The Ancient Site of Bryn Celli Ddu
In the Welsh island of Anglesey lies a Neolithic site called Bryn Celli Ddu — a site aligned to the summer and winter solstices as well as the equinoxes, and richly imbued with symbolism that points to the site’s ancient use for the marking or celebration of solstices; the site’s builders plainly paying homage to the spirituality of the sun.
The name Bryn Celli Ddu means “the mound in the dark grove” and it is one of the finest passage tombs in Wales, comprising a narrow entrance and an eight meter passage shaped from vertical slab stones which lead into a chamber. It stands facing the sea, about a mile away.
Bryn Celli Ddu’s present shape is but the site’s most recent incarnation. Archaeological research shows it was once a henge, with a bank, ditch, oval stone circle made of seventeen stones, and entrance causeway. There was an alter stone as well as a “pattern stone,” carved with serpentine, wavy imagery.
Radiocarbon dating of post holes at the site date back to 4,000 BC. It’s thought that the henge however was constructed circa 3,500 BC, an era that saw a flurry of megalithic building throughout the British Isles, including Newgrange in Ireland and Avebury in England. The stone circle was in use for approximately one thousand years before being transformed into a passage mound.
The mound would have once stretched to a ring of kerbstones that followed the line of the old henge, spanning twenty-six meters (eighty-five feet) across. The mound was intentionally closed after its period of use.
The Phallic PillarWithin the chamber stands a free-standing pillar of stone around two metres high. Michael Bott recently revealed it to be a petrified (fossilized) tree trunk, making it extremely ancient and rare. The standing pillar symbolizes the male presence at the site, as is common amongst many similar ancient sites of the world. Conversely the cave chamber is a symbol of the feminine, representing the womb. Both masculine and feminine principles incorporated into these neolithic sites are symbolic of the energies of creation, which in turn can be seen as pointers to the process of enlightenment. Another interesting symbolism of the pillar within the cave at Bryn Celli Ddu is that this tree-turned-to-stone may have been especially suitable to use as a symbol for the world tree, or axis mundi. The world tree is a theme commonly present across many cultures, traditions, and mythologies of the past. It is depicted as a colossal tree that supports the heavens, yet has its roots in the underworlds, thus connection the three worlds: heavens, earth, and the underworlds. It is also a symbol related to the Tree of Life.
Summer Solstice Alignments
Research has shown that the original stone circle of Bryn Celli Ddu marked the summer solstice sun. The passageway of the subsequent mound is now also roughly aligned to the summer solstice sun; for a few weeks around the summer solstice sunlight makes its way into the back wall of the otherwise dark chamber.When the sunlight illuminates the passageway on the summer solstice it travels across the chamber and is reflected by quartz to illuminate a carved spiral. Spiral patterns, wave forms and zigzag patterns were found depicted on a stone found behind the chamber, though its original location may have been different. Spiral patterns are a common thread amongst ancient sacred sites all over the world. Interestingly, the significance of the ancient symbol of the double spiral was accidentally captured by American artist Charles Ross in his piece “A Year of Solar Burns.” He set up a powerful lens to burn a new piece of wood every day for 366 days. When he plotted the resulting pattern a double spiral emerged. During the summer the spiral was a tight clockwise spiral, during the winter it was a more spacious anti-clockwise spiral.
Christopher Knight and Robert Lomas, authors in the field of archaeoastronomy and the Neolithic period, identify the main alignments in Bryn Celli Ddu as:
– The alignment of the passage and its cup mark (art work) sequences highlight the equinoxes and the summer solstice
– The shadow gauge indicates where in the solar year you are at any given time
– The pillar stone and stone edge are positioned to accurately measure the Venus cycle, the winter solstice, and the winter agricultural calendar
A Venus Temple
The cycle of Venus is known as one of the most accurate measurement of time, the understanding of which allowed for precise predictions of cosmic events such as eclipses. Sometimes called the “Queen of the Heavens,” Venus has an eight-year cycle, during which it draws a five-pointed star/flower in relation to Earth; the two planets are tied to each other gravitationally and move in a beautiful mathematical dance.
“Around the winter solstice, the slot and the pillar of the chamber accurately measure the angular distance of Venus and the sun, using the difference between daggers of light cast by the sun and Venus onto the pillar.”
– Knight and Lomas, Uriel’s Machine
The occult symbol of the pentagram is linked by some to the discovery of this pattern and traced back to ancient Mesopotamia. Known as the Great Star to the Mayans, it was part of a triad of heavenly cycles that made up their sophisticated calenders, the sun, moon and Venus—the three brightest celestial bodies in the sky.
“the cycles of Venus which must be intertwined with the precessional cycles of the sun and the moon to form a trinity as the basis of many belief systems of ancient cultures. Venus emerges as the Goddess of Resurrection and Renewal who gracefully moves through the celestial patterns climbing the heights of the night sky as she rises from the sea in her own cycle that transgresses the yearly cycle flowing in and out of the consciousness of both lunar and solar energy.”
– The Mythology of Venus Ancient Calendars and Archaeoastronony, Helen Benigni
Winter Solstice Alignments
During the winter solstice a shaft of light falls on the free-standing, phallus-shaped, petrified wood within the womb of the mound.
Anglesey – a Druidic HeartlandAnglesey is a small island just off the north-west coast of Wales, separated from the mainland by the Menai Strait and from the rest of Britain by the mountains of Snowdonia. It was known as a Druidic stronghold and where the long training required to become a druid took place; it was the home of druid mystery schools. The Welsh bard, Taliesin, (sixth century) wrote: “They went to Anglesey, to search for the craft.”
