The Preseli mountains, or Preseli hills, rise from the surrounding lowland of Pembrokeshire, south-west Wales, described as a land of myth and enchantment in the Mabinogion, the first British prose.
Though not particularly high or mountainous – reaching 536 meters – this expanse of moorland, heath, and grassland contains some of the richest remains of Britain’s Neolithic past. A proportionally large amount of stone circles, dolmens, “standing pairs” (two stones acting as doorways), and sacred springs are found within the undulating landscape, thought to be one of the chief religious centers of Ancient Briton.
Although not all the alignments of the sites are known, having been overlooked as insignificant, and some of them stand in disrepair, solar alignments at these sites do exist. Moreover, many of the cluster of sites at Preseli, and the mountain itself, are inextricably linked to the iconic solar temple, Stonehenge.
The sites are entwined with King Arthur, the legendary Welsh King, namesake of many of the monuments. All of which point to the spirituality of the sun that had once been practiced here.
“The possibility that the Preseli Mountains may have been an area of special holiness at the time of the Stone or the beginning of the Bronze Age is suggested by the presence of the several small circles which doubtless indicate the former existence of a considerably larger number.”
~ Sir M. Wheeler, British Archaeologist
Preseli Bluestones and the Stonehenge Connection
The mountains and their surrounding sacred monuments reveal a mysterious connection to Stonehenge. It’s been scientifically understood since 1923 that the bluestones which make up the inner concentric circle and innermost ‘horseshoe’ of Stonehenge were brought from these hills, from a three-square kilometer area on the eastern side.
Although the precise location is debated, and certain to be more than one outcrop (known as a carn locally), what’s clear is that the bluestones were so sacred to the builders of Stonehenge thousands of years ago that 300 tonnes of them were transported over 250 kilometers to become an integral part of the solar-temple in Wiltshire.Preseli bluestones were also the first stones ever to be erected at Stonehenge, which has gone through multiple phases of construction. They were arranged in two concentric circles, one inside the other, known as the Q and R Holes, and were later replaced and rearranged to become the formation of giant sarsen trilithons and bluestone circle that we see today. The double-circle shape is mirrored in the design of one of the sites found in Preseli, Meini Gwyr.
“Bluestone” is a convenience name used to mean all the imported stone found at Stonehenge. These stones are comparatively much smaller than the giant sarsen stones which give the monument its impressive scale and which originate approximately 30 kilometers away, from the Marlborough Downs.The umbrella term “bluestones” encompasses spotted dolerite, blue dolerite, rhyolite and tuff. One of the most common types of bluestones is the Preseli spotted dolerite, an exceptionally hard stone, used to work even granite. Sacred to warriors, it was used to make arrow heads and other weapons.
The “Altar Stone” of Stonehenge is also technically a bluestone as it’s imported, yet it is a one-off at the site. This purplish-green sandstone, studded with garnets, also originates in Wales, yet some 50 kilometers east of Preseli, in the Brecon Becons. It’s clear from the efforts displayed by the builders to source specific stones for specific “roles” in Stonehenge, that the different stones possessed distinct and important meaning.
Bluestones: Starry, Healing, Musical Stones
Bluestones do possess unique properties that can help us understand why they were so precious to the Stonehenge builders. Yet the Preseli mountains themselves also emerge as significant when exploring the reasons these particular stones were transported such great distances.Researchers and experts from antiquity to present day state that the Preseli area was one of the main religious centers of ancient Briton. Professor Gordon Freeman (University of Alberta), who discovered a solar-calender within an ancient site in Canada, also believes there is a solar temple within the hills, carns and monuments of Preseli, formed in part by nature and in part by immense human effort, and displaying a sophisticated understanding of the movement of the heavens not commonly attributed to the people of that time. Carbon dating reveals that the bluestones of Stonehenge were quarried some 500 years before they were moved to Wiltshire, leading some experts to suggest that part of the sun-temple originally stood in Preseli before being moved to England. Geological surveys of the area that the bluestones originated from, and the bluestones at Stonehenge, reveal an identical layout of the different types of stone at both sites. At Preseli mountain, dolerites are found at the center of the landscape, with riolites and tuffs surrounding them. At Stonehenge, the inner ring/horseshoe of bluestones consists of spotted dolorite; in contrast, the outer ring is dominated by riolites, shales and tuffs. The chances of this being coincidence are negligible. These surveys provide part of the evidence that leads Professor Timothy Darvill (University of Bournemouth) to suggest Stonehenge was built as a miniature replica of Preseli mountain, as a microcosmic model of a sacred mountain.
