Sacred Texts  Miscellaneous  Index  Previous  Next 

p. 359



I. THE intimate connexion between the solar and serpent worship has already been ascertained. From which it appears, that, in the confusion of Pagan idolatry, these superstitions, originally independent, became so closely interwoven, that from their union sprung up a new kind of idolatry, and a new god, who, partaking of the attributes of the SUN and of the SERPENT, united their names, and was worshipped as APOLLO 1. The union of the two religions is, not obscurely, intimated in the legend of Apollo Pythius; in which this deity is represented as taking possession of a temple which

p. 360

had been originally dedicated to the serpent alone.

The same god, Apollo, was sometimes called OPHEL, which is nearly the same name, dropping only the syllable ON, which signifies the sun; for by this time the word EL had arrived at the same signification. EL means god, from the Hebrew אל; and when the sun came to be deified, he was naturally called EL, whence the Greeks obtained the word Ἥλιος, to denote "the sun."

APOLLO, then, being the SERPENT-SOLAR DEITY, his temples will be those in which we must look for the temples of THE SERPENT; for though in a few instances we may find the serpent adored alone, yet in no place shall we find a serpent-temple, in which the rites of the sun were not also partially celebrated.

1. Upon the introduction of images to express objects of worship, the solar deity was not unfrequently represented by conical stones in an upright position. These were called by the Greeks βαιτύλια--derived probably from the Hebrew, בית־אל, "the house," or "dwelling place of God." The earliest mention of such a stone occurs in Gen. xxviii, where Jacob erects one

p. 361

as a pillar, in remembrance of his celebrated dream, and, consecrating it to God, calls the name of the place Bethel. In process of time the stone itself was called Bethel, and similar pillars were hence named βαιτύλια, and supposed to be animated with the presence of the deity 1. The Ophites called them Abadir 2, from the name of the serpent-solar god: and they were conical, as representing a ray of the sun.

These conical pillars gave the first notion of an obelisk, which is a similar monument on a larger scale. The word obelisk, according to Bryant, is derived from OBEL, the name of the god to whom they were dedicated. This was hellenized into ὀβελίσκος. OBEL was the Apollo of Syria; and, probably, HELIOGABALUS was the same deity; for this god was represented by a black stone of conical form, which was

p. 362

said to have dropped from heaven, and was revered as an image of the sun, at Emesa.

In the Caaba of Mecca there is also a black stone, said to have fallen from heaven. The Mahometans generally hold it in great veneration 1. This was, probably, of the same kind as the Heliogabalus of Emesa--a probability which is strengthened by the name of the temple--Caaba: for this word may be a corruption of Ca-ab-ir, which means "the temple of ABIR," the solar serpent 2.

PYRAMIDS were obelisks of the most magnificent order; but it is supposed by Bryant that the obelisk originally represented the deity, of whom the pyramid, in times of improved architecture, was the temple 3. As the obelisk was an improvement upon the original Baitulia, it preserved the pointed form of these sacred stones in its apex--every obelisk terminating in a small pyramidal figure, which, like the Baitulia, was intended to be the representation of a

p. 363

sun's ray. The word pyramid itself means "a ray of the sun 1," from the Coptic Pi-ra-mu-e.

2. AN AGGREGATE of BAITULIA formed the first temples which were erected: and these temples were generally built in the figures of the hierograms of their respective gods. Thus the worshippers of the sun arranged their Baitulia in a circle, to represent the sun's disk. Many such temples are scattered through Europe, especially in Britain. Stonehenge is of this description; but from the transverse stones which rest upon the columns, and the evident signs of art and the chisel, this temple seems to be of a much more recent date than any other Druidical structure now extant. It is observable however that even in Stonehenge the upright columns are somewhat of the pyramidal figure--thus preserving the memory of their original consecration to the sun.

As the worshippers of the sun collected their Baitulia into circular, so the votaries of THE SERPENT formed theirs into a serpentine figure. Examples of this structure may be seen in several parts of England, but more especially at Carnac in Britany which is the most extensive and most remarkable relic of the Celtic religion in

p. 364

the world. Of this kind also was the Ophite temple described in Ovid, as passed by Medea in her flight from Attica to Colchis--


That the ancient Ophite temples were built of single and separate stones arranged after the manner of the avenues of Carnac is probable from the devices which appear on Tyrian coins, where a serpent is seen between two upright unhewn columns.

