Chapter 9.  Zodiacs

Have you ever wondered how some of the constellations got their names? It is easy enough to see in the stars of Orion the figure of a man wearing a belt with a sword, or even to see the lion in Leo. The Plough is not too obscure, either, though under its alternative name of the Great Bear it leaves most people rather puzzled. Try as they might, they cannot see a bear in the thing at all. As for the flying horse in Pegasus, well, that requires such a giant leap of the imagination that most people never see it.

E. Raymond Capt, however, is certain that he holds the key to the mystery of the constellations, and you can read all about it in his little book The Glory of the Stars, published in America in 1976.

Basically Mr Capt claims that the constellations were deliberately set out by God to convey a marvellous message to all mankind. Through “the glory of His handiwork” God revealed His Divinely Appointed Plan for the human race – the triumph of God through Christ, the overthrow of Satan, and the ultimate redemption of man.

The message is conveyed primarily by the twelve signs of the zodiac, but also by their associated constellations. Each zodiacal sign has three associated constellations – for example, Coma, Centaurus and Boötes are associated with Virgo, whereas Orion, Eridanus and Auriga are associated with Taurus. The function of these associated constellations is, if you like, to amplify the message of their zodiacal signs.

Now, God revealed the message of the constellations to the Biblical Patriarchs. Hence we read in Genesis 1.14 that the “lights of the firmament” were to be “for signs and for seasons, and for days and years.” And in Job 26.13 that “by his spirit he hath garnished the heavens”, and again in Psalm 147.4 that “he telleth the number of the stars; he calleth them all by their names.” What could be clearer from these Biblical quotations than that God did indeed intend to convey some sort of message in his arrangement of the stars in the sky?

Unfortunately, the message has become badly obscured over the centuries that now separate us from the Biblical Patriarchs. Indeed, it is now so obscured that without Mr Capt’s help, neither of the present authors would have spotted it at all! You see, some constellations known to us today have been made up in modern times – the Sextant, the Giraffe and the Painter’s Easel are examples of these – and obviously such constellations have nothing to do with the primitive constellations and their message from God. They merely confuse the issue.

Not only that, but the forms of many of the original constellations were tampered with by the Greeks, who would insist on reading into the stars their own mythological figures. Since our own view of the zodiac is essentially descended from the Greek view, we have to ignore many familiar interpretations in our quest to recover the original Divine Message.

To get at the true message of the stars, we have to go back to a time before the Greeks or Romans. In fact, we have to go back about 5000 years to the time of the Divinely Inspired Patriarchs themselves. Fortunately this is still possible because the forms of the original constellations have been partly preserved for us by two sources.

The first source is the so-called Dendereh Zodiac. This was a circular representation of the zodiac, about eight feet across, which was carved into the roof of a temple at Dendereh in Egypt. Though it is thought to date from the Ptolemaic Era (circa 330 BC), its representation of the zodiac is thought to be considerably more ancient.

The second source is that of the surviving Arabic names for the stars and constellations. A ninth-century Arabic manuscript has preserved these names for us as they were in the earliest times. This manuscript, and a similar but later one, were studied by a Miss Frances Rolleston of Keswick in the nineteenth century. Miss Rolleston’s translation of these inspired a clergyman with the resounding name of Ethelbert W. Bullinger to write a book called The Witness of the Stars in 1893. It was the Reverend Bullinger’s book, a beautiful volume now long out of print and rather scarce, which inspired Mr Capt to make his contribution to the Divine Constellation game.

Working, then, from the Dendereh Zodiac and Arabic sources, Mr Capt does a tour of the signs of the zodiac and their associated constellations, merrily linking the stars with various biblical events and prophecies, and thus decoding God’s message. Some of this linking is rather obscure, unfortunately, and just occasionally we feel it might even be a little bit forced, but to Mr Capt it is all as clear as day.

Five thousand years ago, he claims, the zodiac began with Virgo and ended with Leo. Then, as now, Virgo was a Virgin, pictured with a branch in one hand and some ears of corn in the other.

The Virgin is, of course, the Virgin Mary, prophesied in Isaiah 7.14, and fulfilled in the events of the New Testament, but what of the branch and the corn?

If you turn to Zechariah 3.8, you will read: “For behold, I will bring forth my servant the Branch.” Now turn to John 12.24, and you will see how Christ referred to himself as “the corn of the wheat.”

Again, take the nearby constellation of Coma, one of Virgo’s three associates. Today, via the Greek interpretation of the stars, Coma represents Berenice’s Hair, a sort of celestial wig. But in actual fact, Mr Capt claims, this constellation reinforces the message of Virgo insofar as it represents Christ as being born of the Virgin – Coma’s original name was Comah, meaning “the desired or longed for”, as in Haggai 2.7: “…and the desire of all nations shall come.” That is, of course, Christ shall come. The Egyptian name for this constellation means “the desired son” and Mr Capt claims that it was in the constellation of Comah that the Star of Bethlehem appeared. (Elsewhere he claims that the name of the star Sirius is from the Egyptian Naz-Seir, meaning “the sent prince”, and that it is no accident that Christ spent his early years in Naz-Seir-eth or Nazareth!)