The blueish hue upon cutting the stones combines with flecks of white feldspar and mica to become reminiscent of the starry night sky. This may have had a similar cultural meaning to the ancient Britons as Lapis Lazuli (Blue Stone) did to the ancient Egyptians, who saw it as symbolic of the all-seeing sky and made some of their most precious artifacts from it.The Preseli bluestones also have the unusual property of being “musical”; when struck, instead of giving the usual rock-on-rock thud, about ten percent of the stones ring out, with a variety of different tones emerging from the same rock.
The Landscape and Perception Project by the Royal College of Art in London, has captured an acoustic map of the Preseli Hills. The project aims to, “try to look and listen as if with Stone Age eyes and ears so as to return to sensory basics.” “Ringing rocks” are found and held sacred around the world. Often a feature of the tribal cultures of the Americans, in India they are even embedded into temples. In other parts of the world massive ceremonial ringing rocks are used, or configurations of piles of stones (such as the Ringing Rocks convex hill-top formation in Montana).
Interestingly and quite enigmatically, figure 5 of this acoustic map depicts a stone with protruding knobs in what appears to be the shape of the constellation of Orion in a manner most similar to the Montana Tizer Dolmen in the USA.
Darvill believes the stones were brought to Wiltshire due to their healing properties. He points to the fact that burials at Stonehenge stopped after 2,600 BC when making his case for the site to be “a place for the living”. He adds that the bluestones, “are all associated with sacred springs today,” and that “[the] association is a very ancient one. These stones were brought to Stonehenge because they were thought to have healing properties.”
The stones are great;
And magic power they have;
Men that are sick;
Fare to that stone;
And they wash that stone;
And with that water bathe away their sickness.
~ British Poet, Layamon, circa 1215
Carn Meini (Butter Mountain/Rock of Stones) is the main rocky outcrop of a mountain ridge known locally as Carn Menyn (plural) or, “the dragon’s back”. Carn Meini is one of the primary sites from which the eighty stones were quarried that would eventually make up two circles at Stonehenge.
The hill, pitted with rocky outcrops, plays a central role in the surrounding collection of sacred sites, being both a primary source of stones used and a visually dominant feature in the landscape. Not only is it connected to the sites visually, but also through streams which originate here and irrigate the land, in places emerging as springs that were held sacred for their healing properties.
The outcrops are often impressive and with giant stones looking as though they have been cut ready for use in a megalithic site. It’s thought that the peaks of Carn Menyn and the surrounding sites once formed a vast ritual landscape of solar worship, where different events in the solar calendar were commemorated at sites aligned correspondingly.
“From my observations and measurements, I concluded that these particular carns are part of a large sacred area, a Temple, which may have been raided from the east … Foelteml on Presli Mountain is an extremely sacred place, in the same category as Stonehenge, Glastonbury, and Ómahkiyáahkóhtóop … The relationship between Preseli Mountain, Stonehenge, Glastonbury, and Arthurian myth now opens a new cycle of investigation of that whole area.”
~ Prof. G. Freeman, Hidden Stonehenge
Gors Fawr Aligns to Summer Solstice
This stone circle aligns to sunrise of the longest day of the year, a design that shows veneration of the sun and light at their maximum power. Sacred sites aligned to the sun are found in Egyptian, Mayan, Hindu, Buddhist and Pagan cultures like the ancient Britons.
This interplay between a god of light and a god of darkness is found in many ancient religions, such as Horus/Seth, Jesus/Lucifer, the Oak King/Holly King, and more than being a deification of natural forces, signifies the inner battle between the spirit/consciousness and the animalistic egos/subconscious in a person trying to spiritually awaken. The longest and lightest day of the year was celebrated as symbolic of the final climax of the journey to enlightenment.
At Gors Fawr, a pair of outlying standing stones, set 134 meters away and 13.7 meters apart, act like a doorway through which the midsummer sun rises. This echoes Stonehenge’s summer solstice sun markers, which also once created a portal through which the sun first emerged on the longest day of the year, when viewed from inside the henge.
