Illustrated by Jo Fryer, Kathy Jones and Willow Roe
Photos by Kathy Jones
An in-depth exploration of the ancestral myths of the British Isles, of Brigit, Rhiannon, Ker, Madron, Grainne, Keridwen and Sheela Na Gig, creating the medicine wheel of Ana, the Mother Goddess of the ancient British Isles. Comparing ancient British, native American and Tibetan traditions. With beautiful photographs and illustrations.
264 pages, illustrated, ISBN 1 872983 02 2
£11.95 plus P&P
A Memory Re-Membered
“It was long ago through softened skins I felt beneath me the faint breath of Brigit’s Swansdown body. Shaped from sandstone the huge Mound of Avalon seemed to gently rise and fall in the twilight air with the beating of Her outstretched wings. Sun Greine travelled west sinking to meet Her lover beneath the horizon while I passed into fevered reverie to the slow beat of Anka’s drum.
I watched the full moon rise and saw the Anu as they danced to earth, gliding along the moon beams, curving down into the dark mouth of the Great Mound. Frightened in the silent blackness of the cave among the power bones of my foremothers I heard the voices of the Ancient Ones – the howl of wolf and growl of bear.
I felt the air stir at their passage and in an instant was illuminated by the shimmering glory of their presence. My heart opened once again and I was healed of my sickness. Later they left for the moon taking home with them the souls of the recently departed dead.”
For several years I have had a deep longing to renew an ancient connection to the Shining Ones – those radiant beings of the Void who are the long-forgotten spiritual Ancestors of the British Isles. I wanted to experience once again in reality the living presence of the Ancient Ones as I remember them from rituals thousands of years old.
The Shining Ones are those beings of fire and water, earth, air and aether, who long ago moulded the landscape of beauty in which we now live – the landscape we are now unhappily destroying. They are the spiritual progenitors of all life on earth, of the plants and fishes, of the trees and birds, and of human beings. Embodied they are the First Ancestors who, according to legend, freely brought the gift of individual consciousness to humankind. In universal myths they are shin ing beings who came from the stars, bringing with them the know! edge of mathematics, astrology, astronomy, horticulture and writing to our family ancestors. Among their descendants were the ancient Britons – indigenous tribal peoples who had survived the palaeolithic ice ages in Britain, and also those migrants who came across the rising seas from other lands to settle in the Isles of Britain.
This book is an account of a quest to find and meet with our spiritual forebears in the Isles of Britain. It is a journey of the heart in search of its home in the stars and its resting place within our Mother, the Earth. It is mythography a red thread of information, myth and memories of the far past, spun with knowledge and intuition in the present. I am not trying to present objective factual history, although some facts will be given about the past. Neither is this a chronicle of all the beliefs and myths of all the races who have lived in this land. I hope instead to weave a shining web of connectedness, which will open the heart and illuminate the mind in the present, renewing spiritual feeling and direction. My purpose is primarily to reclaim the great spiritual lineage that links us directly through the ages to the Shining Ones, the First Ancestors of the British Isles and the Great Mystery from which we all emerge.
I have been involved for several years in exploring myth and its ritual enactment as sacred drama, for the deep healing and transformation of individuals and communities. My interest is to search back beyond recorded words, to re-member (in Mary Daly’s sense of putting back together the members/parts in their original patterns. See Gyn/Ecology by Mary Daly, The Women’s Press) the ancient stories and beliefs of the peoples of the far past and to reveal their meaning and relevance in our lives today. In reworking these tales I have heard the voices of the Ancestors of many lands.
I have felt close incarnational connections to the ancestral peoples of ancient Sumer, of Greece, Anatolia and the Black Sea. I have a strong love for the Great Goddess civilisation of Krete. Ariadne the Snake Goddess and Mistress of the Labrynth is my creative inspiration. The Hyperboreans and the neolithic peoples of Brittany and western Europe are family to me. I have knowledge and experience of the ageless wisdom of the indigenous, natural (of/at-one with nature) peoples of the world, of the Americas, Australia and Tibet. I know the life in these people and places deep within my bones as if I had lived it.
