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The hummadruz at Zennor Quoit

Andy Norfolk



'Hummadruz' is a name coined in the 19th century for a strange humming noise heard in the country, usually in still summer weather, and with no apparent source.

A few of us heard it on the CEMG (Cornish Earth Mysteries Group) visit to Zennor Quoit and Trendrine Hill in July 1997. It was a glorious sunny day with a cloudless sky and no wind. We walked up to the quoit, and when we got there it was quiet with no noise, except a lot of chatter. Most of us walked on to Sperris Quoit and then to the top of Trendrine Hill where there is a trig point at 247m above sea level. Carol, who stayed on her own at Zennor Quoit (below right) heard a loud humming/buzzing noise as if there were large numbers of bees or other insects flying around, but there were hardly any to be seen. Dionne, who walked to Trendrine Hill, was very aware of this noise all the time we were on the top of the downs.

Earlier in 1997 there had been a severe fire in that area, as a result of which the heather was destroyed and had not yet regrown. There was a very sparse cover of grasses and some small shoots of gorse among the ash, so there was nothing in flower over a large area where the hummadruz was heard. We were able to see some impressive hut circles which are not normally visible and some interesting upright stones which might
possibly be the remains of a stone circle. Zennor Quoit and the cairn on Trendrine Hill are on a classic ley linking to, for example, Boswens menhir.

There were a few light aircraft flying nearby at various times but very little traffic noise. There was no wind. Although there were a few insects, they were noticeable as they flew by as distinct from the background noise. Dionne and I walked back to collect Carol from Zennor Quoit and all three of us heard the noise very clearly. It was quite different from the aircraft noises. Dionne thought it was like the sound of a motorbike race, but there was no modulation of the tone which you would hear as the bikes changed gear and moved around the circuit. Carol and I have kept bees in the past and the noise was very like a contented hive but there were no bees nearby. The noise was all around and it was impossible to locate a source. There seemed to be no difference between the noise in badly burnt areas and those where the heather was in flower. As we walked back down off the top of the downs the noise faded away, disappearing as we got below approximately the 200m contour, to be replaced with the usual noise of crickets and other insects - quite different.

John Billingsley had just published an article on the hummadruz in the summer 97 edition of 'Northern Earth', in which he describes hearing the hummadruz in 1978. Billingsley quotes Gilbert White, author of 'The Natural History of Selborne', who  described this loud humming in 1769 as if it were a regular occurrence on the downs. He also refers to Maurice Hewlett who heard “the expectancy of an air” near Chesilbury Camp near Salisbury. He described it as a “very shrill, piercing, continuous music”, yet without melody. He saw oreads dancing in the same place the following year.

Some people have been quite disturbed by their experience of the hummadruz. Peter Hannah wrote to 'The Ley Hunter 88 in 1980, describing a visit to Arran in 1972. “The day was warm and still..... When we reached a spot that we later discovered was the site of an old monastery, a sudden violent buzzing began, vibrating the earth under our feet. We immediately took this to be an enormous swarm of bees, angry at our treading on their underground hive. Expecting to be stung to death by this swarm, which seemed about to burst from the ground, we ran. The trouble was that everywhere we stopped the same angry buzzing emanated from the ground, threatening at any moment to erupt in a mad flurry. The strange thing is that we never actually saw any bees, which to judge by the noise they made, should have been huge and numerous”.

A similar thing happened to John Merron, who was looking for sacred sites on 'The Circle of Perpetual Choirs' described by John Michell in City of Revelation. In 1984 he visited Allt-yr-Ancr, “the hill of the ancients” near Meifod. On the way down he stopped by the hillfort on the SW flank of the hill. “After a few moments I became aware of a humming sound, rather like an enormous swarm of bees. At first I panicked, looking for a pond I could dive into should they attack! After scanning the immediate area and deciding that I would rather brave the bees than jump into the stagnant pond nearby, Carole caught up and I mentioned the bees, and could she work out where the sound was coming from? Ater a moment she said ‘That’s not bees. That’s the sound of the Perpetual Choirs’.” Charles Hay followed up this article in a letter to TLH by describing his visit to White Sheet Hill. He stopped the car half a mile from the hill after the ruts in the track got too deep. Despite the strong wind, as he started to reverse, his wife said “Aren’t those bells nice?” He slammed on the brakes and asked “What bells?“ They decided that this was also the sound of the Perpetual Choirs.

This sounds very like something described by George Russell, in W.Y. Evans Wenz’ book 'The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries'. AE described meeting one class of the Sidhe: the shining ones. “It is very difficult to give any intelligible description of them. The first time I saw them with any great vividness I was lying on a hill-side alone in the West of Ireland, in County Sligo: I had been listening to music in the air, and to what seemed to be the sound of bells, and was trying to understand these aerial clashings in which wind seemed to break upon wind in an ever-changing musical silvery sound. Then the space before me grew luminous, and I began to see one beautiful being after another.” Such noises do seem to be related to what we would now call altered states of consciousness and are apparently associated with ancient sites.

