The Giant and the Sun – In search of King Arthur

We wandered the summit of Cadbury Castle, each of us alone with our thoughts before gathering once again at the centre to speak of archaeology, history and legends. Now, legends are all very well, but many a place has adopted a lucrative tale, just to pull in the tourists. The monks drew in pilgrims with dubious saints and relics, and it is no more than economic sense to capitalise on something that will help the local economy. But there are a few crumbs of fact, as well as the legends, that might place our vision of Camelot at Cadbury, even though the Arthur we think of first did not exist before the medieval romances.

Who is Arthur anyway? Is he just the hero of the medieval romances or something more? Was he the historical war leader mentioned in the oldest texts? Was he a giant? Certainly there are enough ancient sites, hills and megaliths across the country that bear his name to portray him as being of gigantic stature. Or is he something other than that? When we had first visited Cadbury, five years ago, we had both ‘picked up’ a similar impression… that of a ‘wise guardian presence’, the archetypal guardian of the land. Could the King Arthur we know today be a conflation all of these strands, buried deep within the psyche of a nation?

If a historical Arthur did exist, he was most likely a fifth century war-leader, and not an armoured and caparisoned knight. The tales we know and love have their origins hovering between medieval romance and a much older tradition, in whose stories we can find fragments and parallels.

Historically, Nennius, writing in 820, names Arthur as the dux belloram, or war commander, who fought alongside the British kings against the Saxon invasion by Horsa and Hengist and the victor of many battles, including the decisive victory of Mount Badon. The name ‘Arthur’ may have a number of origins, but the most likely seems to be that it comes from the native Brittonic arto– ‘bear’, which later became arth in Welsh.

Similar names were common throughout the Celtic world. Oddly, one of the names for the constellation Ursa Major, the Great Bear, is Arthur’s Wain. A wain is a wagon or a wheeled vehicle, and one of the earliest references to Arthur is from Gildas who lived from around 500 to 570, and who wrote of the British King Cuneglas that he had been “charioteer to the bear”. For a king to be anyone else’s charioteer would suggest that person held an elevated status. Dux belloram, perhaps?

Stars were to play a major role in our weekend workshop, in many guises. The Great Bear has been used from time immemorial for navigation, pointing the way to the north star, with Orion’s rising and setting marking due east and west. Orion too was going to crop up again…

But, back to Arthur. There is the circumstantial evidence on the ground. An ancient trackway runs from the base of the castle to Glastonbury and is known as King Arthur’s Hunting Track. The river Cam runs close by and the nearby villages of Queen Camel and West Camel bear its name. Cadbury Castle used to be known to the villagers as Camalet too. And, from the summit of Cadbury, you can see the Tor at Glastonbury, the mythical Avalon to which most of the Arthurian stories are tied and where Merlin himself sleeps beneath the Tor.

The name ‘Cadbury’ may come from ‘Cador’s fort’ and while the legends speak of Cador, Duke of Cornwall, history tells that Cado was the historical son of a Dumnonian king named Gerren. In the old stories, he was a friend and relative of the legendary Arthur, conceived at Tintagel and therefore possibly also a Dumnonian prince. Local tales have been associating Cadbury Castle with Camelot for hundreds of years, long before the people of the land were able to read for themselves Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae, and there are snippets of history that add fuel to the fire, as well as local legends.

The Saxon conquest of Somerset took about fifty years longer than anywhere else due to the fierce resistance by a local king. Legend has it that this king was Arthur Pendragon. The size and scope of Cadbury, plus the etymological links and archaeology, may not confirm the claim for Arthur, but it certainly fits the known facts of resistance.

