Saturday, 31 March 2012

King Gorm had resolved to find a mysterious country...

A story recorded by Saxo Grammaticus- Saxo the Learned.
Late 12th - Early 13th Century A.D.

Re-told here for the enjoyment of anyone who loves tales of visiting the Underworld.

King Gorm had resolved to find a mysterious country; he had heard many reports whilst in the North describing the incredible treasures held there.

A man known as Geruthus, who knew the traditions of this distant land told King Gorm that he should forget it! the land was full of dangers and well-nigh inaccessible. To reach the land it was necessary to sail across the ocean surrounding the earth, leave sun and stars behind, and make a journey through a region of chaos before reaching the land which has no night and no day.

King Gorm listened well. He loaded three ships and took Thorkillus as his guide, many sailors willingly entered the adventure. They sailed past Halogaland, and came to Bjarmaland and anchored near its coast. 

Bjarmia is always cold; summer never visits, its fields are covered in snow through through its deep wild forests flow rapid foaming rivers, and the woods are full of wild beasts, unlike anything seen elsewhere. Many of the inhabitants of Bjarmia are monsters who mimic the speech of men to lure them to their doom. So it was decided that it would be safer is only one man spoke and it was decided that Thorkillus should do all the talking alone for all his companions.

Thorkillus had chosen to anchor the ship at the closest point to reach the land Geruthus had spoken of. The men set out across the snow. As the sun was sinking the travellers saw a man who seemed to be too big coming to meet them. The man called out as he approached and to their joy he greeted them all by name. Thorkillus recognised him as Guthmundus, the brother of Geruthus, a friendly person and the most faithful protector in peril. Thorkillus explained to Guthmundus why only he, Thorkillus was talking. He said that his companions didn't want to be seen as fools by trying to speak in a language they barely understood. Guthmundus invited them all to be his guests and led them by paths down along a river. 

Then they came to a place where a golden bridge was built across the river.

Everyone wanted to continue across the bridge and visit the land on the other side, but Guthmundus warned them that this river was the border between the human and superhuman and mysterious, and that the ground on the other side was by a sacred order proclaimed unlawful for the feet of mortals.

The men accepted this and they continued to follow Guthmundus until they reached his castle. There a feast was spread before them, at which twelve of his sons, all of noble appearance, and as many daughters, most fair of face, waited upon them.

Thorkillus warned the men as they sat down, to eat and drink nothing offered to them. All the men  heeded the advice of Thorkillus and kept their distance from their strange table-companions and servants, and instead of tasting any of the food and drink, they ate and drank the provisions they had taken with them from home. 

Thorkillus knew that any man who accepted the courtesies offered would lose all memory of the past and remain for ever among these non-human and dismal beings. Guthmundus then offered King Gorm a daughter in marriage, fortunatly King Gorm was prudent enough to decline the honour; but four of his men could not resist the temptation, and had to pay the penalty with the loss of their memory and with enfeebled minds.

Then Guthmnundus mentioned to the king that he had a villa, and invited Gorm to accompany him and taste of the delicious fruits that grew there. Thorkillus, quickly made up an excuse for the king. Guthmundus, though displeased with the reserve of the guests, still continued to show them friendliness, and when they expressed their desire to see where Geruthus had lived, he accompanied them all to the river and showed them a place to cross, promising to wait there until they returned.

The land which they now entered was the home of terrors. They had not gone very far before they discovered before them a city, which seemed to be built of dark mists. Human heads were raised on stakes which surrounded the walls of the city. Wild dogs, snarling and barking in the dull light, kept watch outside of the gates. 

The gates were located high up in the city walls, there were ladders balanced precariously against the walls, the men grimly set to and climbed.

Through the gates they found a city teeming with a crowd of beings horrible to look at and to hear. Filth and rottenness and a terrible stench were everywhere. The men continued silently on their journey until they saw a kind of mountain with a gate. When they had reached the entrance to the mountain the travellers were overpowered by its awful aspect, but Thorkillus inspired them with his courage. At the same time he warned them most strictly not to touch any of the treasures that they might see. 

