Stonehenge, Tintagel, Glastonbury - Spiritual stream of Celtic origin in the light of Christianity Cultural Evening presentation by Rev. Michaël Merle
Report by John-Peter Gernaat
This presentation is about a culture that understood itself in connection to the spiritual world and a great cosmic reality and not as the expression of a culture that saw itself as human and limited to the earthly plane. The monuments of which images were shown in the presentation are made by human hands who understood themselves as part of a cosmic unfolding.
The three sites that Michaël visited in October 2023 can be linked by a Celtic stream. This is a Celtic stream that had a prefiguring of Christianity.
Stonehenge is a site that has been linked to the religious activities of druids. However, it was not built by druids. Stonehenge predates this Celtic stream and if the druids used Stonehenge for the purposes for which its builders intended, they would have inherited the knowledge. The interest in this presentation is to consider how this Celtic stream with druid priests found its way into Christianity, and how Christianity recognised what already lived in the Celtic stream and the two become one in a significant way.
Michaël quoted from a lecture given by Rudolf Steiner in London in which he speaks of a stream coming from the east, where the Mystery of Golgotha took place, moving westward across the Roman Empire. There was another stream that was also Christian that recognised the coming of Christ and recognised the Mystery of Golgotha, not in the event, but in world and life of nature. This pre-Christian stream, connected with the Celts, originated in the west of Europe and encountered the westward moving stream. The Celtic stream had a strong connection across the English Channel between the southwest of England, Cornwall and Devon, and Brittany in modern-day France. (Brittany was known as Little Britain and Cornwall and Devon were known as Great Britain.) From this centre the Celtic stream spread outward, and we find it strongly represented in Chartres, and it spread through what is today Wales and across the sea to Ireland.
The connection of the druids with Stonehenge is the result of John Aubrey (1626-1697) who postulated this connection. The Celtic tradition existed from about 300 BCE to about 450 CE. This Celtic stream converted to Christianity very easily. One example is when the Christians arrived at the village where Chartres now exists, they introduced the story of the Virgin who gave birth to be greeted with a tradition that had a shrine to the Virgin who would give birth. Chartres Cathedral is built on the site of this shrine. The Celts were awaiting the fulfilment of the tradition to which they held.
Stonehenge was probably already in ruins at the time of the Roman occupation of Britain, although the Romans do not have a record of the monument, but they recorded the activities of the druids who mainly held their ceremonies in clearings in forests. The druidic lore was enshrined in long verses that took a novice up to twenty years to commit to memory. If the druidic lore contained knowledge of the astronomy connected with Stonehenge it would have been passed on by word of mouth as there is no record of writing from the Celtic culture. Stonehenge is probably 4,000 years old and was built in the Neolithic Period, starting about 7,000 BCE (the same time that Rudolf Steiner gives as the beginning of the first Post-Atlantean Epoch, Ancient Indian Epoch, 7,200 BCE to 5,067 BCE). This is the period where human beings begin to grow crops and build villages. Stonehenge would have been built in the Ancient Egypto-Chaldean Epoch. This was the beginnings of a cultural civilisation, and it is no accident that we refer to cultivating crops and agriculture, because these were connected with the development of human culture. Stonehenge was built as a temple and it has been shifted because it was built so that the northmost point of the sunrise can be observed on the longest day – midsummer, 21 June. When the position of the sunrise moved the stones of Stonehenge were shifted to follow the sun.
Stonehenge is built with two types of stones: the large stones that form the pillars with lintels are sarsen stone (sandstone) derived from the Marlborough Downs in Wiltshire (about 30km north of Stonehenge); and smaller bluestone (an igneous dolerite) from the Preseli Hills in Pembrokeshire, Wales about 240km away. The bluestones would have been transported by sea to the southwest English coast and then across the Salisbury Plain. The earliest record that we still have of Stonehenge dates to 70 years after the Norman Conquest in which it was described as a Great Wonder of Ancient Britain.
The impression that the site had on Michaël is the effect of the light of the sun, especially in the way the clouds are lit up. There are carvings on the standing stones that are clearly connected to the stone carvings in Brittany, especially the burial passageways. The building of a temple such as Stonehenge would have taken the entire community to build. This reveals the significance of the temple to the community. Stonehenge would not have been built be a company of builders. The builders were very good astronomers and able to calculate very accurately the layout of this construction. They also built it first in wood and then committed it to stone.
The presentation moved to Tintagel. Tintagel is a small peninsula of land that outcrops into the ocean. The seaward part of the peninsula is separated from the land by a deep cut into the rock with a narrow access across. This made the seaward part of the peninsula easy to defend and it bears the ruins of a castle built by Richard, Earl of Cornwall (1209 – 1272). But this castle lies on the ruined foundations of earlier fortifications. The interest in Tintagel is that it is here that the castle in which King Arthur was born is believed to have been located.
