Factor X, the Greenman and Coiled Snakes
The rather strange and enigmatic sub-heading should become clear before you have reached the end of this story. If I can draw a loose analogy I suppose it would be to the television show ‘Pimp My Ride’ where the presenters take an old car and highly decorate it. Except, in this case, the customisation is skillfully carried out on a metal detector.
Modifying the detector in this way does little to enhance the operating capabilities, but you will see how the ‘pimping’ is tailored to the personality and interests of the owner.
In this case, the owner is whittler extraordinaire Simon Annis. Ever since he joined the hobby Simon has always looked at what he could make himself rather than pay out for expensive accessories, so adapting or making something proved to be not only a bonus but a way of saving money. He is a self- taught artist and has always been highly skilled with his hands.
It was after buying an XP Goldmaxx and realising that it could be fitted with a straight shaft thus making it easier on the arm, Simon decided to make his own customised shaft … out of wood! All the tools were at hand because he was already an experienced whittler and walking stick maker. Not only that, but he had a piece of holly already dried out, a suitable bit of oak for the handle and some silver birch. Simon showed his green credentials by telling me, “All obtained from the local woods and free of charge!”
Simon reckons that most people reading this magazine would be capable of making a plain wooden shaft, but he wanted to give his the ‘Factor X’ ingredient he’d often read about. For the uninitiated, ‘Factor X’ is a very strange phenomenon in our hobby, and works like this. Before a dig you think long and hard about something you’d like to find or perhaps you have seen such an artefact in a book. The odds against you finding that item is remote, but often you do – that is the factor in operation!
To enhance the effect further and also (in theory) to give him an extra chance, Simon thought that if he carved ‘lucky charms’ into the shaft he would give himself the luck sometimes needed. He was simply following the ancient custom of the Bronze Age people, Celts, Romans, Saxons and Vikings. Even today woodcarvers will carve wood wizards and wood spirits on their work to bring good luck. He thought long and hard about the elements that might be incorporated into the design. That done, all he had to do now was carve it! He set to work.
Simon enjoys whittling in the garden on a hot summer’s day. There’s nothing better to help you relax (he says) and the times just flies by! The tools he used were a simple set of scalpel knives and blades you can buy in a boxed set from any Pound Shop!
The Greenman myth has many variations in different cultures, especially as a symbol of rebirth or renaissance, representing the cycle of growth each spring, and it was his face that was carved first.
Simon remembered a club talk presented by Mark Holly from the Lost Treasure television programme in which he said that the bog body known as Lindow Man had a copper based pigment on his face. Could this bear some relation to the Greenman myth? A 4th century Roman silver salver, part of the Mildenhall treasure, also has a Greenman as a central motif. The four oak leaves surrounding the face were carved next, then the beard coiling around the whole length of the shaft.
The coiled snake
You will notice that coming out of Greenman’s head is a grass snake coiling under and over the beard many times, finally terminating in a fearsome skull. This was quite complex operation to do because the thickness of the shaft was critical at all times – not too thick and not too thin, but remaining strong. Holly was a good choice of wood for the stem because once dry it ‘carved like butter’ and was very strong.
The snake was chosen because it is also a common feature of many myths, especially in ancient times as a guardian of the treasures of the Earth. Very apt! The reptile was also associated with the underworld and the realm of the dead. Snakes were often seen depicted on Roman coins or adorning jewellery. Bracelets or finger rings incorporating a snake supposedly bestowing upon the wearer magical powers and good fortune.
Horned figurehead and skull
Simon told me that figureheads were also subject to superstition with many believing that it was the home of spirits. When used on the prows of ships, it was thought that the eyes would help find a safe way across the oceans of the world.
The carving of the skull and crossbones took over 200 hours over a period of 16 months to complete. “So,” said Simon with a chuckle, “Don’t ask if I can make one for you!”
To complete the job, a small rectangular block of wood was carved with a four-inch peg. This was used to slot into the drilled out handle thus keeping the handle and shaft together. Epoxy resin was used to glue it in place and the whole ensemble was finished with three coats of tough polyurethane varnish. Then it was attached to the lower stem by drilling holes for plastic coil bolts. “When I finished it,” said Simon, “It felt as light as a normal shaft”.
The picture above shows the complete assembly and you can see how it all fits together. At the bottom end of the detector, the lower shaft is used. The arm cuff is a ‘Limlock’, originally handcrafted by detectorists Chris Roe and Paul Butterly. The last I heard was that the manufacture had been handed over to a commercial organisation, but I don’t think that they are made anymore.
Like many of you I don’t have the skill and expertise even to attempt a project like this and I’m not sure that I’d want to embark on such a course anyway. But I cannot help but admire the thought, craftsmanship and time that have gone into the making of this shaft.
Maybe it will bring luck, but I remain a skeptic. What I can guarantee is that this unique machine will undoubtedly create a lot of interest on digs, both in the field and around the chuck wagon. I’d like to see the blurb if Simon ever tries to sell it on – depending that is, if anyone could afford it. I advise him to keep a copy of this article, just in case!
All that was seven years ago. Simon continues to pimp – when he finds the time! His next project is to try it on the Deus!
Simon has just sent me this, plus a further example of his artistry, which I would like to share with you
“Thanks for publishing the report on my stick, and for your brilliant blogs. We need this sort of thing in the hobby as not everybody reads the magazines. Will update you in the future of course.
Have you seen my picture, which I use as my Facebook homepage and detecting profile image? This came about through my interest in rock music and metal detecting.
I took a photo of my painting on the wall at home, added it to the computer and then digitally added the Deus and spade over the top and a few small layers. My picture is a copy of ‘Trooper’ from the Iron Maiden cover, but changed in a big way. I have added lots of hidden images all over the picture and it’s like a pirate’s map in one sense as it relates to my finds and detecting.”