When You Get Home (Dorset)

October 1st, 2012 § 7 comments

When You Get Home


Often the best way to proceed is to select the most interesting place from the walk and then use a stream-of-consciousness technique to move through the various layers until something sparks a connection, which may be ancient lore or reveal carefully ignored territory. Most often it will just be rediscovering the wheel but that is quite exciting too.


Swans, Ancient & Modern

If you look up ‘Abbotsbury swannery’, you are told that “it is the only managed colony of swans in the world. It is situated in Chesil lagoon near the village of Abbotsbury in Dorset.” Knowing that Chesil Beach is also a unique feature in the world and also near the village of Abbotsbury, the first and most logical step is to put these two anomalies together to see if they resolve one another. To which a third anomaly is added when the next Google entry reveals that swans avoid brackish water so Chesil Beach should be the last place in the world to site a swannery[1].  Where you go now is up to you but once you find out that the swannery is in the only bit of the Fleet lagoon that has sweet water, and recalling the winterbourne on your walk, you might suspect that fresh water in the form of rivers has possibly been interfered with in this particular part of the country. Or something along those lines. You will soon get the hang.

Benedictine monks were not averse to collecting swans’ down and stuffing their pallets with the feathers, though such luxury is at variance with the order’s professed austerity. They were also famous for their swan banquets.  The swannery guaranteed the monks a regular food supply in the same way that fish-ponds were maintained—swans, like fish, were permitted to be eaten on Fridays[2].

Swans feature in Christian iconography as, literally, angels’ wings. In northern European and Celtic mythology, swans are the vehicles for the soul’s journey to the Otherworld[3] just as Hermes, the messenger or angelos, accompanied souls to the Underworld. In medieval alchemy the swan symbolised mercury and Mercury is also Hermes. The connection between swans and Mercury/ Hermes is why so many roadside pubs are called The Swan or, for that matter, The Angel. Apart from the Crown and the odd monastery,[4] swans may only belong to the guilds of dyers and vintners. This singular privilege is not so strange when you reflect that alchemists experimented with chemical dyes and monks used similar techniques when fortifying wines.

The Abbotsbury swans are mute.  Are mute swans naturally mute or is their silence the result of domestication?  Wild swans are as noisy as wild geese. Muteness sometimes features in folklore, for instance the Little Mermaid who wanted to be human, and in dragon-slaying legends heroes would bring back the beast’s tongue, definitive proof it had been silenced. Hermes was the God of Eloquence. Mute swans living in the moat of the Bishop’s Palace next to Wells[5] Cathedral have been trained to tug a rope which rings a bell attached to the drawbridge in order to get fed.  Geese as early warning system are famously celebrated in the legend of Rome being saved from the Gauls by the city’s honking geese.  The suspicion is that swans themselves were originally domesticated geese (subsequently gone feral) and humans have an undeniably ambivalent relationship with swans—they really do seem to be on the cusp between wild and tame.

Albinism, a decrease in aggressive behaviour and the ability to live in a group, all point to early domestication. Coincidentally or not, black swans are reportedly more aggressive than white ones. Once it is understood that a range of familiar British mammals and birds might be domesticated creatures gone feral, the proliferation of animal taxonomy for ‘wild’ species, evident from even a cursory internet check, makes more sense.  As a walker you are likely to have a knowledge of, and an interest in, British wild life over and above the average couch potato (though you too can be a couch potato given the extraordinary plenitude of nature programmes).  Be that as it may, it is more important at this stage to be concerned with the Pursuit-of-the-Interesting rather than the Pursuit of Truth.  You will be constantly astonished how the one leads to the other.


Penny for the Swan

Abbotsbury has an annual Mayday festival, the Garland-Day Procession, when the children of local fishermen collect money for a flower garland.   This parallels other seaside festivals such as the grotters (grotto-builders) at Whitstable’s Oyster Festival and, more generally, the Penny for the Guy tradition of bonfire night.[6]  Two garlands would be made, one of wild flowers and the other of garden flowers, that is a wild and a domesticated form, which were placed upon a pole and paraded around the village, then blessed and thrown into the sea.  The dual wreaths around a pole are an obvious reference to the caduceus and the two snakes twined around Hermes’ staff.