3. In process of time, however, the simple serpentine avenues underwent a great and elegant change. Instead of the solitary snake, moving in graceful sinuosities over hill and dale, or lying dormant in an uniform straight line, the serpent was made to wind his majestic form through the centre of a circle or globe. The sinuosities were still characteristically preserved, and the circular area as well as the serpentine avenues was still formed of the sacred Baitulia. The temple of Abury in Wiltshire was a beautiful specimen of this order of Ophite sanctuaries. This description of temple may, I conceive, have arisen from the union of the Solar and Ophite religions, after the suppression of the latter by

p. 365

the votaries of the former. The constant wars of the sun and serpent, and the general overthrow of the Ophite worship, have been alluded to in the course of this volume: but in the next chapter I shall enter into a more minute account. From the details it will appear that the worshippers of the Sun, being victorious, every where took possession of the Ophite temples. It is probable that in so doing, they did not at once destroy them: but building their own circular temples in the centre, formed the original serpent into avenues and approaches to the Sanctuary of the SUN. This compound temple was called a DRACONTIUM: from which is derived the name and the idea of a DRAGON, which is a fabulous monster frequently mentioned but little understood by the poets who employed it to decorate a tale of wonder. "DRACONTIUM" has been ingeniously imagined by my friend the Rev. George Andrews, to be a derivation from דֶּרֶּך.־איֹן (Derech On)--"an avenue of On:" ON being the title of the SUN in Egypt and Phœnicia. This derivation is the most expressive that can be assigned, and accounts at once for the origin of the fabulous dragon, which is said to have been a large serpent peculiar to 

p. 366

temples. Thus Servius in his Commentary on Virgil, defining the different kinds of serpents, says, "Angues aquarum, serpentes terrarum, DRACONES templorum sunt:"--not that Servius understood the word "Draco" in the sense above given, but that he recorded the language of tradition, and tradition preserved the memory of the fact. The word "Dracontium" as significant of a solar Ophite temple, would be readily adopted even by the Ophites themselves. For while the sun-worshippers understood by it "an avenue of the Sun," the serpent-worshippers would merge the circle in the avenues, and call the whole a DRAGON--A LARGE SERPENT. Hence the origin and the superstition of the DRAGON.

The DRACONTIA of the Solar-Ophites were of various forms, embracing every figure of the Ophite hierogram 1. Some were straight--others were formed by one serpent passing through the circle; and others again consisted of a circle and two issuing serpents.

The temples of Merivale on Dartmoor; Abury in Wiltshire; and Stanton Drew in Somersetshire,

p. 367

Click to enlarge

The left half of this plate (facing p. 367) was torn off in the copy of the book I scanned. I would appreciate any help locating a complete image of this plate--JBH.

respectively illustrate the above figures. These I shall describe in their order. But first it may be proper to consider the more simple, before we describe the complex dracontium. I will therefore begin with the temple of


1. The dracontium of Carnac is one of the most interesting remains of the Celtic religion. It is situated half a mile from the village of that name, in the department of the Morbihan in Britany; nine miles from the beautifully situated town of Auray, and approaches to within a mile of the Bay of Quiberon.

I visited this temple in the summer of 1831, and again in the spring of 1832. In my first visit I was accompanied by General de Penhouët, an antiquary highly esteemed in his native Britany, who had inquired deeply into the nature and figure of the temple. He pronounced it to be a Dracontium:--an opinion which has been confirmed by my subsequent survey of it made in company with Mr. Murray Vicars, a landsurveyor of Exeter; by whose exertions I have been furnished with a beautiful

p. 368

and accurate plan of the whole temple upon the scale of nine inches to a mile.

