Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Sweet Woodruff - Asperula odorata

Sweet Woodruff

In my garden I have a patch of woodruff, its small white flowers in their ruff of green leaves is a pretty sight. When dried it smells of new mown hay (due to courmarin being one of its constituent parts). Grigson records that it was called 'kiss me quick', 'sweethearts' and ladies-in-the-hay', and in the 15th Century 'wodrove' garlands were hung in the churches. He also mentions that it dispelled melancholia, and that the dried flowers make a delicious tea. There is a quite a large patch in the countryside near to the Civil War monument at Langridge.

But on turning the page of Grigson's Englishman's Flora, another woodruff jumped out of the page, and in Grigson's own words.... Squinancywort (asperula Cynanchica)
Every time a botanist journeyed from London to Bath, he was tempted to get down from his horse and climb Silbury, as Thomas Johnson had done in 1634, for in 1570 the Flemish botanist De l'Obel had written having been up the mound..this 'acclivem cretaceam et arridam montem arte militari aggestum'(this steep chalky hill dry hill raised by military art) as he called it.... On Silbury he found a plant blossoming in July and August which seems to have been Asperula Cynanchica, which he called Anglica Saxifraga, the first record for Gt.Britain.
Marjorie Blamey in her Illustrated Flora says that the flower has a vanilla scent, the leaves in whorls very similar to sweet woodruff, and the flowers pale pink to purplish outside, white inside, the whole plant sprawling and prostate.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Shrines, rivers and gods continued..

Celtic naming of rivers stems from the fact that as the Romans conquered or colonised, whichever you prefer, they kept the indigenous names of the rivers. Rivers like mountains are always there, they have their own identity and perhaps even the romans were afraid of the river gods to change such names. The river Thames in London had many valuable votive 'offerings' thrown into it, some might argue by chance these things had fallen in, such as the famous Battersea shield, but there are numerous finds from the earlier bronze age to suggest that the river itself had a special meaning.

British Museum Catalogue 1906

Miranda Green occasionally takes issue with Anne Ross, but her own writings on the celtic gods follow through quite closely. One goddess Nantosuelto in Gaul is twinned with Sucellus, but her name means 'winding river' although she also appears with a raven and that can mean death and the underworld.
Arnemetia was a romano-british

goddess her shrine was at Aquae Arnemetiae ("waters of Arnemetia"), in Derbyshire. Arnemetia's name contains the same Celtic root as nemeton, meaning "sacred grove", so her name is interpreted as "she who dwells over against the sacred grove". (taken from Miranda Green).

Nemetona is also a goddess, worshipped in Treve, but also mentioned at Aquae Sulis with her consort where a native of Treves erected an altar to Mars Loucetius and Nemetona.

MacCana the Irish historian, says of the Celts "Ancient Irish had little sense of a clear and palpable line of demarcation between the supernatural and the secular....flexible combination of a routine pragmatism and unquestioning belief in the power of ritual and mythic precedent"
Which just about says it all for any religious faith, it is after all better to believe than not believe, even if there is no truth in what you believe.....
One of the problems when encountering all these many gods, is to my mind that they don't necessarily match up, Irish literature gives us tales of Irish mythology, as does Welsh through the Mabigonen, and perhaps the Gallic Celtic tradition is different again, we have gods with different names, often masquerading under the Roman gods. Yet what we see in England, is Roman depiction of the gods, the odd stray Celtic name may still be found but the archaeological evidence for native shrines is so thin on the ground in this part of the West country as to be non-existent, what we do have in the record seems to be stray finds of the imported gods/beliefs of the foot soldiers that made up the legions.
MacCana goes on to say that the underlying unity of Celtic myth and religion does not exist because it was not written down, thereby of course giving it a fluidity of movement in interpretation. All we have to go by is various roman writings describing the Celts through the lense of a different social and political order. That the romans were impressed by these people is evident in the friezes and statuary that depict Gaulish celts dying naked in battle, trampled underfoot by horses, commiting suicide when the battle was lost - their bravery, courage and belief in an afterlife are captured in stone for posterity.

Again, we find that the early medieval literature that records the mythology tradition of Irelnad and Wales is transmitted through the veil of christianity by scribing monks, which began in in the 7th/8th century, all of which was further copied in the late 11th/12th century in expanded texts. By then writers such as Geoffrey of Monmouth had woven stories and fables from these writings, further influenced by the French storytellers, until everything becomes woven into a magic fairytale of many threads.

Some basic celtic motifs such as the Triads, the importance of three, comes out in the virgin, mother and hag, and we can trace their path through the cucullati the three hooded figures, found in iconagraphy in Britain, especially round the West country, either men or women. Theeir faces and sex are hidden in the folds of their hoods, yet some carry the symbols of fertility, therefore are seen as women.

Sacred landscape; The 'naming of the land', its hills,mountains, rivers, confluences and springs. Its sacred geography worked out in the great cosmography of the spiritual world.The overworld of the sky, the 'middle earth' and the the underworld all fitted into the fabric of place. The gods were ephremal, they could be given names, locations and attributes, they could also be carried from one sanctuary or shrine to the next - nothing is static all is fluid.

When Caesar names the Celtic gods he gives them Roman names, so he says..'of the gods they worship Mercury most of all, he has the greatest number of images'. It is in the imagination of course that these gods exist, whether by a roman foot soldier, celtic warrior or a new pagan of today. Mercury therefore translates into the god Lugus; Irish Lugh; Welsh Lleu, he was the 'inventor of all the arts'. The young god who overcomes the wicked underworld figures, and his feast lughnasadh was celebrated throughout the celtic land. According to MacCana, Mercury in one Irish tale is seen as the king of the otherworld, paired with a woman identified as the sovereignity of Ireland; a pairing similar to the Gaulish Mercury's association with the goddess Rosmerta (or Maia) she is also found at Aqua Sulis. Though this soverign pairing of the land through the goddess with the king seems only to be found in Ireland, the Tara ceremonies testify to this.

Rosmerta, Nantosuelto, Damona, Sirona, and Nemetona on the continent are goddesses paired with male deities, the goddess, as mother a representation of the earth. The Irish goddesses Eriu, Fodla and Banbha are personifications identified with individual provinces, going back to the sacred landscape represented by human identity. Of course the goddess in Irish tradition is also terribly destructive, she teaches the art of war; the terrible trio the 'Morrigans', who are to be found on the battlefields inciting the fighters, working their terrible magic.

MacCana equates the goddess Brigit with Minerva, latinised as Brigantia 'Exalted one'. If this is true what does it make of our Bath goddess Sulis matched with Minerva?


This marvellous Celtic sandstone stature was found recently at Glauberg, Germany just outside a warrior barrow, the two 'earlike' projections on his head are thought to be representations of mistletoe leaves, he is probably one of four statues worshiped at this site.

