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Archive for the ‘Wiltshire’ Category

Saturday 28 January – Saturday 12 May 2012.  When the climate changes from warm to freezing, the plants and animals you rely on for food and clothing die out or disappear, how would YOU survive? 

Packed full of fun activities set alongside Ice Age animal bones and the oldest objects made by people found in this area, this exhibition looks at how the earliest people survived over 300,000 years ago. 

Specially suited for primary school ages or families, but with something of interest for everyone, you will be asked to think about whether you think you could have lived in a time before farming, when people survived by hunting and gathering and when extreme climate change threatened their existence. 

 Plus, there is free admission for children (with an accompanying paying adult) if you enter our Cave Art competition. Click here to print out one of the cave art pictures to colour in or complete with your own design. Bring your finished work into the museum together with a completed entry form to claim your free entry to the exhibition. We will also display your picture in the exhibition and you have chance to win a special Behind the Scenes tour with the Museum’s Director who will even let you touch a real mammoth bone!

To give you a few ideas about what real cave art was like, follow these links.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/handsonhistory/ancient-britain.shtmlhttp://www.bbc.co.uk/history/handsonhistory/ancient-britain.shtml

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The lights are up, Noddy Holder’s voice is ringing in your ears and you’ve already eaten all your advent chocolate in a gluttonous frenzy. Yes it’s Christmas; that time of year reserved for frantic last-minute shopping, burnt turkeys and half-drunk carols in the front room. It’s also the Christian celebration of Jesus’ birth, of course: and even that bears more than a passing similarity to the ancient god Mithra.
So where did some of the Christmas traditions we take for granted actually come from? The truth stretches back a lot longer than you might think. Here are ten yuletide customs born in the ancient world.

1. Christmas Trees

Our Christmas Tree We might curse the fact that we’re still picking pine needles out of our toes come spring, but the idea of decorating your house with greenery at winter goes back thousands of years. King Tut may never have seen the multicoloured mess we put up with nowadays, but he would have had date palm leaves scattered around his royal abodes on the winter solstice.Evergreens were celebrated in Egypt as a reminder that, though the winter was harsh and yielded little, spring would come just as inevitably. The palm also spawned a shoot each month, meaning that by December (as it would become known) Egyptians weilded the leaves to show that the year was over. They’d have decorated with entire forests if they ever saw a European winter.

Soon Egypt’s tree-hugging tradition spread north to Italy, during the height of the Roman Empire. Palms were substituted for firs and other native species, on which tapers would be lit and burned in honour of Saturn, god of agriculture and justice, during the notoriously raucous Saturnalia festival. The custom migrated north to Germany and Scandinavia during the Middle Ages, resulting in today’s obsession.

2. Christmas Carols

 

Carol Singing Whether you enjoy strangers caterwauling on your doorstep or not, you can thank ancient pagans and their joyous celebrations of the stars. Song and dance were commonplace at the earliest stone circles of Europe: some think even Stonehenge was built with acoustics in mind.

As with the trees, special songs would be created for the winter solstice. In fact songs would be sung for each of the seasons, but the Christmas tradition stuck with the newly-created Christian faith, eager to commemorate Jesus Christ.

The first ‘proper’ Christmas carol can be dated back to ancient Rome in 129 AD, when a Roman bishop decreed that a song called ‘Angel’s Hymn’ should be sung during the Christmas service at Rome. Fast forward a few hundred years, and a Greek Orthodox Priest named Cosmas of Jerusalem (or Maiuma) wrote another famous hymn. Soon, the whole of Europe was singing at Christmas. Incidentally the tradition of singing to people whether they want to or not was invented some time around the 17th century. If someone had shown Cosmas he might not have bothered.

3. Santa 

 Santa ClausMillions of people still think Santa owes his current scarlet clobber to canny ad men at Coca-Cola. But it’s a belief that should have been consigned to the ‘urban myth’ bin many moons ago. The western world’s enduring image of a red-and-white-robed Santa owes more to his ancient ecclesiastical roots then a syrupy soft drink. Saint Nicholas was the Bishop of Myra, an Ancient Greek town of Lycia, modern Turkey, during the 4th century AD. Popular throughout the Christian world, he’s also known as ‘Nicholas the Wonderworker’ thanks to the large number of miracles attributed to him.

