Autumn Equinox: Mabon and the Salmon of Wisdom

The Autumn Equinox is the time when the sun crosses the Equator and is positioned above it, exactly between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. Now as the nights grow longer and the days shorten, leaves hang golden and burnished on the boughs, and the abundance of summer passes into seed. This is the time of the second harvest, gathering the last of the vegetables, fruits and seeds that will see us through the winter in the form of jams, purees, stews and chutneys. The opportunity to rest comes after the labour of harvest, time to give thanks for the abundance of the Earth’s produce, to reflect on all that one has reaped and sown in the previous months, to bring projects to fruition and to start to let go of all that which is no longer needed. Both the cornucopia, the symbol of plenty, and the apple, symbol of the fruit harvest, are associated with Autumn Equinox, now since the 1970s anyway, commonly known as the feast of Mabon.

In Welsh mythology, the figure of Mabon could be of ancient pedigree, and is certainly both elusive and multi-faceted. His story can be gathered and assembled from references in all four branches of the Mabinogion, and a couple of the medieval Welsh romances, though, as ever, this is disputed by scholars. His main association is as Mabon ap Modron, derived from the Romano-British god Maponus, meaning Great Son, born of the great goddess Modron, or Dea Matrona.[1] The sacred child born of the Earth mother goddess. The Maponus of Celtic tradition was sometimes equated with the Greek Apollo, giving him an association with light and the sun, but it is the divine-mother-son-pair that is the most primal archetype, possibly hinting back to a much more ancient origin.

Mabon ap Modron makes his most famous appearance in the guise of a Magical Hunter[2] in tale of Culhwch and Olwen, a romance probably first written in the 1100s, one of the earlier Arthurian references. The story centres on the romance between, Culhwch, son of King Cilydd, who becomes infatuated because of a curse with Olwen, a giant’s daughter. The giant is reluctant to let Culhwch marry Olwen and sets the love-struck youth a series of impossible tasks that he must fulfil in order to win her hand. Clearing fields, ploughing, sewing and raising a crop in one day, fetching two magical oxen to pull a plough, sowing linseed to produce the white linen wedding veil, producing sweet mead without the aid of bees, procuring a magical hamper that never empties, a harp that plays itself, a magical cauldron, and the comb and shears between the ears of the enchanted wild boar,  the Twrch Trwyth, to dress his hair. This magical beast can only be tracked by the dog Drudwyn, which in turn can only be hunted by Mabon ap Modron, but alas, no one knows where he is or whether he is alive or dead. Culwhch must seek the help of King Arthur and his men to perform these tasks, and most of the tale is given over to describing their exploits.

Mabon, it transpires, was taken from his mother when he was three nights old, as was Pryderi ap Pwyll, in the first branch of the Mabiniogion. This Pryderi was the son of Rhiannon, and it was she was blamed for the disappearance of her son, and his suspected murder, and made to bear those visiting court on her back as punishment (see September Harvest Moon: the Horse, Rhiannon and Blackbirds above). Pryderi makes an appearance in all four branches of the Mabinogion and this had led some researchers, e.g. W.J. Gruffydd, to suggest that the origin of the word Mabinogion pertains to the god Maponus, himself equated with Pryderi, the son of Rhiannon and Pwyll. Though some of Gruffyd’s ideas are no longer fashionable, recent scholars are now suggesting that this theory could contain at least a kernel of truth.[4] This could also be further evidence for the ancient pedigree of the divine-mother-son origins for the figure of Mabon.

In order to locate Mabon, King Arthur and his men must enlist the help of a series of wise and magical animals, all of whom are more ancient and therefore knowledgeable than any of the human characters in the story. In order to understand these messenger from the Otherworld they need to enlist the help of a man named Gwrhyr, an interpreter of tongues, who they rescue from imprisonment. Thus prepared, they seek out the Blackbird of Cilgwri who tells them that he so old that he had worn away a smith’s anvil with his beak, ‘so that only a nut sized piece remains.’ Even so, he has heard nothing of Mabon and his fate.

