Derwydd ym maes onnen

Discovering Druidry in and around Ashfield

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The Iron Age broach of Huthwaite

It is a shame that so much archaeological research never sees the light of day, remaining unpublished gathering dust in university libraries. sometimes bits of information are remembered by locals, and they make their way into local history books to be found in the local studies section. One such archaeological dig was at the site of a former Iron Age Hill fort at Strawberry Bank in Huthwaite around 1985.

Among other artefacts recovered, was a supposed Iron Age broach from the time of the Roman Occupation, around the 1st century AD. It is said that the broach was found among a pile of rocks.

At first glance we can see Roman lettering and an 8 spoke wheel. Both of which are quite exciting. The wheel is often associated with Briganti, and this fort would have been right on the edge of the territory of the Brigantes.

The first problem though is that the writing is mirrored, and when you consider the protruding rear surface, I suggest this is more likely a seal than a broach.

Secondly, the cross on the face strongly suggests christian era. Crosses were used in pre-Roman times, but not to the same degree.

Correcting for the reversed letters then, the best I can make out of the inscription is this:

+ S’ : IOHIS’ DE HO

First, I do not believe that this is actually a Roman inscription, but rather a Latin inscription in a Romanesque style similar to this relief

The first two words would appear to be an abbreviation for ‘Sanctus Iohannis’ i.e Saint John, clearly placing this artefact in the christian era. More often than not though you’d expect ‘baptist’ to follow this, but I don’t really see how you could get that from “DE HO”.

Because this could well be a seal stamp, and the S’ could be abbreviating ‘sigillum’ (seal) instead and so read “Seal [of] John….”

The final part of the inscription, “De Ho” is apparently well attested as a surname in Medieval England, see for instance this link http://www.surnamedb.com/Surname/Ough

This would make the entire inscription:

“Seal [of] John de Ho”

It is unusual to find whole seal stamps intact. They were often broken when the owner died to prevent people forging letters and documents with it. I can only presume then that this seal was probably hidden among this pile of rocks by John De Ho with the intention of returning and retrieving it. Only for what ever reason, he never did.

It is a shame it is not an Iron Age broach, but rather a christian era seal, but at least now we know more about it. As far as I know the “broach” currently resides in Mansfield museum.

Gods of Mansfield Talk

I recently gave a talk at Mansfield Pagan Moot covering much of the content of this blog. It is not the best recording, and due to a double booking the space and lighting was not ideal. It was also the first time I have given this talk and I feel I could have done better. That said, however, it is watchable and if you feel there are gaps in the information, you can fill in the blanks by reading the other posts on this site.

Robin Hood – The forgotten god of the Wild Wood

If you have read any of my previous posts on this blog you will know that I have spent a fair amount of time researching our local history and the landscape in search of our forgotten local gods and goddesses. This search has taken on many forms and explored many lines of enquiry. One obvious avenue of investigations is of course the local folk legends and stories of Nottinghamshire.

Unlike some other counties in the UK that have local stories that are known to extend back into prehistory (such as the God Lir – or King Lear – being buried under the river Soar in Leicestershire), Nottinghamshire’s stories are considered to be largely from the middle ages. And of course anyone who begins investigating the the stories of Nottinghamshire will soon come across the stories of Robin Hood.

Growing up in the villages around Mansfield, Robin Hood was an unavoidable presence in my childhood. I can’t count the hours I spent running around the woodlands and fields playing Robin Hood. Making bows and arrows and just having fun. What is today called Sherwood forest was only a cycle ride away.

Who is Robin Hood?

Robin Hood remains an enigma that scholars have been trying to crack for centuries. Broadly there are two schools of thought. The first is that Robin Hood is a genuine historical person who lived some time in the 12th – 13th century. There have been many attempts to try and identify this individual, with many competing theories and contenders for the title of “the real Robin Hood”. The other school of thought is that the Robin Hood mythology is much older, and that at various times, individuals have taken on or been given the title Robin Hood. It is this idea that I am going to explore in this article. There have been many books on the subject of Robin Hood, and the theory that he may represent a much older British tradition than we might expect has been around for some time. To explain it well, I first need to recap what we do know about Robin Hood.

The story of Robin Hood that we know today bears little resemblance to the Robin Hood known to the medieval story tellers. In the early ballads Robin did not steal taxes, or fight to over throw Norman tyranny. He did not always steal from the rich to give to the poor either. The earliest references we have for Robin Hood come from a collection of ballads;

“The talkyng of the munke and Robyn Hode”, “A Gest of Robyn Hode” and “Robin Hood and the Potter” are among the earliest written accounts first recorded between 1450-1500. There are two other stories recorded in the 1600s, “Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne” and “The Death of Robin Hood”. It is important to remember that these ballads were part of an oral story telling tradition that goes right back into prehistory, and we only find the stories written down after the decline of this oral tradition, with the closing of the Welsh and Irish Bardic colleges. About two decades before the first ballads were written down, we have a reference in 1427 for the payment of 20 pence to actors in a Robin Hood play. By 1600, partly because of improvements in record keeping we have as many as 130 references to Robin Hood plays.

Although Robin Hood plays were preformed at various times of year, they had a particular association with the May Day games. During the May Day celebrations the person playing Robin Hood would take on the role of King of the May, leading the May Day procession. It is this clue that begins to unlock the mystery of Robin Hood and expose him for who he truly is. The Green Man, the spirit of the forest. He is the fertile force of abundant vegetative spring growth and the sacrificial king whose blood nourishes the land. It is this Robin Hood that we are searching for. Not the much later outlaw version that we remember today.

The very earliest written references to a Robin Hood come from court records of 1262, showing that by this time Robin Hood had all ready become a nickname for common criminals. The memorandum roll for 1261 refers to a Berkshire fugitive William, son of Robert le Fevre. But the roll from 1262 calls the same outlaw “William Robehod”. Another example is the Derbyshire outlaw Piers Venables who in 1439 rescued a group of prisoners. The record of the event states “beyng of his clothinge, and in manere of insurrection wente into the woodes in that county like it hadde be Robyn Hode and his meyne.”

It is interesting to note here that in the early ballads, Robin’s adversaries were not “the rich”. He was not a revolutionary seeking to overthrow the upper classes. His targets were corrupt officials. In the Gest, Robin tells his men not to harass yeomen, squires, husbandmen or knights. Instead he says;

These bishshoppes and these archebisoppes,
Ye shall them bete and bynde;
The hye sherif of Notyingham,
Hym holde ye in your mynde.

The antagonism between Robin and the church goes both ways, as the church made concerted efforts to, and eventually successfully suppressed what they saw as the pagan Robin Hood and May Day celebrations.

Looking under the hood

This is our first clue as to where the outlaw mythology originated. Not as a real outlaw but as a pagan tradition outlawed by the Christian church. And this is the reason why the church officials were the target of Robin’s activity in the early stories. This theme was then reinforced with the introduction from French after the Norman conquest of the term “robber” which evoked the name of Robin, and when coupled with the church’s efforts to suppress the pagan tendencies of the common people lead to the eventual use of the name Robin Hood to describe a class of criminal. These criminals were really just victims of the new draconian Norman “forest laws”, dispossessing and outlawing people for any breach within the one third of England designated as forest by the Normans. Of course, the deeds of outlawed Robin Hoods eventually became confused with the mythological Robin to result in the convoluted legend we have today. The key to unpeeling the layers of history is in the early ballads, mumming plays, morris dances, May Day celebrations, and the entomology of the name Robin Hood it’s self.

This Pagan Christian conflict over the identity of Robin Hood can be further seen in place names. In our local area there are many places named after Robin Hood, as there are all over the country. Many of these places also have some kind of association with the devil. Hood Hill in North Yorkshire is known locally as the “devils stride”. And there is another Hood Hill in south Yorkshire, where it is locally understood that Hood means devil. This all adds supporting evidence to the idea that Robin Hood is yet another victim of the demonisation of local deities by the Christian church. Another interesting example is the ancient hill fort of Hod(d) Hill in Dorset where local folklore remembers the activities of the faeries of the hill.

There are a couple of interesting points around this devil meaning of the word Hood. The first is the local phrase

“what ya got monk on for”?

Here, to have the “monk on” is to be offended or angry. More fully it is “he’s got t’black monk on his shoulder”. In other parts of the UK the word hood is used in place of monk, so the word monk has clearly been substituted due to the identification of monks with the hoods of their habits. But why would having a hood on denote anger or offence? One possibility might be the dispossession felt by the outlaws and the necessity of wearing a hood to protect their identity as an outlaw could be killed on sight. Another possibility is the Welsh word hud for “magic, enchanted, fairy”. So what we are looking at is more evidence of the demonisation of the pagan faeries as devils and more evidence of Robin Hood or Hud’s links with the world of faeries, who also often wore green and lived in the woods. To have the hood or monk on then, is to have the devil in your head, to be angry or under the influence of the devil. Hood Hill in south Yorkshire was also previously known as Hud Hill. Hud can also be found in old Irish legend as in Tir Hud or “enchanted island” and the word appears in old Gaelic too where it is translated as “splendid one” or “progeny of god”.

In her 1931 book “God of the witches” Margret Murry listed the name Robin as the “name of god in the old religion” citing the confession of Dame Alice Kytler in which she stated that when summoning the devil they call upon “some Robin the Devil”. I think the evidence for Robin Hood as something pagan that needed to be suppressed by the church is overwhelmingly clear. And what we are beginning to see is the emergence of Robin as a Fairy King.

As well as the May games with Robin as May king, king of the May fairs, we also have fairies heavily connected to fairs in Ireland, especially the Puc fairs, with their general disposition towards wild behaviour. Puc of course is the same Puc from Shakespear’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The Mischievous fairy of the forest also known as Robin Goodfellow. Puc comes from the Gaelic poc meaning he-goat and at some fairs a goat was paraded through the town and crowned as the king of the fair.

Other clues to Robin Hood’s fairy nature are his archery skills, the wearing of the colour green and at some May day celebrations, the villages would not only construct a may pole but also “Robin Hoods bowers” which was also called fairy bowers. What is clear then, is that Robin is of the otherworld a member of the fairy folk who were once the gods of this land, and there is certainly a trickster element to the character Robin Hood as is made clear in the ballads and mumming plays.

The next aspect of Robin Hood to look at is Robin the hunter. In the stories Robin is a famed archer and hunter of the king’s deer. The association between Robin and the Stag is well known, as deer and specificity stags have an important place in the British folk tradition. Antlers have long been worn for ceremony and ritual, and are seen as an important fertility symbol. There are many examples of horned nature deities that are both guardian of the forest and lord of the hunt. Herne the Hunter immediately springs to mind as does Cernunnos, the figure depicted on the Gunderstrup cauldron. The wild hunt is a motif in mythology that occurs again and again. Herne, Woden, Gwyn ap Nudd and Arawn have all been said to lead the wild hunt, rounding up the souls or the recently departed, usually at Samhain but also at the other side of the year at Beltane or May Day. In Abbot’s Bromely in Stafordshare, each year the local Morris dancers perform the Horn Dance. Six dancers are accompanied by Maid Marian, A fool and a boy with a bow and arrow, who is understood to be Robin Hood. Horns of course, like robin himself have also been associated with the devil.

The king for a year

The Celtic festivals mark the turning points of the year, and during these celebrations sacrifices were made in order to ensure the people lived in harmony with the land. The balance between the people and the land they lived on was very important, as a poor harvest meant starvation. The turning of the season were thus extremely important and mythology grew around the harvest cycle that we see in many stories that come down to us today. The archetypal story is of the sacrificial god-king who reigns for a year before being slain and replaced by the new king as a sacrifice to the goddess of the land, the goddess of sovereignty. As Britain was Christianised these sacrificial rituals were gradually replaced be mock battles such as in the mumming plays and morris dances, and the crowning symbolic kings and queens such as at the May Day celebrations.

There are many stories that encapsulate this seasonal cycle myth. Some focus on the story of the two kings who do battle for the hand of the spring-maiden goddess at the two turning points of the year. This usually results in the goddess being kidnapped to the underworld by the winter king, and her absence being felt in the land as winter. In the spring the summer king triumphs over the winter king, and the goddess’ return to the land brings about the new life of spring. the most well known version of this is the kidnapping of the Persephone in Greek mythology. Other versions of the cyclical season myth focus on the goddess of the land giving birth to the spirit of spring, the divine child who replaces his farther the old king. The point here is that the sacrificial king whose blood must be spilt to heal the land is the king of the woods. He is the regenerative masculine burst of green vegetation, thrusting forth it’s shoots and rampantly growing in the spring. The image we know today as the green man, reflecting one of Robin Hood’s other well known names, Robin-o-the-wood. As noted anthropologist Lady Julia Raglan wrote:

‘There is only one [character] of sufficient importance, the figure variously known as the Green Man, Jack-in-the-Green, Robin Hood, the King of May, and the Garland, who is the central figure in the May-Day celebrations throughout Northern and Central Europe. In England and Scotland the most popular name for this figure … was Robin Hood.’

The time of the first records of Robin Hood roughly coincides with the beginning of record keeping generally. The first record of a Robin Hood play is from Exeter, only a few years after the city’s first recorded May Games. It is worth noting that Exeter Cathedral is filled with “Green Man” imagery. The Green Man, like Robin, has ties to the virgin Mary/Goddess of Sovereignty, Briganti (Maid Marion) as we shall see, and Exeter Cathedral is also dedicated to Mary. The chapter house of Southwell Minster (once in the heart of Sherwood Forest) also has numerous Green Man carvings.