He was a lucky find when I was reading the excavations of the Roquerpertuse shrine, translated beautifully by Babelfish, a similar but double headed head was found there. Again two warrior statues, and a lintel with four horse heads carved upon it. But of course the crowning glory of the site was the archway with cavities on each side for the display of skulls, presumably their enemies defeated in battle. The two warrior statures here are probably earlier than Glauberg, as they are seated in a cross-legged style, and are dated to 500 bc approximately.

Roquerpertuse has bird significance as well, Miranda Green records a great free standing bird, probably a goose there. Geese are of course fierce creatures when approached and would have been seen as a warlike bird. She also mentions a bird of prey displayed on the shrine holding two skulls.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Shafts and Wells

Late Celtic enamels (BM Guide 1905)

There is an interesting article in the essays presented to Stuart Piggott - Studies in Ancient Europe, this is one by Anne Ross - Shafts, pits,wells - Sanctuaries of the Belgic Britons. It is primarily a catalogue of finds excavated from the wells and shafts in a broad band from the Bristol Channel down to the south coast, though of course there is the Newstead, Roxburgshire fort with 15 pits excavated. These roman forts housed many different nationalities of the roman legions, and they of course brought there own religious gods and rituals to Britain.
Ritual pits have been excavated in the great Iron Age forts of Danebury and Cadbury Castle, showing that this ritual of communicating with the gods, or indeed the underworld was a native belief going back through time. Ross speculates that as some of these shafts are on hills that it was seen as a direct link down the the underworld, and it would be a wild speculation indeed to put forward that Silbury, with its trace of wood down the centre, may have in the past be seen as such a place by the celtic tribes.....
The things founds placed with care in some of these shafts, apart from cinerary urns, are skulls, both dog, horse and human; animal bones, bird bones, probably relating back to the religious aspects of particular birds; pottery and iron goods, and of course hazel nuts and hawthorn branches. The shafts themselves were often well made and lined, but it is well worth remembering that rubbish may have also been thrown down these shafts, and many a roman villa would testify to its overthrow, by the bodies of its former inhabitants tossed down its wells.
Ross examines these finds through a particularly celtic tradition that looks forward to the writing of the celtic monks as they wrote down the great legends of the Irish traditions, therefore her interpretation is tracing a religion long gone and only captured in a somewhat garbled form by monks, therefore if there is a raven beak found, one has only to look at Cu Chulainn dying with the raven of death perched on his shoulder to understand the significance of one small beak in a shaft.
Details of some local finds;
Cadbury Castle; Devon. A shaft, lined with puddled clay, earth gave way to sherds, ashes, fragments of bones, ornaments and beads; 20 metal bracelets and 4 of shale; at 30 ft. a bronze ring, perced jet button, glass and enamel buttons, horse teeth....etc
Caerwent. Monmouthshire. -Romano- British town; There were several wells in this settlement, but some seemed to be ritual; dog skulls were found in several places, as well as horse, a seated deity found in another with a collection of iron tools.
Danebury Hill; Hampshire. A cylindrical shaft filled with chalk and earth, containing large flints, bones and sherds. Ox bone and goat bone were also present, two other shafts at this side.
Heywood; Wiltshire. A well opened at Westbury Iron works, in 1879 contained a considerable quantity of broken pottery , a complete skull of Bos Longifrons, skull of a horse with a hole pierced in the cheek bone, and at the bottom 4 human skulls.
Jordan Hill; Somerset; A Romano-British temple; Well lined with clay, in which a layer of used stone tiles were laid edgeways. A rough cist of two oblong stones in which there were two urns, a broad iron sword, iron spearhead, knife and a steelyard;above this was a layer of thick stone tiles, on it a bed of ashes and charcoal. On this a double layer of stone tiles, arranged in pairs, between each pair was the skeleton on one bird together with a small roman coin. Beds of alternating ash and upper tiers of tiles, enclosing bird skeletons and coins, sixteen tiers in all, interrupted half way by another cist. The birds represented were raven, crow, buzzard and starling, all prognostic birds according to Ross. Hare bones were also found, hares are sacred animals in celtic mythology, Boudicca sacrificed one to Andraste before her battle with the Romans .
Maiden Castle, Dorset; In 1868 seven pits were found, they contained animal bones, sherds of pottery and 'other pieces of hardware'

J.W.Brooke 1908– site of well immediately opposite Silbury Hill about 105 yards from the hedge on the south side…This well was dug by Cunningtons 1882 –WAM XXIX p.166. When Brookes uncovered this excavation, he found a mass of small stones of various sizes (backfill presumably), then at a depth of 5 feet came across a sarsen weighing about half ton, this sarsen must have stopped the earlier Cunnington Dig. Brookes removed it, roman finds were under it – perforated roofing tiles, square headed nails, iron bucket handle clip, moulded freestone corbelling, base of column. It took 6 days to reach the chalk bottom of the well 26 feet depth, encountered more largish sarsens

note; sarsens found at the bottom of the two? towers of the churches here (a circle), Twyford is near Winchester.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Celtic Spoons

The following information comes from an old report of 1924, supplied kindly by Rhiannon some months ago. The report by James Hewat Craw is in connection with two bronze spoons found in a grave near Burnmouth, Berwickshire, Scotland. These two spoons are the only ones found so far north. The interesting thing about them is that they do not seem to be baptismal spoons, in fact were found in an iron age grave. The skeleton was lying east-north-east, and had a cist like grave with four sandstone slabs used as a cover. These slabs had been brought from the seashore half a mile away. In the grave was a skeleton of a man lying on his right side, between the hands were the two spoons, a knife and the jaws and bones of a young pig.
It can be inferred from the presence of the pig, that this is a pagan burial, food for the journey, with the knife as defence, but what of the spoons?
Craw records 9 sets of these celtic spoons,with some singular. He also notes the spoons found here in Weston as "On the brow of a small hollow in which a rivulet flows" (Locksbrook Stream)
Another two spoons were found in a female grave in France; In Deal, Kent, there was a pair found among graves of later Romano-Britsh date; this could of course have been an 'antique'; In Wales at Pembryn near Cardigan, under a heap of stones in a non-roman camp called Castell Nadolig, the Google book highlighted shows that the Nadolig spoons were found in 1865.
Some of the spoons have a hole on the right side, this is why they have always been presumed to be christian spoons, and also of course a marked cross in the bowl of the spoon. Experiment has shown that it is almost impossible to trickle water though the hole but that oil will drip through. could it have been a measuring spoon, or indeed just the normal 'utensils' that were used and having various uses.......

Google book result 1865 with picture of the Nadolig spoons;

The rather beautiful single spoon found in the Thames now at the British Museum.....