He directs them to the Stag of Rhedynfre, who, when he first arrived ‘had only one antler on either side of his head and the only tree was an oak sapling. In the meantime, that tree grew into an oak of a hundred branches and finally tumbled down so that today nothing remains of it but a fed stump,’ yet despite his age, he too knows nothing of Mabon.

The Owl of Cwm Cawlwyd, the next creature, was so old that his wings were stumps when he first came to his place, had born witness to the growth and destruction of three forests, yet throughout this time has heard nothing of the men they seek. The Eagle of Gwernabwy, older still, once sat on a large stone from where he could peck the stars each night. Now, in the meantime, it has been reduced to the size of a fist, but even he is unable to help. However, he believes that the oldest and wisest creature of them all may be able to: the enormous Salmon of Lyn Llyw.

Indeed, the salmon does have news. He tells Arthur and his men that with each tide he swims up the river until he comes to the walls of a castle in Gloucester, and here he has heard a terrible grieving, the likes of which has never been seen before. He takes Cei and Gwrhyr the interpreter on his back up the river to the castle, and there sure enough, they find the wretched Mabon son of Modron, who has been painfully incarcerated within its walls for years.

With Arthur’s help, Mabon is freed and he helps them procure the dogs needed for the hunt of the enchanted boar, Twrch Trwyth, and the leash that must be held while he hunts. Culwch then goes on, with much assistance and a long and arduous hunt, to retrieve the scissors and comb from between the magical boar’s ears, therefore allowing the giant to complete his grooming in preparation for the marriage of his daughter to her suitor.

Though Mabon’s reference is fleeting in this long and detailed tale, his role as Magical Hunter is paramount for the story. And so is the help of the otherworldly animals, the most important of which is the great Salmon of Lyn Llyw. In both Welsh and Irish tradition, the salmon is the guardian par excellence of wisdom, knowledge, inspiration and prophecy. Another key reference to the salmon is in the Fenian cycles of Irish tradition where the salmon is said to swim in the well of wisdom, the source of all life, that has a physical location at the source of the River Boyne. This well is surrounded by a grove of nine sacred hazel trees, which nourish the salmon and make him wise, giving rise to the red spots on his side.

In the Irish tale, a young man encounters a fisherman who has been fishing for the Salmon of Wisdom for seven years. In a tale similar to that of Gwion Bach (see Summer Solstice: of Taliesin, Ceridwen and magical Cauldrons),  the fish is caught as the boy approaches, and he accidentally touches it’s magical flesh as he is given the task of roasting it over the fire. He instantly becomes endowed with all the knowledge and wisdom of the salmon, and became a great seer and poet.[5] The salmon is indeed a remarkable creature: it will return to the place of its birth to mate, swimming great distances, sometimes upstream, in both salt and freshwater to do so. It’s inbuilt instinct to return to the source of its youth has also led to its association with longevity, and in Druidic tradition, the story of Mabon is linked to the divine child of eternal youth and the salmon the elixir of life, forever sought but not often found.


[1] See ‘Mabon ap Modron,’ en.w.wikipedia.org (accessed 19.9.2020)

[2] ‘The Celtic Myths,’ by Miranda Aldhouse-Green, Thames and Hudson, 2015

[4] See ‘The Mabiniogion and other Medieval Welsh Tales’ edited by Patrick K Ford, University of California Press, 2019

[5] ‘The Celtic Myths,’ by Miranda Aldhouse-Green, Thames and Hudson, 2015

Oracles and Dragon Energies

Prophecy is one of the most ancient of all the human art forms, yet probably one of the most misunderstood. Today it is largely relegated to astrology columns in newspapers, or maybe the occasional tarot card reading, and certainly peripheral to most peoples’ daily lives. Throughout the ancient world, however, it was mainstream, the grease that oiled the cogs of state and gave succour to many a great statesman. Indeed, the oracles could be considered as the ancient equivalent to Google, the place where everyone went to find knowledge, to exchange ideas and to generally hook up with other like-minded people. But what powered the sites themselves? What enabled one site to be used as an oracle when another could not?

