In my previous articles I have discussed some of the solar alignments to be found in our local landscape. Centred around Hamilton Hill in Mansfield and the Blidworth Druidstone, I have shown how all the major solar alignments of the year are captured in our local surroundings. Not only do we have local solstice and eclipse alignments, but we also have alignments for the four cross quarter days or Celtic fire festivals which in turn is a reflection of the gods and goddesses once worshipped during these festivals. I have also touched upon some of our local rivers, and have begun to show how Lugus, Briganti, Beli, Don and perhaps many others gods and goddesses can still be found to this day, despite the many layers of invading cultures and religions that have tried over the centuries to supplant them.
The quest to peel back the layers of history and discover the local gods of the landscape continues, and in this article I am going to build on my previous work and discuss some other important clues I have been following, and discoveries I have made.
There are a number of avenues of investigation I have been following in order to do this, the primary topics of interest have been:
- Neolithic archaeology and sites.
- Bronze and Iron Age hill forts and settlements .
- Early Saxon and Norman churches that may be built on pre-existing sacred sites.
- The history of the Roman invasion and local Celtic tribes.
- Rivers, springs and wells and place name entomology.
- Local topography and geography.
- Recorded Welsh and Irish & Scottish and English mythology.
- Brythonic (Welsh, Cornish, Cumbric) and Gaelic (Irish Manx, Scots) languages
- The movements of the Sun Moon and stars, and especially solar alignments.
Pulling all of this together can be quite challenging, and no doubt there are things I have missed. I am no expert in these topics. My research has involved a lot of online work, but I have also spent time going through the local studies sections in our local libraries, as well as purchasing a few key books on certain subjects where information online is sparse. Talking to other local people can reveal much too, so joining local history groups is also of interest, and I have made in roads there.
Locating The ancient Settlements
Part of the problem of understanding the ancient local landscape, is understanding where the settlements were. Unfortunately coal mining in this area has destroyed a lot of archaeology that will now be lost forever. But we still have many clues we can follow. My research largely revolves around a few specific subjects. The idea is to locate important places in the landscape that warrant further investigation. There is a vast difference between the settlements, cultures etc of the earlier neolithic era and the Iron Age Celts. However, many of the important neolithic sites continued to be used, simply because they were convenient locations, and at the very least the stone monuments left behind by the ancestors would provide a sense of wonder and would likely continue to be used for religious purposes, just as the churches continue to use ancient pagan sites to this day. But we must understand it is not just a small snapshot of time we are looking at, but rather the remaining evidence from a period of several thousand years. These is no evidence for example that Celtic cultures celebrated the solstices and equinoxes, despite their obvious importance to the people of the neolithic. Combining these festivals with the Celtic festivals to create the eight-fold year is a modern invention. So when we look for alignments in the landscape we have to bare this in mind.
I would like to now introduce you to a few locations in the local area that may hold significance in the quest for the local gods.
The corieltauvi and The Brigantes
The Celtic people living in this area were not invaders of this land. They were the descendants of the Neolithic people who had lived here before them. Trade and travel were much more prolific in the ancient world than it is often supposed. Therefore the Celtic tribes who lived here were a continuation of stone age tribes. Their customs, ritual sites and beliefs all evolving from earlier times. This is why it is a mistake to say that the Druids had nothing to do with the stone age monuments. The Druids were in fact the inheritors and evolution of the native British shamanic tradition. Modern genetic research has disproved that new cultures invading Britain replaced the existing population. In each instance, the invaders simply did not have much genetic impact on the pre-existing population. Their technologies and customs were adopted, but the people remained on the whole the same population. The same is true after the Romans left with the Angles the Saxons the Normans and the Vikings. Their genetic impact was simply not that big.
As the population increased, it became more difficult to move to a new unoccupied areas. Competition for resources increases which eventually leads to tribal borders as people try to protect what they see as theirs. But it would be a mistake to presume that borders are static. Over the many centuries it is likely that these boundaries changed many times. The people living on the border were not strictly one tribe or another. Through trade, marriage and conflict the cultures of the Brigantes and Corieltauvi will have merged in our local area.
