Wednesday, December 31, 2008


As it is another miserably cold day, the seagulls are already wheeling overhead to snatch the bread that I have thrown out in the garden, perhaps Thomas can add to the mood of it..

The Island,

And God said, I will build a church here
And cause this people to worship me,
And afflict them with poverty and sickness
In return for centuries of hard work
And patience. And its walls shall be hard as
Their hearts, and its window let in the light
Grudgingly, as their minds do, and the priest's words be drowned
By the wind's caterwauling. All this I will do.

Said God, and watch the bitterness in their eyes
Grow, and their lips suppurate with
Their prayers. And their women shall bring forth
On my altars, and I will choose the best
Of them to be thrown back into the sea.

And that was only on one island.

R.S.Thomas, Anglican minister in Wales, ordained 1937. To quote "he was troubled by religious doubts which could not be easily revealed to those whose faith was more fervent" One wonders why he stayed in the job, his sensitive poetry shows a soul in torment but also the great pity he felt for the people he lived amongst, the places in which they lived "harsh, depopulated and deprived" . Codlins and Cream (
excellent essays on the ruined cottages that can still be found in the landscape shows how many a Welsh family foundered and failed.
There is also George Monbiot's excellent essay this morning on railways in Wales, headed by a revival of another priest!

The Open Veins of Wales

St.Peter Ad Vincula - Broad Hinton

St.Peter Ad Vincula Church
Copyright Brian Robert Marshall and licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Licence.

Whilst meandering over the xmas period, we saw two churches, one in Essex and the other in Wiltshire. Both were freezing cold inside and one wonders what the parishoners of old thought about their weekly sermons amongst cold grey stones, the Welsh poet R.S.Thomas had plenty to say about the misery of believing in God in what he must have thought of as godforsaken chapels.
There is a luminosity to the Downs of Wiltshire, especially when it is frost tinged, I suspect partly because of the white chalk underneath the grass, giving the atmosphere a lightness of touch that you do not find in the great brown ploughed fields of Essex.
The church at Broad Hinton, Wiltshire, is late and there does'nt seem to be any trace of Saxon, there is a 17th century print of a 'new rebuilt' church in 1656, and fine stone workmanship in the interior, a painted font, and a 'stigmata' carved stone for the 'Lord' of the manor, I shall consult Pevesner on this one, but even he is known to have missed some details as he records the history of these churches.
He says that it was heavily restored by Ponting in 1879, and that it was probably built late 13th century, all that is left are Norman fragments at the end of the nave, which include a capital and a respond with naturalistic carving.

Pevsner says of this Elizabethan inscription of the 'canopy incised cross and hands,feet and heart of Christ' that it is a fine tomb-chest, it is the tomb of Sir Thomas Wroughton and wife 1597.

Elizabethan fine stone canopy

although I did'nt take a photo of Broad Hinton, it can be seen in this print the small stair turret attached to the tower, the Pleshey church also had a tower.

The painted font at St.Peter Ad Vincula

The fine flint Pleshey church, its Norman background comes from the Norman motte and bailey Castle Mound to be found in the Village.
Notes; taken from British History online
"The watershed between the Kennet and the Bristol Avon divided the ancient parish into two contrasting parts. The division runs from southwest to north-east, approximately following a line from Cockroost Farm to Quidhampton Wood in Wroughton. South-east of the line is the Kennet valley, 4 km. wide between the watershed and Hackpen Hill, which reaches 269 m., the highest point in the parish, and marks the boundary. Most of the arable land of the parish was in the valley and streams there were used to float water meadows. One stream rises outside the parish north of Uffcott, another near the farmstead called the Weir; they meet 900 m. south of that farmstead. Chalk outcrops both in the valley and on the downland of Hackpen Hill, which was used for pasture. Settlement in the south-east part of the parish was concentrated in the nucleated villages of Broad Hinton and Uffcott. North-west of the watershed the parish extended halfway across the Avon valley, sharing a straight boundary with Wootton Bassett. A little west of the watershed Broadtown Hill and the ridge which extends north-east of it reach heights above 198 m. and mark the northwestern limit of the chalk; a white horse was cut above Little Town in 1864. On the western slopes of the hills are bands of Upper Greensand and Gault. Beyond them the Kimmeridge Clay forms level ground below 107 m. A stream west of Broad Town Lane is fed by tributaries and flows north into Brinkworth Brook. The plain and the hills west of the watershed were used mainly for pasture and settlement there was in scattered farmsteads. In the 11th century there were 4 a. of woodland at Bincknoll, probably on the ridge, and in the 14th century Bincknoll Wood was of 25 a. The wood stretched east beyond the parish boundary and west to Little Town in 1766 ) but it has since contracted and in 1981 extended 1.5 km. south-west from Bincknoll Castle.
The area of the parish richest in archaeological evidence is Hackpen Hill. There are several barrows and a rectangular earthwork on the downs and some supposed eoliths were found there. East of the Weir is the site of burials and perhaps also of a house of the Romano-British period. Bincknoll Castle, a fortified enclosure of 3½ a. in a commanding position on the northfacing ridge near the eastern parish boundary, may be of Romano-British origin but was re-used in the early Middle Ages.