For the doubters, there is the tale of a band of knights who sleep in a cave beneath the hill, beyond a pair of iron gates, waiting to be called to the land’s need. On Christmas Eve and Midsummer’s Night they ride to water their horses in the spring beside the Saxon church at Sutton Montis, in the shadow of the hill. So deeply ingrained is this story, that when archaeologists came to work at Cadbury, one old gentleman asked if they had come ‘to wake the king’. We had not done so… or perhaps, in a way, we had, waking something higher, buried deep within ourselves, as we visualised an ancient rite and opened ourselves to the whispers of the land.


The Giant and the Sun: Patterns in the landscape was the Silent Eye summer workshop weekend. These informal events are held several times every year and are open to all. You do not have to be a member to join us as we wander the rich landscape of Britain, visiting ancient, sacred and intriguing places. We seek out myth and mystery, exploring what the land and its stories can teach us about our own daily lives and our place in the intricate tapestry of human Being.

After each event, we publish an account of the places we have visited and share a little of what we have discussed during the course of the weekend to give a taste of what we do. If you would like to join us for a wander through the mysteries and history of Britain, please visit our Events page.

The Giant and the Sun – The ramparts of Camelot

We had only a short way to walk to our second site of the day. We were only going to climb a hill, which sounds simple enough, but there can be few places where fact, fiction, folklore and otherworldly dreams are more intricately interwoven than the hill known as Cadbury Castle. Setting our feet to its path would transport us back through thousands of years of history and archaeology and into another world… of myth and legend, where King Arthur held the land.

The hill towers above the little church we had just visited, dominating the landscape in both scale and presence. The trees on its slopes are relatively young compared to the earthwork upon which they now grow and serve to veil much of the magnificence of the structure. Without the information board and a sign for ‘Castle Lane’, you might be completely unaware of where you were going as you enter the wormhole that leads through the encircling guardian trees.

The green lane leads steadily upwards, opening occasionally to give a glimpse of a patchwork landscape of fields and apple orchards, sheltered by Sigwells, the ridge that embraces Cadbury and which holds many archaeological clues to the history of the area. You climb to five hundred feet above sea level and then the landscape suddenly makes sense as you enter the eighteen-acre expanse of the summit and see the panorama unfold beneath and around you. There is no medieval castle at Cadbury, no turrets, no pennants fly… the hill itself is the castle, sculpted from the earth and surrounded by ramparts, embankments and a ditch three quarters of a mile long.

Five and a half thousand years ago, our Neolithic ancestors occupied the hill, leaving behind them sherds of pottery, flint tools and the bones that tells us when they lived there. The advent of metalworking in the Bronze Age changed the way we lived. Ovens remain from that period, as well as evidence that metal was worked on the site. And three thousand years ago, a bronze shield was buried, for some reason, two hundred years after it had first been made. I wondered about that; it would have been a prized possession, being not only sturdy but ornate.  Perhaps it was passed from father to son and buried when the last male of the line died? Or was it an offering to the gods?

The Iron Age occupants of the hill constructed enclosures, fortifications and rectangular timber buildings which were later replaced by the roundhouses we more commonly picture from that time. Temples and shrines were added, one upon the other, as a more complex society came into being. These were people of the La Tène culture… the Celtic culture that left us so many artefacts of great beauty and so many clues to how they lived.

Cadbury was further fortified around 100BC and it became a multivallate fort, with many-layered defences surrounding the hill.  In AD43, the hillfort was attacked and, a few years later, both weapons and flame were used against it.  The timing suggests that it may have been a place of defence against the invaders from Rome, when the Durotriges and Dobunni made their stand against Vespasian’s second Augusta Legion. It would appear that the tribes finally lost the battle for Cadbury, though, as the next thing to appear on the hill was  Roman military barracks, complete with Roman temple and they stayed there for the next few hundred years. And this is where it gets really interesting, and where fact, folklore and legend meet.