The myths and legends of the Ancestors play a vital part in the spiritual and material life of all these cultures. They tell of the Creation of the world and the appearance on earth of the First Ancestors. These are the primordial beings who created the earth and evolved either from out of the earth itself or came as star beings to the earth from other worlds in our universe to help create a new world. The stories tell of the appearance of the first human beings on earth and their descendants who are our family ancestors. It is they who link us all through the common merging bloodlines of our mothers and fathers to the beginning of life itself, to the great Void from which all Creation springs.
In cultures which still maintain their ancestral traditions, the wisdom teachings of the Ancestors have been passed down from the earliest days, from generation to generation to the present time. They are held in trust by particular clans, tribes and spiritual lineages. They are given out to initiates who have been chosen either by heredity and birth, through revelatory dreams and visions or during initiatory sickness. They may also come to the fortunate as inspiration.
Traditionally Ancestors are often associated with specific places on the planet. In the myths of the aboriginal First Australians the Ancestors are said to have emerged from inside a flat featureless earth at particular places. Each Ancestor was the precursor of a life form – a tree, an animal, a bird, etc… Their emergence out of the earth and their subsequent travels across its surface, created the world as we know it. Once Creation was complete the Ancestors returned to those same places from which they had first emerged and went ‘back in’ to the earth. It is in these special places of emergence, which include pools of water, caves, rocky tors and mountains, that the Ancestors may still be contacted.
In Britain there are many natural places of particular beauty and power, which from the earliest times have been felt to be especially powerful. Some are named after giants (Giant’s Causeway), dragons (Dragon Hills), the old woman (Cailleach na Montaigne), the old man (of Hoy), goddesses (Avaline’s cave) and gods (Fintann’s Grave). Many are named after honoured elemental, animal or human ancestors such as the Bank of the Goat and the Peak of the Red Cows by Loch Nevis in Scotland, the Hill of the Last Wave in Ireland, all Fairy Glens, the Worm’s Head, Cader Idris, Arthur’s Seat and all the later renamed saintly places St Michael’s Mounts, St Bride’s or St Anne’s springs and wells. They encompass mountains, valleys, dragon-folds in the hills, high rocky tors, forests, groves, springs, rivers and lakes. This is the magical landscape of nature uncluttered by human handiwork. Here we may still find our own Ancestors, the Shining Ones.
In many so-called ‘primitive’ cultures the Ancestors are revered as the knowledge and wisdom-holders for the human race. They are those beings who once lived on the earth but who now inhabit that mysterious immaterial realm from which we all incarnate into earthly life and to which we return when we die. They are gatekeepers in the profound initiation rites of birth and death. Culturally and spiritually they are known as the way-showers, teachers, prophets, guardians and initiators of humankind.
As we first world people have become more ‘civilised’, we have lost respect for our forebears. We see ourselves as more evolved human beings, eminently superior to those who have gone before us. Early humans were merely savages, just animals and most often depicted as being male. We still see most indigenous, ‘primitive’ peoples living in the world today in the same light. We call them and their complex interrelationship with nature and their environment ‘simple’ as we decimate the natural world in which they have lived harmoniously for thousands of years.
In losing respect for our own Ancestors we have lost a great re source of wisdom. For all the intellectual and technological progress we have made, we have lost a vital connection for our souls. We have lost touch with our ancestral spirits and their divine antecedents. We have lost our roots and the knowledge of our unbreakable relationship to the earth upon which we all live. We have stopped being grateful to the Earth for Her bounteous Nature. We are killing Her and our selves.
The ancestral prophecies of many indigenous cultures indicate that this point in time, at the end of the 20th and beginning of the 21st centuries, is one of great change and transformation for our planet. These prophecies come from the Native Americans, the Tibetans, the First Australians, the Kogi, the Mayans, from the Bible, Nostradamus and present day visions of Mary to name but a few. We have lost most of the prophetic teachings of our own Ancestors, but it is obvious that our world must transform or die.
It is important now that we reconnect with our British Ancestors, who hold the experience and wisdom of the ages for these islands. We need their help to come into harmony once again with the land upon which we live and which sustains our life. In particular we need to re establish the line of communication to our First Ancestors, so that their sacred wisdom teachings born of both the stars and the earth, may once more become available to us. This connection needs to be made not only for the people who live here, but for all those people who have ancestral or incarnational ties to the Islands of Britain and who now live throughout the world.
“There are voices murmuring in the wind
As it rushes over the stones….”
