Wow! Life is definitely pretty strange, you just never know where things will lead… this time last year I didn’t have an inkling that I’d be teaching jewellery making masterclasses at the British Library in London as part of their iconic Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition.
“I still can’t believe it, its like something that happens in dreams, not in real life!”
Here is my story of how it began
Back in 2010, I had no idea where it would lead me when out of the blue I was contacted and asked if I was interested in teaching some jewellery making workshops as part of the Forest of Bowland AONB Landscapes Project. The brief I was given was to link the workshops to the local landscape and its history.
I think it had been expected that I’d probably choose the Romans, as we’ve got a lot of Roman history in Lancashire, including a Roman museum on the site of the Roman fort of Bremetenacum Veteranorum in Ribchester in the Ribble Valley. But whilst doing some research on the Forest of Bowland’s history, I came across the Anglo-Saxons. To be honest I didn’t really know much about them and delving further, they really intrigued me. Anyway, something seemed to be pushing me to choose them instead of the Romans?!
What an great opportunity for me learn about the Anglo-Saxons. Although they are part of our history, I wasn’t taught anything about them at school and since then, I hadn’t heard a lot about them.
This kindled the fire of my knowledge and creativity!
Once I began, I really enjoyed discovering the Anglo-Saxons and spent hours online researching and reading about them; where they came from, why they came, how they lived and most importantly for me was seeing examples of their artwork.
Alongside coming across their wonderfully strange interlaced designs with animals and birds (zoomorphic design), I noticed that they also used lots of spirals in their decoration of manuscripts, stone work, weaponry and especially in their early jewellery design. At the time, the most exciting of all were the stone crosses I found at a churchyard in the Forest of Bowland and no less they were decorated with spirals. This was great, it was the direct link I needed for the spiral jewellery designs I would teach on the workshop.
“I have been fascinated by spirals for many years, especially how they have found their way into the artwork of many ancient civilizations across the world.”
In my own jewellery making I love working with wire, especially copper wire with all its magical healing properties and by 2010 I was already teaching a range of different wirework skills including spirals on some of my further wire skills jewellery making classes in adult education at Lancashire College and on my own bebeady classes that I ran at Cedar Farm and other venues across Lancashire.
I adapted my spiral designs for these Anglo-Saxon jewellery making workshops, so that they would be suitable for both beginners and for families, adults and children. All of this took up quite a lot of time and if you were looking at it from a purely business point of view it wasn’t something worth doing, but it became more about my own development and doing something I really enjoyed.
After teaching these jewellery making workshops for the Forest of Bowland AONB Landscapes Project, I was busy and didn’t think any more about them, I had no idea where it would take me in the future… to be continued in my next blog posts, come with me on my creative journey and read my story about teaching Anglo-Saxon jewellery making workshops…
Come with me on my journey of discovery on the St Michael pilgrimage path to the sacred Glastonbury Tor and Burrowbridge Mump. These are sacred and magical places with their earth energies, spirits and mysteries. I had read about the orbs of light and strange happenings at Glastonbury Tor but never expected to see them for myself, another enchanting experience and I will share it with you in this blog post.
I guess I’m a modern-day pilgrim traveller and feel blessed that Glastonbury Tor and its springs call me to return. Being there, meditating gives me such a sense of peace and wonder, its powerful life force recharges my batteries and my immersion in its waters helps heal me.
This Summer as part of my annual pilgrimage, I spent a few days discovering some of the other ancient and sacred places near to Glastonbury – you can read more about my Glastonbury Experience in my other blog posts: Angels and Dragons and Ancient Trees – and my guidebook ‘The Traveller’s Guide to Sacred England’ by John Mitchell, inspired me to go and visit the magical ‘Mump’ or King Alfred’s Fort at Burrowbridge.
It was a glorious July summer morning and after a short drive, I parked at the free National Trust car park and walked up the ‘Mump’ (just 79ft high) to the ruined St Michael’s church. Whilst I looked around the ruin and sat in its shade having a picnic and reading my guidebook, a few visitors came and went, I even had the Mump to myself for a while. I watched the Swift fly in the breeze around the hill before returning to perching on their ledge, high up in the Tower. There was a glorious view of the surrounding Somerset countryside and in the distance, I could make out a hazy Glastonbury Tor rising up from the Somerset Levels. In ancient times, this whole area was sea and marshland and the Burrow Mump would have been an island.
