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Avebury (Five of Swords)

Avebury is a stunning Neolithic temple, 4000 years old, in Wiltshire, England. It covers 30 acres and the stone circle encloses a mediaeval village. The henge is surrounded by a bank 25 feet high and a ditch 33 feet deep. Around the circumference there once existed a hundred sarsen stones, of which only 31 remain today; pilfering the stones for building work began in the Middle Ages. A processional avenue called the West Kennet Way leads in from the south with one hundred pairs of stones marking it. It leads to the Sanctuary, one and a half miles away, which consisted of two stone circles and six concentric timber rings. Avebury is probably the most impressive prehistoric site in Britain, but is still only one of a number of seemingly inter-related sites in the area. It is linked to Windmill Hill, the West Kennet Long Barrow and Silbury Hill. The Avebury complex must have been a massive undertaking, constructed as it was in a time before metal tools were available. It took a great many years to complete, and the co-operation of thousands of people.

Bollowall Barrow (Six of Discs)

Bollowall Barrow in Cornwall looks out over the sea towards the Isles of Scilly.  It was built using the dry stone method; there is an outer wall with two concentric inner walls. These may have had a ritual function, separating the various stages of death and rebirth. The entrance chamber is oriented to the new moon of winter and the midsummer sun is visible rising over Carn Kenidjack.

Carn Kenidjack and Tregaseal Stone Circle (Ten of Swords)

Carn Kenidjack is a natural stone formation, visible from several surrounding pre-historic sites.  At the carn the devil is said to hunt at night for lost souls, while at midnight fights erupt between demons there. Certainly the wind causes the carn to emit a strange low moaning sound which intensifies to a loud hoot. The name Kenidjack derives from the ancient Celtic and means ‘head of the serpent or dragon’. Tregaseal circle is less than half a mile away. The area is now moorland, and it was widely believed that travellers can be led astray by the piskies or fairy folk on misty evenings.

Carreg Samson Cromlech (Seven of Discs)

The Carreg Samson cromlech or quoit is a Neolithic burial chamber in Wales. It consists of seven upright stones, three of which support the capstone.  The whole structure would once have been covered by earth.

Cerne Abbas Giant (Seven of Wands)

The Cerne Abbas Giant is a 180 foot chalk hill figure in Dorset, brandishing a hundred foot long club above his head.  His origins are unknown though in folklore tradition he was a sheep thief who was murdered by the local villagers who commemorated his demise by cutting his outline in the turf of the hill. He is almost certainly a fertility god for obvious reasons. Because of this many customs grew up around him, barren women would sit on him to be cured, girls would pray at his feet that they would not die a spinster and couples had intercourse on the hill to ensure conception. On May Day a maypole used to be erected above his head in an earthwork called 'the Trendle' or the Frying Pan. He may have been a local Pagan God called Helith or Heil or Helis, possibly an incarnation of Hercules, whose worship the Romans brought to Britain. However, the name of the place ‘Cerne Abbas’ is from the Celtic river Cerne, possibly a deity, and abbas which means abbey, since there is an abbey founded in the tenth century nearby. There is also a holy well at the foot of the hill. He is probably a tribal god who protects the land. The fertility traditions continue with the May Day Morris dancing having been revived and women continuing to visit the giant in search of fertility.

Chysauster (Three of Discs)

Chysauster prehistoric village is located near Penzance in Cornwall. There are several houses, each with a central courtyard complete with hearths and drainage systems, gardens, workrooms and cattle sheds. Farming was executed with terraced fields on the nearby hillside. It was occupied until well into the Roman times. There is also a ruined fogou on the site. A fogou is a man made tunnel with in inward curving roof, made from roughly shaped granite blocks, some of which extend to 60 feet long. They were probably constructed in the early Iron Age.  In Britain they appear to be a purely Cornish phenomena, usually in areas associated with mining in pre-historic times.  Collecting metal ore and crystals from the womb of the earth was a magical process, fraught with danger and one that required reparation and gratitude towards the underworld beings. In a time when most houses were made of timber and thatch the permanence of the materials used, and the amount of labour involved indicates that the fogous were important structures. The stone passageway covered by a mound is reminiscent of the earlier burial barrows. There is a single entrance, smaller than the tunnel itself, which would mean that anyone had to crouch down to get in. They are usually oriented facing the midsummer sunrise and the midwinter sunset. The fogou is an earth womb, fertilised by the power of the sun. A place for healing, ritual and regeneration.

