I would like to talk about the River Idle in more detail in this article. The area of focus in this blog has been centred around the area south of Mansfield, from Sutton-In-Ashfield to Rainworth.
The River Idle rises in Sutton-In-Ashfield, and after flowing under the centre of the town, it joins the river Maun and is know by that name until it once again becomes the Idle at Markham Moor. Before it reaches this point though, it is joined by Rainworth Water at Ollerton, which has its source at Thieves Wood, just outside Sutton-In-Ashfield and was also once known as the Idle. This means that two rivers both named Idle join the Maun many miles before the Maun and the Meden conflate to become the Idle that we know today. Further, the sources of these river Idles all rise within a few miles of each other in Ashfield, some 20 miles from Markham Moor where the Idle officially begins.
I have stated before that rivers have a tendency to retain their Celtic names. We can see this in many other local rivers such as the river Leen (which also rises in Ashfield but flows south to the Trent) which comes from the word for lake or pool, Llyn in modern Welsh. The Trent or Trisantona meaning great thoroughfare. The Derwent meaning valley of Oak Trees. The reason that rivers retain their old names is because unlike a town, which is easily renamed by a new group of people, a river is shared among many communities up and down its banks. Used for transportation and trade, it is much harder for a new group of people entering the land to rename the river and to have the name stick.
It is therefore not unreasonable to think that the name Idle may be much older that we currently believe. The best guess at the moment is that it is derived from Anglo-Saxon, and it means slow and lazy or idle. The name would fit the first part of the river before it joins the Maun where it is little more than a trickle. But the better known bigger river Idle is a strong and fast flowing river, and the name simply does not fit. So what could the name mean? Is it older than Anglo-Saxon?
If the people who
lived on these lands in the past, our ancestors, knew all of these
rivers as part of the Idle, then it is also not to unreasonable to
think that the river Idle could also have had a local river goddess
associated with it, who would have been a unifying force for the
people of the area. We may even be looking at the area of a very
local sub tribe of the Brigantes or Corieltauvi tribes. So who might
this goddess be? There is one very interesting name that is both
spelt and pronounced in a similar way, the name Ida.
As a name, Ida has multiple contested sources. It is a popular name to this day in Nordic countries like Denmark and Sweden, derived from the Germanic word id meaning “work” or “labour”. Alternatively it may be related to the Old Norse goddess Iðunn who is associated with apples and youth. She is also the wife of Bragi the god of poetry. The Norse gods however are not the gods of this landscape. They are the gods of the Norse lands, and it is unlikely Iðunn has anything to do with the river Idle. But it must not be entirely discounted in that the Germanic culture developed from the same Indo-European culture as the earlier Celtic tribes. Ida is also the anglicisation of the ancient Irish girls name Íde. There is no reference to an ancient Irish Goddess by that name that I am aware of, however, there is a St. Ida.
St Ida of Killeedy was known as “the foster mother of the saints of Erin”, and her name is said to mean “thirst for holiness”. She was also known as “the Brigid of Munster”. It was said that Ida embodied the six virtues of womanhood – wisdom, purity, beauty, musical ability, gentle speech and needle craft. Her feast day is the 15th of January and she was also known as a prophetess and spiritual director. Genealogies of the saints state that Ida’s mother Necht was a daughter of Dallbronach, making Ida a cousin of Brigid.
It is well known that many of the Irish saints are really ancient Irish gods in disguise, adopted by the early christian church in Ireland in order to ease the conversion of the pagan population. There is no record of a Pagan Ida Goddess in Ireland, instead we are presented with her life story including dates of birth and death, in much the same way as we are with St Brigid. But we know that St Brigid has many of the attributes and associations of the earlier Goddess Brigid. They are largely the same character. At this point I would like to remind readers that in previous articles we have shown that the local tribe the Brigantes and their patron goddess Briganti are evident in our local landscape.