Burrowbridge Mump with its ruined church dedicated to St. Michael is also significant for being on the St Michael ley line.
A ley-line is an energy / psychic power line, often lying on ancient trackways and spiritual sites of pagan ceremony.
Paul Devereux, editor of the ‘Ley Hunter’ and many books on earth energies identifies these ‘spirit paths’ as stretches of ancient trackway. An excerpt from ‘Encyclopedia of the Unexplained’; “He believes that rather than interpret them as lines of energy created by the ‘biosphere’ of a living planet, they are trails along which sensitive people felt ‘drawn’ towards a spiritual centre, today often demarked by a church. Devereux thinks that there is an inter-relationship between much of the earth mysteries field and the collective consciousness of human beings.”
In my guidebook, John Michell says that: “St Michael on the Tor is one of the stations in an alignment of Michael shrines that extends along the spine of southwest England… In very ancient times the path appears to have provided a pilgrimage route from the west to the great temple at Avebury. Eleven miles southwest of Glastonbury, the road to Taunton skirts another prominent St Michael’s Hill, also topped by a ruined church, known as ‘the Mump’ at Burrowbridge. From the church on the Mump, Glastonbury Tor is visible behind intervening hills. That alignment, from Mump to Tor, extends eastward precisely to the southern entrance of the Avebury ring, touching two of the enormous stones of the main circle.”
John Michell tells us about the St Michael shrines built on sacred high places: “St Michael shrines are commonly set on high places, where beacon fires once blazed on festival days. At such places, the electric forces of the atmosphere make contact with the magnetic powers of the earth, producing strange effects whose causes are unexplained by modern science. Balls of light emanating from the Tor are often seen hovering above it, giving rise to legends which vary with the times, from tales of fairies and demons to modern reports of unidentified flying objects.”
On reading this in my guidebook, little did I think that I too would come to experience this strange phenomenon.
On that evening, Wednesday 5 July, I shouldn’t have been walking up Glastonbury Tor at all, as it had been my intention to go the talk by Dr. Jacqueline Hobbs in Glastonbury. But, I was struggling with the heatwave we were having in Somerset, so after walking up and down and then around the base of the Burrowbridge Mump, followed by visiting the St Michaels and All Angels church in Somerton (read my previous blog post about it) and returning to my accommodation for a coffee and cold shower, I felt an urge to visit the Tor, where it would be cooler.
I think it was just after 6pm when I was heading up the Tor on this beautiful evening. There were still a few tourists around and as I reached the bench half-way up the Pilgrim Path to the Tor I was quite relieved to find it empty. As soon as I sat down, I noticed something quite unusual, I could see not far off, a group of about 15-20 seagulls that were flying/circling around a small area (I think they were above Chalice Hill), then I saw that about a metre in front of me, there were lots of midges or small flies that seemed to be static there and also in alignment with the seagulls.
Then I noticed something even stranger… I saw a group of 4 or 5 coloured balls/shapes of light just above the trees at the base of the Tor, they seemed to flash by quickly and after a few seconds, they disappeared into the trees.
A few minutes later they returned again and I began to watch and study them. These shimmering coloured balls of light appeared above the trees near to where the path up the Tor begins and then floated around the base of the Tor before disappearing into the trees at the other side of the Tor, I think about where the path from the Tor comes out onto the road. The balls of light repeated this journey sometimes only seconds later and other times after a few minutes. Each time it only lasted for maybe 5 seconds and unfortunately, they were way too fast for me to photograph, plus I had the sun in my eyes and even wearing dark sunglasses I was having to shade my eyes with my hand in order to see them.
How can I describe them?
They weren’t exactly round balls of light, having more of an irregular shape and a kind of cloud-like form as if they weren’t solid. They were colourful, but not as luminescent and bight as a rainbow, sort of muted shades of different colours, pastel shades of aqua/pale green-blue and purple-pink.