Dozemary Pool (Five of Cups)

Dozemary Pool lies isolated, high on Bodmin Moor in Cornwall; a lonely place, brooding and mysterious. The vicinity is said to be haunted by a dark spirit, sad and tormented. This may be a folk memory of some Celtic god, but the Cornish identify it with the spirit of Jan Tregeagle doomed to eternal torment for his sins in life. Tregeagle was a real person, a stern magistrate in the early 1600s who was corrupt and unpopular; according to legend he sold his soul to the devil. His spirit was condemned to attempt the impossible task of emptying the bottomless lake of Dozemary with a perforated limpet shell. Dozemary Pool also has another legend associated with it: it is one of the several sites said to have been the body of water where Sir Bedevere returned Arthur’s sword to the Lady of the Lake. After the last great battle King Arthur lay mortally wounded, tended only by one remaining knight, Sir Bedevere. Knowing that his magic sword, Excalibur, must be returned from whence it came he drew it from its scabbard and asked Bedevere to take it to a nearby body of water and throw it in. Bedevere set off, but thinking it a pity to discard such a fine sword, hid it and returned to the King. Arthur asked him what he saw as the sword entered the water. Bedevere replied ‘only the wind on the waves’ and Arthur knew that he had not done as he asked. Once again he asked the knight to fulfil his request. Again Bedevere failed to throw in the sword, thinking the future of Albion might lie with it. Hiding it in some rushes he returned to Arthur who asked him what he saw. ‘Only the wind on the waves’ said Bedevere. Arthur chided the knight for failing to carry out his king’s last request, and ashamed, Bedevere returned to the lake and threw in Excalibur. The sword described a shining arc, and as it fell towards the lake a woman’s arm, clad in white samite, rose from the lake and the beautiful hand clasped the sword and held it high, before descending with it into the depths of the water. When Bedevere told Arthur what he had seen, the king knew that this time his faithful knight had carried out his request and that Excalibur was safe in the keeping of the Lady of the Lake, until Albion should need it again.

Drombeg (Ace of Discs, Two of Swords)

Drombeg Stone Circle, also known as the Druid’s Altar, which is located in County Cork in Ireland. The circle is 31 feet in diameter and consists of seventeen honey coloured smooth sandstone pillars. It is aligned to the winter solstice sunset, which can be observed from the recumbent stone, setting in a notch in the hillside a mile away.  For generations the people of Drombeg visited the circle at the midwinter solstice to solicit the return of the sun and the summer.

Edale (Nine of Wands)

Edale in Derbyshire, England, is said to be haunted by phantom horses and phantom dogs. The position is unassailable, with a clear view of the surrounding countryside.

Glastonbury Tor (Nine of Cups, Queen of Cups)

According to legend, the Holy Grail was hidden in the Chalice Well, which springs at the bottom of Chalice Hill at Glastonbury, by Joseph of Arimathea, who brought it from the Holy Land. It is said that the well contains the precious blood [the water is red and rich in iron] and it is credited with many healing miracles. However, Glastonbury was a holy place and the well a healing shrine at least 1000 years before Christianity. Glastonbury Tor is a conical hill which can be seen from miles around. Its ridges form a spiral path to the summit and following them in the correct way is said to give access to the Otherworld, the fairy realm of Annwn ruled by King Gwyn ap Nudd, the Lord of the Underworld who is sometimes said to be the leader of the Wild Hunt.  For the Celts Glastonbury was Ynys-witrin, the Isle of Glass, where the souls and bodies of the dead were separated and received by the Underworld King. According to some, Glastonbury is the legendary Isle of Avalon since it used to became an island each winter as the surrounding land flooded. Arthur is said to have been transported to Avalon in a magical barge at the point of his death, where he will sleep until Britain shall need him again. The name ‘Avalon’ comes from the Welsh afal which means ‘apple’. The nearby Abbey claimed that Arthur was buried within its precincts. A grave opened in the twelfth century was found to contain a tall man and a woman, and an inscription which stated ‘Here in the Isle of Avalon the famous King Arthur lies buried’. It is said that the bones were scattered and lost at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries. The tower on the summit is dedicated to St Michael, an earlier church having been destroyed by an earthquake. According to Arthurian legend it was the fortress of King Melwas, ruler of the Summerland, the kingdom of the Isle of Apples or Avalon, both a real place of apple orchards in the South of England, and the mystical realm to which the soul travels at death or initiation.

