These two villages have been discussed a number of times on this blog. Today, I would like to propose some new theories on the origins of their names. I believe it is entirely possible that both of these villages have their origins in the pre-Roman Brythonic speaking culture that occupied this corner of the territory of the Corieltauvi tribe.
In a recent post, I put forward the theory that Rainworth got it’s name after the death of King Raedwald’s son Raegenhere. The theory goes that after the battle, Raedwald renamed a ford that crossed the river Idle (where Rainworth water now passes under the road next to the bus stop) to Raegenhere’s wrath, which ultimately mutated to Rainworth as the village grew up around the ford in the river. If this is true, then it places the Battle of the Idle on the land known locally as “the bogs” and Rainworth Heath/Nature reserve.
key point in this history that I would like to pick up on here is
that Rainworth was nothing more than a ford where the river Idle (now
Rainworth water) crossed the Roman road running from Mansfield to
Before the Roman invasion and until the invasion of the Anglo-Saxons, the tribal Britons spoke the Brythonic language. As the Anglo-Saxons invaded, they gradually pushed the Britons further and further west until they had been pushed into Wales. And it is here that they remain until this day, with the Welsh language developing from the Brythonic that was once spoken all across the lands. Brythonic/Welsh is effectively the native language of the British Isles, not English.
The study of place name entomology is also riddled with opinion and outdated information. With many place names assuming either no meaning, or that they are named after a presumed historical person. Blidworth is an example of this very lazy entomology, where the name is assumed to mean “the enclosure/land of Blitha”, where Blitha is a presumed historical person that there is absolutely no evidence to suggest ever existed. We see these assumed people in many place names, but there is no evidence for it. It is just one of those things that has been repeated often enough that it has become “fact”. The truth is, these place name meanings are often conjecture. Further, there seems to have been very little consideration of languages outside the evolution of English. Most place names tend to be credited to Anglo-Saxon, Old English, Norman (french), Norse (viking). Where we do have accepted older place names, they are often referred to as “Celtic” ignoring the fact that we have at least two insular Celtic language families. The first is the Brythonic family that includes Welsh, Cornish, Cumbric and Breton. The second is the Goidelic family that includes Irish, Manx and Scots Gaelic. I find it very interesting then, to look at our local place names through the lens of the Brythonic language that was once spoken here, and the closest we have to that is North Welsh.
With all of that in mind then, I find it very interesting that Welsh word for ford (around which the village of Rainworth grew up) is “Rhyd”. The letter “y” in Welsh (in this instance) is pronounced somewhere between “i” as in “is” and “ee” as in “bee”. Tag on the Anglo-Saxon word for enclosure (worth/worde from weorthig) and you have Rhyd-worde, meaning the enclosure of land around the ford, and sounding an awful lot like the word Rainworth we use today. Could it be that the name Rainworth has nothing to do with Raegenhere, and is actually derived from the Brythonic word for ford?
The neighbouring village of Blidworth can also be subjected to the same kind of analysis. Blidworth has already received much attention on this blog because of the Druid Stone ritual complex just outside the village, and the solar aliments with other important local landscape features. It is well known that the village was recorded in the doomsday book after the Norman invasion, so it is safe to assume there was a good water supply. And in fact there are over 30 recorded wells and a number of natural springs at the top of the hill on which the village stands, some of which were said to never dry up until the mine shaft was sunk in the 1920s which lowered the water table. It has also been suggested to me a number of times that some of these springs/wells would have been sacred, and very likely important to the local deities.
So what can we find looking at the place name? Well, there is the Welsh word “Blyd” which means “wet”. Once again if we add on the Anglo-Saxon worde then we end up with Blyd-worde meaning “wet enclosure”. And once again, given the nature of the geography of the area, I would suggest that the case for this theory is stronger than “the enclosure belonging to Blitha”. Of course we can never know for sure. But I am happy to contribute another theory for consideration, and if I am right, then we can clearly see that these villages have their roots in the Brythonic culture that once dominated this landscape.
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.
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.
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.