After about 40 minutes I sensed a change in the air, I can’t recall if there was more of a breeze or if it had been stillness before and the wind had picked up, both the seagulls and flies disappeared and the lights didn’t return again.
I felt really honoured to have been part of this special experience on Glastonbury Tor.
I was filled with exhilaration, wonder and awe. Although my mind was trying to think of a logical explanation for what I had just seen. I couldn’t think of anything that could explain it.
I often see colours in the clouds, coronas of light and iridescence and these can be reasonably explained, but these balls of light on Glastonbury Tor were different with their speed and closeness to the ground.
Why did no-one else seem to notice them?
Whilst I was sat there on the bench, I didn’t see that many people walk past and they were usually keeping an eye on the path. There were a few people up at the Tor and a paraglider flew past, but maybe with them being higher up and further away, the lights might not have been as clear.
And what created this phenomenon? Was it an energy vortex?
Perhaps for a short while, the bridge between the seen and unseen dimensions was open and I witnessed the spirit energies of departing souls in this our world centre / axis mundi, a transitional place that connects heaven and earth. There are some theories about Glastonbury Tor being an ‘Avalonian Soul Portal’ and I feel I need to read more about it.
I guess it will remain a mystery of the Tor for a while longer…
This series of blog posts about my Glastonbury Experiences in Summer 2017 has grown from the short posts I originally intended to do. The more I delved into the articles, folklore and myths surrounding this enchanted place, the more fascinating information I came across and I wanted to share it with you in the hope that it’ll inspire you to visit these sacred places and feel the same magic there that I do.
Enjoy the journey on the road to your destination, Sam Rowena xx
There’s quite a lot of info – books and websites – out there about Glastonbury, its energy, ley lines and mysterious lights:
Paul Devereux has written many books about ‘Earth Light’ phenomena. One of my favourite books is ‘Secrets of Ancient and Sacred Places’, in it he states than on one visit to the Tor in 1967, he too witnessed balls of light there.
There seems to be angels and dragons everywhere in Somerset!
In this blog post, I will share some of the places I visited on my recent Glastonbury Experience journey and what I discovered about the angels and dragons there.
When you start to look around, you see that there are lots of angels and dragons everywhere, especially in our art, sculpture and churches.
I’ve always just accepted angels and dragons being here and part of our lives, but I never really knew why so writing this blog post has been an interesting journey of discovery.
It has definitely been information overload, angels and dragons are fascinating and vast topics and it’s not been easy to just write a short blog post… but I’m going to try to keep this Glastonbury Experience blog post to just a bit of the info I’ve discovered about Archangel Michael and the angels/dragons that decorate a few of the places in and around Glastonbury.
Some info about angels:
In the ‘Secrets of the Universe in Symbols’ by Sarah Bartlett, “Regarded as messengers of God by Jews, Christians and Muslims, they embody heavenly purity and benevolence…”
musical angel on the organ
a winged bull – angel
Some photos of angels and winged creatures that decorate the ancient 12th Century St Cuthbert’s Church in Wells, near Glastonbury in Somerset. It has a beautiful painted wooden roof decorated with angels, interesting history and carvings/stonework. For more of its history visit St Cuthbert’s website.
And this leads me on to St Michael/Archangel Michael, who he is and what he does, depends really on your faith and beliefs.
In the Sacred Sites blog on Glastonbury: “St.Michael, or more properly the Archangel Michael, is traditionally regarded as an angel of light, the revealer of mysteries and the guide to the other world. Each of these qualities are in fact attributes of other earlier divinities that Michael supplanted. Frequently shown spearing dragons, St.Michael is widely recognized by scholars of mythology to be the Christian successor to pagan gods such as the Egyptian Thoth, the Greek Hermes, the Roman Mercury and the Celtic Bel. Mercury and Hermes were considered guardians of the elemental powers of the earth spirit, whose mysterious forces were sometimes represented by serpents and linear currents of dragon energy.”