May 1st garlands are paraded through Winteringham, the northern terminus of Ermine Street, where milk pail lugs (‘ears’) were decorated presumably in homage to Hermes, who is the god of eloquence as well as flocks and after whom Ermine Street is named.  The milk pail acts as a collection-box, an emblem of commerce associated with Hermes who always carries a purse.

The refrain of ‘Penny for the Guy’ on 5th November is an opaque attempt to disguise Bonfire Night’s link with Samhain, 1st November, marking the end, i.e. the death, of the Old Year.[7]  ‘Penny for the Guy’ is a version of ‘Penny for the Guide’, the guide being the hermit/ferryman who rowed souls to the other side, and the ultimate guide is Hermes himself, who led souls into the underworld. When placing pennies, the time-honoured ferryman’s due, on the eyes of the deceased we are also paying tribute to Megalithia.[8]


Ooh! Litic!

Church spires are not common in Dorset, possibly because their role, as successors to the old standing stone waymarkers, is not required given the sheer profusion of other forms of Megalithia in the county.  The general notion that church spires are Megalithically-inspired appears to be corroborated by the observations of church historians who have noted a broad swathe stretching diagonally across England from Norfolk to Somerset liberally dotted with conspicuous church spires. Naturally they attribute this spiral enthusiasm to the local availability of fine oolitic building stone, despite overwhelming evidence that quarried stone was shipped hundreds of miles for prestige projects.  Since Norfolk to Somerset happens to be one of the prime corridors of Megalithic activity we can presume the usual countryside continuity of Megalithia into Christianity.


St Catherine of Megalithia

The association between Catherine and menhirs-by-the sea arises because she is a ‘Megalithic saint’ with navigational associations (the ‘Catherine wheel’ seems to be a modified cross-staff, a navigational device for measuring latitude). There are several St. Catherine hills, near the south coast as well as on the Isle of Wight, which seem to follow the chalk ridge[9].  Catherine is the patron saint of philosophers and in particular of the University of Paris, and both Oxford and Cambridge have colleges named after her. She was seen as an all-purpose ‘intellectual saint’ and is often portrayed with a book in medieval portraits.

Known to Catholics as St Catherine of Alexandria, she is actually the Christian version of the Egyptian goddess Heqet, who in turn is Hecate, the Greco-Roman goddess of magic, witchcraft and crossroads, protector of shepherds and sailors, and guardian of the underworld. In other words Hecate is the female version of Hermes; she was, tellingly, referred to as ‘the triple Hecat’[10], in the same way that Hermes is always Thrice-Great Hermes.

Heqet was the Egyptian Goddess of Childbirth and St Catherine is likewise honoured as the patron saint of childbirth in Normandy where she acquired her greatest following[11].  There is little doubt that the change is only a matter of nomenclature because Hecate was also Artemis and Selene, i.e. Helen, all names of moon goddesses.  Catherine is another version of Elen, the Druid goddess of crossroads.  Anyone who has tried to read The White Goddess by Robert Graves will be at least vaguely aware of all these underlying connections. Elizabeth I was evidently up to speed, her Gloriana persona being consciously Orphic.  Indeed she peopled her entire court with proto-Megalithic characters.

Catherine goes through various transformations, as is appropriate with the Triple Goddess. She is almost certainly the mysterious sheela-na-gig figure, a grotesque stone female with engorged vulva, carved in church walls usually over windows and doors. These female phallic symbols, apparently predating the churches they adorn, were intended to be in full view, like Hermes-pillars. Sheela-na-gigs are almost always on churches dedicated to ‘megalithic’ saints built on or near important routes, e.g. Buckland’s All Saints close to the Lower Icknield Way and the Royston cave which is actually on the crossroads of the Icknield Way and Ermine Street.  Sheela or Sile is Irish for the Norman Cecile/ Cecilia, who is the patron saint of Albi in southern France, a Cathar stronghold;  in Catholic tradition she is the patron saint of music.[12]  Hermes is said to have invented the lyre[13], the forerunner of the zither or kithara, and kithara takes us full circle back to Catherine.


