Chapter 5

Chapter 5

Relevant Classical and Celtic References to Gods

1. An Island Temple (Greek first written about 2250 years ago)

2. The Graves of a British god called Cronos by Romans (about 2000 years ago) includes Table 1

3. The King of the Woodland Clearing (Roman) About 2000 years ago)    and

4. The marvellous youth Embreis (Celtic) A Welsh god referred to about 1200 years ago and called Merlin by Geoffrey in GoM.  

All the stories refer to aspects of the main topic of the book, the relationship of pagan beliefs to archaeology. The oldest story in the classical section was written not much more than a thousand years after the Stonehenge site fell out of formal use. Many memories mentioned here are much longer than that.

 An Island Temple

The Greek author Hecataeus of Abdera, of the fourth century  BC, wrote a report on an island in the ocean, opposite the coast of Celtic Gaul. The original has been lost but Diodorus Siculus picked up this story (Book II 47 1-5). There are not many islands off the coast of Gaul with notable temples that are likely to have come to the attention of Greeks. Only Newgrange and Stonehenge are conspicuous enough to fit that description.

Newgrange, the earlier of the two by a couple of centuries, consists of a mound over a passage pointing to the winter solstice rising sun; Stonehenge on fairly flat ground was first a ring of stones that could have been used for observing events on the horizon. From the beginning there was a corridor open to the midsummer rising sun an one direction and the midwinter setting sun in the other.

Hecataeus reported that the island he referred to was inhabited by Hyperboreans, a vague concept meaning beyond the north wind but the size and position of the island in this account identify it as likely to be either Britain or Ireland.

The only way  to test a memory of this site is by comparing the description with reality.  The account by Hecataeus describes the position of the island as north of Gaul and bigger than Sicily. It was fertile and productive. Because people believed the goddess Leto to have been born there, her son Apollo was the most prominent god. On the island there was a magnificent sacred precinct dedicated to him and a notable temple that was spherical in shape. The word used for spherical usually gets translated in this context as ‘round’ as in Greek it may have the implication of ‘astronomical’. There was also a city, dedicated to the same god, most of the inhabitants of which were harpers who continually played upon their harps in the temple, and sang hymns to the God extolling his actions. It is also said that in this island the moon appeared very near to the earth, that certain eminences of a terrestrial form were plainly seen on it, and that Apollo visited the island once in a course of 19 years. During the season of his appearance the god played upon the harp and danced every night from the spring equinox, which is in late March, until the rising of the Pleiades [an easily recognized group of seven stars probably rising in June at the time], pleased with his own successes. The supreme authority in that city and the sacred precinct is vested in those who are called Boreadae, being descendants of Boreas the founder of the temple, and their governments have been uninterruptedly transmitted in this line’. Astronomical observations and a round temple suggest it to be either Stonehenge or Newgrange

Four reasons for the island temple to be Stonehenge rather than Newgrange

We know Newgrange and Stonehenge have similar mythologies because the meaning of the name of Macan, who was resident at Newgrange, is the same as that of the Welsh god Mabon in their respective languages  though in other ways the two deities may differ.

1. the name of the founder of Stonehenge, who is called Boreas by Hecataeus is crucial in distinguishing beliefs  at Newgrange from those at Stonehenge. Geoffrey of Monmouth calls the founder of Stonehenge is  Ambrius by , a name that is equivalent to Bors or Boreas (see small Table of names derived from Ambrosius under the heading The Marvellous Boy in this chapter. There is no comparable figure associated with Newgrange. Of course, Geoffrey is not always a reliable source but the names Bors and Boreas crop up in other contexts that do not contradict him being founder of Stonehenge.

2. Another reason for choosing Stonehenge is the presence of a city in the story.  At Durrington Walls in the Stonehenge complex there was a city of a thousand houses where the builders of the sarsen structure lived.

3. The third reason is the existence of a moon alignment early in the history of Stonehenge (see Plan B) while there seems to be no interest in the moon at Newgrange at any time.