The midsummer sun at Gors Fawr rises above the nearby hill, Foel Drych. Set with the Presli Hills as a backdrop, the circle measures 22-meters in diameter. Its sixteen stones (which divide a circle/year into even sections) are height-graded, the tallest to the south-eastern quadrant, the shortest to the south-west. There are no estimated dates available for the site’s construction, other than to identify it as “prehistoric”.
Carn Menyn has a dominating presence at the site. A large mound or hill to the north of sacred sites is a repeating pattern throughout Britain (Silbury Hill/Avebury, Maes Stennes at Bodgar) and Europe. This repetition strongly suggests the relative position of these hills to the sacred sites has a symbolic esoteric meaning.
It’s possible that reverence of this mountain was linked to it symbolizing a “primal mound”, or “womb of creation”. Primal mounds are a key feature in ancient creation myths; the Egyptians saw the creator, Atum, rising as a mound from the primordial ocean, Nun. The north and its night sky, (as well as the pole star), are held as the direction of the “primal cause” and the “hidden/mysterious face of God” by many ancient religions.
The Sabaeans, a pagan people identified with the Biblical land of Sheba, held an annual festival for the north.
“These curious people worshiped the sun, moon, and planets, which they honored in temples built specially for this purpose. In addition to this they saw the pole star, and the Northern night sky in general, as the direction of the Primal Cause, of God himself, a fact celebrated each year in a grand festival known as the Mystery of the North.”
~ Andrew Collins, Gobekli Tepe: Genesis of the Gods
One of the outlying bluestones that marks the summer solstice at Gors Fawr is known locally as the ‘Dreaming Stone’. Bluestones have been shown to have strong magnetic properties; some say that this stone was used as a kind of chair and that the part which most effects a compass is where the person seated would rest the back of their head.
This suggests it was designed to have contact with the brain and thereby exert the biggest magnetic impact on the person. Perhaps this stone had a special role in the spiritual ceremonies of its users, especially at the summer solstice when it would receive the first rays of the rising sun.
Interestingly, the work of Canadian professor of neuroscience, Dr. Michael Persinger, shows that people’s psi perception can be enhanced and altered by magnetic fluctuations of a similar strength as that found at the sites in the Preseli hills.
“Two of the most surprising discoveries among the Bluestone outcrops and carns on the east end of Preseli Mountain were that they include a probable solar calender similar to the one in Ómahk, and there is a megalithic oval of Bluestones that is called Beddarthur, Arthur’s grave.”
~ Prof. G. Freeman, Hidden Stonehenge.
Translating as ‘Arthur’s Grave’, this stone monument is intervisible with Gors Fawr; both monuments are intervisible with Carn Menyn. Comprised of thirteen stones not more than 0.6 meter high, this oval-shaped stone monument also reveals an interesting link with Stonehenge.
One of the unusual characteristics of the Wiltshire site is the original inner oval of Preseli bluestones (later modified to become horse-shoe shaped). There are very few examples of this oval design in prehistory, but one of them is Beddarthur. The orientation, general size and arrangement of the two stone ovals is very similar between the sites, suggesting an influential role of Beddarthur over the inner core of Stonehenge.
The location of King Arthur’s grave is claimed by three places in the UK: Glastonbury Abbey, Stonehenge and Beddarthur in Preseli. Rather than this being a squabble over the fame of being the mythical King’s final resting place, the claim may have a deeper symbolic meaning, as suggested by Professor Freeman.
His detailed research into the sites and their alignments, as well as the surrounding mythology, revealed that all three supposed graves stand 1.2 meters west of other significant monuments; in the case of Stonehenge and Beddarthur, with a small valley between them. Glastonbury Abby is 1.2 kilometers west of the Tor. Stonehenge is 1.2 kilometers west of New King Bowl Barrows 28 and 29 and Beddarthur is 1.2 kilometers west of a stone outcrop on Carn Menyn dubbed “The Sanctuary” by Freeman due to its impressiveness.
“The purported grave of Arthur is the same direction and distance from an ancient sacred mound as in the other two stories! Was there an ancient sacred ring of stones at the place where the Abbey [Glastonbury] was built? A sun temple? What does the recurring distance of 1.2 kilometres represent?”
~ Prof. G. Freeman, Hidden Stonehenge
He points to the fact that west is the direction that the sun sets or “dies” every day. Arthurian legends displays elements of solar myth – could this hold the key to a possible symbolic meaning of the three site’s shared name?
