Stonehenge and Other British Stone Monuments Astronomically Considered, by Norman Lockyer, , at sacred-texts.com
THE recent chapters have, I think, established, by the evidence derived from folklore and tradition, that there was in the long past a combined worship of trees, wells and streams in the neighbourhood of sacred places, the sacred place being a stone circle or some other monument built up of stones.
We have gathered also that the chief times of worship were on or near the most important dates defined for us by the May year, the original year marked out by the various agricultural and other operations proper to the various seasons.
It is again imperative that I should point out that if the basis of this worship was not utility it must have been started by men sufficiently skilled to indicate by their astronomical knowledge the proper times for the various operations to which I have referred. In this we see the reason for the local combination of the worship in the neighbourhood of the stones, for the stones were really the instruments which enabled the astronomer-priest to be useful to
the community; that he in process of time became powerful and sacred, because he was wise, and added medicine and magic to his other qualifications, was only what was to be expected.
I am not the first to have been driven by the facts to note the close association to I have referred, that the cults were not separate but were parts of one whole.
Wood-Martin speaks with the most certain sound on this point. "It will be seen that, from a review of the whole subject, stone, water, tree, and animal-worship are intimately connected." 1
What the analysis in the recent chapters, taken in connection with the astronomical results previously stated, has done is perhaps to give a clear reason for the connection. Not only were the cults started together, but they remained together for a long time; it is only in quite late years that the traditions have become so dim that practices once closely connected are now dealt with apart from the rest.
Hope points out (p. xxii) that the 16th of the canons of the reign of Edgar, A.D. 963, which enjoins the, clergy to be diligent, advance Christianity, and extinguish heathenism, mentions especially the worship of stones, trees, and fountains. The laws of Knut (A.D. 1018) specify the worship "of heathen gods, the sun, moon, fire, rivers, fountains, rocks, or trees."
Now, although the folklore evidence I have brought together has been, gathered for the most part from the British Isles, my inquiries have not been limited to that area.
It was natural that when the study of folklore had suggested that there was a close connection between the worship carried on in Britain at stone monuments, sacred trees, and sacred wells an attempt should have been made to see whether these three cults had been associated out of Britain with the ceremonials of any of the early peoples for which complete and trustworthy information is available.
On this point the traditions of widely sundered countries is amazingly strong.
The folklore of the Pyrenees, France, Spain and Portugal regarding sacred wells is very similar to that of Ireland. Borlase writes: 1
"It is interesting to notice that the pre-Christian custom called dessil, or circuit around a venerated spot; which is practised in Ireland in the case of one dolmen at least, as well as at wells and Churches innumerable, is found also in Portugal."
In the Pyrenees, too, fairies and spirits are thought much of in this connection. Borlase tells us: 2 "They are the presiding genii of certain wells." He adds:
"It is not in Ireland alone that dolmens are associated with the notion of wells and water springs. The Portuguese names, Anta do Fontao, Fonte Coberta, Anta do Fonte-de Mouratao, and the French names, Fonte de Bourre, and Fonte nay le Marmion, show this to be the case. 3
In Persia Sir Wm. Ouseley saw a tree covered with rags, and similar trees in the Himalayas are associated with large heaps of stones (Gomme, p. 105).
The late General Pitt-Rivers affirms that the customs of well-offerings I referred to in the last chapter are invariably associated with cairns, megalithic monuments or some such early Pagan institutions; and he adds that the area in which traces of well-offerings are found is conterminous with the area of the megalithic monuments. 1
The idea that the waters of certain wells have marvellous healing powers is also not confined to the British Isles, for in a great many parts of Europe, perhaps more especially in France, Spain and Portugal, we find instances.
