A Ritual Landscape Considered:
COSMOGRAPHY & ANGLO-SAXON SHIP BURIALS
Jeremy Taylor & Mark Taylor
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In this fresh new study following ten years of research, the authors propose that there is evidence of sophisticated geo-ritual surveying in the landscape, that connects the primary Anglo-Saxon boat burials at Sutton Hoo and Snape with the Summer and Winter Solstices. Corroborated by high precision custom mapping software from an Emeritus Professor in Architecture and supported by independent analysis from the Sohland Observatory and its Section on Archaeoastronomy in Germany, read how the movements of the sun become a template for cosmic and Royal order. With over 90 illustrations and around 52,000 words the authors findings explain why the boat burials occurred in the landscape, exactly where they were.
If all of this sounds far fetched, the authors discovered that there have been published studies in 1933, 1950 and 2015 on the East Anglian landscape that describe an elaborate network of solar alignments in relation to the planning and orientation of ancient sites. Described as archaic observation posts and bearing lines, they relate to the Summer Solstice and Winter Solstice sun, and are a part of the hidden landscape of East Anglia. More recently in 2015, a well publicised book described Ptolemy’s map of the British Isles in 150 A.D. based on lines of latitude and longitude, mapped across the whole of southern Britannia by using a Pythagorean 3-4-5 triangle. Radiating out from the Ompahlos centre at Oxford, Summer Solstice and Winter Solstice bearing lines were used to map the whole of southern Britannia with spectacular success. A solstice bearing of 51.35 degrees from the map’s centre at Londinium travels from Westminster Abbey, through Colchester before passing through Sutton Hoo.
This study draws on the latest research from across the globe, showing how boat burials, tumuli, stone ship settings and ceremonial roads across Europe from 750 B.C. – 1000 A.D. were meticulously constructed so as to conform to specific celestial and solar astronomical events. Long distance alignments from between 4 km – 63 Km in Sweden target the Summer and Winter Solstice sunrise and sunset. Such monuments were built to influence the way people experienced the landscape and how they were configured served to structure the ways that people understood both space and time. We explore the practice of East-West axial alignment, now considered to be one of the features of high status Anglo-Saxon settlements, which included non-architectural features such as wells, crosses, cemeteries and old ritual sites built on the Anglo-Saxon Kingship tradition. Linking the themes of day and night to the full span of a king’s rule, the movement of the sun was linked to maintaining cosmic Royal order to a seasonal yearly division meant to legitimise a king’s ritual role in seasonal regeneration. At the apex of Proto-Indo-European society, the title associated with kingly rule has at its root concepts of doing the right thing, straightness, correctness, goodness, sovereign kingly rule and even “movement along a straight line” for the core meaning of reg, as in regal.
Discover how rare talismanic three dimensional human figurines dating from 400-750 A.D. spanning the Anglo-Saxon conversion period, relate to the solar alignment across this ensoulled landscape. Only eight examples are known to occur across Suffolk’s 1,467 square miles. Their distribution tracks the eastern coastal zone of East Anglia and it is of note that three of these are at locations on our proposed solstice alignment.
In myth, Odin arranged the periods of daylight and darkness, placing the sun and moon in the heavens and the establishment of the solar path. He also transforms into both an eagle, a serpent and the Milky Way, which has been described as polysemous, resembling both a river when it hugs the horizon or a tree when it extends vertically, attracting serpents and birds in its tree aspect. The two points where the ecliptic, the band of stars that contain the zodiac constellations and the Milky Way cross are the constellations of Gemini (divine twins helping the sun in transformation at sunrise and sunset) and Scorpio. These symbols of solstice duality involved birds (Summer Solstice/Gemini) and serpents (Winter Solstice/Scorpio) and that it was at these heavenly gates, where the Milky Way and the band of constellations crossed; these crossroads were believed to be where the descent and ascent of souls occurred. In many Indo-European societies, the myth of the warrior-god who must restore the harmonious balance over nature by restoring order over chaos was re-enacted at the Winter Solstice.
Boat burials were an attempt to align the local elite with the ritual-cosmology of the Scandinavians and the boat, which like its masculine counterpart, the serpent, also stood for regeneration and both symbols are enshrined in the mythic grave goods at Sutton Hoo.
The place below the horizon where the sun disappeared to and rose from was the underworld and was important in the cosmological sense: being the abode of the gods.
Raedwald, Anglo-Saxon king buried at Sutton Hoo was the binding link between earth and sky, upper and lower worlds. The Summer Solstice rising sun and Winter Solstice setting sun symbolically mirrored ideas of kingly rule, order, liminality, transformation, death and renewal. Is this why the ancient solar symbol of the swastika occurs on the grave goods at least fives times at Sutton Hoo, Snape and Rendlesham, home to Raedwald’s Anglo-Saxon palace and cult centre?
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With ‘A Ritual Landscape Considered’ the authors have created a comprehensive and highly important study concerning the celestial astronomy and cosmological backgrounds behind the funerary practices of the Vikings and Anglo-Saxons, particularly those who came to settle in Eastern Britain from the fifth century onwards. Yet it is far more than this, for they demonstrate the roots and origins of humanity’s rigid adherence not only of the movements of the sun and moon, but also of the stars, constellations and Milky Way. All of these themes come together in the design, layout and orientation of ancient ceremonial and ritual centers built across Europe prior to the emergence of Roman Christianity. A must read for any student of ancient astronomies, including those, like me, with a keen interest in the constellation of Cygnus, the celestial swan, which has a major role in this ancient saga.