The Theosophical Forum – July 1945

THE PREHISTORIC ZODIAC AT GLASTONBURY — Charles J. Ryan

Everyone has heard of the Great Stone Monuments at Stonehenge and Avebury in England, but comparatively few know much about the prehistoric Sacred Center at Glastonbury in Somersetshire which is associated with the semi-mythical King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table and which, as Mrs. Maltwood remarks in The Enchantments of Britain (1) "constituted a laboratory of thought and mystery recognised by the races of Europe as unspeakably hallowed and inscrutable." Lewis Spence, in his The Mysteries of Britain, calls it "The Temple of the British Sacred Tradition." Mrs. Maltwood's twenty-five years of intensive research have, as she very reasonably considers, established in the vicinity of Glastonbury the existence of a hitherto unsuspected monument that greatly surpasses in interest and in size anything hitherto found in that ancient center of the Mysteries, or maybe in Western Europe. It consists of a representation of the Signs of the Zodiac whose components are delineated on the scale of miles, the entire circle of effigies being ten miles in diameter! This colossal Zodiac is outlined on the surface of the earth with great engineering skill by the adapted contours of streams, hills, forests, huge artificial earthworks, etc., and the labor of shaping them must have been great. Such an undertaking is enduring and the changes caused by farming operations have done little to obliterate the gigantic effigies since their creation about 2700 b.c. as calculated by Mrs. Maltwood from astronomical data. From an airplane the outlines are plainly seen, but otherwise they can only be properly traced on maps and airplane photographs. Mrs. Malt-wood's discovery was made through her efforts to map out the quest of King Arthur's Knights whose holy isle of Avalon has been identified with Glastonbury. In her previous works, A Guide to Glastonbury's Temple of the Stars, and its Air View Supplement, the Zodiac — King Arthur's Round Table — is fully described and illustrated. This book has a few, but sufficient, illustrations.

Judging by the mass of corroborating evidence that the author produces as the result of profound scholarly research and of her own observations, it seems impossible to doubt that she has made an excellent case for both the actual existence and the origin of the amazing monument which so definitely sustains the claim of the Theosophical Teachers that prehistoric races had high intelligence and technical skill, and above all a unified system of thought which Theosophists call the ancient Wisdom-Religion, widely spread over the earth.

In regard to the method of preserving knowledge by indelibly carving it on the surface of the earth we have other examples in England in the great White Horse at Uffington, the Wilmington Giant, and others. Mrs. Maltwood quotes H. P. Blavatsky's The Secret Doctrine, II, 750, where she refers to the records of Initiates from Egypt traveling by land — before the breaking through of the British Channel — to Britain and establishing "colossal Zodiacs," and above all the reference from the same source to the one-time gigantic Zodiac in what is now the Gobi or Shamo desert. H. P. B. writes:

As above so below. Sidereal phenomena and the behavior of the celestial bodies in the heavens, were taken as a model, and the plan was carried out below, on earth. . . . In the same manner and on the plan of the Zodiac in the upper Ocean or the heavens, a certain realm on Earth, an inland sea, was consecrated and called "the Abyss of Learning"; twelve centers on it in the shape of twelve small islands representing the Zodiacal signs — two of which remained for ages the "mystery signs" and were the abodes of twelve Hierophants and masters of wisdom. This "sea of knowledge" or learning remained for ages there, where now stretches the Shamo or Gobi desert. — The Secret Doctrine, II 502

Mrs. Maltwood points out that while the reference to "colossal Zodiacs" connects up with Egypt, the sentences just quoted above deal with Asia. She writes:

The latter exactly pictures "The Temple of the Stars," in England, for the signs are set in what are called on the map, the Sea Moors. The low-lying land has now been more or less drained but in Winter time the little hills appear as islands emerging from the flooded Sea Moors. Probably the "Initiates" came via Egypt, to lay out this Zodiac.

Another reference to The Secret Doctrine by Mrs. Maltwood relates to the divine Flames or Fiery Lions "whose esotericism is securely hidden in the Zodiacal sign of Leo." (S. D., I, 213) These red flames are ingeniously indicated at Glastonbury. Mrs. Maltwood writes:

In this Temple of the Stars the Lion's tongue composed of red clay is one of the most interesting modeled earthworks; it is extended intentionally to rest on and point out the central line of the Ecliptic. . . . I marveled at its life-like drawing expressed by the processional path that surrounds it. . . .