The practice of worshipping in connection with wells and the sacred stones and sacred trees which were associated with them, as we have seen, was indeed in ancient days almost, if not quite, universal wherever man existed. The traditions of the past, therefore, are to be gathered over a very wide area. I quote a summary of the universality of this practice given by the late General Pitt-Rivers in the paper already noticed:
"Burton says it extends throughout northern Africa from west to east; Mungo Park mentions it in western Africa; Sir Samuel Baker speaks of it on the confines of Abyssinia, and says that the people who practised it were unable to assign a reason for doing so Burton also found the same custom in Arabia during his pilgrimage to Mecca; in Persia Sir William Ouseley saw a tree close to a large monolith covered with these rags, and he describes it as a practice appertaining to a religion long since proscribed in that country; in the Dekkan and Ceylon. Colonel Leslie says that the trees in the neighbourhood of
wells may be seen covered with similar scraps of cotton; Dr. A. Campbell speaks of it as being practised by the Limboos near Darjeeling in the Himalaya, where it is associated, as in Ireland, with large heaps of stones; and Huc in his travels mentions it among the Tartars."
The astronomical facts given in this book, gathered from a study of the monuments in these islands, can only give us information touching the introduction of the combined worship here.
My investigations have strongly suggested, to say the least, that there were men here with knowledge enough to utilise the movements of the sun and stars for temple, and no doubt practical purposes before 2000 B.C., that is, a thousand years before Solomon was born, and at about the time that the Hecatompedon was founded at Athens.
If this is anywhere near the truth, these men must have been representatives of a very old civilisation.
Now the civilisation principally considered by archæologists in connection with the building of the monuments which I have studied is the Aryan, of which the Celts formed a branch. This view, however, is not universally held; the late General Pitt-Rivers, and I know of no higher authority, stated his opinion that "The megalithic monuments . . . take us back to pre-Aryan people, and suggest the spread of this people over the area covered by their remains." 1
Mr. Gomme is of the same opinion (p. 27):
"Ceremonies which are demonstrably non-Aryan in India, even in the presence of Aryan people, must in origin have been non-Aryan in Europe, though the
race from whom they have descended is not at present identified by ethnologists."
Sergi also points out:—
"Indo-Germanism led to almost entire forgetfulness of the most ancient civilisations of the earth, those born in the valleys of the Euphrates and the Tigris, and in the valley of the Nile; no influence was granted to them over Greco-Roman classic civilisation, almost none anywhere in the Mediterranean." 1
It is not necessary for me to deal at length with the great Aryan controversy in this book, even if the subject were within my competence, which it is not; but now that we have a large number of monuments dated, say, within twenty years of their use, it is important to bring forward some dates arrived at by archæologists and philologists to compare with those which the astronomical method of inquiry has revealed.
Hall 2 gives evidence to show that the Aryans did not reach Greece till after the earlier period of the Mycenæan age, which he dates at about 1700 B.C.
With regard to the date of the Aryan invasion of Britain, Mr. Read, of the Department of Ethnography, British Museum, informs me that it may be taken as about 1000 B.C.; it was associated with cremation. It is highly probable that these Aryans were the Goidels or the Gael. These were followed some 700 years later by another Aryan sept—the Brythons. Mr. Read is also of opinion that the Goidels reached Britain from the country round the South Baltic, and the Brythons from or through north-east France.
Archæologists however, recognise a pre-Aryan invasion, about 1800 B.C. (a date determined by the introduction of bronze), of a brachycephalic folk who built covered barrows, different in these respects from the neolithic folk, who were long-skulled and built long barrows. Now, in relation to the stone structures to which this book especially refers, the question arises, are we then dealing with this swarm or the people whom they found on the soil?
There are some indications in the traditions which imply that we are really dealing with an early stone age, when flints were the only weapons, and there were no clothes to speak of. I will give one or two examples of these traditions. Gomme (p. 53) refers to a singular fact preserved among the ceremonies of witchcraft in Scotland:
"In order to injure the waxen image of the intended victim, the implements used in some cases by the witches were stone arrowheads, or elf-shots, as they were called, and their use was accompanied by an incantation. Here we have, in the undoubted form of a prehistoric implement, the oldest untouched detail of early life which has been preserved by witchcraft."
Gomme (p. 39) also tells us that one of the May practices at Stirling is for boys of ten and twelve years, old to divest themselves of their clothing, and in a state of nudity to run round certain natural or artificial circles. "Formerly the rounded summit of Demyat, an eminence in the Ochil range, was a favourite scene of this strange pastime, but for many years it has been performed at the King's Knot, in Stirling, an octagonal mound, in the Royal Gardens. The performances
are not infrequently repeated at Midsummer and Laminas." He adds, "The fact that in this instance the practice is continued only by boys of ten and twelve years old, shows that we have here one of the last stages of an old rite before its final abolition."
