The Giant and the Sun – The one with the alien…

We had decided to visit six churches with our companions. That is a lot of churches to visit in one afternoon… and we were conscious that they are not everyone’s cup of tea. These ones, though, are  all old and interesting, and each one of them marks a point of the hexagram in the landscape with which we would work. We had assigned each of the churches to a place on the fire or water triangle, which carried with it a planetary attribution and colour, and each companion had chosen ‘their’ church by drawing lots.

We hoped it would be an interesting exercise and give a taste of the ‘thrill of the chase’ that we get when we are on the trail of mysteries, although you can neither predict how others will feel, nor assume they will feel as you do…or as you hope they will. We would have to wait and see.

We started with the Church of the Holy Rood, in the village of Buckland Newton. The area is rich in archaeological remains, with traces of prehistoric settlements, dykes, barrows and forts on every hill. Ancient trackways converge on the area and it seems to have been a hive of early activity. Dungeon Hill, an Iron Age hillfort, lies to the north of the village and Roman remains too have been located.

The church stands apart from most of the village and, on arriving, seems to be alone with the manor house opposite. The old manor is probably one of the reasons why the church appears to be rather grand for its surroundings, set as it is amidst green fields and farmland. Another reason is that historically, the church also served the villagers of Plush and, it seems, they were assigned their own door on the north side… the side traditionally reserved for the Devil’s Door, through which the demon could escape when baptisms were being performed. It makes you wonder what the relationship was between the two villages…

The tower is the first thing that strikes you, being very tall for the proportions of a village church… a feature we would find was common to the churches we would visit. There are old yew trees throughout the churchyard, which is always a good sign.  You are watched by some rather odd gargoyles as you approach too.

Another good omen for our quest were the four, six-pointed wheels carved on the sundial…. Not a bad start when you are looking for a hexagram.

The south porch is very grand these days, thanks to the carved  lantern. Above it is an old Parvise, a little room kept for the priests visiting from Glastonbury Abbey, to whom the church once belonged. The porch gates and lantern were given by John Bishop IV of Massachusetts, in 1989, to commemorate the four hundredth anniversary of the marriage of his ancestors, Alice Dunning and William Bishop. They were married in 1589, and John emigrated to America around 1600.

The church is an old one, originally built eight hundred years ago, though the figure of Christ in Majesty that greets you in the porch is a hundred years older than that. No mention is made of its origins, and I have to wonder about an earlier church on the site.

Much of the chancel dates to the thirteenth century, while the nave and the font are fifteenth century. Near the ‘Plush Door’ is a heavily carved Poor Box, that has collected alms for the past five hundred years.

The base of the tower is hidden behind a carved screen, which is a pity as the stained-glass window by Kempe cannot be seen. It shows the three canonised Archangels Gabriel, Michael and Raphael, and I wonder once again why the Church saw fit to accord sainthood to Archangels. It seems a superfluous honour…

There is no lack of stained-glass though, with some stunning panels around the chancel, showing unusual scenes like the raisings of the dead from both old and new Testaments and some stunning patterns.

Beneath many of the windows are glass cases holding medieval tiles with fragments of intriguing designs. Behind the altar is a reredos, carved in high relief and showing Christ ascending, and, fortuitously, surrounded by an aureole in the shape of the vesica piscis. Both altar and reredos were carved by a Mr Tolhurst of Mowbrays and were dedicated in 1927.

There are a number of really interesting old memorials dotted around the walls, including one whose date I could not make out but which must be three or four hundred years old.

In fact, there are many examples of heraldry throughout the church, including one I rather liked, showing birds and with a motto that means ‘Truth without Fear’. And one of our number was a girl named Truth, and the motto seemed wholly appropriate, given the events of the morning.

There is a lovely wooden sculpture too of the Virgin and Child. She raises Him above Her…or He rests lightly within her hands, a fleeting presence reaching down with the kiss of Love. There is much tenderness in this work and much to contemplate. As parents and teachers, it is for us to raise those within our care and let them fly. Their time within our hands is brief and our hope is that they will rise to find their true selves…and perhaps, as they look back with love, we will learn from them too.

As we could not access the tower, we gathered in the porch for our meditative ritual, finding the symbolic planetary colours within the living land. But before we left the church, we had to stop and look at its oldest inhabitant… and wonder what on earth we were seeing. The small stone plaque was found in the vicarage garden in 1926. Its presence attests to the age of the site as a place of significance in the area, as the carving dates back around fifteen hundred years, making it historically Saxon. It shows a wide-eyed figure with what appears to be long hair, wearing trousers of some sort beneath a full-skirted coat.