According to Wikipedia: “In the Roman Catholic teachings, Saint Michael has four main roles or offices. His first role is the leader of the Army of God and the leader of heaven’s forces in their triumph over the powers of hell. He is viewed as the angelic model for the virtues of the spiritual warrior, with the conflict against evil at times viewed as the battle within. The second and third roles of Michael in Catholic teachings deal with death. In his second role, Michael is the angel of death, carrying the souls of all the deceased to heaven. In this role Michael descends at the hour of death, and gives each soul the chance to redeem itself before passing; thus consternating the devil and his minions. Catholic prayers often refer to this role of Michael. In his third role, he weighs souls in his perfectly balanced scales. For this reason, Michael is often depicted holding scales. In his fourth role, St Michael, the special patron of the Chosen People in the Old Testament, is also the guardian of the Church. This role also extends to his being the patron saint of a number of cities and countries”
In Somerset, there are many churches and chapels dedicated/named after him, including the picturesque 13th Century (or possibly earlier) church of St Michael and All Angels in Somerton, near Glastonbury. It’s famous for its oak roof with its elaborate carvings, featuring 4 pairs of dragons, believed to have been carved by the carpenters from nearby Muchelnay Abbey around 1500.
Today Somerton is a small sleepy rural medieval hamlet, but once it was the main town of Somerset and even for a short while in the 7th Century, the capital of the ancient county of Wessex. In Medieval times it was an important crossroads on the road between London and the South-west, which has resulted in many lovely ancient medieval buildings and it’s a pretty place to wander around. For more of its history visit the Somerton Web Museum website.
“I don’t usually look up at ceilings, but it’s got me looking upwards to see what’s hidden there!”
Some info about dragons:
Wikipedia states that: “A dragon is a legendary creature, typically scaled or fire-spewing and with serpentine, reptilian or avian traits, that features in the myths of many cultures around the world.”
St Michael is often shown in images with his lance, battling a dragon. In Christianity and many other religions, it signifies good conquering evil.
But, there’s more to dragons than this… In China and many Asian countries, dragons are a symbol of good luck, power and strength.
There are many different types of dragons; ‘Wyvern’ dragons are two-legged winged dragons with barbed tails and these are usually the type shown with St Michael, whereas Chinese dragons are more snake like.
Until I began looking into why there are so many dragons here in Somerset, I hadn’t realised that it’s their main symbol. The Somerset county flag is a ‘Wyvern’ dragon in red and gold and for the past Century it’s been on the coat of arms for Somerset County Council and it used to be the symbol for the ancient county of Wessex, but it has an even older history going back to Celtic symbols and the Romans. Many of the counties logos, for schools, clubs and businesses feature ‘Wyvern’ dragons, and it’s on many other flags too, the most well-known one being the Welsh flag! For further info on the history of flags visit the: British County Flags blog
An alternative view of dragons can also be found on the interesting and inspiring ‘Glastonbury Tor: Maker of Myths’ website, written by Frances Howard-Gordon: “The Goddess took many forms and was represented in a variety of different aspects, but believers would see her essential nature in the harmony and balance of the natural order, the ebb and flow growth and decay of life itself. She was evoked and celebrated on hills and mountains, these being her seats or thrones on earth. It is interesting to note that many early images of the Goddess have spirals on their breasts, resembling the spiral on the Tor. Spirals also symbolised the coiled serpent or dragon, both regarded as sacred in the old religion. The dragon or serpent represented the natural energies of the earth and the sky – energies which were cooperated with and revered. In the Shakti cults of south-east Asia and China, dragons and serpents were associated with clouds and rain, and the Sumerian goddess Tiamat was a sea-serpent and Great Waters goddess. The Greek Mother of all things was the serpent Eurynome, who laid the world-egg. The dragon was also regarded as a manifestation of the psyche in which the real and the imaginary are blurred and are, as in nature, only different aspects of life.
…The first church on the Tor was probably of the late twelfth or early thirteenth century and was dedicated to St Michael – a dedication which was characteristic of such a hill-top site. St Michael, apart from being the ruler of archangels according to Christian tradition, was also the dragon-slayer and the personal adversary of Satan. Early Christianity believed the gods of the old religion to be fallen angels or demons. The Christian church seems to have had a definite policy of building churches dedicated to St Michael on the old religious sites and sacred mounds. Since the Tor and its spiral maze represented the dragon, a symbol of the Primal Mother or Earth Spirit in pagan times, the building of a church dedicated to the dragon-slayer was obviously meant to act as a powerful deterrent to any kind of pagan celebration.”
