Mam Tor - Land of the Grail
There is a legacy of Goddess wisdom still living on within the high peaks of Hope Valley in England, where the flowers of the feminine and the wells of the grail are worshipped
Let's visit these sacred lands. . .
Castleton village, underneath Mam Tor, and the surrounding villages of the Peak District in the North of England, has one of the last living Goddess worship traditions in the world. Dating back to at least 3,000 years, continuous Celtic rites of the Goddess are practiced, including Well Dressings and rites of sacred Kingship and Queenship….
The night is velvet-dark like treacle, as if the black sky is pouring a magical substance into the world and rooting it back to the earth after dusk sets. The 350 million year old mountains surround us, silhouetted in the dark, like the mammoth spines of mythical dragons, resting in the flesh of the landscape. Magic is afoot.
Everything is so still. I can almost believe I slipped through a fissure in the dimension of existence and am back someplace so old time is not yet invented.
I am returned to my Ancestral homelands in the north of England, and an energy is uncoiling in the DNA of soil and bone and soul and home, reminding me how the winding path of our life is always rooted in its beginnings, where treasures lie.
The cool summer night is throbbing with energy and memories, the stars spelling out secrets like braille in the sky. On the hill a ruined castle stands, once given to the forbidden son of a long-ago King, and now slowly unwinding its sentry over the village of Castleton, passing it back to the Spirit of the Land, and the Ancestors.
Winnats Pass, with its creviced gorge, dramatically descends into the Hope Valley, a sacred heart of the Peak District, with its rolling shires and heather-filled moors.
Tiny stone cottages cling to the edge of a wide stream flooding out from the belly of the hill. Locals call the stream “Styx” - the name for the mythological river, which marks the boundary between earth and the Underworld. The ruins of Peveril Castle perch high above on the crag, with a dramatic cave entrance gorged out below. Peak cavern beckons, the Womb of the earth mother, distilling the deep darkness like a witch’s brew. The sacred passageway into Peak Cavern is magnetic, it pulls you. It is a terrestrial black hole. The magnetic darkness is so terrifying to the modern world, the cavern entrance is now called “The Devil’s Arse” by both locals and guidebooks. Once it was the Devi’s Vagina – the life-death-rebirthing passageway of the Goddess.
Northern England – Land of the Holy Grail
The north of England, often thought of as the wasteland of the industrial revolution, is also homeland of the Holy Grail and the Goddess who keeps it. Stray outside the busy cities and suburbs and you enter a land deeply imbued with ancient secrets.
Lower down in the peak district is the prehistoric Arbor Low Stone Circle, described as the “Stone Henge of the Peak District” - a neolithic ceremonial site, surrounded by bronze age barrows, and laced with powerful ley lines. At Gardomm’s Edge in Derbyshire, near Baslow, stones bearing distinctive cup and ring carvings, mirror similar markings found in other northern sites, and across the world. These petroglyphs carved onto natural boulders are the mysterious megalithic art of the Goddess – the cup, ring, spiral and labyrinth all being symbols of the Great Womb.
Some scholars say the Holy Grail legends were rooted in northern England, and only migrated further down south as time went on. The Lady of the Rings was forgotten.
Mam Tor – Ancient Mother Mountain
It’s the end of August holiday, and I’m laying on the grass on top of the grave of my father, held in the awesome presence of Mam Tor “Mother Mountain” – an ancient Dragon Mother mountain, which was occupied thousands of years ago by those who followed the ways of the Goddess. My dad had a green burial, so only a tree marks his grave. The light is shimmering, a womb of ancient trees surround us. I can feel dad’s presence. He is at home here. This is the land of his – and my - Ancestors.
What are “The Ancestors”? I’ve been percolating on this since my father died and was buried in the foothills of Mam Tor in the winter of 2013. There is an Ancestral Soul of our lineage and an Ancestral Soul of the land. It is like a genetic Grail that holds parts of us together, and weaves with the missing parts of those who went before. Our entire lineage is a vast web being spun across time from these parts.
Our healing comes from stitching these timelines back into wholeness. We do not leave anyone behind. Our Ancestral Web spans back to the start of time, and laces forward into the very end of time. Our stories, our past, needs to be re-threaded.
Where once the world had a Goddess and a Queen, she was dethroned, her memory lost, her garland dropped. The weathered hills are calling us to remember again.
Brigantes – Celtic Tribe of the Goddess
On top of Mam Tor are burial chambers thousands of years old, and family burials in Treak Cavern at the base of the mountain suggest that Neolithic people lived around Castleton 7,500 years ago. Mam Tor was also home to Celtic tribes who lived in terraced round houses on the peak almost 3,000 years ago. This indigenous Celtic tribe called the Brigantes worshipped a Goddess called Brigantia, who some believe is related to the goddess Brighid – and her memory lives on in the land. In the 1970’s an ancient stone head sculpture of their Goddess was found in a garden in the village of Castleton, at Rose Cottage, site of the village’s ancient well, and where the Garland Ceremony started every year in May. The sculpture was 3,000 years old.