Nicholas’ association with the reindeer-propelled giver of gifts we all know today stems from his propensity for leaving coins in the shoes of those who gave to him (see stockings story below). This grew into a European Catholic tradition, whereby the poor would leave their shoes in church overnight. Coins would then be donated by rich patrons in a homage to Saint Nick’s generosity. Present-hungry kids also can thank Nicholas’ status as the patron saint of children when they’re maniacally tearing open a box of badly-rendered plastic rubbish.

 The name ‘Santa Claus’, incidentally, didn’t come until the 19th century, as an evolution of the Dutch colloquialism Sinterklass. His name may have changed, but Santa still kept the ceremonial red robes of his ancient forebear. However many think the clothing may be an amalgam of Saint Nicholas’ and those of the Norman god of misrule, a red-robed character who would go about causing havoc during the winter solstice period. Santa didn’t always use reindeer to power him from house to house, either: many believe they are an evolution of the eight-legged grey horse of the Norse god Odin called Sleipnir, who could leap huge distances. Middle Ages children would leave out food for Sleipnir, a custom which continues to this day.

 4. Yule Log

  Yule LogLike most things associated with Yule, a pagan festival largely attributed to the Germanic peoples of the medieval period, the yule loge can trace its roots back through some of the world’s most successful ancient civilisations. Today the burning of the yule log has become a marginalised affair, and can be carried out pretty much any time leading up to Christmas Day. Yet the log began its life as a yuletide tradition thousands of years back, in the earliest cities of Sumer and Egypt.

Egyptians believed that the winter solstice period marked the death and rebirth of their national god Horus, the god of the sky and the sun. Thus light was shed to celebrate him, and since Egypt was about 5,000 years from electricity a log would be burned for 12 days. This tradition carried into the cities of Sumer and Mesopotamia via the winter festival of Zagmuk, and would later become one of the features of the Roman celebration of Saturnalia, when a yule-style log was burned for ten days to usher in the strength of Mithra.

Saxons and Visigoths would latch onto the log as a symbol of good, or light prevailing over darkness, or evil. Ashes were prized for their supposed magical powers. Christians, most likely taking their lines from the Romans, would later adopt the log as a symbol for the light of Christ bringing the world from darkness.

5. Christmas Cards

 

Christmas cardsChristmas cards may only have come into European vogue during the 15th century (thanks to the Germans, again). But their origins go back thousands of years before, to the greetings given in Ancient Egypt via ornately decorated papyrus. Related or not, the ancient Chinese are thought to be some of the greetings card’s earliest fans, exchanging simple messages to celebrate the New Year.

The invention of printing, and the west’s popularising of card-giving, wouldn’t arrive for another 1,500 years or so. You might expect the Chinese, with their longstanding obsession with fireworks (and blowing things up in general) to have invented the Christmas cracker too. Not so: desperate London sweet-seller Tom Smith invented it as an explosive panacea to his ailing bonbon trade, in 1847.

6. Mistletoe

  When Tara from IT starts waving mistletoe at you from across the office fix023with one suggestive eye on the stationery cupboard, you can thank ancient pagans for the group email the next day. Druids, to be precise: the ancient mystics saw the herb as having magical powers thanks to its evergreenness. Amongst its miraculous characteristics – curing illness, countering poison etc – mistletoe was thought to enhance virility.

Kissing under the mistletoe may date all the way back to the ancient Greeks; no strangers to free lovin’. Traditionally, kissing beneath the magical mistletoe would ensure a couple stayed happy. It was even used as a sort of natural proposal, and hung at marital ceremonies. Saxons then took on the mantle, associating the plant with Freya, goddess of love, beauty and fertility. Men could kiss any woman who found herself beneath a sprig of mistletoe, plucking a berry with each kiss. When the berries had all gone, the kissing was over. One suspects mistletoe was never in short supply at Saxon parties.

7. Presents

  For retailers at least, Christmas is the biggest gift of all: whether we want Oxford Street Xmasto or not (boo to those in the latter category) we’ll all be trapsing the high street in search of something we can pass off as thoughtful, with more than half an eye on our wallets. Yet as much as the world hasn’t always been obsessed with Furbies, novelty ties and shaving kits, we’ve been giving and receiving gifts since the beginnings of society. Archaeologists have found evidence of personal decoration as far back as 70,000 years ago – and French anthropologist Marcel Israel Mauss establishes social bonds which establish respect and interdependence – key to social cohesion.

