Katherine Maltwood’s Zodiac

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The Glastonbury Zodiac may be the most remarkable ancient earthen work in Great Britain. This great landscape configuration is comprised of a circle 10 miles across and 30 miles in circumference formed by hills, roads, and rivers that can only be seen in its entirety from high above. Discovered in 1927 by Katherine Maltwood, the figures are representations of constellations in the heavens molded into the fabric of the land. Here giant mythological archetypes depict the Grail Quest. Like the Twelve Giants, the Round Table has twelve places. Even the land around Glastonbury has been known for centuries as the Twelve Hides (given to Joseph of Arimathea the uncle of Jesus, when he arrived here with the Holy Grail).

This vast complex encompasses Glastonbury Tor and Chalice Hill in the sign of Aquarius (Phoenix), Wearyall Hill in Pisces, and so forth, as it weaves round the Isle of Avalon. Arthur, Guinevere, Merlin, and the Knights are still remembered in the signs of the Giant Zodiac.

Maltwood believed the Zodiac was constructed sometime around 2700 BCE, but earlier dates of 7000 BCE relating to Egypt’s Dendarah Zodiac, have also been suggested.

In her book, The Glastonbury Zodiac Key to the Mysteries of Britain , Mary Caine writes, “around the town of Glastonbury, England, where Jesus spent time as a youth, and where Joseph of Arimathea, Jesus’ uncle, founded the Christian Church of England in 37 AD, there is built into the landscape a huge Zodiac, only discovered in recent times.

Copious evidence of prehistoric interference with the landscape can by seen on every side; there were obviously early and important settlements here with hardly a hill that has not been terraced or fortified; tumuli and other earthworks abound. The Tor, already impressive enough, has been laboriously terraced into something reminiscent of a Chaldean Ziggurat, or a step-pyramid. Its influence on the whole area is hypnotic; it is a constant reminder of eternity — a gnarled prophetic finger pointing to another and disturbing dimension. Impossible to resist its imperial bidding for long, it impels us to ascend and contemplate wider horizons.

The Glastonbury Zodiac is the earthly counterpart of the Caer Sidi of the Celts – a great Star-Temple, reflecting in its natural contours and streams the Zodiac in the heavens. So accurately indeed does it mirror the heavenly pattern that the stars of the Zodiac fit over its earthly effigies when the planisphere is scaled to the map of Avalon.

That this antiquity has lain so long forgotten is due, paradoxically, to its immense size. It is literally too big to be seen. These giant figures – one of them is five miles across – lie stretched over the Vale of Avalon in a great circle ten miles in diameter. Glastonbury Tor is its northern sighting point; Somerton and Lyte’s Cary bound it on the south. The effigies are formed and outlined by hills, contours, earthworks, roads, paths, ancient field boundaries, and by natural and artificial waterways. They consist of the twelve signs of the Zodiac in their correct order, with a thirteenth figure, the largest of all, lying outside the circle to the southwest. This is the great dog of Langport, who guards the sacred abode of Annwn, just as Cerberus guarded the gates of Hades.

Sole credit for discovering the Glastonbury Giants belongs to Katharine Maltwood. In 1927 she was asked to draw an itinerary of the Grail-Quest in Avalon for “The High History of the Holy Grail”, a Norman-French manuscript newly translated into English. Studying its text, which purports to have been written at Glastonbury Abbey, she found that the castles and adventures of the knights accurately corresponded to places in the Vale of Avalon. Following their encounters with dragons, giants, lions and other alarming fauna on the map, she was amazed to find that she too was confronted by a huge lion, its underside accurately drawn by the river Cary from Somerton to Lyte’s Cary; it’s back traced by an ancient road, Somerton Lane.

A geographical giant revealed itself next contoured by Dundon and Lollover Hills. An astrologer friend with whom she discussed these strange finds suggested from their relative positions that they might be Leo and Gemini of the Zodiac – and it was not long before the whole consort of Glastonbury Giants was restored, after centuries of oblivion.

Who made it, when, and why? There can be no doubt that this Zodiac in essence, is natural; its huge figures, molded by hills and lesser contours are partly outlined by rivers and streams whose course is determined by them. The whole complex measures some ten or twelve miles across, thirty miles around and can hardly be the unaided work of man. No, it was modeled by a vaster hand; whether we like to call it Nature, Cosmic Forces, or simply God.

So the question, “who made the Zodiac,” must it seems have a dual answer; it was made by Nature in the first place, and continued by man. The Zodiac can be seen in 20th century maps perhaps more clearly than in the past. The paths are widening into motor roads and some are becoming dual carriage-ways. Yet this is not to say that the design was unknown, unrecognized. There is indeed much evidence in early writings to show that it was known.

The second question “When was it made?” must then take us back to the geological ages when the hills were first formed and the streams first began to flow. But this was only the beginning; its continuous development embraces all the ages of man down to the present day.

The third question, “Why was it made?” has already been answered by Dunstan’s biographer with commendable succinctness. It was prepared, he tells us, “for the salvation of mankind”.

What a flavor of infinity there is about all these answers! We come to it in our usual state of partial consciousness, expecting a clear yes or no, and get both yes and no at once. This in itself is a hint that we are in touch with infinity.”

Katherine Maltwood retired to Victoria B.C. where she founded the Maltwood Museum. Upon her death in 1961 she bequeathed her entire Collection to the University of Victoria which still houses her vast collection of art, and contempory works. The Zodiac Wood Sculpture (shown at top of page) and all of Maltwood’s research archives may be viewed at the McPhearson Library, Special Collections Department, and University of Victoria. Since its institution in 1953 the museum collection has grown to over 6,000 items representing the work of contemporary Western Canadian artists, particularly those of British Columbia. This collection of fine, decorative and applied arts is the bequest of English sculptress and antiquarian, Katharine Emma Maltwood, F.R.S.A. (1878-1961). Reflecting the tastes and travels of Mrs. Maltwood and her husband John Maltwood, the collection ranges from Oriental ceramics, costumes and rugs to seventeenth century English furniture, Canadian paintings, and a selection of Katherine Maltwood’s own paintings and sculptures including her marble bust, “The Holy Grail”. The Maltwood Art Museum and Gallery is located at 3800 Finnerty Road (Ring Road), University Centre Victoria BC, Canada.