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THE GODDESS IS ALIVE IN GUERNSEY

The small island of Guernsey in the English Channel is the home of two major prehistoric Goddess statues and numerous dolmens and other megalithic monuments, some of them in particularly fine condition. On a visit there, over the period of the autumn equinox this year, I felt enormously blessed to be able to encounter and experience some of these monuments.

The Goddesses are called "gran'meres" (grandmothers) by the local people and are also referred to as "earth mothers". They appear to be taken for granted, but unless you have some idea of what you are looking for, they might be difficult to find because the tourist industry more or less ignores them, and such illustrations or postcards that are available are not sold in the shops. In fact, the places to acquire them are the churches where the Goddesses stand, in both cases in a place of honour.

The Gran'mere at Catel stands on a height at the church entrance. The dates given for her are 2500-1800 BCE, and she was found in 1878 buried beneath the chancel. It is very interesting that she was then placed in a position where every one going in and out of the church must be fully aware of her and pass close by her. Local people assume that the church stands on a site previously sacred to her, and this appears to be quite natural.

The other Goddess megalith is at St. Martin's Church, here placed at the churchyard gate, and again everyone and everything going into the churchyard or church passes her. The day I visited, a funeral was taking place, and it was extremely moving to see the cortege carried past her and under her eye. This figure is described as neolithic, representing the prehistoric Mother Goddess, but the face and cloak are thought to have been added in Gallo-Roman times (say 2OOBCE-200CE). A local prehistorian, Mr. J. Stevens-Cox who kindly provided a great deal of information personally, writes of this Goddess in his booklet Prehistoric Monuments of Guernsey: "In the early 19th century it was referred to as an 'idol of the aboriginal inhabitants'. Much folklore surrounds La Gran'mere; and until comparatively recent times it was considered propitious to place an offering of fruit or flowers at the base of the statue... I have spoken to old inhabitants who told me that when they were young, on May Day, they had placed flowers at its base and on its head for good luck... La Gran'mere was also referred to by local people as "Julius Caesar's Grandmother".

I was only able to visit a few of the wonderful dolmens and passage graves on the island. Almost a perfect place is the La Dehus megalithic tomb at a site coincidentally ( ! ) called Paradis. Here you enter with bent back through a low and narrow passage and come out into a higher circular space built of megaliths with a single one in the centre. Apparently at one time the tomb was surrounded by an outer stone circle. I use the word tomb because that is how it is described in the guide book, but in fact the word womb would be far more accurate. It is safe and still with a wonderful atmosphere of peace and calm. Before you reach the main chamber there are two side chambers (one each side of the passage), and just as you enter it, you see, on the capstone above, the graven figure of a human being (possibly a man as it may be bearded but that is not clear) who is thought to be a "pagan deity or protector of the tomb".

Another marvellous experience is to visit the single chamber tomb of Le Trepied, at Le Catiorec in the Parish of St. Saviour. It stands on a kind of headland above the sea where there a rocky and wild coastline. Le Trepied is of special importance for us. It is said to be the most famous of all Guernsey megaliths because it was (and is?) the meeting place of the witches. Stevens-Cox writes:

"In the 17th century it was noted as the midnight haunt of the witches and wizards and one of the chief Sabbats of Guernsey was held here every Friday night ... even in the late 19th century no respectable woman of the neighbourhood would go anywhere near Le Catiorec on Friday nights". It is also stated that according to the witches "confessions" the devil visited there and was called Baal Berit or Barberie. This is rather remarkable because Baal Berit can be translated from the Hebrew as "The Lord promises". Is there a coincidence here or is it intentional?

As for Barberie it is usually taken to be something to do with pirates and the Barbary Coast. Again the site has a marked positive and calming atmosphere; on a day of great gusts of wind, the inside of the monument was silent and safe. The name Le Trepied refers, it is said, to the three great capstones but it also reminds us of the Triple Goddess.

There are many other megalithic sites on the island and it is a true treasure hunt to find them. They are of the past and of the present. For example I heard that "the white witches" are still operating there. Someone told me that when a new development was announced and local people did not want it, they called in the white witches and the development would not take place. Also that there was a group of smaller megalithic circles near the extreme S.West coast called Fairy Rings where witches still gather.

When I arrived home and was describing my visit to a neighbour, she told me she had lived on Alderney, a neighbouring even smaller island, for ten years. Yes there was a large dolmen there, she said, "but no-one took any notice of it". I also recalled that on Jersey, the largest of the Channel islands, there is the remarkable huge Neolithic long barrow called La Hougue Bie.

Lastly it is important to remember the witch persecution on these islands. At the Witch Museum in Jersey there is a roll of honour of their names on the walls, while one of the books available also lists them all. This is rather a problematical publication called These Haunted Islands by Chris Duke and is subtitled The story of Witchcraft in the Channel Islands.

Although presented in rather a garish way there is some good factual information in it. The reports of the Court Records and Court Decisions are of particular value. Reading the names and the sentences is both horrific and inspiring. I felt as I left the island that not only does it add to our knowledge of history and herstory; it includes us in the unending and unbroken circle.

Postscript.  Some time after my return I found more information about the Stone Age sites in the Channel Islands. La Hougue Bie at Jersey is magnificent, but is only one of many. The official Jersey Museums guide to the archaeology of Jersey describes La Cotte de St. Brelade as "by far the most important palaeolithic site in Jersey; indeed the only cave/shelter in the British Isles to yield a sequence of deposits approaching the range and importance of those commonly found in S.W France." Not only "artificially disposed hoards" of huge animal bones mainly of mammoth and rhinoceros were discovered there, but also bones of Neanderthal human inhabitants. There are many later neolithic tombs, dolmens, and menhirs, while the Bronze Age has provided tools, pottery, and jewellery.

It is necessary to record that a dolmen unearthed in Jersey near St. Helier was removed, with the consent of the Jersey States, by the then Governor, Marshal Conway, to his country seat at Henley. Another sad tale: a menhir, situated on the island of Herm acted for thousands of years as a sea mark for mariners, warning them when they were near a group of dangerous rocks. It was pulled down to be taken to England to be used as a plinth, but found to be too heavy. So it was broken up, and the pieces used as a cargo of ordinary granite. This story is told by John Uttley in his book The Story of the Channel Islands (Faber 1966). Describing the people who built the menhirs he writes (pp 13-14):"to preserve this [the fertility of man, soil and beast] the spirits of earth and water had to be propitiated and the great Mother-Goddess, the presiding genius of all growth, to be worshipped."

So, if we travel just across the water to this group of small islands, we find Her there, not only in Her sites but still in the memory of the descendants of the people who worshipped Her.

Wood and Water 49, Winter 1994-5

Publications recommended: (mostly obtainable from the Guernsey Museum, St. Peter Port, and bookshops on the Island.)

Prehistoric Monuments of Guernsey. J. Stevens-Cox. Toucan Press Guernsey. 1982

Les Fouaillages and the Megalithic Monuments of Guernsey. Ian Kinnes. The Ampersand Press. Alderney. 1983.

These Haunted Islands. Chris Lake. Redberry Press. Jersey. 1986

 

Walks with a Car in Guernsey. Alan Barber. The Guernsey Press. Guernsey. 1988.)

 

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