The second of Virgo’s associated constellations is Boötes, and if you labour under the delusion that Boötes is a ploughman, then you had better forget it. That is another of those Greek misinterpretations – his so-called plough faces the wrong way for a start, Mr Capt explains. In fact, Boötes is a shepherd, another Christ image as in Isaiah’s prophecy of Christ as “he who shall feed his flock like a shepherd.”

The third of Virgo’s associates is Centaurus, which at first sight looks distinctly unlikely as a Christian symbol, but by a few devious biblical cross-references, Mr Capt manages to get at its inner message. It is that Christ was destined to achieve manhood and that “as a man having two natures (Divine and Human) he should suffer and die.”

Moving around the zodiac, now, Libra symbolises Man weighed in the balance and found wanting, and its neighbouring constellation of Crux, the Cross, the price of Man’s redemption, the crucifixion of the Saviour.

Further around the sky we find Corona Borealis, the Crown. Isaiah 28.5 states that: “In that day shall the Lord of Hosts be for a crown of glory ”, and there is also a link with Sagittarius (the Archer) here, for in Revelation 6.2 we read: “And I saw, and behold a white horse; and he that sat on him had a bow, and a crown was given unto him, and he went forth conquering, and to conquer.” And of course one immediately recalls, in the same vein, Psalm 64.7: “But God shall shoot at them with an arrow ”

We needn’t go on. By now you are either groaning under the weight of biblical verses and obscure symbolism, or you are a total convert of Mr Capt’s and the Reverend Bullinger’s remarkable thesis. If you want to know why Aries represents the Lamb of God; why Gemini represents the ultimate union of Christ and Israel; or why Leo is the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, well, we suggest you read Mr Capt’s book The Glory of the Stars (or the Reverend Bullinger’s book, if you can get hold of a copy!)

It will probably come as no surprise to our readers to learn that in addition to having decoded the Christian symbolism of the zodiac, Mr Capt is also a firm believer in the Christian symbolism of the Great Pyramid. Jeremiah 32.18–29, which states that God “has set signs and wonders in the land of Egypt”, is a clear reference to the Great Pyramid, Mr Capt claims. In his little book The Great Pyramid Decoded, he writes:

God’s Stone Witness, the Great Pyramid, designed by the Divine Architect in the dim past, today stands decoded. Within its structure lie the architectural drawings of God’s great plan for our planet. Now, at the time appointed, it witnesses and proclaims the now imminent Divine Judgements and the glory to follow.

Mr Capt has also written a couple of other curious little books, one of which is called Jacob’s Pillar (1977). It concerns the stone that Jacob used as a pillow, then set up as a pillar, in Genesis 28.10–22. This stone, Mr Capt claims, was later taken to Egypt by Joseph, and thence out of Egypt again by Moses at the time of the Exodus. In fact, during the Exodus, it was this very stone that Charlton Heston – sorry, Moses – smote in order to get water for the thirsty Israelites (see Exodus 17.6 for details.)

In the fifth century BC, Jacob’s Pillar was brought by the prophet Jeremiah, via Greece and Spain, to the Hill of Tara in Ireland, and thence, in 498 AD, taken by someone with the unlikely name of Fergus Mor McEre to Scotland. The stone, which was used as the coronation stone of both Irish and Scottish kings, was taken to Iona by St Columba in 575 AD, and thence to Scone, near Perth, for the coronation of Kenneth MacAlpin in 843 AD.

The reader has perhaps by now got a glimmer of what is coming, for in 1296 AD Edward I removed the stone from Scone and transported it to Westminster Abbey, where it has stayed ever since (except when stolen by Scottish Nationalists!) Our present Queen was thus crowned over the same stone that Jacob set up so long ago in the Book of Genesis!

Perhaps, like us, you find this difficult to believe. Even more so if we tell you that the Royal Family are descended from King Solomon himself, or that the Scots are one of the Lost Ten Tribes of Israel (why else would Jeremiah bring Jacob’s Pillar, not to mention the Ark of the Covenant, to Ireland?)

But let us return to zodiacs, though this time to zodiacs on the ground rather than in the sky.

Should you happen to be flying in an aeroplane over the area of Somerset lying between Somerton and Glastonbury, then make a point of looking down at the landscape below you.

According to Mrs Katharine Maltwood, writing in her book Glastonbury’s Temple of the Stars (1929), there is a magnificent spectacle to be seen – a circle of giant effigies carved into the landscape by our ancient forebears nearly five thousand years ago.

The circle of effigies, called the Glastonbury Zodiac, is about ten miles across. As its name suggests, the effigies are supposed to represent the zodiacal constellations, their outlines being marked by ancient earthworks, land boundaries, woodland areas, stretches of ancient track and artificial water courses.