Baring-Gould (p. 21) provides us with a practice in Brittany which would seem to be a remnant of a pre-clothing age.
Near Carnac is a menhir, at which a singular "ceremony took place till comparatively recently, and may perhaps still be practised, in secret. A married couple that have no family repair to this stone when the moon is full, strip themselves stark naked and course one another round it a prescribed number of times, whilst their relations keep guard against intrusion at a respectful distance."
Now it is in connection with this question that I am in hopes that some help may be got from the astronomical results recorded in the present volume. The dates revealed by the orientation of the circles and outstanding stones already dealt with (and there is a large number to follow) indicate that it is among the records of some people of whom the civilisation is very ancient that we must look in the first instance with a view of tracing the origin of our British. monuments.
Further, now that we have been able to follow their astronomical methods, to note how sound they were, and to gather, the purposes of utility they were intended to serve, it is simply common sense to inquire, in the first instance, if they may have been connected with these ancient peoples whose astronomical skill is
universally recognised, and whose records and even observations have come down to us.
Now, while we know nothing of the astronomy of: the Aryans generally, or that of the Celts in particular, the astronomical knowledge of the Babylonians and Egyptians is one of the wonders of the ancient world.
Hence Babylonia and Egypt are at once suggested, and the suggestion is not rendered a less probable one when we remember that both these peoples studied and utilised astronomy at least some 8,000 years ago.
But here we are dealing with two peoples. It is more than probable that they both were associated more or less near the origin with one race, the ideas of which permeated both civilisations.
I have it on the highest authority, that of Dr. Budge, that in Babylonia there were originally the Sumerians and the Semites. The primitive race which conquered the Egyptians seems to have been connected with the former as regards civilisation, and with the latter as regards some aspects of the Egyptian language.
This race was Semitic, and as the pyramids, built some 6,000 years ago, are a proof of the interaction of the two civilisations at that time, for the Easter festival celebrated on the banks of the Nile came from the valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates, we may omit the pre-Semites from our consideration.
There is other evidence that the connection between the Semites and Egyptians was close astronomically, so that any Semitic influence in later times or in other lands would be sure to show traces of this
connection, and in temple worship it would be traceable. While the carefully oriented Egyptian temples built of stone remain and have been carefully studied, those erected in the centres of Semitic power, built of unbaked brick, have for the most part disappeared, but for the most part only; some stone structures remain, but in regard to them there has been no Lepsius; of their orientation, too, little is known, This is all the more to be regretted since Layard, in addition to many E. and N. buildings found at Nimrood; noted at the mound of Kouyunjik, the site of Nineveh, lat. 36° 20´ N., that Sennacherib's palace, which appears to have been built round a central temple, was oriented to the May year. 1 (Az. N. 68° 30´ E. =Dec. N. 16°.)
Now, calling in the Babylonians as the originators of what went on in Britain 4,000 years ago may seem to some to be far-fetched in more ways than one; but the Babylonians were a remarkable people; according to some they originated all the voyaging of the early world, though other authorities point out that the first ships in the eastern seas must have been Indian.
Ihering 2 adduces a series of facts which indicate clearly that the Babylonians carried on maritime navigation at least as early as about 3500 B.C. But, whatever this time was, the Semites and Egyptians had already a rich culture behind them at a time when the Aryans, whatever or wherever their origin; had not made themselves a place in the world's history. An ancient
sea connection between Babylonia and India may explain the similarity of the British and Indian folklore.
Some facts with regard to long distance ancient travel are the following. Our start-point may be that Gudea, a Babylonian king who reigned about 2500 B.C., brought stones from Melukhkha and Makan, that is, Egypt and Sinai (Budge, History of Egypt, ii., 130). Now these stones were taken coastwise from Sinai to Eridu, at the head of the Persian Gulf, a distance of 4,000 miles, and it is also said that then, or even before then, there was a coast-wise traffic to and from Malabar, where teak was got to be used in house- and boat-building. The distance from Eridu coastwise to Malabar, say the present Cannanore, is 2,400 miles.