At the entrance as they pushed the door open to enter the mountain crowds of zombies acted as doorkeepers and were very noisy. The men entered the mountain. It was worse than the city. All that sight and soul can conceive of as terrible and loathsome was gathered within. The door-frames were covered with the soot of centuries, the walls were draped with filth, the roofs were composed of sharp stings, the floors were made of serpents encased in excrement. 

On iron benches, surrounded by a hurdle-work of lead, there lay giant bodies which looked like lifeless corpses inflated like balloons. Higher up in a rocky niche sat the aged Geruthus, with his body pierced and nailed to the rock, and there lay also three women with their backs broken. Thorkillus explained that it was this Geruthus whom the god Thor had pierced with a red-hot iron; the women had also received their punishment from the same god.

The men carried on past these terrible things. Then they came to a place where they saw large vessels all containing mead, there were very many of them. Each vessel was plated with seven sheets of gold, and above them hung objects of silver, round as to form, from which shot numerous braids down into the mead vessels. Near by was found a gold-plated tooth of some strange animal, and near it, again, there lay an immense horn decorated with pictures and flashing with precious stones, and also an arm-ring of great size. 

Despite the warnings, three of Gorm’s men laid greedy hands on these works of art. Slowly and inexorably the arm-ring changed into a venomous snake; the horn began to form into a dragon. The men who had picked up the arm-ring and horn were killed before the other men could stop it. The tooth slowly transformed into a sword, which pierced the heart of the man who had taken it. 

The others who saw this happen became terrified, certain that the same fate would befall them. But their anxiety seemed unfounded, and when they looked about them again they found the entrance to another treasury, which contained weapons, among which was kept a royal cloak, together with a splendid hat and belt, the finest work of art. Thorkillus himself could not govern his greed when he saw these robes. He took hold of the cloak, and thus gave the signal to the others to steal the weapons. 

But then the building shook in its foundations; the voices of shrieking women were heard, who asked if these robbers were longer to be tolerated. All around them bodies who had appeared to be dead, stood up and began to close in on the men.

Everyone would have died in that foul city if King Gorm had not brought  two excellent archers with him. These brave men covered the others as they made their retreat. But of the original company of almost three hundred men only twenty made it out and as far as the river, where Guthmundus, true to his promise, was waiting for them, and carried them in a boat back to his castle. Here he proposed to them that they should remain, but as he could not persuade them, he gave them presents and let them return to their ships in safety the same way as they had come.

The Carta Marina:

Friday, 30 March 2012

Adrian Bailey: The Caves of the Sun

This is one of my favourite books on my book shelf, Caves of the Sun is full of fragmented stories and ideas, and is a fascinating read. It tells a story that is difficult to reduce to a simple narrative. Perhaps the only problem with it is enthusiasm,  perhaps Adrian Bailey tries to pull in too many sets of similar myths and images to prove his theory; interpreting all and every myth in the light of his one myth

Perhaps he is over genenerous.
I think he just tries too hard.
Which is not a bad thing at all.

Reading The Caves of the Sun is like learning a new tarot pack.

Prime images: 
Decapitated heads buried to create a spring
Midwinter sun entering tombs.
The bull, the lion, the snake and the boar.
The twins.
The lame man-the wounded hero.
The smith forges the new sun.
Cave bear and honey/ sun rebirth from a cave.
Zig-zag horses and meandering bison flowing like water.
First the fire and then the flood.
Golden shoes- following in the footsteps of the sun.
In castration, the 'seed' spills onto the ground and is quickened by fire.
The goddess causes the hero to become lame.
The lion of the goddess brings the bull of the sun, to its knees.
Rain, in boars and the October horse, quenches the sun.
Medusa is the sun of the summer.
The sun changes sex, as it passes through water. Male and then castrated to female.
Day of Blood- March.
The black goddess of the waste land and the golden apple.
The Holy fire breaks out of the cave.

*Hot springs mean that the sun goes underground.
*Red oxide/ iron/ blood/ means healing. Blood+clay+sun = life.
*The sun goes underground at winter to rejuvenate within the cavern of the seven chambers.
*The fire is late summer heat.
*The flood is the rain that may extinguish the sun.
*7 represents the seven months when the sun's influence underground is female.
*The twins are the sun (in the sky, not underground) at summer and winter.
*'Lameness' is a euphemism for castration.
*The dragon-serpent rises when Cancer is in the sky and causes fierce heat and drought.
*The hero who will be wounded by the sun, rises in April- month of ripening corn.
*The plough drawn by a serpent means that the ground should be ploughed in the season of rain.
 *The lion bull combat represents the sky in February in 4000 BC when Taurus was setting and Leo in its zenith.
*Life pours out from the thighs, from bone marrow of the femurs, synovial fluid of the knees. Both are 'semen'.
*The sun 'breaks' out of the ground, hence long barrows...chambers of regeneration.