Taken From: 'Parishes: Broad Hinton', A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 12: Ramsbury and Selkley hundreds; the borough of Marlborough (1983), pp. 105-119. URL: hinton church Date accessed: 31 December 2008.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Xmas Holidays

Icy cold weather this side of Christmas, the downs of Wiltshire were beautiful, their softly curving slopes lightly tinged with the frost. No photos to show for it was far too cold, Hackpen Hill a long low ridge on the horizon, brave souls going for a walk along the Ridgeway. Avebury had visitors as well, the Red Lion meeting place for old TMAers, was packed on Saturday but not so on Sunday.
Friends and family we met there, pints were consumed and food eaten, people stumbled in frozen cold, boots at the door, long socks on some, why is Avebury so much colder than everywhere else. Little Michael posing for the camera, his proud father sitting next to him, running with glee to the christmas tree only to be caught by an unseen step, tears .....
My son and his friend, so different to each other and yet they complement the different facets of each other's personality.
The stones themselves grey and cold like the weather, scattered around people posing in front of them, and the Henge shop, first time I had been in there for many a year, no dog this time. Warm fire, and an exhaustive range of goodies to please most, rather lovely painted stones, glittered at the back, but prices were expensive. Books of course but my book buying days are over now, for I cannot find any to please, they are beginning to say the same thing over and over again, and truth is being lost.
Silbury posed like a frozen green xmas pudding, captured from afar, and the Longstones another first, bitterly cold in the north-east wind, they give witness to a certain amount of damage over the years, Adam and Eve stones so called, though who called them that heaven knows......

Friday, December 26, 2008

Boxing Day

A quiet and happy christmas for me has just passed and now the New Year approaches, which in turn will lead to a new life.
Boxing Day and a return to Avebury to wander round amongst the stones, very cold weather is forecast for the next few days. Journeys are all about packing and making sandwiches, locking the house and setting out. Anticipation of arrival and new things to do, there will be my son to meet and also friends who will make this pilgrimage to Avebury. For it is indeed a pilgrimage, pagan celebrations have gone on amongst the stones, cloaks and appropiate gear has been donned, poems and songs have been chanted and spoken. Though I have'nt heard them I can imagine the air of festivity, and welcome the sense of ritual that is still apparent in our modern age.
The stones have been part of the backdrop to my life for 30 years, ever since driving West to find somewhere to live in Wales, and then falling in love with the landscape of the downs, so that my journey was somewhate curtailed in Calne for a few years. We should really be allowed several lives to be able to enjoy this country of ours.
There are always memories that flow through ones life, walking on the Cherhill downs with my labrador, up to the grim Lansdowne monument and then carrying on and walking round the rampants of Oldbury Hillfort and marvelling at the energy needed to construct such banks.
West Kennet Longbarrow its long low silhouette on the horizon, and great grey enigmatic stones were far less visited when I first came to Calne. The stones of Avebury rather frightened me for some unexplicable reason, perhaps I saw them on too many misty grey days, the haunt of ghosts past.
But Christmas has been very good this year, old friends keeping in touch, the glitter of baubles and the ivy softly curling in vases with its great seed heads a reminder of how useful a food it is for the pigeons, yellowed flowerheads still clinging a reminder of its late nectar in the autumn for the last flying butterflies and of course the wasps.
And cards that bring a smile ........

