November Heaven and Earth Calendar

1st All Saints’ Day, Day of the Dead

2nd All Souls’ Day, International Day to end impunity for crimes against journalists

4th Waxing half moon (10.22), Taurids meteor shower peak

6th International Day for preventing the exploitation of the environment in war and armed conflict

7th Astrological point of Samhain (17.25)

10th International of Science and Peace begins

11th Armistice/Veteran’s Day, transit of Mercury across the Sun

12th Full Moon in Taurus (13.34), Birth of Bahaullah (Baha’i)

14th World Diabetes Day

17th Leonids meteor shower peak

19th World Toilet Day, waning half moon (21.10)

20th Universal Children’s Day, Mercury direct

25th International Day for the elimination of violence against women

26th New Moon (15.05)

28th Thanksgiving (USA)

29th International Day of solidarity with the Palestinian People

24th United Nations Day, 27th Diwali (Hindu)

28th New Moon (3.38), 31st Halloween, Mercury Retrograde

The Baalbek Enigma

The sanctuary of Baalbek was one of the most famed sites of the ancient world and the well-preserved ruins are still capable of inspiring awe and wonder to this day. Roman emperors would make pilgrimage to the largest of Rome’s temples, situated not in the Eternal City, but in a remote valley sandwiched between the Lebanon and ante-Lebanon mountain ranges. Though Baalbek is still a major attraction, for decades its proximity to the Syrian border and a nearby Hezbollah training camp have made it largely inaccessible to all but the hardiest of travellers. Now, as tourism returns to the Lebanon, its mysteries are again being slowly revealed.

The Propylaea, author’s photo

Nobody would deny that the Romans were master builders, the engineers par excellence of the ancient world. It took the Julio-Claudian emperors over 200 years to build the sanctuary that consists of  temples dedicated to the Roman triad Jupiter, Bacchus and Venus, plus two massive courts, sacrificial altars and basins for ritual cleansing. The vast scale of the complex, the intricacy of the decoration and the sheer height of the six remaining Corinthian columns of the Temple of Jupiter, the largest in the Roman world, cannot fail to impress.  Still, the enigma of Baalbek lies not so much in the wonder of the temples, but in the presence of three gigantic stones comprising part of the wall that surrounds them.

The Trilithon, photo public domain

Approximately 64 feet long, 14 feet high and 12 feet the three stones embedded in the north end of a U-shaped megalithic wall surrounding the Temple of Jupiter are collectively known as the Trilithon. They have been laid with such a precision that ‘even a needle would not fit in between them,’ yet each stone weighs in excess of 800 tonnes, weight that even modern cranes would struggle to move[1]. So, who put them there, how did they do it and what purpose did they serve?

The theories are many and varied. Though the Romans have left no written record of how the Trilithon was moved and why, the most standard line is that it was them who emplaced them, intending the U shaped wall to form part of a podium which presumably was never completed, which in turn incorporated the remains of an even earlier podium[2]. Another theory is that the Romans built the megalithic wall as a restraining wall to stop soil erosion and prevent movement on the vast temple complex [3]. Other researchers doubt that the Romans had the technology to move the massive blocks from the nearby quarry and attribute the building of the wall to an Elder culture who had highly developed building skills learnt before the Great Flood, and who could have also built another Cyclopean structures around the globe.[4] Other theories credit the construction and engineering of the Trilithon wall to giants, jinn or extra-terrestrials who used magnets and sound technology to move the stones.[5]

‘The Stone of the Pregnant Woman in the quarry near Baalbek, author’s photo

Many researchers more qualified than me have pondered deeply about the logistics of moving and emplacing such massive stones, but surely that the Romans possessed the know-how to move gigantic blocks and emplace them is not in doubt, as the massive columns in rest of the sanctuary testify. And they could also have simply built the megalithic wall as a retaining wall, practical as they were. But I am equally comfortable with the notion that an earlier culture could have built the wall too, and that massive structures in Egypt and South America show levels of engineering capabilities that equalled, even surpassed, that of the Romans. New and intriguing structures from prehistory are coming to light all the time (e.g. Gobekli Tepe in Turkey) and gradually we are able to flesh out in more detail the mysteries of our past. But for me, after the visiting the site, the enigma of Baalbek changed from how and by whom, to why and why here?