The Brigantes were led by a powerful Queen, and their goddess Brigantia was adopted by the incoming Romans almost 2,000 years ago, who also associated her with their Goddess Minerva. Sites of Celtic tribes who worshipped Brigantia are found across France too, though the Pennines – the Dragon spine of mountains across north Britain – were especially sacred sites. It is possible that even the name for ‘Britain’ originates from the Goddess Brigantia. Brigantes means ‘high or noble ones’ and also ‘highlanders’. It is an honorific name for the ‘Bright Ones’ of legend and myth. Brigantia herself means “the High Goddess.” In Irthington in Yorkshire, an ancient inscription calls her, “divine nymph Brigantia” – and there were many healing shrines dedicated to her magical powers. Brigantia was a Womb Goddess of rebirth, associated with Spring rites, with wells, streams, rivers and water cults.
Sacred rituals, such as Well Dressings and Castleton’s Garland Ceremony have likely descended down to us, in an unbroken line, from these Ancestors and their Goddess.
I can feel the Ancestors around me, whispering in the wind, reminding me. Their dimension is just a hairbreath away from us, and in the right light, when the air stills, I can almost see their old Neolithic village, and hear their songs on the wind.
Yorkshire’s Secret Church of Goddess
The new religion was neatly tucked, like a suckling babe, into the Womb of the Great Mother rites, a religious tradition dating back at least 3,000 years old (which artifacts show) and no doubt stretching back hundreds and thousands of years before that. The memories of those rituals are etched into the stones and moss.
I was baptized in my local Yorkshire church, and later on in my childhood I went to another local village Church hall where I attended weekly brownie meetings. We danced around a big replica red and white toadstool, like the faeryfolk of old, holding hands and weaving with the left path. We called our leader ‘Brown Owl’. I remember the vivid red of the Toadstool blurring into a red circle of light as we danced faster and faster, round the Circle. I was eight years old and it was exhilarating. The red and white toadstool is symbolic of the left hand path of the fay and the feminine pathways, and is the amanita muscaria, used in the witches brew for shamanic initiations, to alter consciousness so they could ‘fly’ to Otherworld.
When the spring buds were vivid green and the cherry tree in our garden had blushed pink, and the Hawthorn bush bloomed white, it was Maytime. At the back of the Church hall we would dance the Maypole, dressed in white, decked with flowers, holding tight to the ruby red silk ribbon our hands would weave with. We would visit the larger villages in the Peak District for the Well Dressings and May celebrations. I remember seeing the May Queen adorned and enthroned, being driven round the village on a float, followed by brass bands and the rest of the folk.
My auntie was ‘very religious’ – she was a devoted part of the Church community in her village, helping organize the Well dressings and all the yearly festivals. She was a brilliant flower arranger, and when we went to visit she was often crafting or engaged in some feminine art or other. I sense her religious devotion also included the well of feminine wisdom, decked with flowers, and scented with the first dew of Spring. My soul was held in these celebrations, as if an ancient essence was pouring into me, tincturing me with deep memory, infusing me with the lost feminine rites.
Well Wisdom – The Flowering ‘Vulva’ of the Well
From time out of mind, the Goddess and her regenerative powers have been associated with water, and celebrated and honored at the Earth’s ‘fountains of life’ – the streams, springs, rivers and wells. Symbolically the spring and well is the magical vulva of the Goddess, streaming forth the blessed waters of healing.
Well Dressings are a continued living tradition of Goddess and Womb worship still practiced in the Peak District, Derbyshire – but now subsumed into the Church, in a marriage of convenience of old custom and new religion. In the village of Tideswell, records show the Well Dressings have been going for at least 750 years, but likely continue on from the Celtic traditions of the Goddess Brigantia, and her holy waters.
In a beautiful sacred feminine art, living artwork is created out of wild flowers and natural fauna, such as a leaves and acorns, and used to decorate the well. Now the pictures often feature Christian subjects, but in old custom the mouth of the well would have been decorated with flowers and sacred offerings to honor the feminine.
My Great, Great, Grandmother Amelia, born in the 1800’s, lived on a farm outside the village of Tideswell and no doubt participated in these ancient Earth-Mystery rituals of Well Dressings and May day festivities - rituals that were once sacred to the Goddess and her clans and dynasties of witch wise women and faery workers.
In the Peak district, Well Dressings are usually celebrated conjunct to a festival called “Wakes” – which starts the Saturday nearest to the Saint’s day of John the Baptist. This feast day was superimposed upon the prior midsummer celebrations, closely timed with solstice. On St John’s Eve, wise women would go to collect herbs.
Wakes week is a week-long revelry of festivals and celebrations that starts with a traditional torchlight procession, accompanied by music and Morris Dancing. This festival, which is still celebrated to this day by the local community, is an incredible window into the Grail rites of the Goddess, and the true meaning of Queenship.
During the week’s festivities, “Wakes Royalty” are crowned, and a young girl becomes the Wakes Queen, and a younger girl becomes the “Rosebud Princess”. The duties of the newly crowned “royalty” include serving as ambassadors for the village for the coming year. Royalty was a role of community service, not elite privilege.