In my last article I stated that the location of the border between these two Celtic tribes was not really known and is disputed, with a number of possible geographic features being suggested such as the river Trent (Trisantona). We do know that the border was somewhere in this area, and it has long been proposed that the magnesium limestone ridge that marks the border between Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire is the real border between the tribes.
On this map from 1840 you can clearly see the ridge to the west of Huthwaite looking out over Derbyshire. The hill at the the top of Huthwaite known as Strawberry Bank is the highest natural point in Nottinghamshire, and offers a clear vantage point for anyone looking out to the west, into Derbyshire or the territory of the Brigantes. Which is why in 1985 archaeologists uncovered an Iron Age hill fort there. This understanding is very important for our investigation of certain place names.
It would seem that there is a surprising number of “Celtic” place names that survive until this day. But you have to dig rather deep to identify them. The first issue is simply that the Angles, the Saxons, the Normans and the Vikings have all had an influence on place names. Either establishing new towns and villages or re-naming existing ones to suit their own language. After this there is a certain amount of “Anglicization” of the existing names into modern English, and a further “rationalisation” of the resultant translations. (i.e. if it sounds like an English word, then it must be that word – “calv” becomes “calf”, “blid” becomes “blood”.) To further complicate the issue, modern entomological research has a tendency to try and force an Anglo-Saxon translation which often results in a very lazy entomology for a place name by assuming it is named after an individual who once owned the land, with no evidence to support that.
For example, lets look at the name of Annesley. We know that the suffix *-ley means a clearing in the wood, and so we presume that the translation is the clearing in the wood belonging to An(n). This is just laziness, to simply presume that An is a given name with absolutely no evidence that it ever was. And if you look at the history of place names and the work published by the English Place Names Society you will see many examples of this presumption that a place is named after an individual. Why is this? I believe this is due to a failure to consider certain other languages as possibilities. In general, scholars seem to consider Old English, Anglo-Saxon, Norse or sometimes Brythonic. I believe one very important language has been missed that sheds much light on this subject.
If we look at the history of “Celtic” languages, they are broadly broken down into two branches in the UK that both developed form a common Indo-European root language. The fist branch is known as q-celtic and includes Irish and Scots Gaelic. This branch developed much earlier than p-celtic which includes Welsh and Cornish. What if there was a population of Gaelic speakers in this landscape that pre-date the Brythonic speakers that the Romans encountered in this area? If this was the case then we may be able to make more sense of some of the place names that otherwise seem rather bizarre.
Lets take Calverton as an example. Here is the description from Wikipedia:
The place appears as Calvretone in the Doomsday survey of 1086….Scholars believe that the name means “the farm of the calves”, from Old English calf (genitive plural “calfra” + tūn). It is intriguing that a forest village, with a presumed shortage of grazing land, should be named for the young of domestic cattleWIKIPEDIA
Intriguing indeed. What we do know about Calverton was that it was in the middle of Sherwood forest, and it was on a main road through the forest. What is interesting then is that in Gaelic the word “Calver” means “causeway”. I would suggest that makes far more sense than the proposed translation on wikipedia! We even know that the Romans marched up this road as there are the remains of two Roman camps (on the same site at different times) just north of the town.
Coming back to Annasley for a moment, I might suggest that an alternative entomology could involve “Anes” from welsh “lady” as in albanes which means “Scottish lady” resulting in Anasley meaning “Lady’s clearing in the woods”. Also many words beginning with “Anes” mean restless/ uneasy / disquiet or even haunted (anesmwyth). My spidy senses are tingling here with an interpretation along the lines of haunted lady’s clearing or even grove, and association with Samhain. Further investigation is required here but it is interesting that Newsted Abby with it’s White Lady ghost stories is not far away. If we do accept the An(n) entomology, we could even investigate this further with associations with Black Annis which is a Leicestershire folk legend. Leicestershire also being part of the Corieltauvi territory, though the origin of the story may not be as old as some believe.
