Britain’s Early Years: Avebury Henge

avebury-henge

Avebury Henge

Avebury Henge monument consists of three stone circles, located around the village of Avebury in Wiltshire.  It was erected in 2,600 BC, comprising of one large outer circle, with two smaller stone circles situated inside.  Along with a large circular bank with an internal ditch measuring some 460 yards in diameter.

What is its purpose, a question that has baffled archaeologists for years, but they believe it was more than likely used for some form of rituals or ceremonies.

By the time of the Iron Age, it had been abandoned, yet human evidence existed into the time of the Roman occupation, showing that the Roman’s had used the site.

The outer stone circle of the henge, measures 1,088 feet in diameter, originally constructed with ninety-eight Sarsen stones.  With two large polished stones at the southern entrance.

The northern inner ring stone circle, measures 322 feet in diameter, with a cove of three stones in the middle, with a north-east facing entrance, but when erected probably consisted of twenty-seven stones.

The southern inner ring stone circle, measures 354 feet in diameter, with a single stone some 21 feet in height located centrally, along with an alignment of twenty-nine smaller stones.

Around the central point of the obelisk, small yet rough sarsen stones were positioned in a near rectangular format.  The obelisk stone has long since disappeared.

The Avenue:

The West Kennet Avenue of paired stones leads from the south-eastern henge entrance to Beckhampton Avenue to the western entrance.  Which linked the Avebury Henge with ceremonial sites at Beckhampton and Overton Hill.

The henge, with its imposing boundary to the circle, has no defence purpose, because the ditch and bank are located inside the larger circle.

Being a henge, one has to accept that the positioning of the stone circle are related to astronomical alignments.  The site is more than likely laid out for some form of religious function.

The Druids believe that there was an astronomical axis which connected Avebury Henge to Stonehenge, flanked by West Kennet Long Barrow on the west which symbolised the Mother Goddess and Silbury Hill the symbol of masculinity.

In the 5th century following on from the end of Roman Rule, Anglo-Saxons migrated to Southern Britain, where suggestions have been put forward that they used the site as a defensive site.

During the middle ages, many of the stones were buried or destroyed, as it was believed they had a connection to pagan and devil worshipping.

In the early part of Saxon life in Britain, around AD600, a settlement had been built at the henge; a seme-fortified settlement.

King Athelstan recorded a charter in 939 defining the boundaries of Overton, a parish which laid adjacent to Avebury.

In the 11th century Anglo-Saxon armies fought with Viking raiders at Avebury, and the pre-historic monument at Silbury Hill was fortified creating a defensive position.

In 1114 a Benedictine Priory and Church was built upon the site.

In the latter part of the 12th century, Avebury parish church was enlarged at a time of religious revival.

The Avebury stones, which stood tall for all to see along with nearby barrows were given names relating to the devil, before being toppled:  The Devil’s Chair, The Devil’s Den and The Devil’s Brandirons.

Shortly afterwards the “Black Death Plague” struck the village in 1349, reducing the village’s population, as many died.

In 1541 John Leland; Librarian and Chaplan to King Henry VIII, noted the existence of Avebury and its pre-historic monuments.  William Camden published his guide book to British Antiquities in 1586, but made no mention of Avebury, but his 1610 version made a fleeting remark to it.

John Aubrey Antiquarian rediscovered the Avbrey Henge in 1649, and recorded many drawings of the site.  In 1663, King Charles II visited Avebury Henge.

In the early part of the 18th century, William Stukeley doctor-clergyman and antiquarian studied Avebury Henge between 1719-1724.

The village was growing, and stone was much needed for the houses and the church.  He left a drawing for them to follow, how to break these large boulder stones, formerly part of Avebury Henge Pre-historic Monument.  Burn straw in a large pit to heat the stones, pour cold water on the stones, creating a weakness then split them open with a sledge hammer.

The Avebury Henge became listed as a pre-historic and sacred complex with ceremonial avenues lined with stones.  Silbury Hill the largest known man-made mound, the West Kennet Long Barrow a Neolithic burial chamber. A former stone circle Sanctuary.