Tholos at Delphi (Wiki Commons)

Though oracular prophecy predates the ancient Greeks and Romans, it was their temples and myths that preserved the ancient oracular sites, and some of the mystery surrounding them. Apollo was the Greek god of prophecy and the most famous oracles were presided over by him. But this hadn’t always been the case. In archaic times, the oracles were dedicated to Earth goddesses, and presided over by priestesses who had access to the voice of the Earth, usually operating out of groves or simple sanctuaries. The myths tell us that before Apollo could take them over, he had to subdue the serpent Python, which he pursued to Mount Parnassus, then into the shrine at Delphi itself, ‘where he dispatched it beside the sacred chasm.’ As Graves suggests, this mythic takeover of Delphi probably records the historic invasion of the Northern Hellenes of pre-Hellenic cultures. As part of the takeover process, they killed the sacred oracular serpent that was kept in the sanctuary of the Earth goddess.[1]

‘Lilith’ by John Collier

Snakes are one of the most primal symbols of Earth energies. They live close to the ground, sense vibrations, and move in a sinuous wave akin to the way in which energy moves. Though the Earth energies are not visible, anyone looking at the waves on the sea could easy make the link between waves, and the way they embody form and movement, long before modern science mapped them. They can also survive beneath the ground for long periods, only to emerge in unpredictable and terrible ways, like the restless forces from within the Earth. Indeed though Apollo is said to have killed the Python, he retained the services of the oracular priestess who were themselves called ‘Pythia’ and it is highly likely that snakes were kept in the sacred tholos at Delphi well into Hellenistic times.

The Python that Apollo subdued was also known as a Dragon, and it was this Dragon that was said to have chased Apollo’s mother Leto around the Earth as she tried to give birth to him. This was clearly no ordinary snake, but one of mythic proportions, and I couldn’t help wondering if this was a metaphor for the seismic energies of the Earth itself, which Apollo must subdue if he was to use them. This was an issue I had been pondering for a while, and the opportunity to find out more presented itself on a recent trip to western Turkey.

Travertine, Pamukkale (author’s photo)

Hierapolis is not a name that is familiar to most people, but everyone has heard of Pamukkale. Though remote, more than 140 km from Izmir, over two million people visit this site every year and enjoy the thrills of dipping in the blue mineral waters that cascade over the calcareous deposit known as travertine. But not many people are aware that there was also an ancient oracle at this site, known throughout the ancient world as the Gateway to Hell. As I was to discover, this is no coincidence, for the same geological features that gives rise to the amazing mineralogy and healing waters of Pamukkale also powered this mysterious and most primal of oracles.

Mineral waters of the Travertine (author’s photo)

Turkey has frequent earthquakes because the Anatolian plate on which it sits is squeezed between the mighty African and Eurasian plates that are moving in opposite directions. Pamukkale is not situated on a plate boundary, but near a meeting point of four Graben, areas of multiple faulting and rifting caused by these plate movements. At Pamukkale, the crust has thinned as a result of the tortuous stretching of the Anatolian plate so much that it has fractured, resulting in a network of faults and fissures. Hot water from the mantle percolates through the crust, bringing with it the minerals dissolved from the local limestones, and deposits these on the surface in the form of the milky white travertine that visitors come from far and wide to see. In addition, a cocktail of noxious gases are discharged as the hot mineral rich fluids reach the surface and today, close by to the translucent blue pools in which these visitors dip, taps are visible that vent discharging gases such as carbon dioxide and sulphur dioxide, make the place safe to visit.

Remains of the Plutonium, Hierapolis (author’s photo)

In ancient times, this ancient chasm in the land, as well as its noxious gases and beautiful minerals, would have been sacred to our ancestors and a cult site was located since time immemorial dedicated to Cybele, the ancient Anatolian mother goddess and her priests, the castrated Galli, would have officiated. With the arrival of the Hellenes and then the Romans, this mysterious site where Earth processes could be seen and smelt became associated with an entrance to the Underworld, but still considered sacred as the name Hierapolis (or sacred city) implies. A temple dedicated to Pluto and his consort Kore, the equivalent of Persephone and Hades in Greek myth, was built over the sacred chasm and appropriately named the Plutonium. Guarding the entrance to the Underworld was Cerberus the three headed dog and a snake, still retaining its status as a prime Earth energy symbol. A nearby temple of Apollo took over the oracular function in the form of Apollo Lairbenus, whose mother Leto was equated with the ancient earth goddess Cybele.