The accepted entomology of the name Robin is that it derives from the French name Robert that was introduced during the Norman invasion. But if Robin is not medieval but far more ancient, stretching back to Celtic times, is there any evidence for this.

The Robin and the Wren

One very interesting clue is the folklore surrounding the Robin Redbrest or Cock Robin and Jenny/Cutty Wren. First there is the annual hunting of the Wren which traditionally takes place on boxing day. The Wren is supposedly hunted in order to seek retribution for the murder of the Robin by the Wren. Gangs of “Wrenboys” would seek to capture a Wren and tie it to a pole that is then paraded through the village. This is the same mythological theme again regarding the new king replacing the old king, and in the Netherlands the name for Wren means “winter king”. We will come back to the Wren and the old king in a moment, for now let us continue to focus on the Robin.

The name Cock Robin only superficially denotes masculinity. In the 16th century minced oaths became very popular. A practice of misspelling or mispronouncing words on purpose so as to reduce their offence. Common examples are saying sugar instead of shit, or fudge rather than fuck. At least two centuries earlier it was very common to substitute Cokk or gog for the word god. The word coc originates in Scots Gaelic and means “encase, sheath, enshrine”, suggesting the bird enshrines the deity. In Scotland the Robin was originally known as the Ruddock, which seems to come from the Gaelic word ruaidhrí meaning “red king”. A reference both to the red of the Robin’s breast, and to the red of the blood that must be spilled for the health of the land. The word ruaidhrí would change through Anglicisation to Roderick, which then truncates to Ruddock. A further shortening of the name would result in Ruddy. During the evolution of languages it is very common to substitute vowels, and the change from a “d” to a “b” is a very common one too. It is therefore only a short hop from Ruddy to Robby. Add to this the introduction of the name Robert from French and it is easy to see how this etymology becomes lost in favour of the simpler explanation that Robin is an abbreviated form of the French Robert.

Will scarlet the Wren?

There is of course another character form the ballads who embodies the colour of red, and that is of course Will Scarlet, Scarlock or Scaldlock. There has long been a theory that Will Scarlet was Robin Hood’s cousin. This is based on the 1650 ballad “Robin the Newly Revived”. In this ballad Will says he is “Robin’s own sister’s son” and that “in Maxfield was I bred and born, my name is young Gamwell”. There is also the question of noble birth, with later ballads suggesting that both Robin and Will may descend from an important family, and of course scholars have locked on to this to assist in the identification of “the real historic Robin Hood”.

There is 14th centenary poem “The tale of Gamelyn”, which tells the story of a son who’s farther dies when he is still an infant, and who then spends many years fighting his brother for possession of the lands and inheritance. He ends up for a time in the forest, joining an outlaw band lead by a “outlaw king”. Eventually after many adventures he wins back his lands.

Another ballad, “Robin and Gandlyn”, is considered by most not to be a Robin Hood ballad at all. It tells the tale of Robin and Gandlyn out hunting in the forest, when Gandlyn’s friend Robin is slain by a little boy named Wrennock of Donne. Gandlyn and Wrennock then compete in an archery contest where each shoots for the others heart. After Wrennock misses, Gandlyn successfully avenges Robin. The Ballard appears to allude to the hunting of the Wren at midwinter, and also echoes the sorry of how Llew Llaw Gyffes from Welsh mythology gained his name. His name means “the lion with steady hand”, and he was so named after his mother Arianrhod saw him shoot a wren in the leg between it’s sinew and it’s bone. It is possible then that Will Scarlet is representative of the wren, or the old king who’s fate it is both to kill the Robin and in turn be murdered by him. Perhaps it is this that the name Will Scarlet is alluding too, the scarlet red blood of the sacrificial king.

Wren wife of the Robin?

Let us come back to this name Jenny Wren. It seems clear that the folklore surrounding the Wren has confused sexuality. On the one hand the Wren is the king of the birds. One old story has it that the king of the birds would be selected based on who could fly the highest and farthest. One by one the other birds dropped out of the race until only the Eagle was left, as he too began to tire, the little Wren popped out from under the Eagle’s feathers and flew above the Eagle taking his place as king of the birds through an act of trickery. On the other hand the Wren is seen as female, and wife to the robin as in “Robin and wren, gods cock and hen”. I believe the sexual ambiguity of the wren is the key to unlocking the remainder of the mystery.

The wren is known to be an important bird in Celtic mythology, it’s Welsh name dryw being related to both the words for druid and oak tree. In Scotland and Ireland the wren has been known in recent times as wran, ran, wrannie or rannie. In Welsh there is a similar word wran which is used for “elemental spirit”, and in Scots Gaelic there is a word that sounds an awful lot like the word wren, rìghinn prononced “ree-(y)in)”, and the literal meaning of this word is “king-woman” or “king-wife” (righ + bhean). This would fit very well as the opponent/wife of Robin, the red-king. So perhaps the sexual ambiguity of the wren was not introduced by the adding the name Jenny to to wren, but is a reflection of a mystery that is far older. The word rìghinn more specifically means “maiden-queen”, a direct reference to Briganti as the goddess of sovereignty, and the root of the welsh Rhianna who is also a maiden sovereignty goddess.

So now we have both “old-king” and “maiden-queen” meanings for the Wren. One possibility here is that in the evolution from Gaelic to Brythonic the meaning flipped from maiden to hag (Welsh (g)wrach, Cornish wragh). The maiden hag flip exists in the mythology too. In Irish mythology Niall kissed the crone at the holy spring, after each of his brothers had refused to do so. When he did she changed into a beautiful maid and told him she was the sovereignty of Ireland. Her ugliness was a sign that it was not easy to attain the kingship. Likewise in Arthurian mythology Gwain marries a crone. When they retire to his chamber after the wedding she changes into a beautiful young woman and tests him by asking him if she should be beautiful during the day or the night. Gwain maintains it is her choice, and because he passes the test she remains beautiful all the time.

Further evidence for the hag/crone association with the Wren comes from the Scottish practice of “ringing the Millen Bridle” which is effectively a form of assisted suicide for the those who deemed them selves to be “to long alive”. As part of this custom the phrase “wran’s flesh, come oot thy way” was chanted through the bedroom key hole. A clear association between “wran” and the hag here, and also a reference to Briganti too.

What all this seems to point to is a confusion between the sacrificial king and the deity to whom he is sacrificed. But perhaps it is not confusion at all? We are very familiar with the confused god-king concept in Christianity, where the sacrificial king (Jesus) is often confused with the deity (God).

Coming back to the Robin

Just to add in a little more confusion there is also an alternative meaning for the word Ruddock, the word that used to mean Robin Redbreast in Scotland. Ruddock can also mean “haggard old woman”. Here the red-king and his antagonist seem to have swapped places. What is clear though is that there is a mythology involving the Robin and the Wren as sacrificial kings, who’s fight is part of the turning of the seasons. The champion is king who marries the goddess of sovereignty, and the looser is the sacrifice. It is a story also expressed in the myth of the oak and holly king, as well as in Arthurian mythology as the battle between Gwyn ap Nudd (an underworld king) and Gwythyr for the hand of Creiddylad.

One of the oldest Robin Hood ballads is “The Death of Robin Hood”, and it is filled with mythological symbolism. In the ballad, Robin is betrayed by his cousin, the prioress of Kirklees who bleeds him too much (bleeding was a common cure in the middle ages), and she then allows Red Roger or Rodger of Doncaster who she is in love with stab Robin. Yet again, we have links to the Christian devil in “old Roger”, and or course Red Roger once again could originate with ruaidhrí meaning red-king, rather than the accepted entomology from the High German Hrodgar meaning “famous spear”. Doncaster is of course named after the welsh Mother Goddess Don. And it is interesting to note that in the two versions of Robin’s death we have looked at here, robin has been killed by Wrennock of Donne, and by Rodger of Doncaster. In Welsh mythology the House of Don is the family of the Goddess Don, the equivalent of the Irish Tuatha Dé Danann (children of Danu). Donn in Irish mythology on the other hand is an underworld god of death, and the the house of Donn is understood to be another name for the otherworld. This of course fits the narrative very well as the underworld king (like Gwyn ap Nudd), who is in competition with another king for the hand of the maiden-queen.

The Ballard also contains a number of other important mythological themes. Firstly, there are women lining the route Robin takes and weeping for him before he is actually on his deathbed. This crying for someone still alive might suggests a ritual killing. Robin also refuses a guard seeming to understand and accept his fate. Then there is the old woman at the ford who is reminiscent of the Scottish bean-nighe, the washer-woman who is regarded as an omen of death.

Robin the goddess?

By now it should be very clear that what we are dealing with is an annual regeneration myth, like many of the others that have been mentioned thus far. Over the years there has been a lot of confusion and conflation of the characters so that there is not a clear line between the old-king and the red-king. It is not clear who’s blood is spilled and who is who, but that in it’s self might be part of the on-going cyclical seasonal mystery. There is also confusion between the red-king and the goddess, but again, this could be understood as the red-king being the earthly representative of, or the sacrificial priest of the goddess. The red-king is a go-between connecting the world of humans to the world of the gods.

This conflation between Robin Hood as the red-kind and the goddess can be further seen in place names. Throughout the country are many wells, churches, stones and crosses dedicated to lady, our lady or Mary (either virgin or Magdalene). Almost all of these represent a continuation of the pan-Celtic deity Briganti who was very important in this area. So where we find crosses or stones dedicated to both the Lady and Robin, we have to wonder why it would be dedicated to the go-between, and not simply to the maiden-queen directly. The reason for this is the conflation of the entomology, with Robin descending from both rìghinn and ruaidhrí because the alternative form of rìghinn is rìbhinn which easily Anglicises to Robin. The word also shows up in Welsh mythology as the Hag of the Mist Gwrach-y-Rhibyn, another harbinger of death where once again the maiden meaning has flipped to hag.

It is worth at this point focusing on the character of Maid Marian for a moment. It is well known at Marian was not included in the early ballads, and it is believed that she entered the story from a separate unrelated but pre-existing May Day or mumming play tradition. Marian means “of Mary”, and as mentioned Mary is really code for Briganti in her maiden-queen aspect. It is possible that due to the the sexual ambiguity of rìghinn/ rìbhinn that both the goddess and her red-king go-between were understood to be part of the same androgynous deity, but the introduction of the french Robert resulted in a masculine Robin and the feminine aspect was lost. The introduction of Maid Marian then as Robin’s consort is really the re-inclusion of the feminine into the mythology, and really it is Robin who is the consort of the Marian goddess to whom he will be sacrificed.

Another candidate for the Old King

There is of course another important character to consider. We have discussed Robin Hood, Maid Marian and Will Scarlet, but there is another important character that adds yet more weight to this argument, and that is of course Little John.

The earliest reference we have to the character Little John is from 1420, but by this time the he is known to have been a popular character in the Robin Hood plays, particularly in Scotland. Much earlier than this though, we know that in the 12th century the term “little Johns” was used to refer to Cornish (and later to the Welsh). The explanation for this is that Cornishmen were short in stature or loyal too/the offspring of King John.

The name John at first glance appears to be Hebrew for “god is gracious”, so it must have been introduced by the early Christians. Because Hebrew has never been spoke here, it is unlikely it would have retained this meaning and this meaning makes little sense of the Cornishmen being referred to as “little Johns”. A clue can be found by looking at the related name Jenkin, which is linked to the May games as another name for Jack-in-the-Green. Jenkin normally understood to be a combination of John-kin. What is interesting is the -kin suffix was unknown before the 12th century, yet the name Jenkin appears in the doomsday book a centenary before that.

When the name Jenkins is translated into Irish Gaelic, it results in Seincín. The theory here is that if the name Jenkin has an older root in Scots Gaelic, then this translation must resemble the original word that was anglicised from Gaelic in the first place. One strong possibility then is that Jenkin(s) originates form sean meaning “old” and ceann for “head”. Sean is pronounced “shan” which is easily mutated to “jan” and we also know that when ceann is anglicised it results in “kin”. This can be seen clearly in the Irish place name Saencheann, or Old Head in County Cork. Here the word “head” is used to denote the end or head of a piece of land. And in this light we can see more clearly why the Cornish and Welsh might be referred to as little johns, in that they live on a peninsular of land.

In Irish Gaelic ceann can also mean the head of a group of people, or a chief/king. We can see this in Welsh/Cornish too with the name Jenkins understood as Siencyn with cyn meaning “chief” in Welsh. And so once again we have a reference to the old-king, the rival of the red-king for the hand of the maiden-queen.

Of course the Robin Hood mythology could be seen to hint at this with the staff duel between Robin and John, with the challenger overcoming the incumbent champion. Unlike the Robin and the Wren though, Robin and John do not kill each other, but rather Robin invites John to join his merry men and the two become close friends. This is more like the self-sacrificial king, an example of which is the fisher king of Autherian legend. Here the “old king” is wounded and unable to re-fertilise the land, requiring another figure to step in and help. If we now understand that Jenny is just a shortened familiar form of Jenkin, then we are once again brought to the understanding that Jenny Wren is the old king.