He smiles, and the strange eyes seem amused at our puzzlement. Some have suggested it must be an early depiction of St Thomas, because it carried his symbol of the spear. Although, it does not look particularly saintly to me, nor does he seem to be holding the spear. In fact, at first glance it looked more like a tail… or an arrow carried in a quiver. Others believe it to be secular rather than religious but offer no explanation for what it might show.

It is an amazing thing to find in a village church, but it is not the first time we have come across treasures you might only expect to find in a museum, housed in a church way off the beaten track. It will not be the last either, for it is one of the joys of visiting these venerable old buildings that they hold the history of a thousand years and often more, holding it gently and within reach as if to say ‘here, this is your past and these were your people’.


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 pattern in the landscape

Leaving the church, we gathered in the little garden beside it which, so the church’s keeper of the keys would tell us, had been sold to them for the princely sum of £1, with the sole proviso that the garden be used. Beside its gate is another fragment of the old Abbey, bearing once again the symbol of St Catherine’s wheel… which seemed fairly appropriate considering what we were about to do.

The gardens are a beautiful and peaceful spot, tucked under the wing of the church. The air is fragrant with the perfume of herbs and old roses. Apples grow on carefully tended trees and there are bees and butterflies in abundance. We gathered around a small, paved square lined with benches to start the next part of our adventure.

We had been convinced to hold a workshop at Cerne Abbas because of a feeling and a series of coincidences with geometry. At first, we had thought we might find a vesica piscis in the landscape, but we had discovered that there was already a recognised geometric figure marked by sacred sites. It was listed as a ‘hexagram’, with venerable old churches on each of the points… and most of these older churches are built on sites of a more ancient sanctity than their stones and mortar. A quick look at the map confirmed that the figure seemed pretty accurate and we had dived down to Dorset to check out the sites.

It did not take long to realise that, while there was indeed a nice, six-pointed figure in the landscape, there was no guarantee it was supposed to be a hexagram. Granted, the symbol known as the Star of David and the hexagram is associated with Christianity, alchemy, Judaism and features in pretty much every religion and culture in some form, but a six-pointed figure did not have to be a hexagram. There were other options.

It could be a rayed star, a daisy-wheel like the odd ‘consecration cross’, or a simple a hexagon. It could even be marking points dividing the circumference of a circle. And, if it were centred around a seventh point, the circle would then be the traditional symbol for the sun. On top of that, the Cerne Giant had, coincidentally, been known as ‘Helis’… which is close enough to ‘Helios’ to be intriguing.

But it had been the hexagram we had been given to work with, so the hexagram it would be. In magical and alchemical terms, the two triangles that form the hexagram represent the elements which, when brought together to form the six-pointed star, symbolise perfect balance and harmony.

The hexagram in the landscape appears to be aligned with magnetic north, rather than ‘true’ north, which might imply that it was older than modern mapping techniques. Not that we really needed that implication, when all the churches on its points predate that scientific differentiation by centuries. Oddly enough, the figure of the hexagram can be used as a starting point from which it is possible to geometrically draw a vesica… the only problem is that the geometry required means you have to know which of the six possible directions on the starting hexagram is ‘up’.

Image: Deep Highlands

Later, there would be time to play with Google Earth, overlaying geometrical forms onto maps, with a really surprising result. For now, though, we were taking Cerne Abbas as the centre and working our way round from there.

Aproximate locations due to scale

But our weekend, although using the geometries, was not really about them. It was about how we might work ‘with’ the land to create harmony. We had devised a simple demonstration, assigning the planets to the points and centre of the hexagram…the fire and water triangles and, drawing lots, had assigned each planet to a member of our company. At each site visited, we would walk the pattern, drawing together the two triangles to create a harmonious whole. At each site, also, we would meditate on a seed thought, finding an expression of each planetary colour in nature. The simplest such rituals may have a profound effect when performed with intent.

And that was the end of our morning… especially as the rain began to fall. All that remained was to find shelter for a few minutes until the New Inn, a 16th century coaching in, was ready to open its doors for lunch…after which, we would be going on a church-crawl…


For the significance of the hexagram in the context of the weekend, please read Stuart’s posts: Magical Elements I  – IIIIIIVV   –  The Dance of Fire and Water IIIIII  and Magical Elements, The Dance of Fire and Water


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 – Ikonography

We walked back into Cerne Abbas for our final visit of the morning. The plan was that we would give a bit of a tour of the church, pointing out some of the more intriguing iconography and historical features before giving everyone time to explore for themselves. I also wanted to get a full set of photographs as it had been five years since our first visit. We have learned a lot in that time about these old churches and have a much better idea what to look for and I was bound to have missed many things of which we ought to have taken note. But the best laid plans of mice, men and serial church-crawlers and all that… It started well, but we got side-tracked.