Glendalough (The Tower)

Glendalough in County Wicklow, Ireland, is the site of a monastic settlement, founded by St Caoimhghin. The saint is said to have been born without any pain to his mother and was nourished by a mysterious white cow. An angel told him to go to Gleann Da Loch [‘the valley of the two lakes’] and found a monastery.  He banished a great monster from the larger lake, and at the smaller lake, men and beasts could be healed as the monster took on their illnesses. Like many British and Irish saints, St Caoimhghin has obviously taken on many aspects of earlier Celtic deities. In mythology gods and goddesses are often nurtured by otherworldly cattle and water is associated with the healing power of the goddess.

Grey Ladies Circle (Two of Discs)

The Grey Ladies or Nine Stones lie on Harthill Moor in Derbyshire, England. In fact there are only four stones left now, though in the mid nineteenth century six were recorded and there may once have been nine. However, nine in the title of a circle often bears no relationship to the number of stones they actually contain. Scholars have invented tortuous explanations relating ‘nine’ to ‘noon’ saying that many stones are said to come alive and dance at midday. In fact few stones are meant to come alive at midday, most reserve this power for certain times of the year or midnight. The Grey Ladies are said to come alive and dance at midnight. They are near to Robin Hood’s Stride, a natural rocky outcrop on the hillside. The two stone pillars or tors are known as the Weasel and the Inaccessible and are marked with Bronze Age cup and ring marks, and probably played a significant part in Pagan worship as they are surrounded by a number of pre-historic sites including several circles, barrows and caves. The Robin Hood of the title is the Green Man, the vital and fecund spirit of earth energy.  According to local legend the Grey Ladies were seven maidens who were turned to stone when they saw him urinating from the top of the tors. There are several local associations with Robin Hood since Little John is said to have been born in the village of Hathersage which lies a few miles away and place names such as Hood Brook, Little John’s Well, Robin Hood’s Cross, and Robin Hood’s Cave are all nearby. Little John’s bow, which was 6 feet 7 inches long is said to have been kept in the local church until the nineteenth century, while a 10 foot grave in the churchyard is reputedly his resting place.

Lanyon Quoit (The Ace of Wands)

Lanyon Quoit stands amidst moorland in Cornwall, and is a prehistoric burial chamber at least five thousand years old. It is sometimes called the Giant's Quoit or the Giant's Table and is linked by a ley to the Tregaseal Stone Circle, the Carfury Standing Stone, Chysauster and a stone cross at Brunion. Formerly there was a ring of stones a hundred yards to the north, another barrow and ring to the south-west and a ‘high stone’ that once stood eighty yards away to the west north west. The capstone supposedly fell off during a severe storm in the early eighteen hundreds [more likely it had been weakened by treasure hunters] and was re-erected ten years later: some feat, as it weighs thirteen and a half tons.  The quoit is part of a long mound, and originally it probably had an ante-chamber and an inner room. Quoits [sometimes called dolmens or cromlechs] are among the oldest pre-historic structures.  They were orientated to specific solar or lunar events and were very visible in the landscape. Quoits are usually described as graves, though bones are rarely found inside and we know that people were not buried there and then the tomb sealed, like a pyramid, but that they continued to be used by the living for up to a thousand years.  The people of the tribe went to the mounds to consult the spirits of the ancestors, to bring them gifts, undergo initiations and perform rituals to include the ancestors in the continuing cycle of nature- life, marriage, death and rebirth.

Long Man of Wilmington (Two of Wands)

The long Man of Wilmington is in Sussex, one of the last areas to become Christianised in England.  He is a 230 foot high chalk figure, carved into the turf of Windover Hill and is said to be the largest drawing of a human figure in the world. By the middle of the nineteenth century he had become so overgrown that he was only visible in certain lights and after snow, and the Duke of Devonshire paid for his restoration.  According to tradition he once had a hat, and evidence suggests this may have been a horned helmet. In each hand he holds a staff.  It may be that the giant is positioned on the hill so that he is only visible when the sun strikes him at a certain angle, and the position of his staves alters with the position of the sun. Locally he is called ‘the Green Man’. It is thought he may have been carved by the Iron Age Celtic tribe the Atrebates and represent a guardian tribal god, though some think it more likely he portrays a later Saxon god or folk hero. His precise identity remains elusive. The Doomsday Book records the area in which he lies as ‘Wandelmestrei’ named after the Germanic God Waendal.  Another possibility is that he is ‘the fighting man’ the badge of King Harold, the last of the Saxon Kings. In folklore tales the giant was once a living person who battled with another giant. They fought by throwing huge boulders at each other.  Eventually the Long Man was killed and laid out on the hill, where his outline remains.