I had spent several years exploring and re-presenting the myths and legends of other cultures, retreading the steps of my own incarnational pattern, before I began to study the far past of my homeland, of Great Britain. As I started to investigate my own cultural heritage I found I could only get so far back in history and legend and then I came up against a barrier, a gulf in memory and meaning.
It is not easy to find the Primal Ancestors of these British Isles for we have almost completely forgotten them. We no longer honour and revere them. We do not admit them to our rituals of birth and death. We can barely hear their voices whispering on the wind and in the sacred groves. We may know our own family tree for a few generations, but we do not know who the Ancient Ones are. We have only vague feelings and intuitions in a materialistic world which does not satisfy our inner longing for meaning and truth.
At the outset of this journey to help build a bridge across the chasm of forgetting, I opened myself in meditation and dreams to inspiration in-breathing the Shining Ones. Each night I went to sleep with their shining forms in my mind’s eye and each morning I woke with their images filling my waking vision. Some had faces, human and non-human, some were just beings of light and darkness. Some were friendly and some were distinctly unfriendly.
Myths and legends of the far past tumbled through my dreams and rearranged themselves by morning. Sometimes there was just a feeling of connection and unformed information to be absorbed. Other days there was crystal clear knowing. Each day I followed Ariadne’s red thread through the labrynth of myths, archaeological findings and ancestral teachings of other races. I also had the distinct memory of having lived here long ago and knowing through past and present ritual the love and teaching of my Ancestors.
TYPES OF ANCESTORS
We begin with some categories, for who do we mean when we talk of Ancestors? There are different sorts in different cultures. Instinctively I began with the Native American Ancestors.
The Native American tradition recognises several kinds of Ancestors. Harley Swift Deer is a member of the Deer Tribe and of the Twisted Hair Society, who are storytellers from different native tribes. He names four traditional kinds of Ancestors:
The Tolilahqui – the Little People, who may also include all our forgotten and therefore diminished in stature, Ancestors.
The Toushila-Hey – all our personal Spirit Selves in all our incarnations
The Tukashshilah – all the blood relations of all the Toushila-Hey
The Omitakoyashin – the Spirits of all the Ancestors of all the human beings on this planet since always for always. All my relations.
I would like to amplify this list to make it relevant to our own British Ancestry and I will distinguish five kinds of Ancestors:
Family Ancestors: our parents and grandparents and great grand parents, etc.. These are blood relatives with whom we may have had a living connection. They are present family ancestors who may appear in dreams and visions as guides and guardians.
Racial and National Ancestors: of the race or nation in which we are born and/or live. Most people in Britain are now of mixed racial heritage. We are a bit of Welsh, Anglo-Saxon, Scottish, Keltic, Viking, Norman French, Caribbean, African, German, etc. We have roots in all these nationalities, which at one time or another may speak particularly strongly to us.
Personal Spirit Ancestors: the personal spirit selves of all our previous incarnations. Some people have the experience of having lived on the earth before. This recognition comes through childhood memories, dreams, deja vu, far memory, hypnosis and direct investigations.
Tribal, Totemic Ancestors: for many native peoples including the Native Americans and First Australian, each person belongs to a Tribal or Totemic grouping or species. Thus there are Snake people, Emu people, Kangaroo people, etc, each descended from an original universal Snake, Emu or Kangaroo Ancestor. There are traces of such beliefs in Britain. We still say instinctively ‘I’m a Cat person’ or ‘I’m a Dog person’ or I’m a Horse person.
First Ancestors: these are the supernatural beings in the different creation myths of the world, who created the earth and the first human beings. These First Ancestors are born of the earth and of the stars and have influenced all forms of life on earth throughout the ages. There are almost as many creation myths as there are cultures in the world, but there are also universal themes. Many of the later creation myths have a male God as the original Creator, while in many of the earlier versions the Creatrix is female – the Goddess. The British Creation myth is almost completely lost, which doesn’t mean that we didn’t have one once or that we cannot retrieve it.
All these Ancestral groupings are relevant in the search for the Ancestors, but in this book we shall concentrate on the last three categories. In Britain it is our Personal Spirit Selves, our Totemic/Tribal and First Ancestors who have been forgotten. Many people now believe that we only live once and that’s it, so who or what are our spirit selves? We are no longer named by matrilineal descent, so who are our Tribal Grandmothers? We have lost our instinctual connections to the animals and birds and do not have any direct memory of Totemic Ancestors. Our world is mechanistic made of atoms and DNA, energy without meaning or spiritual value.