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Winter Solstice


Today has been solstice day, the turning of the year before christmas. Up at 8 this morning walking with friends there was no sun to be seen, only the bare landscape shorn of it vibrant colours. Then there will be January and February, a grey, grey landscape and then one day colour will appear and the year will make its way through its annual pilgrimage.
The dogs bounded around, Monty rolling as always in some deer poo, and his small companion added to the wafting perfume by rolling as well. Moss interested in his ball was scornful of such antics, though he likes to roll, but only in the dew.
So is today solstice or will it be tomorrow, such arbitary dating it to the 21st, the sun takes no notice but comes up each morning to remind us that there is a rythm to life, as it was all those thousands of years ago. Walking back down the racecourse and in the distance is Cherhill Down, and absent mindedly I can place Silbury and Avebury to the left of it 30 kilometres away.
Here on this racecourse with its remnants of old bronze age barrows, did the people who built these barrows also look up into the distance and think of the Avebury settlement, perhaps they had relatives there and would make an annual pilgrimage.
But what thought started this thread was the Springfield Cursus, and an explanation from John North will suffice;

"The Springfield Cursus is not far from the River Chelmer in Essex. It was some 40 m wide and 670 long m long, and a pit surrounded by a semi-circular ditch abuts the southern ditch at 200 m from the eastern end. There are in the vicinity traces of various other monuments, including possibly an oval longbarrow, and at the eastern terminal there has been a ring of posts (about 26 m in dia), possibly placed there at a late date in its history. In the neighbhourhood of the Springfield ring there were many small pits containing burnt flints and cremations of cattle, sheep and pig. There is no firm evidence as to date, a find of Mortlake pottery in a ditch inclined the excavators of a date at the end of the third millenium or late" Maybe potential alignments on Spica, Pollux and alpha Centauri (34th C bc)"

Thursday, December 18, 2008


There was a time when I thought to upload something to my blog everyday, but that is not possible. So in a world that seems topsy-turvy, okay we are heading for a recession but just how did Madeoff slip through the net and produce the biggest scam of the century, and don't these greedy selfish people have any moral compass.. I give up and shall post some photos of one of my favourite places which is Carn Meyn, as there has also been a bluestone controversy raging and no I will not begin to explain it..take your pick, the bluestones either came via a glacier to be deposited on Salisbury Plain to be used at Stonehenge so that the prehistoric people could play around with making pretty patterns with the stones, or the bluestones were pushed, dragged, floated on boats and made that perilous journey by winding rivers and storm lashed seas!
To be quite honest and very subjective I think they came by sea, of course there may be a third option, Geoffrey of Monmouth has them flying over from Ireland by witch transport, and who am I to argue with some long dead writer of the 12th century.
So to the photos of that strange outcrop in the Preseli Mountains, source of so much dispute and speculation - O for H.G.Well's time travel machine............

Carn Menyn source of the bluestones for Stonehenge

The bluestone moved in 1980 I think by helicopter

Moss in his homeland

a good canine companion

Gors Fawr stones circle (part of the circle)

Waldo (a poet) memorial stone - hideous metal sign!

Gors Fawr pair of stones

Foel Drygarn fort, in the distance Carn Meyn

Gors Fawr stone circle seen from afar, marvellous welsh weather, rain brewing over Preseli Mountains and this captured sunlight

One of the three great bronze age stone cairns in the centre of Foel Drygarn

Wherever the argument may lead to these bluestones, whether Wainwright and Darvill are right and that Stonehenge was a healing centre, or that the stones were used in a purely decorative form remains to be seen. But there is a very strange air to this bare mystical place in the Preseli mountains and my money is on the bluestones being transported.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Oliver Postgate

Recently Oliver Postgate, children's animator in the 1970's has died, such classics as Noggin the Nog, The Clangers, Ivor the Engine and my all time favourite Bagpuss. Postgate's and Firmin's animations must have coincided with my daughter's childhood because I remember them well.
Also a couple of years ago, there was a time when I hosted a great many language students, one of these students came from Peru. On the day this tall and fit looking boy arrived, he complained of his little finger tingling and he thought he might be heading for a heart attack after the very long air flight he had undertaken. I was a bit sceptical about this, but late evening he phoned back to his insurance company in Peru, who then arranged a London doctor to find someone for him, who then found a doctor over at our hospital in Bath (5 minutes from the house) Whilst all this was happening late into the night I sat and watched Bagpuss on tv wondering what sort of surreal world I had wandered into.... the sequel to the story was of course he was fine....