4. The period of 19 years between visits by a sun god suggests a Metonic Cycle event, a characteristic that depends on both sun and moon.  At the present time the sun rises over the Heel Stone at Stonehenge on winter solstices every nineteen  years (See Appendix Naked Eye Astronomy) but 7000 years is beyond the predictions of NASA.

The observation that the Boreadae, the descendants of Boreas, continued to rule at Stonehenge matches the supposition of ancestor worship in neolithic Britain. The ‘precinct’ of the account by Hecataeus would be the area enclosed by the Stonehenge Bank and Ditch, the temple would be the sarsen stone structure and associated bluestones inside them, and the adjacent city would  be Durrington Walls.

The wordprecinct’ is significant because of other instances of its use, which might be any ritual spaces with a boundary such as palisaded enclosures, islands and even countries. Merlin’s Precinct was once a name for Britain (Chambers 96) but on smaller scales the name Merlin has been allotted to Salisbury Plain in addition to the area enclosed by the bank at Stonehenge. Merlin is Geoffrey’s name for Embreis/Boreas, the founder of Stonehenge in his History.

If memories have survived 5000 years they are bound to be warped and may be difficult to accept. Yet in Reason 1 the name of the mover of Stonehenge is the same in Hecataeus as in Geoffrey of Monmouth are enormous.

With more information to be found in the following chapters, the story of the harpers may be a more attractive memory than the fates of ritual kings.

More about Hyperboreans

Hecataeus also said: ‘The Hyperboreans use a peculiar dialect and have a remarkable attachment to the Greeks, especially to the Athenians and the Delians, deducing their friendship from remote periods. It is related that some Greeks formerly visited the Hyperboreans, with whom they left consecrated gifts of great value, and also that in ancient times Abaris, coming from the Hyperboreans into Greece, renewed their family intercourse with the Delians (Robert Graves 283/4).

British memories of Greece in prehistory might seem to be an exercise in fantasy not worth considering but for two unexpected links. One is that the first of Sykes’ ‘seven daughters of Eve’ to reach Europe, called by him Ursula (from whom 10% of the women native to Britain and Ireland today are descended), settled first in Greece in 45,000 BC (Sykes 106/7). ‘Ursula’ had lived in Greece at the start of the Upper Palaeolithic and had shared the land with the far more ancient Neanderthals but her descendants did not arrive as far west as Ireland until about 7000 BC, after the end of the last Ice age (Sykes 150-56). The other is that the Greek language shares an odd feature with Gaelic: the ‘s’ of English and Latin can be replaced by ‘h’ in Greek and Welsh. The halogens of chemistry are in English ‘salt formers’ and Halstatt, known for archaeological finds from the Late Bronze age onwards, is in an area of salt mines, 48km from Saltsburg. The change from Welsh Habren to English Severn has already been mentioned in Chapter 1a.

Graves of the British Cronos

A Roman called Demetrius visited the island nearest to Britain not later than the first century AD. (Plutarch De Defectu Oraculorum, section 18).

Demetrius reported that many of the isolated islands near Britain had few or no inhabitants.  Those who lived there were holy men held inviolate by the Britons.  Some of them bore the names of divinities or heroes. A pattern of island paganism still faced Christian missionaries who responded by establishing monasteries at Iona, and Lindisfarne, and as  already mentioned several other Islands rising to a steep peak were dedicated to St Michael. A suggestion that Demetrius was talking of the Scilly Islands is unlikely to be correct as those are 45 km from the mainland. A possible alternative, also in the Atlantic coast, is the coast of Wales.  Pembrokeshire alone has seven islands, all within a few km of the shore except Grassholm at 10 km and Ireland and Scotland have many more.

Demetrius when on the island nearest to Britain was told of an island where the Greek god Cronos slept, surrounded by minor deities.  The Greek god Cronos has been identified with the Welsh god Bran  by Robert Graves because both names mean crow or raven in their respective languages (and for Bran meaning raven see Gantz (note 1 to p 67).