Conclusion

What has been shown then is that Robin Hood has roots far older than ordinarily supposed, and that the major characters represent the battle between summer and winter for the hand of the spring maiden-queen. This is paralleled in many other stories that teach of the cycle of the seasons, and celebrations were focused around the May Day. We can see that the mythology has become confused over the centuries as Robin Hood has adapted to the changing times, resulting in a lot of confusion of the character roles.

There is one final point I would like to explore further, and that is the fact that in Celtic times May Day was known as Beltane, named after the God Belenus/Beli. We don’t really know much about Beli for sure, like most of the other Celtic deities for that matter. But it is believed however that he is either a sky/sun god, or a god of healing wells and we know the Romans equated him with Apollo. Apollo had a vary wide range of attributes. He was a god of light, music, healing and many other things. One of these other attributes though was archery which of course Robin Hood is famous for. Also, another interpretation for the name Belenus has it from the Greek belos meaning “arrow”. It is also not unusual for sacrificial red-kings to also be solar deities. There is clearly some connection between Beli and Robin given that the Robin Hood games and plays largely revolved around Beltane, but what exactly that connection is remains unclear.

I think at this point I have clearly shown that the stories of Robin Hood are rooted in ancient mythology, and not based on an obscure historical personage. The very reason that scholars have failed to identify the real Robin Hood is that they are searching for someone who never existed. Instead we can see that we are dealing with a seasonal regeneration myth dealing with the old king, new king and goddess of sovereignty. A truly ancient story with evidence of both Brythonic and Goidelic language influence. We have seen there are parallel themes in other myths that have helped us to understand this one and we have followed the threads to find multiple streams of evidence to back up the theory. I believe this work nicely contributes to what I have already published on the gods of Mansfield and elaborates on the subject somewhat, accepting that Robin Hood is in fact a local deity and representative of the virility and abundance of the forest.

References:

https://www.boldoutlaw.com/

https://d.lib.rochester.edu/teams/text/robyn-and-gandelyn

https://d.lib.rochester.edu/teams/text/gest-of-robyn-hode

https://robinhoodlegend.com/robin-hood-place-names/

Robin Hood by John Matthews

https://stevemoxon.co.uk/robin_hood_name_origin_myth_etymology/

The lost sacred grove of Mansfield?

It recently came to my attention that there is an area of Mansfield that used to be known as “Newton Town”. I am very familiar with the area, and have walked through it many times as I’m sure many of you have too.

The area in question is roughly where Rosemary Avenue, just off Rosemary Street is now. Behind the offices of Mansfield District Council.

The name “Newton Town” is very interesting. Firstly, Newton is the most common place name in the UK with no less than 87 Newtons. The accepted entomology of Newton is that it derives from Old English Neowe for new, and Tun meaning enclosure or settlement. This results in this area being called “New Town Town”. Why the extra redundant word?

It is supposed the name Newton is a name used for a new settlement when the population decides to move to a new area, or for an area of planned expansion.

There are examples of other “Newtons” nearby, such as Newton in the Bolsover district of Derbyshire. This place was recorded in the Domesday book of 1086 as Neutone which seems rather different from the Old English Neowetun.

An alternative entomology might be that some of these “Newtons” derive from the Celtic word Nemeton which means sacred grove. There are many other places across the Celtic world that retain names derived from this word, such as Nematobriga in north-west Spain, Medionnemeton in Scotland or Nymet and Nympton in Devon among many many others.

It is interesting to note that the word Nemeton ends in the *-ton suffix that is usually taken to be from the Old English for town. It is entirely possible that as the local Brythonic language was replaced by the Anglo-Saxon languages, that this suffix became confused and the similar sounding Nemeton was misunderstood as Neowetun, thus changing the meaning of the place name.

This could explain the redundant word “town” in the place name. Should the name be “Sacred Grove Town”? Could this be the lost location of a Sacred Grove of the ancient Druids, just outside of the old settlement that became Mansfield?

The Ancient Ritual Landscape of Mansfield: Part 2

In my previous articles I have discussed some of the solar alignments to be found in our local landscape. Centred around Hamilton Hill in Mansfield and the Blidworth Druidstone, I have shown how all the major solar alignments of the year are captured in our local surroundings. Not only do we have local solstice and eclipse alignments, but we also have alignments for the four cross quarter days or Celtic fire festivals which in turn is a reflection of the gods and goddesses once worshipped during these festivals. I have also touched upon some of our local rivers, and have begun to show how Lugus, Briganti, Beli, Don and perhaps many others gods and goddesses can still be found to this day, despite the many layers of invading cultures and religions that have tried over the centuries to supplant them.

The quest to peel back the layers of history and discover the local gods of the landscape continues, and in this article I am going to build on my previous work and discuss some other important clues I have been following, and discoveries I have made.

There are a number of avenues of investigation I have been following in order to do this, the primary topics of interest have been:

  • Neolithic archaeology and sites.
  • Bronze and Iron Age hill forts and settlements .
  • Early Saxon and Norman churches that may be built on pre-existing sacred sites.
  • The history of the Roman invasion and local Celtic tribes.
  • Rivers, springs and wells and place name entomology.
  • Local topography and geography.
  • Recorded Welsh and Irish & Scottish and English mythology.
  • Brythonic (Welsh, Cornish, Cumbric) and Gaelic (Irish Manx, Scots) languages
  • The movements of the Sun Moon and stars, and especially solar alignments.

Pulling all of this together can be quite challenging, and no doubt there are things I have missed. I am no expert in these topics. My research has involved a lot of online work, but I have also spent time going through the local studies sections in our local libraries, as well as purchasing a few key books on certain subjects where information online is sparse. Talking to other local people can reveal much too, so joining local history groups is also of interest, and I have made in roads there.

Locating The ancient Settlements

Part of the problem of understanding the ancient local landscape, is understanding where the settlements were. Unfortunately coal mining in this area has destroyed a lot of archaeology that will now be lost forever. But we still have many clues we can follow. My research largely revolves around a few specific subjects. The idea is to locate important places in the landscape that warrant further investigation. There is a vast difference between the settlements, cultures etc of the earlier neolithic era and the Iron Age Celts. However, many of the important neolithic sites continued to be used, simply because they were convenient locations, and at the very least the stone monuments left behind by the ancestors would provide a sense of wonder and would likely continue to be used for religious purposes, just as the churches continue to use ancient pagan sites to this day. But we must understand it is not just a small snapshot of time we are looking at, but rather the remaining evidence from a period of several thousand years. These is no evidence for example that Celtic cultures celebrated the solstices and equinoxes, despite their obvious importance to the people of the neolithic. Combining these festivals with the Celtic festivals to create the eight-fold year is a modern invention. So when we look for alignments in the landscape we have to bare this in mind.

I would like to now introduce you to a few locations in the local area that may hold significance in the quest for the local gods.

The corieltauvi and The Brigantes

The Celtic people living in this area were not invaders of this land. They were the descendants of the Neolithic people who had lived here before them. Trade and travel were much more prolific in the ancient world than it is often supposed. Therefore the Celtic tribes who lived here were a continuation of stone age tribes. Their customs, ritual sites and beliefs all evolving from earlier times. This is why it is a mistake to say that the Druids had nothing to do with the stone age monuments. The Druids were in fact the inheritors and evolution of the native British shamanic tradition. Modern genetic research has disproved that new cultures invading Britain replaced the existing population. In each instance, the invaders simply did not have much genetic impact on the pre-existing population. Their technologies and customs were adopted, but the people remained on the whole the same population. The same is true after the Romans left with the Angles the Saxons the Normans and the Vikings. Their genetic impact was simply not that big.

As the population increased, it became more difficult to move to a new unoccupied areas. Competition for resources increases which eventually leads to tribal borders as people try to protect what they see as theirs. But it would be a mistake to presume that borders are static. Over the many centuries it is likely that these boundaries changed many times. The people living on the border were not strictly one tribe or another. Through trade, marriage and conflict the cultures of the Brigantes and Corieltauvi will have merged in our local area.

In my last article I stated that the location of the border between these two Celtic tribes was not really known and is disputed, with a number of possible geographic features being suggested such as the river Trent (Trisantona). We do know that the border was somewhere in this area, and it has long been proposed that the magnesium limestone ridge that marks the border between Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire is the real border between the tribes.

On this map from 1840 you can clearly see the ridge to the west of Huthwaite looking out over Derbyshire. The hill at the the top of Huthwaite known as Strawberry Bank is the highest natural point in Nottinghamshire, and offers a clear vantage point for anyone looking out to the west, into Derbyshire or the territory of the Brigantes. Which is why in 1985 archaeologists uncovered an Iron Age hill fort there. This understanding is very important for our investigation of certain place names.

It would seem that there is a surprising number of “Celtic” place names that survive until this day. But you have to dig rather deep to identify them. The first issue is simply that the Angles, the Saxons, the Normans and the Vikings have all had an influence on place names. Either establishing new towns and villages or re-naming existing ones to suit their own language. After this there is a certain amount of “Anglicization” of the existing names into modern English, and a further “rationalisation” of the resultant translations. (i.e. if it sounds like an English word, then it must be that word – “calv” becomes “calf”, “blid” becomes “blood”.) To further complicate the issue, modern entomological research has a tendency to try and force an Anglo-Saxon translation which often results in a very lazy entomology for a place name by assuming it is named after an individual who once owned the land, with no evidence to support that.

For example, lets look at the name of Annesley. We know that the suffix *-ley means a clearing in the wood, and so we presume that the translation is the clearing in the wood belonging to An(n). This is just laziness, to simply presume that An is a given name with absolutely no evidence that it ever was. And if you look at the history of place names and the work published by the English Place Names Society you will see many examples of this presumption that a place is named after an individual. Why is this? I believe this is due to a failure to consider certain other languages as possibilities. In general, scholars seem to consider Old English, Anglo-Saxon, Norse or sometimes Brythonic. I believe one very important language has been missed that sheds much light on this subject.

If we look at the history of “Celtic” languages, they are broadly broken down into two branches in the UK that both developed form a common Indo-European root language. The fist branch is known as q-celtic and includes Irish and Scots Gaelic. This branch developed much earlier than p-celtic which includes Welsh and Cornish. What if there was a population of Gaelic speakers in this landscape that pre-date the Brythonic speakers that the Romans encountered in this area? If this was the case then we may be able to make more sense of some of the place names that otherwise seem rather bizarre.

Lets take Calverton as an example. Here is the description from Wikipedia:

The place appears as Calvretone in the Doomsday survey of 1086….Scholars believe that the name means “the farm of the calves”, from Old English calf (genitive plural “calfra” + tūn). It is intriguing that a forest village, with a presumed shortage of grazing land, should be named for the young of domestic cattle

WIKIPEDIA

Intriguing indeed. What we do know about Calverton was that it was in the middle of Sherwood forest, and it was on a main road through the forest. What is interesting then is that in Gaelic the word “Calver” means “causeway”. I would suggest that makes far more sense than the proposed translation on wikipedia! We even know that the Romans marched up this road as there are the remains of two Roman camps (on the same site at different times) just north of the town.

Coming back to Annasley for a moment, I might suggest that an alternative entomology could involve “Anes” from welsh “lady” as in albanes which means “Scottish lady” resulting in Anasley meaning “Lady’s clearing in the woods”. Also many words beginning with “Anes” mean restless/ uneasy / disquiet or even haunted (anesmwyth). My spidy senses are tingling here with an interpretation along the lines of haunted lady’s clearing or even grove, and association with Samhain. Further investigation is required here but it is interesting that Newsted Abby with it’s White Lady ghost stories is not far away. If we do accept the An(n) entomology, we could even investigate this further with associations with Black Annis which is a Leicestershire folk legend. Leicestershire also being part of the Corieltauvi territory, though the origin of the story may not be as old as some believe.

There are actually quite a few place names in the local area that have already been identified as “Celtic” (Brythonic) that are well documented, even though older anglo-saxon interpretations persist. An example of this is Teversal.

According to the English Place Names Society, the first part of the name is from the Anglo-Saxon “tiefere” which means “painter”. They then go on to equate that to the word “sorcerer” resulting in a meaning of “sorcerers stronghold”. In his book “Ashfield Place Names; Their origin and meanings” local historian Capt. Roy Peters proposes that the first element is actually the Brythonic “terfyn” meaning boundary, resulting in “boundary stronghold” which given it’s location on the ridge would make perfect sense. There are also a couple of interesting features at Teversal. First there is St Katharine’s church, built in the 12th and 13th centuries, as well as a well named “Lady Well”. In my previous article I discussed the solar alignment stretching from Oxton to Mam Tor. It turns out that St Katharine’s church also sits on this alignment.

A little further north is Bolsover. Bolsover is very interesting to this study. It is believed that the castle at Bolsover started as an Iron Age Hill fort, and that there was also a Pagan temple where the current St Mary and St Lawrence church is now. In my article Lugus God of Blidworth, I showed how St Lawrence is Lugus in disguise. References to Mary or Lady are really the local goddess of sovereignty, which in our case is very likely Briganti. The name Bolsover was recorded in the doomsday book as “Belesovre”, which has one of the simpler well attested entomologies. The second part of the name “Sovre” derives from Brythonic and means “high settlement”. The first part “Bel(e)” is a direct reference to Belenus/Beli The local sky farther, which further reinforces my earlier assumption of Beli Mawr as the local sky farther god based on his links to Don, the mother goddess in welsh mythology. The River Don being only a few miles north flowing from Sheffield to Doncaster. Elsewhere in the district of Bolsover we also have the Hammett of Belph providing yet more evidence of Beli in the local vicinity.