Fast forward a few thousand years, and gift-giving was a key part of Saturnalia, when masters would ceremoniously be ruled over by their slaves. Gifts were also seen as an important way to keep up good spirits during the long, cold winter. Of course Christians point to the Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh given to baby Jesus by the three wise men, though it’s worlds away from the capitalist scrums of today. The idea of presents being stuffed down the chimney pot may also have derived from ancient times. Germanic tribes would throw gifts onto fires as sacrifices for the gods. Thankfully my slippers stayed flame-free last year.

8. Feasting

 It wouldn’t be Christmas without unholy doses of Turkey (or Goose, or Christmas Dinnernuts), bread sauce, potatoes and, of course, the only batch of Brussels sprouts you’ll eat all year. But, like most Christmas customs, feasting to see in the day has its roots in the earliest civilisations on the planet. The Mesopotamian festival of Zagmuk would traditionally involve great feasting, as the height of the winter ended, days became longer and farming could continue once more. Food was one way to usher in the sun, as was the case in Egypt with Horus – and later became part of the Saturnalia festival, a Roman middle-finger to the harsh European winter.

Goose had been used since ancient Egyptian times as the meat of choice for Winter Solsticers, a tradition which continued in Britain until the 16th century. Some credit Henry VIII with having introduced turkeys to our Christmas platters. The Spanish allegedly took on the turkey mantle from their conquered Aztec subjects, who had long domesticated the far juicier bird.

The Romans frequently ate Christmas ham, a custom still followed in many countries today, to celebrate the life of Adonis, god of rebirth and vegetation, who was killed by the tusks of a wild boar sent either by Artemis or Ares. A boar’s head is still roasted ceremonially each year at Oxford University. Though fruits, berries and spices had been used to make cakes in ancient times, the Christmas Pud we all know and love (and hate in equal measure) didn’t enter the annals of history until the 15th century.

9. Stockings

 There are no steadfast stories as to the origin of the Christmas stocking, Stockings for Allbut one apocryphal tale has stood the test of time, true or not. And unsurprisingly it comes courtesy of Saint Nicholas’ legendary generosity. A poor man in Myra lost his wife, and was left to bring up his three young daughters alone. He became poor, and worried that he would not have enough money to pay any of his daughters’ dowries, as was the custom back then.

Enter Saint Nick, who, knowing the father would be too proud to accept money for his daughters, surreptitiously threw coins into his house, beside the hearth over a few nights. The family were drying their clothes by the fire at the time, so each day each daughter would wake up to receive a coin in their shoe or stockings. Some stories even say Nicholas chucked coins down the chimney; another reason why we have Santa throwing presents down the chimney nowadays.

10. The Nativity

 Pushing the boundaries of ‘ancient’ somewhat, you can thank Saint Francis of Assisi for that heart-in-mouth moment you forgot your one and only line, ‘Sorry no room’, in front of over a hundred parents armed with cameras and pitiful expressions (or was that just me?). The famous Catholic deacon set up a living tableau in memory of Christ’s birth, using the accounts in the Gospels of Luke and John, in Greccio, near Rome, in 1223.

The tradition spread fast, leading to the annual humiliation of children that occurs in nearly every school in the western world, if not more. Catholics in Spain and Latin America also celebrate Las Posadas, a ritual re-enactment of the tribulations Mary and Joseph enduring before giving birth to Jesus. This can take place on any day from the 16th to the 24th of December.

Link: http://heritage-key.com

 Happy Christmas everyone………

The Best Tours during the Festive Period
HisTOURies UK – Magical Landscape, Mystical Tours

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An exciting new Bronze Age hoard discovered in west Wiltshire (near Stonehenge)  has just gone on display at Salisbury Museum. It was found a month ago in a field near Tisbury by a metal detectorist. He reported the first object, a spearhead, to the Wiltshire Finds Liaison Officer. A team of archaeologists then excavated the remaining objects and recorded how they lay in the ground.

The hoard of over 100 copper alloy objects is over 2,700 years old and dates to the late Bronze Age and early Iron Age. It consists of tools – axe heads, chisels, sickles, gouges, and weapons – spearheads, daggers, knives, swords and scabbard fittings. It is the most important hoard to have been found in Wiltshire since the discovery of the Salisbury Hoard in the 1980s.