Unusually, after the departure of the Romans, the hillfort was reoccupied for about a hundred years, starting in 470 AD. Archaeologists found the Great Hall of a Brythonic leader, a stronghold where he would have lived with his family, horses and warriors. The inner defences had been reinstated and reinforced to double the size of any known fortress of this period.  Pottery from the Eastern Mediterranean shows the occupants had wide trade links. And local legends have named the plateau King Arthur’s Palace for at least five hundred years…


The Giant and the Sun: Patterns in the landscape was the Silent Eye summer workshop weekend. These informal events are held several times every year and are open to all. You do not have to be a member to join us as we wander the rich landscape of Britain, visiting ancient, sacred and intriguing places. We seek out myth and mystery, exploring what the land and its stories can teach us about our own daily lives and our place in the intricate tapestry of human Being.

After each event, we publish an account of the places we have visited and share a little of what we have discussed during the course of the weekend to give a taste of what we do. If you would like to join us for a wander through the mysteries and history of Britain, please visit our Events page.

The Return of the Queen by Alethea Kehas

Reblogged from Not Tomatoes: Alethea shares a personal perspective on her journey through Leaf and Flame…

How does one condense a journey that is not over, but that began before a magical weekend where I played the role of Queen Guinevere at the annual workshop for the Silent Eye School of Consciousness? I am not sure, but here is what has come out of it so far. 

I walked the familiar path of day

 to meet Snake stretching the light, illuminating

what was ready to be shed, and

what was waiting to be seen

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Later, in the land of Avalon

under a full moon, old blood began its release

and I gave way to the hunt

running with the breath of Boar

into a landscape once veiled

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Here, you waited with your offer

and I bowed to receive the golden crown

but the habits of the false self

are a tight wrap and I held fear

in an unsettled heart and fell

once again, into sleep

only to be awakened by light…

Continue reading of Alethea’s journey at: The Return of the Queen

Leaf and Flame…

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As we move towards the changing of the seasons and the turning of the year, we are turning our thoughts towards the Silent Eye Annual Workshop in April. It is as the year turns that King Arthur bids his knights join him in celebration. Shadowy figures move outside the circle of light, playing with lives as pawns in a game…A challenge is issued, and accepted… a neck is laid bare to the blade… yet will the victor survive to find the meaning of this strange, otherworldly meeting?

Come and join Gawain and King Arthur’s court on their quest

and find out who you can Be.

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Bookings are now being taken for

Leaf and Flame: The Foliate Man

The interwoven stories of Sir Gawain’s legendary encounters with the Green Knight and Dame Ragnell will form the basis of  a weekend of ritual drama.

This residential weekend will be held at the Nightingale Centre in Great Hucklow, Derbyshire, England. Gathering on the afternoon Friday 22nd till Sunday 24th April, companions on this journey through legend will each play a fully scripted role throughout the five acts of a ritual drama exploring the the enigmatic symbol of the Green Man. There will be talks on related subjects led by some of our companions on the weekend, as well as plenty of time to relax in the lounge or at the Queen Anne pub next door.

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Click here to download a pdf booking form


2​Ritual One:“…Any Card.” 
In which Mordred and Morgause trade evil smiles and determine to corrupt the Table Round and the Knights in that round are confronted by the Foliate Man…

​Ritual Two: Hart to Heart “In which Gawain enters the Enchanted Forest in pursuit of the hart…”

​Ritual Three: La Belle Dame Sans Merci“ In which the quest for the riddle of the heart fails and Gawain sets out to meet his doom at the Green Chapel…en route he comes across the ‘Castille Diablo’ deep in the heart of the Green-Wood and there the mysterious Lord and Lady Verdant involve him in another three-fold game…” 4

Ritual Four: La Chapelle Verte “In which Dame Ragnell reveals the true answer to the riddle of a woman’s heart, Merlin and the Lady unleash the animate soul of the Greenwood and Sir Gawain strides forward to meet his Doom…”

Ritual Five: Heaven in Earth

“In which Dame Ragnell claims her due at Camelot and the Company of the Table Round enjoy the festivities of the King.”

 Book early to reserve your place!