So my question remains: Who are the British Ancestors? We must look into our own far past to find the answers.
Beyond the veil of memory I swam with the dolphin
And the keeper-whale sang to me her secrets….“
As an island people we have been visited and invaded physically and culturally, many times over the centuries by different races. In recorded history Keltic tribes, Romans, Saxons, Angles, Jutes, Vikings, Normans, to name just a few, have migrated to or invaded this land, attacking and subduing or more often merely influencing the current indigenous population. In the more recent past people of many races have come to the British Isles as refugees to a safe haven or as immigrants, bringing with them their own rich cultures and traditions. Unlike other native cultures who have retained clear blood lines and therefore racial and ancestral identity, for a long time now our heritage is one of mixed racial identity.
However ancestry is more than racial identity and DNA. Its nature is spiritual, incarnational and of the heart. It roots lie far back, long before recorded races first came to Britain. Our Ancestors are both the first tribal/totemic peoples of these islands and those beings of ice and fire who moulded the landscape and first sang it alive. Our Ancestors are to be found from the time of the ending of the last Ice Age when the British Isles separated from the continent of Europe c. 9000BCE.
For long ages of the palaeolithic era Britain was connected by low-lying land to Europe and was often covered by huge ice sheets. Rocks and earth were pressed and folded, pushed and crushed by the weight of ice and elemental force, eroded by sun, water and wind into the shapes we still see today. According to the findings of archaeologists human inhabitants seem to have been relatively few during this long length of time, although there is evidence for some human presence in Britain from mesolithic times onwards, circa 20,000 BCE, but much of the time Britain was covered in ice.
With the final retreat of the last Ice Age after 9000 BCE the sea level rose and mainland Britain became separated from Europe. This was the beginning of our slow evolution as a separate island society. Major cultural developments in Britain occurred from 4500 BCE on wards in the neolithic or new stone age. It is into this far-off neolithic era that we must look with clear-sighted eyes to find the beliefs of the ancient Britons about the Primal Ancestors of the British Isles. Geographically and culturally I take the British Isles to include the whole of the islands of England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland.
There are several pathways to find out who the British Ancestors are both as primal, mythic forces and as ancient peoples. One way is through archaeology and what remains of past races, cultures and civilisations, which have so far been discovered in Britain, Europe and the wider world. Another path to our Ancestors is through the study of the earliest myths and legends of the British people, comparing them with those of peoples who still maintain their ancestral traditions. A third way is through inspiration and attunement in the ancient sacred places to the memory of the Ancestors. Finally we can remember the lives of our own ancestral Spirit Selves. We can follow all these paths.
The findings of archaeology can give us valuable information in the search for our mythic and actual British Ancestors. They tell us how the ancient Britons probably lived day by day. They allow us to understand the physical and human developmental context in which past societies have grown and evolved. Every so often a new finding dug out of the earth revolutionises the way that we understand the past. As dating techniques improve findings are grouped together into their relevant orders.
However it must also be said that there are limits to what can be gleaned from archaeology. Although awe-inspiring stone monuments of great number and diversity and obvious ritual importance still abound in the British landscape, we don’t really know as fact how they were used. Relatively little is known about the actual religious and spiritual beliefs of the ancient Britons (see The Pagan Religion of the British Isles by Dr Ronald Hutton, Blackwell).
Archaeological conclusions are based upon the leftovers of any society rather than its living reality. They are necessarily concerned only with those physical remains which have so far been found. Many organic materials, such as wood, animal skins, fur, wool, material, etc., which have been used over thousands of years in great quantities in all cultures, leave no remains. They are only preserved in exceptional circumstances, for example in peat bogs, ice or dry deserts. The daily lives and beliefs of past peoples can only be guessed at.
Also and it is important to stress this fact, as in all other fields of historical and other research, conclusions about past cultures and societies have on the whole been drawn by men, with men’s interests and preoccupations in mind. Women’s place in prehistory – our roles, work, play and spiritual awareness has been almost completely distorted or ignored. This imbalance is slowly being redressed as women archaeologists, such as Maria Gimbutas, and other writers reclaim our past identities and culture. Early beliefs in a great Mother Goddess as the source of life – the Womb and the Tomb, are only now beginning to be acknowledged by male researchers.