It is very unusual for a hoard of this significance to be on display in a regional museum before it has been assessed by the experts at the British Museum. The hoard will only be on display until Saturday 26 November – it will then go to the British Museum for assessment and the local coroner will need to hold an inquest to determine whether it is Treasure Trove.

See the Salisbury Journal for an article about the hoard.

 The hoard will only be on display until Saturday 26 November

Salisbury Museum – http://www.salisburymuseum.org.uk/

Wessex Guided Tours
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Out of Earth Exhibition

Out of Earth Exhibition

Renowned potter Chris Carter and archaeologist Martin Green share their fascination with the prehistoric past of Cranborne Chase.  Through art and artefact, they reveal a story of the humans that occupied the landscape before history was written.

Out of the Earth explores a dialogue between artist and archaeologist as they respond to the objects excavated from flint-rich soils of Cranborne Chase.  Artefacts from Martin’s own museum, which displays the finds he has discovered over the years, will be on display alongside Chris’s artwork and objects from Salisbury Museum and Wiltshire Heritage Museum.  Together, the objects describe and uncover the imprints left by farming, community and ritual activities in the past.

Chris and Martin describe themselves as ‘sons of the soil’, both having been raised on farms in the countrysides of Warwickshire and Dorset.  They met following a BBC4 radio show ‘Open Country’ which featured Down Farm on Cranborne Chase.  Martin had been excavating there since he inherited it in 1979 and Chris’s interest in the Chase landscape soon developed into a passion for exploring it through his art.

The exhibition shows new developments in Chris’s work and is itself a testimony to the continuing influence of prehistoric people on us today as their artistry, communities and ritual activities are re-discovered through archaeology.  Chris describes the way he searches for his pots in the clay as akin to the archaeologist’s search for an object in the earth.  Cranborne Chase has encouraged his art to take new routes which have seen him sculpting from flint and creating 2D collage works.  A deep-seated influence of the landscape and farming is apparent in his work; his pots suggest the sinuous twist of the plough and the symmetry of the stone axe, whilst the surface textures reflect the processes of people and nature on the landscape.

Both pot and artefact have a power and contemplative quality that makes Out of the Earth an exhibition not to be missed.  Here, the passion for the Cranborne landscape and for the people who lived on and moulded it, is deep-seated, inherent and heartfelt.  The stories revealed are told by two people who know the landscape intimately, both inside and out, and can tell those stories with an authority and understanding that cannot be disputed. 

Link: http://www.salisburymuseum.org.uk/exhibitions/exhibitions/174-out-of-the-earth.html
Sponsors: The Stonehenge Tour Company – www.StonehengeTours.com

Well worth a visit!

HisTOURies UK – Mystical Landscape, Magical Tours
The Best Tours in British History

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The detailed route for the Olympic torch announced today sees the flame visiting more than 50 West Country communities, and passing historic landmarks including Stonehenge and Glastonbury Tor.

Olympic FlameMore than 95 per cent of the population will be within ten miles of the torch as it makes a snaking journey from Cornwall to London’s Olympic Stadium.

Torchbearers will carry it in relay. On parts of the journey it will go via horseback, bicycle, tram and steam-train.

People in Somerset will have plenty of opportunity to see the torch, despite the fact that back in 2009 the Conservative-led County Council refused to bid for it to pass through.

Resources portfolio holder Councillor David Huxtable said at the time that the cost in traffic management and disruption would be too high. But the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games had an ambition to ensure that it reached most people. Many thousands of people are expected to welcome the flame along the route each day and celebrate the achievements of the torchbearers in parks, squares and streets.

Lord Coe, chairman of the Games organising committee, said: “I’m delighted that the Olympic torch relay will take the 2012 Games to almost every corner of the UK and that we have achieved our ambition to take the flame to within an hour’s journey of 95 per cent of the population.”

The route in the West

On May 21 the torch will travel to Porlock, Minehead, Dunster, Carhampton, Washford, Williton and Taunton.

May 22: Ilminster, Yeovil, Ilchester, Somerton, Street, Glastonbury, Coxley, Wells, Croscombe, Shepton Mallet, Frome, Southwick, Trowbridge, Bradford-on-Avon, Bath, Bitton, Longwell Green, Hanham, and Bristol.

