the White House, including the buildings. They then sold these on to Leeds City Council at the generous price of £15,000 in 1977. In 1989 all of Chevin Forest Park was designated as a Local Nature Reserve in recognition of its value for both people and wildlife, and Great Dib Wood was later designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). The presenter of the film, Martin Parsons, was the park ranger. He later moved to London and become a cabinet maker. The knowledge that he demonstrates in this film of the local wildlife must have greatly contributed to him being ideal for the job. His presentation here shows that he had the qualities to have equally become a TV presenter. Most TV presenters of factual programmes at the time tended to adopt a quite earnest delivery, as with most of the Open University programmes, and the captivating Jacob Bronowski; whereas Martin Parsons has a rather laconic style, not too dissimilar perhaps to Alan Whicker, whose long running Whicker's World could still be seen on TV (wonderfully parodied by Monty Python). The 1970s is often portrayed as a terrible decade of decline and unrest, with unions most to blame – for example by Dominic Sandbrook. An alternative view, presented in part by, for example, Andy Beckett, notes that strikes were invariably defensive: against declining living standards in the face of high inflation, job losses, union rights or in opposition to severe cuts in public spending. Yet both authors agree that in many ways the 1970s continued and expanded the political awakening and opening up of new horizons that the 1960s saw. A shift in perceptions of our relation to the rest of nature was an example of this. The post Second World War period was a time when there was a growing concern over the fate of the countryside. Boosted by the increase in people rambling in the countryside prior to the war, several organisations were established at this time relating to the countryside and wildlife – among them the International Union for the Protection of Nature, created in 1948 as part of the United Nations. Spurred on by the publication of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring in 1962, a year after the founding of the World Wildlife Fund, this trend continued into the 1960s and 1970s with the growing environmental movement: the British Butterfly Conservation Society was founded in 1968, the Friends of the Earth in 1969 and the Woodland Trust in 1972. As well as explaining many of the medicinal uses of many of the plants to be found in the park, Martin Parsons also relates their connections to our pagan past. One manifestation of the 1970s was the development of a new paganism, with an ecological bent, and what has subsequently come to be called the New Age movement; as seen, for example, in the contemporary writings of those like Theodore Roszak on the new counterculture. Along with this there was the revival of homeopathy and the development of products using more ‘natural’ ingredients, as illustrated with the rise of organic foods and of The Body Shop, founded in 1976. There was also a renewed interest in witchcraft as the modern Wicca movement grew – usually traced back to the post war writings and practice of the British civil servant, Gerald Gardner. The Witchcraft Act of 1735 was finally repealed in 1951. Martin Parsons notes that there was an estimated 300,000 witches across Europe burnt at the stake – a reputable upper figure derived from Ewan (see Further Reading) that is often quoted, although no reliable figures exist (see Richard Green). Martin also states that, “perhaps Witchery was often no more than an intimate knowledge of herb lore.” This view chimes in with the 1970s revaluation of witches, starting with the publication of Witchcraft Confessions and Accusation, edited by Mary Douglas in 1970. The following year Keith Thomas published his highly influential Religion and the Decline of Magic that also saw witches in this light. It was an historical perspective that was reinforced by the strength of feminism during this decade: a movement that undoubtedly helped to develop a more open-ended view of nature, and one that this film also contributes to. References Andy Beckett, When the Lights Went Out: Britain in the Seventies, Faber and Faber, 2010. Susan Greenwood, Magic, witchcraft and the otherworld: an anthropology, Oxford, 2000. Dominic Sandbrook, Seasons in the Sun: The Battle for Britain, 1974-1979, Allen Lane, 2012. Keith Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, 1971. The Friends of Chevin Forest Melissa Seims and Dr. Stuart Whomsley, Modern Witchcraft/Wicca Richard J. Green, How Many Witches Further Reading Rachel Carson, Silent Spring, Houghton Mifflin, 1962. C.E. Ewen, Witch Hunting and Witch Trials: The Indictments for Witchcraft from the Records of 1373 Assizes held for the Home Circuit A.D. 1559-1736, The Dial Press, New York, 1929. Mary Douglas (ed.), Witchcraft Confessions and Accusation, Tavistock Publications, 1970.