On The Antiquities of Arran (2): Machrie Moor, Stonehenge & the Worship of Saturn

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The History of the Isle of Arran

Time has advanced my stay on Arran by a few weeks now, leading to me leaving my job at the hotel & in a few days opening the island’s first second hand bookstore in many years. A suitable base for a poet to have his office, close to both the opening of Glen Rosa & the sea, I hope to lead a fulfilling expedition into the antiquities of Arran. It will be called NINE BEES BOOKS, with the nine bees standing for ‘Burnley boy Bullen’s braw banter, butties, brews, browsing & …’ I think I might check ‘booyakasha’ in there somewhere. The butties & brews reference alludes to my wanting to sell proper ground coffee & open a spinach & sandwich bar.

As for my previous employment, I left the hotel after an incident. To cut a long story short, if you dont sub your breakfast chef a bottle of wine til morning, he won’t be making breakfast. That’s an old Burnley proverb, that is. But its also given me the freedom to be true to myself – a poet should be working on poems in the morning, not poached eggs. Then history in the afternoon, where I have made an important early breakthrough, I believe. 

On the western side of Arran one finds the cosmically wonderful series of stone circles upon Machrie Moor. I visited the area the other day with my wee dog Daisy, who had escorted me to Arran with a load of stock for the Nine Bees. While she was cuddling up to the tourists I just sat awhile & ponder’d on the history of its ancient uses – long lost to us now; BUT, I believe I have made the first into exhuming the first bones of their religious rituals. The key is simple – understanding that a double circle of stones, such as those erected at Stonehenge & Machrie Moor (number 5), are astral mirrors of Saturn & its ring(s). This infers some kind of ancient worship of Saturn (Roman), or Cronos (Greek), of which there is definitive evidence, both epigraphical & archeological.

1: Epigraphical Evidence

In Plutarch’s moral essay ‘On the Face appearing in the Orb Of the Moon,’ the journeys of a certain ‘stranger, are narrated to him by Sylla the Carthagean, who had heard the tale himself from the servants of the temple of Cronus in Carthage, where the ‘stranger’ had recently visited. The key passage reads;

An isle Ogygian lies far out at sea,’ distant five days’ sail from Britain, going westwards, and three others equally distant from it, and from each other, are more opposite to the summer visits of the sun; in one of which the barbarians fable that Saturn is imprisoned by Jupiter, whilst his son lies by his side, as though keeping guard over those islands and the sea, which they call ‘the Sea of Cronos.’ The great continent by which the great sea is surrounded on all sides, they say, lies less distant from the others, but about five thousand stadia from Ogygia, for one sailing in a rowing-galley; for the sea is difficult of passage and muddy through the great number of currents, and these currents issue out of the great land, and shoals are formed by them, and the sea becomes clogged and full of earth, by which it has the appearance of being solid. That sea-coast of the mainland Greeks are settled on, around a bay not smaller than the Mæos, the entrance of which lies almost in a straight line opposite the entrance to the Caspian Sea. Those Greeks call and consider themselves continental people, but islanders all such as inhabit this land of ours, inasmuch as it is surrounded on all sides by the sea; and they believe that with the peoples of Cronos were united, later, those who wandered about with Hercules, and being left behind there, they rekindled into strength and numbers the Greek element, then on the point of extinction, and sinking into the barbarian language, manners, and laws; whence Hercules has the first honours there, and Cronos the second. When the star of Cronos, which we call the ‘Informer,’ but they ‘Nocturnal,’ comes into the sign of the Bull every thirty years, they having got ready a long while beforehand all things required for the sacrifice and the games … they send out people appointed by lot in the same number of ships, furnished with provisions and stores necessary for persons intending to cross so vast a sea by dint of rowing, as well as to live a long men in a foreign land. When they have put to sea, they meet, naturally, with different fates, but those who escape from the sea, first of all, touch at the foremost isles, which are inhabited by Greeks also, and see the sun seng for less than one hour for thirty days in succession; and this interval is night, ended with slight darkness, and a twilight glimmering out of the west.

A shorter version of all that would go something like this: Greek colonists settled North America – the great continent – sometime in the distant past. Every thirty years – when Saturn enters the sign of Taurus – some of them set off for a holy island, somewhere in the ocean beyond Britain, said to be where Cronos – ie the earthly deification Saturn – was imprisoned. Once on the island, the acolytes would remain an entire cycle of Saturn then move on, one of whom ended up in Carthage to tell the tale. Plutarch writes; ‘he had a strange desire and longing to observe the Great Island (forso, it seems, they call our part of the world), when the thirty years had elapsed, the relief-party having arrived from home, he saluted his friends and sailed away.’

2: Archeological Evidence

If we look at the plan of Stonehenge & the planet Saturn from above, the resemblances are stunning. The two sets of rings are there, as is the central sphere. Around the latter at Stonehenge are two circles of post-holes – the inner containing 29 holes & the outer 30. These numbers actually correspond to the moment when the long-term observation of Saturn corresponds with the long term observation of the sun. A synodic periods is the time required for a body of the solar system to return to the same position relative to the Sun as seen by an observer on the Earth, which in Saturn’s case is just over 378 days. After 29 of these periods, we reach the same number of days – more or less – as those ticked off by 30 solar years. Thus Plutarch is accurate when he describes Saturn worship on a 30 year solar cycle, & anyone who happen’d to be at Stonehenge, & the first circle by reading the post-holes calendar would have known when the new acolytes would have been setting off from ‘The Great Continent.’ In addition, there is also a ring of 56 chalk-filled holes, known as the Aubrey Holes, which could relate to 56 synodic periods of Saturn matching 717 lunar months, & the fact that one more synodic period equals 59 solar years –  when the configurations of Saturn in the sky are repeated exactly two days later inthe solar year – perhaps to check the accuracy of the whole lunisolar calendar.

Ancient Observations of Saturn

The problem is – how did the ancients know about the rings of Saturn. We cannot see them with the naked eye, & apparently could not until the 17th century & Galileo’s invention of the telescope. HOWEVER, there are numerous & wondrous astronomical observations made by our ancients, among whom the ‘myth’ that Saturn was ringed, or held in chains, had spread far & wide. Perhaps the Greeks or some other people such as the Harrappan civilisation had possessed lenses adapted for the observation of celestial bodies, or were the rings around Saturn were visible to the naked eye at some time in the past? But however the ancients knew of the rings, they definitely knew.

In the Zend-Avesta it is said that the star Tistrya (Jupiter &, later, Venus) keeps Pairiko in twofold bonds, relating to Saturn’s girdle of two groups of rings. The text actually reads, “Tistrya, bright star, keeps Pairiko in twofold bonds, in threefold bonds.” A third ring around Saturn was observed in 1980! 

The ‘Pairi’ phonetic of the Zend-Avesta is present in the New Zealand Maori name for Saturn, Parearau. The word pare denotes a fillet or headband; while arau means “entangled”—or perhaps “surrounded” in this case. IIn The Astronomical Knowledge of the Maori, Genuine and Empirical, published by Elsdon Best in Wellington, NZ in 1922, he writes;

Parearau, say the Tuhoe people, is a wahine tiweka (wayward female), hence she is often termed Hine-i-tiweka. One version makes her the wife of Kopu (Venus), who said to her, “Remain here until daylight; we will then depart.” But Parearau heeded not the word of her husband, and set forth in the evening. When midnight arrived she was clinging to another cheek, hence she was named Hine-i-tiweka. Parearau is often spoken of as a companion of Kopu. Of the origin of this name one says, “Her band quite surrounds her, hence she is called Parearau.”

An ancient engraved wooden panel from Mexico shows the family of the planets: one of them is Saturn, easily recognizable by its rings (see Kingsborough, Antiquities of Mexico (London, 1830), vol. IV)

The Egyptian apellative for Osiris was “the swathed” & in Egyptian legend Isis (Jupiter) swathes Osiris (Saturn). 

The rings of Saturn are referred to by Aeschylus in his Eumenides: “He {Zeus} himself cast into bonds his aged father Cronus”

Mithraic representations of Kronos with his body encircled by a snake (see F. Cumont’s The Mysteries of Mithra [1903]) may attest to a memory of the rings of Saturn. Similarly, the Hindu Sani (the planet Saturn) shown in an ancient woodcut reproduced in F. Maurice, Indian Antiquities (London, 1800 – vol. VII), and described by the author as “encircled with a ring formed of serpents.” 

The Babylonian Tammuz, who represents Saturn, was called “he who is bound.” 

The statue of Saturn on the Roman capitol had bands around its feet.

An epigram of Martial reads, ‘these chains with their double fetter Zoilus dedicates to you, Saturnus. They were formerly his rings.”

In his Saturnalia, Macrobius writes, “Saturn, too, is represented with his feet bound together, and, although Verrius Flaccus says that he does not know the reason . . . Apollodorus says that throughout the year Saturn is bound with a bond of wool but is set free on the day of his festival.” 

In the early second century AD, in his Fourteenth Discourse Dio Chrysostom writes, “And yet the King of the Gods, the first and eldest one, is in bonds, they say, if we are to believe Hesiod and Homer and the other wise men who tell this tale about Cronus.”

The shrines to Saturn in Roman Africa portrayed the god with his head surrounded “by a veil that falls on each of his shoulders,” in a way reminiscent of the planet’s rings. See J. Toutain, De Saturni Dei in Africa Romana Cultu (Paris, 1894)

… & so on. The fact that the ancients knew that Saturn was surrounded rings is beyond doubt, the only question is how they knew. Perhaps Saturn was closer to Earth in the past, or a telescopic eyeglass was invented by some long lost civilisation.

Daisy & a ‘stranger’ at Machrie Moor

Cronos Worship off North-West Europa

Returning to Machrie Moor & its wonderful Saturnine first circle, one gets the feeling that this place especially of the Scottish stone circles is connected to Cronos worship. What else we know comes from Plutarch’s essay & some geographical speculations. A couple of weeks ago, while on Arran, I had a radio interview with the main Faroe Islands media company, who are thinking of putting a story of mine on their ‘Good Morning Faroe’ show. It basically goes that the prison island of Kronos was on the Faroe Islands themselves. My reasoning was that at the southern reaches of the islands – in Sudouroy, near the village of Lopra – stands a pyramidical peak – man made or natural – called Kirvi. Thename contains the initial phonetics of Kronos, & transchispers easily into the Akkadian (3rd-2nd millenium BC) version of Kronus – Kaiwan.



Pin on Terra
Mount Kirvi

The fate of Cronus differs across texts, but with Orpheus he is incarcerated in the cave of Nyx, a cave of night or darkness, which perfectly reflects the extreme northerness of the Faroe Islands & their ‘eternal’ nights & days. In Plutarch’s moral essay, Obsolescence of Oracles (DeDefectu Oraculorum) one of the speakers is a certain Demetrius, who in an aside remarks upon the eternalimprisonment of Cronus. He relates that Cronus was confined in a cave on an island close to Britain, guarded as he slept by the ancient Briareüs and various other daimones (demi-gods). The Faroe Islands are indeed close to Britain, & even record a local folk lore about Holy Man inhabitaing Sudouroy long before the Norse arrived.

As for the prison island given in Plutarch’s ‘On the Face of the Moon,’ somewhere in the ‘Cronian Sea,’ for me it feels as if Ogygia is phantasy – there’s no island 5 days west of Britain – but the three islands referre’d too are Iceland & the two equidistant’ islands the Faroe archipelago,& Greenland. The latter island then fits well with it being 5000 stadia – about 600 miles, from the ‘Great Continent’ – North America.

The sea is difficult of passage and muddy through the great number of currents, and these currents issue out of the great land, and shoals are formed by them, and the sea becomes clogged and full of earth, by which it has the appearance of being solid. That sea-coast of the mainland Greeks are settled on, around a bay not smaller than the Mæos, the entrance of which lies almost in a straight line opposite the entrance to the Caspian Sea.

The Gulf of Maine is both on the same latitude as the Caspian Sea &about twice the size as the Sea of Azov, called ‘ Mæos’ in classical times. The Gulf of Maine is the best waterway that matches Plutarch’s ‘great number of currents, and these currents issue out of the great land.’ Under the surface, the elevated sea flooor of George’s Bank shapes the floow of currents and divides the Gulf of Maine from the Atlantic Ocean south of Cape Cod. Two major currents, the Labrador Current and Gulf Stream, meet just outside this boundary. Within the Gulf of Maine, the coastline alters the course of cold water owing into the Bay of Fundy, forming a gyre that deteects water southward. As ocean water moves throughout the gulf, it transports heat, sediment, nutrients, and a variety of small organisms unable to swim against the current known as plankton. Currents carry the building blocks of the ecosystem on which all other marine life depends. This of course matches Plutacrh’s ‘ shoals are formed by {the currents}, and the sea becomes clogged and full ofearth, by which it has the appearance of being solid.’

In the same area, the native American tribe known as the Iroquois seem related to the ancient Lycians of Anatolia, who were said to have originated in Crete when it was still polulated by pre-Greek ‘barbarians.’ Is it possible, then, that at the same time Crete sent out its ‘Greeks’ to Turkey, some also cross’d the Atlantic. The matriarchal gynococracy of the Iroquois certainly recalls the Lycians of Anatolia as described by Herodotus.

One custom {the Lycians} have which is peculiar to them, and in which they agree with no other people, that is they call themselves by their mothers and not by their father; and if one asks his neighbour who he is, he will state his parentage on the mother’s side and enumerate his mother’s female ascendants. If a woman who is a citizen marry a slave, the children are accounted to be of gentle birth; but if a man who is a citizen, though he were the first man among them, have a slave for wife or concubine, the children are without civil rights

Lafitau, an early 18th century missionary to the area, show that the name of the Thracian goddess Bendis was derived from the same root as the Iroquois endi or enni, which meant both the ‘day’ and the ‘sun’, the bringer of light. In addition, as each Iroquois village was divided into three ‘families’, of the Wolf, the Bear and the Turtle. So also were the Spartans divided into the three Dorian tribes, and archaic Rome had its Tities, Ramnes and Luceres, whose names are too ancient for us to understand. We also have the name ‘Iroquois’ itself, with its Basque roots (koa denotes where a person comes from) suggesting another link to ancient Eurasia.


3 thoughts on “On The Antiquities of Arran (2): Machrie Moor, Stonehenge & the Worship of Saturn

    Paulus said:
    July 7, 2021 at 1:20 pm

    An excellent short article that adds much additional detail to the astronomy in my own books 1995 to 2006, which I have seen cited (without attribution) in various places on the internet – see http://www.third-millennium.co.uk and Under Ancient Skies (2005). Perhaps you had a copy in your second-hand bookshop? I doubt if the ancients ever actually saw the ‘rings’ of Saturn and are just referring to its circular orbit around our sky. Don’t spoil a good hypothesis by taking it too far; sometimes rings are just rings.

      yodamo responded:
      September 10, 2021 at 9:58 pm

      The evidence for the ancient observation of Saturn’s rings is in the article – you took it half way, I finished the job x

    On The Antiquities of Arran (4): « Mumble Words said:
    July 22, 2021 at 11:26 am

    […] of Arran – see what I can dig up that has been missed. So let us revisit Machrie Moor, an amazing place I was last at a few weeks back. A century ago scholars had decided that because they found sepulchral remains in the circles of […]

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