My research into angels and dragons has been quite a revelation and given me a whole new outlook on them. I still view them with awe and wonder, but it’s combined with greater knowledge and a desire to know more…
My next blog post – Glastonbury Experience July 2017, St Michael pilgrimage path – follows soon, come and join me on my journey, Sam Rowena x
Being around trees gives us a sense of belonging to the world. They are a living, breathing part of our planet, with a deep connection to our earth providing ‘life’ for us… and each type of tree has a unique smell, wood and leaves. They are revered for their wisdom and many ancient myths and legends have grown up around them.
Trees have a magical quality, an air of mystery. Do they belong to an enchanted world?
I’ve always believed that they are the home of fairies and elves. This belief stems from my childhood; as a small child, my mum would tell me stories about the magical creatures that lived in ancient trees. I was smitten and would talk to the fairies that lived in their gnarled holes and see if I could spot any.
This blog post is about a few of the ancient trees I visited near Glastonbury in Somerset on my Glastonbury Experience pilgrimage in July 2017.
On my last visit to Glastonbury, I’d bought some guidebooks to help me to learn about and explore the ancient and sacred places around Glastonbury and further afield. ‘The Traveller’s Guide to Sacred England’ by John Mitchell, led me to go and see the ancient Yew tree at Dundon, 5 miles South of Glastonbury.
According to my guidebook:
“The site is naturally adapted for worship and contemplation and its qualities were no doubt recognised in Celtic times. Testifying to its early religious significance is the huge and venerable yew tree in front of the church porch. The yew is thought to have stood for over a thousand years and is, therefore, older than the present church”.
Yew trees are poisonous evergreen trees, with red berries, their sap can be blood red and they are able to regenerate, sprouting new roots. They are known as a sacred tree, the Tree of life, regeneration and rebirth. There are many myths and legends about yew trees and why they are planted next to churches. Is it possible they were planted at ancient sacred sites and churches were then built there at a later date?
This info is from www.plant-lore.com
“For those of the Christian faith, a yew tree is symbolic of Christian Resurrection as it has the ability to regenerate by sending down a shoot from high up which then takes root in a crevice near the base of the old tree, thus giving birth to new life.”
This info is from www.whitedragon.org.uk “In the past, they were used as landmarks, because of their size and longevity, and their dark branches would make them stand out in the landscape. Yew groves planted by the Druids were common by ancient ways, on sacred sites, hilltops, ridge-ways and burial grounds. Tribal leaders were buried beneath Yew trees, in the sure belief that their knowledge and wisdom would be joined with the Dryad of the Yew and therefore still be accessible to the tribe for generations to come.”
In this quiet spot next to the simple but beautiful 13th Century Church of St Andrew in the small hamlet of Dundon, this yew tree is cared for and feels at peace in its surroundings. A stark difference to my visit to the ancient oak trees Gog and Magog near Glastonbury.
It was only by accident that I ended up visiting them at all…
I was giving Michiel (a healer I’d bumped into a few times over the years) a lift to Glastonbury on my way to visit Wells, he was carrying a heavy backpack and as it was such a hot muggy day, I said I’d drop him off nearer to the campsite he was going to. But we got lost down a small one-way track past Glastonbury Tor. He remembered that the campsite was just across the field and he could take the footpath there. He said the ancient oak trees Gog and Magog were just a few minutes walk along the path. What a great opportunity to go and see them, I’d read about them and planned to visit them on one of my trips to Glastonbury.
When we came across them, I was shocked and saddened. I had expected to find them in a shady grove with an aura of enchantment surrounding them. But, not like this… they were forlorn and dying, completely boxed into a small space with high fencing around them.
Michiel said when he last visited them, you could easily access them and they weren’t in this sorry state. We looked around and I thought we’d manage to get to them (over the fence on one side, across a small dry brook, through the barbed wire fencing and avoiding the thorns and nettles). I felt so sad to see them like this, boxed in between high fencing and a high hedge that separated the trees from a caravan park in the field next to them, in fact, there was a caravan just a few metres from Magog.
