A Glance over my Shoulder
by Weeza Potter
In the beginning…..
“Go on; take a look behind you, over your shoulder to all the women of spirit that have gone before you. Reach out your hand and link hands back in time. How far back does the chain go? You can link hands with the women who first came out of their caves and voiced their feelings to the moon. Take a journey with those earliest women of memory, forward through time to where you stand now.”
These words were said to me by the Lady just as I fell asleep one night not long after this essay was set and I had no clue they would lead to what follows. I had the grand plan of creating a timeline of domestic British Goddess symbology from cave to present day. I have never picked up a history book in my life and was totally clueless! I began with ‘The Language of The Goddess’ by Marija Gimbutas and soon felt like I was drowning. The first lesson was how many artefacts actually exist from so many places around the world and from so far back. I had not realised how much tangible evidence exists from so long ago. My assumption was that our very ancient sisters had led such primitive lives that there was nothing to show for their existence. How wrong I was, there are so many beautiful and mysterious carvings, pots, and statues as well as the earthworks, henges, tombs and temples in which they were found. I was at a loss as to know where to begin with all this material just in one book. Luckily I had known I wanted to look at Britain, it’s my home now and I feel it always has been, this is partly why this path and Priestess training speaks to me so strongly. So what next, still loads of material and a massive timescale to work with? Again the Lady spoke to me through my daily journeys to Avalon and showed me cup and ring markings on a large rock on the beach where my barge was landing. I saw them many times over the next few weeks and in many different light and weather conditions. They really grabbed my heart and I have become somewhat obsessed with them and similar patterns since those first few sightings. I have seen them in real life in Scotland about ten years ago and not really comprehended their age or wondered at their mystery.
Finding my pattern……
So my journey really begins to take some shape – the shape of concentric circles deliberately created by our ancient ancestors. I read ‘The Silbury Treasure’ by Michael Dames next , not because I thought it would contain anything about cup and ring marks but because it came first from the library in a great list of books I had ordered from the reading list. Oh well, might as well browse through it. What a joy, I was completely gripped by it and couldn’t put it down and right there in the middle of Silbury Hill (that I romped on so many times in my childhood) is the magical pattern again – concentric circles. Whoopee!
The primary mound at the centre of Silbury Hill is a carefully constructed circular peat mound surrounded by a circular fence. Then a second mound and ditch were created using materials from the surrounding area and third went over the top made of chalk to create circular ring patterns hidden within the hill we see today. Also discovered were radial patterns laid out in string and chalk walls within the mound to form a star or spider web type pattern. That was created in 2660 BC with such meaning and precision fills me with respect and amazement. So I continued to search for this pattern elsewhere and by now more books had arrived. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the essays in ‘The Modern Antiquarian’ by Julian Cope. I have had this book many years and only used the gazetteer on holidays to Scotland many years ago. I now also used the website that goes with this book to see photos of and locate the type of cup and ring markings that I was seeing on my journeys to Avalon. The website shows that most carved cup and ring markings in England are found north of Derbyshire, they are scattered all over Scotland and are most common in the south and east of Ireland . Sadly there are few in the south of England but one of the few is Pool Farm Cist which lies between Cheddar and Radstock in Somerset as the crow flies. These cup marks were discovered on a slab (now in Bristol museum) that lined a burial chamber or cist, the bone remains have been dated around 1890 BC. Again the carvings were hidden from view once the chamber was completed. There are also unique carvings of feet on this slab. Cup and ring marks seem to appear throughout the Neolithic era and into the early Bronze Age. I have had problems clearly defining which dates different named era’s run to and from (different experts have different opinions) but at the point of writing this feel it is not that important. What is important is the massive timescales in human development we are looking at over all. The period we are looking at probably ran for over 2000 years and began more than 4000 years ago – I struggle to comprehend it. Back to cup and ring marks which seem to have a variety of forms. Some slabs have just cup marks which are small bowl shaped holes just a few centimetres across carved into the stone. More common are cups with rings carved around them, some cups have a single ring others up to seven rings , with combinations of numbers of rings on a single slab. Some have one or more straight radial lines carved from the central cup to the edge dissecting the rings. It is suggested that these are drainage channels. At Buttony a pair of cup and rings each with seven rings appear side by side and remind me of eyes. Less common are rings with several cups inside them, or carvings where several markings overlap, or patterns with broken rings. They appear on stones within tombs or on what is now open land, others on upright stones within stone circles. I feel also that linked to these patterns are eye type marking, which again are less common where radiating lines are carved within a ring.
After gazing at photos of small cup and ring markings I began to think back to the enormous version of this pattern hidden within Silbury Hill and see if it occurred anywhere else. Immediately I was struck by an aerial photo of Stonehenge with its concentric circles but after a little reading of both Aubrey Burl and Julian Cope I realised that Stonehenge is dated much later than and is not typical of British Neolithic structures. It was also probably created in several stages, so the concentric circle design may not have been in the eye of its initial designers. I am on the trail of our ancestors who created with the concentric circle pattern deliberately in mind. The builders of the nearby but earlier woodhenge definitely laid out their temple with a pattern of concentric circles. Arial photos give a good view and reveal massive rings made of earth in henges such as Avebury which forms part of the Silbury landscape and others like Badbury Rings where there are three circles within each other. More locally again I was pleased to discover Priddy Henges which are four rings in a line. All these examples of rings without even mentioning the many stone circles which cover our land!
