Many of us have been long aware of the rich tapestry of pre-xtian religious sites that are to be found in the Wessex countryside. Wessex as many of my readers will know is an ancient Anglo-Saxon kingdom founded in the 6th century CE and continued as a kingdom until the unification of the English state in the 10th century.
It is currently a region of England which consists of the traditional English counties of Hampshire, Wiltshire, Dorset, Somerset, Devon, Berkshire, Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire and the Isle of Wight.
Apart from Wessex being a vitally important and powerful Anglo-Saxon kingdom its landscape is replete with sacred pre-xtian sites such as Stonehenge, Durrington Walls, West Kennet Barrow, Avebury, Wayland`s Smithy, the Uffington White Horse, the Westbury Horse, the Cerne Giant and the Long Man of Wilmington to name but a few. What a wonderful part of the world to live in, being so close to such sacred sites!
My readers I am sure will also be familiar with the concept of Ley Lines, brought to the world`s attention by Alfred Watkins in The Old Straight Track, a no-nonsense analysis of the apparent connecting lines between mounds, moats, mark stones, beacons and sacred sites published in 1925.
David Ride takes this concept further in his The Ancient Symbolic Landscape of Wessex. Dr Ride interprets some significant features that are `written` into the landscape of Wessex using the Ley Line concept and comes to the conclusion that the ancients constructed Stonehenge as an image of the Pole Star in either the Neolithic or Bronze Age and continued to draw connecting lines between sacred features using mathematical principles in order to reflect mythological principles which are also to be found in the heavenly constellations.
Dr Ride does draw upon Germanic and Indo-European mythology in his work and there is one particular part of his work which I wish to discuss. He starts off with focusing on the Rufus Stone in Canterton Glen in the New Forest. The stone which is currently there is a modern green painted cast iron marker. The author repeats a story that the original stone which had a grating placed over it in 1841 may have been stolen by Canadian soldiers in WWII. Trying to find out exactly what happened to the original stone is confusing and the Internet does give conflicting information about the origins of the original stone and even the current one.
Like the original stone the current one is triangular and there may be some esoteric significance to the shape.
It inscription reads:
"Here stood the oak tree, on which an arrow shot by Sir Walter Tyrrell at a stag, glanced and struck King William the Second, surnamed Rufus, on the breast, of which he instantly died, on the second day of August, anno 1100. King William the Second, surnamed Rufus, being slain, as before related, was laid in a cart, belonging to one Purkis to take the king's body to Winchester Cathedral on his cart., and drawn from hence, to Winchester, and buried in the Cathedral Church, of that city."
The stone is meant to stand as a marker for the dead oak tree which once stood upon this spot, marking the supposed location and means of the death of William Rufus. Although tradition states that this is where the king died there is documentary evidence which suggests that he died in the southern part of the forest and a new triangular stone memorial has been erected there which the author does not mention in his book.
Dr Ride demonstrates that the Rufus Stone marks a sacred centre. He draws a parallel between Canterton and the oracle at Delphi. Apparently the Anglo-Saxons did hold a Witan at the nearby East Wellow, the last documented evidence for this was in 931 CE. The Germanic and Celtic peoples are known to have held their legal and sacral meetings at mythically or geographically important central locations
King William Rufus was apparently accidentally killed by an arrow which glanced off the oak tree, fired by Sir Walter Tyrell. A charcoal burner named Purkis carried the king`s body by cart to Winchester. Dr Ride identifies an axis or lay line between the Rufus Stone, Winchester Cathedral and Waltham Abbey, the alleged burial place of the head of the Saxon King Harold II. This line represents a midsummer sunrise line!
Dr Ride argues that Waltham Abbey is a symbol in this context for Walhalla, the Wal prefix meaning "slain warrior".
This line intersects with a horizontal line from the Rufus Stone to Battle Abbey knoll where Harold was killed. The Greenwich Meridian connects the ends of these two lines.
Dr Ride connects the name of the chracoal burner Purkis with Perkos the " the god of thunderclap and lightning". He incorrectly alludes to Perkos as being a "chief pagan god" from the "German wildwood" and "the title of the Teutonic god of the oak tree."
He is of course confusing Perkos with Donar, the German equivalent of the Anglo-Saxon Thunor and the Scandinavian Thor. He rightly draws a link though with the name of Perkos with the oak tree.
The author is no doubt thinking of Perkons, the Latvian Thunder God or Perkonis[Russian], Perkunas[Lithuanian], Perun[Czech] or even Perkele[Finnish]. The reconstructed Proto-Indo-European[PIE] term for this deity is *Perkunos.
There is much more that I can relate of this story but I will have to leave this to a future article so that I do not digress! I do however recommend that those of you who are interested in England`s symbolic landscape read this book. It is a complex but fascinating work and will require at least two readings to begin to appreciate it.