Further north is the town of Clowne which also derives its name form a Celtic source, “clun” for river. Just outside Clowne is Markham Grips, where another Iron Age Hill fort has been discovered. Together, Clowne, Bolsover, Teversal and Huthwaite seem to have formed part of the defensive boundary between the Corieltauvi and the Brigantes

Coming back to Huthwaite and Strawberry Bank, I just want to point out that just down the hill is Wood End and Brierly forest park, the source of the river Meden that I discussed in my previous post on this subject.

Just to the south west of Huthwaite, midway between the villages of Hilcot and Newton and Blackwell there is an Anglo-Saxon cross that I believe was once a neolithic monument or boundary marker that was carved into a cross during the christianisation of Britain. Likewise, Kirkby cross which stands at…errm…Kirkby Cross, an intersection of two ancient trackways that is still in use today. Furthermore, a little to the south-east of Kirkby is Selston. Here the Church of St Helen’s has a Neolithic stone monument in the church yard. I believe each of these to be important locations, and possible pagan shrines.

Another possible Pagan shrine is St Mary Magdalen’s In Sutton-In-Ashfield. In 1892 during construction on St Micheal’s Street in Sutton-In-Ashfield a burial was discovered of a man, surrounded by seven other male skeletons all arranged around the central man with their feet pointing towards him. Unfortunately the bones disintegrated during the excavation. Had modern techniques been available to them at the time, they would have been able to retrieve the bones successfully. As it happens, the excavators were only able to recover the skull of the central man. These ancestral remains now reside in Sutton library.

It is believed that burials of this nature were reserved for high status individuals, and so it has long been supposed that this skull belonged to a local chieftain living in Sutton somewhere between 4200-4900 years ago. This shows that Sutton-In-Ashfield has been a settlement for a very long time.

All over the Mansfield area we can find place names that could very well derive from Gaelic. Just beyond Hamilton Hill on the new bypass as you head towards west nottinghamshire collage is Caulwell Woods, Caulwell Brook, and Cauldwell Damn. The accepted entomology is that “Cauld” means Cold, and thus it is a reference to a well with exceptionally cold water. While this may or may not be true, I think it is also worth pointing out that in Gaelic “Cauld” means a damn in a stream or a Weir.

“Carr” as in Carr Bank Park in Mansfiled means flat fertile ground in Gaelic, which is exactly what Carr Bank Park is. The Park is of course a bank of the river Maun. On just the other side of the river from Carr Bank is a forgotten “Virgin Mary’s Well” just off Sandy Lane.

Another example could well be Peafield lane leading out of Mansfield Woodhouse towards Edwinstowe. It is unlikely that a place would derive it’s name from an annual crop, and frankly it seems to easy. The work “Preas” means shrub, bush or thicket. I think what is far more likely given it’s location on the edge of the settlement area is that it refers to a field of scrub land beyond the fields of what would have been the early Mansfiled Woodhouse settlement.

Having identified a number of interesting locations around the local area, I have begun searching for more solar alignments. In effect looking for anything that lines up with sunrise or sunset on any of the four solar days (Solstices and equinoxes) or any of the Celtic fire festivals. The Celtic fire festivals are the most interesting.

As we know from my last article, we have already identified a Samhain sunrise / Beltane Sunset alignment centred around Hamilton Hill. Starting in the south-west with Robin Hood Hill (Oldox camp) at Oxton, and passing through the church yard at Blidworth, The Druid Stone, Friar Tuck’s Well in Harlow Wood, Hamilton Hill, St Katharine’s at Teversal and on to Mam Tor in north Derbyshire, spanning the length of around 35 miles.

I believe I have also now identified a Beltane Sunrise / Samhain sunset alignment (the opposite of before) also centred around Hamilton Hill. Starting in the south-east at St Helen’s church in Selston, then passing Kirkby Cross, Hamilton Hill, Virgin Mary’s Well in Mansfield, a mineral spring just outside Clipstone, and then on to the location of the confluence of the rivers Meden and Maun to become the Idle. I find it very interesting that both the source of the Maun (Hamilton Hill) and the end of the Maun where it joins the Meden fall on this same alignment. I feel I am still missing some important clue regarding the Rivers Idles, Meden and Maun.

This is not the only new alignment I have found from Hamilton Hill. I have mentioned before that Hamilton hill is East /West aligned, meaning that it is on an equinox sunrise / sunset alignment, so naturally I wondered what I would find if I l looked along this alignment.

As you can see, west of Hamilton Hill fist the line crosses St Mary Magdalene’s Church in Sutton, then goes on to pass near Holy Trinity Church in Brankenfield before crossing Dethick Moor Stone circle and hitting High Tor (High High place) at Matlock Bath. There are a few other interesting place names in this image too. Crich is another “Cetic” word (which I presume to mean Brythonic) meaning Hill. However, in Gaelic Crich also means boundary. In addition there is also Belper near by. Belper is thought to be a corruption of “Beaurepaire”, a Norman word meaning “beautiful retreat”, however, I suspect there might be some mileage investigating the name with Belenus/Beli in mind.

This next alignment is another Beltane sunrise / Samhain sunset alignment that runs parallel to the one that crossed Hamilton Hill, and also includes a number of important local sites.

Starting in the north-east with Lady Well at Teversal, and passing directly through St Katharine’s Church, the line also passes right over Strawberry Bank where the Iron Age Hill fort was and then directly over the Ancient Saxon Cross. This is why I believe this Saxon cross is actually a carved Neolithic monument. If the line is extended further, eventually you come to another Iron Age Hill fort. Forest Bank at Marchington west of Derby.

Derby is another interesting name. Some take it from the Anglo-Saxon “Deoraby” meaning “Village of the Deer”. I think this is utter rubbish. We know that the Romans had a presence here long before the Anglo-Saxons and they called it “Derventio”. Further, the town is on the river Derwent which has a well attested Celtic origin meaning “Valley of the/thick with Oak Trees”, which makes Derby very obviously “Oak tree settlement”.

I think what is now clear is that the areas of Mansfield and Ashfield, and the towns and villages surrounding them have many memories of the old gods of our ancestors. They never left us. The people who live in these places may have forgotten them and have been offering their prayers to the foreign Middle Eastern Abrahamic god, or to the gods of the invading Vikings for over a thousand years now. Yet despite this, to this day, our lands, our rivers, our hills and our settlements remember the old gods. And for those of us who seek them, they await us just below the surface veneer of modern culture. By looking at old churches, hills, place names, rivers, springs, wells and solar alignments we can find clear memories of Don the great earth Mother. Of Beli Mwar the sky farther. Of Briganti, our local Goddess of place and sovereignty, as well as Healing, poetry, smithing and child birth. And of course of Lugus the God of crafts, skills and Oaths.

These gods of course are remembered in the festivals of Imolc (Briganiti), Beltane (Beli Mwar), lughnasadh (Lugus). But what of Samhain? Where is the God/dess of Samhain?

Samhain is of course modern Halloween, commonly associated with ghosts ghouls whitches and death. Both the terms “Crone” and “Hag” which are commonly associated with witches are corrupted words. Crone comes from the same root word as crown denoting authority, and “Hag” is from “Hagio” meaning “holy”. The word witch it’s self from “wit” for “wisdom”. If we look to Irish or Scottish mythology we could investigate many deities that fit this archetype. We have Badb the warrior Goddess of life, death, wisdom and inspiration. There is also Macha and of course Morrigan, the corvid battle goddess. And we should also mention Cailleach a destroyer goddess ruling over disease, death and wisdom and also Black Annis keeper of wisdom and the old ways. But where are the memories of these goddesses in the landscape?

The closest I believe we have is a Roman inscription found at Margidunum (Roman Bingham) to the goddess Nantosuelta. Her name means either “winding river” (the shrine was near the Trent) or “sun drenched valley”, but she is often depicted with both a house on a stick and a raven/crow. It is the crow link that has lead people to associate her with the Irish Morrigan. Her name seems to come from the word “Nemoton” which means “sacred grove”, and there are other references to a Goddess named Nemotona. Groves of course were very important religious locations in Iron Age culture. There is another Nemoton reference not to far away, the sacred spring that was known in Roman times as Aquae Arnemetiae – Modern day Buxton in Derbyshire – which translates as “The waters of the sacred groves”, Arnemetia seeming to be a plural form of Nemotona.

It would seem them that we have Goddesses both to the east and west of Mansfield that share commonality in some way with a Goddess of sacred groves. I struggle however to feel that this Deity has the Samhain association we are looking for.

The second thread to investigate I feel is association of Samhain with the otherworld. Here we can look for Gwyn ap Nudd and Arawn, but again, I can’t find anything in the local landscape to support this.

The answer I feel is more obvious. At least for now until I learn something else. Yes we know that some of the Gods and Goddesses mentioned above have association with Samhain, but I feel a more honest approach at this time is the focus on ancestors. My ancestors certainly live in the landscape. For generations my ancestors have worked the lands, toiled in the factories and fought the battles of their leaders. They have lived and died here, in this little corner of the world I have always known as home. And with this understanding I feel I have now truly found a pantheon of gods in my local landscape, reflected in the solar alignments that shone the light on them for me. Gods of the heavens, the otherworld and of the earth.

This research will I think never end. I will always have my eyes open for interesting place names, archaeological discoveries and new theories. But for now I do feel I have truly begun to unlock a mystery. I am certain there are more gods waiting to be found. I do have some ideas about a local seasonal sacrificial king myth, but I think I will leave that for my next article.

Lugus – God of Blidworth?

In a previous post, I discussed some of the possibilities around the association of the Brythonic Goddess Briganti, or a variant of her as the original deity that occupied a special place among the people of Blidworth in Nottinghamshire.

Briganti in Blidworth

The first obvious piece of evidence for this is the fact that Blidworth lies in the borderlands of the Brigates, and very likely fell into their territory at various times before and after the Roman invasion. A more compelling piece of evidence is Blidworth’s unique rocking ceremony, where an old wooden cradle, decked with flowers and greenery, would be placed in a candle-lit chancel near the alter. The baby boy most recently baptized would be laid by the vicar in the cradle and blessed during the service, before being returned to his parents. This ceremony takes place on the Sunday closest to Candlemas, which in pre-christian times was the festival of Imbolc, sacred to Briganti.

Further clues can be found in the ceremony itself. During the Hebridean ceremony of Briid’s Bed recorded in The Golden Bough, a sheaf of oats would be dressed by the mistresses and servants of each family in women’s clothes, and laid with a wooden club in a large basket (“Briid’s Bed”). The mistresses and servants then cried “Briid is come, Briid is welcome” just before going to bed. In the morning, if the impression of the club was in the ashes of the fire it forbode a fruitful year, if not, a bad one.

A similar custom was to lay a bed near the door and then go outside and call three times “Briget, Briget, come in – thy bed is ready”. One or more candles would be left burning all night. The Manx invitation is

“Brede, Brede, tar gys my thie tar dyn thie ayms noght. Foshil jee yn dorrys da Brede, as lhig da Brede e heet staight.”

“Bridget, BriDget, come to my house, come to my house tonight. Open the door for Bridget, let Bridget come in.”

It is due to the similarities of the the rocking ceremony, and ceremonies to Briganti, as well as the fact that the rocking ceremony takes place around candlemas that people before me have associated Briganti to Blidworth. But the possible associations with Lugus seem to have be missed.

Lugus in Blidworth

The church at Blidworth, St Mary of the Purification was built in the fifteenth century. Only the tower remains of this building. Part of the original church fell down on 11th September 1736 and according to parish records, this was “due to a bad state of repair and unskillful workmanship undermining one of the pillars”. The rest of the church was re-built in 1739 and 1839. But the church at Blidworth is much older with Blidworth itself being recorded in the domesday book commissioned by William the Conqueror after the invasion of 1066. Before the dedication to Mary of the Purification, it was formerly known as the Chapel of St. Lawrence, and this is our clue to Lugus.

Lugus is the Brythonic name for the pan-Celtic god known as Lugh in Ireland, Lleu in Wales and Lug in Gaul. Known by many names such as Lugh Samildanach (The Many Skilled), also styled Lugh Lamfhada (of the Long Arm) and the welsh Lleu Llaw Gyffes (Lleu of the Skilful Hand) and sometimes in the triplicate or plural form Lugoves, we know him from dedications, statuary, place-names and tribal names from across Europe as well as the surviving Irish and Welsh mythology. It is believed that it was Lugus that Caesar meant when he said in “The Conquest of Gaul”, “The god they (the Gauls) reverence most is Mercury. They have very many images of him, and regard him as inventor of all arts, the god who directs men upon their journeys, and their most powerful helper in trading and getting money”. This identification seems to have been so popular that the native term seems to have been dropped, and the Gauls instead started to refer to the god as Mercury. Iconography began to change too. He still held the staff and bag of money, traditionally depicted with Lugus, but now he was naked and wearing the winged hat and shoes of Mercury.