“Just to be there for a short while and give them some healing energy, as they felt so forlorn, unloved and hidden from sight.”
It’s appalling that these once great oaks should be left like this to wither and die without our love and respect… and my visit prompted me to write this blog post.
My initial reaction was that perhaps the landowner had done this to deter pilgrims and people from visiting this sacred site, especially seeing how closely situated the caravan park was to Gog and Magog. But, I’ve done further research since getting home and it looks like the council has had them boarded up, to protect them from further harm (!!!) as someone putting a tea light candle inside Gog’s hollow interior had set the tree on fire. More about the fire in April this year in Morgana West’s blog post.
There are many myths and legends surrounding oak trees – especially Gog and Magog – and their link to the Druids and pagan Celts.
According to www.druidry.org – “We first learn about the oak as sacred to the Druids in the well-known passage from the writings of Pliny, who lived in Gaul during the 1st century CE. He writes that the Druids performed all their religious rites in oak-groves, where they gathered mistletoe from the trees with a golden sickle…. Many early Christian churches were situated in oak-groves, probably because they were once pagan places of worship.”
This info is from www.unitythroughdiversity.org “These two ancient oak trees – with the traditional and biblical names of giant beings – stand in one of the further reaches of the sacred Avalon landscape, where they are in a relationship of alignment with other aspects of the sacred landscape such as the nearby Tor, Chalice Hill, the Abbey and Wearyall Hill.
Known as the ‘Oaks of Avalon’, the two trees are said to be a traditional point of entry onto the island, and were also part of a ceremonial Druidic avenue of oak trees running towards the Tor and beyond. ‘This avenue was cut down around 1906 to clear the ground of a farm.’ Extract from Maker of Myths – Published by Gothic Image.”
Here are a few more websites with the myths and folklore of oak and yew trees:
I’d only intended to write a short blog post about my visit to the Dundon yew tree and Gog and Magog oak trees, but delving into the myths and legends of our ancient trees I uncovered so much info I wanted to share with you. It’s been an interesting journey of discovery for me, I hope you will enjoy it too and that it will inspire you to visit these or other sacred trees. More of my Glastonbury Summer 2017 experiences are to follow in my next two blog posts. Sam Rowena xxx
I want to share with you some of the magical experiences from my recent Glastonbury road trip. Each time I visit Somerset and Glastonbury I’ve enjoyed its beauty, been blessed with mystical experiences and interesting conversations with unusual people.
Ever since my first visit to Glastonbury a few years ago, its been drawing me back to it and I try to make a pilgrimage there at least once (or twice) a year. I do normally avoid travelling in the Summer months when I suffer from hay-fever and also usually find there are too many tourists around. But, this year, my planned trip in the Springtime was postponed, as a close family member was ill and has sadly passed away. (I’m just now returning to writing my blog posts).
I felt I needed this break away more than ever! The healing energy of Glastonbury and its White Spring helps me to become more balanced. It renews and restores my energy, alongside helping my self-belief and inner calmness to grow.
There’ll be a few blog posts to follow from my recent Glastonbury Experience:
A selection of some of my photos from my recent travels around Cornwall in September.
A journey discovering Cornwall – it took me to some of its ancient and sacred sites – its stone circles, standing stones, wells, barrows and ancient settlements, as well as a bit of walking on the South-West coast path.
sculpture garden, Lizard Peninsula
Hemmick Beach in the fog
coastal path near Hemmick Beach
stone cross at Sancreed Church
Well and chapel near St Austell
view of St Michael’s Mount
Carn Euny ancient settlement
Chapel Euny well
sky scene from Lizard Penninsula
standing stone near Hemmick Beach
sculpture park, Lizard Penninsula
barrow and view of Lands End
My visit to these special sacred places, has helped me recharge my batteries and allowed me some thinking time, as well as experiencing some amazing places and meeting some interesting people (I also managed to spend a few days in Glastonbury on the way down / back and revisit the White Spring and Glastonbury Tor). I’ll tell you more about some of these places in blog posts over the Winter months. Samantha, jewellery artist x
One of the Anglo Saxon pieces in the Warrior Treasures exhibition of the Staffordshire Hoard particularly stood out from the rest, as it seemed to have a different design.