May 23: Flax Bourton, Backwell Farleigh, Backwell West Town, Nailsea, Failand, Leigh Woods, back to Bristol, then on to Chippenham, Calne, Marlborough, Chiseldon, Wroughton, Royal Wootton Bassett, Swindon, Stroud, Painswick, Brockworth, Shurdington and Cheltenham.

May 24: Gloucester, Maisemore, Hartpury, Corse and Staunton and on to Ledbury, Bartestree, Lugwardine and Hereford.

July 11: Ludgershall, Tidworth, Amesbury, The Winterbournes and Salisbury.

July 12: Salisbury, Wilton, Barford St Martin, Fovant, Ludwell, Shaftesbury, Fontmell Magna, Iwerne Minster, Stourpaine, Blandford Forum, Winterborne Whitechurch, Milborne St Andrew, Puddletown, Dorchester, Winterbourne Abbas, Bridport, Chideock, Lyme Regis, Burton Bradstock, Abbotsbury, Portesham, Chickerell, Wyke Regis, Osprey Quay, Portland, Weymouth.

July 13: Portland Bill, Southwell, Weston, Easton, Fortuneswell, Weymouth, Preston, Osmington, Winfrith Newburgh, Wool, Corfe Castle, Swanage, Stoborough, and Wareham.

HisTOURies UK – Ready for the 2012 Olympics

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A metal detector enthusiast located more than 100 bronze items, thought to be about 2,700 years old, on a farmland site which is being kept secret.

Having first found a spearhead, he decided not to disturb the ground and notified archaeologists, who were able to conduct a meticulous excavation.

The finds, from the late Bronze Age and early Iron Age, include tools such as chisels, axe heads and gouges, and weapons including fragments of a sword and scabbard and more spearheads.

Experts are hugely excited about the hoard, which is still being catalogued. They are not prepared to guess at its value yet but say it is the biggest in the area since the Salisbury Hoard – now in the British Museum – was discovered in the 1990s.

Salisbury & South Wilts Museum director Adrian Green said: “It’s a very rare and important find, and it’s still fresh out of the ground. This was not previously a known archaeological site. The guy was just metal detecting as a hobby.

“What was significant about it was that he very responsibly told the finds liaison officer for the county, Katie Hinds, who is paid by the British Museum to record finds made by chance like this, rather than just digging it up himself and potentially losing valuable archaeological information.

“This was brilliant, and exactly what we want detectorists to do. She was able to arrange a specialist team to go and dig it up. That’s very important from an academic point of view.

“You could count on two hands the number of Bronze Age hoards which have been recorded professionally by archaeologists in this way.”

The hoard will go to the British Museum to be assessed and there will be an inquest to determine whether it is treasure trove.

If so, Salisbury Museum will have a chance to raise funds to buy it.

Neither the finder nor the landowner wish to be identified
Link : http://www.salisburyjournal.co.uk/news/9336972.Ancient_artefacts_unearthed_in_Tisbury/

The Best Tours in Wessex
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If you find yourself gasping, “Wow, that tree’s fatter than anything else like it around here!” the chances are you’ve probably found an ancient tree

The mighty Bowthorpe Oak, near Bourne in Lincolnshire is Europe's greatest girth English Oak at a massive 42 feet Photograph: Alamy

The mighty Bowthorpe Oak, near Bourne in Lincolnshire is Europe's greatest girth English Oak at a massive 42 feet Photograph: Alamy

What is an ancient tree?  The definition varies from species to species, so a silver birch may be ancient at 150 years old, while an oak of the same age is still a baby. But if you find yourself gasping, “Wow, that tree’s fatter than anything else like it around here!” you’ve probably found one. If you’re tempted to hug it, don’t hold back – ancient trees are essential to biodiversity, providing homes to thousands of species. Hugging is also the easiest way to measure a tree’s girth, to get some clue to its age. The “British standard hug”, as defined by the Woodland Trust, is 1.5 metres (5ft) from fingertip to fingertip.

Here are a few notable specimens; you can find 80,000 more, or log your own discoveries, at ancienttreehunt.org.ukAncient Tree Hunt.

Fortingall yew, Perthshire

Estimated to be at least 3,000 years old and possibly 5,000, this is the oldest yew in Britain. In 1769 its girth was recorded as about 17 metres (55ft). Today you can see only remnants of the old plus new growth amounting to no more than two hugs – a shadow of its former glory but still remarkable. 