Temple of Bacchus, author’s photo

So, who was here before the Romans? Everyone would agree that Baalbek was considered sacred long before they arrived. Named Heliopolis by the conquering Alexander, the Greeks equated it with the Egyptian City of the Sun, a place of great antiquity by this time. The Canaanites had been present in the area for centuries and used the hill at Baalbek as the centre of one of their sanctuaries. And the Phoenicians, an off shoot of the Canaanites, also considered the site to be sacred and built temples to Baal, Astarte and Adon(is), here.  Indeed, the altars of the Roman Great Court were built over the exact summit of the hill used as one of the Canaanite  ‘high places’ and care taken to raise the platform so it was the same height. Archaeological evidence has shown almost continual occupation of the tell over the past 9,000 years and evidence of occupation during Paloelithic times has also been found.[6] But why here?

Spring at Baalbek, author’s photo

Next we need to look more carefully at Baalbek’s location in the Beqaa Valley and dig deeper into the local geology. Located in the centre of the cradle of civilisation, the NE Beqaa was a cross over point on trade routes from Tyre to Palmyra in the Syrian desert, or from Damascus to Beirut, bringing a constant flow of people and ideas to this area that was known for its fertile soil. It is located between two mountain ranges, and close to the source of two rivers, the Litani and the Orontes, was deemed highly auspicious by the ancients, and one of the possible locations for the abode of El in the Ugaritic Baal Cycle.[7]  Finally, Baalbek is also near a well now called Ras al Ain (‘head of the source’), which in ancient times was associated with the dragon Typhon. [8]

Dragons are usually associated with very powerful Earth energies, and this is an apt description of the Beqaa Valley. Situated at the top of the Great Rift, the valley is in close proximity to (indeed was pushed up by) a long fault line that runs through the Lebanese mountain range bringing frequent earthquakes to the region as the converging African, Eurasion and Arabian microplates twist in opposite directions. The power of nature in this region is literally awesome and must have inspired wonder, and not a small measure of fear, in our ancestors. In addition, the natural springs fed by meltwater runoff from the ante Lebanon mountain range frequently overflow, bringing flooding as well as earthquakes to the Beqaa.

As a site of potent Earth and water energy, Baalbek was also an oracular site of great antiquity. The Romans took over this cult wholesale and used the Temple of Jupiter as an oracle, famously consulted by the Emperor Trajan on two occasions, who asked if he would be victorious against the Parthians. It was also a site of cosmic importance, for there are reports from travellers that the Canaanites had a temple housing the sacred ‘betyl’ or meteorite stones that ‘were endowed with life’ and probably used for oracular purposes. [9] Thus as a place of great dragon and water power, as a sacred link between heaven and Earth, Baalbek was clearly a sacred site par excellence.

Entrance to the Temple of Bacchus, author’s photo

It is well attested that the natural calamities that befell the people of the Bronze Age resulted in a shift in human focus from living according to the principles of nature, to attempting to dominate. My sense is that the megalithic wall, and massive Trilithon stones, were emplaced for this reason, to try and control the vast and awesome forces at play in the Valley. Whether the Romans built the megalithic wall or not, they certainly built to impress and dominate, harnessing the power of the potent sun god (Jupiter) and the wild god of bacchanalia (Bacchus) to this end. To build such an imposing monument on this site of great Earth energy was clearly deliberate.

Over the past two thousand years, many more earthquakes and flood have ravished the land, and waves of conquerors have passed through, leaving their own mark. In more recent times, politics and agendas in neighbouring countries have become more intense and today the Beqaa Valley is one of the most poignant places in the Middle East. Though still a place of natural abundance and beauty, warlords use the land to grow cash crops of cannabis, marijuana and heroin, and Syrian refugees live in makes shift tents and farm the land in all weathers to earn money to send back to the ruin that is now Syria. Pictures of Nasrallah and the yellow flags of Hezbollah line the streets, and the Israelis nervously monitor the training camps that give the valley the name ‘barracks of Hezbollah.’ According to a recent article in the Jerusalem Post [10], Hezbollah are building a precision missile building site here, but I have no means of verifying this (itself a sign of our times).

Once one of the most sacred places in the Middle East, it now feels like one of the most distorted. This to me is the true enigma of Baalbek and the key to this lies not in understanding the technology used to shift large stones, but in the intentions used to emplace them.


[1] Graham Hancock, ‘Magicians of the Gods’ p. 239 – 291

[2] Graham Hancock, ‘Magicians of the Gods,’ p. 239 – 291

[3] See http://www.ancientaliensdebunked.com/Baalbek

[4] See ‘Baalbek – Lebanon’s Sacred Fortress’ by Andrew Collins (available at andrewcollins.com)

[5] See, for example, Alan Alford, ‘Gods of the New Millenium.’

