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.

Saturday, November 15, 2008


this photo shows that the underground car park has been built to ground level .

My restoration theme continues, basically because I had forgotten what had sent this thread of thought off in my head. Yesterday I went into Bath to go to the railway station for something. Now many people who do not live in Bath will not know that this lower part of the city, called Southgate, has been razed to the ground for development. It is here that the railway and bus stations reside, a fulminating heart of comings and goings, only.............. the new bus station does not exist at the moment, but will I'm sure one day.

The Buseometer, though to be honest not quite sure why it is call that.

I took some photos of the chaos that now confront you, and read on the billboards that new shops and carpark were being created (just in time for the recession), though to be quite truthful the old 1960 Southgate complex was an eyesore, but some people do get upset about the tearing down of old buildings, someone once wrote a book called The Rape of Bath, after the 1960s bonanza of squared concrete buildings that were so hideously ugly.

The new buildings going up and the chaos it causes

Well we are to have another bonanzo of pseudo type 'classical buildings,' and I'm not being horrible here, and even the UNESCO delegate that just happened to be in town last week to see if Bath needed its World Heritage Site label removing, was given to remark that it was probably an improvement at Southgate to what had gone before. No they were here to look at the plans for another much larger development by the river Avon, called the Western Side project. A large acreage of disused land that was once home to the great manufacturing factories such as Stothert and Pitt. Again we have similar classical looking buildings to be built but in this case some of them will be 9 stories high, spoiling the symmetry of the real classical Georgian buildings on Bath skyline, and it is here that the fate of Bath depends, the arguments have been fierce.

A more tranquil scene of The Circus


For several days I have been thinking of writing about restoration done to two longbarrows, Wayland's Smithy and West Kennet longbarrows, but inspiration is fickle and facts few. WKLB was restored after the excavation by Atkinson and Piggott in about 1956, and Wayland's Smithy in about 1960, again after excavation by these two archaeologists.
The argument is of course was it right to 'restore' the great sarsen megaliths, and were they restored to their original place. What we see today are tranquil pictures of how the stones may have looked in the past, we have no way of saying this is how it was, and nineteen century antiquarians have also occasionally got it wrong in their restorations.
Some barrows like Pentre Ifan are denuded of their top cover, and though the stones themselves are picturesque, they would not have been exposed when they were built, so sometimes it could be argued we have a false image of what was really happening.
Be that as it may, Wayland's Smithy in 2006 when I took the following photographs was a place of tranquillity and peace, and I spent a long time there, my next visit was to be on a sadder occasion with other people in the rain. Perhaps it is best to capture the Autumn colours of the first occasion.

Old Photo probably taken in the late 1930's, showing the longbarrow before restoration

The stones/peristalith round the barrow

A favourite photo of Moss trying to stare me out of stillness, and get the show on the road.

dappled sun and autumn leaves on the 4 facade stones, there should be 6, one to the far left, and one on the right.

The entrance, not sure of the 'originality' of this entrance

The stones caught in the shade of the beech trees

The back view, notice how neat the mound is.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Old Walks

Moss under Oldbury Hillfort

The weather is wet and miserable, even the race course was squelching under foot this morning, the sky had dark grey-purple clouds and the wind stung the cheek with its coldness. When the weather is bad autumn is a miserable affair, fireworks leave the dog a shivering wreck, they have been going on for days now, no gentle bangs but its as if someone is dropping bombs on the far side of Bath.
There are walks I have'nt been to for months, Brockham Wood for instance, walking down the path to emerge at the old Roman crossroads, now bisecting the golf course, past the horses and geese in the field and then skirting round to the next wood, with that beautiful panorama of the low-lying land that Bristol sits in. With all this rain it reminds me of the story when there was a terrible flood in 1607 century (Bristol Channel Flood) and thousands were drowned.
But not to dwell on ceaseless rain and water, following the old track one comes to Pipley wood, Moss jumps over the stone stile, and I follow him down the steep slippery path to the grassy knoll below. This wood clings to a steep slope, in some places it can be very dangerous, the paths through the wood are boggy, fallen trees strewn around, and yet if you sit on the bench someone has managed to get down here, the views are beautiful.