At Tintagel one can experience the power of nature. In 1924 Rudolf Steiner gave lectures near Tintagel and then in London on 27 August 1924 in which he spoke about the pre-Christian stream and the Christian stream coming together. “Today I can speak of this earlier form of Christianity by starting from impressions … in Tintagel whence proceeded the spiritual stream connected with King Arthur. It was possible to receive the impressions which can still come today at the spot where King Arthur’s castle with the Round Table stood; impressions which came, above all, from the magnificent natural surroundings of this castle. At this place, where nothing but ruins remain of the old citadel of King Arthur, where we look back as if in memory across the centuries that have elapsed since the Arthur stream went out from thence. We realise how stone after stone has so crumbled away that there is hardly anything to be recognised of the old castles that were once inhabited by King Arthur and those around him. But when, with the eye of spirit, we look out from the place where the castle once stood, over the sea with its iridescent colours and breaking waves, the impression we get is that we are able at this place to penetrate deeply into the elemental secrets of nature and of the cosmos.”
Later he says: “If in the first five centuries of our era (the Christian era) human beings looked out over the sea and had been prepared by the exercises practised by the twelve who were around King Arthur and who were concerned above all with the mysteries of the zodiac, if they looked out over the sea they could see not merely the play of nature but they could begin to read a meaning in it, just as one reads a book instead of merely staring at it. And as they looked and saw here a gleam of light, there a curling wave, here the sun mirrored on a rocky cliff, there the sea dashing against the rocks it all became a flowing, weaving picture, a truth whose meaning could be deciphered and when they deciphered it they knew of the spiritual fact of the Mystery of Golgotha. The Mystery of Golgotha was received to them because the picture was all irradiated by the Life Spirit of Christ presented to them by nature. Yonder, in Asia (Asia Minor or the Middle East) the Mystery of Golgotha had taken place and its impulse had penetrated deeply into hearts and souls of human beings. We need only think of those who became the first Christians to realise what a change had come about in their souls. While all this of which I have been telling you in the West, the Christ who had come down to earth, leaving his Spirit Human on the Sun, and his Life Spirit in the atmosphere around the earth, bringing down his Ego and his Spirit Self to the earth, the Christ was moving from east to west in the hearts of human beings through Greece, Northern Africa, Italy, Spain, across Europe. The Christ worked here in the hearts of human being while over in the west he was working through nature. So, on the one hand we have the story of the Mystery of Golgotha legible in the book of nature, for those who were able to read it, working from west to east. It represented, as it were, the signs of the higher graduates of King Arthur’s Round Table. And on the other hand, we have a stream flowing from east to west, not in wind and air, not wave and water, not over hills or in the rays of the sun but flowing through the blood, laying hold of the hearts of human beings from Palestine through Greece into Italy and Spain.”
Steiner mentions the places with which Tintagel was trading before the birth of Christ in this movement of the stream westward from Palestine through the hearts of human beings. Tintagel was established as a place only during the Roman Empire and traded in tin. We know the places with which they traded through the archaeological remains at Tintagel. These were from North Africa, Palestine, Greece, Asia Minor, Spain and southwestern France. They traded tin for oil, wine, glassware and more, the archaeological remains of which can be found at Tintagel. One can experience in nature what Steiner describes, and Michaël presented photos of the nature that he had experienced on his visit in October.
If Arthur was born in Tintagel, he was buried in Glastonbury. There is a site that marks his grave in the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey. Glastonbury Abbey was built between 1184 CE and 1230 CE – a period of history that was also significant in the building of Salisbury Cathedral and Wells Cathedral. The Abby was dissolved by Henry VIII in 1539 CE. The only part of the Abbey that was not destroyed was the cookhouse. Glastonbury has been associated with Christianity from the earliest times. The conversion to Christianity began in Canterbury, hence the leadership still resides in the Archbishop of Canterbury. The great spiritual leader was St Augustine of Canterbury. There is an older tradition that Joseph of Arimathea, the uncle of Jesus, traded with Great Britain and after the crucifixion brought the cup of the last supper to Glastonbury and drank from the well very near the site of the Abbey. He may have dropped the cup into the well or placed it in the well for safekeeping. The legend also goes that he planted his staff in the ground at the well when he lay down to rest and the staff took root and grew into a tree that flowers once in spring, around Easter, and a second time at Christmas. Cuttings from the original tree, preserved by locals, were replanted near the well after the Abbey was brought to ruin, in the dissolution of the monasteries, and the tree was uprooted and burned.
Glastonbury is a meeting of the Arthurian stream and the Grail stream. Glastonbury carries a sense of Christianity in Britain from before the Great Christian Conversion. There is the association of the Christianity that was carried in the soul of Joseph of Arimathea from Palestine across Europe to Britain meeting with the stream of pre-Christian Christianity that recognised the Mystery of Golgotha in the powerful picture language of nature that carried the Life Spirit of Christ and the event of Golgotha and could be read by those who had the initiate capacity to do so.
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