The intro to Bagpuss;

The Clangers;

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Circling Stones

......."hath fallen a sacrifice to the wretched ignorance and avarice of a little village unluckily plac'd within it." Stukeley

I have to quote Stukeley as I begin this rambling blog, because what the following photos show is the tragedy of not being able to see the Avebury circles in their full, albeit reduced state, because of the houses and buildings that sit within. What would we have seen if having come down the West Kennet Avenue through the great entrance stones, you would have been confronted by the inner south circle and the great obelisk, and what to my mind is the worst offence, you can't see The Cove, though one's mind will tell you that it is placed to the right of The Red Lion.
Such things cannot be undone, the village resides in the circle and the tourist perambulate its great bank, the majesty of this great ritual complex has been lost to later history. So we are left with tantalising glimpses as to what it might have been and how it was used.
There has been a discussion on The Modern Antiquarian about alignments both within the circle and down the West Kennet Avenue. Reading John North on the subject, and he provides an impressive though complicated alignment charts, focussing both on the sun and the moon, though here the argument against him could be put that by providing so many lines you can prove almost anything.
One of the tentative theories he puts forward for the West Kennet Avenue having a moon alignment is that the male and female symbolism of the alternating stones on the Avenue points to a fertility cult, the moon having the same monthly cyclical as the female.
But what of my photos, the early morning ones were taken when I was staying there, and would walk the dog down the Avenue in the bright cold air, musing on those that had gone before. Coming back you cross the little lane with the latched gates and enter the south circle's quarter, here if you stand on the bank you can look down on the two great entrance stones and watch the shadows slowly creep down the stones, the sun is behind you.
Your mind says no this is not the way I should be entering this circle, I would be processing from the Avenue between the two great stones and would be faced with the great obelisk and the intervening stones. I would see the beautiful Cove stones in the distance and my senses would be overawed by the majesty of these gigantic stones.
It is impossible to restore this first impression that these bronze age people saw, the Avebury Circles are probably the final culmination of a great stone building era, nothing like it was to happen again, the skills became lost.
And because I do ramble, would not the Great Circle have melded with the landscape if the bank and ditch had not been built, there is something unsatisfactory and untidy about this addition, yes it says hey look what we are capable of, but by being there, imposing a moatlike appearance the serenity of the circle is somewhat diminished. Power is already asserting itself and the symmetry of peace is being lost.

The Obelisk

Morning Shadows

South Circle at Avebury

Morning shadows cast by the bank on entrance stones

Looking Towards the far end

One of the 'kinks' In West Kennet Avenue

West Kennet Avenue seen from the Ridgeway

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Cold Weather

The river at Ruswarp

Freezing cold weather and a migraine to boot do not make for a happy day. Tempered with nightmares and Christmas, and it becomes a witches brew.
But presents for grandchildren are on the way, and Matilda's birthday books are already there for her birthday today.
Yesterday in Bath the shops were full, each year I go to the church in the centre of the town to buy charity cards, people were milling round buying their chosen cards and the usual bits and pieces of tinselly glitter were for sale.
Bath has changed, once it was rather downmarket but now its definitely upmarket, sleek cars drive down Milsom Street with elegant females, Jamie Oliver has just opened a restaurant where the old photographic gallery used to be. Its a two level arcade there, with elegant small retail units, most empty at the moment, they really are terrible, cold and uninviting, what will Bath do if the tourists disappear.

Matilda's who is seven today

The little one caught between babyhood and being one of the 'gang'

Monday, December 8, 2008


A modern Druid pagan organisation is calling for the reburial of a child's female skeleton at Avebury. The skeleton is on show in the Keiller Museum, and was found in the base of the outer ditch on Windmill Hill. According to the book "Harmony of Symbols" - Causewayed Enclosure of Windmill Hill", it was Veronica Keiller who carefully uncovered the skeleton in 1925 and there is a photo in the book of it lying in its original position.
There is something poignant about children's bones from thousands of years ago, we think as parents and grandparents of the bright chatter and movement of young life but can we truthfully go along with 'new age' thinking on this.
In the ditch there was evidence of other human bones, also animal bones are seen as having something ritual in their burial. For instance there was a child's femur stuck in the hollow of an ox's bone, and there are also skulls of ox and goat buried in a symbolic fashion, also horncore.
At Beckhampton and South Street longbarrows, animal remains are found, at Beckhampton the skull and hooves, making it likely that the hides of the animals were buried.
This has something to do with the belief system of the time, a need for regeneration, therefore by committing, something to the earth it would be hoped that it would be renewed. So in another burial of a male skeleton on Windmill Hill, the grave is interpreted by the archaeologists as being left open for the flesh to rot away from the bones - excarnation; they become ancestor bones, to be used in ritual and ceremony, and some bones from Windmill Hill have been found down in West Kennet Longbarrow.

