THE SEER OF WILMINGTON ©
by Tira Brandon-Evans
The teinm láida1 is one of the three forms of Ogham divination specifically named in the Auraicept.2 No one living in the world today knows for sure and certain how the ollaves performed the teinm láida. This form of divination was banned by the Roman Catholic Church over a thousand years ago. Therefore, all we have of the original divinatory practice is the name. I have added to this name my own intuition that the teinm láida may be connected to:
- the figure carved in chalk we call the Long Man of Wilmington, and
- a form of Scots divination called the fríth.
The reason I feel the teinm láida—and therefore the act of oracle or divination—may be connected to the the Long Man of Wilmington is because he is standing between two stakes, posts, or shafts and the word láida means a stake, post, or shaft. The reason I feel the fríth may be connected to the teinm láida is because the fríth is traditionally performed standing in a doorway with each hand gripping the doorpost on either side of the frítheir.
One common form of divination is the fríth - said free. This is Scots Gaelic and the seer is a called frítheir, which is said freer.
According to Carmichael in the Carmina Gadelica , Clan Freer still retained this art in the Western Isles of Scotland during the 18th Century. The frítheir were, even then, shy of sharing their gifts or making their auguries because the local clergymen condemned their practices.
Once prepared in spirit, body, and mind the seer would go to some predetermined place with eyes blindfolded or covered. Upon reaching the place the seer uncovered their eyes. Whatever they saw first conveyed the augury. One form of the fríth requires the frítheir to stand in a doorway with a hand on each doorpost.
(The Oak Grove Ogham Masters Program, Lesson 9: Ogham Divination, Part One: The Door Posts © copyright 2005 by Tira Brandon-Evans)
The Long Man of Wilmington, also known as the Wilmington Giant, is located in Great Britain, in the county of Sussex, on Windover Hill. Windover Hill overlooks the town of Wilmington, which is why the chalk figure is called the Long Man or Giant of Wilmington.
Windover Hill is, like all the hills in this area of Sussex, composed of chalk. From the White Cliffs of Dover to the rolling hills of the South and North Downs, chalk comprises much of the landscape we usually think of when we think of rural Britain. The softly rolling green hills grazed by peaceful sheep are typical of the chalk downs. Chalk is one form of the mineral calcite. Like all calcites chalk is composed of calcium carbonate. Chalk is soft and may be used to make marks on harder surfaces but the substance we call chalk that is used in on black boards in schools is not the mineral chalk at all; it is gypsum.
Historically, chalk has been very important to certain industries and to the development of technology. By burning chalk one is able to obtain two kinds of lime—quick-lime and slaked lime. Quick-lime was used in warfare and is used even today in outhouses to 'sweeten' human wastes. Slow lime or slaked lime is used in great quantities in agriculture and gardening to sweeten alkaline soils and encourage plant growth. Slaked lime is also essential to the production of mortar and cement, without which the Roman Empire could not have been built, and without which our civilization could not exist for we need lime to make steel and it is also used as a flux in certain metallurgy processes.
Long before burnt chalk was used in the production of lime the chalk rock itself was used as a building material. It is soft and easily quarried. But the most important chalk related industry in pre-history is flint mining. Nodules of flint are found in chalk. Flint was one of the most valuable and useful materials available to Stone Age folk. Flint was used to make tools of all sorts, from axe heads to scrapers, spear points to arrowheads. Indeed, the tool-making technology of the Stone Age was based on flint. And the chalk downs of Britain are rich in flint.
At least ten Neolithic flint mines are known in Britain. At one of these, Grimes Graves, flint was mined from around 3,000 BCE to around 2,000 BCE—a period stretching from the Neolithic into the early Bronze Age in Britain. For more information you may visit:
Given that the chalk downs were so important to the survival and welfare of our Stone and Bronze Ages ancestors, it is not surprising that we find giant figures carved into the chalk. When the shallow green turf is removed from the chalk the exposed stone is white and the mark is easily seen from a distance. This fact would have been noticed by our ancestors. The oldest chalk figure is the famous White Horse of Uffington. Around 1000 BCE this stylized figure of a horse was carved into a hill that now overlooks the village of Uffington. The White Horse is 374 feet long.