The taurocotony:
The bull (symbol of the sun) buried in a cave (the underground) creates life (bees). The red bull of the sun began to die in winter, its death would bring the rain, its underground body would bring life out of the ground...

K. B. Stark in 1869 noted that this image of Mithras is "an image of the cosmos" or "great cave" of the sky.

Roger Beck (1984 and 1988) and David Ulansey (1989) agreed with this theory and went on to say that: the bull is the constellation of Taurus, the snake the constellation Hydra, the dog Canis Major or Minor; the crow is Corvus, the goblet is Crater, the lion Leo, and the wheat-blood for the star Spica, the name of which means "spike of wheat" two torch-bearers represent the two equinoxes, and that their crossed legs represent the two intersection points of the zodiac and the celestial equator that define the equinoxes.

Ulansey argues that the tauroctony is an astronomical code symbolizing the precession of the equinoxes: the movement of the cosmic sphere, discovered by the Greek astronomer Hipparchus, which caused the spring equinox to move out of the constellation of Taurus (thus ending the "Age of the Bull"). Adrian Bailey sees it as an image of the solar year; Mithras is the solar lion killing the bull, the bull is also solar- a version of Mithras himself.

I want to believe Adrian Bailey, mainly I suppose because what he says does not conflict with any other interpretations. Adrian takes myths that are thousands of years apart, when Adrian is talking about 3700 BC (time of long barrows) , this is almost a thousand years before anyone was writing things down (3000 BC) and they didn't write them down here unfortunatly! Some of the Greek myths (in the form he quotes them) are, comparatively speaking, fairly recent.

But no matter, his theory is this:
Water is a gift of the sun. Rock and wood, the stones are products of the earth through the power of the underground sun.

The cave is the nucleus of life, anything buried inside a cave is worked on by the heat of the sun- in the womb-forge of the Underworld.

Standing stones and trilithons are gateways to encourage the sun to enter and to do its work.

Building a long barrow is creating a workshop for the sun, the ground close by would benefit. The solar water would flow in the rivers (almost always close to Neolithic structures), the stones and trees become more powerful.

All enclosures, Woodhenge, The Sanctuary and Stonehenge in particular become caves of the sun; sources of life...

Thursday, 29 March 2012


Our Woodhenge is the weirdest thing; a field with concentric concrete posts...

But circular ditches and banks with post holes are not confined to Britain. The Middle Neolithic circular ditch systems are known as Kreisgrabenanlagen (KGA) and are found all over Middle Europe. One third of the approx. 135 monuments known so far are found in the eastern federal states of Austria.

 I applaud the purity of the Woodhenge concrete posts for they are so much more symbolic than a reconstruction...Knossos is a warning to all that fixing a dream of the past into physical reality creates a theme park.

But on the other hand the only way to see if Woodhenge could work (Woodhenge in particular because unlike Stonehenge there is nothing left of it!) to try to re-make it by the side of the real thing...why isn't that happening?

Same with the Sanctuary.

The rings of Woodhenge and The Sanctuary are similar to structures found in northern Europe.

Even though this feels a very long way off from the Persephone myth  I had to buy Stonehenge and Timber Circles by Alex Gibson- still waiting for it to be posted from America.

Here is Joshua Pollard's review of the book...

The word Henge rather gets in the way of understanding these things. We have Stonehenge and British timber circles and we have henges. A henge is a bank and ditch and very often either a stone circle or the remains of one. The central European sites are considerably older than the British- dating to around 5000 BC

Henge: A type of ritual monument found only in the British Isles and consisting of a circular area, anything from 150 to 1700 feet across, delimited by a ditch with the bank normally outside it.
W.Bray and D. Trump, A Dictionary of Archaeology (1970), 103.
British henges are I think dated at around 3200 BC and seem to have been abandoned a thousand years latter. Nevertheless it is tempting to believe that the people who used circular monuments that probably had astronomical alignments built into them shared concerns, rituals and observations.