We did manage to look at the carvings outside the church. They are strange, even for grotesques and gargoyles, being mainly comprised of giants with smaller figures. One theory suggests many of these types of figures represent sins…and a sin may indeed seem giant -sized to the repentant sinner in hope of reformation or in fear of hellfire. Be that as it may, these giants have a place only on the outside of the church… within, only spiritual stature counts.

In many areas of ancient and religious art, there is a hierarchy of size; you often see gods, saints and kings portrayed as larger than those around them. Christianity is a religion where a Child holds the keys of heaven.

One curious carving beside the north porch, though is more utilitarian than symbolic. The open-mouthed face is a chimney outlet for a fireplace that warmed the toes of the incumbent priest, traces of which can still be seen within the church.

We entered the church and were soon side-tracked. As it turned out, between them, everyone found the most important bits of the church in the context of the workshop and we got to talk to artist John Coleman, better known as Ikon John. The artist uses archaic techniques and styles, painting with egg tempera and gold leaf to create ikons that continue an age-old tradition, and which have been commissioned by Catholic, Anglican, Orthodox, and Coptic churches and individuals.

His work draws upon the symbolic language of images… a concept at the heart of our workshop… and it was a real gift to be able to speak with him. Not only did we learn a little about his work and the Cyrillic script used in ikon painting, he also told us of another large hillfort which is now on our ‘hit-list’ and about the burial of St Edwold… the hermit associated with the Silver Well. He even gave us the location of his final resting place, which we felt we ought to visit before heading north once more.

Meanwhile our companions had wandered round the church, discovering its details and secrets. The church of St Mary the Virgin belonged to the Abbey that cast its mantle over Cerne Abbas. When the Abbey was first founded, the people of the village came to the nave of its church to pray. Around 1300, the monks began building St Mary’s and its first vicar was installed in 1317.

Most of the fabric of the current building are 15th and 16th C, but traces of the original church remain in the chancel, where there are medieval wall paintings showing the Annunciation and scenes from the life and death of John the Baptist.

Most of the stained glass is either heraldic or comprises of small, individual panels set into clear windows. There is only one full stained-glass window, showing the Adoration of the Lamb from the Book of Revelation.

The oldest stained glass is a tiny fourteenth century panel, high up in the tracery, showing a rather solar lion. As one of the oldest local names for the Cerne Giant was reportedly Helis, and the giant once carried a lion-skin, this just adds fuel to the flame of mystery.

Plaques, most of the painted, commemorate local people from the past few hundred years of Cerne Abbas’ history. One mentions ‘William Cockeram, Gent and Practicioner of Phifick and Chirugery’ who died aged forty-three. Another pays tribute to members of the Notley family, early settlers to America, who owned the land now known as Capitol Hill, but once called Cerne Abbey Manor.

There are post-Reformation scripture panels painted on the walls of the nave; the Puritans banned all religious iconography and ‘abused images’ that smacked, to them, of superstition. The medieval wall paintings that once covered the walls of almost every church with colour and stories were destroyed or covered with plaster and paint. High above the chancel arch, a few traces of those earlier paintings can still be seen.

The arches of the arcade brought us back to geometry. They are of the gothic shape, formed from the interlocking circles of the vesica piscis, the figure that had been our initial inspiration for holding the workshop in the area. It is a shape often found in religious iconography, usually as an aureole around the figures of Christ and the Virgin.

The most intriguing geometry though, is the so-called consecration cross. These were crosses, painted on plaster for the interior, usually with a candle sconce beneath them, or carved in stone for the exterior of a church. There would originally be twelve inside and twelve outside, marking the place where the presiding bishop anointed the building with holy oil during its consecration ceremony. Few survive the inevitable remodelling and repainting over the centuries, but occasionally, we stumble across one.

A consecration cross is supposed to be just that…a cross, often inscribed within a circle. Usually, a cross has four points… but not this one. It has six and looks much more like a flower or a star than a cross. Therefore, it is not a cross. We have seen these same symbols before, also described as consecration crosses, and simply accepted the name without question… which is the human default position when a trusted authority speaks. This time, a chance comment as I researched made me question.

A little further digging and it seems we are not alone in questioning the meaning of this daisy-wheel symbol, thought to date back to the thirteenth century. Oddly enough, this is the time when the Templars were active in the area…  and the examples we have previously seen of this symbol were in churches with Templar connections. But, regardless of the possible meanings and connections of this daisy-wheel ‘cross’, it was an interesting find in light of what we were going to be doing that afternoon…


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.