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Göbekli Tepe stone circles

Guardian photo of one of the stones

A link to two videos of the stone circles;

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Two examples of barrows and churches


The triangular village green, with the church on the high ground on the hill

The barrow outside the church wall

St.Lawrence pilgrim chapel at Braythwaite

The two barrows that lie on the opposite side of the road to the chapel

The chapel windows can still be seen in the old farmhouse

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Iron Age Brooch found at Avebury

Illustration from British Museum Catalogue 1906 Early Iron Age.

There is not much evidence of Iron Age around Silbury, there seems to be more evidence towards the east of Avebury, and of course on Oldbury at the great bank and ditch settlement up there. Originally though a much smaller late bronze age settlement that fitted into the corner of the larger enclosed space. There seems to have been a roman religious building up there, whether a temple or not has'nt been investigated. At Monkton Winterbourne, there was found a miniature votive offering of silver legs, which may point to some sort of roman shrine there by the stream. These miniature offerings of parts of the body, can be found at the healing temple at Lydney, overlooking the Sabrina river; and of course the people are asking the gods to cure them of their ailments.

Silbury Hill also seems to have acted as a focus for activity, with records of an Iron Age urn, an Iron Age coin and La Tène I bow brooch, and further Iron Age Durotrigian silver and bronze staters being discovered ‘near’ the Hill (Fig. 11).
Gill Swanton report.....

A Midnight Garden

The garden at night is a throughfare for the wild fauna that lives round here. Badgers, foxes and the owls gentle cry can be heard if you are awake at night. Well the other night, I was truly woken by terrible animal noises in the garden, thinking that the badger had once more got hold of one of the hens, leapt out of bed and with Moss we went to investigate. Moss flew to the pond and there was great scuffling round the reeds as he flew up and down but no other animals, and the hens were still safe and absolutely quiet in their house. Turning back to the house, the full moon shone over the roof illuminating the garden, and as I stood with rather cold bare feet in the grass I wondered if there were any garden devas around.
A garden at night is a strange experience, it holds mystery in its dark corners, the branches of the trees outlined against the dark blue of the sky, the noise of the day has gone and silence reigns, except for little rustles in the bushes, and then there is the majesty of the moon, crystal clear silver, etched into the dark sky with a smattering of stars.
On reflection the next day, I worked out that the kerfuffle I had heard was two foxes fighting over a 'pigs ear' that Moss gets once a week, but is'nt too keen on. So he carries it around (so no one else can have it) and had left it in the garden in the end, which solved his problem beautifully when it got stolen.

My one remaining fritillary (Fritillaria Meleagris)
This chequered rather exotic looking flower is said to be a wild native, but Geoffrey Grigson seems to suggest that it was an Elizabethan import from the continent. There is a field that it can be found in at Fairford, apparently it was also found round Oxford but Grigson reckons that they were garden escapees from the 16th century. As always it has a colourful naming history; Snakes Head is pretty obvious; Gerald Manley Hopkins wrote "Snakes Head like drops of blood..the reason of name is from the mottling and scaly look".
So by definition it becomes 'bloody warrior'(this to do with the alien Danish blood spilt in this land), its called Mournful bell of Sodom in Somerset, Oaksey lily (Oaksey parish,Wilts) and Toad's Head (Minety,Wilts). The reference to Oxford is 1785 when they grew in Magdalen College. Even the latin Meleagris is made up, on the continent it refers to the marking of the guinea fowl, whereas in England it refers to to the chequer board appearance of the flower; all in all it deserves its reputation of something rather dangerous, for it is in fact poisonous.
Taken from The Englishman's Flora - Geoffrey Grigson; one of my favourite books, alongside his wife's Jane Grigson's Vegetable book, a feast of recipes with history included.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Roads and Rivers

The above map shows the roman road that came from London to Bath (Aqua Sulis). In a previous blog I mentioned Mildenhall (Cunetio) a roman walled town that grew in prominence in later years. Cunetio can be viewed also as a posting station, a change of horses on the way to Aqua Sulis. The next substantial settlement would have been at Sandy Lane (Verlucio) just before Aqua Sulis. The name Verlucio can be broken down to Ver (spring) and Lucio, there is no eqivalent to lucio but there is a Lucina, one of the roles attributed to Diana the Hunter, who had many aspects to her nature, including childbirth., and is found in statuary at Nettleton Shrub and Aqua Sulis. But it still leaves no settlement appearing at Silbury on the roman itineraries, although Silbury is midway between the two larger settlements. Excavation can only prove what type of settlement it was.
Verlucio has never been properly excavated, but it is about a 12 acre site, with now depleted springs, one near one of the banks, and another apparently coming up through a pond. There is, an interesting old building in the farmhouse, a small chalk building which houses a well, some 70 feet in depth, the springs seem to lie near the Hayfield Copse. There was an old coaching hostelry not far from the farm, and presumably adjacent to what was the roman road, Bear Hotel though now it is private property - Bear House.

The roman map shows the road going through Aqua Sulis with its sacred spring and then going on route to Abonae (Sea Mills) a port. But just outside Aqua Sulis, was another small roman settlement at Bitton, and this has a lot in common with Silbury. Saxon evidence is strong with the two great fields Micklemead and Holm Mead running alongside the River Avon and a Saxon burial ground across the river. The Roman Via Julia runs straight through Bitton, while the River Boyd flows down into the larger river. It is at this conjunction that a large barrow can be found, about 50 metres from the local church - St.Mary. Roman evidence is strong in this area, material having been found round the church, and it is reputed to stand on the site of a 'heathen' temple. What also is fascinating is the stones found in the Micklemead field, as shown on this old map.....

All gone now, probably under the road, but evidence surely that at this point there could have been some sort of megalithic structure or circle, given the near proximity of the large barrow and the rivers.
Bitton seems to closely parallel Silbury, similar roman settlements near old sanctified shrines and stones, with water being an important link.

And now to a somewhat larger look at the area. There are one or two important celtic-romano temples in the area. Firstly, The Uley shrines on West Hill in Gloucester, the following quote gives some idea of the longevity of a sacred site;

Beneath the Roman temple are the remains of an earlier shrine, a square timber structure in a subrectangular ditched enclosure, constructed in the half century preceding the Roman conquest (AD 43). This earlier shrine itself reused earlier ditches, possible traces of a Neolithic long barrow like nearby Hetty Pegler's Tump. A temple was constructed in stone in the early second century AD, along with other buildings round about. The sanctuary continued to be maintained and modified for almost three hundred years, but showed signs of decline by the final decades of the fourth century. The temple was in much reduced form following demolition or partial collapse. Around the temple other structures too were ruinous or had been demolished by the early fifth century.However the Uley complex was not abandoned, since the site continued in use as a cult place, a rare instance of continuity from the Roman to early medieval periods. An aisled timber building with a semicircular annexe was erected on the site of the temple during the fifth century and was rebuilt in stone in the early sixth century. These structures have been interpreted as a church and baptistery, but the form and parallels of the buildings are uncertain. Carefully buried outside the annexe was the head of the cult statue of Mercury from the temple, which must have been curated for at least a century after the collapse of the building. .... taken from

As can be seen this site was sanctified over many centuries, another site towards Cirencester is the Chedworth Villa, a small villa found by the side of the River Coln, and having an unusual valley situation with steep banks around the villa. There was a small water shrine in the garden but 800 metres away from the villa was a celtic-romano temple.
Chedworth from Wikipedia;..
'Iron age votive pit producing human remains and the bones of a red deer show that the site had been sacred since pre-Roman times. A stone relief of a hunter with a dog and stag was one of the most notable finds from the site....'