We say the effigies are “supposed” to be zodiacal figures because there is considerable debate as to whether they were ever actually carved by anyone at all. Orthodox archaeologists deny the zodiac’s existence altogether, and say that the whole thing is merely a figment of Mrs Maltwood’s overactive imagination. They say that the Glastonbury Zodiac is like the faces and animals that children delight in seeing in the clouds. It has no real existence at all.

The trouble is that the Glastonbury Zodiac is a rather hazy affair today. Parts of it have been worn away or destroyed, and generations of farmers and builders have overlaid the ‘effigies’ with field boundaries, land alterations, building developments and so forth. These fog the picture quite considerably, but nevertheless, beneath this mish-mash of modern landscape features, Mrs Maltwood was convinced that the zodiac was still plainly discernible on Ordnance Survey maps and aerial photographs.

Before giving examples of the effigies, we should point out that this zodiac is not quite the same as the familiar one in the sky. Cancer as a Crab is nowhere to be seen, the constellation having been swallowed up by the neck of Leo the Lion. Similarly, Libra is absent, having been incorporated into Scorpio. Sagittarius and Hercules are fused together as the Centaur; Aquarius is a Phoenix; and a Dove has joined the proceedings, possibly in place of part of Libra.

However, this is not actually an argument against Mrs Maltwood. Interpretations of the zodiacal constellations in terms of man and beast vary quite markedly from culture to culture, and there is nothing particularly suspect in Mrs Maltwood’s variations. What is suspect – at least to many people – is the unconvincing nature of most of the effigies. But we’ll come back to that presently.

We show two examples of figure detail (Virgo and Leo) and also the panoramic view of the Glastonbury Zodiac as a whole, in Figs.9.1, 9.2 and 9.3.

Map of Virgo in the Galstonbury Zodiac

Fig. 9.1

Map of Leo in the Glastonbury Zodiac

Fig. 9.2

Map of the whole Glastonbury Zodiac

Fig. 9.3

Here is Mrs Maltwood describing the way the old Ilchester Road and the river Cary delineate parts of the effigies:

Many years of questing on that trail proved that a Romano-British road from Ilchester, which crosses the Cary at Somerton Erleigh on the Lion’s chest, outlines the Giant Orion’s raised forearm; the Bull’s lower jaw; the Ram’s bent knee, neck and head; and goes over the bridges connecting the Whale and the Fishes at Street. This road then outlines one of the Fishes; part of the tail and head of the Glastonbury Phoenix; the top of the head of the Goatfish; the two legs of Hercules that straddle the withers of the Archer’s horse; and the tail of the Scorpion as far as Stone on the Fosse Way.

And here is how the river Cary carves out part of Virgo:

Having drawn Virgo’s sleeve, the river follows Rag Lane, up her throat and under her chin, round her now sunken gums, to Cary Fitzpaine, where prosperous looking farm buildings still fill her mouth with plenty; in Doomsday Book this place was called Cari.

Then, outlining the nose, it passes under a bridge to give her a high bonnet.

The river now crosses the Fosse Way to the hind leg of the Lion, to outline the under part of his body.

Personally speaking, we have looked at these effigies time and again, and try as we might, we fail to see much evidence of ancient landscape engineering in them. After all, if the ancients went to all the trouble of conceiving and laying out such a massive tableau, constructing huge earthworks and diverting rivers in the process, then would they have left the end result looking little better than a small child’s drawing? Why would they make Virgo look like a dalek with sunken gums and a wilted top hat? Why would they leave Leo looking more like one of the Muppets than a conventionally fearsome lion? Sceptics argue that crude representations like these are consistent with the view that the whole zodiac is the outcome of a sort of Rorschach Test rather than a piece of ancient landscape engineering.

Nevertheless there are many people who sincerely believe that Mrs Maltwood’s zodiac is a relic from our remote past. One such person is Mary Caine who is now (Mrs Maltwood having died in 1961) the leading authority on the Glastonbury Zodiac. In 1978 Mrs Caine published her book The Glastonbury Zodiac: Key to the Mysteries of Britain, which is a very interesting read.

Mrs Caine follows Mrs Maltwood’s scheme in the main, accepting most of her figures in full. As regards the problem cases mentioned earlier, Aquarius is replaced by a Phoenix. Libra and Cancer, which at first seem to be missing, are actually to be found on closer inspection, Libra as a dove and Cancer as a boat. As Mrs Caine points out, a dove is actually a better symbol than a set of scales when it comes to symbolising qualities of peace, harmony and justice. As for the boat of Cancer, well, we can do no better than quote Mrs Caine:

This boat expresses the character of Cancer better than the Crab has ever done. It cradles a baby; Cancer is the Zodiac’s maternal sign. It is crescent shaped, like the Crab; Cancer is ruled by the Moon. Cancer is a water-sign; our vessel is so low-lying that despite the drainage-rhines that draw its planks it is still often flooded. Like the Whale in Pisces’ water-sign, it is all drawn by canals. The stars of Lepus the hare fall upon it; the hare was sacred to the moon. To the Egyptians, Lepus was Osiris’s boat, his funeral barge, like Arthur’s. How then can the Crab vie in symbolism with this poetic ship, at once Cauldron of Annwn, moon, womb and tomb. Let it scuttle away and bury its head in the sand for shame!