Druidic rites held at Avebury are called Gorseddau, where they invoke Awen (a druidic concept of inspiration).  They recite the Druid Prayer by Morganwg and the Druid Vow.

One group of Druids (Gorsedd of Bards of Caer Abiri) hold their rites at Avebury’s pre-historic monument.

Wikipedia Image

Britain and the Celts

celt-farm

Celt Farm

Iron Age, saw much warfare among the Celtic tribes, in this land of ours, requiring the construction of many hill forts.  These Celts were true warriors in every sense of the word, for they fought from horses or wooden chariots, and threw spears and fought with swords, and carried wooden shields.  Some even wore chain mail for added protection.

The Celts were an accomplished race of people, they were much more than farmers, for they could pick up a weapon and fight for their people.  Many of their number were blacksmiths, bronze smiths, carpenters, whilst others worked with leather and made pottery.  They also created elaborate jewellery from gold and precious stones.

They took their art further, by adding artistic designs made from metal, leather and precious stones to their swords, daggers and shields.

Celtic society was organised, based on the part you played within your designated tribe.  At the head would be the King or Chieftain, and next in line, the nobles, followed by the craftsmen, then the farmers and warriors, last in line would be the Celtic slaves.

Trade with European countries, was an important part of everyday life to them.  Copper, tin and iron, along with skins, grain and wool were exported.  In turn they imported fine pottery and quality metal goods.  Celtic currency started out as iron bars, and by 50 BC they had switched to gold coins.

Celtic houses were round in design, with a central pole, with horizontal poles radiating outwards.  Walls made of wattle and daub, with a thatched roof.  They made dyes from plants; weld for yellow, woad for blue and madder for red.

The Druids were the priests of the Celtic people, and played an important part in their lives.  These druids were scholars and advisors to the Celtic Kings, who worshipped more than one God.

During Celtic times, the old tradition of building barrows for the dead was phased out, and replaced with individual graves.  Yet, some parts of tradition still carried on; the practice of burying grave goods with the dead, what was required by him to gain access to the afterlife. (A similar practice to that carried out by the Pharaoh’s in Ancient Egypt).

The main Celtic festivals were:

Imbolc in early February, start of lambing season.

Beltane in early May, cattle let out, after being under cover all  winter.

Lughasad in August, crops right for harvesting.

Samhain in November, animals moved undercover for winter.

The Celts were no match for the warriors of Rome, and were defeated by the might of Julius Caesar in 55 BC and again in 54 BC.  The Roman’s withdrew from Britain, as the Celts agreed to pay Rome an annual payment.

In 43 AD the Romans invaded Britain under Empereor Claudius with Aulus Plautius their supreme leader.  The Romans and Celts faced each other in battle, but resistance to these Roman invaders proved futile.  By 47 AD the Romans had control of Britain from the River Humber to the River Severn.

The Celtic Iceni tribe in East Anglia rebelled against these Roman warriors.  A deal was struck and their King’s retained their position at head of their tribes, and accepted Roman Rule.

Only one leader refused to accept Roman Rule: Queen Boudicca.  For it was upon the death of the Iceni King, the Kingdom was left to his wife Boudicca and Emperor Nero, but Nero wanted it all.  Boudicca was appointed leader by the Celts and led an army of 100,000 warriors, and burned Colchester, St.Albans and London to the ground with no survivors.  Her army met the Romans in battle, and the Celts were defeated… with their leader dead, the Celts were forced into accepting Roman Rule.

(Image) Celt Farm: Wikipedia

England and the Druids

druids-wallpaper

The word Druid, is a derivative from the Latin word [dru’ides] and according to Roman writers, to have come from Celtic Gaulish; these figures.

The Druids set themselves up, as spiritual healers, teachers and rulers, playing a major part in Pagan Celtic society.  They worshipped nature in the truest sense of the word.  Their ritual and sacrificial practices would bring man and nature closer together in harmony with each other.  From Herbalism, holistic medicine, to births, deaths and marital unions.

The Druids are responsible for many occult beliefs and religious symbolisms used in the practice of Christianity, Judaism and Wicca (Witchcraft).  They even had the power to excommunicate people from religious festivals, making them social outcasts.

