18 September 2023 – Rivers, Lakes and Springs Folklore and Hill Figures

By | September 19, 2023

1/. We continued the topic of features associated with the British Landscape.

We completed our discussion of folklore associated with inland water, and legends that connect Celtic goddesses to rivers as the sprits of the water.  We questioned if there was a connection between these, the waters are dangerous, there are obvious warnings contained.  It is possible that there are folk memories of the goddesses and spirits from pagan times.

There were beliefs that rivers demanded a quota of drownings over a period of time, some said per year, others every seven years.  We also looked at the importance of the recovery of the bodies of the drowned.  There were rituals used to locate where the bodies were.  It was important for the bereaved to bury them and show respect.

We looked at the folklore related to Aine an Irish Celtic sun goddess/earth mother/mother earth figure and the creation of Lough Gur in Ireland.  She created the lough as a young woman by leaving the top off a well or she was caught by St Patrick as an old woman as she was urinating and that created the lough.

There are many stories in mainland Britain where women left the lid off a well creating lakes and lochs.  Very few of them related to men.  They may have been warnings to protect your precious water source, the water gods could also be dangerous.   Possibly there are links to the memories of the great flood myth which has lots of stories all over the world.

2/. We started a new subtopic of hill figures in the landscape.

White Horses

Most existing white horses are from the late C18th and early C19th due to them becoming fashionable.  These were mainly in Wiltshire due to its topography and the chalk.  A few of these may have earlier figures underneath or Iron Age forts or enclosures nearby.

The white horse at Uffington is the oldest surviving horse.  It is 120 metres long.  It has a stylised shape.  It predates the Norman Conquest in 1066 and the most likely contenders for its creators are the Celts around 1000 BCE.  There is a hill fort by it which is likely to be of the same time.

The stylised shape of the horse is quite common in Celtic metal work and the Atrebates tribe have them on their coins.  It may be dragon not a horse.  There is a Dragon Hill just opposite and the story is that the dragon was killed by St George and the grass did not grow where the blood was spilt.

Human Figures

We looked at two the 180ft Cerne Abbas Giant in Dorset and the 230ft Long Man of Wilmington.

There a number of theories of the origins of the Cerne Abbas Giant.  It had an Iron Age enclosure above it and it is likely to have been involved in fertility rites.  We looked at possible dating information/clues for it; the best guess being Celtic.

The Long Man of Wilmington is possibly Saxon or Romano British.  The figure may have had more detail such as eyes as it was almost lost in the turf and was reinstated by white painted bricks.  There is a giant legend associated with it where two giants fought and the figure is the outline left in the hillside of the one which was killed.

We’ll finish this sub topic next time and start a new one.

Last Updated on September 19, 2023