Temple of Apollo (author’s photo)

Accounts from Strabo of how priests would go into an underground chamber with a deep cleft in the rock, through which flowed a fast running stream, and come out to utter prophecy suggest that they used the noxious gases as a sort of trance inducer. It is possible also that small animals were used to indicate levels of the gases, much as canaries were later used underground to warn miners. [2]

Priestess of Delphi, John Collier (1891)

The chasm at Hierapolis is reminiscent of the description of the sacred chasm at Delphi in the myth of Apollo and Python, and indeed Mount Parnassus is located in a seismically active part of Greece. Modern research has shown that the site was built over a volcano related fissure that discharged gases through the springs percolating through the rocks, either in the form of ethylene or methane. [3]The Pythia would have sat on a tripod over this chasm and uttered her prophecy in an altered state of consciousness, literally induced by the Earth energies. Interestingly this was exactly how John Collier depicted her in his iconic painting of 1891.

The connection between seismic activity and oracular sites was beginning to look far from coincidental. It was apparent that ancient people noticed the connection between springs, gases and earthquakes and deemed the chasms associated with them to be highly sacred, as well as mysterious. They placed sanctuaries and later temples on these gateways to the Underworld, where the voice of the Earth itself could be heard, and it was the dragon or serpent that came to symbolise this seismic activity.

I knew there were two more famous oracles on the Turkish Aegean coast, at Didyma and Claros, and it was there I journeyed next to further investigate the link between dragon energies and oracles.


[1] ‘The Greek Myths’ by Robert Graves, Penguin 1992

[2] ‘Blue Guide Aegean Turkey: from Troy to Bodrum,’ by Paola Pugsley, 2018

[3] See https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2001/08/greece-delphi-oracle-gas-vapors-science/

Cornwall: the Snake Breath of the Lizard

The Lizard peninsula, author’s photo

The ancient rocks of the Lizard ophiolite complex in Cornwall are amongst the rarest in the world, preserved when a small sliver of oceanic crust was thrust over more buoyant continental crust after the collision of two continents. Distorted and gnarled, in patchworks of pale green, hues of crimson and jet-black streaks, the rocks of the Lizard resemble the scaled hide of a reptile. Lenses of serpentine form perfect loops like the eye of a dragon, all seeing and all knowing, recording in every hue, every twist and turn, the ancient history of our planet.

Mullion Cove, author’s photo

At Kynance Cove the lizard-hide gleams wet and shiny from the constant pounding of frothy white Atlantic swell. Families come and jump the waves, then scramble across the huge ancient blocks of peridotite that were once deep inside the Earth. Further north at Mullion Cove a huge fault is visible in the harbour wall, a cosmic crack resulting from the strain and twisting of the tectonic plates. Comparable to the filling inside a sandwich, the fault lies squashed between metamorphosed serpentine and gabbro pressed and squeezed up like toothpaste from a tube. Out to sea, islands comprised from the pillow lavas that would have lain on top of the ophiolite sequence loom like dragons from the depths.

Yoni of the Dragon at Lizard Point, author’s photo

At Lizard point itself some of the most ancient rocks in Cornwall are to be found. The 500-million year-old Man of War gneiss, and a series of meta-sediments, mainly schists, have undergone extensive metamorphism and deformation here, bearing witness to the powerful Earth energies at work. On the beach underneath the lighthouse on the most southerly piece of land in the UK and accessible only at low tide is the yoni of the dragon, a large almost triangular slit in the rock, splashed crimson like blood.  A pile of seaweed lying at the entrance defies all but the bravest to enter. Under the August sun the rubbery looking mass had started to move, seething with maggots hatching out in the warmth!