Anglesey is literally the island nearest to Britain’ as today it is close enough to be linked  to the rest of Wales by bridges.  It has many megalithic monuments including at least two passage graves of the western neolithic style with round earth barrows over them, and in the Welsh tradition Anglesey has links with Bran and his sister Branwen, who is said to have been married at Aberffraw on the island and when Bran’s head was brought to the island after an attack on ‘Ireland’ she died of grief and was buried in a tumulus on the bank of the river at the place near the mouth of the river Alaw still called Ynys Bronwen after her.  ‘Ireland’ or ’Irish’ in inverted commas is used here to mean west coast influence on places and events outside Ireland proper when that is a possibility, for instance places of the Atlantic coast such as those in Wales where an Irish type of Celtic speech continued in use into historical times.  Branwen’s barrow contained a rectangular stone cist with an urn in it containing ashes and in a recent investigation four more were burials were discovered.

There are four other stories in traditional sources that are similar to that of Demetrius.  The best way to compare the Cronos story with the others is to set them out in a Table in which each story occupies a column and each line a feature in some or all of the stories.

A Table is a device used by analysts of every kind to compare information from different sources.  Archaeologists, for instance, would use one to compare the proportions of different kinds of pottery on several sites, or botanists to compare the characteristics of plants to see if they belonged to the same genus, and so on.  This Table works well in comparing the five stories, showing them to be closely related in spite of differences that at first glance might seem more important than they really are.

Column 1 in Table 1 shows the island mentioned by Demetrius.

Column 2 suggests that Demetrius has picked up a form of the legend of Arthur as ‘the once and future king’ sleeping in a cave, surrounded by his knights, waiting until his country needed him. The identification of Arthur as Bran   was made on in Chapter 1a.

Column 3 shows the well-known story of the wounded Arthur carried in a boat to the Island of Avalon for his wounds to be tended by his sister the goddess Morgan.  His subjects were so sure of his return that they did not choose another king for forty years (Bryant 2001 171).

Column 4 The journey of Bran’s talismanic severed head to the Island of Gwales is recorded in the Welsh Mabinogi (Gantz 79/80).  This shows how the head, severed in ‘Ireland’, was taken first to the Island of Anglesey and later spent 80 years entertaining its human companions on the Island of Gwales.  Penfro signifies Pembokeshire.

Column  5 shows the body of ‘Saint Joseph of Arimathea’ being kept as a venerated relic on the Island of Galosche, where it was the central feature of worship by a community of monks (Sone de Nausay ed Goldshmidt lines 4557/8, 4906ff).  The identification of Bran as Joseph of Arimathea in Column 5 will be explained below in Chapter 7.

Table 1

Bran as Cronos and as a sleeping god on an island

a. Site

1.  The island  Demetrius


2. A cave

3. Avalon  an island

4. Gwales in Penfro, an island in the sea off Wales

5. Galosche an       island in the     sea off Wales

b. Subject of the story


Bran      (as Arthur)

Bran        (as Arthur)

Bran’s head

Bran (as         St Joseph)

c. Status

A god

A god but regarded as a man

A god, but regarded as a man

of a god

A  god but regarded as a saint

d. Condition



Mortally wounded

Decapitated but not dead

Preserved body

e. Companions of the subject

Minor deities

Sleeping knights

Morgan and her 8 sisters

Seven men who did not grow old.


 The stories can be compared by looking across each line. 

Line a  There is an island in 4 out of 5 columns. The ‘cave’ in Column 2 will be shown to be an underground chamber in  Table 2.  In Columns 4 and 5, Gwales means Wales and Galosche, Welsh.

There is only one possible clue to identifying the locality more accurately in this line.  There are a number of islands offshore from Pembrokeshire including Grassholm.  This island has been suggested to be the site of the story of Bran’s head but that is a guess.  Excavation might provide evidence of an appropriate date on some island.

Line b An island resting place for Bran in Columns 3-5 matches his many links with islands. The names Cronos and Bran have the same meaning. His behaviour matches Arthur’s in Column 2 as a sleeping god. Bran is only named in one of the four Columns, the rest are doublets of him.