However if we are selective we can learn much useful information about the spiritual heritage of our Ancestors from the archaeologists’ work as we combine it with the findings of other disciplines.
The word myth has several meanings. At its simplest level it is defined as a purely fictitious narrative usually involving supernatural characters. At a deeper level myth is infinitely more than this. Myths are dramatic tales meant to be voiced sung or spoken out loud by storytellers, or performed as ritual drama, which communicates directly with the unconscious as well as the conscious mind and emotions. In their telling they express the important realities of life and death, of creation, destruction and regeneration. They represent the attempts of human beings in all ages to understand the true meaning of these mysteries.
Myths name the great archetypal forces of the universe who create stars and planets, continents and oceans, calling them giants, titans, ancestors, goddesses and gods. Myths describe in a pictorial and symbolic language many things – the evolution of plants, animals and human beings; the different ages through which the world has passed; the great mysteries of birth, sex and death. They are an expression in poetic and dramatic form of the physical and spiritual laws of Nature. They are truths embodied in non-rational forms which mirror the relationships between the physical, emotional, psychological, social and spiritual components of our world. They are a story-time reflection of the matrix from which all forms of life evolve.
While fairytales and folklore describe the elementary psychological components of individual human beings, myths reflect the collective archetypes and structures of whole societies. Myths deal with the larger transpersonal energies, the greater issues which do not follow personal value systems, but have their own validity. Myth is about how things are from a wider perspective, which is not always how we would like them to be. Myths shape our cultures and are in turn conditioned by them.
As individuals, awareness of our mythic heritage is a vital part of personal psychological development. At its deepest levels myths are an expression of the human spiritual quest. Carl Jung showed in his work how collective archetypes people our unconscious as well as conscious minds. They can motivate us in ways which may be for the collective, though not necessarily the personal good or bad. To know these archetypes in consciousness is to begin to be released from their unconscious thrall.
Globally myths vary widely in detail but express universal themes. By exploring and comparing the myths of different cultures we can begin to discern these universal themes and see glimpses of them within our own early mythic heritage. The ancestral teaching of other races can give us insights into our own Ancestors and their forgotten wisdom.
Ancient Sacred Sites
We are fortunate in the British Isles that as well as being islands of great natural beauty, there are also many carefully preserved sacred sites from the neolithic era onwards which can still be visited. From Scotland to Cornwall, the Clava Cairns to Men-an-to!, throughout Ireland, Wales and England there are literally hundreds of ancient sacred sites.
There are long barrows, round mounds, circles of stone and earth, dolmens and standing stones in vast numbers. Some of these, such as Avebury and Avalon are presently being visited by thousands of people on pilgrimage, in search of the experience of Mystery. Others remain isolated and rarely visited. In the busy and the quiet we can attune to the Ancestral energies lying dormant in these places. Here the stones and sacred mounds hold the still-reverberating echoes of the voices of our long-departed Ancestors. If we listen we may hear them.
Many of us have remembrances of how life was in the past before we were born. These memories come in the form of day dreams, a sudden sense of deja vu or as dreams in the night. Sometimes we consciously seek memories of the near and distant past through hypnosis or using techniques of far memory. Often we dismiss these memories and say that we merely have a vivid imagination. On occasion these images have such an intensity and depth of feeling that we know we were there.
As reincarnating souls we have been here before, living different lives in different bodies. Our Spirit Selves have passed this way more than once and in essence we are our own Ancestors reborn. Hidden within the DNA of our cells, in the energy patterning of our psyches are the memories of all that we have ever experienced as incarnating energy beings, throughout all time. It is possible to access these memories. We can remember who we were, how we lived, what we believed and our primal Ancestral roots. We can hear our own voices as Ancestors.
We shall begin our quest [in this book] with some of the evidence of our Ancestors to be gleaned from archaeology. We shall interweave its findings with the legendary arrivals of supernatural beings from the stars. We shall connect the presently known facts of history and the evolution of human life on the earth to the mythic forces and universal energies in which we all live and move and have our being. Intuition will guide us in these intellectually dangerous waters.