The temple known as "The Stones of Carnac," begins at the village of Erdeven, passes midway by Carnac, and terminates at a narrow part of the Marine lake of La Trinitè. The whole length of the temple, following its sinuosities, is eight miles. The average width from Erdeven to Lemaenac, is 200 feet; and from Lemaenac to the end, 350 feet. The highest stones are at Kerzerho, Lemaenac, Kermario, and Kerlescant; at which points they average from 15 to 17 feet high, and from 30 to 40 feet in circumference. The vacant spaces, noticed below, have been cleared to build the adjacent villages of Plouharnel and Carnac, and the numerous walls which intersect the country:--

From a to b the stones have been removed; from b to c they reappear.

From c to d there is a vacancy; from d to e a recovery.

From e to f no stones are visible; from f to g a few.

From g to h is a dreary waste; at h there may have been an area similar to Lemaenac; from h to k is a continuation of stones.

p. 369

From k to l is another vacancy; at l, m, n, o, are a few stones; the intermediate spaces void.

From Lemaenac to p is a beautiful continuation.

From p to q are only a few scattered stones. From q to r the parallelitha are preserved; from r to s broken.

From Kerlescant to the end the Dracontium is perfect 1.

The labour of its erection may be imagined from the fact, that it originally consisted of eleven rows of stones, about ten thousand in number, of which, more than three hundred averaged from fifteen to seventeen feet in height, and from sixteen to twenty or thirty feet in girth:--one stone even measuring forty-two feet in circumference.

From the accompanying plate it will be seen that the course of the avenues is sinuous, describing the figure of an enormous serpent moving over the ground. But this resemblance is more striking upon an actual inspection of the original. Then the alternations of the high

p. 370

and low stones, regularly disposed, mark with sufficient accuracy the swelling of the serpent's muscles as he moves along: and a spectator standing upon one of the Cromlech hills, round which the serpent sweeps, cannot but be struck by the evidence of design which appears in the construction of the avenues.

In the course of the Dracontium there are two regularly defined areas; one, near the village of Carnac, which is of the shape of a horse shoe, or a bell; the other towards the eastern extremity, which approaches the figure of a rude circle, being a parallelogram with rounded corners. There are appearances also, but too ill-defined to be noticed, of other areas of a similar description.

The circle and the horse shoe were both sacred figures in the Druidical religion, as may be seen in Stonehenge where they are united; the outer circles inclosing inner horse shoes. I cannot find any connection between the latter symbol and the tenets of the Celtic religion, unless it be intended as a representation of the moon. The torques (of which a splendid collection, twelve in number, and £1000 sterling in value in pure

p. 371

gold, was found in Britany in 1832,) were of the lunar form. And, perhaps, from this symbol (whatever it may have expressed) was derived the superstition so prevalent in Britain, of nailing a horse shoe over a door to scare away evil spirits, in the same manner as the sign of the cross is supposed to be efficacious by superstitious Roman Catholics. The worshippers of Carnac may, on this supposition, have been lunar Ophites; but this is mere conjecture.

It is curious, however, that at Erdeven, where the temple commences, an annual dance, describing the Ophite hierogram of the circle and serpent, is still kept up by the peasants at the Carnival. But the only tradition which I could find respecting the stones, was the universal superstition that they once possessed life, and were petrified as they stand. Some of the peasants believe that they were the Roman army who, pursued the centurion Cornelius on account of his conversion to Christianity; and were petrified through his prayers. Others imagine that certain supernatural dwarfs erected them in one night, and still inhabit, each the stone which he erected. Both these opinions have their remote origin

p. 372

in the animated Baitulia; and are paralleled by similar traditions in England, &c. respecting the Solar and Ophite temples.

Near that part of the dracontium which approaches Carnac is a singular mound of great elevation, which was once evidently conical--the upper portion of it being artificial. It is analogous to the remarkable hill of Silbury, which is similarly connected with the dracontium of Abury. These mounds were probably raised for the purpose of altars, upon which the perpetual fire kindled by the sun, was kept burning, in conformity with the rites of the Solar religion. They are very common in Persia, and may be alluded to in Scripture under the name of "the high places," upon which idolatry performed her rites. The conical mound near Carnac, which is so situated as to be seen for many miles, and from every part of the temple, has been consecrated by the Christians to the Archangel Michael: to whom also is sacred almost every natural or artificial cone in Britany. The reason of this dedication may be readily assigned. St. Michael is the destroyer of the spiritual dragon of the Apocalypse; whose

p. 373

mutilated image lies prostrate below the mound, and whose worshippers were converted to the faith of the triumphant religion, which, in token of its victory, erected upon the solar mount a chapel dedicated to the destroyer of "the apostate serpent." By this consecration then is indicated the triumph of Christianity over Ophiolatreia: and it is but consistent that the people who allegorized the conversion of the Ophites by the metaphor of a victory over serpents should, in token of this victory, erect upon the high places of idolatry, chapels to the Archangel, the enemy and the victor of the SERPENT-TEMPTER.