[6] Baalbek https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baalbek

[7] As above

[8] See www.Livius.org (accessed 20.9.19)

[9] Graham Hancock, ‘Magicians of the Gods,’ p. 239 – 291

[10] The Jerusalem Post (online), 5.9.19

Lebanon: the lost rites of Astarte and Adonis

The Lebanon is not your average Middle Eastern country, though it embodies aspects of them all. Today it is a melting pot of Sunni and Shia Muslims, Palestinians, Druze, Maronite and Orthodox Christians, Syrian refugees and wealthy Arabs from the Gulf, but beneath the vibrant surface it is possible to discern the traces of an equally unique and rich past.

‘Astarte’ the Louvre, Paris (public domain)

For thousands of years it was the Canaanite and then Phoenician cultures that flourished in this tiny sliver of land sandwiched between the Mediterranean and two large mountain ranges. This was the time when Astarte, Queen of Heaven, was worshipped as a goddess of fertility and sexuality, bringing abundance from the sea and nourishment from the land, and ensuring together with her consort Baal, that all things were in balance above and below. She herself was derived from the older Mesopotamian goddess Inanna and it was this archetype that was worshipped throughout the Levant in various forms including Ishtar, Ashtoreth and Aphrodite.

‘Jezebel’ by Byam Shaw, public domain

Today little traces of her remain either physically or in the historical record, and what does is often recorded through the lens of disapproving historians or biblical writers. One of her most famous priestesses was Jezebel, the Phoenician princess and daughter of King Ethbaal of Tyre, who took the worship of both Astarte and Baal to the kingdom of Israel at the time of the prophet Elijah. Astarte ruled supreme in all the city states of Phoenica and in the Eschmoun temple near Sidon (named after her consort in this city), a well-preserved temple still stands to this day. She was typically worshipped in the form as a throne supported by winged sphinxes or lions, and represented by a betyl, or sacred stone. It was at Byblos, however, that her main centre of worship was located and it was there that I went to piece her story together.

Astarte’s throne, National Museum Beirut (author’s photo)

The ancient ruins of Byblos are vast and impressive and in the centre of the complex, reached by a grand central colonnade, the temple of Astarte once stood. Reconstructed images show a large open court, surrounded by cloisters, in the middle of which stood a large conical shaped stone, or betyl, that represented and embodied her essence. It was here that the famous rites of Adonis were celebrated, generally seen as the ‘offspring’ of Baal and Astarte, or sometimes as her lover. The name Adonis means ‘lord’ in semitic and though introduced at a later stage by the Greeks and Romans, nevertheless embodied a hugely powerful archetype that also went under the names of Tammuz and Attis.

These young male gods embodied the ‘rising and dying god-man archetype,’ an archaic form of a vegetation deity that has very deep roots. According to James Frazer[1], as harvest gods, they embodied the actual life essence present in the corn and were ritually slain once a year as the corn itself was threshed by scythes and cycles at harvest time. The death of the harvest god was then ritually mourned in a huge ceremony involving cymbals, flutes, and semi-naked women beating their breasts, dancing and weeping in a sacred lament, followed the burial of his wounded body, and then the celebration of his miraculous resurrection the following day.

In the Greek version of the legend, Adonis was born of a myrrh tree (confirming his status as a vegetation deity) and hidden in a box by Aphrodite in the underworld. In a story woven into the mythology of many cultures across the aeons of time, but with local varieties of gods/goddesses playing the part, he is held hostage in the underworld until permitted by an authority figure to spend part of the year above ground, thereby embodying the mysteries of the seed that lies fallow before bursting forth in the spring in the abundant glory of the corn crop.

‘Venus and Adonis’ by Titian, public domain

The next part of the legend is specific to the Lebanon, for we are now told that the youthful Adonis, who loved to hunt, was out on Mount Lebanon near a place called Afqa. He came across a wild boar, that fatally wounded him in the leg. Aphrodite herself could not save him from his injuries and he bled to death on the ground, causing crimson anenomes to spring forth and the river water to run red with his blood. This river was known as the Adonis river in antiquity and flowed from Mount Lebanon through the Aphaca gorge down to Byblos, where it emptied into the sea.