Lines, c, d and e.  Only the women in line e. of column 3 do not fit the rest of the Table.  A single variation falls well within what might be expected of derivation of each column from the same original in different channels of communication.  In this instance Morgan is the only woman in a Welsh traditional story to be openly described as a goddess.  The contrast of Morgan and her daughters being the only females mentioned in the Table is stark but a narrator may have thought mourners appropriate

Helaine Newstead, whose interests seem restricted to romances, wrote two articles about Bran 60 years or more ago. She described him as wounded or languishing, connected with islands or water; pagans performed religious ceremonies at his grave, and holy relics were removed. This is an accurate description of what archaeologists today call neolithic passage graves.  All the columns in the Table fit Newstead’s description of passage graves.  Bran in one form or another is present in columns .  On Anglesey, as noted above, at least two such ‘graves’ survive today.  In Columns 2 and 3 he is languishing; in Column 4 his companions being untouched by age is another characteristic in Newstead’s list.

It may be presumed there was access in Column 2 because it was a cave and Arthur and his knights were supposed to return to his country in its hour of need; in Column 3 there is access as Arthur’s body floated there accompanied by women; Bran’s companions in Column 4 returned to Britain; and in column 5 a visitor had access to the island. The presence of human body parts in a burial place and access to it are characteristics of the Neolithic Age. 

What is offered here is the possibility that the five stories are all memories of a single original or a type of tomb, which is likely to have been neolithic.  The assumptions about alternative names have not disturbed the symmetry of the Table as they might have done if they were wrong.

As a footnote to the mention of Grassholm, in June 1946 I was ringing birds on Skomer Island. The group from Skomer was joined by some university archaeologists and their tutor. They were going to Grassholm to excavate the well. On the return journey I was shown many shards of pottery of two kinds, one red and thin of what was then called Samian Ware, the other thick, pale brown/grey and smoothly finished, substantial but not coarse. To my surprise the dig was not considered a success because the pottery was too early. No account of this dig was published.  Some professor missed publishing the first discovery of post-Roman imports to west coast islands by digging in a failed attempt to prove a point.

 The King of the Woodland Clearing

Diana's MirrorUntitled

Picture 5.1  Diana’s Mirror       J.M.W.Turner      Joseph Mallo

Turner’s picture  shows the oval lake called Diana’s Mirror and surrounded by hills as the scene of a mythical event concerning the Golden Bough, mistletoe, which was believed to allow entry to heaven as the Elysian Fields.

 Between 1890 and 1915 Sir James Frazer published a large addition to the anthropology of the time, The Golden Bough, with an abridged edition in 1922. His primary aim was to explain ‘the remarkable rule which regulated the succession to the priesthood of Diana at Aricia’ (The Golden Bough 1922 page v). This is described in translations of Latin records made at the time the practice was enacted near a little less than 20 km from Rome. Frazer’s opinions are no longer accepted by anthropologists but that does not affect the accuracy of the records.

A strange ritual took place in classical times on the shore of a lake called Diana’s Mirror at Nemi in the Alban Hills, .  This lake has a unique atmosphere because it is in the hollow of an extinct volcano so with steep slopes to the horizon all round it.  There is no visible outlet. 

The ritual is as follows: ‘a candidate for the priesthood could only succeed to office by slaying the priest, and having slain him he retained the office until he himself was slain by a stronger or a craftier’. (Frazer The Golden Bough 1922 1). Remarkably, this theme crops up in a memory of British prehistory and will occupy the whole of the last Chapter in the book.

Only a runaway slave could signify his intention to challenge the incumbent owner of the site by breaking a branch from a particular tree in a clearing.  If the challenger was successful he became the priest, with the title Rex Nemorensis, the King of the Woodland clearing and defender of the tree.  Diana herself also had the title Nemorensis. 

Although Diana and her priest are entitled ‘of the wood’ in the abbreviated edition of The Golden Bough quoted here, in the original version they are called ‘of the Woodland Clearing’.  The distinction is important, a glade in woodland has a numinous effect on a casual wanderer and glades are much more often cult sites in  Celtic literature.