After my mother passed away in 2018, my well-dressing Auntie, who also lived on a farm near the village of Tideswell, passed onto me old photographs of the Wakes ceremonies she had been too, with a crowned Wakes Queen and Rosebud Princess.
It felt like an ancient way of the Goddess was rising up in my blood memory, and the Ancestors were rattling my bones loudly to remind me of a forgotten feminine path.
Garland Ceremony – The King and His Consort
Nearby to the Peak District village of Tideswell is the old village of Castleton, where I had spent many Christmas Eve’s singing midnight carols in the flower adorned old church, and watching in awe as a dusting of otherworldly snow topped Mam Tor.
Castleton continues the flower-strewn path of the Goddess with its annual Garland Ceremony, which usually takes place on May 29th every year. Part of the ancient fertility and cosmic regeneration mysteries, the ceremony celebrates the rebirth of Spring, delivered from the Dark Womb of Winter and the Dark face of the Goddess. Likely this Maytime ceremony is a long lost daughter of the ancient Celtic rituals where Ancestors would have participated in a living mystery play with the land.
At the heart of this sacred ceremony is a Garland created from local wild foliage, with vividly colored flowers and greenery woven onto a beehive-shaped frame. The Garland is worn by the ceremonial King and fits over his head and shoulders, shrouding him within the mystery of the Feminine Womb, the Beehive of the Queen.
The topmost piece of the Garland is called the “Queen” – and this most sacred piece of the adornment is removable, and can be separated from the main frame. It literally “crowns” the King, when he ritually places this part over his head. It is beautifully suggestive of the masculine returning to the interior Womb of the Mother to receive his initiation into the feminine and to be anointed King. As he enters deep inside the flower of Her creation, within the birthing place of the mystery, we can almost imagine the sacred sexual rites this symbolizes. It also reflects Celtic tradition of the “Queen of Sovereignty” – where only the Spirit of the Land, believed to be feminine, could crown a King and grant him the right to rule.
After his “crowning”, the King, wearing the Garland of the Spirit of the Land, rides on top of a horse in procession with his Consort – a woman from the local community.
Preparation for this ancient Goddess Ceremony begins the night before, when oak and other greenery is fixed to all but one of the pinnacles on the Church tower, and wild, sweet-scented flowers are gathered to decorate the garland – such as voluptuous pink peonies, purple-tinted wallflowers, and white Lily of the Valley.
In past times, the Garland Dressing took place at Rose Cottage, overlooking the rushing stream coming from deep with the Womb-caves of the nearby Tor – and where a sacred well, which once replenished the entire village with water, lives. The base of the Garland is traditionally decorated by the men – whilst the flowery “Queen”, which crowns the King, is decorated only by women of the community.
During the procession, young village girls, dressed in white and adorned with posies of flowers, dance the Maypole Circle at each stop on the procession-way. They carry a Garland stick – which resembles a miniature Maypole, with red, white and blue ribbons, the traditional colors of Witchcraft, representing the birth-death-rebirth Moon mysteries of the Goddess. The procession weaves its way to the village Church, but because of the obvious old pagan origins of the ceremony, the “Queen” is not allowed inside the Church. Instead the exiled flowery “Queen” crown is removed and hoisted onto the Church Tower, where she remains until her flowers wilt.
The Cosmic Eucharist of the Sacred Feminine
These sleepy villages have been quietly upholding the ancient Goddess traditions of their Ancestors, honoring the land in her cyclical seasons of life-death-rebirth. Often unknowingly, they have carried the legacy of the Grail, which renews the land and heals the people by intimate relationship with a living sacred feminine landscape.
What these living traditions still bring to the human psyche is of immeasurable value. As a collective consciousness we are thirsting for the feminine waters, which birthed all humanity – this is our true soul heritage, and the forgotten heritage of the Soul of the Land. I know these rituals rang true and clear in my own inner world, resonating with a deep archetype, bringing a vision of how we may heal and renew.
Often, these ancient ceremonies are dismissed as ‘empty pagan ritual’ – as if there is not a living, spiritual tradition of transformational awakening that lies within them. Yet, the Goddess rites live at the heart of the mystical Christian traditions too, which also hold this transformational power of renewal, if we remember the sacred “Queen” who crowns, anoints and heals, and allow her back into the Church again.
I pondered this incredible living tradition, still being enacted here in my homeland. I lay on my father’s grave, held within an ancient landscape of immeasurable origins, where the wisdom of our Ancestors waits for us to ask again: “Whom does the Grail serve?” Closing my eyes, breathing deeply, sinking into the Earth’s arms, I ask…
On the whispers of the wind, my dad replies – a voice threaded in ancestral wisdom.
He tells me of a grand “Cosmic Eucharist” we all belong too. How everything is digested and eaten and transformed and rebirthed inside the Womb of the Mother. How we become “At One” with everything in a mystical feasting of union with God. Nothing is left out, left behind, nothing dies, nothing is separate. It is all included.
By Seren Bertrand , Award-Winning Author and Spirit Keeper
Castleton Garland Committee
Castleton Historical Society
Brigantia, Goddess of the Brigantes, collected works of Eric Edwards
Brigantia, Goddess of the North, by Sheena McGrath