Early morning lazy sheep

View from Pipley Wood

River Kennet in Flood last year

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Saint Non and her story

St.David's Cathedral

I had forgotten St.Non, and the little chapel by the sea, several times I had wandered down to it over the years, following the sharp cliff edge, meditating on the peace and quiet. Here it was that the realisation that paganism and christianity shared a common heritage came to me, that religion is not so sharply defined as we would imagine it. In fact the two wind around each other, christianity taking its stories from a pagan past; we may see it as a domineering force and indeed great cruelty has been inflicted in the name of christianity by humans, but it is there we can stop, for it is the small narrow minded vision that is responsible here.
Peter-on-the-Wall in Essex, Winterbourne Monkton in Wiltshire, they are like small insects in the mind, forever buzzing around demanding some sort of explanation from me. Perhaps there is water involved, a river running through the landscape, gathering the stones as it goes, perhaps a goddess wanders through, fertility and abundant golden fields. Perhaps it is the prehistoric or saxon stones captured in the fabric of the churches, sometimes in the foundations, sometimes circled round the churchyard.

So what is St.Non's story.... we are told that she was a nun and seduced by King Sant, and that she gave birth to St.David in a stone circle, whilst all around her thunder and lightening reigned but within the circle was peace and quiet...
Let us follow her story a bit further, or at least embroider it, and here I quote from T.D.Breverton - Welsh Saints;
"Non seems to have the attributes of the Celtic goddess Anna, Nonna or Dana, mother of the gods and ancestress of Celtic nobility. The cult of St.Anne is still strong in Brittany. In the Northern Tradition, she is Nanna, mother of the slain god Balder, and in the Roman deology she is Annona, goddess of the harvest/ The ancient Celtic goddess becam St.Anne, the mother of our Lady, and the grandmother of Jesus, during the general conversion to christianity across Europe."
So there we have it a direct line of female descent running through the religious thread.... we can trace her through Mary Magdalen at Winterbourne Monkton and the strange female on the font, or up on St.Anne's Hill in the Pewsey Vale.....
The spring at St.Non is supposed to have sprung up when she gave birth to St.David, and by the chapel there is a retreat, a somewhat austere house facing out to sea. She wandered down to Cornwall via the sea one presumes, for we can pick up her legend at St.Alternon, where she was invited to in AD 527 by her sister, and a well named after her, where the insane were precipitated into to cure them of insanity! Her death took place in Brittany, and her bones are supposed to rest At Dirinon in Finistere.
She is regarded as the mother of the church in Wales and is supposed to have said "there is nothing more stupid than argument"

Note;According to Elizabeth Rees - Celtic Saints, Passionate Wanderers, near Fishguard in the valley of the River Cleddau, there is also another church inside a stone circle at Scleddau village, the church has disappeared but there are seven springs on the site.

The other ruined medieval chapel, and according to Rees there are 15 along this bit of the coastline, is Justinian's chapel.
Here we must, follow the myth of the 'Celtic Head', to understand how Justinian came into prominence, a magical/miraculous happening. First of all it is St.David that gave him houses on the Island of Ramsey, and it was here that the poor monk was murdered by his servants, apparently he told them to work harder. They cut off his head, and where it fell, a spring gushed forth, but Justinian did'nt just lie down and die, no he picked up his head and walked across the sea, coming ashore at St.Justinian Point, (the photo is down below of his chapel which is situated by a rescue sea service) where he wished to be buried. His remains are interred in St.David's Cathedral, next to St.David himself.

The Bishop's Palace next to St.David's Cathedral
There is one more saint in this area, Ailbe, son of Non's sister, and his name has been somewhat corrupted to St.Elvis, and of course St.Elvis double chambered cromlech bears his name. This cromlech next to a farmhouse, had another chapel called St.Teilo. This no longer exists, but might have been incorporated in the farm buildings, it could still be seen in the 1940's.
Saint Ailbe, according to Breverton, is one of the greatest figures in the Irish church, and he evangelised southern Ireland. Irish legend has him being suckled by a she-wolf and retiring to the 'Land of Promise, a mixture of the Celtic 'Otherworld' and paradise.
Here we take a sideways drift, and contemplate that other famous Elvis Presely,
did he have welsh descent? Elvis and Presely (Prescelli mountains)...

St David and the surrounding area

St.David's Head promonotry fort, with walling and foundations of small round huts still to be found - though not by me....

Coetan Arthur
On this rock strewn headland there are three cromlechs, firstly there is Coetan Arthur;- (SM7253 2805) an "earth fast" sub-megalithic tomb; its capstone pointing down the valley that runs underneath Carn Llidi and is supposed to resemble the line of Carn Llidi.

The following pair of cromlechs are found under Carn Llidi, a bit difficult to find but head for the WW2 footings of concrete and they lie behind there. The capstone of the one below points out to sea. Carn Llidi - SM7352 2789201.The second cromlech capstone, rested on the ledge of the backing rock outcrop
The one against the rockface

The other cromlech close by

St.Elvis Cromlech

St Justinian Church

St.Non's; stones can be seen in the field

St.Nons Well