The ophiolite on Coverack beach, author’s photo

But it is Coverack that hides the Lizard’s brightest gem. This beautiful 200 m stretch of beach preserves a uniquely preserved sliver of the ophiolite – and an opportunity to touch the Moho, the transition zone between the Earth’s crust and its mantle. The lower part of the beach is made from dark magnesium and iron-rich gabbro that would once have laid on the ocean floor. The upper part is peridotite, an ultramafic rock that originates from the mantle, and between the two lies the transition zone, the Moho, usually at depths of around 25 km and therefore rarely seen, let alone touched. To walk this  beach is like walking on the inside the Earth, coming into contact with something that is out-of-sight yet familiar, almost like touching your own inner organs.

Standing on the Moho, author’s photo

The ancient serpentine rocks of the Lizard retain a pristine Energy that connect us deep into the soul of the Earth, opening up our lizard eye in the back of our heads and accessing our primal or reptilian brains, where all is recorded but not always known. Indeed according to local legend, the serpentine rock is an embodiement of the Old Dragon herself, the serpent of the rocks that manifests as an Earth energy known as ‘snake breath.’

Mullion island pillow lava, author’s photo

This ‘snake breath’ is so strong as to be palpable and send currents of energy through the rocks. Indeed, many people have dowsed these currents and found extraordinary associations between the manifesting Earth energies and the man-made building above them, including ancient sites, churches and monuments. I was therefore intrigued but not surprised when I saw that Broadhurst and Miller, master dowsers of Earth energies, had found that what they call the Apollo and Athena currents snake across the Lizard before leaving the British mainland on an epic journey through continental Europe and ending up at Meggido in Israel.

Sunset at Gunwalloe, author’s photo

As recorded in their amazing book ‘the Dance of the Dragon,’ after spiralling round that huge energy nexus point at St Michaels Mount, the Apollo current meanders through rock promontories at Prussia Cove and Trewas Head in the north of the Lizard, before emerging in the tower at Gunwalloe  Church Cove, where it crosses over with the more ‘feminine’ Athena current and is amplified by it. This beautiful old church sits right on the beach and faces west across the sea, the perfect place to watch the sun go down and experience the kiss of the dragon at first hand.

Radio mast at Poldhu, author’s photo

Intriguingly the Apollo current also crosses Poldhu, a place made famous by the world changing experiments of Guglielmo Marconi, who successfully transmitted the first trans-Atlantic radio signal here. On the 12th December 1901, three dots of morse code were sent from the Poldhu radio mast and successfully picked up by a transmitter in Marconi’s ear, himself 2000 miles away in St John’s on Newfoundland at the time. Nobody would deny that his insights turned out to change the course of human history, but it is interesting to speculate, as Broadband and Miller[1] did, whether he owed his inspiration to the ‘snake breath’ of the Lizard where he spent so much of his time. It can be no coincidence that the letter transmitted across the Atlantic was, of course, ‘S.’ The hisssss of the snake, or the ‘snake breath,’ could now be heard as well as being felt – and indeed heard it was, right across the other side of the world.


[1] ‘The Dance of the Dragon: An Odyssey into Earth Energies and Ancient Religions’ by Paul Broadhurst and Hamish Miller with Vivienne Shanley and Ba Russell, MYTHOS, 2003

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.

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Polly’s Law: a duty of care for the Earth


‘If you care, you can move mountains.’ These were the words of the extraordinary Polly Higgins, who devoted her life to creating a law to criminalise ecological damage, a law to protect the Earth. Polly died on Easter Sunday, taken suddenly by cancer during an extraordinary week in climate history. Across central London and several cities across the world, tens of thousands were taking part in non-violent acts of civil disobedience under the banner of the Extinction Rebellion; student leader of the School Strike for Climate movement got all the political parties at Westminster to sit down together and discuss the climate crisis; and it was Earth Day, celebrated by a billion people worldwide. It was also the day that the Easter Sunday bells of Notre Dame were silent for the first time in 800 years, the day that about 250 people were killed by suicide bombs up and down Sri Lan