On Windover Hill, above the village of Wilmington, the Long Man or Giant of Wilmington looms large. He is the largest earth drawn human figure in all of Europe and the second largest in the entire world.3 He is 226 feet high. He appears to stand between two staffs or staves, which he holds in either hand, one on each side. One stave is 230 feet high and the other is 235 feet high. From the air the figure is elongated but from the valley the Long Man is in more or less correct proportion to the viewer.
The actual construction of the Long Man eludes definite conclusions. There are many pre-historic sites on Windover Hill, indicating the hill was important to our ancestors over a span of time ranging from the Neolithic through the Bronze and into the Iron Age. Prehistoric burials in a barrow called Giants Grave can be found on the hill above the Long Man. A second long barrow lies to the east. There are several Bronze Age round barrows and a large bowl barrow associated with the figure. One of the round barrows contains particularly rich grave goods indicating a person of high status, perhaps a chieftain, was buried there.
A large hoard of bronze axe heads, with other weapon points and an axe mould, were discovered nearby, which may indicate the presence of a bronze foundry in the area. Fragments of Roman tiles found in the filled trenches around the Long Man indicate the site was maintained well into the Iron Age. Regardless of when the Long Man was first carved into Windover Hill, it is obvious the people who carved him did so for some specific reason. His form and placement are not random.
Local folklore has it that the Long Man is the outline of an actual giant who died on the hill and the people carved an outline around his supine form. But this does not answer to the two staves on each side of the Long Man. In some legends the giant dies while pursuing a giantess and, indeed, there are many who see a Long Woman in the figure rather than a man.
Some authorities think the hill may have been deliberately altered to its present 28° slope at the time the Long Man was carved there. Although there is evidence for and against the theory, the shape of Windover Hill is fortutious because the voice of a speaker standing within the outlines of the Long Man is amplified by the shape of the hill. In the context of oracle this acoustic anomaly is interesting. We do need to bear in mind that this may be a mere coincidence and the amplification was never used in any ritual way. Conversely, the improved acoustics—whether discovered by chance or the result of the hill being altered for that purpose—may have been relevant to some ritual use of the site.
It is also interesting to note that the outline we see today has been altered in recent times. Today the Giant's feet both point in the same general direction. Originally the feet appear to have both been toed-out, with the toes pointed towards the staves, giving the Giant a confrontation attitude as he/she stood foresquare within the frame of the staves. In other words, the original outline depicted a human of indeterminate gender standing with legs spread, toes out, holding onto two staves, and facing the viewer straight on. This is the stance described to Carmichael by the Highlanders of Scotland as being the stance assumed by their seers when performing an oracle.
Although some modern British pagans and heathens perform fertility rites within the outlines of the Long Man of Wilmington there is no evidence this was an ancient custom. Considering the frank advertisement of male virility depicted in the Cerne Abbas Giant—also known as the Rude Man of Cerne—one would think the people who carved the chalk figure at Windmill Hill would not have hesitated to make a fertility connection clear.
When we look at these three well known chalk figures of the Downs we wonder if there is some connection among them. All three were carefully cut into the chalk and the outlines maintained for hundreds of years. The rituals of our ancient ancestors, religious or otherwise, appear to have related directly to the things they needed in order to survive and prosper in an often hostile environment.
It is easy to connect the White Horse and the Rude Man of Cerne to these needs. Horses were an essential part of our earliest technology. Even before we domesticated the horse we hunted it for food and continued to consume horsemeat for many thousands of years.4 Horses frequently appear in cave art and horse images were one of those most favoured for decorating jewellery, horse trappings, and so on during the Bronze Age.
The Rude Man of Cerne frankly depicts the power and virility a man needed in order to hunt, protect his family, and father children. In a largely unpeopled world the safety, welfare, and continuance of the clan were matters of upmost importance and we see how large this concerns loomed when we examine the Cerne Abbas Giant and understand what he represents.5
If the White Horse of Uffington and the Cerne Abbas Giant were originally carved and then maintained as offerings to the deities or if they were originally meant to be ritual spaces where the horse and the Good God could be ritually honoured,6 then who or what did the Long Man of Wilmingtom represent to our ancestors?