So it leads back to the question do Druids have a right to call these neolithic bones ancestors to themselves, thereby taking 'charge' of an old belief system and incorporating it into their own, and such thinking can be seen in the following statement.......
"Ritual would be an important part of any act of reburial. If the bones came from what is clearly a Christian provenance, then a Christian priest may be concerned to have Pagan priests make a ritual. However, those of no clear provenance, and those older than 1500 years old, should have ritual crafted by Pagan priests, priests who honour the land and the ancestors, simply." Taken from a Theology of Reburial by Emma Restall Orr.

As a person who also loves nature and the land I am quite happy to see the burial of people without any due acknowledgment of ritual or ceremony, Orr sees each of us as having a 'song/soul' of all our experiences, our ancestry is inexplicably mixed together in a whole experience of our being, both spirital and physical. The 'soul' part that is given to many religions is to a degree separated from the physical body, leading as it does in the Christian faith to an intepretation of suffering on this earth to achieve the higher balance of heaven.

"all of nature is interwoven, existing in ecosystems of place, linked through bloodlines, through interdependencies of symbioses, touching along lines of histories and memories." Orr

The symbiotic thread of nature is well understood, that is why we see the catastrophic decline of the natural word today, we are destroying the strands that link one part of nature to another, but can we really use this metaphor between the human body and soul to address the question of burying prehistoric bones under the formulaic ritual of a 'pagan' revival, that has happened within the last few years. For a start there are many bones out there, and often in a singular state, they do not represent the 'whole' person, they are the fragments of bodies carelessly thrown down. If we were to bring these prehistoric people back to life, would they even begin to understand the conceptual idea that they were pagans, can you annexe a people and then claim them for your own? The answer I think is no, our common inheritance is humanity, religion and ritual have been tacked on through the ages, and each religion should be left to its own.....

An article by Dr.Jenny Blain and Dr.Robert Wallis on the subject...

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Morning walk

The textures and colours of an English countryside, caught on a crisp early morning, cannot be surpassed for beauty. Soft silvers, greens and warm browns and cream coloured grasses are highlighted by the sun as it makes it way into our world, a soft hue of peach that even turns my collie's blue merle coat a warm colour.... trees take on the shapes of the ancient gods, and the intricate patterning of their branches rest gracefully against a clear blue sky...

Saturday, December 6, 2008

St.Mary, the Virgin, Great Leighs

There are 7 round towered churches in Essex, the church below is one of them. The round tower is said to be built on Saxon foundations, with the very distinctive Norman archway, the building has a long history. The materials to be found in the tower are flint, roman tiles and puddingstone.

The church is very similar to the Broomfield church which also has a round tower; and of course an impressive saxon burial nearby.

One of the motifs that run through these old Essex church buildings is the reuse of material, roman tile, old sarsens where appropiate, saxon stone, medieval tiles and puddingstone. It could be that the church builders incorporated something old into the new foundations of the church, or it could be that such materials were conveniently to hand, but the use of the black conglomerate stone of puddingstone is a mystery. There is a theory that there was a puddingstone trail that stretched from Essex to Wiltshire, the stones being used as waymarkers. But this stone can be found at Ingatestone church, Broomfield and the Great Leigh one, and I am sure many more if one was to look out for such stone.

Ingatestone Church, puddingstone used in decorative form, interlaced with red roman tiles

Broomfield Church

Friday, December 5, 2008

Terling 'All Saints' Church

Below is the SMR record on this rather nice church. It sits on a green, and has a dignified air about it. The wooden entrances are beautifully carved, so different from the Wiltshire 'stone' churches that I am familar with. The village's northern porchway from the green is on a smaller scale, whilst the much grander south porchway must have been the entrance for the occupants from the manor house. There is an iron gate leading into the churchyard from this side .
There is an early font bowl but it sits on a more modern ugly base of pillars, with an attractive wooden top.