This mound may possibly have given name to the adjacent village which may be called Carn-ac, from "Cairn," a hill, and "hac," a snake. The "serpent's hill" would be an appropriate title for Mont St. Michel. In the same manner the collection of columns called Lemaenac, may have been named from maen, "stones," and "hac," a snake.

In illustration of the dracontium of Carnac may be adduced a small but interesting Ophite temple in the Ile aux Moines, in the Morbihan. The only part of this temple now

p. 374

perfect is the lunar or campanular area, corresponding to that in the dracontium of Carnac, which seems to have occupied the centre of the sanctuary. Some few of the stones which composed the avenues are standing, but very scattered. Many have been removed within the last twenty years to build walls and houses. At the southern extremity of the avenues the dracontium terminated in an oblong tumulus of considerable dimensions: one end of which being opened, has exposed to view a very beautiful Kistväen. There was also an obelisk at the head of the tumulus. But the most remarkable circumstance attending this tumulus is its name--it is called Pen-Ab--that is, "the head of AB," the sacred serpent Now, although this coincidence, without the knowledge of the temple's course, would prove little or nothing; yet combined with the fact, that parallel and sinuous avenues have once existed, running from Penab towards the middle of the island, and calling to mind the general custom of the ancient world which involved the name of the deity in that of the temple--we may fairly infer that this temple of the Ile aux Moines was a dracontium sacred to the Ophite deity AB.

Click to enlarge

p. 375

The name of the island itself--"the Isle of the Monks," records probably some early establishment of Druids, the recollection of whom has been thus preserved.

There are, I believe, other dracontia in Britany and Gaul; but not having examined them personally, I pass on to those in our own country, which bear the most evident marks of their Ophite dedication.

2. The most remarkable dracontium in England is that of ABURY in Wiltshire, about five miles west of Marlborough, on the Bath road; over which thousands of travellers pass without dreaming that the ground upon which they tread was once esteemed the most holy in Britain. Of the temple of Abury an invaluable account has been left by the learned and ingenious Dr. Stukeley, in a volume replete with deep research and interesting facts. Having perused this volume with the attention which it demands, the reader should next have recourse to the splendid work of Sir Richard Colt Hoare on "the History of Ancient Wiltshire," in which he will discover ABURY AS IT IS, in the ruins of its magnificence. The theory of Stukeley is here sanctioned by an indisputable authority,

p. 376

and his errors corrected with a judicious hand.

The temple of Abury may be thus succinctly described:--From a circle of upright stones, (without imposts,) erected at equal distances, proceeded two avenues in a wavy course, in opposite directions. These were the fore and hinder parts of the serpent's body, and they emerged from the lower segment of the circle, through which the serpent appeared to be passing from west to east. Within this great circle were four others, considerably smaller, two and two, described about two centres, but neither of them coincident with the centre of the great circle. They lay in the line drawn from the north-west to the south-east points, passing through the centre of the great circle. The great outer circle surrounded the chief part of the village of Abury or Avebury; and was itself encompassed by a mound and moat. The head of the serpent was formed of two concentric ovals, and rested on an eminence called Overton Hill. This part of the temple, as long as it stood, was traditionally named in the neighbourhood, the sanctuary. It was destroyed 1 in

p. 377

the seventeenth century, through the rapacity of the farmers, who converted the stones into materials for building, and repairing the roads. Overton Hill, upon which the head of the serpent rested, is the southern promontory of the

p. 378

[paragraph continues] Hakpen hills; and Dr. Stukeley supposes, that from the serpent's head the range was so named; for Hakpen is a compound word, which, in the British language, bore that signification--Hak, a snake; and Pen, the head. This conjecture he illustrates by the pertinent remark, that to this day, in Yorkshire, the peasants call snakes, hags and hagworms 1."