Kreisgrabenanlagen are not henges, but nor are they not henges.

Then there is the question of entrances, and numbers of ditches, alignments and burials. Some British henges in Western England and Ireland don't have any ditches.

It becomes increasingly difficult to make a case for henge as a type of ritual monument found only in the British Isles.

Another name for circular areas with post holes is roundels, and another is Sunbursts- such as Catholme Sunburst which came complete with a central burial.

Like The Sanctuary, the Catholme site contained an artifact probably from continental Europe.

What has Woodhenge got to do with the Persephone myth- I keep asking myself that. I mean obviously I should be visiting Eleusis or Sicily, or...yes! but I don't have the money or time to do this yet. Woodhenge is as good a place as any to work out a strategy for studying a location.

The central burials as a feature of this shape of monument is interesting though. The burial at The Sanctuary was Bronze Age and probably a mummified composite, body. The preserved remains of more than one person fixed together to make a sacred, other, entity...

It is difficult to say anything about the central burial at Woodhenge.

The central sacrifice echos the abduction of Persephone, she is the archetypal buried girl after all.

As to the Kreisgrabenanlagen, some burials were found in contorted positions indicating death at the time of burial.  A burial found at Ippesheim  (Bavaria) was a woman buried "upside down in a pit, one hand above her head breaking her fall, the other covering her face". This murder is very different from empowering a circle with a sacred body, or is it?

Yet again no way to know...

Friday, 23 March 2012

Circles of the sun.

Regards Megaliths- the thing I am finding most frustrating about sun and moon azimuths, declination and standstills is that they are specific to a location.

The scientific method of isolating one factor and to assume that this process will tell you the truth is a very modern habit. The hills and valleys and presence of older monuments were undoubtedly a part of the whole story because there is no reason why they should not be.

My problem is: petrol, time,, where do I begin to start making observations and what exactly am I trying to find out anyway!?

I wish I knew the answer to that!

As far as I know we don't have any continuity of  country folk and their folk tales; do we have any indigenous folk tales and myths recording where the sun and moon rise, or stories linked to structures said to have been used for this purpose?

The most famous folk tale about the moon tells of how she was lost in the bog lands; the full moon being a power to keep the evil things at bay.

Which evokes gruesome images of bog bodies and human sacrifice taking place on the darkest nights...

Real interest in the sun and moon, in Britain at least- comes to the fore in the fifteenth century when Charles II appointed John Flamsteed as his first Astronomer Royal in March 1675.

Navigation was the problem, time had to be fixed.

Before then, it is hard to find any real focus on alignments. It is true that Christian churches were built incidentally at first, with solar alignments- facing East towards the center of the world, Jerusalem.

Latter the orientation became more specific, sun-rise on the saints day or so I have been told.

But is that only true of churches dedicated to Saint John the Baptist?

It is also true that churches were often built on prehistoric sites, and so any odd celestial event that had causes the site to be marked with a stone circle or barrow of some kind, would not be linked to Christianity as such, but would become a part of the church.

Such as the Leek double midsummer sunset

Generally speaking it is possible to tell roughly where we are in the year by recording the position of a full moon as it rises and sinks below the horizon. So for calender purposes, sun and moon rise could be done anywhere more or less within the same latitude except the horizon it wobbly- with hills and trees and rocks making one's life difficult!

 I don't know if anyone ever recorded if this was done or how, and anyway why bother when it is so much easier to use the sun?

But people do use the moon...
'We' still use it to determine the date of Easter.

Dee's Sigillum Dei Aemeth [late sixteenth century]- possibly a thirteenth century amulet -embodies 'Babylonian' concepts of angelic forces and planets; a complex weaving of names and numbers...but there is nothing like that in British prehistory is there?

The Babylonian's tried to control the damage done by bad stars and ill omens; they needed to predict the positions of the sun and moon and planets.

Did the people who made Woodhenge need to do this too?