"Flint rubble walls, limestone and clunch dressings. Tower mainly red brick with stone dressings. Chancel walls are rough cast, the roofs are tiled.. Chancel and east wall of west tower may be early 13th century in date. The nave south arcade dates from the late 15th century, also the south aisle and south porch. Features and fittings: windows and window details of the 13th and 14th centuries, reset doorway in tower dates from c1340, the south porch roof is 15th century, there are indents of late 14th, early 15th, 15th centuries, early 13th century font, 15th century mason's marks, 15th century scratched shields on the jambs of the doorway to the tower, a worked stone in the tower is possibly an early 15th century font base Apart from the tower the church is "not impressive from outside". The chancel seems to be 13th century, has a lancet window on the north side, "and otherwise windows of c1300". 15th century timber south porch. 15th century nave arcades. "The low many-moulded tower arch is proof of the existence of a previous C13 tower" "C13 nave and chancel and once a W tower, C15 aisles of which the northern was wholly rebuilt and the southern much renewed in C19". The west tower is the only notable feature except the 15th century timber south porch.. External corner buttresses between the nave and chancel may, if old, indicate a former central tower. Graded CIIIb by Rodwell 13th-15th century church. South arcade, south aisle (restored) and south porch are 15th century. The chancel roof is 13th-14th century, the chancel is roofed with handmade tiles, the nave roof is similar but was boarded to the soffit in the 19th century. The east wall of the tower is 13th century, in stone rubble. The south porch has an elaborate crownpost roof. "This porch, like the S ailse, was probably built by John Rochester who died in 1444" . 2 brasses in the south aisle, with indents for mouth scrolls, are "believed to be of Robert Rochester, 1508, and his wife Elizabeth" (see source 5). The font has an early 13th century bowl and 19th century stem and shaft .Site Assessment = "The S porch is an interesting example of 15th century woodwork" "Nice C15 timber porch" but church is "not impressive from outside" other than the west tower; 15th century porch is the only notable feature apart from the tower. Corner buttresses on outside between nave and chancel may, if old, indicate a former central tower. "The chancel exterior is covered with pebble-dash and there is a deep grass-lined drainage trench around the E end. The graveyard is excessively tidy. Archaeological potential unknown". Roman site suspected to be nearby.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Hanningfield Reservoir

Hanningfield in Summer

Cold Essex weather, the morning promised blue skies and crisp air, but slowly it folded into grey clouds and drizzle. This time of the year, the leaves are still a tumble of brown on the ground, pale lemon leaves still cling in the countryside but soon only the dark green of ivy and holly will bring colour.
Wandering round the woods by the reservoir the brambles are still green, great banks cascading down, ferns are already bending to the earth, they will not reach that dying colour of earthy orange and cream colour you find on the moors of the south west, these ferns will die green, soft Essex landscape holds far richer soils than the poor pinched soils of rock country.
That is what is so special about an Essex landscape, neat fields, ploughed to perfection, small woods meandering down the folds of the hedgerows. Great stagheaded trees, some dead, mark the spot of an old field boundary, and then suddenly the planned neatness of this reservoir, wander along the path and you are greeted by a row of besoms standing neatly in a row, twig brooms ready for the witches to fly away on. Further along the path you come to the bird hide, dark inside, the great wooden flaps shut, hang them back, and grey water greets you. In the distance a moored boat ,with a great many birds clustered on its edges, black sentinels keeping a watch on the water. A pair of graceful swans float past, and ducks fidget around on the edge.

The visitor centre is empty, with the usual litter of things to buy, cheap small toys, books, candles, a wood stove burns in the corner, the staff potter around quietly; here is a squirrel outside on the bird table, he tries to climb the pole with the nuts hanging from it, but slides down again and again.
We bring back a great bag of logs for the fire, snow and fog is being forecast on the radio, the logs will burn brightly snapping and sizzling on a bed of coal, pictures will chase across the flames, chestnuts roast in the ash beneath, and toast, browned lightly on the long toasting fork will taste of the smoke and woodland walks......