They use the number three, tripods or trinities, classed as chief symbols in their practices.  Tree play is an important part of their beliefs, as witnessed by the energies given off and the practice of folk magic, along with varied forms of meditation.

Druidism is believed to be at least 2500 years old, and according to the writings of Julius Caesar, in 50BC he believed they may have originated in Britain… but we know different.  They had a connection with France and Britain.  Yet the Druids built monuments of which many have been scattered across the globe, a reminder of their existence.

The Paviland Caves in Wales, once a meeting place of the Druids, which revealed a great find.  A skeleton wrapped in a red cloth, with large ivory rods had been interred, making us believe this had to have been a ritual site, and the burial was of some importance.

Druids beliefs based on the caves, believe the caves have a symbolic meaning being the womb, with the potential for rebirth.

druids-stonehenge

Druids within the stone circle of Stonehenge

Early history of the Druids tells us nothing about the stone circles, only that they gather in sacred groves, caves or remote valleys etc.

Julius Caesar and Diodorus Siculus, describe the Druids as scholars and religious leaders whose function was to officiate at sacrifices, according to their writings.

Druids believe their souls are immortal and live on in another body for a fixed number of years.  History states that Druidism shows a darker side to them.  It is known that Druids would officiate at the sacrifice of criminals or innocent people.  Some would be burnt alive.  (It makes one think of the Witch Finder Trials).

3500-3000BC: During this time long barrows and chambered tombs appeared at Hambledon Hill, the site of an Iron Age fort.  It was here the art of primitive burial.s were performed, where bodies were left in the open, to decompose or be eaten by animals or birds.

1500BC: By this time, stone circles like Stonehenge and Avebury Henge had been abandoned.  Burial mounds had become a think of the past.

500-450BC: Druids, being the intellectual side of the Celts, founded Druidism in the British Isles.

70BC: The Druids arrive in Britain, and take control of this land’s rulers with no significant opposition.

61-54BC: Claudius issues a proclamation prohibiting the existence of these Druids, and Suetonius Paulinus had the job of clearing Druids from Britain.

The Christian Church absorbed the Celtic religion into their ranks and by the 7th century Druidism was all but destroyed or hidden underground.

445-445:  Myrddin (Merlin) believed to have been born about this time, and would become known as one of the greatest Druids of all time.

465: As the legend goes, Merlin assists Uther in changing his appearance to that of Gorlois, so Queen Igraine would make love with Uther, believing him to be Gorlois her husband.  Igraine gave birth to Arthur some nine months later.

480: Merlin creates the sword-in-the-stone contest knowing Arthur would win and become King Arthur of England, and went on to form the Round Table.

In the 17th century, Druidism went through a period of revival, as scholars wanted,answers to the stone circles and mounds which covered this land of ours.

One of these scholars was William Stukeley, often referred to as the father of Archaeology, and with fellow scholars, sought out Druidism within Christianity.

They learnt; not all ancestors of this land were ignorant, some were wise philosophers.  This interest led to the Freemason’s interest, which linked them to the Druids.  The Ancient and Archaelogical Order of Druids, joined them together and later saw Winston Churchill as one of their members.

From the 18th century it has been suggested Freemasonry was a Descendant of Druidism, and practiced latter-day Druidry.

In the 20th century George Watson MacGregor-Reid, put forward the idea that Druidism could unite followers of many faiths.

In the 1940’s and 50’s the Ancient Druid Order attracted Gerald Gardner and Ross Nichols to its ranks.  Gardner promoted Wicca (Witchcraft) and Nichols enthused on the discovery of tree-language.

Druidry has increased in recent times and we have entered a period of Druid Renaissance, which has attracted followers from the world of; artistry, writers, poets and spiritual seekers.

Druids have no sacred texts as Christians have a Bible.  They have ideas and beliefs which they follow.  Druidry is seen as a spiritual path, a religion to some, a way of life to others.

Monotheistic Druids believe in one Deity; Goddess, God or Being named as Spirit or Great Spirit.  Polytheistic Druids believe many Gods and Goddesses exist, whilst Animists and Pantheists do not believe in Deity as one or more Gods, but present in all things.