Afqa waterfall, author’s photo

According to Frazer, there was once a large temple of Astarte that stood in a grove near the source of this river, and one hot day in August, I journeyed to Afqa to see what fragments remained. Though I found no trace of the temple, I did find a place of incredible beauty. Set in the towering limestone massif of the Mount Lebanon range was a huge cavern from which a waterfall emerged. Even in August the waterfall was an impressive site forming pools of azure and turquoise water, but in the spring, when the pale sun starts to melt the snow on the top of Mount Lebanon, the frothing waters would have burst forth in torrents, cascading down the valley, fructifying and turning all the vegetation green after the barrenness of winter. It was here, according to the legend, that the wounded body of Adonis was buried, dying so that the vegetation might spring forth.

It is clear from the stories that the blood of Adonis not only fertilised the land but also turned the river red. Upon closer inspection of the waters, traces of iron can be seen and we now know that the soil around the river is rich in iron oxide. As the water levels rise, iron rich soil is washed into the water, turning it the colour of vermillion. This bloody torrent then then snaked down the Aphaca gorge, and on to Byblos where it fanned out to sea, and, in the words of Frazer, “fringing the winding shores of the blue Mediterranean, whenever the wind set inshore, with a sinuous band of crimson.’

Adonis Cavern, Afqa (author’s photo)

And that is not all. As also Frazer suggests, there was a celestial event that accompanied the torrents of water that emerged gushing like blood from the cavern at Afqa, and this could be linked to the planet Venus. According to the historian Sozomen [2] ‘At Aphaca, it was believed that on a certain prayer being uttered on a given day, a fire like a star descended from the top of Lebanon, and sunk into the neighbouring river; this phenomenon they sometimes call Urania, and sometimes Venus.’

Astarte/Aphrodite were closely associated closely with the planet Venus, and the cycles of Venus were well known to the Ancients who considered her retrograde motion then reappearance as the morning star to be mysterious and sacred. It is therefore plausible that at certain times of the Venus cycle, the star was seen from the lofty heights of Mount Lebanon to fall from the night sky and plunge into the river, turning the waters blood red. To the ancients, Astarte would have personified the planet Venus, who fell from heaven to lie in the arms of her lover Adonis, fructifying the barren Earth in a cosmic drama of great potency.

Throne of Astarte at Echmoun Temple, Sidon (author’s photo)

On an even deeper level, it is possible that these rites originally recorded a meteorite impact that occurred in archaic times. Then the falling ‘star’ would have had a physical impact on the Earth, ‘wounding’ it and causing the river to run red with blood. It could also have fructified and brought forth new life, just as the poppies used today to symbolise death and sacrifice rose from the desolate battle fields when they were first ploughed. Furthermore, Astarte herself was represented by a betyl, and the most prized betyl of all were those made from meteorites. They truly were a piece of heaven on Earth and our ancestors understood their significance in a way that has been lost today. In the stories and legends that have come down to us from antiquity, we can therefore piece together traces of a lost world view that saw heaven and earth as a unified whole, and our place in nature as sacred and wondrous.


[1] James George Frazer ‘The Golden Bough,’ Oxford University Press, 2009.

[2] See www.phenicians.com ‘The Adonis legend’

The Sacred Well Temples of Sardinia

Sacred Well Temple (author’s photo)

Of all the sacred sites of Sardinia, the sacred water temples are the most beautiful, and the most unique. They were built by the Bronze Age Nuraghic culture (approx. 1800 – 238 B.C.E.) famed for the numerous Cyclopean towers and huge fortified villages that pepper the island to this day. The primary purpose of these structures was to protect against invasion, but these master builders wove aspects of the existing goddess culture into their fabric, aswell as developing new ones such as the sacred well temples.

It is generally recognised that the Nuraghic culture evolved from the pre-existing Chalcolithic people of the island, but as they were great sea farers and traders, they were certainly influenced by the other Mediterranean cultures of that time. Known as the Tower People, they had something in common with the Mycenaeans of Ancient Greece, who were also building beehive structures containing circular tholos. On Sardinia, the nuraghe, or defensive towers, contain a central tholos, often with side chambers, and circular openings at the top to the heavens. Long passageways within the tholos are often trianglular and feel like a primal birthing canal, designed to take the dead chieftains back to the primal womb of birth/death.

Sacred Well, Perfugus (author’s image)

Though the Nuraghe are numerous, there are only a handful of surviving sacred water temples and they all contain unique and interesting features. In Purfugas there is a small but exquisite sacred well made from marble. Located in the centre of town and surrounded by a fence, entrance is only possible with a guide from the archaeological museum who provides a key to gain access.

The well is circular and open to the sky now, but reconstructed images show it situated within a stone tholos during Nuraghic times. At the entrance to the structure there is a small rectangular vestibule with seats and a small votive table, both made from marble, where offerings to the water goddess would have been left. A beautiful bronze bull and ox were found at the site, both symbols of fertility and abundance.