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Celtic Gods

One of the interesting things about research is that it throws up new ideas to follow through. Books that have not been read for a long time get picked off the shelf and thumbed through and so it is with my latest thinking on religion.
Firstly I had gone back to Miranda Green (The Gods of the Celts) for an overview on fertility goddesses. One of the interesting things about this area round Bath is the Romano-celtic overlap that is fairly strong. Before I have always put it down to the fact that 'Celtic' (the term should always be used loosely for it means several different tribes) soldiers in the Roman army often brought their own gods with them.
So for instance at Cirencester we have the Roman'three matres' icongraphy, a more homely version of hag, woman and maiden. The Roman intermingling of gods is well attested in the romano-celtic temples around here. We also have in Bath a schematised version of this trio, an abstract representation of the three mothers, abstract artwork is a major Celtic feature.
Cernunnos is also to be found in Cirencester, the horned god accompanied by his animals. Cernunnos was a major god in the Celtic pantheon, and it has been argued that he, like Shiva, was 'Lord of the Animals'. Shiva was also called Pasupati which had the same meaning.
Now this Indus-Europeanc strong connection is argued very strongly by Peter Berrisford Ellis in The Celts, firstly we have the figure of three, so important in the celtic tradition, he gives as examples the Hindu belief of the Trimurti consisting of Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver, and Shiva the Destroyer, and there is even a triple image of Cernunnos in Gaul as well, though to be quite honest he normally appears as a single god. Anne Ross gives two good examples of Cernunnos/celtic god in two stories, which will be attached later, which finds him calling all the animals to him, we may even see him in the later figure of Pan. Cernunnos sits in the same lotus pose as many of the Hindu gods, though he wears the antlers of an earlier European age, he takes the posture of his eastern counterpart.
Irish history is served by three territorial goddessess - Eire, Banba, and Fotla, three craft gods Goibhniu, Luchta and Credhne and of course the three terrible Morrigan creatures, who personnified death and war - Macha, Badb and Nemain.
Ellis goes on to describe how Celtic philosopy developed and here I must quote for it is important to understand how the Celts saw the relationship between this middle earth and the 'otherworld'. Of how souls through reincarnation could move from one world to another, back and forth, an endless recycling; and it is important also to note that the concept of the patriachal Holy Trinity of the christian church was defined by a Celtic Gaulish bishop in his work De Trinitate...
but to quote;.
"This philosopy can also go deeper for the Celts saw Homo Sapiens as body, soul and spirit, the world was divided into earth, sea and air, the divisions if nature were animal, vegetable and mineral, and the cardinal colours were red, yellow and blue"

The language of the Celts, which can still be found in Irish or Welsh etymology had many names for the world around them, we only have one name for the sun or moon, but they would have had several, similar in fact to the eskimos who have many names for snow and its textures.
Amongst Irish mythology, the naming of the Otherworld's various geographical landscapes is like a fairytale telling; Tir na nOg (Land of Youth); Tir Taienigiri (Land of Promise); Tir na tSamhraidh (Land of Summer); Magh Mell(Plain of Happiness) Tir na mBeo (Land of the Living); (Magh Da Cheo (Plain of Two Mists) Tir fo Thuinn (Land Under the Wave); Dun Scaith (Fortress of Shadows).... Tolkein would have had a rich etymology here for the telling of his fabled The Ring.
But where is all this leading, this telling of tales, of course where it leads to is that basis on which our Celtic saints took with them ideas of the old celtic gods and transcribed them into the first native christian belief. ...............

This first story is from Ann Ross - Celtic Britain and concerns Finn and the Man in the Tree, the man is Dercc Corra Mac Hui Daighre (The Peaked Red One)which is of course a reminder of the peaked hoods, the cucullati wear
The story is simply told Finn whilst out in the woods spies a man in a tree, a blackbird on his right shoulder, he holds a bronze vessel in which a trout swims, and at the bottom of the tree is a stage. The man would take an acorn, crack it, give half to the blackbird and eat half himself. He would then take an apple, split it in half and give half to the stag. Then he would drink from the bronze vessel, and by so doing he, the blackbird, stag and fish drank together.
Though Cernunnos wears antlers, the 'peak' is fairly significant but it can sometimes be a mistake to match the icongraphy found in the celtic list to a descriptive passage found at a later date.