Bowthorpe oak, Lincolnshire

This 1,000-year-old tree stands in a field at Manthorpe, near Bourne. Its hollow trunk has been used for parties; at one point, it is claimed, three dozen people managed to stand within it.

Llangernyw yew, Conwy

Possibly more than 4,000 years old, the tree in the grounds of St Dygain’s church in Llangernyw is one of the oldest living things in Wales.

Belvoir oak, County Down

This fine oak is thought to be somewhere between 500 and 700 years old, making it probably the oldest tree in Northern Ireland. It is one of many ancient trees in Belvoir Park Forest.

Tolpuddle Martyrs’ tree, Dorset

Under this sycamore in the village of Tolpuddle in 1834, six poverty-stricken agricultural labourers formed the first trade union in Britain.

Spanish chestnuts, Croft Castle, Herefordshire

Among more than 300 veteran trees in the grounds of this castle near Leominster is an avenue of magnificent sweet chestnuts. Some of them are rumoured to have come from nuts from the wrecks of the Spanish Armada in 1592.

Link: http://www.guardian.co.uk/travel/2011/apr/09/ancient-trees

British Countryside Tour Guide
HisTOURies UK – The Best Tours in History

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Samhain marks one of the two great doorways of the Celtic year, for the Celts divided the year into two seasons: the light and the dark, at Beltane on May 1st and Samhain on November 1st. Some believe that Samhain was the more important festival, marking the beginning of a whole new cycle, just as the Celtic day began at night. For it was understood that in dark silence comes whisperings of new beginnings, the stirring of the seed below the ground. Whereas Beltane welcomes in the summer with joyous celebrations at dawn, the most magically potent time of this festival is November Eve, the night of October 31st, known today of course, as Halloween. 

Samhain (Scots Gaelic: Samhuinn) literally means “summer’s end.” In Scotland and Ireland, Halloween is known as O�che Shamhna, while in Wales it is Nos Calan Gaeaf, the eve of the winter’s calend, or first. With the rise of Christianity, Samhain was changed to Hallowmas, or All Saints’ Day, to commemorate the souls of the blessed dead who had been canonized that year, so the night before became popularly known as Halloween, All Hallows Eve, or Hollantide. November 2nd became All Souls Day, when prayers were to be offered to the souls of all who the departed and those who were waiting in Purgatory for entry into Heaven. Throughout the centuries, pagan and Christian beliefs intertwine in a gallimaufry of celebrations from Oct 31st through November 5th, all of which appear both to challenge the ascendancy of the dark and to revel in its mystery.

 

In the country year, Samhain marked the first day of winter, when the herders led the cattle and sheep down from their summer hillside pastures to the shelter of stable and byre. The hay that would feed them during the winter must be stored in sturdy thatched ricks, tied down securely against storms. Those destined for the table were slaughtered, after being ritually devoted to the gods in pagan times. All the harvest must be gathered in — barley, oats, wheat, turnips, and apples — for come November, the faeries would blast every growing plant with their breath, blighting any nuts and berries remaining on the hedgerows. Peat and wood for winter fires were stacked high by the hearth. It was a joyous time of family reunion, when all members of the household worked together baking, salting meat, and making preserves for the winter feasts to come. The endless horizons of summer gave way to a warm, dim and often smoky room; the symphony of summer sounds was replaced by a counterpoint of voices, young and old, human and animal. 

In early Ireland, people gathered at the ritual centers of the tribes, for Samhain was the principal calendar feast of the year.   The greatest assembly was the ‘Feast of Tara,’ focusing on the royal seat of the High King as the heart of the sacred land, the point of conception for the new year. In every household throughout the country, hearth-fires were extinguished. All waited for the Druids to light the new fire of the year — not at Tara, but at Tlachtga, a hill twelve miles to the north-west. It marked the burial-place of Tlachtga, daughter of the great druid Mogh Ruith, who may once have been a goddess in her own right in a former age. 

At at all the turning points of the Celtic year, the gods drew near to Earth at Samhain, so many sacrifices and gifts were offered up in thanksgiving for the harvest. Personal prayers in the form of objects symbolizing the wishes of supplicants or ailments to be healed were cast into the fire,  and at the end of the ceremonies, brands were lit from the great fire of Tara to re-kindle all the home fires of the tribe, as at Beltane. As they received the flame that marked this time of beginnings, people surely felt a sense of the kindling of new dreams, projects and hopes for the year to come. 