There are actually quite a few place names in the local area that have already been identified as “Celtic” (Brythonic) that are well documented, even though older anglo-saxon interpretations persist. An example of this is Teversal.
According to the English Place Names Society, the first part of the name is from the Anglo-Saxon “tiefere” which means “painter”. They then go on to equate that to the word “sorcerer” resulting in a meaning of “sorcerers stronghold”. In his book “Ashfield Place Names; Their origin and meanings” local historian Capt. Roy Peters proposes that the first element is actually the Brythonic “terfyn” meaning boundary, resulting in “boundary stronghold” which given it’s location on the ridge would make perfect sense. There are also a couple of interesting features at Teversal. First there is St Katharine’s church, built in the 12th and 13th centuries, as well as a well named “Lady Well”. In my previous article I discussed the solar alignment stretching from Oxton to Mam Tor. It turns out that St Katharine’s church also sits on this alignment.
A little further north is Bolsover. Bolsover is very interesting to this study. It is believed that the castle at Bolsover started as an Iron Age Hill fort, and that there was also a Pagan temple where the current St Mary and St Lawrence church is now. In my article Lugus God of Blidworth, I showed how St Lawrence is Lugus in disguise. References to Mary or Lady are really the local goddess of sovereignty, which in our case is very likely Briganti. The name Bolsover was recorded in the doomsday book as “Belesovre”, which has one of the simpler well attested entomologies. The second part of the name “Sovre” derives from Brythonic and means “high settlement”. The first part “Bel(e)” is a direct reference to Belenus/Beli The local sky farther, which further reinforces my earlier assumption of Beli Mawr as the local sky farther god based on his links to Don, the mother goddess in welsh mythology. The River Don being only a few miles north flowing from Sheffield to Doncaster. Elsewhere in the district of Bolsover we also have the Hammett of Belph providing yet more evidence of Beli in the local vicinity.
Further north is the town of Clowne which also derives its name form a Celtic source, “clun” for river. Just outside Clowne is Markham Grips, where another Iron Age Hill fort has been discovered. Together, Clowne, Bolsover, Teversal and Huthwaite seem to have formed part of the defensive boundary between the Corieltauvi and the Brigantes
Coming back to Huthwaite and Strawberry Bank, I just want to point out that just down the hill is Wood End and Brierly forest park, the source of the river Meden that I discussed in my previous post on this subject.
Just to the south west of Huthwaite, midway between the villages of Hilcot and Newton and Blackwell there is an Anglo-Saxon cross that I believe was once a neolithic monument or boundary marker that was carved into a cross during the christianisation of Britain. Likewise, Kirkby cross which stands at…errm…Kirkby Cross, an intersection of two ancient trackways that is still in use today. Furthermore, a little to the south-east of Kirkby is Selston. Here the Church of St Helen’s has a Neolithic stone monument in the church yard. I believe each of these to be important locations, and possible pagan shrines.
Another possible Pagan shrine is St Mary Magdalen’s In Sutton-In-Ashfield. In 1892 during construction on St Micheal’s Street in Sutton-In-Ashfield a burial was discovered of a man, surrounded by seven other male skeletons all arranged around the central man with their feet pointing towards him. Unfortunately the bones disintegrated during the excavation. Had modern techniques been available to them at the time, they would have been able to retrieve the bones successfully. As it happens, the excavators were only able to recover the skull of the central man. These ancestral remains now reside in Sutton library.
It is believed that burials of this nature were reserved for high status individuals, and so it has long been supposed that this skull belonged to a local chieftain living in Sutton somewhere between 4200-4900 years ago. This shows that Sutton-In-Ashfield has been a settlement for a very long time.