As with Mrs Maltwood’s zodiac, Mrs Caine’s has Cetus the Whale included alongside the two fish of the traditional Pisces. However, she wasn’t happy with Mrs Maltwood’s Scorpio, and replaced it with another one, the other way up. She also added a modification to Mrs Maltwood’s Capricorn, namely a well drawn back leg.

All this is relatively minor stuff, however, compared with Mrs Caine’s major discoveries about Gemini. To begin with, Mrs Maltwood believed that in the Glastonbury Zodiac Orion had replaced one of the conventional twins, and that the other twin had become a griffon for some reason. However, Mrs Caine disagrees with this. She sees Orion as one of the twins alright, but she denies that the other figure is a griffon. She is quite adamant that it is the missing twin after all, but seated in a yoga posture and at right angles to his brother. (Presumably this curious orientation and posture explains why Mrs Maltwood mistook him for a griffon!) But more than this, Mrs Caine has discovered another effigy actually inside the Orion twin! This is the Messianic Figure or Bethlehem Babe, “the goal of Evolution towards whom all the other effigies turn in hope”, the position of his inspirational pineal gland being clearly marked by a beacon tumulus. The reader should not be surprised to find biblical symbolism in the Glastonbury Zodiac, for the message of the Bible is but one manifestation of a spiritual message of a much more ancient date, so that to some extent the Bible and the Zodiac echo each other. Thus the drama of the Garden of Eden is symbolised in the Zodiac as well as in the Bible, for Sagittarius is Adam, Virgo is Eve, Gemini is Cain and Abel, and Draco is the Serpent. Note, however, that the symbols of the Zodiac are multi-purpose: Sagittarius is also King Arthur, for example.

We should also mention that Christ’s association with the Glastonbury Zodiac answers in the affirmative that famous question posed by William Blake: “And did those feet in ancient time walk upon England’s mountains green?” Christ did visit Britain, a view Mrs Caine shares with Reverend C.C. Dobson, who championed the theory in the 1930s. Apparently he – Christ, that is, not Rev. Dobson – came here with his uncle Joseph of Arimathea, though we won’t go into that here.

Mrs Caine believes that Glastonbury was a key centre of learning in the ancient world, possibly even part of the fabled Atlantis. She believes that knowledge of the Zodiac and its message spread from here to other parts of the ancient world. Thus Diodorus Siculus mentions a distant island off the coast of Gaul on which is “a remarkable temple of a round form.” Mrs Caine believes this to be the Glastonbury Zodiac, though we must point out that other people think it may refer to Stonehenge. Again, Mrs Caine believes that she has found reference to the Zodiac in Homer’s Odyssey. Unfortunately the references are not terribly clear, and are as debatable as the effigies themselves. Nevertheless, it is interesting to learn that Ulysses visited Wales on his voyages, but didn’t like it much!

Mrs Caine also has an interesting chronological theory about the Glastonbury Zodiac. She starts at the beginning of the sign of Cancer at 780 AD, when the Danes began to invade England in their longboats, and works round the Zodiac, taking one degree to represent one year. Each sign (30°) thus represents 30 years. Following the Zodiac round in this way, one finds a symbolic representation of English history. For example, the Battle of Hastings comes under Aries, the ruling constellation of England, and “nothing more symbolic of Aries, ruled by Mars, can be imagined than William the Conqueror.” Going forward 360 degrees or years from 780 AD takes us once round the Zodiac to 1140 AD and back to Cancer again, with the crowning of Queen Matilda in 1141. Cancer’s female influence, apparently, helps in the founding of dynasties. Mrs Caine denies that she is selecting facts of history which fit her theory and ignoring others that don’t. The scheme suggested itself quite naturally to her, without any jiggery pokery:

Alfred and the cakes suits the Libran equality of the sexes. Canute and the waves fits Pisces nicely. Projecting further back it was fascinating to find that the “legendary” visits of Jesus and Joseph to Britain came in Gemini’s Messiah-sign and Cancer’s Ship respectively.

Before we leave Mrs Caine, we must mention one of her remarkable ‘coincidences’, a number of which she mentions in the course of her book. Our favourite concerns a place called Keynsham and a dead snake, but as that would take too long to explain, we shall have to settle for telling our readers a shorter one about the effigy representing Taurus the Bull. Apparently the eye of this effigy is today marked by a rifle range. Think about it.

But the Glastonbury Zodiac is not alone. Other investigators believe that there are similar landscaped zodiacs in other parts of Britain besides Glastonbury.

One such zodiac investigator is a micro-biologist from Cambridge called Nigel Pennick. In 1975 he founded the Institute of Geomantic Research, its aim being the study of legends, folklore, megalithic monuments, ancient metrology and, of course, terrestrial zodiacs. Our ancient forebears, Mr Pennick believes, were an altogether more sophisticated lot than orthodox archaeologists give them credit for. In 1976, Mr Pennick co-authored a book with Robert Lord called Terrestrial Zodiacs in Britain: Nuthampstead Zodiac and Pendle Zodiac. As the title suggests, the book deals with two zodiacs, one discovered by Mr Pennick near the village of Nuthampstead, about fifteen miles south of Cambridge, and the other by Mr Lord, in the vicinity of Pendle Hill in Lancashire.