The King of the Woodland Clearing at Nemi may be the only example of this rite to be documented while it was still being performed but in Arthurian romance a glade with a tree and a spring, exactly as at Nemi, is a very common arena for a fight to possess a ‘damsel’.  The stories were told by Breton poets who failed to understand the underlying meaning.  In Darrah 1994, 32 examples of elements of this theme are quoted on pages 252-4.  The scene at Nemi, with a glade, tree and spring, also the battles of the original story and the willingness of the ‘female’ involved to accept the winner have been retained but the poets, who were interested in courtly love, but they failed to realize the woman concerned was a goddess so the material was adjusted accordingly. They changed the motive from religion to desire.

Only three examples of the broken branch motif survive in traditional stories but they are a remarkable link between the memories in Chapter 9 and something that actually happened, though not in Britain or Brittany. They and the associated challenges are probably the best examples of a ritual that has been observed and recorded, a ritual that can be shown to have been  the cause of long sequences of violent deaths.

Place names incorporating –nemi- or  -neme-, found in Britain and other places relevant to this book, are shown below.

Nemed, the next leader of a taking of Ireland after Partholon

Arnemetia, the nymph of the glade, at Buxton where there is a spring.

Nemetona, where there is a dedication to her at the hot spring at Bath

Nemetobriga in Galicia, on the Atlantic coast of Spain

Medionemeton on the Roman Wall

Nemetostatio near North Tawton in Devonshire and another in Scotland, both mentioned in the  Ravenna Cosmography, indicate a Roman camp at a nemeton.

Nymet, a river, and three Nymptons in Devonshire

Vernemeton in Nottinghamshire

Nametwihc, in 1194 the name of Nantwich in Cheshire.  

Metambala at the mouth of the Wye, mentioned in the Ravenna Cosmography, is thought by the authors Richmond and Crawford to be derived from an original Nemetambala.

The Marvellous Youth Embreis in the oldest available Celtic Tradition of AD 830

The Welsh ‘Tale of Embreis’

This story takes up a couple of pages in a book of about 830 AD called  Historia Brittonum  (the History of the British) by ‘Nennius’, a collection of stories that were thought to be of historical interest at the time. Unlike the rest of the Historia Brittonum, the ‘Tale of Embreis’ (Morris Sections 40-42) does not attempt to represent fact. From its style it could well be from one of the oldest parts of the Mabinogi rather than a historical record. Embreis, in spite of being remembered as a boy magician with no father in this story of magic and mystery will turn out to be the builder of Stonehenge.

The part of ‘The Tale’ relevant here is as follows: King Vortigern, seeking refuge from his many enemies, decided to build a stronghold on Mount Snowdon in North Wales.  Three times the timber and stone that was assembled for work on the following day disappeared at night. The king’s wizards told him that unless he killed a fatherless boy and sprinkled his blood on the foundations, the building would never be built. Messengers who were sent to search for such a child eventually found one at Maes Elledi in the country of Glywysing. They ascertained from the mother, a princess of Dyfed, that he had indeed no father! Then they took the boy to the king.  He knew the fate intended for him and confounded the wizards by asking them why the building could not be built. They did not know, so the boy told them that there was a lake under the site and in it two worms  in stone vessels. The ‘vermes’ of the story were perhaps dragons, then considered to be a winged snake)from which they came out to fight each other. The boy ordered the ground to be dug up and what he said was found to be true.  He then advised the king to go elsewhere to build a castle, while he would stay where he was. “The king then asked the lad ‘What is your name’? He replied ‘I am called Ambrosius’ (Embreis in the Latin text). That is he was seen to be Emrys the Overlord. The king then asked ‘What family do you come from?’ The boy magician answered ‘My father is one of the consuls of the Roman people’.

So the king gave Embreis the fortress (not yet built), with all the kingdoms of the western part of Britain and he himself went with his wizards to the northern part…

The underlying story is that the Marvellous Youth Embreis had a site drained to stabilize a stone structure. He remained in possession of the site and was accorded a more substantial status by the gift of the kingdoms of the Atlantic coast of Britain. This episode is entirely in Wales, the dragon bit in Snowdonia, but the mother of Embreis was a princess of Dyfed, source of the Stonehenge bluestones.