All over the Mansfield area we can find place names that could very well derive from Gaelic. Just beyond Hamilton Hill on the new bypass as you head towards west nottinghamshire collage is Caulwell Woods, Caulwell Brook, and Cauldwell Damn. The accepted entomology is that “Cauld” means Cold, and thus it is a reference to a well with exceptionally cold water. While this may or may not be true, I think it is also worth pointing out that in Gaelic “Cauld” means a damn in a stream or a Weir.
“Carr” as in Carr Bank Park in Mansfiled means flat fertile ground in Gaelic, which is exactly what Carr Bank Park is. The Park is of course a bank of the river Maun. On just the other side of the river from Carr Bank is a forgotten “Virgin Mary’s Well” just off Sandy Lane.
Another example could well be Peafield lane leading out of Mansfield Woodhouse towards Edwinstowe. It is unlikely that a place would derive it’s name from an annual crop, and frankly it seems to easy. The work “Preas” means shrub, bush or thicket. I think what is far more likely given it’s location on the edge of the settlement area is that it refers to a field of scrub land beyond the fields of what would have been the early Mansfiled Woodhouse settlement.
Having identified a number of interesting locations around the local area, I have begun searching for more solar alignments. In effect looking for anything that lines up with sunrise or sunset on any of the four solar days (Solstices and equinoxes) or any of the Celtic fire festivals. The Celtic fire festivals are the most interesting.
As we know from my last article, we have already identified a Samhain sunrise / Beltane Sunset alignment centred around Hamilton Hill. Starting in the south-west with Robin Hood Hill (Oldox camp) at Oxton, and passing through the church yard at Blidworth, The Druid Stone, Friar Tuck’s Well in Harlow Wood, Hamilton Hill, St Katharine’s at Teversal and on to Mam Tor in north Derbyshire, spanning the length of around 35 miles.
I believe I have also now identified a Beltane Sunrise / Samhain sunset alignment (the opposite of before) also centred around Hamilton Hill. Starting in the south-east at St Helen’s church in Selston, then passing Kirkby Cross, Hamilton Hill, Virgin Mary’s Well in Mansfield, a mineral spring just outside Clipstone, and then on to the location of the confluence of the rivers Meden and Maun to become the Idle. I find it very interesting that both the source of the Maun (Hamilton Hill) and the end of the Maun where it joins the Meden fall on this same alignment. I feel I am still missing some important clue regarding the Rivers Idles, Meden and Maun.
This is not the only new alignment I have found from Hamilton Hill. I have mentioned before that Hamilton hill is East /West aligned, meaning that it is on an equinox sunrise / sunset alignment, so naturally I wondered what I would find if I l looked along this alignment.
As you can see, west of Hamilton Hill fist the line crosses St Mary Magdalene’s Church in Sutton, then goes on to pass near Holy Trinity Church in Brankenfield before crossing Dethick Moor Stone circle and hitting High Tor (High High place) at Matlock Bath. There are a few other interesting place names in this image too. Crich is another “Cetic” word (which I presume to mean Brythonic) meaning Hill. However, in Gaelic Crich also means boundary. In addition there is also Belper near by. Belper is thought to be a corruption of “Beaurepaire”, a Norman word meaning “beautiful retreat”, however, I suspect there might be some mileage investigating the name with Belenus/Beli in mind.
This next alignment is another Beltane sunrise / Samhain sunset alignment that runs parallel to the one that crossed Hamilton Hill, and also includes a number of important local sites.
Starting in the north-east with Lady Well at Teversal, and passing directly through St Katharine’s Church, the line also passes right over Strawberry Bank where the Iron Age Hill fort was and then directly over the Ancient Saxon Cross. This is why I believe this Saxon cross is actually a carved Neolithic monument. If the line is extended further, eventually you come to another Iron Age Hill fort. Forest Bank at Marchington west of Derby.