The last phase of ploughing back and forth through books and websites I had already looked at led me to some smaller artefacts. In ‘Great Stone Circles’ by Aubrey Burl he describes “coarsely fashioned discs have been constantly found with the dead” “One had a cup mark no bigger than a baby’s fingernail, not big enough to hold anything solid or liquid unless a raindrop.” These were recovered from the Cairnholy tomb in Scotland. Marija Gimbutas describes carved stone balls again discovered in Scotland from the end of the 3rd or 4th millennium bc . They are covered in circles each with a pattern within , in some are concentric circles and some cup marks. Also she mentions and I have seen beautiful pictures of on various websites the Folkton Wold drums .They have on the top concentric circle motifs which on two of them appear side by side like eyes.
Looking for meaning………
So I have found examples of the cup and ring , alone or in various combinations in many places and commonly in a concentric pattern throughout Neolithic history and creations. The next obvious questions in my modern analytical mind are “what do they mean?” “Why did our ancestors make them?” “ How do they reflect Goddess?” and so on and so on. The blossoming Priestess within me is resistant to too much science and analysing. I feel it is presumptuous of me to think I can work out what our ancestors meant . Their whole way of being was probably completely different to ours, I can never assume to think like them. So I read what our modern day historians and experts have deduced about our ancient Goddess loving sisters and brothers, this forms what follows. Then I did what a Priestess should and took it to the Lady and Her messages to me form my own personal conclusion.
Marija Gimbutas refers to the Eye Goddess in relation to the radiant lines contained within a ring such as those found at Dowth in Ireland. She compares them to suns and owl eyes and to me they symbolize the all seeing aspect of the Lady. She is the owl which has such keen vision even into our darkest places and the sun that lights our days. She also refers to cup marks as “eyes that are simultaneously the source of divine liquid, the water of life itself, and its receptacle when it falls…….in prehistory and in folk memories, well and cup mark were symbolically interchangeable” Michael Dames also refers to the gigantic eyeball of Silbury Hill and its radiant lines hidden within as the Silbury Eye Goddess . To me this is a very sophisticated eye; it is three dimensional and has a pupil and white chalk markings under its surface. She gazes up to the heavens and is linked again to water by the moat which surrounds Her. Considering the relationship between eyes and water question which springs to mind is “why do some cup and ring marks apparently have drainage channels?” Is it to change the appearance of the eye I wonder?
In the case of Silbury Hill Michael Dames makes the shows the strong connection between the circular shape and Goddess of fertility. She is the enormous pregnant belly waiting to birth the harvest. In his book he describes how excavations of the soil content reveal that the hill was completed at Lammas; the time of the harvest. The hill seen from above is a squatting pregnant Goddess with an enormous 3 dimensional belly. She was created by our Neolithic ancestors who saw Goddess and what happened in nature as one, there was no separation between them. The landscape both reflected and was their spirituality. Silbury was built at a time when our ancestors were an agricultural society, Dames says “The divine birth is the ripening of the wheat, Goddess and farmland are one….; and the identity is symbolised by the shape of a conical hill which provides the focal point for ceremony” The recognition of the Mother is also seen in the naming of Marden Henge which bears the name Ma the mother Goddess.
So here we can make the connection between agriculture and the circular symbol. In The Modern Antiquarian Julian Cope says “Christian culture inevitably thinks of time in a linear form with a beginning and an end. This is because Christ preached Armageddon and an end to the world where as ancient farming societies had only ever experienced life as a circle revolving around the endless agricultural wheel of life.” The circle represents both the wheel of the year and the round belly of the harvest mother whose gift of fertility was vital to human survival and still is.
Musings from Avalon and other daydreams……….
As I draw to a close in writing this I realise I have been obsessed by the connection between the words ‘hole’ and ‘whole’ for many years and they have been a part of my spiritual searching. This journey with my ancestors and their creating of the concentric circle pattern has resolved this for me. To me it seems that these circular patterns are the ultimate symbol of the wholeness of Her nature and our human part in that wholeness. They are found on our female body in our eyes, breasts, and belly. They are seen in the moon and sun and on the hills. We see the concentric circles appear whenever we throw a pebble into water.
It came to me that the small cup in the centre of a cup and ring mark is….
The hole that describes the whole
The circle of completeness.
The eye type marking reminds me of a wheel with a hub at the centre, and again in day dream time it occurred to me that this symbolises spirit self at the still point of the centre (hub) and the wheel of the year/life turning around the outside.
On a recording of interviews of people describing the Sunrise festival and its philosophy I heard someone describe what they were trying to achieve as ‘centred in self and working together in community circles’ and the cup and ring marking sprang to mind . As a symbol it describes so well what I feel we as a modern Goddess community are working towards.
Last but not least; during one of my journeys to Avalon I stumbled across my ancient Neolithic sister and her family sitting in the grass and carving these markings. I asked her why she made them and she replied “so you remember me” I answer “you knew I was coming then?” she nods and grins …………………..