The Samhain fires continued to blaze down the centuries.  In the 1860s the Halloween bonfires were still so popular in Scotland that one traveler reported seeing thirty fires lighting up the hillsides all on one night, each surrounded by rings of dancing figures, a practice which continued up to the first World War. Young people and servants lit brands from the fire and ran around the fields and hedges of house and farm, while community leaders surrounded parish boundaries with a magic circle of light. Afterwards, ashes from the fires were sprinkled over the fields to protect them during the winter months — and of course, they also improved the soil. The bonfire provided an island of light within the oncoming tide of winter darkness, keeping away cold, discomfort, and evil spirits long before electricity illumined our nights. When the last flame sank down, it was time to run as fast as you could for home, raising the cry, “The black sow without a tail take the hindmost!”

Even today, bonfires light up the skies in many parts of the British Isles and Ireland at this season, although in many areas of Britain their significance has been co-opted by Guy Fawkes Day, which falls on November 5th, and commemorates an unsuccessful attempt to blow up the English Houses of Parliament in the 17th century. In one Devonshire village, the extraordinary sight of both men and women running through the streets with blazing tar barrels on their backs can still be seen! Whatever the reason, there will probably always be a human need to make fires against the winter’s dark.

Divination at Halloween  

Samhain was a significant time for divination, perhaps even more so than May or Midsummer’s Eve, because this was the chief of the three Spirit Nights. Divination customs and games frequently featured apples and nuts from the recent harvest, and candles played an important part in adding atmosphere to the mysteries. In Scotland, a child born at Samhain was said to be gifted with an d� shealladh, “The Two Sights” commonly known as “second sight,” or clairvoyance. 

Apple Magic
At the heart of the Celtic Otherworld grows an apple tree whose fruit has magical properties. Old sagas tell of heroes crossing the western sea to find this wondrous country, known in Ireland as Emhain Abhlach, (Evan Avlach) and in Britain, Avalon. At Samhain, the apple harvest is in, and old hearthside games, such as apple-bobbing, called apple-dookin’ in Scotland, reflect the journey across water to obtain the magic apple. 

Dookin’ for Apples
Place a large tub, preferably wooden, on the floor, and half fill it with water. Tumble in plenty of apples, and have one person stir them around vigorously with a long wooden spoon or rod of hazel, ash or any other sacred tree. 

Each player takes their turn kneeling on the floor, trying to capture the apples with their teeth as they go bobbing around. Each gets three tries before the next person has a go. Best to wear old clothes for this one, and have a roaring fire nearby so you can dry off while eating your prize!
If you do manage to capture an apple, you might want to keep it for a divination ritual, such as this one: 

The Apple and the Mirror
Before the stroke of midnight, sit in front of a mirror in a room lit only by one candle or the moon. Go into the silence, and ask a question. Cut the apple into nine pieces. With your back to the mirror, eat eight of the pieces, then throw the ninth over your left shoulder. Turn your head to look over the same shoulder, and you will see and in image or symbol in the mirror that will tell you your answer.

(When you look in the mirror, let your focus go “soft,” and allow the patterns made by the moon or candlelight and shadows to suggest forms, symbols and other dreamlike images that speak to your intuition.) 

Dreaming Stones
Go to a boundary stream and with closed eyes, take from the water three stones between middle finger and thumb, saying these words as each is gathered:                        

         I will lift the stone
           As Mary lifted it for her Son,
           For substance, virtue, and strength;
           May this stone be in my hand
           Till I reach my journey’s end.
 

(Scots Gaelic)
          Togaidh mise chlach,
          Mar a thog Moire da Mac,
          Air bhr�gh, air bhuaidh, ‘s air neart;
          Gun robh a chlachsa am dh�rn,
          Gus an ruig mi mo cheann uidhe.

Carry them home carefully and place them under your pillow. That night, ask for a dream that will give you guidance or a solution to a problem, and the stones will bring it for you.
Article from ‘The Stonehenge Stone Circle’ Website

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VisitWiltshire has launched a new handy sized Wiltshire Downs & Market Towns pocket guide and map, offering helpful information as part of an on-going campaign to attract and retain visitors to the county.
Wilsthire White Horse

The 24-page pocket guide details a host of attractions and activities to suit all ages, with information about events and festivals, food and drink, history and heritage, and the great outdoors.