Men an Tol (Eight of Swords)

The Men an Tol is a Bronze Age monument  situated on the Penwith Peninsula in Cornwall. There are four stones in the monument, one fallen, two uprights and a circular holed stone which stands between them. At one time there may have been more to the monument, since more stones are located a short distance away. The stones are aligned to the Beltane and Lughnasa sunrises, and the Samhain and Imbolc sunsets. Holed stones, large or small, are emblems of the Goddess, her womb and her power of healing. Children with tuberculosis were passed naked three times though the hole, then drawn three times along the grass along widdershins [anti-sunwise]. Crawling into the stone was a ritual act of crawling into the womb of the Goddess, and emerging reborn from the other side. Contact with the ground afterwards earthed the disease. To the present day people crawl through the stone widdershins nine times to cure back problems. Widdershins is a banishing movement and so the ritual movement banishes the disease. The stones were also believed to cure barrenness and confer luck on new babies who were passed through the hole. Couples would hold hands through the stone to seal an engagement and attract fertility. If the holed stone represents the womb of the Goddess the two uprights are obviously phallic, possibly the twin gods of the summer and winter.

Merry Maidens (Eight of Wands)

The Merry Maidens is a stone circle standing on the Penwith Peninsula of Cornwall. It consists of nineteen evenly spaced stones. According to local legend they are young girls tuned to stone for the sin of dancing on the Sabbath. Nearby are two granite pillars called the Pipers, said to be the two evil spirits who tempted the maidens. The legend is a fairly late one, and possibly the two pillars originally represented the twin aspects of the sun god. The circle is surrounded by a number of other prehistoric sites and it is thought that a second circle once stood four hundred yards to the south west.

Newgrange (Four of Swords) Newgrange is a passage grave in County Meath, Ireland. It was constructed around 3000 BCE.  It is decorated with spirals, chevrons and lozenges, symbols of rebirth and the earth goddess. It used to be the custom to bury people with their feet facing east, the direction of the newly risen sun, so that they might rise to their new life with the sun.

Rollright Stones (Seven of Cups, Five of Discs) The Rollrights consist of a stone circle called 'The King's Men', a standing stone called the King Stone and a burial chamber called the Whispering Knights. They are a Bronze Age temple on the border of Oxfordshire and Warwickshire, about 100 feet in diameter. It is said that no one has ever been able to count the stones, and that anyone who does and gets the same number twice will die. Actually there are seventy two.  According to legend they are a king and his army turned into stone by a witch.  The army had conquered all England as far as the village of Little Rollright and the king marched up the hill only to be met by a witch who announced to him ‘Seven long strides thou shall take! If Long Compton thou canst see, King of England thou shalt be!’ Now Long Compton is just over the brow of the hill, so confidently the King took seven great strides forward, but his view was blocked by a mound. Laughing the witch turned the king and his men into stones and herself into an elder tree. As the tree bloomed at midsummer the blossom would be cut by the local populace, and it is said that the King turns his head to watch. Fairies are said to live in the mound upon which the king stone stands and to come out at night to dance around it. The stones are also said to come alive at midnight, or at least at New Year, when they perform strange dances and go down to the nearby brook for a drink.

Silbury Hill (The Lady)

Silbury Hill, near Avebury in Wiltshire, was constructed around 4,600 years ago and represents the womb of the Goddess. Originally a water filled trench surrounded it. The full moon in late July or early August [Lughnasa] would be reflected in the waters, so that it appeared a child’s head was emerging from the womb. As the moon moved up through the sky it appeared reflected at the breast of the image, as though suckling. As the moon moved higher the ‘milk’ was released from the breast as the moat reflected the moonlight. With the cutting of the umbilical cord the signal was given to begin the harvest.

Snowdonia (Three of Swords)

Snowdonia is a mountainous region in Wales much associated with King Arthur. The reign of King Arthur began when he drew the magical sword Excalibur from the stone, and he established the legendary realm of Logres, a golden age of peace and the fellowship of the round table, where all knights were equal. As is often the case, all this was destroyed by the jealousy and malevolence of one man, Arthur’s bastard son Mordred, who fomented mistrust and dissatisfaction in the court to break up the fellowship. Many knights and soldiers threw in their lot with Mordred as an easier option to the high principles of Arthur’s rule. As the forces drew together for the last battle, Arthur recalled that Merlin had foretold that the holy realm of Logres should pass away and the land return to darkness. As he mused, the spirit of Gawain appeared to him and prophesied that if he fought on the morrow the kingdom and his life should be lost. Hoping to avert this, Arthur sent his faithful friend Bedivere to make a truce with Mordred. The two armies gathered to treat, but Arthur warned his troops ‘If you see a sword drawn, charge and slay the traitor Mordred, for I do not trust him’ and Mordred spoke likewise to his own men. Arthur and Mordred met and reached an agreement and a peace treaty was duly signed. However, it chanced that an adder came out of the heather and bit one of Mordred’s knights on the heel. Without thinking, the knight drew his sword and slew the snake. When the two armies saw the flash of a blade, they cried out and fell on each other. It came about that many were killed, and Arthur and Mordred dealt each other death blows. Arthur is said to have died on Snowdon and to have been buried at Bwlch y Saethau [Pass of the Arrows]. At Llyn Llydaw, east of Snowdon, is one of the candidates for the lake where Bedivere is said to have thrown Arthur's sword after the king's death.