Meini Gwyr/ Buarth Arthur (Arthur’s Yard)Of the nineteen stones that once was the only example of a raised henge in Welsh prehistoric architecture, sadly just two stones remain. The stone circle would have measured 22 meters in diameter. Being located just five kilometers due south of Carn Menyn and three kilometers south of Gors Fawr, it would have been an integral part of the ceremonial landscape, however its alignments are unknown.
Its north-west facing entrance, “of more than usual complexity”, could possibly have been an alignment to the summer solstice sunset. Images taken of the circle’s structure beneath the earth using magnetic geometry show two concentric rings of stones once stood here. A nineteenth century report also speaks of two stone avenues approaching the area.
Two hundred yards west of the site are two of the three original standing stones which together were known as ‘Yr Allor’, The Alter. Some researchers believe this to be the remains of a cove, the likes of which are found in Avebury, Cairnpapple, the Standing Stone of Stenness, and Stanton Drew. These horseshoe-shaped structures are open-roofed, three sided and usually open to the east.
Pentre Ifan/Arthur’s Quoit and Carningli, “The Hill of Angels”
“The region, the little valley on whose side stands the Pentre Ifan cromlech, the finest in Britain, is believed to have been a favourite place with the ancient Druids. And in the oak groves (Ty Canol Wood) that still exist there, tradition says there was once a flourishing school for neophytes, and that the cromlech instead of being a place for internments or sacrifices was in those days completely enclosed, forming like other cromlechs a darkened chamber in which novices when initiated were placed for a certain number of days….the interior (of Pentre Ifan) being called the womb or court of Ceridwen.
~ W.Y. Evans Wentz, The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries
Situated to the north-west of Carn Menyn, approximately 6 kilometers away, this dolmen has historical links to the mystery schools of the ancient Druids, said to be a site that initiations took place.
Although any solar and astronomical alignments are unknown, its proximity to the other sites make it a key part of the revered landscape. Dating back to at least 3,500 BC, the dolmen’s name translates as “Ivan’s Village”, but an older name means “Arthur’s Quoit”.
The capstone weighs 16 tonnes, is five meters long and rests on three tapered upright stones 2.4 meters from the ground. Archaeologists believe the dolmen we see today was part of the entrance of a much larger, enclosed structure. It would have been surrounded by a mound of earth up to 36 meters long, opening up to the south; this north-south orientation is an uncommon feature.
The megalithic monument overlooks the Nevern Valley, estuary and over to the Irish sea. It stands to the north-east of Carningli, the “Hill of Angels”. When viewed from the east looking west, the quoit’s slope almost exactly mirrors the angle of the hill.
Carningli hill was held as sacred until early Christian times, with local St. Brynach using it as a place to “commune with angels”. Local folklore warns that anyone who spends a night upon it will come down either a poet or a madman.
Carningli has also been found to possess magnetic anomalies, including areas where the magnetic fields were reversed. This was discovered by Paul Devereax and his team as part of the ‘Dragon Project’. Set up in 1977 to, “mount an interdisciplinary investigation into the rumor (existing in both folklore and modern anecdote) that certain prehistoric sites had unusual forces or energies associated with them”, the project’s explorations included reading the magnetic profiles of sacred sites and collecting dream experiences from volunteers sleeping at them.
Preseli Mountain and StonehengeThe recent idea that the bluestones of Stonehenge could have originally been part of a monument at Presli, which was dismantled and moved to England, finds its parallel in the folklore surrounding the famous sun-temple.
Accounts of moving great stones from Ireland to build Stonehenge appear in the earliest written records of the monument, dating from the 12th century. In The History of the Kings of Britain, Welsh monk Geoffrey of Monmouth writes about the creation of Stonehenge – the only prehistoric monument described.
The legend says it’s the wizard Merlin’s magical powers that finally succeed in moving the great stones from Ireland, where thousands of the King’s men fail. Merlin says the stones had been moved before, by Giants, from Africa to Mount Killaraus (a mythical mountain), where they stood in a circle known as the Giant’s Ring.Pembrokeshire stands on an important ancient trading route between Britain and Ireland, but it’s also thought that West Wales and Ireland were once the same “cultural province”, (Great Riddles in Archeology, Merlin’s Magic Circles, Darvill.) meaning there could be a closer link between the myth of Stonehenge and what’s now being scientifically discovered about its origins.