One of the things noted by historians in this part of the country, is the fact that when the romans colonised Britain, great tracts of land such as Salisbury Plain and Cranbourne Chase, were farmed as Imperial Estates. They were there to feed the soldiers and perhaps export the food back to the continent. After all, as Caesar says, they came to Britain for our corn, dogs, horses and cloth. Roads were built and sited on particular landmarks such as barrows, in all probability some of the Roman roads followed the old prehistoric tracks, that in turn would have gone past prehistoric stones, barrows and natural shrines, water being an obvious stopping place, especially when that water had some sort of unusual strange power, the meeting of two rivers, a waterfall, etc.. The Romans invoked their own gods at these places, but also included the resident native gods as well.

previous notes;
J.W.Brooke 1908– site of well immediately opposite Silbury Hill about 105 yards from the hedge on the south side…This well was dug by Cunningtons 1882 –WAM XXIX p.166. When Brookes uncovered this excavation, he found a mass of small stones of various sizes (backfill presumably), then at a depth of 5 feet came across a sarsen weighing about half ton, this sarsen must have stopped the earlier Cunnington Dig. Brookes removed it, roman finds were under it – perforated roofing tiles, square headed nails, iron bucket handle clip, moulded freestone corbelling, base of column. It took 6 days to reach the chalk bottom of the well 26 feet depth, encountered more largish sarsens…Dames goes on to say quantity of clean sandy deposits from stream containing water worn stones……??? Wikipedia -Chedworth, Roman Villa with water shrine, and associated Romano- Celtic temple 800 metres away.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Bath Museum

The plaque found at Bathampton with the three matres depicted. There is definitely a 'celtic' interpretation here of a roman concept, the three matres, are found elsewhere in the district, especially at Cirencester. They normally feature the women wearing roman dress, with the females either holding a basket, maybe full of apples, or a corncupia, or a dog,

The head of Minerva, Found in Stall Street, there is evidence that her head was 'hacked' from the body, a decapitation echoed elsewhere with Roman goddesses; probably after 360ad and the local uprisings.

This is the famous pediment that greeted you as you went into the temple, the guarding celtic head, probably one of the finest pieces of statuary work in this country from this period. Often called a gorgon head, because of his dreadlocks, sometimes people see horns also and snakes which may represent a torc.

A close up of the gorgons head, though of course if viewed from a celtic perspective, this is a perfect example of the head cult.

Diana and her hound, the hound being well defined and executed, similar to the stature at Nettleton Shrub temple

Part of a sacrificial altar, right hand side, it depicts Bacchus

Relief of Roman god Mercury and celtic deity Rosmerta

Stone tablet showing the goddess Minerva

Stone relief of the God Mercury

Fragment of a hand holding a thunderbolt

The above shows some of the many examples of the gods worshipped at Aqua Sulis, the great hot springs that centered both roman and celtic religion...Ann Ross in her book "Pagan Celtic Britain", writes of the sanctuaries associated with springs in Europe, she states that rivers, are dedicated to goddesses; seen as mothers, whether in their warmongering or destructive role or as givers of fertility. Such rivers as the Marne - Gaulish Matrona 'Divine mother', or the Seine, sacred to the goddess of the source Sequana. The veneration of of rivers in Britain is less well documented but the names of such rivers as the Dee - Deva, Clyde (Clota Gaulish Clutoida), the Severn - Sabrina; the Wharfe-Verbeia and the Braint of Anglesey and the Brent - from Brigantia; and of course the Boyne and Shannon in Ireland.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Visionaries and Poets

As I have recorded some of the poetry of Jeremy Hooker previously, perhaps it would be good to record some of his prose. The following is about Richard Jefferies and his eloquent "Story of my Heart";

........My story too would rise from prehistoric barrows and Downs, and touch grassblade and sea and stars. But it would not be more about the future than the past. It would be about the ideal, or abstracted spirits; it would be about particular real people and places and things. It would be about trying not to lose anything of the good we have been given, but to carry it through. It too would be about the Now - but our lives are in constant movement; it is only the transfigured moment that can both live, with the momentum of time and change, and 'stand' eternally. Jefferies abstracted his soul from his life and his world; in pursuing the ideal, he rejected everything that is human - all philosophies and religions, and by implication, all past and present human lives. My story would be about desiring that none is ever lost, and that our common world embrace the living, dead, and unborn. Light would pick out now this, now that, and the darkness of partial vision sweep over it, as shadows chase lightly from the Downs. But my prayer would be that what I can only see darkly should be seen and known and cared for by a love greater than I can conceive.......

Taken from Presence of the Past

A review of Home on the Earth by Jeremy Hooker...

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Etymology continued.

The Goddess Sulis
There is a very good book about the hot waters of Aqua Sulis, called "The Waters of the Gap" by R.J.Stewart, and here again we come to magical hot water coming out of the rock, and strangely the imagery of Dames word c**t is not too far off from gap it would have been part of prehistory, as it was of Roman and Saxon history. Stewart takes the etymology of Sulis the goddess, to the Irish Sul/Suil meaning eye, as did an earlier contributor to TMA when he listed all the words similar to Sul, though in this instance he related back to the sun as well. It is of course interesting to note that Sul is not very far from Sil, but whether one wishes to take an imaginative leap and say that there was an overarching prehistoric goddess called Sul/Sil that stretched her territory to Silbury Hill needs to be left on hold for the time being, but again if her water shrine at the roman town of Aqua Sulis holds an original name then it does to a degree tie up with Dames idea of a fertility goddess and water, the remnants of this paganism still holding out along the river of the Kennet, the Kennet itself a 'holy' river, and of course magical in its seasonal coming and going.

note; Gap Old norse for chasm, and in the Anglo Saxon Chronicle, geat is translated as gap by some, though Sweet records geat as a gate which is of course similar.