The author presents a striking array of traditions and ancient records from Asia, etc., collected with great industry from authentic sources, tending to demonstrate the origin of the Glastonbury Zodiac from Sumerian-Chaldean sources, probably toward the close of the time when Taurus was the dominant sign (roughly speaking 4800 B.C. to 2400 B.C.). The Sumerians probably derived their knowledge from the far older Gobi civilization described by H. P. Blavatsky.

Mrs. Maltwood has found that many of the names of places, farms, etc., in the area of the Zodiac bear close resemblances to Oriental ones. Glastonbury is located in the county of Somerset and the ancient county seat was Somerton, derived from the Sumerians. The name of the river Parutti, which guards the sacred area of the gods in the Babylonian legend of Gilgamesh is obviously, as she says:

. . . the Parrett River of Somerset, which outlines the "great dog" of this "Kingdom of Logres," is perhaps the oldest name in the British Isles, it was left by the Sumerian settlers, Somerset being "The Seat of the Sumers" or Cymry. So, close to the effigy that portrays the constellation Gemini, we find the ancient names for the sun gods, Lug and Hu, in Lugshorn and Huish. . . .

The connexion between the Arthurian legend and the Zodiacal "Round Table" is clearly laid out in this fascinating study, but it is impossible to go into this in a brief review. We notice that only ten of the Zodiacal Signs are definitely represented or indicated on the Glastonbury Giant Zodiac, Cancer the Crab and Libra the Balance being omitted. According to H. P. Blavatsky ten signs only were known to "the profane" until the Greeks added Libra, and Virgo-Scorpio was divided into two; though the initiates always had the twelve. This, however, does not explain the omission (if it is really omitted and not merely obscured) of Cancer in the Glastonbury Zodiac.

Glastonbury has always had a strong link with the Orient. It was not only a prehistoric spiritual center but a specially sacred locality to the Christian world with its traditions of the visit of Joseph of Arimathea and perhaps the youthful Jesus, and other associations which are not altogether forgotten.

In an environment like this where a devotional atmosphere has been maintained for several thousand years, it would be surprising if the partition between the material world and the unseen were not somewhat thinner than in the conditions of modern fretful city life. And, according to strong evidence, this was demonstrated in June 1910 when great interest was aroused by a report in the Daily Chronicle, a leading London paper, of unexplained happenings at Glastonbury and neighborhood consisting of manifestations of a powerful perfume of incense at various places. They occurred in an ancient Manor House outside the city and also within its precincts, in private houses as well as in the open air. The grounds of the famous ruined Abbey were the scene of strongly marked manifestations. The witnesses were numerous and no normal explanation was able to be found. The perfume appeared and disappeared suddenly and sometimes lasted for many minutes. Comparison with ordinary Western Church incense and experiments with gums and balsams indicated that it was of Oriental type. The correspondent of the Daily Chronicle wrote:

Here we have phenomena occurring of a rare and beautiful nature, observed by a number of witnesses, and even now occurring in the most unexpected manner. And there is no place so admirably "staged" with its venerable history and associations as Glastonbury for the mysterious happenings. The story contains no element of the terrifying or the malignant, but rather is reminiscent of the gentle lives of devoted men. . . .

Many other unexplained phenomena of no low order are claimed to have occurred at Glastonbury in recent years, but as this review is not a discussion on psychical research we must say no more. Mrs. Maltwood's book is entirely devoted to a scholarly presentation of the scientific and historical demonstration of her "discovery, delineation and localization" of the colossal Zodiac, and the highly important conclusions to be drawn therefrom.

FOOTNOTE:

1. The Enchantments of Britain. By K. E. Maltwood, F. R. S. A. Publishers, The Victoria Printing and Publishing Co. Victoria, B. C, Canada. $1.25. (return to text)


The Theosophical Forum

THEOSOPHICAL UNIVERSITY PRESS ONLINE