Giants abound in Celtic myth. In Britain the god Bran was a giant. Bran was said to be so tall he waded from Wales through the sea to Ireland. Bran's head is specifically associated with oracle. During the battle in Ireland he was wounded and asked his followers to cut off his head and bury it at the White Hill, the same which today we call Tower Hill in London. While taking the head to its final resting place the warriors tarried along the way for eighty years because Bran's head sang such wonderful songs and told them such wonderful stories they delayed parting with it.
Three possibly ancient stone heads are found in Wilmington. These may be of Celtic origin and may relate to the many stories of oracular heads we find in Welsh and Irish myth and legend. To view pictures of these heads and read the commentary you may go to:
The Long Man of Wilmington - Stone Heads
We will never know exactly what our ancestors had in mind when they carved these figures in the chalk of their flint rich hills. But I believe they had some reason for doing this. I believe they wanted to honour the Great Mare Mother when they carved White Horse. They wished to honour and invoke the principle of fertility when they carved the Rude Man. Not only did they want to honour these things, they also wished to ritually harness those energies for their own survival and well being.
I believe the hill figures were carved to show all generations what is important to the survival of the people. One of these is food to maintain life, another is continuation of the clan, and a third is that the clan remain connected to the ancestors and to all their friends and allies who dwell beyond this material world. This is why I believe the Giant of Wilmington depicts a seer standing between two staves. The seer clings to the staves for help in standing upright during the oracular trance. In other words, I believe that by the wildest of chances our ancestors have left us either a picture of an ancient seer performing an oracle or else the figure represents an oracular deity in the a sacred act of mediation between this and Otherworlds.
THE SEER OF WILMINGTON?
If my intuition is correct the Giant of Wilmington should actually be called the Seer of Wilmington because the figure clearly shows us the shaman, the seer, the ollave, the druid, the faery doctor, the frítheir establishing, maintaining, and mediating an essential Otherworld connection. Oracle is one of the duties of the shaman or ollave and this appears to be acknowledged by our ancestors at Windmill Hill if the Long Man of Wilmington does depict the act of oracle.
Tira Brandon-Evans is the Founder and Moderator of the Society of Celtic Shamans, editor of Earthsongs: Journal of the Society of Celtic Shamans, and is, herself, a Faery Shaman. Her books, The Green and Burning Tree: A Faery Shaman's Handbook, Portals of the Seasons: A Celtic Wheel of the Year, Through the Unremembered Gate: Journeys of Initiation, The Labyrinthine Way: Walking Ancient Paths in a Modern World, and Healing Waters, are all published by Elder Grove Press. She is presently writing a book about the Ogham and teaching an online Ogham Masters Program. You may contact Tira by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Teinm means breaking up, cracking, crushing, gnawing, dissolving, analysing, solving, understanding. In their eighth year of study the Ollamh of Ireland learned several láide. Láide means a stake, a post, or a shaft. Return to Article
- Auraicept na n-Ées, also known as the Scholar's Primer, was written in the Middle Ages in Ireland. It is entirely devoted to the Oghams and to the rules of poesy. It is, basically, a text book explaining everything an Irish Bard, Ollave, or Druid needed to know in order to master the Oghams and the art of poetry. Return to Article
- The largest earth drawn human figure in the world is the Giant Of Attacama in Chile, which is 393 feet high. Of course, this figure was entirely unknown to our Stone Age ancestors of Europe. Return to Article
- Horsemeat is still eaten in many parts of Europe and the Far East. In some cities it is sold in butcher shops and cuts of horse meat can be found beside beef and pork. Return to Article
- It is interesting to note here that in Ireland one of the rites of kingship involved the new king ritually mating with a mare at his coronation. Are these chalk figures in the Susses Downs the horse and the king carved large so all can see "... whence come the powers of just governments...?" Additionally, there is a similar ceremony performed in India in which a stallion and a woman of rank are ritually mated at a coronation. In both cases the horse is killed and eaten. The Irish king also bathed in a cauldron of horse broth made from the slain mare, thus becoming the horse by eating her and also being born of the horse by entering into the womb of her cauldron and emerging as king. Return to Article
- Comparisons have been made between the club and cloak, or animal hide, carried by the Cerne Abbas Giant and the club or fork of The Dagda, the Good God, of Ireland who was a giant. Return to Article
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