Well floor, Perfugus (author’s photo)

Entrance to the well itself, which is a perfect circle, is via eight skillfully constructed marble steps. Descending into the hypogeum, where once the sacred water rites would have occurred, is like descending into the sacred abyss or underworld from which all life emerges, and the love and devotion once present in this sacred well is still palpable.

There are other sacred water temples in the south of the island, but it is the well at Santa Cristina near Paulilatino that is the best preserved and most spectacular of them all. Situated right next to a junction on the Sassari to Cagliari motorway, the well is not remote but still capable of transporting you to another realm. It was built in around 1200 B.C.E. and is made from basalt, giving it a more earthy and firey energy than the well at Perfugas. It is surrounded by an elliptical low wall and when seen from above, the structure resembles a vulva with the trapezoid shaped entrance to the well itself resembling the vaginal opening.

Well floor, Santa Cristina (author’s phot)

As with the well at Perfugus, the precision and craftsmenship of the structure is exquisite.  Access is via a dromos, or vestibule, which leads to a trapezoid opening and twenty five smooth basalt steps lead down to the hypogeum floor. The sacred spring at the heart of the sacred water cult is still active today and laps the bottom few steps, and a large tholos is situated over the well with a carefully positioned hole. Most remarkably of all, some researchers (see http://www.ancient-wisdom.com) have suggested that the hole in the top of the dome is aligned to reflect the light of the setting Moon at its maximum declination every 18.6 years when it appears to reach lunar standstill. This detailed understanding of one of the Moon’s lesser known cycles shows how intimately the sacred water rites were linked to Moon worship, which is, as far as I know, unique amongst the many sacred sites of the Mediterranean.

Trapezoid opening, Santa Cristina (author’s photo)

The sacred water temple iself is part of a larger complex and is surrounded by circular gathering huts which could have been used for ritual purposes, or purely civic activities. Archaeological excavations have shown that the site was used by the Phoenicians in around 1000 B.C.E., as four bronze statues of Phoenician healing gods and goddesses were found during excavations. It is therefore possible that the Phoenician had some sort of influence in the building of this site, especially as the Phoenicians had a strongly defined Moon and sacred water culture that did not appear to be in existence on Sardinia before this time (though this is purely speculation).

This incredible site has been held sacred for over three thousand years, and still is today. As a pure lunar, womb and sacred water site it has the remarkable potential for healing on an energetic level some of the wounding inflicted by the solar warlike Bronze Age energy, as those who descend into its depths with an open heart can testify.

Sardinia: the Ziggurat and the Omphalos

With the discovery of copper, life for the Mediterranean Neolithic farming communities changed profoundly. The sacred art of metallurgy was seen as the ultimate gift of the Goddess and the blacksmith as the alchemist who could transform the precious stuff that came from deep within the Earth into something useful. In Sardinia, this cross over time from Neolithic farming to metallurgy brought with it a remarkable and unique development not seen anywhere else in the Mediterranean. The enigmatic sanctuary at Monte d’Accordi.

Menhir at Li Lolghi, Sardinia

Near modern day Porto Torres, close to a spring and surrounded by distant mountain peaks on the south side, an ancient terraced site resembling a ziggurat rises out of the Nurra plain. This area had long since been regarded as sacred, most likely due to its setting and vantage point, and menhirs and stellae decorated with symbols were previously laid out here. The use of menhirs, or baetyl, proliferated during the Ozieri period, reflecting a wider tradition that had started in the Levant (or possibly Egypt) thousands of year earlier and migrated all the way across to the British Isles.

Baetyls were considered to be the house of god/goddess. They at once embodied the sacred and marked a sacred site, so they were the earliest form of altars. Their erection and libation could have been part of an ancient ritual whereby new territory was made sacred, and that which was previously foreign and ‘outside of’ became part of the acceptable realm of operation.

Ziggurat at Monte d’Accoddi

Then in around 3000 BCE, at around the same time that ziggurats began to occur in Mesopotamia, a terraced altar was built with walls made from stones and filled in with earth. On top, which could only be accessed via a ramp, a rectangular temple made from limestone slabs was erected, and the floors of the temple were painted red with ochre so as to resemble menstrual blood. For this reason the structure has been named the Red Temple.