Map of Leo and Virgo in the Nuthampstead Zodiac

Fig. 9.4

In Fig. 9.4 we reproduce Leo and Virgo from the Nuthampstead Zodiac, and, as you can see, the figures have the same suspicious crudity about them as Mrs Maltwood’s figures.

As with the Glastonbury Zodiac, there are differences between the Nuthampstead Zodiac and its stellar counterpart. Cancer is again absent; Capricorn and Sagittarius overlap slightly; Libra is a Dove; and Gemini has become Wandil the Giant.

We asked Mr Pennick to comment on the standard argument of sceptics that these ‘effigies’ are neither more nor less than glorified faces-in-the-clouds. He very kindly replied as follows:

It has been alleged that proponents of Terrestrial Zodiacs are merely responding to a Rorschach Test in which the random patterns of field and river are seen as zodiacal figures. However, it must be remembered that all field patterns have been deliberately created by human agency and as such were subject to various cultural influences. Their dimensions, shapes and positioning were determined by various rules which in some countries survive to this day. The overall planning of whole areas of earthworks and astronomical alignments show us that in antiquity a grand view of the whole landscape was taken, and the terrain modified accordingly. An ancient society ruled by (to us) alien values carried out works and acts inexplicable to the modern post-industrial mind. The concept of giant figures concealed in the earth has existed in many cultures from America to China. Practitioners of feng shui (Chinese Geomancy) recognised pre-existing natural patterns and modified them to enhance their resemblance to certain forms. Large plateaux such as that at La Venta in Mexico were altered to bring their forms closer to idealised animal shapes. In Terrestrial Zodiacs we see this enhancement of natural forms rather than the imposition of patently artificial shapes upon the landscape, but the occurrence of consistent modifications in different places demonstrates that an overall concept was behind the artificial shapes which we can see today.

In other words, the figures are crude in outline because they are not totally artificial constructs. They are based on natural forms which were woven into effigies by our ancestors.

Mr Pennick’s other contention – that our scepticism is based on modern attitudes to landscaping, rather than on ancient ones – is well worth serious consideration. Our ways of thinking are not the same as those of our ancestors, and though it may seem absurd to us that anyone in his right mind should engineer vast circles of crude effigies, this is no guide at all to the way our ancestors may have looked at things. We would suggest that our readers delve into Mr Pennick’s later book The Ancient Science of Geomancy (1979) if they want to know more about his views on all this. For ourselves, we find his arguments interesting, though we remain stubbornly sceptical.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s zodiac hunting seems to have become something of a craze, to the point where there were at least a dozen of them in various parts of the British Isles. For example, the previously mentioned Institute of Geomantic Research published accounts of the Ongar Zodiac in Essex and the Holderness Zodiac in East Yorkshire. There was even a Terrestrial Zodiacs Newsletter (TZN), edited and published by Paul Screeton, of Hartlepool, in which devotees of the art could trade their views.

In TZN 6, Mr Sam Wildman put forward the interesting view that the Glastonbury Zodiac was not constructed in 2700 BC, as Mrs Maltwood claimed, but in medieval times, by the monks of Glastonbury Abbey!

In other issues, TZN promoted the Stonegate Zodiac, the Kingston Zodiac, the Cuffley Zodiac, the Bury St Edmunds Zodiac, the Bolingbroke Zodiac and the Welsh Temple of the Zodiac.

Of course, sceptics will argue that all these zodiacs popping up hither and thither show nothing at all beyond the fact that it is easy to read human and animal forms into the variegated structure of an Ordnance Survey map.

But the true believers will continue to believe that they indicate the widespread existence of large scale landscape engineering. Distant voices from an incredible by-gone age.

The believers may be wrong, but it’s a beautiful idea all the same.

As a postscript to the above, we should mention a rather interesting experiment that was carried out in June 1980 by six members of the Northern Earth Mysteries Group. Six people were each issued with a copy of the same six-inch Ordnance Survey Map. The area covered by this map was thought to contain the Taurus figure of the so-called Letwell Zodiac, whose discoverer, Phil Reeder, was one of the organisers of the experiment. The idea was simplicity itself: the six participants were invited to search, independently, for potential zodiac figures on their respective map sheets. John Barnatt, the other organiser of the experiment, told us what happened.

When the participants were allowed to search for any figure they could find, they turned up large numbers of results. These included a lion, a hare, a bird, a donkey (which might actually have been a coypu!), a bubbly ghost and an unspecified “fabulous creature”. All this, remember, in the same five kilometre square of the landscape!

When the participants were told they had to look for dragons, they met with little success. But when the theme was switched to bulls, three or four fairly convincing specimens turned up, none of which, incidentally, matched Mr Reeder’s Taurus!