It is very easy to come up with bizarre and complex interpretations. Eighteenth century William Stukeley [1740] noted the summer solstice alignment at Stonehenge, and began his Druid revival. For Stukeley Stonehenge and similar stone circles had been serpent temples, the serpent being Christ and the original Druids lost Phoenicians or Hebrews who had brought 'the true religion' to Britain.

Excuse me if I fail at this moment to take it too seriously!

Ultimately Woodhenge and The Sanctuary are mysterious places, because I cannot find any continuity in basic beliefs between then and now, the only similar round structures we still build today are roundabouts!

I do mean traffic roundabouts....and this proves to me at least that continuity [of form] isn't always as meaningful as I'd like it to be.

If I stretch the facts a lot to make a continuity between modern traffic roundabouts and prehistoric circles, I could say that places as Woodhenge were probably meeting places and that tracks would have existed leading from one destination to another, many paths meeting at Woodhenge or Durrington.

But this line of thought doesn't really get us any closer to sun and moon observations does it!
If I was going to make serious sun and moon observations I would want to use something like Woodhenge

The image to the left is one of the beautiful structures of Jantar Mantar observatory, built in India in 1772- The Ram Yantra.

Both the interior walls and the floor of the structure are engraved with scales measuring the angles of azimuth and altitude. For measuring the azimuth, circular scales with their centers at the axis of the cylinder are drawn on the floor of the structure and on the inner surface of the cylindrical walls.  The scales are divided into degrees and minutes.

For measuring the altitude, a set of equally spaced radial lines is drawn on the floor. These lines emanate from the central pillar and terminate at the base of the inner walls. [download a pdf that explains it]

If I was going to make it anywhere it would be on high, flat land, preferably with surrounding hills far enough away on the horizon as to just give me a reference point and not get in the way of the horizon.

I would want lots of posts.

But why would I need to do this?
Usually the answer here is to predict solar and lunar eclipses...which can be  400-800 years apart. Why would anyone bother with that!

I'm grateful to William H. Calvin for helping me to think about this.


10 miles east of the northern end of Sea of Galilee Rujm el Hiri.

Richard Benishai has photographs and an account of his visit.

This is a massively enhanced picture... 

Rujm el Hiri. is a  megalithic complex consisting of a large central tumulus surrounded by a series of low concentric stone walls, the largest measuring nearly 500 feet in diameter.

And then in Russia there is Arkaim.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Death and the bride.

"And as I move through an obscure and poppied world behold a shrouded form that seems to question me! Is this the dead Destroyer, Death? is this the end? Ah no! the pallid arms are raised, the veil divides a faint sigh breaths my name, and lo, Not night but dawn; not death, but life, or better, life through death, yea Death the Bride!"

(Thomas Gotch)

Thomas Cooper Gotch
Death the Bride
Date: 1895

For more poppies....
For more Lady Death...
Angels of death..

Thursday, 8 March 2012

The 'Fox's Earth.

Location: The Mani.
The middle of three peninsulas pointing south, on the Peloponnese.

The Alepotrypa cave system was found to have been in use between 5000 to 3200 BC; it contained approximately one hundred and sixty one burials, many placed in stone boxes, some scattered in the cave. The lake contains fresh drinking water,  and an amphitheater-sized final chamber.

The burials are secondary, collections of bones rather than a single corpse. And there are bones from all ages and both sexes, many children died before reaching adolescence. The remains show signs of poor nutrition: cribra orbitalia and porotic hyperostosis, or of having such a bad parasitic infestation that they become anaemic.

Many had healed, depressed fractures of the skull indicating that they had been hit about the head and lived.

The cave is covered with a layer of greasy soot and ash from fires.A lot of burning happened inside the chambers. Sacrificed animals became 'burnt offerings' for ritual feasts, there is plenty of smashed pottery, silver and flint.

The people probably lived in a village close by, and when a strong earthquake occurred, some were trapped inside.

The caves remained sealed until they were found by Mr. and Mrs. Petrocheilos in 1958.

The Homeric version of the Underworld follows the Mesopotamian depiction; the Underworld is a dismal place of ash. The fortunate dead are those whose memory is preserved by the living; thus Achilles chose a short life and fame.

This contrasted with the Cretan story of the great light coming from the Dionysian cave; the origins of mankind.

One story describes a scene of ash, darkness and smoke...
Another of light, and life from ash...and the blood of a god.

