Derwydd ym maes onnen

Discovering Druidry in and around Ashfield

Month: December 2018

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.


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


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 
  • 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 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 . 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: