Some science behind the scenes

Sacred geography - beacons

Beacons have important symbolism in their own right.  Physically they can thus be a symbolic reminder or serve a functional use.

The word beacon is from the old English from which we derive the words ‘to beckon’ or ‘come to me’.  The original use for a beacon was thus not a warning or danger signal, but an indicator of position, a sort of place marker, in the dark, of somewhere special.

Later on it was realised that these same beacons could also act as a guide, a light to a path or track – much as torches were lit to light the way along dark roads or alleyways in medieval times – for those perhaps who had left it late to travel.  So they guided in the weary traveller.  But the hunter gatherer for whom the beacon was originally intended did not spend his life travelling to distant places as his livelihood was based on one well known area.

Beacons were placed on the tops of prominent structures or hills and mountains

 

George Borrow – Wild Wales
There stood I on the cairn of the Grey Giant looking around me.  I thought on the old times when Mona was the grand seat of Druidical superstition, when adoration was made .. to Wyn ab Nudd, Lord of the Unknown …...  I thought on the times when the Beal fire blazed on this height, on the neighbouring promontory, on the copestones of Eryri, and on every high hill throughout Britain, on the eve of the first of May

and

Alfred Watkins – The Old Straight Track
[Sir Norman Lockyer – Stonehenge, Dawn of Astronomy] mentions that in Brittany, fires are still lighted on Midsummer day or Eve on the tumulus at Carnac and at other spots and are called Tan Heol.  This is Celtic and in modern Welsh means ‘road of fire’.
It is unnecessary to give details of the widespread practise -  even up to recent times – of lighting hill top fires at the quarters and half quarters of the year, chiefly on the eve of Midsummer day and May day, the latter being called Beltane which means Baal Fire

Many of the relevant hill and promontories have been named with the word beacon in England and the word tan which in Welsh means beacon or fire.  Thus we have places such as Takpen Beacon, Beacon farm, Punchbowle Beacon, Tanhead, and Tan Hill.

Alfred Watkins – The Old Straight Track
A large number of beacon hills and points are found in any part of the kingdom, most of them lofty hills with unmistakeable names, as Pen-y-Beacon, the Brecon Beacons, Treleck Beacon.  Other hilltop names seem also to indicate use as fire beacon points.  Such as Firle Beacon, Tan Hill, Solsbury Hill, Bexhill … The case in which I found leys … terminating in hill points with beacon names are innumerable

He gives other sorts of place names which also seem to indicate the presence of early beacons – Fire Stone cross in Dartmoor, Flamborough Head, Flamstead End, Brandis Cross, Brent [meaning burnt], brenton and Brentwood.  It is worth mentioning that beacon fires are still lit on Mont St Michel in France which still has sacred significance, and they used to be lit on St Michael’s Mount in Cornwall.

Perhaps the most important aspect of Watkins’s analysis is the association of fire and that important phrase he uses of Tan Heol meaning a fire road.  They mark the ends of fire roads – spiritual paths – but have the advantage that they can be seen at night.

Symbolically an enlightened person, physically a place where people go to be enlightened and purified by symbolic fire.

References

Tolkien knew his symbolism -as did the people who made the film Lord of the Rings - here is a wonderful clip where they light the beacons

 

Observations

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