Crouching Lion

There is a shrine by a pool dedicated to St Catherine in Lyons-la-Forêt,formerly known as Saint-Denis-en-Lyons (St Denis = Dionysus). Lyon[14] is one of several places named after Lugus or Lugh, a multi-skilled Celtic god and the patron saint of travellers and traders who had a crow as his messenger, in other words Lugh, who is sometimes shown with three faces, is Hermes.

London was originally Lugdunum meaning that Lyon and London are linked to Lyonesse (Lyon-Ys). A straight line running from Lyon to London passes through Paris, i.e. Par-Is, ‘by Ys’.[15] Gades, now Cadiz, the major Phoenician terminal for the British metals trade, and the end-of-the-Iberian-world, was built on an island called Leon which according to Strabo had a shrine dedicated to Cronos, the crow-god. Crows are significant in maritime trade, and not just because of the crow’s nest.  The bay of Cadiz was in ancient times made up of a group of islands, ‘small companion islands’ being a Phoenician speciality (Tyre, Carthage, St Michael’s Mount, etc.)

Lugh and Lud, usually regarded as one and the same, put London firmly on the Megalithic map because it is built on Ludgate Hill. The Trojans (i.e. the Phoenicians) were prominent Londoners, indeed it was also called New Troy, the capital of the Trinovantes (Tri = Troy, Nova = new).  Academics seem to be under the impression that London is a Roman foundation, a truly risible idea since the lowest crossing-point of the River Thames will always be the most important place in south-eastern Britain.  This is also something to be drawn to the attention of walkers because pre-Roman London has many features and alignments that can best be appreciated on foot.  A walk down Fleet Street for instance will give you an entirely new perspective on ancient Britain.  But a modicum of research first will enhance the experience.


Island of Tin

St Michael’s Mount, the start of the Michael Line/Ridgeway, was according to Pliny, a depot for the Cornish tin trade.

There is an oft-quoted passage by the great polymath Pliny the Elder (Natural History Book XVI, verse 104) dating to the late 70’s AD which names the island Mictis as the centre of the British tin trade, stating that it lay off the south coast of Britain some six days sail from Gaul. This name has often been mistakenly associated with the Isle of Wight, but is now known to refer to Saint Michael’s Mount off the Cornish coast opposite Marazion, known in ancient times as Ictis.

This raises the question of the artificiality of St Michael’s Mount. If you look at it you will see it probably is even though every geologist laughs hysterically at the very idea.



Without a bucket-and-spade, the evidence is strictly statistical:
a) Phoenicians always traded from ports that had offshore islets joined to the mainland by a causeway
b) St Michael’s Mount is a port that has an offshore islet joined to the mainland by a causeway
c) ports that have offshore islets suitable to be attached to the mainland by a causeway are rather unusual
d) what are the chances that the starting point of the Michael Line should have an offshore islet suitable for attachment to the mainland (at Marazion) by a causeway?


Sailing Away On Cannabis

Hemp, a vital strategic crop, was a Dorset speciality and even as late as Tudor times Bridport was granted a monopoly.  It was used for everything from clothes to rope but its Megalithic importance derives from the time when hemp replaced hide for both rope and sails.  This transition from animal-based to plant-based production is of enormous but un-investigated significance.  Hemp, or Cannabis sativa (meaning ‘sown’ or ‘cultivated’), is grown industrially for fibre and is presumably a safely domesticated version of the drug-plant variety. Or it could be the other way round. Evidence of an international drugs trade in Megalithic times can be deduced from the presence of coca leaves in Ancient Egyptian tombs. Coca leaves only grow in the Andes and would have been an obvious cargo for Phoenician traders on the look-out for high value, low volume goods.