The tail of the serpent terminated in a valley towards Beckhampton; and the whole figure was so contrived, as to have the appearance of a vast snake creeping over hill and dale. From the circle to the head, the avenue consisted of one hundred stones on each side. The head was composed of a double oval, the outer containing forty, and the inner eighteen, stones. The tail consisted likewise of one hundred stones on each side, and was, as well as the avenue to the head, a mile in length. The area enclosed by the circular rampart, which surrounds the great circle, is twenty-eight acres, seventeen perches, as measured by Sir R. C. Hoare.

Midway between the extremities of the two serpentine avenues, where a horizontal line, con-

p. 379

netting them, would meet a perpendicular let fall from the centre of the great circle, is a remarkable, artificial, conical mound, called SILBURY HILL, of very great elevation. This is supposed, by Stukeley, to be a sepulchral monument; but Sir R. C. Hoare, with more probability, considers it to be a part of the temple. It is, doubtless, a mound dedicated to the solar deity, like the pyramids of ancient Greece and Egypt; and corresponds with the OPHELTIN of classical mythology, and the Mont St. Michel of Curiae. In connexion with the serpent-temple, it identifies the whole structure as sacred to the deity known by the Greeks as APOLLO. Its very name imports "the hill of the sun."

A more stupendous monument of heathen idolatry, than Abury, is not to be found in England. Many of the stones were remaining in their positions, when Stukeley surveyed the temple in 1723; but a great number were destroyed by the farmers in his time, and many more have been broken up, and carried away since. The work of devastation, it is to be feared, is not yet finished; such is the ignorance and barbarism of cupidity.

p. 380

There are now remaining, of the serpentine figure, only eleven stones of the avenue between Abury and Kennet: that is, of the avenue which passing through West Kennet terminated in the serpent's head on Overton Hill. Marks in the ground contiguous to eight of these eleven stones, show the original position of four others, which have been taken away. So that from the turnpike gate at Avebury, to that point of the Bath road which passes through Kennet, the avenue may be traced without much difficulty. One very large stone stands near the entrance of the circle; and between two others the road passes as it approaches Kennet; the remaining eight, and the four vacant loci, are found together in a field on the right. The large stone by the circle, and the two which are nearest to the Bath road, are accurate guides to the eye in tracing the whole avenue.

Besides these, I observed (Sept. 3, 1829), four subverted stones in the descent and bottom of the hill beyond Kennet, to the south of the Bath road, at the point where the neck of the serpent is supposed to have risen on Overton Hill. These are, evidently, the remains of the

p. 381

avenue from Kennet to "the sanctuary." Of "the sanctuary" itself, not a single stone remains.

Of the Beckhampton avenue, only two stones retain their original position; and these are in the middle of the avenue 1. I had not time to look for the loci of the others; and I therefore refer the reader to the elaborate descriptions of Dr. Stukeley and Sir R. C. Hoare, with them lamenting, that in a country like this such barbarism should have been permitted as would disgrace the most uncivilized of the hordes of Tartary--destroying piecemeal, for the sake of a few tons of stone or a few yards of barren ground, one of the most interesting and venerable monuments of antiquity in the world.

Some of these stones, however, resisted the utmost efforts of the destroyers, who, unable to break, sunk them in the ground by digging pits about them. Two of these stones lie six feet under ground in the premises of Mr. Butler, the landlord of the Kennet Inn, and over another the Bath road passes.

In the time of Dr. Stukeley, the peasants of

p. 382

the neighbourhood had a tradition that "no snakes could live within the circle of Abury." This notion may have descended from the times of the Druids, through a very natural superstition that the unhallowed reptile was divinely restrained from entering the sanctuary, through which the mystic serpent passed.