One very interesting area of investigation is the similarities and links between the ancient Irish language and stories, and that of the Indian Rig Veda of the ancient Verdic peoples. There are many websites and articles that document some of the many fascinating links, but one that I would like to point to now is the Verdic Goddess Ida. This Hindustani goddess of speech, the earth, and the source of abundant food and nourishment was seen as the primary cause of the origins, continuance and dissolution of all beings. Cows and milk are sacred to Ida, whereas in Ireland these are sacred to Brigid. In the Rig Veda she is associated with and often mentioned along side Bharati and Sarasvati, the goddess of knowledge, fertility, and flowing rivers. Bharati is a feminine adjective meaning “high, great, lofty” and seems to be a title applied several times to the goddess of the dawn Uṣas. As you may know, the names Briganti, Brigantia, Brigit come from a cognate proto indo-european word *bhrg’hnti from the root word berg’h meaning “high, lofty, elevated”.
surmise for a moment then, we have an Irish St Brigid who
is associated with St Ida. Brigid
on an earlier Indo-European
who is also
in Verdic culture as Bharati.
Verdic goddess Uṣas/Bharati
also associated with the Verdic goddess Ida. Further, Verdic Ida,
Irish Brigid are all associated with cows, milk and motherhood.
clearly present in our landscape, and we also have a river named Idle
for which we have no clear entomology. Could it be there is a
forgotten Brythonic Goddess named Ida associated with the river Idle?
So what about the Maun? Well from this perspective the Maun is nothing more than a local name for a short section of the Idle, known to the Romans as Aqua Mam. Mam meaning “mother, breast or hill” in reference to Hamilton Hill where the source of the Maun is. If Ida is a goddess of the earth, of the land, and Hamilton Hill her breast then the Maun, Aqua Mam is her milk, the waters of the mother.
There is another possibly related goddess too, from Greek. The goddess Idaia, meaning “she of mount Ida”, Ida meaning “wooded mountain”. There are actually two sacred mountains named Ida, both sacred to mother goddesses. The first in Crete is where Rhea, mother of the first generation of Olympian gods put the infant Zeus to nurse with Amaltheia. The second mountain was in Anatolia, modern day Turkey, and was mentioned in the Iliad of Homer as sacred to Cyble mother goddess of the Anatolians and sometimes known as Mater Idaea or “Idaean Mother”, mother of the Idaean people.
There is of course no way to be sure about any of this. Is there a lost local Celtic Ida, local to this area associated with the river Idle? It is all just conjecture really, but I am certainly beginning to feel that we of Ashfield and the surrounding area are Ideans. We are Ideans in so much as we are the people of the Goddess Ida of the River Idle.
The ladies of Ashfield, they number in three Ladies Meden, Maun and Idle they be
In a sorry state Is Lady Idle of late Her spring once a marsh Now a housing estate East under concrete Her waters migrate From pond amoung houses Along litterd brook to her fate To disappear under the road Down a neglected grate And emerge next to asda At a trickling rate Onwards under the ground To the boating lake donate Her waters press forward Then with the Maun’ s they conflate
Oh Lady Maun, Mother of this land Nourishing the greenery With your waters so grand From your spings by the Mam To your sacrifice on the moor Your love for your people Is clean fresh and pure Queen of the green wood Sovereign of Sherwood The spirit of your water Is thick in our blood
Beautiful Maiden of flowers and spring On the banks of the Meden can be heard to sing The notes in the air and rythm of the splashes Accompany her song of love and of rashness From the end of wood to the moor with Maun Her beauty is such it eclipses the dawn She is the goddess of spring of life and desire The river of youth and passion and fire.
Where they conflate The Idle becomes great Her flow and her waters A much better state Rushing to the Trent At an incredible rate Aligned with the Mam On a magical date No more to stagnate Our lives to hydrate To our Goddess of Idle Our love we restate
To the ladies of Ashfield I offer this vow To fight for the life of this land somehow To pass on the lessons you have given to me With honesty, integrity and to do it for free To stand up to injustice and the greed of man To work for balance and harmony any way that I can. To help others to see your enchantment at hand And before it is to late, learn to love our land
In years past I have made the pilgrimage to Stonehenge to celebrate the Summer Solstice. This year, I stayed local and I am glad that I did.