The distance, coastwise, from Alexandria to Sandwich, where we learn that Phoenicians and others shipped the tin extracted from the mines in Cornwall, is only 5,300 miles, so that a voyage of this length was quite within the powers of the compassless navigators of 2500 B.C.
The old idea that the ancient merchants could make a course from Ushant to, say, Falmouth or Penzance need no longer be entertained; the crossing from Africa to Gibraltar and from Cape Grisnez to Sandwich were both to visible land, i.e. coastwise. The cliffs on the opposite land are easily seen on a clear day.
Hence it would have been easier before the days of astronomical knowledge and compasses to have reached England, and therefore Ireland and the Orkneys,
than to get to some of the islands in the Mediterranean itself. 1
It is seen then that it is possible that Semites might have built our stone monuments between 2000 and 1200 B.C., while it is quite certain that the Aryans did not build them, if the archæologists are not widely wrong in their dates.
Let us, then, begin our inquiries by considering the information available with regard to the Semites. Let us see in the first instance whether they had stone monuments, and sacred trees and sacred wells; a system of worship; and whether this worship was connected with the sun and stars.
It is fortunate for us in this matter that one of the most fully equipped scholars which the last century produced, Robertson Smith, devoted his studies for many years to The Religion of the Semites, and information on the points raised is to our hand; all I need do is to give as shortly as possible a statement of the various conclusions he had reached on the points to which our attention may in the first instance be confined. I quote from his book The Religion of the Semites.
The Semites include the Babylonians, who spoke a Semitic dialect, for there were Sumerian speaking peoples among them, Assyrians, Phoenicians, Hebrews, Arabs and Aramæans, who in ancient times occupied the
fertile lands of Syria, Mesopotamia and Irak from the Mediterranean coast to the base of the mountains of Iran and Armenia. They also embrace the inhabitants of the great Arabian peninsula, which is believed to have been the centre of dispersion.
The ordinary artificial mark of a Semitic sanctuary was the sacrificial pillar, cairn, or rude altar (p. 183); it was a fixed point where, according to primitive rule, the blood of the offering was applied to the sacred stones; or where a sacred tree, as we shall see presently, was hung with gifts; the stones and tree being symbols of the God (p. 151).
Further, it is certain that the original altar among the northern Semites was a great unhewn 1 stone, or a cairn, at which the blood of the victim was shed (p. 185).
Monolithic pillars or cairns of stones are frequently mentioned in the more ancient parts of the Old Testament as marking sanctuaries; Shechem, Bethel, Gilead, Gilgal, Mizpah, Gibeon, and En-Rogel are referred to (p. 186).
There is evidence that in very early times the sanctuary was a cave (p. 183). The obvious successors of a natural cave are, (1) an artificial cave made in the earth like the natural one, and (2) a model or representation of a cave built of stone, with a small entrance which would be barred, and covered over with earth, thus protecting the priests from wild animals and .the weather:
The dolmens and cromlechs which are found in the Semitic area where there are stones doubtless had this origin.
The use of a cave was probably borrowed both by the Egyptians and Greeks,(there is a cave, for instance, at Eleusis) from the Semites.
In later times, when caves or their equivalents were no longer in vogue and temples were erected, they enclosed a Bit-ili or Beth-el, an upright stone, consecrated by oil. 1
We next learn (pp. 170 and 183) that no Canaanite high place was complete without its sacred tree standing beside the altar.
In tree-worship pure and simple as in Arabia, the tree is adored at an annual feast (? May), when it is hung with clothes and women's ornaments (p. 169).
The tree at Mecca to which offerings are made is spoken of as a "tree to hang things on."
The references to "groves" given in the Bible as associated with temple worship are misleading, "groves" being a wrong translation of the word Asherah, which was a pole made of wood which the Jews adopted from the Canaanites. It was ornamented and perhaps draped, and was most probably originally a tree. It may have been used in the "high places" because single trees would not grow there in the East any more than on the moors in Devon and Cornwall.
The antiquity of this emblem is proved by Smith's statement (p. 171) that in an Assyrian monument from
[paragraph continues] Khorsābād an ornamental pole is shown beside a portable altar. "Priests stand before it engaged in an act of worship and touch the pole with their hands or perhaps anoint it with some liquid substance."