Further to Stewart's interpretation of the meaning of Sulis, he gives the following meanings;
In Irish; Suil - An eye; Also used as meaning eye or hole (of a strap)
In Gaelic; Suil - An eye; the centre of a whirlpool. An opening or orifice.
Suileath - Sharp sighted and knowing
In Manx - Shilley or sooil; an eye

He goes on to say, and here his argument is interesting for it might go back to Swallowhead or Sil, that the English verb to swallow, is derived from the same source; it is related to an Icelandic word meaning 'whirlpool'.
To understand how a word can take on several meanings, you must go back to the celtic world and its conceptual understanding of how everything is bound up in each other. In death you travel to another world, you take food and drink and your belongings; the celtic vision is a contrasting one dark/light, fire/water.
There is an interesting celtic story, of how a man came to a river and across the river there were white sheep, and a tree, one half of the tree was green, but the other half was on fire, when he had crossed the river the sheep turned black, this allusion to the changing patterns of the world, must also be seen as the framework of nature and god worship. It was fluid, Sulis the goddess represented water, but she also represented the all-seeing eye, if you look into water, your reflection is cast back at you; its depths will take you down to the otherworld.
The fact that Sil also is seen as an 'eye' is taken from this interpretation, but she is also surrounded by water, in the form of springs, and later roman wells; her moat or ditch just reinforces this power she had on the land.

Note; Stewart mentions Compton Dando church which has a carving of Appollo with his lyre built into the church. This of course, is very similar to Tockenham church with the roman god Asclepius built into its side (see Wiltshire churches blog) and of course the Abson church 'man'. They represent the old geni loci, built into the church fabric for magical or superstitous reasons, similar perhaps to the reason of old sarsen stones being found under the foundation of churches.

Note 2; Whilst reading Seamus Heaney's Beowulf I came across the following, it is an example of how our English/Celtic language overlaps itself, it illustrates perfectly the duality of the meanings of words, how they proscribe the word themselves, the word is whiskey and its relation to water...
"whiskey" is the same word as the Irish and Scots Gaelic word uisce meaning water, and that the river Usk in Wales (which flows into the Severn Channel)is therefore to some extent the River Uisce/water (or whiskey).

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Priory of St.Georges De Boscherville

Many years ago I did a study of the Wiltshire Abbeys for a diploma in archaeology, it was'nt very good but it gave me a good insight into the life of the abbey.
The nearest ones to Avebury are of course Stanley Abbey, on the other side of Calne, excavated in the 19th century, Bradenstoke Abbey, near Lyneham, and maybe Lacock Abbey.
It is recorded however that there was a small 'alien' priory at Avebury, probably with only two monks, though the fact that there is only two 'proper' monks there might obscure the fact that their may have been lay monks and servants, and in their accounts they seemed to have owned 750 sheep, which would mean that they had plenty of land. The priory seems to have been where the manor house is now.
These monks came from Rouen, and were from the Benedictine Order, but the fascinating thing is, that their Mother house was also founded on a pagan site, presumably a Gallic settlement with a temple.

The abbey of Saint Georges de Boscherville is located in Saint Martin de Boscherville, near Rouen. Boscherville was a pagan place of worship at the end of the first century AD. Abandoned in the third century, the first temple was converted into a funeral chapel in the seventh century probably dedicated to Saint George

The cloister was excavated in 1981, and it was here that evidence of a pagan temple was found measuring 7.6. x 8.5.m, the most recent votive offering deposit dated from the 3rd century.

There had been a long going dispute between the Parish church and the Priory At Avebury about tithes and land, the parish church belonging to Cirencester Abbey, and eventually the priory seems to have disappeared, the following gives a list of the meagre possessions held;

Beside the farm stock and store of grains there was a horse for the prior and one for his socius. Indoors the brethren had a missal, a breviary, furnishings for their chapel, two beds, tables, and kitchen utensils. In 1324 they had also a chess set, the only luxury in their simple and lonely life.
From: 'Alien houses: Priory of Avebury', A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 3 (1956), pp. 392-393. URL: Date accessed: 06 April 2008.

There seems to be more pagan shrines in Gaul, than have been found in England., but mostly one could say that there is a strong pagan tradition in the West country, exemplified by the roman shrines found here and that when the breakdown of the Empire came about these shrines would still have been in use. That they are shown to exist is dependent, on what iron age hillforts have been excavated, and the fact that roman shrines were often intergrated on top of the old celtic shrines. The roman shrines often show destruction at a later date and evidence of 'new' shrines being erected as at Uley, the following link gives some of the shrines found in Somerset, Maiden Castle being similar in size to the Boscherville one, but Avebury has no evidence of a later iron age shrine.

Robert Vermmatt in his Vortigen Studies has written an essay on the possibility of a 5th century book being written in this part of the world, the book is housed at the Vatican, this an illuminated book with strong similarities in the artwork of the various roman mosaics in this area, and lettering similar to that found on a 'curse' stone at Bath. He puts forward the theory, that with the strong defence of the Wansdyke that there must have been a powerful tribal overlord in the area, and that the decapitated heads found at Uley and Bath may represent 5th century christian zeal in the destruction of the shrines.
There is strangely a strong sense of paganism in this part of the country, Ann Ross in Pagan Celtic Britain has many illustrations of the strange and wondrous votive offerings found, including a phallic head further west and a head found buried as a foundation offering in a house at Camerton.

Friday, April 4, 2008

The parish of Mildenhall lies north and south of the Kennet immediately east of Marlborough. (fn. 1) South of the river and closely related to it by name was the Roman town Cunetio. (fn. 2) The parish included the tithings of Mildenhall, the name of which was frequently written and is still pronounced 'Minal', (fn. 3) Poulton, and Stitchcombe. A chapel at 'Selk' is supposed to have been in the north part of the parish and to have given its name to Selkley hundred but evidence of its existence is tenuous. (fn. 4) The probable absence of any church between Mildenhall and Preshute in the Anglo-Saxon period may have prompted the early extension of the parish westwards and southwards to include the lands of Poulton and Stitchcombe. Mildenhall, Poulton, and Stitchcombe were all townships in the 11th century. (fn. 5) The compact, roughly triangular, parish has its western point at Bay Bridge on the river Og. The south-west boundary follows the Og to the Kennet, the Kennet for 1 km., turning south to the London-Bath road which it follows to the Grand Avenue in Savernake forest, and the Grand Avenue for 1 km. before turning east to the south-east point of the triangle on the London-Bath road. From there the eastern boundary is marked by stretches of a lane to Stitchcombe and runs over the downs and up a dry valley to Whiteshard Bottom, the northern point, from where the north-west boundary runs above the valley of the Og and down into it to Bay Bridge.
From: 'Parishes: Mildenhall', A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 12: Ramsbury and Selkley hundreds; the borough of Marlborough (1983), pp. 125-138. URL: Date accessed: 04 April 2008.