Embreis’s parents

In the ‘Tale’ his mother’s  pregnancy was mysteriously accomplished without any male contribution. Though she was incarcerated in a tower a spirit visited her. In an alternative version his mother slept in the open in the Forest of Broceliande where a wild man of the woods, half man, half beast found her (Sommer II 286). That was thought to account for Merlin’s hairy skin. This is a version of his birth that may be more appropriate than the alternative with a ‘princess in a tower’ motif because in other texts he and his father fall in line with the classical concept of the Greek Pan and Roman Faunus as far as being hairy is concerned. Looked at from a wider viewpoint Merlin appears in some texts as Lord of the Animals but in others as a forester or other forms.

Nikolai Tolstoy in The Quest for Merlin (135ff) has explained how the original version of the Tale has been distorted. The marvellous youth is about as far from reality as could be found in any myth or fable, while ‘Emrys the Overlord’ has clearly been mistaken for the historical Ambrosius Aurelianus, a Romano-British leader who encouraged the British resistance to the Saxon invaders. The explanation for finding Emrys and Ambrosius Aurelianus in the same sentence comes from the words ‘That is he was seen to be…’. Sentences beginning like that followed by a divergence from the storyline indicate that a scribe copying a manuscript has included a ‘gloss’, a marginal comment, in the text. If this false identification had been omitted the absurd equation of fantasy with reality would never have been set in historical times with Vortigern (whoever he may have been) quarrelling with the Christian saint, Germanus. Everything in the ‘Tale of Embreis’ except Ambrosius Aurelianus has the appearance of unreality. The comical contradiction that turned a boy without a human father into the son of a real Romano-British aristocrat explains how Embreis, the marvellous boy, and the events he participated in, have been parachuted into entirely the wrong historical period. Indeed, the burial of the fighting ‘worms’ on Snowdon, one of the more unreal aspects of the ‘Tale’, is duplicated in the Mabinogi in a story entitled ‘Lludd and Llevelys’ (Gantz 132), justifying the analogy above equating the Tale with the Mabinogi. The ‘Tale’ now seems to be ancient Welsh literature that has not been influenced by French or Latin stories.  The confusion between Embreis the marvellous youth, a figure from Celtic myth, and the real Ambrosius Aurelianus, has given Arthur and Arthurian romances incorrect post-Roman dates. Welsh scholars have already reached the conclusion that Arthur does not belong to the history of post Roman Britain for entirely different reasons. This new version of the wrong date confirms their conclusion and adds an explanation of why the mistake happened and will in due course provide an alternative date for events in the Tale.

The extraordinary remark that ends what Nikolai Tolstoy calls the ‘collapsing castle’ story, that the King gave Embreis all the kingdoms of the western part of Britain is far more interesting than merely disconnecting Embreis from post-Roman Britain. Its effect is that the marvellous youth’s capacity to overcome the king’s magicians, applied to a civil engineering project, earned him a position of considerable power and responsibility as the leader of several countries of the Atlantic coast culture, a group called here the Alliance.

Turning now to Geoffrey’s History of the 1140s, 300 years later than the ‘Tale’, he includes a version of the ‘Tale of Embreis’ derived from that of ‘Nennius’ or from a common source and adds new elements to it (Book VI chs 17-19). One change, as already mentioned, is that he has invented a new name  ‘Merlin’ for the wonderful youth Embreis. He does not conceal this replacement for he calls Embreis; ‘Merlin, who is also called Ambrosius’, and ‘Ambrosius Merlin’. Ambrosius and Ambrius are Latin versions of Embreis.

Geoffrey refers to the place where the murdered elite were buried as the mount of Ambrius, where the king decides to set up a suitable memorial to remember them (VIII 9). As the king’s advisors could not suggest an appropriate memorial, Merlin was summoned and suggested the Giants’ Dance, Geoffrey’s name for the stones of Stonehenge, which we now know were brought from Wales, should be brought from ‘Ireland’ (VIII 10). A suitable force set off (VIII 11) and in due course the stones were brought back and set up round the burial ground in the same way as they had been in ‘Ireland’ (VIII 12).  This is an occasion when it is likely that Ireland proper is not intended, hence the inverted commas.