Each year, the celebration of Alban Hefin, Litha, Midsummer or the Summer Solstice seems to enter popular culture a little more. This year there was even a Summer Solstice Party in Portland Square in the centre of Sutton-In-Ashfield, featuring local school children singing and family fun and games. A genuine official event put on by the local authorities, though with very little recognition of the solstice itself or any importance it might have.
It seems that this trend is growing year on year. The BBC reported that 10,000 people attended Stonehenge this year, and I can’t help but suspect that many were there for the first time, and know very little about the reasons they were there. They are simply attracted to the event. That was certainly true back in 2015 when I stayed at the Stonehenge camp site and got talking to many of the people staying there in the lead up to the solstice. There were genuinely people attending that really had no idea what the solstice or the stones were all about, and I think that is a good thing. It seems that there is something unknown, unseen that is driving people towards these sorts of events, towards the Pagan community, and they are growing each year.
Silver Hill in Ashfield is a place where I walk with my dog almost every day. It is the default place I go because there are not normally a lot of people there, and it is big enough that I can see far enough to safely let the dog off his lead to have a good run about. So I was rather surprised to learn that a Summer Solstice event was being organised there for sunset.
I was up early enough on the morning of the Solstice to make my way to Silver Hill and climb to the top in time for the sunrise. At 4:30 in the morning there was no one else around but the birds. I sat and watched the sunrise in the North-East, just to the left of the power station visible on the horizon. Although there was cloud overhead, the horizon was clear as the sun began to light the sky pink and orange. I remained until the sun was fully up, and made my way back home.
After a full day of activity, I made my way back to Silver Hill around 7pm. When I arrived I was surprised to see a steady stream of people going both up and down the hill, and began to suspect this local Solstice celebration might have more than the handful of people I was expecting.
It was a quiet event with perhaps 100 people in attendance, and as the sun went down people began to play instruments and drums. Others were dancing too, and the atmosphere began to feel charged with the energy and enthusiasm of the people there.
I did not stop long after the sun went down around 9:30 (it had been a long day!) and I made my way back home again.
The next day I began to think about how good it was to have such a well attended public Pagan event so local, and I also got to thinking about the location and sacred sites.
Of course there were many other gatherings up and down the country (and indeed all over the world). Stonehenge, Avebury, and the Nine Ladies to name but a few. The difference is that these places are all considered “sacred sites”. Silver Hill, as far as I know is not. In fact Silver Hill is an artificial landscape created after the end off the coal mining industry. The small hill at the top with the miner statue is actually the highest man-made point in Nottinghamshire, so it is a perfect place for viewing the solstice even if there are no apparent alignments with other hills, etc.
So what makes a site sacred? I do not know if other people would draw up a list of specific requirements. They might cite such things as solar alignments or the antiquity of the site. For me all of nature is a sacred site, but I also believe a site is what people make of it. If enough people see a place as sacred, treat it as such, and use it for worship then it is a sacred site. Over time the site will even start to acquire energy and a character.
Sacred sites are often sacred to something or someone. This could be a deity for example. In the case of Silver Hill, I think it would be contrived to try and associate a Deity with the location at this point. But that is not to say that there is not appropriate symbology at Silver Hill that could be built on.
The stand out feature at Silver Hill is the statue of a miner. This statue reminds us of how important coal mining was in the local area. Or put another way, this statue reminds us of the importance of coal mining to our recent ancestors of place (and for many ancestors of blood). It reminds us of the dangerous jobs, the dirty conditions and the suffering of our recent ancestors. It also reminds us of the legacy of the coal industry on our towns and countryside.