Lugus
Mercury
Perseus

When we look at Lugh/Lleu in the surviving Irish and Welsh mythology, the basis for each of their stories is the archetypal story known as The King and his Prophesied Death, the best known version of which is the Greek legend of Acrisius and Perseus. And there is a strong connection between the iconography of Lugus, Mercury and Perseus. The point of all this is to show that Lugus is remembered in the night sky as the constellation of Perseus, and this is preserved, in a slightly encrypted form in the story of the of the martyrdom of the Roman Catholic saint Lawrence. Before moving on to this though, I would just like to note the associations between St. Lawrence and the conversion of sites of worship to christianity, due to St. Lawrence praying for the conversion of Rome to christianity.

St. Lawrence’s feast day is the 10th August. Just two days before the peak of the strongest meteor shower of the year, the Perseid meteor shower, also known as “The shining tears of St. Lawrence”. The Perseid meteor shower is so called because the point in the sky at which the meteors appear to come from is the head of the constellation of Perseus, his tears. In Irish tradition the Perseid meteor shower is known as “the games of Lugh” presumably for the same reason, because the meteors emanate from the constellation they knew as Lugh. The 10th August 258AD seems to be an accurate date for the death of St. Lawrence, with modern scholars generally agreeing that he was beheaded. That is not, however, the story that comes down to us of his martyrdom, and betrayes the attempts of the early Catholic church to associate St. Lawrence with the iconography and tradition of Lugus in order to supplant the pagan beliefs and worship.

In the story, St. Lawrance was stripped naked and roasted alive on a gridiron over hot coals. His famous last words being “Turn me over, this side is done.” He is also often depicted carrying a bag of money or treasure which is empty for the rich but full for the poor.

St. Lawrence

This nakedness is reminiscent of the nakedness in the depictions of mercury and later Lugus imagery. It has also been suggested that, remembering that this is a made up story, that the grid he is roast upon is representative of a celestial co-ordinate grid, perhaps with the hot coals representing the stars. This is given a little more credence with the knowledge that star maps were often produced both from a geocentric perspective here on earth, and also from “gods eye view”, allowing for a constellation to be “turned over”.

Next, consider St. Lawrence’s bag of money that was empty for the rich but full for the poor. Not only do we have all the european iconography showing Lugus with his bag of money, but also in Irish mythology Lugh came to own the crane bag that was said to be empty at low tide, and full when the sea was in. Unlike Lugus, Lawrence and Mercury, Perseus’ bag known as the Kybisis carried the head of Medusa. In the constellation Perseus, this is represented as the sub-constellation Caput Medusae or the head of Medusa. The left eye of the head of Medusa is the star Algol or the demon star. The interesting thing about Algol is that it is an eclipsing binary star system. Every couple of days or so, the smaller star in the system passes in front of the larger star, and from the perspective of Earth the “star” appears to fluctuate by a full magnitude of brightness. Is should be pretty clear that the fluctuation nature of this star in Perseus’ bag, represents the fluctuating nature of the bags of Lugh and St. Lawrence.

St Lawrence is the third member of the trinity of principal Catholic saints Peter, Paul and Lawrence. In his writings, Lucan identified an important Celtic trinity as Teutatis, Taranis and Esus. Many scholars equate Esus and Lugus as the same deity, and it is possible that this could be the the triplicate Lugoves. The important point is that both Lugus and Lawrence have been seen as members of a triplicate. Another minor point is that Lawrence is credited as the saviour of the original Holy Grail. The wine bearing cup used by Christ at the last supper, and symbolised in the rite of the Holy Eucharist. This is reminiscent of the Chalice we see in the iconography of Lugus/Mercury and Rosmerta on the continent, connecting Lugh with the goddess of sovereignty.

There is even more evidence for this link between St. Lawrence and Lugus/Lleu/Lugh/Mercury/ Perseus, not to mention the obvious similarities in the names, but I feel I have shown adequately that St. Lawrence inherited much of the pagan Lugus tradition.

When we consider this in light of the fact that the original chapel in Blidworth, remains of which can still be seen in the churchyard today, was dedicated to St. Lawrence, and also the fact that St. Lawrence was seen as a converter. Well, then I feel there is just as strong an argument for the presence of Lugus in Blidworth as there is for Briganti. Could the shrine that once stood where the churchyard now is have been dedicated to Lugus?

Has Briganti been usurped in Blidworth then?

Not at all. In fact I feel that the proposal for a presence of Lugus in the landscape strengthens the argument for Briganti in a number of ways.

In my article the ancient ritual landscape of mansfield, I discussed the solar alignments of the Blidworth Druidstone, specifically with the Samhain sunrise and Beltane sunset. What I failed to make clear is that a Samhain sunrise alignment is exactly the same as a Imbolc sunrise alignment. Likewise, a Beltane sunset alignment is exactly the same as Lughnasadh sunset alignment. This of course means that the alignment I discussed in that article between Hamilton Hill, the Druidstone, the churchyard and Oxcamp is not only a Beltane sunset/Samhain sunrise alignment, but it is also a Imbolc sunset/Lughnasadh sunrise alignment. Imbolc being the festival associated with Briganti, and Lughnasadh the festival associated with Lugus.

This shows that both Lugh and Briganti are honoured and remembered in the landscape of Blidworth, along the same solar alignment and remembered in the place names and rituals too. For me this further reinforces Brigianti as the Goddess of Sovereignty, the Goddess of Blidworth.

The Gods of Mansfield

The search for the Gods and Goddesses of my local landscape has been a deep journey of discovery that remains on-going. In this blog post I would like to share with you what I have discovered so far, and the conclusions and speculations I have come up with in order to form a coherent narrative in my own mind.

The gods of this land I am searching for are the original deities that our Bythonic/Celtic ancestors who lived in this area worshiped. It is often said that we know very little about Celtic religion, but it is not really true. There are a lot of gaps yes, but over the years researchers have been able to paint a pretty comprehensive picture of what the Celts believed.

The area in question – Mansfield and its surrounding area -formed part of the border lands between the tribes of the Coreltauvi to the south and the Brigantes to the north. We do not know exactly where the boarder was. Some have suggested that the River Trent formed the boundary between these two tribes. Others believe it was the Meden valley, with its natural boundaries that were further fortified by the Romans after their invasion. We know the Romans faced very little if any resistance from the Coreltauvi. We also know that the Romans described the Brigantes as “war like”. It is often assumed that the Coreltauvi welcomed the Romans as protection from their northern neighbors. It could be however, that it was the Romans and not the Corieltauvi who thought the Brigantes were “war like”, due simply to the number of Brigantes uprisings during the occupation.

I feel there are a few issues with some of what we think we know about the area at this time. For a start I don’t believe that there was a static boarder between the Coreltauvi and the Brigantes. It is very likely that it fluctuated many times over the years. Not just because the Romans pushed the Brigantes back, as evidenced by the roman fortifications and marching camps in the area.  But also, simply because this area is just so far away from the administrative “capitals” of either territory.It is also theorized that both the Coreltauvi and especially the Brigantes were both made up of other smaller local tribes. I suspect then that the people living in this area, may have affiliated with either of the larger tribes, and allegiances may have shifted many times over time. It is also worth noting that the area was largely populated by small farms. It was not the thickly covered woodland that many people believe. The names Mansfield and Ashfield indicate to us cleared areas in the forest that were used for farming. There was certainly enough agricultural land in the area that the Roman Villa at Northfield, Pleasley Vale was constructed, and was likely used to coordinate the local food production and delivery of supplies to the Roman armies pressing north. In addition, I feel that the lack of pre-Roman fortifications in the area is indicative of a land at peace. Recent discoveries north of Hadrian’s wall have also forced us to question the “war like Scotts”. Many settlements have now been found that have no defenses at all. This indicates that people had lived in peace for generations, and had absolutely no fear of being attached. I believe the same was true in the Mansfield area at one time.

We are now beginning to formulate a picture of our Mansfield ancestors. Living in small villages dotted around what was to become known as Sherwood Forest. Small clearings are remembered in the post-fix *-ly (Celtic for clearing)as in Pleasly, and larger clearings for agricultural land became known as fields (Mansfield and Ashfield). They lived in the borderlands between two major tribes, but were probably more concerned with local day to day living than big tribal affiliations. Their language, Brythonic, survives in many local place names and is very close to modern North Welsh.

We also know that rivers were very important to our Brythonic ancestors. Both as sources of water, and as a means of traveling large distances.  But rivers, wells,lakes and springs all held a much deeper spiritual meaning too, and were often associated with Goddesses. In fact, it was not just bodies of water. Our ancestors saw everything as alive and full of spirit. Animated. Trees, stones, the sky, Mountains…Each had their own spirits, their own personalities.  They were in this way Animists, seeing everything as alive. These spirits were sometimes seen as local gods, and the people developed relationships with them. But there were also less local, pan-Celtic gods. Gods recognized by people from all across the lands. In this way they were polytheists .Believers in many gods just like the Romans, Greeks and other Pagan religions of Europe that developed from the same Indo-European root culture.

We do not have much in the way of primary material from which to learn of the ancient British gods. After the roman invasion, the religion changed significantly and many carvings, statues and other representations of the gods were created and in most instances Romanised. Some of the names and iconography come down to us from this time, but it is important to understand that they are Romano-British not Celtic/Brythonic. Further, the stories that survive in the Irish and Welsh medieval literature were all recorded long after the Roman invasion.

Despite the questions that we have around the validity of the source material it is all we have. And so it is from here that any investigation of the Gods of Mansfield must begin.

The welsh mythology is the obvious first place to start, given that the Brythonic people who lived in this area were ultimately pushed westwards and are survived by the north welsh. The majority of the Welsh mythology comes from the Mabinogion, and largely concerns the antagonism between the houses of Dôn and Lir. The house of Dôn is also known as the children of Dôn, and is the equivalent of the Tuatha De Danann from Irish mythology.

While there is conflicting evidence around the supposed genealogy of the gods and heroes recorded in these tales, here is the generally accepted family tree of the characters from the Mabinogion.

And here is the equivalent Irish Pantheon

Before moving on, I just want to highlight a few things here. First, in both Welsh and Irish Dôn/Danu is the head of the pantheon of the gods, whereas the House of Lir/Fomorians are the antagonists that take on a similar role to the titans of Greek mythology, in that they seem to represent an older, earlier pantheon of gods. Secondly, the absence of Brigit, an extremely important deity from the welsh pantheon is rather noticeable. We will come back to the Irish and welsh pantheons in a moment, but for now let’s return to Mansfield.

With the importance of rivers to our ancestors established, I would first like to examine the rivers around Mansfield (actually around Sutton). There are three main rivers that rise in the area. The first is the Idle that rises on the Ashland estate in Sutton-In-Ashfield, once known as the Roods, or Sutton on the Roods. The next a little to the North of the Idle is the Meden. The Meden rises in what is now Brierly Forest Park in Huthwaite, and the area known as Wood End. And Last there is the Maun, which rises in the landscape around Hamilton Hill. There are other rivers that feed into these, most notably Rainworth Waters and the River Poulter. Both of these are considered tributaries to the Maun. Rainworth Water has its source In Harlow/Thieveswood, and the Poulter rises near Scarcliffe just to the west of Shirebrook.  The point here is that the sources for all three of these rivers are all very close together, and they are here, in our landscape.

The source of the river Idle is contentious.  Wikipedia states that the Idle is formed with the confluence of the Meden and Maun at Markham Moor, but this is not true. As stated above, the Idle rises in Sutton-In-Ashfield and fills the boating lake on Sutton Lawn before joining the Maun to fill Kings Mill Reservoir.  You can follow the Idle from its source until it disappears underground at spring road. It is said the river used to flow through the basement of what is now B&J Carpets at the bottom of the hill. You can briefly see the river again in the car park between Asda and Wilco’s. It is from the River Idle, that the Idlewells shopping centre takes its name. Once the Maun leaves the Reservoir, it makes its way east until it meets with the Meden at Markham Moor to once again becomes the Idle. The Idle then continues on to empty into the Trent…….. But is was not always this way……… Before the river was diverted in the 1600s, the Idle continued north until it joined the River Don…..Yes Don. A river named after the same goddess who is mother to the Welsh pantheon of gods, and that is situated well within Brigantes territory.

As an aside it is interesting to note at this point the association between Llyr and the River Soar south of Nottingham and well within Coreltauvi territory. There are stories to suggest Llyr (King Lear) was buried under the river Soar. It is almost as though the Brigantes and Coreltauvi are associated with the two families described in the Mabinogion.

There have been a number of theorized organisational structures that have been proposed for the “Celtic” pantheons. Traditionally the main theory was the tripartite Dumezilian system which divides the gods into three categories. Warriors, craftsmen and agriculturalists. This system however has often come in for criticism. In his 1994 book “The Gods of the Celts and the Indo-Europeans” Garrett Olmsted expanded upon the tripartite system, but reinterpreted the functions as gods of the upper, middle and lower realms. This is seen easily in the Norse mythologies with Asgard, Midgard and Niflheim as Upper, Middle and Lower Realm and in the Vedic System which says that 11 gods dwell in the heavens, 11 on earth and 11 in the water. Or in druidic terms, Land Sea and Sky.

Over four hundred Celtic deity names have come down to us. Most in the form of inscriptions from the Romans who generally associated the Celtic deity to a Roman one. Mars for example is mentioned along side over fifty other god names. This is not surprising at all. If we look at other Indo-European pantheons we find that most gods have numerous local and functional names and bynames.  Briganti for instance means “the High one” or “the exalted pure one”. It is not really a name, but a title. And the same is true of many of the names of Celtic gods and goddesses that have come down to us. They are titles rather than names that most likely describe their local function. As such we can identify the following major functions of the gods.