The draping of the tree seems to be proved by the passage which suggested the mistranslation to me before I wrote to some Hebrew scholars among my friends who allowed me to consult them. The passage is as follows (II. Kings, xxiii., 6, 7):—
"And he brought out the grove from the house of the Lord, without Jerusalem, unto the brook Kidron, and burned it at the brook Kidron, and stamped it small to powder, and cast the powder thereof upon the graves of the children of the people.
"And he brake down the houses of the Sodomites, that were by the house of the Lord, where the women wove hangings for the grove."
To show how little variation there was in the Semitic practices to those recorded in British folklore I may state that one of my friends—one of the revision committee—informed me that his impression was that the Asherah was furnished with pegs or hooks, so that the garments, &c., might be easily hung on it.
I next come to the sacred waters. A sacred fountain, as well as the sacred tree, was a common symbol at Semitic sanctuaries (p. 183). Nevertheless, they were sometimes absent, the main place being given to altar worship. Further, Robertson Smith was of opinion that this altar worship did not originate with tree [? or water] worship (p. 170); but still, sacred wells are among the oldest and most ineradicable
objects of reverence among all the Semites, and were credited with oracular powers (pp. 128, 154). The fountain or stream was not a mere adjunct to the temple, but was itself one of the principal sacra of the spot. (p. 155).
Undoubtedly there were ordeals among other things at these wells (p. 163). One case is given in Numbers, v., 17, where the words "holy water" occur, and other water "that causeth the curse" is referred to. Ordeal by water is not unknown among British customs.
It is interesting to note that special sanctity was attached to groups of seven wells (p. 167), and that one such group was called Thorayga = Pleiades (p. 153). 1 We may gather from this that one of the most sacred times for Semitic worship was at the May festival, marked by the rising of the Pleiades.
Although I do not find many references in Robertson Smith's book as to great festival days, there is other evidence which shows that the May festival was the greatest, and represented New Year's Day. I have already shown that the May-November year is the one recognised in the present Turkish, Armenian and I believe Persian calendars (p. 29). As; this was the year used at Thebes 3200 B.C., we may, take it that at that time it was universal in W. Asia and the adjacent lands. The Jews afterwards adopted the equinoctial year.
It seems highly probable that we may learn from
many passages in the Old Testament what the Semitic temple practices were generally. There were sacrifices of men and beasts, burnt offerings, and lighting of fires, through which the children were made to pass."
I give some references to these fire practices.
"And thou shalt not let any of thy seed pass through the fire to Molech."—Leviticus, xviii., 21.
“There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch,
"Or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer."—Deuteronomy, xviii., 10, 11.
"He walked in the way of the kings of Israel, yea, and made his son to pass through the fire."—II. Kings, xvi., 3.
"And they caused their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire, and used divination and enchantments."—II. Kings, xvii., 17.
"And he defiled Topheth, which is in the valley of the children of Hinnom, that no man might make his son. or his daughter to pass through the fire to Molech."—II. Kings, xxiii., 10. (See also 4 and 5.)
Fire sacrifices which were interpreted as offerings of fragrant smoke were prevalent among the settled Semites (p. 218). Sacrificial fat was burned on the altar. Smith remarks: "This could be done without any fundamental modification of the old type of sacred stone or altar pillar, simply by making a hollow on the top to receive the grease, and there is some reason to think that fire-altars of this simple kind, which in certain
[paragraph continues] Phoenician types are developed into altar candlesticks, are older than the broad platform altar proper for receiving a burnt offering" (p. 364).
With regard to the worship of the sun and stars by the Semites, we read that the Semite addressed his God as Baal or Bal. The simple form of Baal was the sun. 1
By the Semites the stars were, on account of their movements, held to be alive; they were therefore gods, and it was in consequence of this widespread belief that the stars were worshipped (p. 127). The worshippers "burned incense unto Baal, to the sun, to the moon and to the planets, and, to all the hosts of heaven" (II. Kings, xxiii., 5). Job congratulated himself that his heart had not been enticed, nor his mouth kissed his hand, if he beheld the sun when it shined, or the moon walking in her brightness" (Job, xxxi., 26-27). The worship of the morning star as a god is the old Semitic conception (Isa., xiv., 12), "Lucifer son of the Dawn."
