When I first tried to read Katharine Maltwood’s guide to the Glastonbury Temple of the Stars, I ended up with a terrible headache. Even though I’d studied mythology and archaeology for decades, this 1920s identifier of the Somerset circular landscape temple – locally referred to as the Glastonbury Zodiac – seemed so ‘other’ to me, and her ideas far too dense, like an overpoweringly and sickeningly rich-scented pot pourri from another time.
However, now – several years later – I’m picking up her books again and reading them with ease and joy. It’s almost as if she’s talking to me personally at times – as if she’d written for an age when we would have more knowledge about our ancestors and thus be more receptive to her quiet nudges and gentle allusions which are threaded throughout her writing like delicate and refined gold Celtic knotwork.
Katharine was a senior Freemason and, at the time of her writing, in the early 20th century, she would have been hampered by their agenda. Although her inclusion in such hallowed circles would have been helpful in some respects, in terms of being able to get access to more obscure material, it would also have gagged her in the same way that academic researchers today are unable to publish their results if they don’t fit the received narrative. The Freemasons who complete the 33 degree path are given a back story which literalises ancient, metaphorical Mesopotamian myths to create a science fiction fantasy worthy of L. Ron Hubbard, about a superior race of Aryans/Annunaki who came from outer space to colonise us simpler Earthbound folk, to teach us sacred geometry and astronomy, and to build megalithic temples and mounds.
The Royal Arch masons, of which Katharine was one, also had very close links with the British-Israel movement who followers used pseudohistory to try to establish some sort of legitimate claim for a New Jerusalem in the British Isles, and whose influence in Glastonbury at that time was strong.
In such an atmosphere, Katharine could only hint that she secretly thought that the builders of the Glastonbury Temple of the Stars were not from the far off Middle East or Mesopotamia, but from closer to home. Notwithstanding the River Parrett, which I’ll come back to, she barely cites any local place names that come from the Akkadian or Phoenician pantheon. But she finds plenty named after Lugh and Hu, who were Celtic fire gods. Added to that, there is nothing in the archaeological record to indicate that the Akkadians were ever here, in Britain, and precious little of the Phoenicians, apart from some legends about foreign tin traders. I’m sure she would have known that too.
Attributing the Glastonbury Zodiac in any way to the Celts would not only have been a very unfashionable and risky view in Katharine’s time; it’s only marginally more acceptable now. It’s only since a number of fields of research have syncretised that scholars can even begin to consider it, because we in these British Isles were one of the earliest recipients of the Roman mind programming initiative c. 1600 years ago, and so we fell for it the hardest.
In more prehistoric times, the wandering, nomadic storyteller would arrive under the village tree and spread out his story mat, and the villagers would gather round for some entertainment. The 4th century Roman Emperor Constantine did away with such quaint, old dial-up technology and imposed the Abrahamic, high speed broadband like wall-to-wall carpeting right across the whole of his huge European empire.
Constantine’s newly literalised Gospel stories were eventually followed by various other pseudohistory mash-ups such as the Irish Book of Invasions (Lebor Gabála Érenn), the History of the Kings of Britain (Historia Regum Britanniae) and the High History of the Holy Grael. We musn’t forget Nennius and Gildas…and I’m sure countless other Christian scribes who may not have realised that they were plundering metaphorical myths to create a fictional back story, but that is what we’ve ended up with.
The Mysteries of Britain
My shamanic work in the last few years have been all about getting us back to our own mythological and spiritual roots – in other words, our Sovereignty comes from the land, or to be more precise, the spirits of the land. So for me, it’s been a bit like taking a pick-axe to an Axminster carpet that is now set solid, like concrete, in our cognitive landscapes, to break it all up so that some natural growth can come through and bloom.
In journeying, in the shamanic way, into the Glastonbury Temple of the Stars, I’m being shown an archetypal story of which, it seems to me, the High History of the Holy Grael featuring a mythical King Arthur was just a Christianised gloss. I’m beginning to see the Celtic stories of our ancestors being played out by these giant effigies, and now when I pick up Katharine Maltwood, I can sense that she knew it too. She writes about the High History thus:
“On that last page, we read: ‘The Latin from whence this History was drawn into Romance was taken in the Isle of Avalon, in a holy house of religion that standeth at the head of of the Moors Adventurous, there where King Arthur and Queen Guinevere lie,’ for the King is one of those cosmic deities upon which every pilgrim who climbs Glastonbury Tor looks down for, but can no longer distinguish.
“The author of another version, called La Queste del Saint Graal, though apparently not familiar with the locality, is more explicit concerning the adaptation of the old stellar religion to the new. For instance, he says, ‘When the sun, by which we mean Jesus Christ,’ and again, in Sir Lancelot’s dream, he speaks of the ‘man surrounded by stars’ the man who came down from heaven came to the younger knight and ‘transformed him into the figure of a lion and gave him wings’.
“Here is strongly suggested the blending of the old and new, the Zodiacal Leo combined with the winged lion of St Mark. Thus the pre-Christian stories of the stars were adapted by later chroniclers and interwoven with the Christian Grail legend.”
Since working with the spirits on Sovereignty, I’ve come to understand that until we own our own stories, which our own land around us is telling us, we will always be at the mercy of those from other parts of the world who literalise their own stories to persuade us to their agendas for our future.
Who were the Celts?
It’s heartening to see that in a world in which anything that fails to meet the exacting criteria of the officially approved narrative doesn’t get through the academic peer review system, some brave scholars are pushing for a much earlier date for the Celts than the La Tène culture around 450 BCE, even as far back as the Bell Beaker people (c. 2800 – 1800 BCE) who we believe built Stonehenge.