For these reasons then, I propose that Silver Hill from this point forward be treated as a genuine local sacred site that we as the local pagan community can build upon and work with. A site sacred to the ancestors of place. A site we as the local pagan community can continue to use for celebrations.
I am going to digress a little from my normal subject matter of Iron Age and earlier local history, and take a moment to introduce to you an interesting theory from the Anglo-Saxon period.
Rainworth is the village I lived in from the ages of 3 to 17. During this time I got to know the local area pretty well, walking our dog all over the nearby woods and heath land. Especially the heath known locally as “the bogs”, with Rainworth Water River flowing along its western side. I now think it is very possible that in this location events occurred that sealed England’s fate and conversion to Christianity.
Born in 586 AD, Edwin was the son of the Pagan King Aelle of Deira. We do not know if Edwin was first in line to the throne, but it was Aethelfrith who assumed the kingship around 604 AD. By this time the kingdom had merged with another and had become Northumbria. Whether or not Edwin was first in line to the throne, for some reason Aethelfrith was intent on murdering Edwin, so he fled. First he fled to Gwynedd in Wales, then to Mercia. By the early 610s he was under the protection of the powerful Christian king Raedwald of East Anglia.
At first Aethelfrith tried to bribe and then threaten Raedwald into giving up Edwin, but Raedwald’s wife had a divine vision, and persuaded Raedwald that is was not honourable to give Edwin up in this way. Also, Ethelberga of Kent, Edwin’s intended bride was a Christian, and her father would only allow the marriage if Ethelberga could continue to practice her faith.
In defence of Edwin, Raedwald raised an army and slew Aethelfrith at the Battle of the River Idle in 616 AD (also known as the battle of Hatfield). Raedwald’s son Raegenhere died at the battle and Edwin became a surrogate son and immediately ascended to the throne of Northumbria initially under Raedwald’s patronage. Taking it from the Pagan Aethelfrith. Edwin eventually converted to Christianity in 627 after surviving an assassination attempt and a war with King Cuichelm of Wessex.
The pivotal moment then was the defeat of the pagan Aethelfrith, leading to the Christianisation of Northumbria, and thus ultimately the later England and eventually the entire British Isles. But where was this Battle? Well, we actually know very little about the Battle of Hatfield. There are a number of places named Hatfield including Hatfield Chase near Doncaster and High Hatfield near Cuckney, Nottinghamshire, and it is in these locations that people have searched for the site of the battle without much success. Hatfield however, is actually recorded as “Haethfelth” which simply means “Heath Field”.
The history of Rainworth goes back to Roman times. The Village originated from The Roman Way, a Roman road, which ran through Mansfield, Rainworth, Newark and on to the Garrison at Lincoln. A Roman Camp was set up by the River Idle there, which is now known as Rainworth Water. A part of the river here became known as “foul evil brook” because the Romans thought that the waters could cure an eye complaint that they knew as “foul evil”. Where the Idle crossed the Roman road, there was a ford (where the river now passes under the road in the centre of the village).
In 616 when Raedwald’s son Raegenhere died by the side of the Idle, Raedwald renamed the river in honour of his son, naming it Regnhere’s wath or Ford, now known as Rainworth Water. The immediate area also became known as Reynwath, Reynethwath, Water of Reynwath, Reynewath, Reynewathford, Raynswathe, Reinwarth Forthe, Rayngwath and finally became known as the Rainworth we have today.
So there you have it, the battle of the Idle (Rainworth Water) / Hatfield (Rainworth Heath) was the final nail in the coffin of Anglo-Saxon Paganism.
As a final aside, Edwin was also finally defeated somewhere local (possibly by the river Poulterer) and his fleeing forces managed to get his body to Edwinstowe (which is where it gets its name). Form there his head was taken to York.
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….”
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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?
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
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
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
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
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
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
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)
Goddesses of the upper, lower and middle realms
God of trees and fruit
Goddess of war
God of Oratory
Goddess of place
Spring / water spirits
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.
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.
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.