Saturday, November 22, 2008


The plaited strings inside Silbury
Tired of churches for the time being, thoughts return to Silbury and its primary mound. I think this is to do with autumn and the absence of flowers in the garden. The primary mound revealed a whole host of wild flowers in the pollen and seeds analysised in Whittle's Sacred Mounds, Holy Rings book, that were in the surrounding land at the time it was built. Picking up Michael Dame's The Silbury Treasure and reading through the first chapters, an illustration of this inner mound came bouncing off the page, for he had drawn it with the 'strings' (plaited grass) radiating starlike from the centre. This was presumably to help (if we are to believe Dames) structuring the circular nature of the mound, the strings cutting through the wattle fencing which had been identified around the mound by Atkinson in his 1968 excavation, and also sarsen stones which would appeared to have circled the primary mound. One stone had of course offerings of bones and twigs, and to quote Dames;-
Dean Merewether...."Sarsens were also found at other places round the circumference of the vegetable core mound ' on top of some of these were observed fragments of bone, and small sticks, as of bushes, and, as I am strongly disposed to think, of mistletoe.... and two or three pieces of the ribs of either the ox or red deer..".
Now he rests this hypothesis of 'radiating strings' on very thin ground, a mention by Dean Merewether who wrote that;-
'on the surface of the original hill, were found fragments of a sort of string, of two strands, each twisted, composed of (as it seemed) grass, and about the size of whipcord'
but on such small matters theories are born, and it may well be the case, that the strings were used as guiding principles in the building.
Richard Atkinson's later description follows through from Dean Merewether; as he wrote in Antiquity..........

'Initially, a circular area about 20 metres dia was enclosed by a low fence, supported by widely spaced stakes. Subsequently a low circular mound of clay with flints 5 metres in dia and 0 .8 metres high was built in the centre of the enclosed area, and covered by a heap of stacked turf and soil extending outwards to the fence. This central core was then enclosed within four successive conical layers of mixed material dug out from the flood plain of the adjacent valley, to complete a primary mound with a dia of 34 metres and an estimated height of 5.25 metres.
So we have evidence in this enclosed primary mound, cut off from the light of day for 4000 years, of the captured past, there was no gold to be found, which the earlier antiquarians were so obsessed with, the 'heroic capitalism' as Dames beautifully puts it, that seeks treasures in the old tombs of the dead. A more simpler truth was to be found buried beneath the great weight of the larger mound of Silbury, plaited grass, small sarsen stones laid round the mound, and a wattle fence to keep the soil from slipping. The great treasure of course were the seeds, mosses, snail shells, small bones, fragments of a neolithic past - a small slice of knowledge in a vast sea of unknowing.
As for Dean Merewether's 'mistletoe' this also may or may not have been true, but a 19th century antiquarian with a fertile imagination and sacrificial stories of druids and golden knives cutting mistletoe, could also have given into a bit of wishful thinking that here in the heart of Silbury a branch of sacred mistletoe had been placed.
As a small note and considering that I have done a lot of reading into Sheel na gigs, Dames points to the fact that as he considered that Silbury had been built as a great fertility goddess, the shape of Silbury and its corresponding moat in the landscape resembling the 'pregnant neolithic goddess' found abroad in earlier neolithic context. There is also a tenacious thread that would see sheela na gigs as the same goddess fertility figure, especially in an Irish context.. Whether this 'celtic' imagery that you occasionally see in the Irish church , is a fertility goddess is impossible to say. But it is also possible that a faint echo of mythological females goddesses/queens that ruled in the early part of Irish history cannot be ruled out, the church transfiguring a goddess figure of fertility into a depiction of sin.

ref; Michael Dames - The Silbury Treasure

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Fyfield Church

Notes; Fyfield Down is famous for the 'Celtic field system' still lightly sketched across the landscape. These prehistoric and Roman field boundaries form a lattice across the hillside. There is the possibility that the Roman field boundaries were still in use into the later Saxon era, and that the formation of Fyfield (its boundaries resemble a triangle), its apex on high on the marlborough Downs at Hackpen Hill, and it is believed that Fyfeld may have been a villa-estate in the late Roman period. This evidence is deduced on late 19th finds near Fyfield village. The evidence of the Roman road not following the modern A4 but taking its path from North Farm following a curve from 'Piggledene' sarsen stream, down Piper Lane, and probably somewhere near Fyfield Church. Acccording to a report by Gillian Swanton, the road is not the customary agger type but 'a sequence of road structures continues eastwards the line of the A4 from North Farm' and that this road is thought to be a sarsen road.