The relationship of Embreis to other similar names is as follows:

E m b r e i s
A m b r o s i u s
A m b r i u s
A m b r e s b y r i g
    B o r e a s
    B o r s

This table shows the consonants of Embreis are constant in both the personal name and the name of the Place nearest to Stonehenge but the vowels variable. The only missing consonant, the ‘Am’ in the last two lines, may be due to erosion.  In modern translations of the ‘Tale of Embrius’ the original Latin form is unfortunately often replaced by the abbreviation Emrys.  Without the ‘b’ Embreis would look a little less convincing in the Table.

Arthur has already been identified as a Welsh god.  Now the same can be said of Merlin.  In due course all the well-known figures of Arthurian romance will be identified as deities or as playing some human part in pagan rituals.

 Embreis, Mabon and Macan

Hecataeus says that Apollo was worshipped in the Island because his mother Leto was born there. Who in British myth associated with Stonehenge did the Greeks think were Leto and her son Apollo, who visited the island and danced every night, pleased with his own ucceesses ? The most obvious candidate for Apollo, a sun god, is Boreas, the founder of the island temple now known to be solstice aligned. This would give Embreis (as Merlin the founder of Stonehenge and mover of its stones in Chapter 8) a link to the sun like Apollo.

As the visit happened every nineteen years, a Metonic cycle event, which applies only when the sun and moon both take part, was involved. For that to be seen on the horizon on a solstice would mean the moon would set opposite a rising sun or rise opposite a setting sun. That happened at the present day at Stonehenge in 2010 on a winter solstice and will be repeated in 2029 (see Appendix Naked Eye Astronomy).  No event of this kind could happen at Newgrange because the moon can never be seen there opposite the sun.

Embreis has the special characteristic of having no father. His youthful prowess in magic makes him a ‘wonderful boy’, a title also given by Ó hÓgáin to Macan, alternatively called Aonghus, who is said to have owned and lived in neolithic winter solstice aligned Newgrange. Macan has the same meaning in Irish as the god Mabon has in Welsh. All three, Embreis, Macan and Mabon, have a special relationship with their mother as Embreis has no father and the names Mabon and Macan both mean ‘son of’, mother being implied rather than father. The wonderful boys Macan and Embreis are both associated with solstice aligned structures.

Three millennia after the founding of Stonehenge Roman officers serving on the Wall identified Mabon with Apollo in dedications inscribed on stone. So both Mabon and Embreis are  associated with the sun god Apollo by either Greeks or Romans,

The effect of this analysis is that Macan’s link to Newgrange and that of Embreis/Mabon to Stonehenge confirm Embreis was active in the Neolithic. These resemblances suggest three names for a single god seen at a great distance in time from different viewpoints and with different characteristisc remembered in each.

Later Memories of Mabon
Mabon has a particularly strong material trail compared with other Welsh deities. His name has  been preserved near the Roman Wall until today by votive inscriptions on stone and recently by the Lochmabenstane.


Photo 5.2    The Lochmabenstane  Doc-Derek

This is a glacially transported boulder over 2m tall, once part of a prehistoric circle of nine stones that enclosed over 1/2 acre. Only one other stone remains, much smaller and no longer in its original position. The nearest place is Gretna Green, where the west end of the Roman Wall meets the Solway Firth. The Lochmabenstane was originally called Clochmaben, in which ‘Cloch’, like the – ‘lech’ of Harlech, the seat of Bran in Welsh myth, means stone so the Anglo-Saxon ‘stane’ is redundant. For the initial C to be missing as in Harlech is not unusual.  In the Ravenna Cosmography, a Latin gazetteer of the 6th century AD, the name Locus Maponi, the place of Mabon, appears. That is likely to be the (Loch)mabenstane.

This location is to be preferred over other places that include Mabon in their names because the next item on the Ravenna list is Locus Manavi, which corresponds to modern Clackmannan, where there is another significant stone though not in its original position. The Clack- in this name corresponds to the Cloch- of Clochmaben.