There have been found at Abury the usual Druidical relics of Celts, Anguina, &c.: and a proof that this was once a temple of very great resort, is afforded by the immense quantities of burnt bones, horns of oxen, and charcoal which have been discovered in the agger of the vallum. These are indications of great sacrifices. Dr. Stukeley was doubtful of the derivation of the word ABURY; but I think that a probable solution may be found in the compound titleאוב־אור serpens solis, for here are all the data required. The temple was the Ophite hierogram; the officiating priests were Druids, whose religion recognised the sun as a deity, and the serpent as a sacred emblem; the name of that mystic serpent was Aub, and a title of the solar deity, Aur or Ur: the whole temple represented the union of the serpentine with the circular sanctuaries, that is, of the temples of the Ophite and

British Dracontia
Click to enlarge

British Dracontia

p. 383

[paragraph continues] Solar superstition. What name then could be more expressive than AUBUR, or ABUR, "the serpent of the sun?" The present name of the village is Avebury, which the first describer of the temple (Mr. Aubrey, who lived in the seventeenth century) says, should have been written Aubury; and this reading he found in the legierbook of Malmesbury Abbey 1.


3. STANTON DREW. The second British dracontium in order of beauty, is that of Stanton Drew, in Somersetshire. It is situated near the village of Pensford, about five miles west of Bristol.

This temple, which is much dilapidated, originally consisted of one large circle connected by avenues with two smaller; and thus described the second order of the Ophite hierogram--the circle and two serpents. In Egyptian hieroglyphics, when two serpents are seen in connection, one typifies the Good and the other the Evil Principle. For the first knowledge of this temple as a dracontium, we are indebted to Sir Richard Colt Hoare. I

p. 384

visited it in 1831, and made the following observations.

The great circle is at present contained by only thirteen stones, and these are generally small, and much worn by the weather. It is probable that the original number was thirty. The dimensions of this circle or rather oval, are 126 yards by 115.

A small circle of eight stones, 32 feet in diameter, was connected with its eastern limb by an avenue of, perhaps, twenty stones. The length of this avenue is about 100 yards, and it is remarkable for its very great curvature, returning at a sharp angle towards the large circle, as if to represent a snake throwing back his head. Only ten stones of this avenue remain. The western circle is at the distance of 150 yards; and consisted of ten or twelve stones. Its diameter is forty-three yards, but I could trace no avenue between it and the oval. The ground is much broken in this part. A wall intersects it, and a road to a farm-yard passes through it. So that the removal of the stones may be accounted for without difficulty. I have no doubt whatever that an avenue connecting this smaller circle with the great one, once existed

p. 385

for analogy is in favour of the hypothesis, although no traces of the avenue remain.

I am confirmed in my opinion by a tradition of the neighbourhood, which almost universally accompanies Ophite temples. By this it appears that Keyna, the daughter of a Welsh prince, who lived in the fifth century, having left her country and crossed the Severn for the purpose of finding some secluded spot, where she might devote herself, without interruption, to religious contemplations, arrived in the neighbourhood of Stanton Drew. She requested permission from the prince of the country, to fix her residence at Keynsham, which was then an uncleared wood. The prince replied, that he would readily give the permission required; but it was impossible for any one to live in that place on account of the serpents, of the most venomous species, which infested it. Keyna, however, confident in her saintly gifts, accepted the permission, notwithstanding the warning: and taking possession of the wood, "converted by her prayers all the snakes and vipers of the place into stones. And to this day," remarks Capgrave, the recorder of the legend, "the stones in that country resemble the windings of serpents,

p. 386

through all the fields and villages, as if they had been so formed by the hand of the engraver."

The transformation of the serpents into stone is the fable which almost always denotes the neighbourhood of a Dracontium, as we may see in the legend of Cadmus and Harmonia, Python, and others. The remark of Capgrave may allude to the anguina, or serpent-stones, so often found in the vicinity of Druidical temples: or even to the specimens of the Cornua Ammonis, which I believe are sometimes found in the neighbourhood.


