Article - Laura Knight-Jadczyk
Gildas, writing in the sixth century AD is the first native British writer whose works have come down to us. Nennius, writing about 200 years later, refers to "the traditions of our elders." And Geoffrey of Monmouth praises the works of Gildas and Bede and wonders at the lack of other works about the early kings of Britain saying:
In describing the fifty or so years preceding his account of Arthur, Geoffrey of Monmouth tells us about Vortigern and the arrival of the Saxons under the leadership of Hengest and Horsa, an obvious assimilation of the earlier arrival of the Votadini and Sarmatians to Wales to drive out the Irish. Present throughout these events is the presence of Merlin, the British equivalent of Hiram Abiff and Daedalus combined - the great architect of the temple.
What we are interested in is the fact that Merlin was credited with building Stonehenge. For some reason, based on the "oral tradition," Geoffrey of Monmouth connected the mysterious and legendary figure of Merlin to the prehistoric monument on the Salisbury plain. The question then is not about the accuracy of Geoffrey's history, but why he made this connection? Was it based on stories in the traditions which he had mentioned and considered to be reliable?
The Stonehenge story told by Geoffrey of Monmouth begins with a treacherous massacre of the Britons by Hengest and his Saxons which took place at a peace conference. The Saxons hid their daggers in their shoes and, at a signal from their leader, drew them and killed all the assembled British nobles except the king. Geoffrey tells us that the meeting took place at the "Cloister of Ambrius," "not far from Kaercaradduc, which is now called Salisbury. He later describes this as a monastery of three hundred brethren founded by Ambrius many years before.
As it happens, there is a place called Amesbury about two and a half miles east of Stonehenge which was originally called Ambresbyrig. This site in no way matches the description of the Cloister of Ambrius. The cloister is described as situated on Mount Ambrius, whereas Amesbury is in the valley of the river Avon. Geoffrey tells us that the victims of the massacre were buried in the cemetery beside the monastery, not two and a half miles away. What is more, since it seems that Geoffrey was acting under the pressure of the mythical norm of assimilating current event to the archetype, we then are left free to consider the possibility that this was the site of an ancient, and famous massacre and that Stonehenge and the Cloister of Ambrius are one and the same.
The fact that Geoffrey called it a "cloister" is a curious choice of words since a cloister is "a covered arcade forming part of a religious or collegiate establishment." That certainly seems to describe Stonehenge very well. Geoffrey was obviously trying to "Christianize" Stonehenge in his references to monastery and monks. The Saxons gave Stonehenge the name by which we know it today. The Britons called it the Giant's Dance, and Geoffrey certainly had a tradition to draw on there if he had wanted to since he begins his history with the adventures of Brutus, a descendant of Aeneas, who, after much traveling and fighting, landed on Britain, which was uninhabited except for a few giants. Geoffrey had a reasonable context here in which to place Stonehenge, but he ignored it and instead attributed the building of Stonehenge to Merlin after the dreadful massacre by the Saxons. This enabled him to connect his Arthur to the great architect of the monument and all its glories. This suggests to us that there was a solid tradition behind this idea: that Stonehenge was the focal point of a people who had suffered a terrible, terminal disaster; after the disaster they had built Stonehenge, and the stones themselves had magical properties that could heal. In short, this tradition may reach back into the mists of antiquity.
It also brings to mind the massacre of the Maenads as well as the daughters of Danaus drawing their hidden daggers to kill their husbands, sons of Aegyptus, on the wedding night.
In Geoffrey's story, Merlin suggests to Aurelius that he ought to send an expedition to Ireland to fetch the Giant's Ring from Mount Killaraus. The King begins to laugh and asks:
As W. A. Cummins, geologist and archaeologist remarks, all of this sounds like a pre-medieval tradition about Stonehenge, possibly even prehistoric. However, instead of coming from Africa, or even Ireland, the blue-stones used in the construction of Stonehenge come from the Prescelly mountains, or Mynydd Preselau. The so-called "altar stone," however, most likely came from somewhere in the Milford Haven area in Pembrokeshire. Dr. Cummins asks:
Dr. Cummins remarks astutely that Geoffrey was eight and a half centuries closer to the event than we are, so maybe his account is correspondingly closer? In these few remarks by Geoffry of Monmouth, referring to the Cloisters of Ambrius, and "baths" at the foot of the stones, we find the hidden connection between the Cauldron of rebirth, the Holy Grail, and Stonehenge. Merlin's explanation of the importance of the stones as reported in Geoffrey's history, is that they were connected to "secret religious rites" that he further explains have to do with "magical healing properties."
There is a very ancient Celtic tradition about cauldrons of rebirth, into which wounded, dead or dying soldiers were plunged, and came out healed, whole and reborn. The Holy Grail also bestowed health, healing of battle wounds, and curing of disease upon its bearers. The Celtic cauldrons were also sources of abundance, prophecy, inspiration, and knowledge. Cerridwen, the Welsh Moon Goddess, had a magic cauldron of inspiration. Welsh Bards called themselves Cerddorion (sons of Cerridwen). The Bard Taliesin, founder of their craft, was said to be born of Cerridwen and to have tasted her potion known as "greal," made from six plants for inspiration and knowledge. Branwen, the sister of Bran the Blessed, was the "Lady of the Cauldron," as well as the "Lady of the Lake." In short, the "Lake" from which the famous Sword emerged, and to which it was returned, was a Cauldron, or the Holy Grail. We are also reminded of the Maruts dancing around the "spring."
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