Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Literature of Terrestrial Zodiacs in Britain

What is a terrestrial zodiac? One good definition is from John Billingsley, editor of Northern Earth journal, in his The Northern Earth Glossary: “A coherent set of zodiacal or quasi-zodiacal symbols outlined by features of the landscape. Generally not thought to be human-made, their empirical existence is strongly questioned.”

Probably the earliest, and certainly the most renowned, example of a terrestrial zodiac is the Glastonbury Zodiac, identified by the sculptor and mystic Katharine Maltwood in the 1920s. This was a response to the nexus of Arthurian and Grail legends associated with the Somerset town.

Another, again with Arthurian connexions, was put forward by the antiquarian Lewis Edwards around Pumpsaint, Wales, in the 1940s. A number of others were suggested as part of the counter-culture’s interest in ancient places and mysteries in the 1970s and afterwards. More recently, others have been identified as part of the interest in psychogeography, psychic questing, landscape art and performance art. They are now sometimes also called landscape zodiacs.

But the literature of terrestrial zodiacs is often fugitive and ephemeral. Many accounts of them originally appeared only in obscure booklets, now fragile and fading, printed in small numbers, or in similar arcane journals. The leading source, The Terrestrial Zodiacs Newsletter, edited by folklorist Paul Screeton, which ran from 1977-81, was home-produced on a hand-cranked duplicator, and relatively few copies are likely to have survived.

In issue 21 of the Network of Ley Hunters’ Newsletter, I therefore offer Part 1 of a survey of ‘The Literature of Terrestrial Zodiacs in Britain’, consisting of an introduction and a checklist, in chronological order, of publications which feature the subject. Further parts are due to follow in subsequent newsletters, concluding with a list of all known examples of zodiacs in Britain, currently between 25 to 30.

There is no doubt, as John Billingsley's definition respectfully suggests, that terrestrial zodiacs attract a great deal of scepticism. Nevertheless they remain a fascinating example of how the creative imagination may interact with landscape, and also of how certain terrain, as supernatural fiction authors often explore, appears to be particularly charged with meaning. They are also potent as one vivid symbol of the alternative spiritualities of the Sixties and Seventies, and they connect with a mythology and a way of being in the land that is still resonant today.

(c) Mark Valentine 2016

1 comment:

  1. I recently went through a phase when I was fascinated by the arcane fields of psychogeography, hauntology, and folk horror, and all things occult and megalithic. It has largely cooled down now, but I still receive a psychic thrill whenever I find myself standing in an ancient landscape dotted with standing stones and echoes of pagan rituals.