In the thirteenth century hemp had become indispensable in supplying the king’s ships with rigging and sailcloth (canvas) but it is evident from Domesday that the importance of this link had long been established because the crown owned most of the land—Bridport, Portland and the Fleet—thereby controlling not just coastal defence and hemp-production but also the Portland stone quarries to pay for everything. The manufacture of fishing nets and ropes was concentrated in Bridport; between St Catherine’s Hill and the Abbotsbury Swannery there are still withy beds—withies provide fibres for making fish-traps, fish-nets, etc. In the Irish Ogham alphabet, willow, and its offshoot, ‘withies’, was associated with Hermes/ Mercury.[16]


[1] Swan-road is a kenning for ‘sea’ according to Anglo-Saxonists who have not to date investigated the biological discrepancy in this poetic metaphor. It makes a lot of sense however to equate a swan with a ship producing a V-shaped wake or furrow through the water and with Hermes, the god of travel and domestic i.e. furrow-making animals, whose symbol is the swan.

[2] Medieval churchmen tied themselves into exegetical knots determining whether geese were fish or flesh. Barnacle geese were so named because they were reportedly born from goose barnacles, a shell-fish.

[3] The phenomenon of bird migration was not understood until Gilbert White’s time. Geese flying northwards in the autumn were, in popular belief, escorting souls bound for Hell though this is a mangling of the Hermetic connection, the general domestication of various species of water-fowl.

[4] ‘Swan upping’ (or swan-hopping), the annual marking of young swans belonging to the king, traditionally ended with a banquet at Medmenham, midway between Henley and Marlow. Medmenham Abbey on the site of a former Cistercian house (later owned by Sir Francis Dashwood, of the Hell-fire Caves fame) overlooks an ancient ferry which was finally made public in 1899, whereupon it ceased to operate. This part of the Thames valley is associated not only with the Templars but with recusant Catholic families. Dissent in Britain is a subject that has been fatally skewed over the years by the constant assumption that it is left-wing and proletarian, not to mention ‘Dissenting’.

[5] Watery place-names such as Wells and Bath are of Megalithic significance, being sites that exerted control over water sources on long-distance droving routes. A bishopric with not one but two watery places in its name is pretty rum. Speaking of which, Wells, an unassuming town or rather an unassuming ex-Roman mausoleum, has a cathedral out of all proportion to its size. Although on a larger scale, Wells is like those villages with unusually tall churches, which are telling you: Megalithia was here.

[6] The link between Guy Fawkes and Samhain/ Halloween is rendered clear when ‘Guy’ undergoes hanging, drawing and quartering, i.e. the ancient rite of the Triple Death.  Whether this has a connection with Hermes Trismegistus, Thrice-great Hermes, is not clear but Guido Fawkes, Guy’s ‘real’ name, which translates as ‘guide-at-forks’, seems to be a direct reference to Hermes as the patron of megalithic crossroads.

[7] The allegedly intended victim of the Gunpowder Plot was James I, a noted authority on Wicca. But the overall battle between the anti-maypole Puritans and the Megalithic family of Stuarts (and which of them won) is not to be found in the historical record. Who issued the Rosicrucian Manifesto in 1616, why the coronation of James’ son-in-law, the Winter King, was held on 4th November 1619 and who elected to fight the Battle of the White Mountain on 8th November 1620 which decided his fate and subsequently that of Europe in the Thirty Years’ War, are questions that await answers. Coincidence or not, the Glorious Revolution began on 5th November 1688, the date when William of Orange landed in the West Country at Brixham, around the corner from Totnes where Brutus first set foot in the land traditionally named after him.  Just as fittingly, William claimed the right of kingship on 26th December or St Stephen’s Day (Stephanos is ‘crown’ in Greek).

[8]  Each autumn the Cheremis, a Volga-Finnic people, would sacrifice animals (traditionally a white goose, also a white and a black ram) in a keremet, a sacred grove.  As late as the nineteenth century the most important element in these ritual offerings was a swan couple; the ceremony ended with the swans being taken in a three-horse carriage to the river and set free after a silver coin was hung around their necks.  Megalithia is only the local version of a much wider, much older tradition.

