home exhibitions | interviewsfeatures profileswebprojects archive

The Myth of Santa Warna

Ithell Colquhoun

Originally published in 1948 in 'The Glass', and inspired by myths associated with a holy well and standing stone on St Agnes, Isles of Scilly.




Santa Warna's Arrival

Not a ripple; a pure day, gay and free. Only to breathe is a joy. The warm air shines, the island respires. Thyme and white camomile give out their scents by the shore.

Santa Warna approaches, a rosy figure wrapped by transforming sleep, lying furled in a coracle. From Ireland she comes, on a weather surface level as glass for her journey. The skin-stretched basket is drawn to an inlet, moors itself in the yielding sand; cries of the toweellies awaken its passenger.


Santa Warna Lands

She rises, pauses between water and earth; robed with the swaying air, she steps ashore, her tresses still fathoming the shallows. The process of her subsuming begins; her personal presence is from henceforth unseen, though acknowledged in every blade and pebble. Now for ever this western island under its gull-breasted skies is an outpost of her home.


Santa Warna and the Old Man of Gugh

Only a channel divides the west and east, the near and far; a bar bared at low tide connects them for half the day. When the sea is flowing, the way over is dangerous - a few feet of water, and one is swept away by the undertow to drown.

Santa Warna takes root in the west, recognizing on the eastward semi-isle a presence older than her own. There on a ferny incline stands the Old Man of Gugh, his roots ringed by bell heather.

Voice of the clashing sea! Spray and whirlpools, currents and rocks, jaws, teeth and tendrils, a sucking tongue. Ramparts of hurtling water, bastions of wave! She is defended but imprisoned.

He is of stone. Sometimes she turns to gaze at him, but his petrifaction leans another way, in the direction whence boats of the dead once came. Laden with chieftains fallen, they landed their ghostly tribute at his feet. Has the last boat called?


Santa Warna's Wishing Well

The coastline of the south is her sanctuary, the southern bay where she beached her coracle is ever calm. Did some of her beads slip into its deeper pools, that they are still to be found at low water, jewels of glass? Here on the sloping shore the coping and steps of her well are established, a fountain that brings all desires to fruit. Form-taking water, denuded of deathly salt! Water fresh with suspension of unseen qualities, agents of wonder work. Life of crystal, life of sap and xylem, bast, bone, sinew and blood! Quick of the island, a sweet spray.


Santa Warna- Patroness of Wreckers

Night advances in a strategy of clouds, a coppery light from the west turns purplish on the horizon, copper-green inshore. Anadyomene! Saliva whitens the rock's fangs.

Through soil strangely fruitful springs a giant growth, topping veronica scrub and curtains of fig-marigold, the shrine's triumphant core. Break the ships, Santa Warna, show them a false light! Raise a baffling wind, tear them apart on the pinnacles, split their ribs to shed a rich cargo! Silk and gold of the sunrise, dark wine from a distance, knives and ivory, treasure on our beaches in the dawn.


Santa Warna Latent

Peace, a cloudless heaven, a sea clear to the depths. The moment is lasting; is it sunrise or dark? Santa Warna shows her power no more but hides it, permeating the island serenely afloat. Where does the turf end and Santa Warna begin? Rocks breathe, springs circulate; now is the change complete. She is absorbed into the body of the island, visible to the seer's eye alone.








'The Myth of Santa Warna' has been recently republished in the anthology 'Medeas Charm's' (2019) edited by Richard Shillitoe