We would agree with Mr Barnatt that these results do seem to suggest that zodiac figures are ten-a-penny chance configurations of the landscape. But the debate is far from over, we are pleased to announce. Champions of the terrestrial zodiac point out that finding the odd figure here and there may well be easy enough, but that the odd figure is a long way from a complete and coherent set of zodiac figures. For that reason, they deny that Messrs Barnatt and Reeder’s experiment proves very much at all.…

But let’s get back to the zodiac up in the sky.

A friend of ours once had a rather whimsical idea. He reasoned that since everything else had either already gone metric, or was about to do so, then it was about time that we adopted a zodiac of ten signs rather than twelve.

Seriously, though, why are there twelve signs in the zodiac rather than any other number? The answer that naturally springs to mind is that it is because there are twelve months in the year.

But then why are there twelve months?

The answer to that depends on the way we measure time. The year, as everybody knows, is defined by the time it takes for the Earth to go once round the Sun – the familiar 365¼ days. In order to subdivide the solar year, ancient man had recourse to the Moon, which naturally goes through a complete cycle of phases in about 29½ days. Each of these Moon cycles became known as a moon-th or month, and since the Moon went through about twelve of these cycles in a year, it came to pass that the year had twelve months and, by inference, the zodiac twelve signs.

Of course, this is a much simplified account of our calendar. Twelve cycles of 29½ days don’t quite make up a full year, falling about 11 days short of the requisite number 365. Hence it came about that, thanks largely to the Caesars, it was decreed that some months should have 30 days and others 31, so as to make things fit more exactly. February works to its own sweet rule on account of Augustus Caesar not wanting his month (August) to have fewer days than Julius Caesar’s (July). He should really only have had 30 days, but he pinched the equaliser from poor old February.

Having said all this, we come to James Vogh’s book The Thirteenth Zodiac, a controversial one for students of astrology and calendar history alike, which was published in 1979.

Mr Vogh claims that there haven’t always been twelve signs in the zodiac at all, and in his remarkable book he puts forward the novel idea that there was once a thirteenth sign, that of Arachne (the Spider), but that it became ‘lost’ in the mists of history, thus giving rise to the present day zodiac of 12 signs.

In a way the idea of a thirteenth sign is not as outrageous as it at first appears. The twelve signs known to us are not all the same width, and in some instances actually overlap, as in the case of Pisces and Aries. Slipping in an extra sign – or, to be fair to Mr Vogh, ‘losing one’ – wouldn’t be at all that difficult in the general zodiacal confusion. Except to modern astronomers, who have drawn arbitrary and immutable boundaries between the constellations, the signs of the zodiac are by no means well defined.

So why thirteen signs?

Mr Vogh argues that the ancients used a lunar cycle of 28 days, the time taken for the Moon to return to the same position in the sky, rather than to the same ‘phase’ of its cycle. There are thirteen such cycles in a solar year, each of 28 days, making a total of 13 x 28 = 364 days. Thus one extra day would have to be added in somewhere, and, in fact, Mr Vogh claims that the expression “a year and a day” owes its origin to this type of lunar calendar.

To back up this part of his thesis, Mr Vogh has recourse to a Druidic calendar, each month of which is named after a tree. There are thirteen such tree-months, he tells us, the lost sign corresponding to that of the Hawthorn.

Next, Mr Vogh cites the so-called Ouachita Calendar. This is a set of none-too-clear carvings incised into a rock face near Hot Springs, Arkansas. There are thirteen of these carvings, including a bird, a fish, a flower, a spider, a deer and a bison, but one is left with the uncomfortable feeling that they might not actually be part of a calendar at all. Nevertheless Mr Vogh counts it as ‘possible’ evidence.

Even more distressing is Mr Vogh’s ‘evidence’ for the use of a thirteen-month calendar in Ancient Egypt. He himself admits that he is on a sticky wicket here on account of the fact that the six known Egyptian zodiacal carvings all have twelve signs. But, he argues, all six were carved late in Egyptian history, and thus after the thirteenth sign had already been ‘lost’. Their twelve signs are therefore not surprising.

So where is his evidence for the thirteenth sign? It is admittedly indirect, but it comes from a rather eminent source – Robert Graves.

Graves points out that in Egyptian mythology, Osiris reigned for 28 years before he was torn into 13 pieces, not including the phallus, by his wicked brother, Set. The 13 pieces (= months) each of 28 years (= days) make 364 days, with the phallus representing the odd day required to complete the year. That, at any rate is how Graves sees it.

Very well, then, suppose we accept that there was once a year of thirteen months and that, just possibly, it had associated with it a thirteenth zodiac sign. Where is it today, why was it a spider, particularly, and how on earth did it become ‘lost’?

Mr Vogh argues that the lost sign of Arachne lay between Taurus and Gemini, and that today we know its component stars as part of the constellation of Auriga, the Charioteer.

