There are in Britain some interesting carvings on the sides of chalk hills in the South.
Probably the best known is the White Horse of Uffington Vale. People argue whether it is a horse at all or is it perhaps a greyhound. I have not seen these drawings described as ‘Celtic’ anywhere, but anything that cannot be readily identified as Roman or later is usually called Celtic these days, ignoring the more ancient presence of the Picts whom the Cymru discovered when they arrived here.
For me two of the most interesting are the Long Man of Wilmington and the Cerne Abbas Giant.
The Long Man of Wilmington is hidden in the Sussex landscape and of all the images shown here probably the least well known. What is even less well known is what he represents. Some say it is the Piper at the Gates of Dawn. Well may it be so. If we take the Dawn to be that of Aquarius where we now stand, once more liberated beneath our native skies, freed from the oppression the sickness of selfishness has placed upon this poor tireless Earth. At last a new root race can awaken.
When we delve into Greek Mythology we discover that Atlas, that ancient brother of Prometheus, did not hold the world on his shoulder as told in the story of Hercules tricking him. Rather he stands holding the Heavens and the Earth apart with two long staves. It is this I see in the Long Man of Wilmington. We can comfort ourselves in the knowledge that these people, whoever they were, told stories of Atlas around the campfire at night.
The next and probably the most recognisable is the Cerne Abbas Giant. Said to be a God of Fertility he carries a staff or club raised above his head with an erect phallus rising up through the middle of his body. Girls used to sleep on the hill in the hope of becoming pregnant. But the presence of the Club relates him to Hercules and, for me, this is who we find represented here.
The name of the local village Cerne Abbas gives its name to the carving but it is clear that that is a Christianization of the more ancient Cernunnos. But maybe I am wrong in thinking it a corruption of Cernunnos. In that latter name I find three Gods celebrated Cer (God of the dead) – Nun, sometimes Nu, given as the Egyptian god of the Primeval abyss out of which all was born– and Nos or Nox, Night.
It is to be noted that in the south of Germany there is a tradition of the crucified Christ figure shown between the horns of a deer, just as this figure above sits beneath broad antlers. It may well relate to the initiations spoken of in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, in which the deer is the first of the creatures to be caught. Nor can we ignore the Gundestrop Bowl illustration which closely resembles images of Shiva as Prajapati – lord of the animals – found in the Indus Valley.
However if we apply the same process to the name Cerne Abbas we find Cerne Ab-Bas. There are two gods who might claim the title Bas, one is the Egyptian midget with an enormous phallus called Bes, a grotesque figure, but the other is Bas(t) the Cat Goddess. In this case the Ab- would stand for ‘son of’ as in the Welsh Ap- Apgwyddion, Ap-Rhys (Price), Ap-Richard (Pritchard) and so on. So we have Cer- son of Bes or Bast.
When we look to (K)Her-mes we come across tales related to that youngest of the Olympians that he was a psychopomp, leading the souls of the dead through to the land of awakening. Similarly (K)Herakles visited the Kingdom of the dead and took back the three-headed guardian of that realm.
Some interpret this as the three crowns, or a related aspect, as far as Herakles/Hercules overcame the land of the dead by controlling the forces of the body, heart and mind, the forces of the physical world which keep us bound in worldly pleasures ignoring the life of the spirit which is dwindling away within us.
One comment to make is that a lot of the ancient Gods seem to be being used as comic heroes and heroines. One has to search through a lot of garbage, often heavily sexually oriented images, to find the more usual images of these Gods, images which were commonplace only a few years ago.