The sacred site complex at Avebury merits the most attention from us if we want to understand our earliest ancestors in these isles. And yet this West Country site receives the least attention from the media, with coachloads of Americans being disgorged at the smaller and later Stonehenge of the much maligned (well, in my house anyway) solar priesthood.
Stonehenge is all mainly all about the Sun ~ whereas Avebury is different and reflects an older astronomical lore.
So why was Avebury built before Stonehenge?
By looking at this map of the geology of Britain, we can see the green colour of the greensand Cretaceous strata which follows a chalky ridge along the North Downs of Kent and westwards into Somerset. This is the path our ancestors followed on first entering Britain from the Continent. It would have been chosen because it is fertile and the water springs would have been filtered by the chalk. In addition, most of the land further south from the greensand/chalk ridge would have been densely wooded and uninhabitable because of wild animals such as bears and sabre-toothed tigers.
So imagine, if you will, our hunter gatherer ancestors at the end of the Last Ice Age, crossing the chalky ridge where the Channel now flows and navigating by the stars, continuing along the greensand escarpments as far as the West Country and Cheddar Gorge, where there is copious evidence of them living around 15,000 years ago, in Gough’s Cave.
To get to Gough’s Cave, you have to climb up about 150 steps. There’s a reason for that. Perched up high on this crag, our ancestors were safe from the post-Ice Age floods
So because the ancients were in the area 15,000 years ago, we can surmise that the land itself of the Avebury complex would already have been considered sacred by them, even before they began to build on it in the Mesolithic period. There is much archaeological evidence which shows that Windmill Hill was a popular meeting place for these peoples at the midwinter solstice, where they left offerings of cattle carcases dug into the Earth, and then these hunter gatherers would have probably returned to their tribal lands in late winter/early spring.
Its alignments reflect the astronomical concerns which were prevalent then. Avebury was all about the stars, and not so much about the Sun and the Moon although they were in the mix too. The Avebury complex was constructed to be in relationship with certain stars and constellations that were visible in the night skies at the time. These star groups were probably their focus even before the stone circles and henges at Avebury were built because of the natural observatory of Windmill Hill, turned into a causewayed enclosure from about 3800 BCE.
You may be thinking that I’ve suddenly become an expert on Avebury overnight. But not really. You see, I attended a talk in the summer of 2010 by the renown Nicholas Mann and partner Philippa Glasson, whose book, The Star Temple of Avalon was described as “a long overdue account of how the natural landscape features of the Glastonbury area provided an astronomical impetus for the importance of Glastonbury in prehistoric times…”
They’d just returned from spending the previous two years working with archaeologists at Avebury, and applying their expertise in geomancy, mythology, the Celtic tradition, sacred geometry and archaeoastronomy to the archaeological findings. In other words, there couldn’t have been two better people to have been brought in on this work, and the results have just been published in their book Avebury Cosmos.
So why was this land that makes up what we call the Avebury complex considered to be so sacred to our ancestors? Well, there are probably many reasons and not least because what the Christians rechristened the St Michael ley line is aligned with it, running straight up to it from Glastonbury Tor.
But looking at it from the archaeoastronomers’ point of view, Nicholas and Philippa found much of interest.
The Sirius connection
One of the key alignments was to be our old friend, surprise surprise, Sirius. (I am getting to the point where I will probably award a prize to anyone who can come up with an ancient megalith that wasn’t aligned with the all-important Sirius, the star most associated with Isis by the Egyptians and the one that heralded a change in seasons.)
The Avebury circle is aligned to the heliacal setting of Sirius. And the oldest part of the Avebury complex, West Kennet Longbarrow, where they buried their dead more than 5,600 years ago, is also aligned to the heliacal setting of Sirius.
Sidereal or Vedic astronomy
There is evidence that the Mesolithics, around 3300 BCE, were practising a star lore similar to the sidereal astronomy that we find in the Vedas. Nowadays, there are houses on Avebury circle …
…but here’s a drawing of what Avebury would have looked like around 3300 BCE.
There were two circles of stones at the centre, one of 27 stones and the other of 29 stones. These, Nicholas and Philippa believe, were different sorts of lunar calendars.