  • Sky farther and Earth Mother
  • Ruler of the Lower realm and his consort
  • Rulers of the Upper realm (day and night)
  • Youthful champion
  • Goddesses of the upper, lower and middle realms
  • Trickster god
  • Sovereignty goddess
  • God of trees and fruit
  • Goddess of war
  • God of Oratory
  • Goddess of place
  • Spring / water spirits
  • Wood spirits
  • Hooded ones.

What we have then is a few starting points with which to begin our investigations into the gods of Mansfield. Let’s look again at the three local rivers.

The Idle

As we determined above, the Idle is split into two parts.The first from it’s source on the Ashland estate to where it joins the Maun the other side of Sutton Lawn next to the A38. This is the lesser known part of the Idle. And secondly, several miles to the north east from where the Maun and Meden meet at Markham Moor to where it now empties into the Trent at West Stokwith. During the first part of the Idle, the river is little more that a trickle, but the second better known part of the Idle is a much more substantial river.

The origins of the name are uncertain. It could take its name from the old English Idel, which like today means slow and lazy. i.e. the slow lazy river. This would fit the infant Idle we find in Sutton, but not the better-known adult Idle further up river. Alternatively, the name could come from the Brythonic Isole, Idol(a) meaning isolated or remote.

From what I have learned of the Idle, it could be considered a Mother of the Maun. And given the two different natures that can be associated with it (the slow tickle of the first part, compared to the fast flowing river of the second part), I find it a mysterious river that is difficult to pin down.

Maun

The Maun is a reasonably well-known river, visible in many places as it passes through the town of Mansfield. It takes its name, as does Mansfield, from Hamilton Hill which in ancient times was known as Mam. Just like Mam Tor in Derbyshire, here mam means mother, hill or breast.

The Maun also has its main tributaries or sources around Hamilton Hill, which bears all the hall marks of a Neolithic long barrow, and has a circular mound on top that could very well once have been a shrine. It also has a number of solar alignments with other important markers in the nearby landscape. For more information on this  subject see my post the ancient ritual landscape of Mansfield

Meden

We are not really sure of the entomology of the Meden. Historical records/maps sometimes mark it as the river Mayden which is an alternative spelling of Maiden. It could also mean “meadow stream”.

You may have just noticed that one of these rivers may have associations to the concept of “mother”, and another with the concept of “maiden”. It would be very easy at this point to start to draw associations between the Idle and a “crone” concept and construct an entire maiden-mother-crone link to the local rivers. Further observing that they all fed into the Don, or the great mother goddess. The idle is ultimately the biggest of the three rivers. And both the first and last in the chain. Could this be a maiden-mother-crone triple goddess? Daughters of Dôn? The answer is no I am afraid. Not entirely. There is no evidence of a historical Celtic maiden-mother-crone triple goddess. The concept is entirely the invention of Robert Graves and others that built on his work. While it is true that Robert Graves focused on other triplicates too, this particular maiden-mother-crone triple goddess that has become a big part of Wicca has no basis in British history as far as we know. The closest we have are some groupings of Greek and Roman Goddesses.

Yet it is true that triple deities did make up an important part of the world view of the Ancient Britons. And there are just as many triple gods as triple goddesses. In fact, Brigit (Briganti) was a triple goddess in the Irish mythology. Three sisters, children of the Dagda and Danu, the goddesses of Poetry, Smithing and healing.  Danu’s Welsh equivalent is Don, but her only daughter mentioned in the stories is Arianrhod who’s Irish equivalent is Eithne. But this doesn’t mean that Briganti is not remembered in wales. In particular a river on Anglesey (the sacred Isle of Môn) called the Braint is named after Brigit/Briganti, and there is a fair amount of lore around St Ffraid (welsh for Bridget).

Discovering this pantheon of Mansfield is as much a personal journey influenced by my other avenues of exploration as it is an intellectual historical study. Sometimes in order to get to something concrete, I have to choose where to make my own speculative, intuitive conclusion. I do not feel there is anything wrong with that so long as it is honest. What I would not want to do is dress up my own speculations as historical fact for others to follow.

Sky Farther and Earth Mother

The gods are our ancestors. Real or imagined, it doesn’t really matter. As part of this research into  our local area, and I did some genealogical research too and discovered Beli Mwar, the farther of the Welsh Pantheon in my family tree. It is for this reason, and the fact that our local rivers are connected to Dôn that Beli Mwar (Belinos) occupies the role of “Sky farther” in MY Mansfield orientated Pantheon. If that works for you too, then that is good, but I want you to understand how I arrived at this point.

The partner of the Sky farther is the Earth Mother, Dôn as it is in the Welsh pantheon simply because the three rivers originally fed into the Don. Across Indo-European cultures the Earth Mother is usually along with the sky farther the parents of the pantheon. Some mythologies have the earth mother as a separate entity such as the Greek Gaia, and the Celtic Danu/Dôn while others have her merged with the goddess of the Upper Realm. In many Indo-European cultures she is usually also the mother of three rivers or springs which are the goddesses of the upper, middle and Lower Realms.

Goddess of Sovereignty 

Briganti is our Goddess of sovereignty. The Queen of land, and a representative of nature and it’s potential abundance. In days past kings would symbolically marry the goddess of the land in order to ensure the land and the people were united as one. This is the most obvious identification, as it is directly given to us by the fact that we know that the patron goddess of the Brigantes who lived in these lands was Briganti. Meaning it is very likely that Briganti was worshiped as a sovereignty goddess in this area.

There is a lot of cross over between the sovereignty goddess and the earth mother. Both are symbols of the land, fertility and motherhood. But to my mind the earth mother is more primordial, the mother of the Earth itself, and the mother of the gods. By contrast the goddess of sovereignty is intimately connected to the specific area, the kingdom and its people. Our mother.

Briganti’s Healing aspect is associated with water, and it is tempting to think of water in terms of simply the sea. However, about five miles west of Sutton-In-Ashfiled is Morton where there is a plaque stating that Morton is as far from the sea as you can possibly get in the UK. So, I would argue that any water aspect in this part of the country has little to do with the sea, and much more to do with lakes, rivers, wells and springs. Remember that Briganti was the patron of healers too, and water, and especially springs and wells are often seen to have healing powers. With quite a number of “Ladywells” in the area, it is very likely these were dedicated to a goddess, and quite probable that many of them would have been dedicated to specifically Briganti.

The rivers again

As our goddess of sovereignty, and mother of this land, I feel Briganti is connected to the river Maun. The Maun takes its name from the mam, which means mother, and Briganti is the mother of the tribe. Furthermore, I feel Hamilton Hill is her shrine as the place where the Maun rises.  

As previously stated, Meden could be an alternative spelling of Maiden. But it could also mean Meadow. There is one very obvious character from Welsh mythology who embodies both of these concepts in a very literal way. Blodeued was created by Gwydion (Dôn’s son) and Math (Dôn’s Brother) as a wife for Lleu (Dôn’s Grandson and Gwydion’s nephew/son). They created her from flowers and her name means flower face. I feel like she is a perfect fit for what I currently know of the river Meden.

This leaves us with the Idle, which at this time, I feel unable to associate with any particular deity. I will of course continue to research in this area, and I hope that eventually I can come to know this river better, and perhaps infer a potential link to a Goddess. 

If I am going to draw so heavily on the Welsh pantheon for my understanding of the local gods, I feel at this point I can start to fill out some of the other major deity functions previously listed. Some of them are very easy such as identification of Gwydion as the trickster. For some of the other roles there are multiple candidates.

Youthful Champion / Upper realm controllers 

The first obvious one is Lleu, as the Youthful Champion. Lleu is the son of Arianrhod, who during a test of her virginity, Math made her step over his wand which caused her to immediately give birth to Dylan and Lleu (divine twins). In the stories Lleu becomes a great hero, and fits the youthful champion archetype very well. Lleu is equated with the Irish Lugh, he is associated with skill, crafts and the arts, as well as with oaths, truth and the law – and therefore with rightful kingship. Lugh is also associated with the harvest festival of Lughnasadh, which is named after him.  As Lugh’s name is probably derived from a Celtic root *lug with the meaning “burn, enflame”, we can possibly see the daytime Upper realm controller in him. Dylan his twin immediately made for the sea upon the baptismal waters touching him. His name means  “The wave that floods” or “The tide that returns”. Either way he is connected with the sea and with waves. Waves of course caused by the moon. So Dylan as a sea, or rather wave god and as a twin of Lleu, with him could be the daytime and night time controllers. 

Lord and Lady of the lower realm

In the Mabinogion, we are given the name of the ruler of the underworld (Annwn) as Arawn, and we are told that Pwyll trades places with Arawn in order to defeat Arawn’s rival Hafgan (summer song). During the course of the story we are told that Pwyll did not lay with Arawn’s wife, yet we are never told her name. 

Gwyn ap Nudd is also introduced as a ruler of Annwn, a psychopomp who guides the souls of the dead to Annwn. In the stories he competed with Gwythyr ap Greidawl for the love of Creiddylad, abducting her to Annwn. 
Gwythyr tried to rescue her and failed with Gwyn taking some of his lords hostage. King Arthur then steps in and commands them to do battle every Beltane until judgment day in competition for the hand of Creiddylad. Gwyn is also intimately connected with Samhain, when he rides out from Annwn with the wild hunt to gather the souls of the dead. It has been suggested that it is at this time that Gwyn takes Creiddylad to Annwn, and at Beltane Gwythyr wins her back. This is the basis for the modern Oak and Holly king myth where Gwyn is the king of winter (holly) and Gwythyr the king of summer (oak). It would also make Creiddylad an Earth or Sovereignty goddess, in that when she is in Annwn, winter comes to the land. 

Alternatively, the lower realm Goddess in Indo-European studies often seems linked to Animals and especially Cows. Proposed names translate as “white cow”, “mother” or “great queen”.  Additionally, she seems to be one of the aspects of the Goddess of Sovereignty.  In Irish mythology Brigid (Briganti) as a baby drank the milk of a sacred cow that came from the other world, and cattle are considered sacred to Brigid along with many other animals. With these associations, the lack of the naming of Arawn’s consort, and the fact his rivals name translates as summer song, I feel there may be a case for a lost story around 
Arawn and Hafgan’s competition over the Goddess of Sovereignty who in the case of the people of this land happens to be Briganti. This would make Arawn and 
Briganti the rulers of the lower realm. 

Goddess of the Upper realm

Like the lower realm goddess seems to be associated with cows, the upper realm goddess seems to be associated with horses. In Welsh mythology this is Rhiannon (Rigantona) meaning great or divine queen. In Welsh mythology she comes from Annwn to claim Pwyll as her husband. The same Pwyll who traded places with 
Arawn. Again, she seems to represent the 
Sovereignty of the land to some degree. Especially when she returns to Annwn and the land becomes wild for a time, she is able to eventually return with the aid of Manawydan’s magic. Horses have been sacred to the British for a very long time, and while we may not be able to see these associations in our immediate landscape, we only have to look at the Uffington while horse and to know that it is best viewed from the sky to see the relationship between horses and the upper realm. 

Goddess of the middle realm

The goddess of the middle realm seems to have associations with motherhood, intoxication (by being in her presence?) and of course sovereignty.  I once again place Briganti in this position due to her associations with motherhood and the River Maun, and the fact she is the patron deity of this land. Briganti has many associations, including smithing (the combining of earth, air, fire and water to create tools and weapons) and healing (the combining of plants, fungi and herbs to create desired states withing humans). Like healing, intoxication is simply the mixing or ingestion of certain combinations of plants and fungi. That might mean the combination of wheat barley and yeast, or fruit juice and yeast, or it could be the ingestion of mushrooms. Regardless, all these things come from the earth. The middle realm goddess also has water associations, and again, we can see this in Briganti.  The goddess of the Middle Realm (or a human representative) is the goddess of the land that the King must marry, in order for his authority to be ratified. 

Goddess of war

There is a supposed Welsh Goddess of war/battles/fate,though there is little evidence. Aeronwen had a shrine by the river Dee. The site translates as “black water” or “water of the goddess” and it is alleged that humans were sacrificed by drowning them there. The name Aeronwen however translates as “bright goddess”. She has also been linked to Agrona, a supposed goddess of the river Ayr in Scotland whose name translates to “carnage”. The name was first proposed by William J. Watson in 1922, but it could be part of a Scottish nationalist attempt to place the poems of Taliesin in Scotland. In Irish Mythology the Morrígan (a triple Goddess) is closely associated with battles and war. There have been attempts to link the Morrígans to Morgan La Fay from Arthurian legends, but this is a mistake. Arthurian legends come from wales and Morgans or Mari-Morgans in Welsh and Breton are water spirits that drown men, luring them to their death with their beauty much like many other mermaid tales. During the Roman period a number of shrines were dedicated to gods associated with Mars,and thus we have many Celtic war gods, but Welsh/British goddesses of war seem to be more difficult to identify. According to the roman historian Dio Cassius, Boudica invoked the goddess Andraste/Andrasta in her rebellion against Rome.She may be the same as the goddess Andate, who Dio Cassius describes as “their name for Victory”, i.e. the goddess Victoria.