Bronze spirals, Europe, 12th-10th centuries BCE
But we can get further back than even that – although first, let’s take a little meander.
Both Katharine Maltwood and Mary Caine thought that the name of the River Parrett, which flows near Burrow Mump, may have come from the Sumerian/Babylonian river, the Euphrates. But in Sumer and even after that, during Babylonian times, the river had kept the U-prefix as the Buranuna (UD.KIB.NUN or KIB.NUN.(NA) or dKIB.NUN (with the prefix d indicating that the river was considered to be a divinity, as many were at that time). In fact, the only place that the Euphrates is called the Pǝrāt is at its source, which is in the Armenian Highlands. So to quote Katharine on the local Lake Village people (c. 250 BCE) from page 64 of A Guide to Glastonbury’s Temple of the Stars:
‘Of the skulls dug up here, Arthur Bulleid quotes Sir William Boyd Dawkins as saying that all of them belong to the oval-headed Mesaticephalic section of the inhabitants of Britain and “they are physically identical with the small dark inhabitants of the Basque Provinces of France and Spain….The same race occurs in Italy, in Greece, the Greek Islands and in Asia Minor…”….’
Asia Minor is now called Anatolia, which is bounded in the east by the Armenian Highlands – in other words, the source of the river Pǝrāt. So am I trying to make the case that the Armenians/Anatolians built the Glastonbury Temple of the Stars? No… partly because I find diffusionist theories about one-way migrations to be largely colonialist and subject to circular, often racist, thinking in their assumptions – and that Occam’s Razor can be a very blunt instrument indeed in such hands.
In addition, recent linguistic research indicates that it could have just as easily been the other way round. A linguistic group labelled Dene Caucasian has been identified as sitting out the whole of the last Ice Age, up to 12,000 years ago, in the Basque Pyrenees… from where the Milesians later migrated to Ireland along with the shaman poet Amergin.
In the 12th century, Geraldus Cambrensis wrote about the Welsh shamans, called awenyddion, who would fall into a deep trance to seek divinatory guidance from the spirits in the Other Worlds. The Irish Finn MacCumhal, who had a Druid foster mother, was also such a seer, and his exciting Otherworldly adventures which passed into Irish oral lore are far too many to list here.
The Celtic stories, songs and poems are full of shapeshifting and reincarnating heroes with the archetypal ‘fire in the head’ and many of the stories read like classic shamanic initiations. There’s a ‘great tree’, (or World Tree), people who vanish for years into the Otherworlds, an Underworld, talking animals, the inner sight, and a poem entitled The Siege of Drom Damhgaire even gives us a magical battle between two shamans.
The shaman has no belief in ‘death’, because to him or her it is just a portal or gateway to another life. Lucan, the Roman poet, wrote this of the Druids in the first century CE:
“You, ye Druids… you who dwell in the deep woods in sequestered groves: your teaching is that the shades of the dead do not make their way to the silent abode of Erebus or to the lightless realm of Dis below, but that the same soul animates the limbs in another sphere. If you sing of certainties, death is the centre of continuous life. Truly the people on whom the Pole Star shines are happy in their error, for they are not harassed by the greatest of terrors, the fear of death. This gives the warrior his eagerness to rush upon the steel, a spirit ready to face death, and an indifference to a life which will return.”
He may have been influenced by Julius Caesar, who about 150 years earlier had written about those indigenous peoples he found here, and in Europe, in his Conquest of Gaul…
“A lesson which they (the Druids) take particular pains to inculcate is that the soul does not perish, but after death passes from one body to another; they think that this is the best incentive to bravery, because it teaches men to disregard the terrors of death. They also hold long discussions about the heavenly bodies and their movements, the size of the universe and of earth, the physical constitution of the world, and the power and properties of the gods; and they instruct the young men in all these subjects.”
Then there’s shapeshifting …
A typical example of the shapeshifting of shamanic experience is found the Song of Amergin, purportedly sang by the 3rd century BCE poet Amergin when first he stepped on Irish shores from Spain with the conquering Milesians.
I am the wind that blows across the sea;
I am a wave of the deep;
I am the roar of the ocean;
I am the stag of seven battles;
I am a hawk on the cliff;
I am a ray of sunlight;
I am the greenest of plants;
I am the wild boar;
I am a salmon in the river;
I am a lake on the plain;
I am the word of knowledge;
I am the point of a spear;
I am the lure beyond the ends of the Earth;
I am the god who fashions fire in the head.
To me, it’s becoming gradually clearer that the characters in these stories being told on the land around here are like a message in a bottle from our ancestors about how we can get back to our roots and claim our spiritual self-empowerment, our Sovereignty. It’s said that he who doesn’t learn from history is doomed to repeat it. I think we will be forever doomed until we can find out what our Celtic history really is and who our Indo-European ancestors really were, and delve deeper into the real wisdom Mystery teachings connected to their images and stories.
A wonderful article, Ishtar. We have a shared mission and calling for reclaiming the mythological and spiritual legacy of our ancestors. Thanks for sharing this. Blessings, Jamie
Fascinating stuff: there’s a lot of evidence that the place known currently as the ‘Basque Country’ was an ice age refuge, from where people (and their culture) migrated northwards after the last ice age. There are documented genetic clusters of ‘Basque’ originating people up and down the Welsh coast (Abergele in particular). 2/3 of the current population of the British Isles owe some of their genes to that area. Oppenheimer: Origins of the British). There were other refuges that contributed too – e.g. in Russia, where some of the ‘Scots’ and ‘Irish’ hail from. Not so very far from Anatolia…
Ishtar, I love your articles….
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