St Michael’s Mount (Ace of Swords)

St. Michael’s Mount, a small island off the coast of Cornwall, is linked to the mainland village of Marazion by a causeway. For the ancients, islands like St. Michael’s Mount were often sites of initiation, since they were places between places, neither part of the mainland nor islands proper.  It is the termination of the long ley or dragon line called the St Michael's Line which stretches halfway across Britain. This earth energy line is oriented to sunrise at Beltane and Lughnasa, when it is activated as the sun rises and to sunset at Imbolc and Samhain, when the energy is discharged. The southern aspect of this line is called the Great Dragon Line where churches dedicated to St Michael and St George abound. Both saints are known as dragon slayers, overcoming the darkness, remembered with torches and bonfires. These were ancient sites where our Pagan ancestors invoked the fertile dragon power of the earth and which were later superimposed with Christian churches dedicated to dragon slaying deities, a statement that Paganism had been overcome in that area. St Michael is one of the patron saints of Cornwall and associated with the overcoming of winter and death. He is said to have appeared on May 8th on St Michael’s Mount in AD 590. The nearby Helston Furry Dance is celebrated on May 8th, a serpentine dance which banishes winter and winds up a spiral of energy, coiling up the summer.

Stonehenge (The Druid)

Stonehenge was once quite wrongly thought to be a Druid temple, as it predates their activity in Britain by some 2,000 years. Its construction probably began around 3300 BCE and was finished in its present form around 1800 BCE. It is a ritual observatory, orientated to the midsummer sun rise.  However, the Druids probably took over the ritual sites of the aboriginal peoples of Britain and as far as we can tell midsummer festivities have been held at Stonehenge almost continually from ancient to modern times. When it was built the first ray of the midsummer sun would have been in line with the axis of the henge, rising between the Heel Stone and its missing companion, and this axis extended in a landscape line to link with two Iron Age earthworks some miles distant: Sidbury Hill one side and Grovely Castle on the other. However, the stones do not only mark the position of the summer solstice dawn, but a diagonal across the Station Stone gives the sunrises and sunsets on the cross quarter days and both the midwinter sunset  and the equinox moonrises are indicated.

Uffington White Horse (Seven of Swords)

Though there are many chalk horse carvings on the hillsides of Britain, this is the oldest, constructed around 1400 BCE. Horses were sacred both to the Celts and the aboriginal peoples of Britain. They are swift and strong and their domestication enabled mankind to perform hitherto impossible tasks, including distant travel and the spread of civilisations.   Some say that the Uffington Horse is really a dragon as it looks down on the Dragon Hill, where St. George is reputed to have slain the dragon. There is a bare patch on top of the hill where nothing will grow, said to have been caused by the poisonous dragon’s blood. Though the horse is a Celtic carving, it is suggested that the site may have held importance in Neolithic times as part of ley [dragon power] network. A Bronze Age burial mound has been excavated near the head of the horse and he looks down on the Ridgeway, an ancient path which crosses southern England from Dover to Ilchester in Somerset. Wayland’s Smithy [a Neolithic burial chamber] is only about a mile from the horse and according to legend its magical smith made the horseshoes for the giant horse.

Wayland's Smithy (Ten of Wands)

Wayland's Smithy, a chambered Neolithic long barrow in Berkshire, England, is located only about a mile from the Uffington Horse, a chalk hill figure.  Wayland or Volund was a Saxon smith god and it is said that if a horse should be tethered at Wayland's Smithy under a full moon, the owner returning in the morning would find it newly shod.  The Smithy is actually a burial chamber, an underworld womb of the Goddess where the ancients believed that the dead prepared for rebirth.  Wayland was an incarnation of the underworld smith, who tempered the spirit on its journey through the underworld to prepare it for new life.

Sacred Sites in the Sacred Circle Tarot

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Photographs Paul Mason