Some science behind the scenes

Sacred geography - the muddying of the maps

I believe that  initially in prehistory, sacred geographical sites and spirit lines were used in an entirely spiritual context by the shamans of the time, much as they were in Australia and by the Native American Indians.  Each site was also probably either a marker of the route or had spiritual significance [symbolic or ceremonial].  Over time, however, the initial clear picture – one which was probably as clear as the maps of the native American Indians, were affected by three things:

  • Multiple use of the sites
  • Trade
  • The changes of religion and the persecution of the old shamans
  • The conquering of Britain by hostile forces

In effect the historical picture has become muddied over time, partly due to later religious interference, partly due to the increase in trade as communities changed from hunting and gathering to agriculture and trade and partly because Britain was subject to waves of invaders all with designs on the land and the resources.

Multiple use for sites – although sites were initially sacred sites, sites for spiritual purposes, it was clear that any gathering of people assembled for the purposes of a religious ceremony were also conveniently gathered together for other purposes. As populations expanded and the need for more organisation and inter communication between groups of people was needed, the sites themselves were expanded so that they could become the sites for legislative assemblies, administration, and recreation.  They became the site of fairs, and festivals – much as they are today.  Our fetes are a distant reminder of a perhaps merry gathering of people,  together for the purposes of enjoyment and possibly match making.

Alfred Watkins – The Old Straight Track
Gomme’s book [Primitive Folk Moots] abounds in moot hills to legal assemblies and describes the Law ting (althing or great law gathering of the Shetlands) held in ‘an island in the middle of a fresh water lake .. the entrance by some stones laid in the water and in the holm there are 4 great stones upon which sat the judge, clerk  and other officers’

Trade – As the population of Britain settled, and became more agricultural, trading routes opened up.  Tin, pottery, flint, wool, iron, charcoal, salt and so on were traded between settlements and these settlements became villages.  This is when ley lines as spiritual paths became real paths, but not all of them.  Watkins himself noticed that those ley lines that had become real roads or paths were the more accessible and had become that way because they linked trading towns and markets.  Although they deviated from the ley lines when they came to obstacles, they occasionally followed the ley line, where it was practical to do so.  Thus at the end of these ley lines ‘made physical’ we find market towns and communities which had possibly arisen around a sacred site and become trading towns.

Alfred Watkins – The Old Straight Track
It will probably be said that the sunken roads are due to the wear and tear of centuries of traffic.  This is so in some cases ….  Some sunken roads, although having straight portions… often make a curve above or below the straight part. 

Religion – The Romans were one of the first waves of invaders to have a really significant impact.  As with many conquering nations they set about building their temples over sacred sites and building their roads over the physical trade routes.  Watkins identified a number of Roman roads that appeared to have been built over existing roads – trade routes.  These trade routes were in some cases also ley lines.  The impact on the sites, however, appears to have been nothing in comparison with the impact on the people.  Watkins identified this as the time when the shamans of Britain were persecuted. 

Alfred Watkins – The Old Straight Track
[Druids] were driven by the victorious Roman invaders onto Mona, the Isle of Anglesea.  It was the policy of the Romans to exterminate them for political reasons 

The knowledge of the ley lines and all the cultural and religious history of Britain was invested in its Druids – its shamans -  as such the extermination and loss of this key group of people not only probably resulted in the total subjugation of the indigenous people, but the loss of all knowledge of the ley lines as spiritual paths or our sacred geography.   Although memory of them probably still remained in myth and legend or folk tale, it would have had to have been very secretly passed on and camouflaged in order that the person concerned was not persecuted.
It is clear, however, that the subjugation and extermination policy did not entirely succeed.  Druids and shamans managed to survive in Wales, Scotland and Ireland and isolated pockets in the UK.  But a second wave of religious impact hit Britain - Christianity and Christianity was probably the final blow. 
As Christianity spread, the skills of the shaman were entirely suppressed by religious groups.  Shamans were classified as ‘evil’.  Shamanic healers were deemed to be ‘wicked witches’ or ‘wizards’, old symbols became ‘the work of the devil’.  They suffered.

Alfred Watkins – The Old Straight Track
The church – always antagonistic to Druids, wizards and the like – classed heretics with them in the time of the Spanish Inquisition and sent them to the stake dressed in a fantastic conjurer’s robe and steeple hat and carrying a long wand

The march of Christianity into Britain and Ireland was as much an act of a conqueror as that of an army.  They used propaganda, torture, and desecration of sacred sites.
Watkins made especial note of how many Christian churches were built over former sacred sites. Wells cathedral for example is built over a sacred well as is Gloucester cathedral.  Many churches are built over mounds and barrows.  He even noted in his book the edict which came from the Christian church at the time.

Alfred Watkins – The Old Straight Track
Church building commenced in historic times, and there are at least two documents clearly indicating [that churches were built over more ancient sites].  The first is the letter (AD 601) from Pope Gregory to Abbot Mellitus (given in Bede’s Ecclesiastical history) sending a message to Augustus that pagan ‘temples’ ought not to be destroyed, but purified and converted to churches.  The second is referred to on page 35 in Johnson’s ‘Byways in British Archaeology’:
“It is on record that Patrick, Bishop of the Hebrides, desired Orlygus to build a church wherever he found the upright stones or menhirs"

Conquering armies–  When any army or large group of people invade another country with the objective of obtaining another nation’s property, they do two things – they build defensive structures which enable them to keep what they have taken and they tend to build those defensive structures over existing venerated and sacred sites, as a form of subjugation.  It aims to demoralise the population conquered.  The Vikings did it, the Romans did it and the Normans did it.
A number of sacred sites have been used as the foundation for defensive positions.  One of the most prevalent buildings which used sacred sites is the castle, many of which were built on mounds – handy raised solid platforms which made the site excellent for defensive purposes.   Prehistoric Britain turned into a land frequently invaded and castles were the end result.
Watkins cites a huge number of castles built over mounds – Raglan was built over Cherry Tree Tump, Exeter Castle was built over Red Mount, Gormount Castle was built over the mound of the same name, Hereford castle was built over Hogg’s mount.  He also mentions Monmouth castle, White Castle in the Tower of London, Longtown castle and so on.  His conclusion was

Alfred Watkins – The Old Straight Track
Almost all castles [seem] to have been built on the sites of such mounds 

It was at this point that we start to see beacons being used for other purposes. When you suddenly find yourself facing an enemy hell bent on destroying you and capturing your possessions, you band together and warn everyone else of the enemy’s intentions.  The Native American Indians did it and the native British people did it too.
Thus as time went on beacons were used far more to warn of invasion or danger. 

Observations

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