Clackmannan StoneUntitled

Photo 5.3 Clackmannan Tolbooth  The  Stone is  balanced on the pillar to the right of the taller pillar

As the two stones are north of the Wall, beyond Roman control, they were probably tribal meeting places.  From before when Mabon was worshipped there in Roman times up to the 1500s AD the circle that includes the Lochmabenstane retained its position as a special place on the border between the countries now called England and Scotland. Latterly meetings between rival factions took place there, treaties were signed, there was a market and as one of the names of the site is Old Graitney, in which Graitney is a version of nearby Gretna, it may be assumed that marriages also took place there. The government-appointed Wardens of the Border were obliged to present their warrants there from time to time and no one was allowed to carry arms within the circle of stones. Use of prehistoric sites as meeting places by later communities is not unusual but there is probably no other site in Britain that has retained the name of a god now known to be neolithic and was probably in continuous use for the first 1500 years AD.

Apart from the link to Apollo, who  appears in Hecataeus, the later history of Mabon does not add any information to what has already been mentioned about the Neolithic but it is evidence of the resilience of this myth.

Other significant stones  

The Irish Annals tell how the inauguration stones of Celtic tribes in Ireland were routinely destroyed or removed by a conqueror. These stones may have been sat on at the inauguration of a new ruler, or if they are stones at ground level with a footprint on them, stood on. Martin Martin writing of ‘Isla’ in the Hebrides at the end of the 17th century, refers to the coronation of ‘Mack Donald’ as King of the Isles while he stood on a rectangular stone 2m square with a depression to receive his feet (241). The Lochmabenstane is the wrong shape to serve this function but it is likely to have been a tribal meeting place and so was the one at Clackmannan, that name meaning the Stone of Manau, Manann being the genetive of Manau, a Celtic tribe. In Welsh myth Bran sat on the stone of Harlech (Gantz 67) and in a romance the stone split under Peredur/Perceval when he sat on the Perilous Seat at Cardoel (Roach 193 also in Didot Perceval). In Perceforest a king and queen were inaugurated on separate thrones on top of a perron, a perron being a ‘large block of stone or a solid erection of stones’ (O.E.D.).

Coronation stone

Photo 5.4 The Coronation Throne in Westminster Abbey  Anonymous engraver

The Coronation Stone of Scotland is shown above in the Coronation throne as it was in the 19th century.


1)What Hecataeus said about the Island Temple matches both recent archaeology and Geoffrey of Monmouth’s story of the founding of Stonehenge.

2) The report by Demetrius is an opportunity to compare five stories in Table 1. This provides a new perspective to British traditions by showing that three stories from romances and a fourth, Column 4, in the Table, from the Welsh tradition match both  each other and that of Demetrius. Access to what might be a tomb or cave and the presence of human remains suggests a neolithic date of before 2500 BC for the original story they are all derived from. Confirmation of a neolithic date for Bran has been provided by Bran’s association with the bluestones (see ref to Sommer II 58 mentioned in Chapter 1b ). Bran’s severed head on the island of Anglesey in the Mabinogi and the references to Gwales and Galosh locate the stories to a Welsh island. And the name ‘Bran of the Isles’ of romances fits into the group.   Also a Table is shown to be a suitable format for comparing texts.

3) The rite of Nemi appears in many of the stories in romances and two forms of it occur in the Mabinogi, One is in the ‘Countess of the Fountain’ (Chapter 9) and the other is that Peredur reigned with the Empress of Constantinople after killing other suitors (Gantz 248). The goddess concerned is the Sovereignty, who is the most important deity in British prehistory (see Chapter 9)

4) The importance of ‘The Tale of Embreis’ in the prehistory of the Atlantic coastal culture cannot be exaggerated.  Its hero Embreis appears as Abbott Ambrius, the founder of Stonehenge in Geoffrey’s version; as Boreas he is the founder of the Island Temple in Hecataeus; and as Ambrosius he is Merlin, the mover of the Giants Dance to Salisbury Plain in Geoffrey’s version of the story.

As Bors he came with his brother Bran from the Morbihan in the south of Brittany where there  are great rows of stone pillars, and many passage graves, dolmens and covered alleys .  They moved from there to Wales and later moved the bluestones to Stonehenge.

There are several memories and myths here but the most remarkable feature of ‘The Tale’ is that Embreis is given a new status as leader of the countries of the British section of the facade.

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