The Cerne Abbas Giant, Britain’s most renowned geoglyph, has been a captivating enigma for centuries, perched on a hillside in Dorset. Despite its ancient presence, the exact origins, creators, and purpose remain shrouded in mystery.
Early scholars once speculated that the figure, depicting a naked man with a club, dated back to the Bronze Age or the early Iron Age, with some even considering it a remnant from Roman times in Britain. However, a recent study proposes a different perspective, suggesting that the geoglyph is “only” about a thousand years old, making it one of the last remnants of pre-Christian beliefs in Britain.
The dating of the Cerne Abbas Giant is undeniably intriguing, but equally captivating is the symbolism it carries. Throughout history, a myriad of theories have been proposed to explain its meaning. Some have suggested that the giant represents a Celtic or Saxon fertility deity, while others believe it could be a depiction of the Greek hero Hercules, created by the Romans during their presence in Britain. Additionally, various interpretations link the figure to renowned lords and kings from British history.
The association with fertility stems from the giant’s prominent phallus. Local folklore even suggests that sitting beside the phallus or engaging in copulation upon it was believed to be an effective remedy for infertility.
Cerne Abbas Giant as Orion the Giant
The ancients recognized the constellation Orion as the “Giant” due to its prominent position and distinct human-like appearance among the stars. This constellation stands out as one of the most recognizable and easily identifiable features of the night sky. Its significance extends beyond mere aesthetics, as it played crucial roles in ancient navigation and served as a seasonal marker.
Orion’s size and the notable trio of bright stars forming its “belt” made it an invaluable tool for early navigators. By observing Orion’s position in the sky, sailors and travelers could orient themselves and find their way during journeys across land and sea.
Moreover, Orion’s position in the night sky also served as a seasonal marker. Its appearance and movement were closely linked to the changing seasons, enabling ancient civilizations to track the passage of time and predict significant natural events like the coming of spring or the onset of winter.
Orion: A Hunter With a Club
In modern times, we refer to the constellation as “Orion – the Hunter,” which aligns with the perception of this celestial figure as an archetype of a warrior-hunter in ancient and widespread starlore. Throughout the course of civilization’s advancement, Orion’s weapon has undergone various transformations, reflecting the evolution of human culture and beliefs.
The earliest known weapon in human history was likely the club, and it is this very club that is also depicted in the hands of Hercules, as the image was passed down from an even more ancient culture to the Greeks. As time progressed, the club gave way to a mace, a weapon similar in design but typically featuring a metal head, which found its place in the representation of Orion.
Somewhere between the Bronze Age and the Iron Age, the depiction of Orion further evolved, transforming him into an archer. This shift in the portrayal of the constellation demonstrates how cultural narratives and symbols adapt and change over the centuries, reflecting the shifting beliefs and values of the societies that revere them.
Orion: A Fertility God
Indeed, Orion’s significance transcended the role of a hunter in ancient cultures. To many civilizations, this constellation held the symbolic representation of a fertility god. The association with fertility stems from the seasonal appearance and disappearance of Orion in the night sky, particularly during the rainy months of autumn and spring.
During the autumn months, the Orion constellation rises on the horizon and reaches its zenith around the solstice, which falls during the “underworld” of winter. As winter gives way to spring, Orion descends, eventually disappearing behind the horizon during the rainy season. This cycle coincides with the blooming of life on Earth, fueled by the spring rain, or as some mythologies may interpret, by the “savior’s blood” symbolizing Orion’s ultimate sacrifice.
Various ancient cultures ascribed different names to Orion, associating it with their fertility deities. For instance, the Egyptians identified Orion as Osiris, a god of life, death, and rebirth, closely linked to the annual flooding of the Nile and the fertility it brought to their lands. In Thracian and Greek mythologies, Orion represented Dionysus, the god of wine, fertility, and ecstasy, associated with the cycle of life, death, and regeneration.
The association with fertility was further reinforced by the presence of Orion’s phallus in the night sky, as perceived by the ancients. This interpretation was linked to the Orion Nebula, a bright and prominent cluster of stars located just beneath Orion’s belt. The arrangement of stars in this nebula was seen as representing Orion’s phallus, adding to the constellation’s symbolism as a fertility deity.
Over time, cultural shifts and changing interpretations led to the phallus being replaced by the image of a sword in some depictions of Orion. However, this transformation was not a significant departure from the original symbolism. In ancient myths, the sword was often used as a code word or symbol for the phallus, representing masculine power, virility, and fertility.
The Raised Arm Giveaway
Both the Cerne Abbas Giant and the traditional representation of Orion feature one arm raised in the air, holding a club, which aligns with the characteristic imagery associated with the constellation. The extended arm in the same direction further reinforces this resemblance between the two figures.
The mystery surrounding the Cerne Abbas Giant remains intriguing, and while its exact origins and purpose are still uncertain, the resemblance to the Orion constellation is striking. Whether intentionally depicting Orion or not, the similarities between the giant and the celestial figure raise compelling questions about the potential connections between ancient astronomical beliefs and the creation of geoglyphs.
The concept of Orion as a prominent and archetypal figure in various ancient cultures, spanning thousands or even tens of thousands of years, adds an additional layer of fascination to the geoglyph. If, as suggested by the latest study, the Cerne Abbas Giant is indeed from the Middle Ages, the artistic inspiration behind it becomes a captivating puzzle. The fact that the ancient stone-age club was considered outdated at this time adds complexity to the question of what influenced the creation of this giant figure on the hills of Dorset.
On a side note, Orion’s phallus, represented by the Orion nebula, is a place modern science calls “the cradle of stars”. It is believed that most of the stars of our solar system were formed (born) in this white cloud. Indeed, the ancients could hardly find a place more suitable to represent the phallus of the fertility god.