As evidence for this claim, Mr Vogh points out that many British stone circles are directed to the rising point of Capella, the brightest star in Auriga. Why should so many circles be oriented on Capella, a star which, though prominent enough, is by no means the brightest in the sky? Why the fuss over Capella when Vega, a rather brighter star, was virtually ignored by the circle builders? Why, unless Capella held some significance now lost? Mr Vogh seems content to ignore the possibility that Vega just wasn’t at the right place at the right time for the circle builders’ purposes.

“Why a spider?” and “How did it get lost?” are closely linked questions, both involving rather devious arguments based on involved symbolism.

Arachne was never actually ‘lost’ in the ordinary sense of the word. She was actively suppressed. Mr Vogh claims that Arachne was the sign associated with the psychic faculties in Man, and he quotes the work of A.R. Ramsden, a man who claims to have shown that psychics tend to be born with the Sun in that portion of the zodiac hailed by Mr Vogh as that of Arachne.

The suppression of psychic or sacred knowledge is nothing new, and the history of the occult is riddled with oaths of secrecy, hidden truths and terrible persecutions. The active suppression of ‘false’ gods by over-zealous Christian missionaries is one example that springs to mind.

If the thirteenth sign were the province of some sector of society at odds with the religious or political authority of the time, then it is conceivable that it might ‘disappear’ in the manner of one of Al Capone’s gangster enemies.

Such a campaign of active suppression would have its side effects in the beliefs of the people, and Mr Vogh wonders if this is why 13 is generally reckoned to be an unlucky number, and why so many people have a positive loathing for spiders.

For reasons of space we do not here recount the long and tenuous chains of reasoning linking the Druid Moon-goddess, Arianrhod, with the Cretan goddesses Ariadne (the spinner) and Arachne (the spider). The central theme is that of the wheel. On the one hand, a wheel, with its spokes, is like a spider’s web. On the other hand, the wheel is symbolic of the lunar cycle, and hence the Moon-goddess. Perhaps Auriga, as the ‘Charioteer’, preserves the memory of at least some of this symbolism. Readers must decide for themselves.

Finally, one might suppose that if Mr Vogh is right about the thirteenth sign, then this would make a nonsense of traditional astrology. Not so, he argues. The thirteenth sign does not contradict the other twelve, rather does it complement them and clarify their message. It adds a new dimension to the horoscope, as it were – that of the psychic element.

Now, all of the foregoing sounds just as authentic as many of the other works we have cited up to now, and indeed, it is still taken seriously in some circles. But the book was actually a hoax, and James Vogh was the nom-de-plume of a science fiction writer and opponent of ‘fringe’ science called John Sladek. The thirteenth sign of Arachne was, in fact, a web of intrigue!

Our final candidate for this chapter is Peter M. Hughes, an aircraft design engineer, who reckoned to have discovered something rather extraordinary in the vicinity of his home town, Harpenden. He called it the Harpenden Calendar.

Basically Mr Hughes claimed to have found a sort of giant clock-face laid out in the Hertfordshire landscape. The idea is that when standing at the centre of this clock-face, the days of the year are indicated by surrounding antiquities of various types. If an observer at the centre were to turn round once, his gaze would pass through all the days of the year in their correct, panoramic, order of succession.

This clock face, however, is not of a conventional design because the antiquities marking the various days are not all situated at the same distance from the centre. The clock-face, then, is not a circle or any other regular shape, but a highly irregular one. In fact, it is better described as a set of spokes radiating from the centre, the end of each spoke being marked by an antique structure of some sort. Reference to Fig. 9.5 will make all this clear.

Calendar clock-face formed by sites near Luton

Fig. 9.5

Unfortunately, in this area, as in every other part of the British Isles, vast numbers of antiquities have disappeared over the years, many of them having been destroyed deliberately for one reason or another. Some dates of the calendar are therefore not marked today, if indeed they ever were. The centre of the clock, too, now lies in a heavily built up area, so that it is quite impossible to say whether or not any ancient structure ever marked its position. Mr Hughes feels that it was indeed once marked, and he points to the nearby Round Wood as possibly suggestive of the yearly round of the surrounding calendar.

In addition to parts of the calendar having been destroyed, the issue is further confused by antiquities of a more recent date than the calendar itself. These have been built over the top of the calendar and without regard for it. Consequently many antiquities in this area do not fit into the calendar because they were never meant to.

Finally, even where traces of the calendar have not altogether disappeared, the evidence which the remnants supply of their former purpose is frequently distorted and indirect. Original date-markers have been built over and replaced by more modern structures which reveal the underlying purpose only via their names or other indirect means.

The reader will appreciate, then, that this calendar does not present itself as an unambiguous and self-evident piece of ancient engineering. In fact, most archaeologists would say that the whole thing has been manufactured by Mr Hughes’s fertile imagination working overtime on the variegated elements of the Hertfordshire landscape. Mr Hughes, however, believes that by painstaking research he has sorted out what is part of the calendar and what isn’t, and that he has unearthed by his labours convincing evidence for the former existence of the Harpenden Calendar.

Before taking a look at what is left of this giant calendar, we should perhaps explain the role of churches in its present-day state.