Later, a second layer was added and again truncated like a ziggurat, enlarging the structure and bringing the Red Temple closer to the sky and presumably making it even more sacred. On one side of the ramp is an altar made from a large sheet of granite with circular holes cut into the sides, and on the other a large free standing menhir that could predate the site. To the north of the ziggurat are a farther three small chapels used for votive offerings and another menhir with strange carvings possibly depicting the goddess.

Goddess stellae at Monte d’Accoddi

It has been suggested that the four corners of the ziggurat are aligned to the four carnival points. That and the fact that the views of the horizon are conveniently punctuated by distant mountains suggests that at least one of the functions of this extraordinary place was an astronomical observatory. A small incised stone found at the site is suggestive of tally marks and could record planetary or stellar movements.

The ziggurat is part of a larger cult centre surrounded by partially unexcavated smaller huts. One could have belonged to the shaman or high priestess of the sanctuary as a vase full of shells was found here. It is speculated that these were used as amulets with magical significance.

‘Omphalos’

Most intriguing of all is a large carved stone omphalos, a navel stone depicting a special type of sacred place considered to be at the very bond between heaven and earth. The stone is egg shaped and has been cut through deliberately with a curved line so that it resembles a crack. This strongly suggests that this omphalos could also be a primordial egg, a place of origin from which all things emerge, the equivalent to the Place of the First Time in Egyptian mythology.

‘Bond between Heaven and Earth’

All these elements suggest that Monte d’Accoddi was a place of supreme importance to the earliest Chalcolithic cultures of northern Sardinia, indeed that t his cult site could have once been considered to be the dwelling place of the Goddess herself. Statuettes with perforated arms and breasts have been found at the site, attributing to prevalence of a female deity. The power of the place stayed with me for days afterwards, and my dreams connected me with an ancient time now long since forgotten. I can only speculate as to the immense power of the site when used and activated in the way for which it was intended.

Sardinia and the ancient Cult of the Bull

Sardinia with its dramatic coastline of rose-pink granite and white limestone, azure and emerald coloured waters and sun kissed climate is one of the greatest jewels of the Mediterranean. It teems with wildlife that seek out its lagoons and saline marshlands, the dense green shrub that fringe the coastline, or the forests of the mountainous interior. Prickly pear figs grow by the roadside along with fragrant frangipani, and cork forests abound in the north. The Romans mined its salt and the Phoenicians exploited its minerals, but before they arrived the island already had a fully fledged and highly developed culture that had itself evolved from the Neolithic farming communities which arrived from the Levant during the sixth millennium B.C.E.

Volumetric goddess figurine

These people brought with them sheep, goats, pigs and most importantly, cattle, and they knew how to farm the land and harvest its natural abundance. Later known as the Bonuighinu culture, they made pottery decorated with plant and geometric motifs, and tools and ornaments from bones. They worshipped the Mother Goddess in her guise as bountiful giver of life and abundance, as the presence of volumetric statuettes attests. They also built small megalithic circles and used red ochre in burials to symbolise menstrual blood.

Hypogeum temple at Anghelu Ruhu

This culture developed into the Ozieri culture, famous for the building of large necropolis, known as domus de janas, or fairy houses, where elaborate underground tombs were hewn into the limestone and used to bury the dead. These hypogeum were carefully constructed and sometimes sculpted in relief, even painted, and many sacred objects have been found within including thinner and more planar goddess figurines. At Anghelu Ruhu, occupied between 3500 to 1800 B.C.E. there are numerous well preserved ‘fairy houses’ and an underground temple, or hypogeum, with two pillars one of which is carved with the image of bull horns. These bucranium, or bovine protomes as the archaeologists call them, is one of the most prolific, and enduring, symbol to be found on the island, continuing throughout the Chalcolithic, until well into the Bronze Age when bull’s horns are depicted in relief on Nuragic tombs.

Hall of Bulls, Lascaux

The depiction of bulls as sacred animals is extremely ancient and deeply ingrained in the collective unconscious. In around 15,000 B.C.E., aurochs (the ancestor of our contemporary bulls) were painted in exquisite relief in the caves at Lascaux, featured in the famous Hall of the Bulls. Though wild and fierce, the auroch migrated at certain times of the year when they could be hunted for meat more easily, and also provided prized horn and hide. 

Bucranium at Catal Huyuk

Later, in around 7,000 B.C.E. bull paintings were used to decorate the northern wall of houses in the Anatolian village of Catal Huyuk. Sometimes they are shown being born of the Goddess, emphasising that is She who is the matrix from which all things emerge, the primal creatrix who needs no consort. There were also numerous intact bucranium hanging from the walls, which could symbolise (because of their shape) the primal uterus that gives birth to everything, and to which all life will one day return. Later when cattle became fully domesticated during the Neolithic, and when humans developed the gene that could enable them to digest raw cow’s milk, they became the nourisher par excellence, with milk being one of the elixirs of life.