It is an older, more advanced people that Merlin refers to when asked by King Aurelius Ambrosius (King Arthur’s uncle) to create a monument that will be a fitting commemoration for 3,000 noble soldiers slain in battle near Stonehenge. The wizard tells him: “Send for the Giant’s Ring which is on Mount Killaraus in Ireland. In that place there is a stone construction which no man of this period could ever erect, unless he combined great skill and artistry. If placed in a position round this site, in the way in which they are erected over there, they will stand forever.”
And when the King also has a problem believing Merlin’s metaphysical claims: “Try not to laugh in such a foolish way your majesty… what I am saying has nothing ludicrous about it. These stones are connected with certain secret religious rites and they have various properties which are medicinally important.”
Pliny the Elder, the Roman natural philosopher, reserves two of the thirty-seven books that make up his “Natural History” to the healing and magical properties of stone – he lists eighty-nine remedies from non-precious stones alone. The builders of ancient sacred megaliths and monuments around the world certainly understood the unique properties of different stone and went to immense trouble to incorporate them into their most sacred buildings.
Arthurian Legend Relates to Sites in Preseli
Britain’s central mythical figure, King Arthur, is inextricably tied to many of the sacred sites on the isle, including Stonehenge and the sites in Preseli.
The Oath of a Knight of King Arthur’s Round Table:
I will develop my life for the greater good.
I will place character above riches, and concern for others above personal wealth,
I will never boast, but cherish humility instead,
I will speak the truth at all times, and forever keep my word,
I will defend those who cannot defend themselves,
I will honor and respect women, and refute sexism in all its guises,
I will uphold justice by being fair to all,
I will be faithful in love and loyal in friendship,
I will abhor scandals and gossip-neither partake nor delight in them,
I will be generous to the poor and to those who need help,
I will forgive when asked, that my own mistakes will be forgiven,
I will live my life with courtesy and honor from this day forward.
~ Le Morte d’Arthur: King Arthur and the Legends of the Round Table
Both Arthur and the knights of the round table show signs of being solar-deities. Sir Gawain, one of the few knights able to attain the Holy Grail, was also known as “the Hawk of May”. In the Celtic calender, May 1st was the start of summer. The Hawk is seen as symbolizing the sun is many myths around the world, as it is said to be able to look into the face of the sun. Ra, the Egyptian god of the sun, (later merged with Horus, the divine son) is depicted with a hawk-headdress and identified with the noon-day sun. Sir Gawain’s strength was said to “gradually diminished each hour past noon”, a clear solar reference.The trials of the knights of the round table in their quest can be seen as parables of the trials involved in the process of awakening/enlightenment, with its tests of character in the pursuit of spiritual perfection.
The holy grail itself represents the chalice or cauldron symbolic of the female reproductive organs, a hint at the role of sacred sexuality in awakening. The rare ability to wield the magical sword Excalibur, and to “strike the sword upon the stone”, is also esoteric alchemical imagery and a reference to alchemical transmutation.
The Welsh word Arth means ‘bear’; the name Arthur thus akin to “bear-man”. Synonymous with wisdom and strength in many mythologies, the bear’s ability to live both in caves and to climb trees is seen as the animal inhabiting multiple planes of existence: the underworld (cave), the middle-world (earth) as well as the upper world (tree). The always-visible constellation Ursa Major, the Great Bear, is one of the most recognisable and myth-laden constellations in the sky.
Much of what existed at Preseli mountain is now lost in the mists of time. We know very little about the lives and practices of the people who built these monuments, and we are largely hindered by a modern paradigm that assumes our ancestors as less advanced than we are today.
It’s not just that the geometry, engineering, mathematical and astronomical knowledge embedded into these sites can help us re-frame our understanding of our ancestors, but the profound spiritual wisdom their alignments and design hold can help us reassess our understanding of ourselves. Because the cosmic principles conveyed within these sites are timeless, belonging to the unchanging fabric of creation, they are as relevant today as they ever have been. The solstices and equinoxes are a great time to re-connect with the heritage of those ancient cultures, structures, and the ancient spirituality of the sun through the celebrations arranged for those times of year.
Writing and Research by Ella Klyashitsky. Edited by Jenny Belikov.
Beyond 2012: Catastrophe or Awakening, Geoff Stray
Hidden Stonehenge, G. Freeman
Natural History, Pliny the Elder
Gobekli Tepe: Genesis of the Gods, A. Collins