The detailing and workmanship on this sword pommel wasn’t quite as intricate, it had different colouring – not being gold (although some little bits of gold can still be seen) – and I think its the only one decorated with a strange face, alongside its zoomorphic animal designs.
I was intrigued by it and wanted to discover more about it… Does this bearded face have some significance? and what does it mean?
I had come across other similar faces in Anglo-Saxon artwork and in churches, symbols for the Celtic Green Man, ancient gods and other deities.
My first internet search yielded a thesis paper by Rachel D. Brewer about the Staffordshire Hoard, which had a paragraph about the piece (it was written just after the Hoard had been discovered, so there may be newer evidence that’s come to light since then). It stated that the bearded man pommel is believed to be one of the oldest items in the Hoard and from the late 6th Century, possibly of Scandinavian origin. Its made from a copper-alloy and has a ‘ski-slope’ style shape.
On my next internet search, I came across a blog post written by Rosie Weetch, curator and Craig Williams, illustrator at the British Museum. ‘Decoding Anglo-Saxon art‘ helped explain it further for me, that these animal patterns have multi-layered symbolic meanings and stories behind them. The following passage from the blog is really interesting:
“…is a bearded face with a helmet underneath two birds that may represent the Germanic god Woden/Odin with his two companion ravens. The image of a god alongside other powerful animals may have offered symbolic protection to the wearer like a talisman or amulet.”
Although, in the blog post other examples of Anglo-Saxon bearded faces were featured, it does seem to fit this pommel design, as I can clearly see 2 birds/ravens on the pommel, one at either side of bearded face.
I did some Wikipedia research on it: “In Old Norse texts, Odin is depicted as one-eyed and long-bearded, frequently wielding a spear named Gungnir, and wearing a cloak and a broad hat. He is often accompanied by his animal companions—the wolves Geri and Freki and the ravens Huginn and Muninn…”
There’s further info on Wikipedia about the Norse god Odin, and his companions, the wolves and ravens.
The animals on the reverse side of the pommel have been interpreted as boars, the jagged teeth are quite prominent, but perhaps these could be his wolf companions?
the view from above and the interlace design
one of the gold pommels in the exhibition
the mysterious bearded man pommel
Looking down at the top of the pommel you can see a lovely interlace pattern, but also that it looks quite worn / well used. I found more info about this on another blog post by the ‘Thegns of Mercia’:
“Given most items in the hoard are dated to the 7th to early 8th century, sth711 is something quite special. It may be hundreds of years older than the rest of the hoard; a historical artifact even before it was buried.
“There’s far more that is peculiar about this piece, though. First, it’s apex has seen its 2+ mm deep relief completely rubbed away. It’s fair to say that the top third of the pommel cap has lost all it’s decoration to wear and tear. This contrasts strongly with most other items in the hoard which, though made from softer materials, do not display this kind of damage. They are mangled and bent from detachment, yes, but for the most part, they were not subject to decades or centuries of wear before they were put in the ground…” read more of their blog post
I’m completely amazed by what I discovered about it!
Wow… The mysterious bearded man representing the Pagan god Wodin / Odin would indeed make it a very special sword and pommel. I think the Anglo-Saxons believed it would offer them protection and bring them good luck, especially as it had been used in many battles and had been kept and handed down the generations.
I had only intended to write a short blog post, just one or two paragraphs about this intriguing Anglo Saxon piece in the Staffordshire Hoard, but I kept on discovering more about it. I hope you’ll also find this blog post interesting. You too can visit and see this piece in the Staffordshire Hoard exhibition
x Samantha, jewellery artist
Taking inspiration from the Anglo Saxon spiral designs in the Staffordshire Hoard exhibition and linking it to jewellery making, I taught 2 spiral jewellery making workshops for the Leeds Royal Armouries Museum in July and August 2016 as part of their Warrior Treasures exhibition.
It was a pleasure and an honour to be able to combine teaching jewellery making with my interest in the Anglo Saxons. It also mean’t I’d have another opportunity to visit the Staffordshire Hoard Warrior Treasures exhibition.