The chief evidence of pre-Roman activity in the parish, apart from several barrows and scattered artefacts, is a cemetery, possibly a war cemetery, of the early Iron Age 250 m. south of Mildenhall church. South-east of Mildenhall village in Black Field is the site of Cunetio. The town was a trading centre at the junction of roads from Bath, Winchester, and Cirencester, and possibly from Old Salisbury and Silchester (Hants). At its foundation it was apparently unfortified but in the 4th century it was enclosed by a stone wall, 16 ft. wide at its base, with bastions. The town probably survived as a small local market into Anglo-Saxon times, although only a few finds of that period have been made. The site of a smaller Roman settlement is 500 m. northwest of Forest Hill, formerly Folly, Farm. (fn. 14) The course of the Roman road north from Cunetio is marked by a road from Mildenhall village which becomes a track north of Woodlands Farm and joins the Marlborough-Swindon road at Ogbourne St. George. The roads from Cunetio to Winchester and Old Salisbury are traceable south-eastwards and south-westwards from where they fork near the northern edge of Savernake forest. The road from Bath probably ran south of the Kennet but its course is not known. Part of it may have been the Roman road, identified in the 18th century, which ran north-west and south-east across Black Field. (fn. 15) In the 13th century an east-west road followed a more southerly course through Savernake forest, probably along a route similar to that of the modern London-Bath road. (fn. 16) That road, the main route through the parish since the early 18th century or before, was turnpiked in 1726. (fn. 17) Until the late 18th century the road through Sound Bottom, Dean Lane, may have been part of a main Hungerford-Marlborough road, and it linked Ramsbury with the old SwindonMarlborough road at the Old Eagle in Ogbourne St. Andrew. (fn. 18) In 1982 it was a track only. In 1773 and in the 20th century other principal roads were near the Kennet. North of the river is the Marlborough-Ramsbury road, south of it is that from Marlborough to Stitchcombe. (fn. 19) The two were probably linked by a bridge north of Werg Mill in the late 16th century and there was also a bridge at Stitchcombe in the early 18th century. (fn. 20) The road which leads north-eastwards from Poulton to Aldbourne was called Red Lane in the late 18th century and the 19th. Cock-a-troop Lane, 700 m. east of Forest Hill and only a path in 1982, and a steep and winding lane leading west and south from Stitchcombe linked the Marlborough-Stitchcombe and London-Bath roads. (fn. 21) From the London-Bath road rides lead north and south into Savernake forest. A section of the Swindon, Marlborough & Andover Railway was built across the parish near the Og and was opened in 1881. The line was closed to passengers in 1961 and for freight in
From: 'Parishes: Mildenhall', A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 12: Ramsbury and Selkley hundreds; the borough of Marlborough (1983), pp. 125-138. URL: Date accessed: 04 April 2008.

Thursday, April 3, 2008


Note; Sadly like the river this blog is following, a flow of words which seem to get longer and longer and I am beginning to meander up and down streams into other avenues; etymology will appear occasionally though I hope. As blood flows through our veins so rivers and streams flow through the landscape, and this river which I love so much, and which I have photographed in all its seasons seems to be gathering a voice of its own to which direction I take......

In the previous notes about St.Michael, the saxon language came up very strongly in the place names, the Domesday book has a whole list of saxon landholders for wiltshire, the following is gleaned from the English Dictionary and Sweets Anglo Saxon Reader;

Bourne/Burn - stream; OE; burna OHG; Brunno

Winter OE winter; winter - clearig = sad with the gloom of winter.

Swallet underground stream, hole into which a stream flows i.e.swallow-hole.

Swallow swallow-hole, funnel shaped cavity in limestone; OE and OHG swelgan

Swa (which is taken from Sweet) has a somewhat different meaning, in fact several meanings and is used as part of sentence; wine swa druncen.

Sele, as used in the early naming of Seleburgh for Silbury; here I must deviate and look to Michael Dames for the meaning of words. He goes back to the 13th century when Sele came into use, and relates it directly to the old Norse Sele - a time of happiness or festival. Following through on Sweet's A/S reader we get sele-dream - festivity; and sele-hall, this raises a certain possibility perhaps, that Silbury is seen by the saxons as a barrow-mound, an 'otherworld' hall where festivity took place, giving rise to the harvest festival image that Dames talks about. Thus his explanation in Saxon England, the Sele festival (the joyful start of harvest) also known as Lammas (hlafmaess, meaning loaf mass).
In this English Heritage report
by Jill Swanton and Peter Fowler the word Sele-Burh is translated as meaning 'fortified structure or hall'.

This of course gets translated in the christian experience to a harvest festival, but if there was a pagan saxon image of Silbury, it could have been seen as a mythical hall in the underworld in which feasting took place. My theory though must be disputed on the grounds that Silbury could equally have been used as a defensive stronghold in the early battles between the British and Saxons, as evidenced by the postholes on top of the mound.

But if you would contend that the earlier roman settlement round Silbury also used Swallowhead spring as something sacred, its mythology could have moved on into the Saxon period.

Kennet - Dames has of course taken the word back to Cunnit/or cunnt - an orifice; depicted in Christian faith as the 'mouth of hell', and indeed there is a depiction on the Winterbourne Monkton church font of a 'sheela-na-gig, a grotesque form to frighten medieval worshippers. Indeed, strangely at a nearby church in my own locality, the church at Abson has a male sheela-na-gig, though in this case we are looking at the 'wickedness of the flesh' This is a reused stone in the younger norman church, there are also reused saxon 'knotwork' stones. Could it be the linking of these churches by the river Kennet and the streams that run down to it had such a strong 'aura' of paganism, that when the early founding monks came to these 'settled' prehistoric spots, and recognised the stone and nature worship of the local inhabitants, they built their churches on the most sacred spot of paganism? Water is of course used in the christian faith as a purifying source, baptism comes to mind, and it is somewhat surprising that early iron age 'celtic' spoons found by a stream in Bath point to the fact that there was a deliberate policy by the early celtic church to impress/meld there own form of religion on the local pagan populace similar of course to the Romans, who in a more civilised way, linked their gods with the pagan ones.
Deviation on the history of Cunetio/Mildenhall
Mildenhall on the Kennet; Cunetio came into existence probably from the time of the conquest of Britain, there is a small hillfort not too far away that ceased to be occupied after the roman invasion. But Cunetio was only to develop into a more important town at a much later date, timber fencing was replaced by a massive stone wall sometime during the decade of 360 AD, and it would seem that the town became a tax-collecting and an arable farm managing centre, this late date of tightening up by the Empire can probably also be seen in the city of Aqua Sulis, though of course it was only 50 years later that it all came to nought, and Britain was left to its own devices and to the so-called dark ages. There are in fact two sites developed by the romans, an earlier on high ground, but they then moved to lower ground nearer to the river presumably, and this site is part of the field called Blacklands, excavations have taken place in this field. The Saxon history is slight, apparently the body of a saxon woman was found murdered at the bottom of one of the wells, there is also a record of a saxon brooch being found.In the following link, the author debates where the settlement would have been . somewhere near the church on the east is her conclusion, the church itself has saxon work within it, and like many churches in this part of the West country, may probably have had an original church of wood, followed by a later stone church. It is mentioned in an Saxon charter of 803 AD.
An excellent historical overview can be found at the following link......