For my Mansfield pantheon though, I do not feel that any of these have enough association to anything in the local area. None of the goddesses so far mentioned have any link to the area like Briganti and Dôn (and thus her children) do. One last element to consider is a shrine near Bingham to the goddess Nantosuelta. Because of her crow/raven associations Nantosuelta has often been linked to the Morrígan, and it has been suggested that Nantosuelta may represent the Morrígan after some sort of change. Her name however seems to translate to “sun warmed valley” or “she of the wandering stream”. The iconography depicts her with a crow holding a house on a pole, pouring water or with a pot or beehive.  In the case of the Bingham shrine she is holding a bowl of apples. All of these seem to suggest a goddess of the land, or abundance and fertility with a possible role as a psychopomp. All in all, I have not felt able to pin down a goddess for this role in my local pantheon, and if I am honest, I do not feel a very war like person. If I have to choose, then for now I would feel most comfortable selecting Andraste.

God of Oratory

In Irish Mythology, Ogma is obvious god of Oratory as the inventor of the Ogham alphabet. There is debate as to whether the Gaulish deity Ogmios is the same character, who is depicted with followers who’s ears are chained to his tong. He is a weaver of words and a patron of poets. Again there is no direct parallel in Welsh mythology, but there was a pot found in Richborough bearing the name Ogmia suggesting a British presence. Alternatively, we could turn to the other gods who are patrons of poets such as Gwydion.

Goddess of Place, 
Wood Spirits and Water Spirits

In many cases I would turn imediatly to Briganti for this role, however, I feel that the Goddess of place is a much more local intimate relationship, and there is of course no one single goddess that can fulfill this role for all places. One example that we do have is the Arnemetia, the local goddess of the springs in Buxton. The name can be understood as “she who dwells beside the sacred grove”. Her name contains the name of another well known Goddess, Nemetona, or “she of the scared grove”.  Nemetona is an obvious candidate for “wood spirit”, but I think of wood spirits as smaller entities, perhaps inhabiting one single tree. In Greek we have Dryads that fulfill this role. I have not been able to find a equivalent Celtic term, but I have no doubt one existed. Trees were of upmost importance to the Celts, and their Animism will no doubt have recognized many different types of tree, wood and even mountain spirits.  

The Hooded Ones

As an Indo-European Architype, the Hooded Ones are of course all the remaining spirits, but in particular, the ancestors and the spirits of place. 

In Conclusion

I would like to stress one last time, that none of this can be proven as historical fact. I have tried to provide what evidence and reasoning I can, and I would of course be very interested to be challenged on anything I have written here in order to further my understanding. This is a subject I will continue to pursue, and may write about again. In closing then, here are the Indo-European Architype roles and the deities I feel fulfill them in our lands. 

  • Sky farther and Earth Mother (Belinos and 
    Dôn)
  • Ruler of the Lower realm and his consort (Arwan and Briganti)
  • Rulers of the Upper realm (Lug and Dylan)
  • Youthful champion (Lug)
  • Goddesses of the upper, lower and middle realms ( Rigantona, Briganti and Briganti again)
  • Trickster god (Gwydion)
  • Sovereignty goddess (Briganti)
  • Goddess of war (Andraste)
  • God of Oratory (Gwydion)

What I really like about this as it currently stands is that it is actually very simple with only nine deities covering the fourteen roles. I am sure it will develop further, but for me it works for now. 

Connecting to the ancestors. A personal Journey

For some of us, growing up in contemporary western culture has left us distinctly disconnected from our ancestors. The reasons are many. We could talk about the industrial revolution or the christianisation of Britain as reasons for this among many other factors, but it doesn’t change the fact that we experience a disconnection. We no longer tell the old stories or remember the old days.

Growing up in a west Nottinghamshire mining village, I felt just about as disconnected as is possible. I felt I was not from the village, as I was aware I was born in Birmingham, and my family moved to the village when I was small. My mother’s family had long lived in the area, but in my mind, I was from Birmingham. My farther, was not a miner and I was not really into football, which compounded the feeling of isolation and that I was different somehow to the other kids. The magical realms of Stonehenge and other monuments and links to our past seemed half a world away, and I felt stuck in a corner of the country no one even seemed to know existed.

The reality of course was somewhat different.

One way that has helped me peruse this ancestral connection is this; About a year ago my parents and I all had our DNA tested and started work on a family tree. More about the tree in a moment, but first the DNA is quite interesting, in that it confirms what I always suspected. Some interesting things to note about ancestry DNA testing before I get to deep into this, is that it is an autosomal DNA test. Autosomal DNA is mixed together in each generation, with a child getting half of his or her autosomal DNA from one parent and half from the other. That means with each generation you go back, the portion of your DNA from a particular ancestor drops by about half. So about 1/4 of your autosomal DNA comes from each of your grandparents, about 1/8 from each of your great-grandparents, and so on. By the time that figure drops to 1/32 or 1/64, it becomes difficult to accurately connect people, so autosomal DNA is only useful for five generations or so (sometimes as many as ten, but usually less).

Going back five generations takes me to ancestors born around the 1840s-1850s, whereas 10 generations is as far back as 1670s-1690s. The Roman invasion of Britain was around 63 generations ago, so ancestry doesn’t give you the depth of history you might hope for. Having said that, there is still much to be gained from looking at the data, and a little understanding of British history.

My father’s DNA estimate shows that he 91% British, with a little Scandinavia thrown in for good measure. Ancestry look at around 700,000 locations in your DNA for specific DNA markers that can be connected to geographic locations. Because populations that live in the same area over generations interbreed, they tend to share DNA makers. So a specific set of markers is a good indication as to where your ancestors lived going back many generations.

What this 91% British means is that it is very likely that My father’s DNA has been in the UK for a very long time. Much longer than the 5 or so generations back that ancestry are able to test, because even at that far back enough DNA markers were found to give such a high percentage chance of being from this area.

It is no surprise to find a small amount of Irish DNA in my father’s family, mainly due to the fact that people have traveled among the British islands for centuries. Nor is it any surprise to find Norwegian DNA in anyone from the UK, given the many Norwegian Viking raids, although interesting that there appears to be no Danish DNA. It is disputed whether the Normans were of Danish or Norwegian origin before they invaded Britain.

Another interesting point is that the test has identified migrations from the south of England and from Wales to the West Midlands where my farther is from. This has always been suspected as the family name is Jones, a well-known Welsh name and my father’s mother’s maiden name was Lloyd, another common welsh name.

My mother’s DNA estimate doesn’t have quite so much variety. With 96% British and the remaining 4% Irish, my mother is about as British as you can get. Her family have lived in the midlands for a very long time, and the test has suggested that there have been migrations in the family from the North of England and from Wales to the East Midlands.

With this information alone, I have a pretty clear picture of what my DNA estimate will look like, but for completeness sake, lets us have a quick look

Firstly, the percentage I have for Irish is higher than either of my parents (farther: 6%, mother:4%). I can only presume that some of these genes are recessive, and do not surface in every generation. Suggesting that either of my parents or both have more of the Ireland/Scotland/Wales DNA than the tested DNA markers suggest.

Next there is the 6% Swedish which seems to be different from the 3% Norwegian that my farther has. Again, I can only assume this must be the result of recessive genes, and the fact that both me and my farther have so few of the DNA markers from this region means that I have ended up with a slightly different set of markers to my farther.  The headline I guess is that there is definitely a little Viking ancestry there, though again, no Danish which is a surprise as it was the Danes that made up a big part of the invading Vikings. And also, from this area of the world came the Angles and the Saxons. So, to share no genetic markers with that part of the world is very interesting.

The final thing of note here is how the data has narrowed down the areas of the UK that I have genetic markers for.

Here I can clearly see the genetic migrations from the North and West and into the Midlands where I currently live. As stated above however, the DNA test is actually reflective of roughly the last 5 generations or so. This means that although I can’t prove my ancestry right back into ancient times is British, the evidence is very strong. Partly because 5 generations ago the industrial revolution was in full swing, and my ancestors would have been moving from rural communities of Northern England and Wales to the new industrial centres of the Midlands. Before the industrial revolution, populations did not move around as much, and the vast majority of ancestors from this time would have lived and worked on the same land their ancestors had before them. With this knowledge I can be confident that my ancestors are in fact the ancient Britons. Confident enough at least that I can accept this in my heart and inform my understanding of who my ancestors might have been, and who I am.

The Family tree.

After having my DNA results, my interest was of course captured and I spent a fair amount of time researching my family tree. I started out by simply talking to my parents, and writing down everything they told me.  I then entered these details into the ancestry site and began trawling through their records.

Now I feel that you can’t be 100% certain all the time on some of the records, and while I tried to remain as accurate as possible, I feel that some mistakes may have crept in. You also have to accept that genealogical records have a certain margin of error anyway. It is very common for the wrong farther to be recorded on birth certificates for example. And aristocratic families had a habit of inventing genealogies in order to prove the antiquity of their lines. Even still, I do not feel it invalidated for me what I got out of doing my family tree.

My mothers’ line was much more interesting and easier to follow back, helped along by the fact that other distant family members had filled in some of the blanks for me. So, I was able to rely on the previous work of other people to build out an awful lot of the tree.

Early on I noticed just how local to my current home my mother’s family had been for so long.

Going back to my great-great-grandparents, I have only been able to identify 14 out of 16 of them, but I can start to see the migration I saw in the DNA results. On my father’s side, of the 6 ancestors I have identified, 3 of them were all born in the Birmingham area. The remaining 3 came from Tottenham, St Pancreas and Gloucester.  The surnames are also interesting at this point, with the names Jones, Lloyd and Lewis. Jones and Lloyd are definitely of Welsh origin. Lewis could originate from a number of different sources, but one possible source is the anglicisation of Llywelyn into Lewis. There is a recorded example of this in the 1540s in Glamorgan.

My paternal line from which I get my surname Jones, I have only been able to extend 3 more generations before I come to an abrupt end with a Maurice Tomas Jones who was born in North Wales some time around 1770.

There were also a few notable lines that were very interesting to follow back. One of my great-great-grandparents’ names was Mountford, and this name allowed me to go back rather a long way, ultimately running out of information with birth of Thomas Peniston in Cornwall around 1066. A 34th Great Grandfather. I was not able to follow back any part of my father’s line further than that.

On my mother’s side I quickly realized just how local to where I live now my mothers family have been. Of the eight great-great-grandparents, 5 were from Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, all within about 10 miles of each other bar one who was from just the other side of Derby. The remaining three were from Lancashire, Staffordshire and Yorkshire.  Between the years of 1730 to around 1850,there were 6 generations of families going by the names Dove, Betts, Bridget, Barratt, Berry, Revel and Fell who all lived in Sutton-in-Ashfield where I live now. Back then of course, Sutton was a much smaller place than it is today. The area in which I now live would have been known as Sutton Woodhouse back then. I also found a family around the same time living in Pleasley Hill, where I lived for ten years going by the name Humphrey/Homfray.

There are other place names that keep coming up. As I stated in my first article, I grew up in Rainworth and Blidworth, so it is good to know some of my ancestors, the Flints were living there in the late 1700s. Then there are people from Eastwood where I now work. Many more from Mansfield, Clowne, Chesterfield, Bolsover, Nottingham, Hucknall. All the places I have spent my life traveling between. When I now drive down a country lane I can’t help but wonder how many of my ancestors traveled this lane before me.

The first really interesting line I found on my mothers side was down my maternal grandmothers ancestry. Fourteen generations ago I find a John Beckwith, who I was easily able to trace as he was a member of the aristocracy and the grand child of Lady C Baskerville. The Baskerville family was very easy to trace back, right the way through the Norman invasion, allowing me to identify William the Conqueror as a first cousin 34x removed. I was even able to follow this back to the Vikings that populated Normandy, ultimately ending with Fornjot “the ancient Giant”, Mythical King of Kvenland (Finland).

It is also down this same line that I find the daughter of the Welsh prince Rees ap Griffiths, my 30th great-grandfather. Again, being an aristocratic or royal line this is extremely easy to follow back, and I was able to follow the story back, discovering such characters as Old King Coel Hen,King of Northern Britain. He allegedly lived 100 years between, 340-420. This would place him in the vicinity of Hadrian’s wall at the time of the roman withdrawal. I also found several Tudurs/Tewdwrs, who would go on to become the Tudor dynasty of English monarchs. Then, Suddenly as I followed the geneology back further I hit a very interesting name. Afallach ap Lludd ap Beli Mawr.

Now to suddenly find names from the Mabinogion/Welsh mythology in your family tree can be quite a surprise. And I have to point out that, I am aware this is most likely a flight of fantasy. But the fact I have been able to follow my family tree to around 100 BC, and find the Welsh pantheon of gods is very exciting! Beli Mawr as my 67th great-grandfather, LluddLlaw Eraint as my 66th and Afallach as my 65th……….. Go on then, I will bite.

This of course doesn’t quite match the Mabinogion, where Afallachis a son of Beli Mawr not a grandson. But this genealogy would also make Caswallonwho according to history led the British defense against Julius Caesar in 54BCmy 67th great-uncle! In fact, at this point I can pull the entire Welsh pantheon of gods into my family Tree.

