In an earlier post, which appeared on this blog around Autumn Equinox of last year, I looked at the connection between the legendary Welsh archetype Mabon ap Modron, who was worshipped as a god in Pagan times, and the Hunt for Twrch Trwyth. A Wild Boar that features in the great collection of Medieval Welsh Tales generally referred to as ‘The Mabinogion‘. As I also observed in last year’s post, Autumn Equinox is referred to in the Welsh language as Alban Elfed, which is usually translated into English as ‘The Light of the Water’. This considered, it is perhaps significant that it is now generally accepted that the location of the site most sacred to Mabon, in what were once the Old Celtic Realms of Western Europe, has been identified with one, other or both of two distinct locations in contemporary Dumfries and Galloway; both of which are closely associated with water; in addition to being generally referred to by various sources as the ‘Locus Maponi’.
According to tradition, the ‘Locus Maponi‘, or ‘Place of Maponos‘ as it is referred to directly in the earliest of Latin texts, was supposedly the primary centre of worship for the great Romano-Celtic deity of the same name; and therefore the principal earthly focus of his cult. The exact location of this ancient place of devotion, which features in the Ravenna Cosmography, an eighth century gazetteer of place names from across what had previously been the whole of the known ‘Roman World’, is generally believed to have been either at the Lochmaben Stone, an ancient menhir or standing stone which lies a short distance inland on the North Western side of the Solway Firth, or else in the immediate vicinity of Lochmaben in Annandale. It is also perfectly possible that both of these aforementioned locations were once interconnected, although separate, sacred centres located in what was formerly a single ritual landscape, or cult centre, which was itself synonymous with the very locality referred to in the Ravenna Cosmography as the ‘Locus Maponi‘.
As I have already pointed out, both of these sites were, and still are, closely associated with water, which makes it extremely likely that Autumn Equinox, or Alban Elfed, was celebrated in or about their immediate vicinity. The fact that, as I have likewise already made clear, Alban Elfed translates from the Welsh into English as ‘The Light of the Water’, indicates that there was undoubtedly some sort of link between the celebration of the Autumn Equinox and the point in the Astronomical Year when the combined influence of the Moon and the Earth’s gravitational pull bring about the highest and lowest tides in those bodies of water that are subject to such natural phenomena. This in itself might explain why a site such as the Lochmaben Stone might be associated with the enactment of some sort of Pagan ritual practice around the time of the Autumn Equinox. The additional fact that the Welsh name for the Autumn Equinox is likewise suggestive of some sort of connection with light, in this instance most probably Moonlight, also suggests that the rising of the Full Moon that falls closest to the Equinox, in addition to the Equinox itself, was almost certainly celebrated regardless of whether or not each of these separate dates in the ritual calendar were to fall on the same night.
If all of this should turn out to be the case then, it is by no means impossible that whilst the Lochamben Stone and its environs may have provided a primary ritual focus during the Autumn Equinox in former times, Lochmaben itself may have been at the centre of similar ritual activities on or around the Full Moon. Lochamben Castle is situated on a promontory that is directly aligned to the site of an ancient stone circle generally known as ‘The Kirkhill Stone Circle‘, on account of its proximity to the nearby hamlet of Kirkhill. It is therefore possible that the Kirkhill, Wamphray or Staffenbigging Burn Stone Circle, as it is variously known, was once part of the same ritual landscape as both Lochmaben itself and the Lochmaben Stone were almost certainly a part of in former times; and therefore likewise connected with the ‘Locus Maponi’. Lochmaben Castle not only stands imposingly over a large inland lake or loch, which in itself might have been the focus of Full Moon rituals that would have been conducted in Pagan times round about the time of Alban Elfen, hence this festival’s association with ‘The Light of the Water’, but only dates back as far as the late thirteenth century. Previous to this, another castle, which for well over a century was associated with the family of King Robert de Brus, stood on the other side of the loch that surrounds the later, more modern, castle on three of its four sides. Perhaps indicating that the latter structure was built on the site of some earlier construction, whether mound, tree or ancient stone, that was also once part of the ancient ritual landscape referred to throughout this essay as the ‘Locus Maponi’.
Whatever the truth, the Lochmaben Stone appears to have been used for seasonal gatherings right the way down into the modern historical era. During the golden age of the Border Reivers the menhir was a meeting place where the English and Scottish Wardens of the Western March would meet to discuss matters of diplomacy. Of further interest is the fact that at least one fourteenth century source refers to a specific indenture which bound various parties to meet on Michaelmas at Kershope Bridge, another location which may have formed part of the ancient ritual landscape previously identified with the ‘Locus Maponi’. More interesting still perhaps is Geoffrey Ashe’s assertion, in his ‘Camelot and the Vision of Albion‘, that the Lochmaben Stone or ‘Clochambenstane’, which is believed by many to have been one of two surviving monoliths that formerly made up a considerably larger stone circle, can be identified with the ’round temple’ of ‘Apollo’ worshipped by the Hyperboreans of Hecateus. A location previously associated with Stonehenge.
Diodorus Siculus and Apollonius of Rhodes are the two principal classical sources from whom we learn of the now largely lost and fragmentary works of Hecataeus of Abdera, most especially his writings on the Hyperboreans. The name by which some Greek authors appear to have referred to the indigenous peoples of Britain during the Classical Period. If Geoffrey Ashe’s assertions are correct, it could explain why we hear little or nothing of Stonehenge until it appears in the twelfth century writings of Geoffrey of Monmouth; whereas the earliest written references to the ‘Locus Maponi’ appear several centuries earlier, and are clearly derived from even more ancient Classical antecedents. This adds further weight to my previously made assertions on this blog that we don’t need to travel to Stonehenge to celebrate either the Solstices or the Equinoxes, and can therefore easily avoid English Heritage’s ongoing attempts to financially exploit their monopoly at Stonehenge; by refusing to participate in their games from the outset.