Polly Higgins, the Earth’s lawyer

Yes, these are crazy times and sometimes it seems as though the whole world has gone mad. But something else is happening too, something remarkable and precious. We are remembering something wonderful that is deep within us, something we had thought we had lost. We glimpsed it as we silently watched the great spire of Notre Dame burn, the shock plunging us into our hearts. The connection was there for a brief and precious moment – before the babble and the voices started all over again, drowning it out. Nevertheless, it is undeniable. We are collectively waking up, starting to step out of our comfort zones and realise that we are here for the biggest show on Earth. The voices are many, the songs varied but slowly they are harmonising into one refrain. Will humanity, or will humanity not turn the evolutionary corner from treating our planet as a commodity to be bought and sold, to collectively stepping into our roles as guardians and protectors of the fragile and delicate ecosystem on which are lives also depend?

The message is clear and simple, scientists, activists and reformers have been saying it for years. Greenpeace, Noam Chomsky, Secretary-Generals of the UN, the IPCC all tell us that we are facing climate breakdown, biodiversity loss and ecological collapse if we do not limit global warming to 1.5 degrees – now. Their voices were like cries in the wilderness, or if we heard them we chose not to listen. It seems that it would take a sixteen year-old student to do that. ‘We are facing an existential crisis,’ says Greta Thunberg. ‘We must act now to create a shared vision of change, to create a world that is fit for future generations.’ After her meeting with politicians in the House of Commons last week, Michael Gove echoed her demands. ‘The time to act is now, he said. Greta, you have been heard.’

Iceberg’s calving in Iceland (author’s photo)

Indeed it is now imperative we not only hear, but act. As our human population has increased, so has our impact on the natural world. The burning of fossil fuels to power, heat and light our world is the main source of CO2 emissions, but our use of plastics, pesticides and technology is causing pollution and plunder on unprecedented levels. Our impact on biodiversity is causing a mass extinction, our use of plastics is giving rise to a whole new layer in the geological record named the Anthropocene. But it is not too late, there are some simple solutions. We clearly need to phase out fossil fuels and replace them with renewables, we must manage and protect our oceans, reduce meat and plastic consumption, plant more trees and stop cutting them down to plant palm oil or make cattle farms. To rewild the wild.

The good news is that we have all the information we need, and there are some frameworks in place. Under the Paris Agreement, we are committed to reducing CO2 emissions by 45% from 2010 levels by 2030, to reach net zero by 2050. According to the IPCC, we have all the tools in our tool box to successfully limit climate change to 1.5 degrees.  We don’t need science to invent a magic machine to suck CO2 out of the atmosphere, we can’t buy our way out of it, and we certainly shouldn’t intervene with drastic measures that would upset the delicate homeostasis of the Earth.


But we do need to make different lifestyle choices, and this means changes to our behavioural patterns. This is the rub, what we are resisting. Climate change and consciousness change are linked. We cannot do one without the other, and when we do one the other will happen automatically. And it is already happening, slowly but surely, like a seed planted in the ground, it has taken root and just needs more care and attention to make it grow into the shoot – like the one in the ‘Banksy’ picture. We are waking up to the fact that it is ultimately the future of our own species that is at stake. The Earth will survive, we might not.

We need people who are aligned to a cause, we need Greenpeace activists to highlight our follies, David Attenborough to tell us to halt biodiversity loss and re-wild the wild, Greta to get school children to care about their future, Extinction Rebellion activists demanding that we must act now. And most of all, we need a law to protect the Earth, for we must align our heads with our hearts if we are to change our consciousness.

That is what Polly dedicated her life to. To bring about a law at both national and international level to hold to account perpetrators of long-term severe damage to the environment. In her words, she was ‘realigning human law with natural law to take it back to the sacred trust that we all hold in our hearts.’ It’s not just ‘big corporations’ that need to clean up their act, though it is clear that this needs to happen, it’s down to each one of us too. How we take responsibility for ourselves on a microlevel is important, as this is what ripples out. Each one of us has a duty of care to the planet we call home, to protect the natural world, to protect life. And we need to expand this duty of care to a collective one. Polly has left us a framework to do this, she assures us that it is possible, even straightforward. She has now passed the baton, to Jojo Mehta and the rest of the ‘Ecocide: Change the Laws’ team, and to all of us too. She showed us what is possible when we step out of our comfort zones, she is daring us to be great. And she is assuring us that together, we can make it happen.