Bull leaping, Knossos

The bull cult spread throughout the Mediterranean during the late Chalcolithic age, presumably transmitted via seafarers on trade routes. Most notably, the sumptuous palace of Knossos in Crete was adorned with frescoes of bulls and depicted in detail the sacred rite of bull jumping. In Egypt during the Pyramid Age, the Apis bull was considered to be the embodiment of the god Ptah and so sacred it was allowed to roam freely in the palace. After its (sacrificial) death, it was embalmed and kept in the huge Serapeum in Saqqara, which can still be seen to this day.

Nuraghe Giant’s tomb, Coddu Vecchiu

With the dawn of the Bronze Age, the Nuragic civilisation of Sardinia inherited an aspect of the bull cult. They built the famous cyclopean towers dotted over the island, but they also buried their (important) dead in long gallery graves, adorned with a row of huge stellae at the front (giant’s tombs). These standing stones form a semi-circular shape, and it has been suggested that they are deliberately curved to resemble bull’s horns. Also, when viewed from above, the complex bears a distinct resemblance to a bucranium, which again could be symbolic of a primal uterus of birth and death. Furthermore, it is also possible that these giant’s tombs (e.g. Coddu Vecchio near Arzachena) were aligned to the Aldebaran, the brightest star in the constellation of Taurus. This would then add a whole new dimension to the meaning associated with the bovine protomes.

Orion the Hunter and Taurus

During the period 4000 to 2000 B.C.E, the sun rose on the Spring Equinox against the stellar background of Taurus, ‘blinding’ the constellation. We call this the astrological age of Taurus, and there is evidence that the Bronze Age cultures of the Mediterranean also shared this understanding. In the night sky, Taurus is adjacent to that of Orion the Hunter, and consists of a  U-shaped muzzle (the stars of the Hyades) and two ‘horns.’ The brightest star, Aldebaran, looks like an eye, and has been described in cosmic myths as the angry red eye of the bull looking at Orion. It is entirely feasible that the protomes, which just consist of a shout and horns, are also symbolic of the constellation of Taurus and therefore reflect an understanding of the precession of the ages.

Bull’s horns carving, Elephant Rock

None of these interpretations are exclusive; symbols are powerful precisely because they have dual, or multi layered meanings, and often function on many levels. And they change over time, as the religious beliefs of people evolve or adapt. The wild auroch was important to our ancestors as though it was fierce and wild, it could be hunted for precious meat, hide and horn. With domestication, the bull became a symbol of fertility and virility, but could also be easily tamed and was associated with farming and agriculture. On Sardinia, as in the wider Mediterranean milieu, the bucranium could have been a symbol of the Great Goddess, the matrix from which all things arose, including the fecundity and fertility of the Earth, which gifted them cattle and the nourishment in the form of meat and milk, the giver of life and primal uterus to which all things eventually returned. Then during the Bronze Age, when the sun rose in the constellation of Taurus at the Spring Equinox, the heavens mirrored what was happening below and the cult of the bull took on a broader stellar dimension now linked more to sacrifice and bloodshed, and reflecting the turmoil and trauma of that Age.

Ancient Lithuania: fire and amber

Lithuania was the last country in Europe to convert to Christianity and has retained a connection with the Old Gods in a way that has not been preserved elsewhere. Therefore, through exploring the mythologies of the Old Balts, it is possible to gather threads and weave a colourful picture of the traditions and way of life that stretched back to our Indo-European ancestors, and possibly even beyond to the Corded Ware culture of the Neolithic. The Old Ways are still very important in Lithuania and attempts have been made to recreate them all over the country, notably at the Naisiai Museum of Baltic Deities near Siauliai and the Hill of Witches on the Curonian Spit.

Fire altar, Vilnius (author’s photo)

Of central important is the fire ritual, still held sacred in Lithuania to this day. Fire is regarded as the vital life force, the link between the ancestors and the fecundity of nature and the Earth.  In ancient Vilnius, in the Sventaragis Valley at the conference of the Vilna and Neris rivers, the Eternal Flame burned and was tended by priestesses called the ‘Vaidilutes’ in the temple of Perkunas, the thunder god closely linked to the sacred fire. [1] Today the cathedral stands over the site, and in the crypt you can see the archaeological remains of the twelve steps, and twelve altars, on which the sacred fire was burned.  And in nearby Kalny park in a grove on the side of the Hill of Crosses there is a well-tended fire altar, set up to honour the ancestors in a way that would have been done from old.