From which the following came to light;

The strangely named hamlet of Werg was a community of nine dwellings on the River Kennet."One of the many pools on the river, as it wove its way through the water meadows was "Nicker Pool", where it is said the water spirits played. When the climatic conditions are right, the whirling wraiths can still be seen, so that the local name had good cause to be established."
Werg of course is a word that can be transformed into many meanings but given that there were only nine dwellings by this stretch of the river near Mildenhall, one of the meanings is outlaw or criminal, and presumably popular medieval myth has taken up the word and transformed a particular happening of the water spiralling around maybe, a bit like cropcircles, and transformed it into water wraiths, probably the spirits of the poor wretches who lived here.

Mildenhall has a boundary with the Og River, and this strangely named river also belongs to Ogbourne St. George, the church there having an undisputable large barrow in the churchyard, and John Chandler's words below explains the history of the church perfectly....

" Also in the churchyard stands a prehistoric bowl barrow (excavated in 1884), which was reused for pagan Saxon and medieval burials, and perhaps again in the seventeenth century as the base for a windmill. Geophysical investigation in 1999 suggested that church and barrow both lay within a larger complex of buildings, presumably belonging to the original manor. The association of pagan and Christian sacred sites is now being recognised as by no means uncommon, and may result from a longstanding superstitious feeling of sanctity for prehistoric burial sites. Ogbourne St Andrew is the only known example of a prehistoric barrow in a Wiltshire churchyard, but the juxtaposition of churches and Roman or prehistoric features occurs elsewhere in the Marlborough region, most obviously at Avebury. "

The idea that 'the association of pagan and Christian sacred sites is now being recognised as by no means uncommon' is still somewhat ridiculed by some people, but for me there seems indisputable evidence that within some churches this is happening, and is mostly strongly felt round that most ancient of sites Avebury and the great chalk downs covered with the remnants of a prehistoric past.
I shall stop at Ogbourne River, and go back to my etymology for all these place names, because my instinctive feeling for the Saxon overlay within the area is very strong especially given the near proximity of Bath.
The following is taken from The Oxford Dictionary of British Names;
And I shall first start with Clyffe Pypard, a much later church, though again having a stream round the church-yard. The Pypard is self obvious (13th c)but the Clyffe is Aet Clife in 983.
The cliff, or steep escarpment lies to the side of the church. Here I learnt there was in actual fact a word used for similar wooded escarpments - hangeng, which perfectly describes the hanging woods round my area.
Kennet -Cynetan 939, Chenete 1086, is the name for the East and West Kennet. The Kennet river of course comes from the celtic.
Mildenhall= Mildanhald 803-5, Nook of the land of a woman called Milde, or maybe a man;OE
Ogbourne St.Andrew - Ogbourne, 'Stream of a man called Occa' burna. His name also graces the river and field names.
Aldbourne = Ealdincburnan c970 - 'Stream associated with a man called Ealda'
Alton Barnes and Alton Prior, brought together because of their close proximity; Interestingly in the preamble for Alton it usually seen as the 'farmstead by the source of a river OE aiwell. The secondary name Priors of course being given by Winchester. 825 Aweltun; 1086 Auuiltone.
According to British History online; Alleburne (11th c) = stream, which might point to the fact that you are seeing a double statement of the same word, eg. Avon/river;
Alvediston/Alwold = Alton Priors


The Kennet flows past the old Roman town of Mildenhall or Cunetio, which of course embalms Cunnt/Kennet in the history of time, indisputable evidence one might say. Roman settlement at Silbury by spring and wells, large romanised town at Aqua Sulis by hot water spring, Nettleton Shrub temple by brook the evidence begins to mount up of a very strong connection of water worship, alongs with the gods of course.
There is a big step in imagination being taken here regarding a river as sacred, but evidence of offerings in water duing the bronze age are widespread, Flag Fen delivered hundreds of votive offerings and so has the Thames to name a couple. This evidence is missing locally sadly, though Jody Lewis in her survey of the bronze age swallets up on the Mendips, found votive offerings in the swallets she examined. She also put forward the theory that the famous Priddy circles may have been constructed around particular swallets, holes in the ground to an underworld, or to the goddess earth maybe.
There is also the case of Swallowcliffe in Dorset near to the Dorset cursus and the innumerable barrows and longbarrows in that area, again on chalk; here small ridge or cliff overlooking a valley in which a small seasonal lake appears in the winter, above on the ridge, a rich saxon burial of a woman, and evidence of neolithic occupation.
Eleswhere in blogs I have argued the presence of the early celtic monks travelling from Wales would have homed in on old pagan stones and barrows to deliver their particular version of religion; the founding christian church always having to fight superstition and 'pagan' ways, of an illiterate population.


Wednesday, April 2, 2008

St.michael's Church Aldbourne - notes

Village pond in 1960s

Andrew and Dury Map, note Albourn,(Al Bourn)

nineteen century photo. If you look at this photo closely there is a circular nature to the village, follow the line of the fence surrounding the ricks in the centre and a bank/ditch can be seen, probably the original saxon settlement?

St.Michael church

Coloured print

which sits on a spur between two dry valleys feeding the perennial Ald stream flowing south to join the Kennet below Ramsbury. The spur overlooks to the west, the earliest, presumably pagan occupation site round manor farm, some mounds can still be seen in the pasture. At the centre of the modern village was at this period (pagan) a substantial pond or mini lake formed by a natural dam of sarsen debris washed down through the tributary valley...... so the old site was above winter flooding
Building of church; which by the way would have been wooden in the 7th/8th century(saxon presumably). Sarsen, hard cemented sandstone was available in quantity at the southern exit of the village, broken sarsen and flint were used in the rubble wall. Larger sarsen boulders provided a foundation layer, particularly for chalk walling...

Pevsner mentions the village situated around the village green with a pond at its centre, In the Domesday book, there is mention of four mills which would indicate that there was a lot of water around.

There are bronze age four barrows in the vicinity, see at the following link

It was stated that there was a well established church here in 966, which is most likely to have been a wooden one. In 1086 two hides of land belonged to the church, to support it and the priest. The early church was on the site of the present one, on higher ground, overlooking the village. By the mid-12th century there was a stone church with an aisled nave and, perhaps, a central tower; the south doorway and some masonry survive from this building. It is thought that a fire c.1220 damaged the church and it had to be rebuilt. The new church was cruciform in plan with a long chancel, a central tower and an aisled nave of 4 bays; the dedication was to St. Mary Magdalene.

The above comes from the Swindon records office, and there are finds of neolithic, bronze age and later of course Saxon. It follows a similar pattern to the Vale of Pewsey churches, and of course to Pewsey church, which also stands on higher ground above the river.