Memories preserved in myth perhaps?

The Alepotrypa Cave (meaning the fox's earth) has several large chambers and a lake. This image comes from the Baedeker travel guide, and gives a list of poetically named areas within the cave.

The Alepotrypa cave is one of the Dyros (Diros) caves

(1) Entrance and exit
(2) Hall of Crystal Rain
(3) Skulls with stalagmites
(4) Gallery
(5) Rock Hall
(6) Cult site
(7) Chasm
(8) Royal Box
(9) Great Hall
(10) Small Lake
(11) Prehistoric rock paintings.

Monday, 5 March 2012

The moon...

I can see why the moon was blamed for sending people mad. It wasn't its gravitational force, its mesmeric light; the reason the moon sends people mad is that it travels this way and that, making zig-zag pattens in the imagined sky of the mind as we try to visualise where it is going and what it is doing.

Carvings at Newgrange and Bryn Celli Dhu, the wavy-lines and spirals mirror the way the moon travels between invisible poles in the sky, in increasingly widening and then contracting spirals.

From the point of view of an observer looking up at the inky blue lapis lazuli vaults of heaven all splattered with stars, from January the moon rises progressively more southerly until June, after June it edges back towards the east. But most of the time there is a dull grey blanket of damp!

This is England after all!

Think of those small post holes found in the north-east section of Stonehenge, where the procession route enters (or exits?) the monument between the banks and ditches.

Stonehenge circa 3000 BC.
The post holes it has been conjectured, were made when people tried to work out exactly where the midwinter solstice full moon appeared in the sky each year.

Several probably went mad.

The shoal of little holes at the entrance are reduced to four main holes beyond the circle.

If someone was trying to work out exactly where to look for the moon each winter solstice, they would soon find that the moon rises in the same place, in the same month, once every eighteen years. The moon has a maximum and minimum position left and right, but the only thing that would give me any confidence about guessing the accuracy of the moon poles/ post holes theory would be to go to Stonehenge and observe the moon myself.I wouldn't know where the post holes were though, and nor could I see myself doing it for eighteen years.

The last full moon at a winter solstice was 2010 and the next will be: 2018 according to my newly acquired and hard won knowledge or lunacy and my planetarium app' but I have a feeling that the only people who are seriously vexed by the moon's eighteen year cycle are those who want Stonehenge to be perfectly accurate, rather than impressively accurate!

Stonehenge is impressively accurate after all...

At about 18:30, on December the 21st 2010 the moon rose in the north east and this image shows that the moon travels eastwards through the night.

The other break in the ditch at Stonehenge phase II is south. There are more post holes within the circle, but not at the break in the ditch.

This is where the midsummer full moon rises:

The midsummer sun rises in the north east.

And the midwinter sun sets in the south west, so Stonehenge midwinter solstice begins with the moon rising behind you as you walk the processional route towards the stones, and ends with the sun sinking into the stone circle as you leave- or was it done the other way around?

Did people walk towards the sun as it rose rose slowly out of the rings of Stonehenge and leave as the sun sank down in the south west? Walking the processional route with the cold, quartz-like moon rising before them as they walked down to the river?

Regardless, I shall never know!
It is March now and the equinox approaches. My theory is that the equinox is marked by the sun and moon together in the sky at sun set or sun rise. Today and tomorrow and probably Wednesday the full moon is, according to the planetarium, in the sky as the sun is setting.

Tomorrow would be better, but right now the sun is shining and there are not so many clouds, so I shall go and walk along a road close to where I live that is both on a hill and more or less east/west to see if I can see the moon and sun opposite to each other.

Of course (I'm saying this as if I always knew it....!) the moon is always opposite to the sun when it is full- that is why it is full.

It is the time the moon is in the sky that makes all the difference...

Post script:
Yesterday: the sun was setting, but the moon was a little too high and I didn't think about the positions properly. Nevertheless the sun and moon were both in the sky, I was just a little late.

If you live close to Halesowen and wish to try out my lunacy the place to be to see the equinox moon and sun (this year the moon is 'early' that's why Easter is earlier this year too) and you know where this is...

come and stand on the grass in the right of this picture at 16:35 today (6th March 2012) or 17:35 tomorrow. You may see what I mean about the sun and moon.