In the northern inner circle of 27 stones, a wooden post would have been placed and replaced daily to mark off the 27 lunar houses or mansions. The lunar mansions are called nakshatras in the Vedic system and there are 27 of them because the orbit of the moon takes 27.3 days, so it needs approximately one day to pass through each nakshatra.
The purpose of the southern inner circle of 29 stones, Nicholas and Philippa believe, would have been to mark off the lunar days. These are known as tithis in the Vedic system, and a tithi or lunar day represents the time it takes for the longitudinal angle between the moon and the sun to increase by 12°. There are 30 tithis in a month. So either there is one stone missing from this second southern circle at Avebury, or Cheddar Man was working on a slightly different system. But it seems likely he was measuring the lunar day, and it is very much like the Vedic system.
How did they regard the stones?
Apart from using these stones to mark out calendars and observatories, and to guard tombs, how else did our ancestors regard the stones? What was their relationship to them as objects, given that the oldest name we have for ‘gods’ or divinity in the Egyptian literature is ‘stone’.
It’s only when you stand next to them that you realise how huge these stones are, and that each seems to have a character of its own. Like icebergs, often the greater part of them is buried underground.
Given that we’re beginning to think that our ancestors possibly used both sides of their brains, meaning that their cognition was much more shamanic than ours, Nicholas had fun with some of the photos of the stones by using Photoshop to combine them with their mirror images. Here are a couple of them:
I don’t know about you …. but there were huge gasps from the audience when Nicholas showed these. I had an almost visceral experience as if I’d been hit in the stomach. For me, it was recognition because I often see entities like these when I journey.
One huge picture show
But even more rivettingly, for me anyway, was the picture Nicholas drew of these doughty, migrating ancients, 15,000 years ago, who had reached the West Country by following their ancestral stars, as they tramped across the greensand/chalk ridge.
The Southern Cross, which would have been familiar to them coming from the south, was visible in British skies just after the last Ice Age, until, through precession, it gradually sank southwards halfway through the third millennium BCE. And while they gazed at the Southern Cross against a sparkling background of the Milky Way over Windmill Hill, Cygnus would also have been visible to the north of the Avebury circle, first setting (flying into the Underworld) and then rising again.
So this would be the picture show enjoyed at nights by our ancestors, who viewed the heavens as sacred and every act of the celestial realms to be meaningful.
Added to that spectacle, the henge around the Avebury circle was filled with chalk which would have become luminescent under the moon, especially at full moon, and thus mirroring the glittering Milky Way. This was how our ancestors made the land sacred ~ in other words, by bringing down the heavens to Earth. Imagine too no light pollution. It must have been an extraordinary sight.
Because the ancients considered the stars to be the spirits of their ancestors, Nicholas believes that there would have been great sadness when the Southern Cross ‘fell’ into the waters around the Tor and Windmill Hill. My own view is that it could have been the source of myths about Excalibur falling back into the Lake at the end of Arthur’s life.
The Southern Cross consists of some of the brightest stars in the sky….
… and as they sank, only the top three stars of the Southern Cross would have been visible for some time, at least for hundreds of years, forming a kind of cone. The “cone” eventually sank into where Silbury Hill now is. In fact, Silbury Hill was built as the “cone” was sinking, around 2450 BCE.
Silbury Hill, it has recently been discovered, used to have a much more conical top, which was flattened off more recently. So the building of the conical Silbury Mound was was obviously an act of what’s known as sympathetic magic ~ to mirror or bring down to the Earth the Southern Cross which, our adept astronomer ancestors would have known, would soon be gone from their skies. For this reason, Nicholas and Philippa believe that Silbury Hill is a star mound.
So what is the point of all this? Why is it important that our ancestors communed with certain stars over Avebury and Glastonbury and mirrored them on to the land, more than 5,000 years ago?
The point is this. As a shaman, I know that all sacred work done with the land stays in the land. It doesn’t disappear over Time because this work is done in a realm where there is no Time.
Once we understand more fully how our ancestors viewed the cosmos, and their place within in, we will be able to carry on with their invaluable and indispensible work. This is my sincerest wish.
Shamanic Earth Magic
When the people of Britain voted to leave the European Union in June 2016, the word on everyone’s lips was Sovereignty.
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