The fascinating thing about history is when you start to find patterns; we often study each particular time period without directly relating to the flow of settlement that occurs. Here at Aldbourne, there is neolithic, bronze age barrows in the surrounding area, and Saxon occupation. Much of this is because of the close proximity of the Ridgeway, early settlement in neolithic times round good water sources would start the process, the presence of sarsen drifts in the valley around Aldbourn, would predispose one to think of barrows and perhaps a circle being built. Stone was abundant in the area, nineteenth century maps record stones all round the village, and there is even a folklore tale to go along with one of the stones with a hole. Again called a 'blowing stone' similar to one but a few miles away, the tale having been imitated at Aldbourne.

But what is so interesting is the strong linking Saxon theme that is a part of the story round this area and around the rivers. Pewsey Vale is strongly marked by the old Pagan god, Woden, the two churches of Alton Priors and Alton Barnes within its valley, point to settlement by a river and streams, the 'holy' nature of the location is revered through a pagan period, but is then topped by a christian culture frightened of paganism and stamping its authority against the worship of 'natural' things whether they be stone or water.

The word Albourne on Andrew's and Dury's map, may point to a personal Saxon naming, Al, or Alfre stream, there are several namings on this map, Albourn Warren, Albourn Chace, Albourn South Wood. It may be an old parish boundary abounding the parish of Ogbourne St.George, another church that has pagan influences.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Belderg by Seamus Heaney

These are the last of Heaney's bog poems, in the last verse there is a lovely line evoking two images in one, "A world-tree of balanced stones" . The world tree is part of religious myth but if you would envisage the great ash tree Ygrasdil, with the wells beneath, and combine it with the Cornwall tor image of stones precariously balanced one on top of another, ancient nature wonders, you would understand the deep power of nature within the minds of prehistoric people.


'They just keep turning up
And were thought of as foreign'-
One-eyed and benign,
They lie about his house,
Quernstones out of a bog.

To lift the lid of the peat
And find this pupil dreaming
Of neolithic wheat!
When he stripped off blanket bog
The soft-piled centuries

Fell open like a glib;
There were the first plough-marks,
The stone-age fields, the tomb
Corbelled, turfed and chambered,
Floored with dry turf-coomb.

A landscape fossilized,
Its stone wall patternings
Repeated befor our eyes
In the stone walls of Mayo.
Before I turned to go

He talked about persistence,
A congruence of lives,
How stubbed and cleared of stones,
His home accrued growth rings
Of iron, flint and bronze.

So I talked of Mossbawn,
A bogland name 'but Moss'?,
He crossed my old home's music
With older strains of Norse.
I'd told how its foundation

Was mutable as sound
And how I could derive
A forked root from that ground,
Make bawn an English fort,
A planter's walled-in mound.

Or else find sanctuary
And think of it as Irish,
Persistent if outworn.
'But the Norse ring on your tree?'
I passed through the eye of the quern,

Grist to an ancient mill,
And in my mind's eye saw,
A world-tree of balanced stones,
Querns piles like vertebrae,
The marrow crushed to grounds.

Come to the

My hands come, touched
By sweetbriar and tangled vetch,
Foraging past the burst gizzards
of coin hoards

To where the dark-bowered queen,
Whom I unpin,
Is waiting. Out of the black maw
Of the peat, sharpened willow

Withdraws gently
I unwrap skins and see
The pot of the skull,
The damp tuck of each curl

Reddish as a fox's brush,
A mark of a gorget in the flesh
of her throat. And spring water
Starts to rise about her

I reach past
The riverbed's washed
Dream of gold to the bullion
Of her Venus bone.

This seems to be the last of Heaney's bog poems, found in his book North published in 1975.
The rest of the poems below are on an earlier blog - Kinship.

Come To the Bower
Bog Queen
Tollund Man
Grauballe Man
Strange Fruit


Wood anemone

The following words comes from a book called "soliloquies of a Chalk Giant" by Jeremy Hooker, the giant in question being of course the Cerne Abbas one in Dorset. Its only a small book of reminiscences by the giant brooding on his hill, it seems rather funny this thinly cut effigy scored into the chalk talking to himself as history goes by but it appeals to a sense of fun. The following poem reminds me of Snyders wide falling of words as he traces the evolution of the landscape and history in his native America. Here in this country our smaller landscapes also capture in miniature the faint traces of history, its is like turning the pages of an old book, the words are all but faded but now and then a word will be revealed, and so it is with history on the landscape a faint echo still to be found.

A memorial of its origins, chalk in barns and churches
moulders in rain and damp; petrified creatures swim in
in its depths.

It is domestic, with the homeliness of an ancient
hearth exposed to the weather, pale with the ash of
countless primeval fires . Here the plough grates on an
urnfield, the green plover stands with crest erect on a
royal mound.

Chalk is the moon's stone; the skeleton is native to its
soil. It looks anaemic, but has submerged the type-sites
of successive cultures. Stone,bronze, iron; all are assimilated to its nature;
and the hill-forts follow its curves.

These, surely, are the works of giants; temples
re-dedicated to the sky-god, spires fashioned for the
lords of bowmen;

Spoils of the worn idol, squat Venus of the mines.

Druids leave their shops in the midsummer solstice;
neophytes tread an antic measure to the antlered god.
Men who tresspass are soon absorbed, horns laid beside
them in the ground. The burnt-out tank waits beside
the barrow.

The god is a graffito carved on the belly of the chalk,
his savage gesture subdued by the stuff of his creation.
He is taken up like a gaunt white doll by the round hills,
wrapped around by the long pale hair of the fields.

Historically there is no evidence of the date of when the Cerne Abbas giant was originally scratched into the chalk, some would say that like the great white Uffington Horse he belongs to an iron age and is a tribal emblem, Hooker says that just as the 'beaked ' Uffington Horse-Goddess is similar to the horses on Durotriges (dwellers by the water) coins, the giant's depiction can also be found on similar coins..
If as Hooker says, he comes from this time than he must be Helith - "In which district the god Helith was once worshipped" This comes form an old document, and is part of his legend. Helith, an iron age god who takes his name from Hercules. Romano-Britains would have adopted and changed the old roman god to fit their own religion.
Augustine's mission in 601 AD seemed to have renamed him as Cerno El, the pagan saxons renaming him as Heil. But apparently during the saxon period he shared his valley with another god whose neophytes purified the waters that had long been sacred. This reminds me of Silbury with the water and springs that surround her, but of course we have no gods names for her that have travelled down through history which is sad.
But to conclude, here is Hooker's meaning for the words Helith....

"Helith; that is holy stone - or a corruption of Helios, maybe the sun. A sunstone, pediment in earth. The ground is dense with holy names; Elwood, Elston hill, Elwell, Yelcombe (y l cwm). Was there a standing stone on Elston Hill before Helith was fleshed out below the Trendle: Where beth they, beforen us weren? Make your enquiry of the dust, I make no enquiry there. Give me a living name"