David Andrews Chief Executive of VisitWiltshire highlighted the need for the guide: “This new guide is all part of the work we’re doing to celebrate the diversity of the county’s tourism product and to raise the profile of Wiltshire as a must-see holiday destination.  This is a new title for us and I’m particularly pleased that we’ve had such strong support in producing this guide from the local travel industry.”

The Wiltshire Downs are home to some of the UK’s most exciting and iconic attractions including:

The White Horses cut into the chalk hillside
The Ridgeway long distance path, which has been called the oldest road in Britain
Crofton Pumping Station, which houses the oldest working beam engine in the world
Caen Hill locks, arguably the most impressive flight of locks in the UK
Avebury, one of the most important Megalithic monuments in Europe consisting of 200 standing stones in two great circles.  This is combined with a massive bank and ditch which covers more than 28 acres
The new guide is split into clear sections making it easy for visitors to find just what they are looking for.  Amongst the highlights are events listings, suggestions for days out and plenty of pages dedicated to food and drink.  There is also a map showing the location of each individual attraction and activity.

David Dawson, Chair of Devizes Area Tourism Partnership and Director of Wiltshire Heritage Museum said, “We are delighted that VisitWiltshire has produced this timely new Wiltshire Towns & Market Towns Pocket Guide.  Given all the changes to tourism in Devizes lately it’s fantastic to see VisitWiltshire proactively targeting new visitors in this way, informing them of the best to see and do in the area.  Many of our attractions are now acting as mini tourist information centres and will be stocking the guide for anyone to use.”

As well as local circulation, the print run of 30,000 copies will be distributed proactively as part of VisitWiltshire’s marketing drive to bring additional visitors to the county.  Additional content is available to visitors online at www.visitwiltshire.co.uk.

Copies of the free ‘Pocket Guide and Map’ are available from VisitWiltshire by calling 0845 602 7323 or can be downloaded from the internet by visiting www.visitwiltshire.co.uk.

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A pair of carved stone ducks unearthed at Vespasian’s Camp near Stonehenge are believed to be the oldest known figurines found in the UK, and are amongst other findings that suggest the sacred site was in use several thousand years before the megalith itself was constructed.

Two stone carvings, in the shape of ducks, dated to around 700 BC. (Luke Beaman/The Open University)

Two stone carvings, in the shape of ducks, dated to around 700 BC. (Luke Beaman/The Open University)

Led by archeologist David Jacques at The Open University, several students uncovered a hoard of artifacts from the mid-Stone Age, including a ceremonial dagger, the remains of an aurochs feast, and more than 5,000 flints and tools.

“We thought it was probably a mixed cache of early prehistoric tools, and assumed some were contemporary with Stonehenge,” Jacques said in a press release.

“When we took them back to Cambridge and a number of experts suggested they were all Mesolithic, we started to get very excited.”

The team found evidence of a fire with over 200 cooked animal bones from at least one aurochs, which were radiocarbon dated back to about 6,250 BC, more than 3,000 years before the giant stone circle was erected.

“Mesolithic people were nomadic hunter-gatherers who would have had temporary settlements,” Jacques explained.

“Salisbury Plain would have been something like the Serengeti with herds of animals roaming across it, and people could have used the hills that sort of create a basin around it as vantage points from which to see the movement of animals.”

Now extinct, aurochs were a type of large cattle that once roamed Eurasia and North Africa, reaching almost two meters in height.

“An aurochs was something like a large minivan in size,” Jacques said. “To catch an animal this big would have been a major feat.”

“It would have fed a lot of people. It’s likely there was a large gathering, possibly as many as 100 people, who cooked and feasted on the aurochs.”

Meanwhile, the ducks were dated back to 700 BC, and the dagger to around 1,400 BC. The figurines are believed to be part of a Bronze Age tradition based on casting sacrificial offerings into water.

Only a few other Mesolithic artifacts have previously been found in the area. Field archeologist Tom Lyons at Oxford Archaeology East said in the release that the discovery is highly significant.

“It’s really exciting to get such a cache of material,” he said. “This certainly makes this find nationally important, if not internationally important”

Link: http://www.theepochtimes.com/n2/science/mesolithic-discovery-could-alter-our-understanding-of-stonehenge-62434.html

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