Robert Hunt, writing in Popular Romances of the West of England tells the tale of “a covetous old man of St Just” who heard beautiful music and saw fairy revels on the Gump. He was about to use his hat to cover the prince and princess and their table covered with gold plate, when he heard a shrill whistle and everything went dark. “Whir! whir! whir! as if a flight of bees were passing him, buzzed in his ears. Every limb from head to foot was as if stuck full of pins and pinched with tweazers”. He woke at dawn tied down with cobwebs. So hearing the hummadruz could be a warning of a nasty encounter with the fair folk.

The Silver Branch, which is the branch of an apple tree bearing blossoms fruit and bells, appears in many Celtic tales. It is owned by Manannan Mac Lir but is also given as a passport by the queen of faery to those mortals whom she wishes for companions in the otherworld. The branch is described as producing music so soothing that mortals who hear it forget all troubles. John Matthews in 'The Celtic Shaman' describes its present-day use in rituals to cross over to inner worlds.

Philip Heselton in 'Earth Mysteries' describes Jimmy Goddard’s experiences at Gill's Lap pine clump. He realised that the sound of the wind in the trees was very similar to the sound of a rushing stream and also to a roaring fire. He found out that they were all within the frequency range of 256 to 320 cycles per second and speculated that such sounds were capable of being transduced to boost the earth current. Heselton suggests that they may also have been used to help induce altered states of consciousness. Paul Devereux, John Steele and David Kubrin in 'Earth Mind' suggest that in certain mental states our brainwaves are resonating with the rhythms of the Earth, and say that activity in the hippocampus in the brain is affected by electromagnetic stimulation, with the largest effect at the ‘Earth Frequency’ of 10-15 Hz. Alpha and theta brainwaves are encouraged, for example, by gazing at the flickering flames of a fire, or by listening to the roar of a waterfall, or wind in the trees. These brainwaves are associated with visionary and paranormal experiences. They suggest that in certain states we can directly open up to “the vast ocean of biological—frequency natural forces of the planet”.

This idea underlies Serena Roney-Dougal's book 'Where Science and Magic Meet'. She points out the effect of the earth’s magnetic field on human consciousness and says that some noises associated with electrostatic phenonema, such as clicks, swishing and hisses, are likely to be the effects of electromagnetic energy impinging on the eardrum and being heard as noises. She also notes the correlations between ancient monuments, electromagnetic anomalies, UFO sightings, fairy lore and geological faulting. She draws
attention to the sounds of rushing water and the sea which Thomas the Rhymer hears constantly as he travels to the otherworld.

Other examples of strange noises at ancient sites have been recorded. Paul Devereux, writing in 'Places of Power' describes how at about 9.15pm on 1st March 1980 four people who were doing round-the-clock monitoring of various instruments at the Rollright Stones heard “very pronounced” ticking noises and a humming noise coming from near The Whispering Knights. This was precisely at the time of the full moon.
These noises seem to be distinct from the hummadruz in having a definite origin. Michael Wolfe and Rachel Garcia wrote to Meyn Mamvro about hearing “earth thunder” at sunset at the Blind Fiddler. As they watched the sun set “there was a momentary stillness... then a muffled thunderclap, audible but emanating from below the earth. It did not shake the ground, but seemed to alter the air pressure, the way explosions do." I
can’t help thinking that this sounds very like Concord. However, the day before our recent earthquake, I heard some loud subterranean rumbles at Boscawen-un circle. This seems again to be a different phenomenon from the hummadruz, but moaning in the air has apparently been associated with earth tremors in Perthshire.

So what is the hummadruz? It seems to be quite distinct from the various hums heard near defence establish-ments, or attributed to noises from gas and other pipelines or power lines. In the 1970s S.L.Birchby suggested that it might be linked to “ley energy”, but as Billingsley points out this is what you would expect given the views about leys current at the time. However we were walking along the ley connecting Boswens menhir and Trendrine cairn. Other people have suggested that it could be related to seismic activity, but the most charming explanation, put forward in the 19th century, was that it was the sound of the earth spinning. Billingsley has written more about it in Northem Earth 71. Meanwhile I am left wondering whether Dionne. Carol and I narrowly missed a trip to the otherworld. Perhaps if we go back next year we will see oreads.



Published originally in Meyn Mamvro No 35 (1998 - see pic) http://www.meynmamvro.co.uk/. In spring 2018 artcornwall.org will be assisting Fieldnotes in curating 'Hummadruz' at The Newlyn Gallery.