Anglo Saxon design is fascinating and its so intricate. I’m especially interested in ancient civilizations in particular their art and design, as I studied design for 3 years at college (this was followed by working as an in-house designer for a number of years, before retraining as a teacher. I also studied silversmithing for 5 years part-time at college and have been making jewellery for over 25 years).
The workshop included many demos, as we covered a number of different spiral designs, from basic spirals to double spirals using different types and thicknesses of copper wire, plus there were a few continuation spiral designs. This was followed by turning these spiral pieces into jewellery.
Everyone that took part in the workshops, seemed to enjoy themselves and became engrossed in making their spirals and finished the day with a number of pieces of spiral jewellery, including earrings, pendants, charms and a spiral charm / pendant beaded cord necklace or bracelet.
Some of the super spiral jewellery created by the students on these workshops:
spiral earrings and beaded necklace with spiral pendants
The pieces on display in the Warrior Treasures Staffordshire Hoard exhibition are completely fascinating and enchanting. So much work and skills has gone into creating them. There are a number of pieces that are decorated with spirals, most of these have double spirals, but a few of them have a mixture of different spiral patterns.
Many ancient civilizations across the world used spirals in their artwork. Neolithic examples that are 4-5,000 years old can be seen at the entrance to the Newgrange passage tomb in Ireland as well as Megalithic Temple decoration in Malta.
Spirals are believed to signify the cycle of life and double spirals the Spring and Autumn equinoxes.
Maybe the use of spirals by these ancient civilizations helped to make them revered mysterious symbols and continue their usage by later civilizations.
Some of the spiral decorated pieces in the Staffordshire Hoard exhibition:
double spiral decoration on a pommel
a mixture of spirals and other patterns
double spiral decoration on a bird shaped figure
a mixture of spiral and other patterns
Taking inspiration from these Anglo Saxon spiral designs in the Staffordshire Hoard exhibition and linking it to jewellery making, I taught 2 spiral jewellery making workshops for the Leeds Royal Armouries Museum in July and August 2016 as part of their Warrior Treasures exhibition.
See some pieces created by my students on these workshops in my next blog post. Samantha, jewellery artist x
The ‘Warrior Treasures, Saxon Gold from the Staffordshire Hoard’ exhibition is on at Leeds Royal Armouries Museum until 2 October 2016. This stunning exhibition is not too be missed!
This treasure was discovered in 2009 in a field in Staffordshire by a metal detectorist.
Since its discovery, the objects have been cleaned and studied by archaeologists and the treasure’s story is slowly being revealed. The decorations on these hidden weapons are giving us further insight and knowledge about the world of the Anglo Saxon’s in the 7th Century.
Some info about the Hoard from the Leeds Royal Armouries museum leaflet:
“The Staffordshire Hoard is the largest collection of Anglo-Saxon treasure ever found. It was probably buried over 1300 years ago, around AD 650-675. The hoard contains beautifully crafted gold and silver objects which were originally used to decorate high status swords and knives. Nothing like this has ever been found before.”
for more info – visit the Leeds Royal Armouries Museum website
At the end of 2012, I was nearby Stoke collecting my kiln stand and got chatting to the lady I’d bought my kiln off and discovered from her that the Staffordshire Hoard exhibition was on in Stoke. I spent an enjoyable afternoon looking at the exhibits, learning about them and being absorbed in another world. I was fascinated by the skill involved in designing and creating such beautiful pieces. A mix of different styles has been used; garnet and gold cloisonné work using step and key patterns in the carpet style, zoomorphic animals, interlace patterns and filigree spiral decoration. They are amazing!
I never imagined at the time, that a few years later I would have the opportunity to be involved with the Staffordshire Hoard touring exhibition at Leeds Royal Armouries Museum and teach some jewellery making workshops using inspiration from the spiral designs in the Staffordshire Hoard.
It follows on from my previous jewellery making workshops a few years ago for the Lindisfarne Gospels exhibition in Durham and the Landscapes Project in the Forest of Bowland. These enabled me to bring together my teaching of jewellery making with my interest in the artwork designs of the Anglo-Saxons.
See some examples created at these workshops in my next blog posts, Samantha x
jewelart sculptural wirework and fused glass jewellery