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Odd Alignments

5 December 2013

Peter Knight, in The Cerne Giant – Landscape, Gods, and the Stargate (2012) has made some interesting observations on the Cerne Giant, a Dorset hill figure cut out of the chalk. Variousl theories on its age have been aired over the years, most recently by Darvill (1999), Castleden (1996) and Newman (1997). At one time it was thought the hill figure was cut fairly recently – as a prank. Now, the consensus appears to date it to the Iron Age which seems to be based on the fact the image has vague similarities with Celtic figures and that the Cerne Valley was heavily populated in the Iron Age. The Trendle is a Romano British enclosure on top of the hill above the head of the giant. POver they years the giant has gone from a god to an embarrassment and yet the chalk must have been scoured on a regular basis otherwise it would have become overgrown in grass. Actually, the outline of the giant is formed by trenches cut half a metre deep which was then backfilled with chalk bedrock rammed to ground level.

At this point Knight accepts the hill figure is Iron Age and proceeds from there – but how could it have survived through the evangelical Early Christian era, and the Protestant and Puritan revolution when such things were frowned upon. John North, on the other hand, in his book Stonehenge:Neolithic Man and the Cosmos (1996) prefers a date in the Roman period and associates the giant with Hercules (and the fact the constellation of Hercules was aligned to the giant between 20bc and 200ad. Most astronomical alignments so far identified involve the Sun and the Moon. John North brought in individual stars and constellations. Peter Knight, via his peculiar 'stargate' concept, also suggests that the ancients were interested in stellar alignments. At SIS we have had several people suggest stellar alignments too – and in the Clube and Napier style of theory alignments with meteor streams would be even more likely, having the appearance of emanating out of certain regions of the sky (sky as Leo, Taurus, Orion and various other constellations). This has the benefit of overriding the unlikely idea that individual stars were deemed particularly important in the eyes of the ancients.

Knight does not of course see meteor streams playing a role – which is a pity. Neither does John North. He gads up and down the Cerne valley in search of stargate alignments, making the observation that Gwyn ap Nudd, a Celtic god closely associated with hills such as Glastonbury Tor, was seen as the leader of the Wild Hunt (without actually seeing the obvious link between the Hunt, and things that go bump in the night, with meteor showers). Instead, he claims Gwyn ap Nudd was none other than the heavenly giant Orion – and this is how he views the hill figure, an image of Orion striding along the ridge (both his feet face in the same direction which does give the impression of walking, and yet, the figure faces the viewer directly head on (and that head is in fact quite interesting as it does have parallels with Celtic heads). The Romano British were still Celtic, if a little Romanised (adding Classical gods to their litany), which does not in any way detract from John North. In the summer, Regulus (regal), the brightest star in Leo (symbol of royalty) rises in line with the giant and he also notes the constellation of Hercules plays a role too. He also finds alignments to Deneb and Vega, two other very bright stars, one in the constellation of Cygnus and the other in the Northern Cross. Taurus is also represented in an alignment involving the hill figure, he says, and it all gets a bit crowded as he continues in the same vein.

The Cerne Giant also aligns with the Summer Sky, which he claims is linked to the hill figure daily walking along the ridge between April/May and the autumn, when the figure retraces it's footsteps (on the Starry Night computer software). The Summer Sky is a feature of myth that can easily be misunderstood – but it involves those constellations visible at night from spring to Halloween, dipping below the horizon at a certain point in the year. As such, the summer sky strongly involves Orion – his appearance, and subsequent disappearance (and Orion is associated with meteor showers such as the Perseids).

Physical alignments in the landscape involve the Bellingstone, a standing stone on the hill of that name, at sunrise on Beltaine – coinciding with the same view from the valley floor. This is matched by another alignment from a different hill at Samhain – and so on. Too many alignments – probably. Are they valid – some are.

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