When Christian missionaries first came to these islands, they were instructed by Pope Gregory not to destroy the sacred sites of the indigenous pagans, but to incorporate them into Christian use. Hence formerly sacred springs became holy wells, ancient standing stones were converted to crosses, and pagan sanctuaries were incorporated into Christian churches. Most churches, of course, are dedicated to some saint or other (e.g. St Mark’s Church), and each saint has a feast day allocated to him – or her – in the yearly round.

Mr Hughes has found that the feast dates of certain churches coincide with the dates represented by the calendar radial through them (that is, the line joining the centre of the calendar to the church in question.) Hence, churches figure in the Harpenden Calendar as possible date indicators, memories of earlier pagan structures. Of course, the sceptic will point out that many more churches don’t fit than do, but then we’ve already dealt with that problem, so we will move on to take a look at what Mr Hughes actually did find. We start at the northern end of the calendar, representing the month of April:

  1. The radial corresponding to St George’s Day (23rd April) passes close to George’s Wood.
  2. The radial representing 1st May passes close to Mayfield Road, Luton.
  3. The radial for St Matthew’s Day (14th May) passes directly through St Matthew’s Junior School, Luton.
  4. The radial for St Ethelbert’s Day (20th May) passes close to one end of St Ethelbert’s Avenue, Luton.
  5. The radial for St Margaret of Scotland’s Day (10th June) passes close to St Margaret of Scotland School, Luton.
  6. The radial for 12th June passes along Summer Street, Luton, and a nearby pub called the Rising Sun continues the summer theme.
  7. The radial for the Feast of Lammas (1st August) passes close to the village of Flamstead or F-Lammas-Stead.
  8. The radial for a Feast of the Virgin Mary (12th September) passes through St Mary’s Church in the village of Redbourn.
  9. The radial for the Autumnal Equinox (23rd September) passes through a Roman Temple, itself built over an earlier shrine, Mr Hughes claims.
  10. The radial for St Jerome’s Day (30th September) passes through Old Jerome’s Farm.
  11. The radial for 1st October, the Rosary Festival, passes through an old house, now demolished, called the Rosery, and also close to a place called Rose Acre, further out from the centre of the calendar.
  12. The radial for the Feast of St Hilda (18th November) passes through St Hilda’s School, Harpenden.
  13. The radial for St Andrew’s Day (30th November) passes close to St Andrews Avenue, Harpenden.
  14. The radial for the Feast of St Nicholas (6th December) passes through St Nicholas’s Church in Harpenden.
  15. The radial for St John’s Day (27th December) passes close to St John’s Church, Lemsford.
  16. The radial marking the very beginning of the year is followed for about a mile by an ancient Roman Road.
  17. The radial for the feast of St Lawrence (2nd February) passes close to the church at Ayot St Lawrence.
  18. The radial for the Feast of St Cuthbert (20th March) passes directly through Great Cutts Farm, whose name could be a distortion of that of the saint.

To be added to the above is some zodiacal name evidence. Aries seems to be indicated by Ramridge and Ramridge End, and Taurus by Bulls Wood. Then again, in St Leonard’s Church we have a tentative reference to Leo, and in St Mary’s Church, Redbourn, we have a potential Virgo = Blessed Virgin reference, this being reinforced by the name of the local river, Ver.

Mr Hughes took these to indicate that the calendar might also have a terrestrial zodiac associated with it, and he did in fact find several landscape figures after the manner of Mrs Maltwood and her followers. We give a sketch of Mr Hughes’s Taurus in Fig. 9.6.

Taurus in the terrestial zodiac found by Peter Hughes

Fig. 9.6

Some of Mr Hughes’s zodiacal links seem decidedly circumstantial. For example, in his Aquarius figure he found that the Tin Pot Pub indicated the position of the Water Pot, and that Cleggy Bottom indicated the obvious part of the Aquarian anatomy. Again, a shop called Centaurs, which sold riding gear, seemed to be representative of Sagittarius!

Mr Hughes readily admitted that there may have been a lot of wishful thinking in his calendar. It is a bit of a long shot that a modern junior school or not-so-ancient street name has actually preserved, by some devious means, the memory of an ancient terrestrial calendar. It is even more of a long shot that a pub or a shop adopted its name, via some highly obscure clue, from a long lost landscape.

He admitted, too, that some of his calendar was not as accurate as he would have liked. Some of the supposed date markers were either put in the wrong places by the builders, or have been moved in the course of their history.

However, Mr Hughes could not be persuaded that the whole thing, from start to finish, was no more than a figment of his imagination. Somewhere in the middle of it all, he felt, there was something to it.

We once asked him to sum up just how he saw his calendar. He replied as follows:

Though it is difficult to prove its validity conclusively, on account of a good deal of background noise and inevitably a certain amount of obliteration over the centuries, it is equally difficult to disprove it, for precisely the same reason. So I think it is worth searching for additional evidence, and, in particular, worthwhile looking for parallels elsewhere. Whatever is found is more likely to help prove than disprove the concept.

Even if we regard Mr Hughes’s discovery with a great deal of suspicion, no-one can deny the ingenuity that has gone into it.