We gather from the later practices of the Saracens that the sacrifices to the morning star could not be made after the star had disappeared in the dawn. 2 The God had to be in the presence of the worshippers.
The Semitic worship was generally carried on in "high places"; in the Babylonian temples built in a river valley the "high places" were secured by building towers with the sanctuary on the top.
These high places were necessary because exact observations of the risings of the heavenly bodies formed part of the ceremonial, and a clear horizon was absolutely imperative. That this was generally understood and acted on is well evidenced by the fact that in the Old Testament the mention of high places is nearly always associated with the references to the religion of the Canaanites and other Semitic nations as if the high places were among the most important points in it.
Other arguments may be founded upon linguistic considerations. Prof. J. Morris Jones 1 finds that the syntax of Welsh and Irish differs from that of other Aryan languages in many important respects, e.g. the verb is put first in every simple sentence. Prof. Rhys had suggested that these differences represented the persistence in Welsh and Irish of the syntax of a pre-Aryan dialect, and as the anthropologists hold that the pre-Aryan population of these islands came from North Africa, it seemed to Prof. Jones that that was the obvious place to look for the origin of these syntactical peculiarities. He finds the similarities between Old Egyptian and neo-Celtic syntax to be astonishing; he shows that practically all the peculiarities of Welsh and Irish syntax are found in the Hamitic languages.
This conclusion practically implies that the bulk of the population of these islands, before the arrival of the Celts, spoke dialects allied to those of North Africa. The syntactical peculiarities must have represented
the habits of thought of the people which survived in the Celtic vocabulary imposed upon them.
These conclusions were not known to me when I began to see the necessity of separating the cult of the June from that of the May year, and the identity of the conclusions drawn from astronomical and linguistic data is to me very striking and also suggests further special inquiries.
It is also worth while to state that the Semites, including the Hebrews and Phoenicians, did not burn their dead. Finally, I may quote a remark made by General Pitt-Rivers in the paper already referred to:—"If we do not accept one old civilization as the origin of the various practices, then we must assume accidental origins in each country."
233:1 Wood-Martin, p. 265.
234:1 Dolmens of Ireland, ii., p. 696.
234:2 Ibid., ii., p. 580.
234:3 Ibid., p. 772.
235:1 Journal Eth. Soc., N.S., i., 64
236:1 Journ. Eth. Soc., N.S., i., 64.
237:1 The Mediterranean Races, p. 4.
237:2 The Oldest Civilisation of Greece, p. 105.
241:1 This I gather from the plan prepared by Lieut. Glascott, R.N., who apparently accompanied Mr. Layard. He indicates the true north point with a sailor's precision in such matters. (See p. 305).
241:2 Evolution of the Aryan, Translation by Drucker, § 32.
243:1 The prevalence of solstitial customs in Sardinia and Corsica, with apparently no trace of the May year, tends to support this view, which is also strengthened by the fact that the solstitial customs in Morocco are very similar to those we read of in Britain: the May year is unnoticed, and there is a second feast at Easter (March 16th). See Westermarck in Folk-lore, vol. xxi., p. 27.
244:1 And if thou wilt make me an altar of stone, thou shalt not build it of hewn stone: for if thou lift up thy tool upon it, thou hast polluted it.—Exodus, xx., 25.
245:1 And Jacob rose up early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put for his pillows, and set it up for a pillar, and poured oil upon the top of it.
And this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God's house; and of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee.—Genesis, xxviii., 18, 22.
247:1 Herodotus, iii., 8, refers to an Arabian rite in which seven stones are smeared with blood among peoples whose only gods were Dionysos and Urania, whom they called Orotalt and Alilat.
249:1 Sayce, Babylonians and Assyrians, p. 234.
249:2 Nili op. quaedam (Paris, 1639), pp. 28, 117, quoted by Robertson Smith, p. 151.
250:1 "Pre-Aryan Syntax in Insular Celtic," in the Welsh People, by Rhys and Brynmor-Jones, pp. 617-641.