Although Druids profess the love of Nature, they also believe that there be more than one world.  For the other world is seen as a place we go to when we die; yet we can visit it during our lifetime of dreams and meditation.

A Christian Druid, believes one is born, and lives out his life and dies, yet most Druids believe the soul is incarnated, and comes back as a human being, or that of trees, rocks or some part of nature.

(Image) Druids: Aztaren-Deviantart
(Image) Druids within Stonehenge: Wikipedia

History of the Druids

An Arch Druid

Modern Druidism is one of the Neo-pagan families of religion, which include Wicca, Asatru, Shamanism, and recreations of other various Pagan religions such as Egyptian, Greek, Norse, and Roman. Today’s Druidism is a reconstruction of the beliefs and practices of the ancient Celtic priesthood. The ancient Druids were first known to exist in around 4,000 BC and believed to date far beyond written history. The ancient Druids are most widely connected with the British Isles; however, history shows evidence that the British Isles were only the last strong hold of the Druids. Most commonly referenced are the islands of Iona and Mona, better known as Anglesey.

These Druids built sacred sites out of stone and these stone formations and monuments have been found all over the world, but were most prolific in the areas of Brittany and France, where their monuments are still scattered across the land in geometric formations.

The ancient Druids were the most learned of men in their time and are known to perform the functions of modern day priests, teachers, astronomers, chemists, musicians, poets, theologians, philosophers, and judges. They were also specialists in healing, herbalism and divination. They were revered by all to the point that kings and social hierarchy would send their children to them to be schooled. In matters of religion, law, and scholastics, their authority was absolute.

The Druids main focus was, “The Belief in Supreme Power of the Universe, and the Belief of Immortality of the Soul.” The Druids led all public rituals, which were normally held within sacred groves of trees. Due to the intellect of the Druids, the Romans feared them.

It was the common folks reverence towards the Druids that interfered with Caesars’s attempt to overcome the Britons in 55 BC, where Druidism was the prevailing philosophy in Briton at the time. Caesar found the Druids to be a threat to his authority and he ordered their demise. He nearly accomplished completely exterminating the Druids at the Isle of Mona, now Anglesey. After the invasions by Rome, the few Druids that were left converted to Christianity through persuasion or genocide.

The Christian Church adsorbed much of the Celtic religion. Pagan Gods and Goddesses became Christian saints, sacred springs and wells were preserved and associated with saints and used for baptism. Many sites of spiritual antiquity became the location of cathedrals.

By the 7th Century, Druidism was destroyed throughout most of the former Celtic lands or was hidden deeply underground for fear of persecution. Druidism was to re-emerge in the 17th century in London England, and survived into the 20th century in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.

Ancient Timeline:

Up to 4000 BC Mesolithic Period: Hunter / Gatherers.
4000 BC Approximate date of first documented Proto-Indo European culture ,which is believed Druidic, near the Black Sea circa.
4000-1800 BC Neolithic Period: Construction of Callanish, and other megalithic monuments. First farmers
3500 BC Construction of Newgrange which is the largest megolithic monument in Europe.
1800-1600 BC The Bronze Age.
1000 BC Evidence of a Proto-Celtic Unetice or Urnfield culture in Slovakia circa. The Iron Age.
900-500 BC Hallstat Period. (Rise of the Celts)
800 BC Proto-Celtic Tribes formed to create the Celtic culture circa.
500-15 BC La Tene Period. (Heroic age of the Celts, and the time of mythology)
450 BC Celts expanded into Spain. Anglo-Saxon invasion.
400 BC The Celts had nomadically migrated into northern Italy.
390 BC Celts invaded Rome
279 BC Celts invaded Greece
270 BC Celts had moved in to Galatia (Central Turkey).
200 BC They had occupied the British Isles, Brittany, modern France, Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, and Switzerland.
82 BC Rome defeats Celts in Italy.
55 BC Julius Ceasar of Rome invaded the Celtic Britian.
52 BC Julius Ceasar defeats Celts in Gaul.
43-409 AD Romano-British Era: Rome controls most of Britian and Wales.
61 AD Rome attacks Anglesey and destroys Druid Monestaries.