[9] The Isle of Wight, guarding the approaches to Portsmouth and Southampton and overlooking Portland Bill, is itself a possible Megalithic navigational aid. The lozenge is a particularly significant shape in measurement, being the shadows cast at the solstices.

[10]  That is, ‘Maiden, Mother, Crone’ though the triad was always a singular moon goddess, three-in-one.

[11]  Presumably the Normans introduced her cult to England, the Normans being a later incarnation of the Megalithic Tradition.

[12] St Cecilia’s feast day is 22nd November, the feast of St Catherine is 25th November.

[13]  The three strings of Hermes’ lyre may be alluding to the three phases of the moon goddess.

[14]  Leon places always crop up at ‘the end of the world’. Finistère (world’s end), the western tip of France, has Leon close by; the western tip of  Spain, Cape Finisterre, has Leon close by and the western tip of Britain, Land’s End, has, allegedly, Lyonesse close by (under the sea). The most westerly point of the Channel Islands is Lihou (pronounced ‘Leo’) Island.

[15] Lundy Island in the Bristol Channel forms a 5, 12, 13 right-angled triangle with Stonehenge to the east and the Preseli Mountains (where the Stonehenge blue stones are mined) to the north. The Welsh for Lundy Island is Ynys Ellen and Elin in Welsh means elbow, or angle.

[16] S which stands for Saille, i.e. willow, is the fifth consonant of Ogham, corresponding to May, the fifth month in the calendar. May is of special significance to the entire Megalithic System.  S which also looks like the number 5, is ‘serpentine’ and has been dubbed ‘the line of beauty’.

§ 7 Responses to When You Get Home (Dorset)"

  • Grace says:

    Guy Fawkes Night seems to be more popular than All Hallows/Hallowe’en, perhaps it’s just the combination of bonfires and fireworks is more fun. But both in their own fashion are occasions for letting off steam as it were. The proximity of the two dates suggests that November 5th rounds off the Hallowe’en period; many festivals are spread over several days.

  • Derek says:

    This year we had no trick-or-treaters coming by. We were a little surprised though relieved (we’d forgotten to get sweets) but have since found out there’s a (new?) convention: only houses with ‘welcome’ signs such as a pumpkin are visited. Good wheeze for pumpkin-growers.

  • Grace says:

    Young children aren’t necessarily literate (and anyway it’s dark!) so a light inside a pumpkin will be immediately recognised. It reminds me of signs outside a pub. Or a red light district:)

  • Derek says:

    Indeed, and pubs and brothels are both required for long distance journeys (not speaking for myself of course).

  • Derek says:

    “Guy Fawkes Night seems to be more popular than All Hallows/Hallowe’en”

    According to Q.I. (Quite Interesting), the popularity of Guy Fawkes Night has declined due to Hallowe’en festivities being “only five days earlier”.

    The Q.I. team also say that in the seventeenth century effigies of Guy Fawkes were filled with live cats to make them scream. Persecution of cats at Hallowe’en still goes on, the traditional witches’ familiar, rather than targeting the usual vermin such as rats, foxes, etc.

  • Harriet Vered says:

    ‘All Hallows Day’, because of its significance, is aligned to the 5th of November, even though it is celebrated on the 1st.

    It is also “quite interesting” that the Luther Revolution is said to have begun on All Hallows Eve, 1517.

  • Harriet Vered says:

    A TV programme about the rebuilding of a Brixham trawler showed a new mast being refitted on top of an old (1920) penny. It would be interesting to know if this is a widespread practice or simply a local custom.

    Brixham in Devon, just round the corner from Totnes, was a large fishing port and the penny as usual was for luck, much needed by fishermen. I didn’t include all the sea-side customs such as Blessing the Salmon but they must have very ancient roots despite the vaguely Christian additions of priests blessing the proceedings.

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