Fire was also central to ever Lithuanian household, where the mother would have had the sacred role of tending the hearth and carrying out the sacred rituals. The fire itself was the sacred Ugnis, and the goddess of the hearth Gabija, the fiery one who had healing, protective and purifying powers. Pure water, bread and salt were commonly used in rituals as sacrifices, or sacred gifts, to the fire.  ‘When Ugnis is fed salt, sacred Gabija is satiated.’ Each night, the mother of the house would cover the coals and bank the ashes for the night so the the fire would not wander and cause damage in the home. Indeed her name is derived from the verb meaning to ‘cover up.’ [2]

‘Birute’ in Palanga

On Birute Hill, in the centre of Palanga there was once a very important fire altar situated right next to the Baltic Sea. Still regarded as a sacred site at the time of the Grand Duchy, the fire was tended by Vaidilutes, the fire priestesses, until legend has it, one of them named Birute was kidnapped and married to Grand Duke Kestutis. A small chapel on top of the hill tells in stained glass the story including a beautifully depicted fire priestess, and retaining the memory of how the Christianisation of the Grand Duchy resulting in a ‘kidnapping’ of the Old Ways.

Fire is also intrinsic to that other prize of the Baltic nations, amber. Though amber is found world- wide it is Baltic Amber that it is the most valued and is enshrined at the heart of the mythology of the Old Balts as follows:

Baltic Sea, Palanga (author’s photo)

‘Once there was a goddess called Jurate who lived in an amber palace under the Baltic Sea. She tried to stop a fisherman from catching her fish but ended up falling in love with him instead. She invited him to live with her in the palace, but the god Perkunas disapproved of the liaison. He sent a storm to the Baltic, destroying the palace and killing the fisherman. Now the moans of Jurate are said to be what cause the sea storms, and the Baltic amber is what remains of her palace.’

Amber from the Amber museum, Palanga (author’s photo)

Science informs us that Baltic amber originated around 40 to 45 million years ago during the Eocence period. Since the greenhouse conditions of the Cretaceous, there has been a general cooling trend in climate but during the Eocene there were some periods of extended warming, not dissimilar to today. In response to the heat, the Baltic pine tree started to release copious amounts of resin from within, an act that ultimately led to the drying up and therefore death of the tree. In the process, creatures that lived in the ecology of the pine forest became engulfed in the sticky resin, entombing and therefore preserving them for prosperity. The amber museum in Palanga has a stunning collection of some of the 3000 species of Eocene fauna that became fossilised in amber, including spiders, ants, centipedes, early bees and flies. The many specimens show amber in all its different colours and forms, including rich cognac, crimson red, black and coral green, even white, and the largest piece of amber known today, called the sunstone.

Amber figurine (author’s photo)

For millions of years Amber lay at the bottom of the ocean, until about ten thousand years ago, when the melting ice and crustal adjustments created the Baltic Sea (again) and brought the long since buried fragments of amber up to the surface. In this warming world, the amber was ‘reactivated’ and human beings were on hand to search it out. Artefacts in the museum go back to around 4000 BC, and amber disks have been found in Nida with delineation marks dividing them into quarters, like the seasonal solar year. For thousands of years amber has been highly prized and used for ritual purposes, trade and a commodity on a par with salt and much later, silk, and it is accredited with many properties from healing, cleansing and protecting.

Above all though it is its fiery, piezoelectric qualities that make it unique, first named, though not necessarily first recognised, by the Greeks.  They named amber Elektra or ‘shining light’ on the account that it can cause an attraction when rubbed with a cloth –a phenomena later called static electricity. Gilbert, Franklin and Volta all conducted experiments with this magic force that they called ‘electricity’ and in 1897 when JJ Thompson discovered the negatively charged electron’ he named it after the goddess Elektra, thereby cementing the link.

Perkunas, God of Thunder

 Amber was probably used to create fire by rubbing or striking, and as Franklin also discovered with his famous kite flying experiment, lightning and electrical sparks are the same thing – another reason that Perkunas (the god of thunder and lightning) was also closely associated with fire. Amber then held not only the secrets of the past within its fabric, but also the key to one of the most transformational commodities of the future – electricity. This is just one of the many secrets associated with the Sacred Fire so revered by the Ancients.


[1] https://www.infinityfoundation.com

[2] https://www.infinityfoundation.com

[3] Lithuania.net