4. DARTMOOR. At Merivale bridge on Dartmoor, four miles from Tavistock, is an interesting group of temples, two of the dracontian, and two of the circular kind. The temples on Dartmoor are usually in pairs. Whenever these are circles we may suppose that one of them was sacred to the sun, and the other to the moon, like the double circles within the great circular area of Abury. At Merivale, the four temples are within a few yards of each other; and though small, are tolerably perfect--one of the circles only being destroyed.

p. 387

The avenues, which are straight, run parallel to each other, east and west. They are 105 feet apart, the longer is 1143 feet in length: the shorter 792. The larger of these temples is of the same order as that of Stanton Drew, having a central circle, and two avenues, each terminated by a circle. These avenues are straight: but this makes no difference of moment from the theory of serpent temples; for they are equally Dracontia, i.e. "Avenues of the sun." The second temple has but one circle, which is at the head, and corresponds to the Celtic temple of Callernish, in the island of Lewis; but the latter is far more magnificent. Dr. Stukeley pronounced Callernish to be a Dracontium; but from the descriptions of it by Dr. Borlase and others, it can only be considered such, if that title be extended to straight avenues, as well as those which are sinuous.

Of this rectilinear order there are other Dracontia on Dartmoor, although not so extensive as those of Merivale. On the brook side below Black Tor, are two avenues parallel to each other, and running east and west; one of which may be traced for 300 feet, and the other for 180 feet. They are forty feet apart,

p. 388

and each is terminated by a circle thirty feet in diameter enclosing a cairn. The stones average the same height as those at Merivale, being from three to four feet in elevation.

Similar avenues, but running north and south, occur on Gidleigh common, of which the stones are three feet and a half high and triangular. They may be traced for 432 and 120 feet respectively.

Other monuments of the same nature are scattered over Dartmoor, which from the multitude of such and similar British remains must at one time have been very thickly inhabited. Vestiges of circular huts are not unfrequently seen on the sides of hills, now seldom pressed by the foot of man, and are melancholy memorials of unknown ages, nameless tribes, and generations long since mingled with the dust. It is probable that the early inhabitants of Dartmoor, were driven into these bleak and barren regions from pleasanter and more fertile lands by the pressure of the Romans, Saxons and Danes: and that the parallelitha and circles above described were built in humble imitation of more splendid temples in the lower country. All the works on Dartmoor are those of a

p. 389

feeble and impoverished people, but amply illustrative of the religion which they exercised in happier times.


5. SHAP. The longest dracontium in Britain, and the only one that in extent could compete with Carnac, was at Shap in Westmorland. The stones were, however, small as compared with those of Abury; the largest now remaining, measures only eight feet in height. The temple of Shap begins at about half a mile south of the village of that name, in a field adjoining the Kendal road; and from this point proceeds in a northerly course, crossing the road near Shap in two rows. The greatest width of the avenue is at the head in the field above mentioned, and measures eighty-eight feet. At this extremity it is bounded by a slightly curved line of six stones placed at irregular intervals; but they appear to have been never erected. Near Shap the two rows converge to the width of fifty-nine feet, and again separating, but not so much as to destroy the appearance of parallelism, proceed in a northerly direction, in which course they may be traced at intervals for a mile and a half. The avenue throughout preserves the sinuosities of the serpent-temple.

p. 390

Although scarcely two miles of the temple are now recoverable, yet tradition states it once extended to Moor Dovey, a distance of seven miles from Shap! In this respect it almost rivals the celebrated Carnac, which can only be traced for eight miles; but in the number and magnitude of its columns, it must have fallen very short of the grandeur of that magnificent dracontium. Indeed nothing in Britain can compete with this pride of Britany. All our parallelitha contain but two rows of stones, whereas the temple of Carnac has eleven!

About a mile to the N. E. of Shap is a circle composed of large stones, in tolerable preservation; but whether it was connected with the parallelithon or not, I am unable to determine. The probability of the connection is however great; but I fear the temple is in too dilapidated a state to solve this question.

Dr. Stukeley, who also saw, but did not survey the temple of Shap, pronounced it at once to be a dracontium. The indications must, at that time, (one hundred years since,) have been much stronger than they are now. A traveller in these days would hardly notice the few stones which lie by the side of the Kendal road. Dr. Stukeley, in a letter to an eminent antiquary of

p. 391

his day, mentions with approbation a plan of the temple of Shap as drawn by a gentleman of Carlisle; but I have not been able to find this document, which now that the dracontium is nearly destroyed, would be almost invaluable.