Derby is another interesting name. Some take it from the Anglo-Saxon “Deoraby” meaning “Village of the Deer”. I think this is utter rubbish. We know that the Romans had a presence here long before the Anglo-Saxons and they called it “Derventio”. Further, the town is on the river Derwent which has a well attested Celtic origin meaning “Valley of the/thick with Oak Trees”, which makes Derby very obviously “Oak tree settlement”.
I think what is now clear is that the areas of Mansfield and Ashfield, and the towns and villages surrounding them have many memories of the old gods of our ancestors. They never left us. The people who live in these places may have forgotten them and have been offering their prayers to the foreign Middle Eastern Abrahamic god, or to the gods of the invading Vikings for over a thousand years now. Yet despite this, to this day, our lands, our rivers, our hills and our settlements remember the old gods. And for those of us who seek them, they await us just below the surface veneer of modern culture. By looking at old churches, hills, place names, rivers, springs, wells and solar alignments we can find clear memories of Don the great earth Mother. Of Beli Mwar the sky farther. Of Briganti, our local Goddess of place and sovereignty, as well as Healing, poetry, smithing and child birth. And of course of Lugus the God of crafts, skills and Oaths.
These gods of course are remembered in the festivals of Imolc (Briganiti), Beltane (Beli Mwar), lughnasadh (Lugus). But what of Samhain? Where is the God/dess of Samhain?
Samhain is of course modern Halloween, commonly associated with ghosts ghouls whitches and death. Both the terms “Crone” and “Hag” which are commonly associated with witches are corrupted words. Crone comes from the same root word as crown denoting authority, and “Hag” is from “Hagio” meaning “holy”. The word witch it’s self from “wit” for “wisdom”. If we look to Irish or Scottish mythology we could investigate many deities that fit this archetype. We have Badb the warrior Goddess of life, death, wisdom and inspiration. There is also Macha and of course Morrigan, the corvid battle goddess. And we should also mention Cailleach a destroyer goddess ruling over disease, death and wisdom and also Black Annis keeper of wisdom and the old ways. But where are the memories of these goddesses in the landscape?
The closest I believe we have is a Roman inscription found at Margidunum (Roman Bingham) to the goddess Nantosuelta. Her name means either “winding river” (the shrine was near the Trent) or “sun drenched valley”, but she is often depicted with both a house on a stick and a raven/crow. It is the crow link that has lead people to associate her with the Irish Morrigan. Her name seems to come from the word “Nemoton” which means “sacred grove”, and there are other references to a Goddess named Nemotona. Groves of course were very important religious locations in Iron Age culture. There is another Nemoton reference not to far away, the sacred spring that was known in Roman times as Aquae Arnemetiae – Modern day Buxton in Derbyshire – which translates as “The waters of the sacred groves”, Arnemetia seeming to be a plural form of Nemotona.
It would seem them that we have Goddesses both to the east and west of Mansfield that share commonality in some way with a Goddess of sacred groves. I struggle however to feel that this Deity has the Samhain association we are looking for.
The second thread to investigate I feel is association of Samhain with the otherworld. Here we can look for Gwyn ap Nudd and Arawn, but again, I can’t find anything in the local landscape to support this.
The answer I feel is more obvious. At least for now until I learn something else. Yes we know that some of the Gods and Goddesses mentioned above have association with Samhain, but I feel a more honest approach at this time is the focus on ancestors. My ancestors certainly live in the landscape. For generations my ancestors have worked the lands, toiled in the factories and fought the battles of their leaders. They have lived and died here, in this little corner of the world I have always known as home. And with this understanding I feel I have now truly found a pantheon of gods in my local landscape, reflected in the solar alignments that shone the light on them for me. Gods of the heavens, the otherworld and of the earth.
This research will I think never end. I will always have my eyes open for interesting place names, archaeological discoveries and new theories. But for now I do feel I have truly begun to unlock a mystery. I am certain there are more gods waiting to be found. I do have some ideas about a local seasonal sacrificial king myth, but I think I will leave that for my next article.