The island has one of the densest concentrations of sacred sites per square mile in Britain, albeit not of the same grandeur of the megalithic sites in Wiltshire, England. In 1945 cauldrons, chariots, swords, jewellery, and ceremonial items were discovered in Anglesey’s Llyn Cerrig Bach (lake of the small stones), the largest deposit of Druidic ritual items unearthed.
The island was called Mona by the Romans, Ynys Môn in Welsh. It’s also been called “shady or dark isle,” (Ynys Dywyll), relating to its former groves, the isle of the brave, (Ynys y Cedairn) Môn, Mother of Wales (Môn Mam Cymru) and the “Island of the Cow.”This island’s name has etymological links to a Celtic mother goddess. That this island had such strong links to a divine feminine deity is suggested as the reason why women made up the army defending the island from the Roman Army. The druids encouraged the Britons to fight the invading armies. Seen as a threat to the empire’s power, they were attacked, defeated, and their oak groves burnt.
Tacitus (historian of the Roman Empire) wrote about the deciding battle that saw Anglesey defeated, “On the coastline, a line of warriors of the opposition was stationed, mainly made up of armed men, amongst them women, with their hair blowing in the wind, while they were carrying torches. Druids were amongst them, shouting terrifying spells, their hands raised towards the heavens, which scared our soldiers so much that their limbs became paralysed. As a result, they remained stationary and were injured. At the end of the battle, the Romans were victorious, and the holy oaks of the druids were destroyed.”
Just off the west coast of Anglesey is another smaller island, Holy Island, with a rich plethora of stone circles, burial chambers, and other religious sites. Its name and archaeological remains point to this island also being a spiritually important place for the religious people of the past.
The mysterious druids of ancient Briton left no written records of their own. They passed their sacred and secret knowledge through oral tradition rather than the written word, and their sacred temples were old oak groves—no wonder little is known of them today. It’s possible that their myths resembled the stories of the Mabinogion, the first prose literature in Britain, Welsh stories written down in the twelfth to thirteenth century, with content reaching back to the Iron Age (circa 1,200 BC). Its Celtic gods and tales of Annwfn, the Otherworld, may provide us a glimpse of the oratory culture and beliefs of the druids. Mab means son, or boy, in Welsh, and some scholars link the etymology of the Mabinogion to the Celtic God Maponos, the “Divine Son.”
Though the druids were persecuted and eventually defeated, in medieval Wales bards and musicians flourished—it’s thought that the druids are likely their cultural ancestors. We may even see a memory of Druidic culture in the annual Welsh Eisteddfod, a celebration of the arts through competitions and performances, culminating in the ceremony of the Chairing of the Bard.
What we do know, from Roman records and those of Julius Caesar, is that the druids were a class of learned people who were esteemed and distinct from the noblemen of the time. They were priests, in charge of religious rites and public ceremonies, judges, philosophers, bards, and teachers of natural law.
Caesar writes that a principle teaching of the druids was, “The souls do not perish, but after death pass from one to another,” i.e. that the soul or consciousness reincarnates after death. He also writes that their practices were concerned with, “Divine worship, the due performance of sacrifices, private or public, and the interpretation of ritual questions,” and also, “The stars and their movements, the size of the cosmos and the earth, the world of nature, and the powers of deities.”The word druid means: “finding the oak tree,” or “oak knowledge,” a meaning which reveals the symbolic importance of the oak. It’s well documented that these trees were sacred to the druids and that mistletoe growing on an oak was considered to have magical properties. The oak tree is symbolic of immense wisdom, nobility, endurance and was considered the king of trees. Its tendency to attract lightening was also seen as testimony to its power.
“The druids – that is what they call their magicians – hold nothing more sacred than the mistletoe and a tree on which it is growing, provided it is a hard-timbered oak…. Mistletoe is rare and when found it is gathered with great ceremony, and particularly on the sixth day of the moon … A priest arrayed in white vestments climbs the tree and, with a golden sickle, cuts down the mistletoe, which is caught in a white cloak.”
– Pliny the Elder, Natural History
Visiting Bryn Celli Ddu
Bryn Celli Ddu is another example of the immense cosmic understanding our ancestors possessed and the special emphasis they placed on the rhythms of the solar year.
In modern times, the Anglesey Druid Order holds a recreation of an ancient ceremony marking the longest day of the year on the 21st of June (summer solstice).
“It’s a ritual that honours the power of the sun and the life-giving force of the sun. We will give thanks to the sun for the fruition it has brought to us, and acknowledge that the power of the sun is now waning,” explained Kristopher Hughes, head of the Anglesey Druid Order, talking to the Daily Post.
The origin of the ceremony can be traced back to the ancient Celtic druids, a class of people inextricably linked to the pre-Christian animistic religion that flourished in Britain and Gaul (modern-day France). Hughes continues, “The pre-Christian druids thought the world was alive and had its own spirit or soul. We have an animistic world-view which holds that non-human entities possess a spiritual essence.”
Anglesey is reached by two land bridges from Wales. High-speed train services link the island with London and the UK. Brynsiencyn is the nearest town and Llanddaniel Fab the nearest village.
Written and researched by Ella Klyashitsky. Edited and co-researched by Jenny Belikov.
Uriel’s Machine: Uncovering the Secrets of Stonehenge, Noah’s Flood and the Dawn of Civilization, by Christopher Knight, Robert Lomas