II. The above are the principal known dracontia in Europe. Many more may be perhaps discovered upon diligent inquiry. Parallelitha, as such, have been seen by thousands of travellers. The majority have looked, and passed on with indifference: better informed persons have considered them as merely relics of the Druidical superstition; and the covetous farmer has converted, with a ruthless hand, their venerable columns into materials for building walls or repairing houses! But a more enlightened age may even yet rescue from annihilation monuments which have been at once the work and the admiration of ages. The light which has been thrown upon remote antiquity by these venerable ruins is too strong to be extinguished. It is like their own perpetual fire, which, though quenched upon Silbury and Mount St. Michael, still burns in the rites of the ceremonial religion which, at the ashes of Baal, has kindled the tapers of the Church of Rome.

p. 392

Among the interesting discoveries which result from the theory of dracontia, is the view which it developes of the origin of columnar architecture. We admire the beauties and the grandeur of the Parthenon: we gaze with rapture on the isolated pillars of exquisite workmanship, which standing upon the barren and desolated plains of Greece or Asia Minor, fill us alternately with admiration of the art which executed, and indignation at the barbarism which defaced them. But we little think that in the rude and rugged columns of Abury, or Carnac, we see a prototype of the most admired pillars of the most splendid temples of ancient Greece or Asia! And yet there can be little doubt but that such is the fact.

The temples of the sun at Palmyra and Geraza, both in the country formerly devoted to the worship of OUB, the serpent god of Canaan, are illustrations in point. An examination of their columns, which supported no roof will justify the inference that they were substituted for those of some ancient dracontia occupying the same sites. The avenues of Palmyra particularly illustrate this theory by their sinuous course, although sinuosity as we have before observed, is not indispensably necessary to a dracontium,

Click to enlarge

p. 393

several (such as Callernish and the temples on Dartmoor) being straight. The majority of serpent temples were however sinuous; and such was the temple of the sun at Palmyra. A long avenue of two double rows of columns connected the portal with the sanctuary, which was in the shape of a parallelogram.

The sanctuary of Geraza was formed by a circle of columns, connected like those of Stonehenge by transverse stones resting upon their summits. A straight avenue of two rows led to this circle, and threw out near it two arms of a cross. The plan of the temple is almost a facsimile of the dracontium of Callernish; while the resemblance of its circle to the outer one of Stonehenge would almost persuade us that the architects of the one had either had communication with those of the other, or had copied their design.

Nothing is more probable than that the first step in templar architecture being to group together the isolated baitulia, the second would be to polish and carve the columns already existing in a rude state; or to substitute for them others of a more finished kind. Thus, by degrees, the rough "petræ ambrosiæ" of Greece or Canaan would be fashioned into the elegance

p. 394

of the Parthenon, or of the temple of the sun at Palmyra. And although the one had no avenues, and the other no circle, yet both being columnar, may be referred for their origin to the same standard of early architecture, the dracontium: for the varieties of the dracontium include every figure of the classical temple. The dracontium had its avenues, straight and sinuous; its circles; its lunes; its ovals, and its parallelograms. Merivale, Abury, and Carnac, exemplify them all.

Many may deem these notions crude and extravagant; but I confess that the impression which they leave upon my mind is great; neither can I consent to efface it until other explanations, more satisfactory than any hitherto advanced, supply me with a better theory 1.


III. Another discovery still more interesting and useful arises from the doctrine of dracontia. By this may be obtained a key to the many absurd and incredible histories of Pagan mythology respecting enormous serpents and dragons 

p. 395

covering acres of ground; which could have been nothing but vast dracontia. Dr. Stukeley, the inventor of the theory, has himself applied it to this purpose; and as a few more cases may be adduced in corroboration of his opinion, I will add them. The facts are curious; but the principle upon which this treatise was undertaken, is altogether independent of their probability, although it may be greatly illustrated by it. For the universal prevalence of the worship of the serpent, which it was my object to prove, has, I trust, been satisfactorily shown.

It is remarked by Stukeley, that the celebrated PYTHON was, originally, nothing more nor less than a serpentine temple, like that of Abury. