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Cosmic Geometry in the West Country

by Andrew May

"As above, so below..." the notion has a timeless attraction. Many people will be aware of the work that Graham Hancock has done in highlighting the geometrical correspondences between certain constellations and groups of sacred sites on Earth. He's found Orion mirrored in the pyramids of Giza, and Draco in the temples of Cambodia. I'm sure there must be many more such instances if you look hard enough. The skeptics say they're no more than chance coincidences, but like most of their pronouncements this misses the point. If people think something is significant then it is significant... if it makes them feel closer to the cosmos, then that makes it important.

As an experiment, I started to map out some of the key sacred sites in my own part of the world, the West Country. Within a few minutes, what did I see emerging but the constellation of Aquarius? In retrospect, it could hardly have been anything else! I started typing coordinates into my computer, and the fit turned out to be pretty good (with an RMS error of a couple of percent -- I'll give the full technical details later).

A map with the constellation superimposed is shown below. The stars are labelled with their astronomical symbols (Greek letters), which are listed alongside the corresponding "sacred sites" in the table that follows. After the table I've provided a few notes about each of the sites.

The constellation of Aquarius superimposed on a map of the West Country


SymbolStarCorresponding Site
eEpsilon AquariiStonehenge
bBeta AquariiWarminster
gGamma AquariiGlastonbury
aAlpha AquariiWells Cathedral
lLambda AquariiIlminster
qTheta AquariiIlchester
iIota AquariiCerne Giant
tTau AquariiPilsdon Pen
dDelta AquariiWhitchurch Canonicorum

Stonehenge, of course, is probably the most famous sacred site in Britain -- a huge astronomically-aligned temple on Salisbury Plain that has existed since Neolithic times. It's best known now as the place where modern-day Druids celebrate the summer solstice.

In contrast to Stonehenge, Warminster's Aquarian credentials only date back a few decades, as a notorious UFO "hot spot" and centre of crop circle activity. The specific grid coordinates I used correspond to Cley Hill -- the site of countless UFO sky-watches over the years, as well as a famous crop circle that appeared in July 1997.

Glastonbury is the spiritual capital of the West Country, with at least four sacred sites of major significance -- the Abbey, the Tor, the Holy Thorn and the Chalice Well -- all intimately connected to the legends of King Arthur and the Holy Grail. The coordinates used here correspond to the Holy Thorn on Wearyall Hill.

Wells Cathedral is the oldest Gothic cathedral in England, dating from the 12th and 13th centuries. The ornately carved west front depicts a huge panorama of the Day of Judgment.

The Minster in Ilminster dates from the 15th century, and is one of the most imposing parish churches in Somerset. Its layout is modelled after Wells cathedral.

In Roman times Ilchester was known as Lindinis, and by the Middle Ages it had grown to be the county town of Somerset, with no less than six parish churches within the town walls as well as a friary and a nunnery. There is now just one church left, St Mary Major, dating from the 13th century.

The Cerne Giant is a huge chalk image carved in a hillside north of Cerne Abbas. The image depicts a male fertility symbol, possibly the Roman god Hercules or (as the name suggests) the Celtic god Cernunnos. The village of Cerne Abbas also contains the ruins of a Benedictine Abbey.

At 900 feet, Pilsdon Pen is the highest point in Dorset. It is an iron Age hill-fort, enclosing five round barrows within its ramparts.

The grandly-named Whitchurch Canonicorum is a small village near the Dorset coast that was an important pilgrimage site in former times. Inside the village church is the shrine of St. Wite, containing relics of the saint which were believed to have miraculous healing powers.

Finally, a few technical details. The fit was obtained by superimposing a Mercator projection of the night sky (in RA/Dec coordinates) onto an Ordnance Survey map, with a scale factor of 23 minutes of arc to one kilometre. The star Alpha Aquarii was centred on Wells Cathedral, and the image then rotated counterclockwise until the line of the ecliptic lay approximately east-west at latitude 50° 56' N. The resulting average positional error (RMS) was less than 2 kilometres, or roughly 2 percent of the total spatial extent.

Copyright © 2002 Andrew May

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