Of course, as I stated above this is all fantasy. And with these characters in my family tree I can follow back the supposed genealogies all the way back to the story of Brutus, the fall of Troy and the founding o fBritain. The truth is, I suspect that anyone who spends enough time working through the records of the various genealogy sites will discover much the same thing. As soon as you find an aristocratic family it is pretty likely they will have had some ego stroking genealogical research done at some point and you will be able to find and follow that back to the legendary and mythical kings of old.

In conclusion, it has been an interesting experience digging into where I am from. I have certainly discovered how limited the majority of commercial DNA tests are, and how inaccurate and fanciful genealogical records are. But that is not what I set out to do! My intention was to learn more about my ancestors and I have certainly done that. I have studied histories and places I never would have looked at otherwise. The records I have been able to find regarding the recent past I have no reason to doubt. But the further back you go, the more likely you are to get into mythology. But on another level, we look to these services in order to recapture a sense of ancestry, a sense of belonging to a people and a place. And in that regard these services deliver. It captures for me a sense that my ancestors have been a part of the same lands for millennia. It captures for me a sense that the gods of the land and my ancestors are one in the same.  And most of all, it helps me to feel rooted in the land where I live. That I am a part of it. And it is not just the mythological links that do that. It is seeing the that my ancestors lived and worked and played in all the same places that I do to this today.

Connecting to the Land. The Ancient Ritual Landscape of Mansfield

The tribe of the Corieltauvi covered much of what we now call the East Midlands. A vast territory that today, we do not clearly know the boundaries of. Of all the Iron Age tribes of Briton, the Corieltauvi are one of the ones we know the least about. And what we do know places most of the activity in Lincolnshire and Leicestershire. As a resident of west Nottinghamshire living less that a mile from the Derbyshire border, it is debatable whether where I live would have been part of the territory of the Corieltauvi or the Brigantes. Maps produced to show the boundaries between the Iron Age tribes are not to be taken as 100% accurate and there is a logical argument to say that Trisantona (the river Trent) would have been the border between the two tribes, which is south of me. The truth might lie somewhere in-between, local smaller groups will likely have had relationships with other small groups in their vicinity, regardless of the wider tribal affiliation. We simply cannot know for sure at this time.

Druidry of today teaches us to seek connection with our local landscape and the ancestors of place and of the land. Over the last few years I have sought out whatever information I can find regarding the ancient history of the landscape I grew up in, and now live in. It is a very small corner of the territory of the Corieltauvi and Brigantes, and an even smaller corner of the world. But it is my corner. The corner where I have spent most of my life and continue to develop my druid practice.

My parents moved to the Mansfield area when I was very young from Birmingham, in part to be closer to my Mother’s Family who had lived in the vicinity for generations. As an adult, having had my DNA tested, I appreciate just how rooted in this area my Mother’s family truly are, with a number of lines clearly gravitating around the area I now live in, and off into north Derbyshire. On My Father’s side, I have rather humble north Welsh origins. But what this means to me is that my ancestors genuinely are rooted in the landscape I now live in, which encourages me all the more to learn as much as I can about the history.

I grew up in the villages of Rainworth and Blidworth. They are only a mile apart and the same secondary school encompasses both villages. As a child, I would regularly cycle or walk between the villages as Blidworth had shops and activities Rainworth did not. When I moved out of my parents’ house, I spent just over a decade north of Mansfield in Pleasley, before moving to Sutton-In-Ashfield where I live now.

In this satellite image, you can see the immediate area where I live, and some of the local land marks I will be discussing in this article. The area is situated right in the centre of England, in west Nottinghamshire.

At first, it seems there is little ancient history to be found in the area. Nottinghamshire has been notably neglected on the archeologically front. It doesn’t have the stone circles of Derbyshire, and there we no major Roman settlements. But it is far from true to say there is nothing. Peeling back the surface, and getting past the Robin Hood connections, there is actually a fair amount to discover about the local landscape.

Blidworth

Blidworth is a very old village. It was mentioned in the Dooms Day book compiled after the Norman invasion of 1066.  The church there at the top of the hill in “old Blidworth” dates from at the 10th century and is said to be built on the site of a former pagan shrine to Brigid, the patron Goddess of the Brigantes. It is known that the Romans camped there on the “Rain Water”, the stream now known as Rainworth Water which flows past the north side of the hill on which Blidworth sits.

About a quarter of a mile down the hill is a large standing stone known as the Druid Stone. Historically this stone was known as the “Alter”, and there were other stones nearby too. However, many of them were destroyed with gun powder. The stone is not a good-looking stone, and is said to be a conglomerate stone, like a large block of naturally occurring concrete that was deposited here after the Ice Age. The stone acquired the name Druid Stone during the Victorian era after the fashion of marking any would be pre-historic monument as “druidical remains” on maps. The validity of the stone as representing anything meaningful has therefore been in question by many for a long time. However, I believe this article will once and for all help the stone reclaim its rightful place as an important marker in the Iron and Stone Age ritual landscapes.

Harlow Wood, and Friar Tuck’s well

When I first began practicing druidry, it was Harlow Wood that I gravitated towards. I kind of instinctively chose it. I had walked there on occasion as a child with my parents, but it was not a wood I was overly familiar with. My childhood had been spent in the parts of the wood known as Sherwood Pines that were accessible to the north of Rainworth beyond “The Bogs” and Rainworth Nature reserve, as well as on the paths and roads between Rainworth and Blidworth. Harlow Wood is roughly half way between where I grew up, and where I live now. When I was young it was a short car ride away, or a day out walking with a packed lunch. Although there are other woodlands closer to my home now they are not quite as big, are more heavily used, or simply younger plantations on what used to be coal mines. In truth, I do not know all the reasons why I picked Harlow wood at the time but I did. Over the years since I have performed many rituals there and developed a relationship with the spirit of the place. It was here that I performed my initiation into OBOD, and it is here several years later that I had my true initiation and first experience with a deity. I try to take my dog here as often as I can and perform at least two overnight rituals per year here.

It is among these trees that the stream known as Rainworth Water rises, which after passing Blidworth and filling up “L” Lake at Rainworth, continues and runs along the scrub land known as “The Bogs” outside Rainworth, upon which much of my youth was spent playing and walking our dog with my Mother. Not far away from the Druid Stone at Blidworth, and among the trees of Harlow Wood is Friar Tuck’s well. It is said that Friar Tuck’s well used to be a pagan shrine, and that the priest that attended it took the idols and sacred objects and buried them nearby to protect them from invading Vikings. These treasures have never been found. Later it is said that Friar Tuck of Robin Hood legend attended a Christian shrine here too.

Mansfield, the Maun and Hamilton Hill.

Closer to where I live now, on the border of the parishes of Ashfield, Mansfield and Kirkby, stands Hamilton Hill. It is visible from the entrance of Kings Mill Hospital as you look across Kings Mill reservoir. There is no consensus on the origin of the hill. Some claim it is a natural out crop. Others say it is the spoil from digging the reservoir, and some that it is an iron-age hill fort or burial mound. There is a roughly triangular depression on the top of the hill around two meters deep, and in the centre, is a circular mound around 26 meters at its base, and rising 2 meters so that it is level with the rest of the hill top. A path has developed up the hill leading to the depression.

Despite the lack of consensus regarding its origin, there are a number of factors that I feel give it away as truly ancient. Firstly, it is of a comparable size to other burial mounds found elsewhere in the country and it is also perfectly aligned East and West (equinox alignment). We also know that Roman coins have been found at the base during the construction of the railway in the 1800s, and later the road in the picture. It is believed that Hamilton Hill was once known as “The Mam”, which is Brythonic for “mother”, “breast”, or “hill”. Around the base of the hill rise three of the tributaries that feed the river Maun, so the hill can be considered the source of the Maun. It is from the Mam that the Maun derives its name, and it is from the Maun or Mam that Mansfield derives its name, meaning the field by the Maun or Mam. We know that rivers were an important part of Brythonic/Celtic culture, and so I have no doubt that the Maun would be associated with a river goddess, especially given that it rises around this hill. I suspect that Hamilton Hill may have been a shrine, temple or other ritual site dedicated the goddess of the Maun. But there is also another important overlooked clue.

Oxton Iron age settlement and burial.

Oxton, although very close to Blidworth, is a place I never visited as a child. It lies a little further to the Southeast, but it is not on a major road, or particularly on the way to anywhere. It is a lovely little village that has an excellent firework display each year.

Just outside Oxton is the remains of an Iron age settlement. In this picture you can see Robin Hood Hill, to the left Loath hill which is believed to be a roman fortification. The settlement here is believed to date to 3000-1000 BC.

Back to the Druid Stone

As previously stated there has long been debate over the antiquity of the Druid Stone, and if in fact it had any significance in pre-history at all. The first thing to be understood, is that the druid stone did not stand alone in the landscape. Just the other side of the hedge to the west of the stone is the remains of another equally big stone. The remains can still be seen, and it now has a hawthorn tree growing on it.

When it still stood, it might have looked something like this

There are also other features in the landscape that are important. First there is a natural spring in the field, just to the left from the perspective of the last pictures. Springs, like all rivers were considered sacred in ancient times, so this is another clue as to the nature of this site. Just beyond the spring is a rock which was marked as boulder on old maps. Directly to the East of the stone, 2 fields over there is also the remains of another stone known as the pringle stone.

With a little more knowledge we can now start to look at the evidence that the druid stone is indeed an ancient stone observatory or calendar in the same way that other more famous monuments are.

First here is an image of the Beltane sunrise / Samhain sunset alignment

As you can see, the alignment matches the location of the boulder exactly. This means that if you are stood at the Druid Stone at sunrise on the first of May, you will see the sun rise over the boulder. Or, if you stand at the boulder at sunset on the 31st of October, the sun will set behind the Druid Stone.

Next let us re-introduce the missing stone on the other side of the hedge and consider the equinoxes.

With the inclusion of the missing stone and the equinox alignment, we can see that the two stones would have cast shadows on each other, which is very interesting considering the hole in the Middle of the druid stone. This means that during the sun rise on the spring and autumn equinoxes, the Druid Stone may have cast a shadow on the missing stone, and a beam of light would have shone through the hole in the druid stone illuminating some part of the missing stone or the ground in-between. It is not hard to speculate that this may have illuminated some special feature, in the same way as New Grange in Ireland and other ancient monuments play with the light. Equally, at sunset on the equinoxes, the sun would have set behind the missing stone casting a shadow on the Druid Stone, and that may too have had a hole or some other interplay of the light. It is true however, that the hole in the stone seems better placed to align with the Beltane sunrise / Samhain sunset than the equinoxes. I have been unable to get into the field with the stone to check this properly as it is on private property and surrounded by an electric fence.

But the clincher for me is the Samhain sunrise / Beltane sunset alignment that proves that this is a genuine monument with true alignments. There are no remaining stones in the landscape to mark this alignment, but if you stand at the Druid Stone at sun rise on the 31st of October, you will see the sunrise over the church on top of the hill in Blidworth. The same church that was previously a shrine to Brigid. If this were the only evidence, it might still be easy to dismiss this theory, however, it is not. If we extend this line further East-Southeast just a few miles, we arrive at Robin Hood Hill and the Iron Age Settlement at Oxton. In other words, if you watch the sun rise on the 31st of October from the church yard on top of the hill at Blidworth, the sun will rise over Robin Hood Hill in Oxton.

What is even more interesting is that when we extend the same line to the East-Northeast, we hit Hamilton Hill, and we miss Friar Tuck’s well by only a couple of hundred feet.

So here we have at least five ancient monuments all in a line along the Samhain sunrise / Beltane sunset alignment. I propose that this is no coincidence and confirms both Hamilton Hill and the Druid Stone as genuine ancient monuments that make up part of the wider west Nottinghamshire ritual landscape. And for me personally this is a true revelation. It connects up my landscape in a way I never could have dreamed of. Directly linking the area I grew up with the area I live now, and connecting them directly via the woodland that makes up a big part of my ritual practice.

Naturally, I now want to investigate this a little further, and an initial extension of the line to the East-Northeast passes a number of other hills, including Silver Hill and Hardwick Hall (both places I walk a lot), as well as an intriguing “Ladywell” that I do not know, before eventually hitting Mam Tor near Castleton in Derbyshire. One of the highest peaks with burial mounds and other ancient features. Yet another place I have visited a number of times, camped on and practiced my druidry.

This of course immediately connects back to Hamilton Hill or “The Mam” and Mansfield, truly connecting the local ritual land scape I believe I have just discovered to the wider landscape throughout the country.

I have done a lot of online research and visits to the locations to arrive at this conclusion, and it is an ongoing subject of interest I will no doubt peruse further. Much of the work regarding the alignments of the druid stone with the boulder and the missing stone is the work of the Nottingham Hidden History Team, but they are easy to verify using http://suncalc.net . The connection of the Druid Stone to other features in the landscape is my own work, and I have not been able to find a reference to the alignment of these particular features anywhere else. I am hopeful that others might find this interesting, and have further insights to contribute, so that we can begin to build a better picture of the history of west Nottinghamshire.

Sources and references:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brigantes

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corieltauvi

http://www.kings-mill.co.uk/hamilton.html

https://www.scribd.com/document/307331957/Hamilton-Hill-Nottinghamshire

https://myoxton.org/about-oxton/oxton-history/oxton-archaeology/

https://nottinghamhiddenhistoryteam.wordpress.com/2013/01/28/the-three-stones-of-nottinghamshire/

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