Lamassu: magical guardians of Trafalgar Square

aMy favourite pieces in the British Museum are the winged bulls/lions of Mesopotamia. Called Lamassu, these huge guardians stood for hundreds of years at the city gates or temples in Nineveh and Nimrud when Assyria had a mighty Empire, and they featured in the recent fantastic exhibition about Ashurbanipal (‘I am Ashurbanipal, king of the world, king of Assyria.’). Around five metres high and weighing around 30 tonnes, these colossal guardians could not help but inspire awe, and indeed their primary function was to guard the cities against foes. They were also magical guardians, imbued with powers so strong that they can still be felt today.

Lamassu

Even after the city fell, the winged guardians remained buried beneath the desert sand where they remained for thousands of years until their rediscovery in the 1850’s. When British archaeologist Sir Austen Henry Layard uncovered them he could not help but be impressed,

‘Wide spreading wings rose above their backs and their breasts and bodies were profusely adorned with curled hair…. More knowledge of art was shown in the outline of their limbs and in the delineation of the muscles than in any sculpture I have seen of this period.’

Bird guardian

Just as impressive are the two legged winged guardians with the head and body of a bird or griffin. These magical guardians often stood near flowering trees and often held pine cones in their hands. The tree could be an early depiction of the Tree of Life and bears a striking resemblance to carvings seen on Armenian grave stones. Also associated with the mythical plant of birth, both symbols are linked to longevity and the higher office of kingship. We now know that the pineal gland, nestled deep inside the brain, is responsible for the excretion of the hormones melatonin and serotonin and acts as the transmitter and receiver of subtle vibrations. Was the winged bird guardian indicating some sort of higher function awareness by holding out the pine cone shaped object?

Vulture Stone pillar at Gobekli Tepe

Even more intriguing are the ‘water buckets’ that the winged guardians also frequently carry. Sometimes described as handbags, these objects certainly had a ritualistic and sacred function. They could have been a repository for water, which was then administered as necessary by the pine cone as some authors have suggested, or they could have had a more profound function. Whatever their use, they certainly have a very ancient origin. At Gobekli Tepe, the oldest known temple on the planet, numerous carvings have been found of these exact same handbags. They appear on the so- called vulture stone pillar, the pillar that many researchers are now seeing as the key to unlocking the enigmatic symbolism of this incredible place. And if current dating is correct, these pillars were carved over ten thousand years ago. This indicates that a magical tradition was in operation for at least eight thousand years, over twice as long as the time span of either Judaism or Buddhism, and over five times longer than Islam.

With hindsight it is just as well maybe that Layard after his excavations at Nineveh shipped back some of the Lamassu and friezes depicting the bird winged guardians to the British Museum, where they have been looked after and preserved. As law and order deteriorated this century in Iraq, archaeologists in Mosul, modern- day Nineveh, were unable to protect the priceless objects that remained in the city, and members of Islamic State were pictured attacking the face of a winged bull with a drill in an attempt to gouge out its eyes. Happily, however, despite the devastation wrought by ISIL, indeed almost as an offshoot of it, a previously unknown Assyrian temple was discovered underground by archaeologists in a network of escape temples dug by the extremists. And the Lamassu guarding it are still intact.

Fourth Plinth Lamassu

The winged guardians may not have saved the Assyrian kings and people of Nineveh from their fate, but violence and destruction, foe and fire, has not managed to destroy them. Whilst recently in London’s Trafalgar Square, I was amazed to see a Lamassu sitting on one of the plinths, majestic and sparkling against the blue sky. Thanks to the work of Michael Rakowitz (‘the Invisible Enemy should not Exist’), artefacts lost and looted during the Iraq War are being recreated and displayed around the world. The Lamassu sitting on the Fourth Plinth and is made from Iraqi date syrup cans ‘representative of a once renowned industry decimated by the Iraq Wars.’ So now the Lamassu really can continue their role as magical guardians, of different cities, past present and future.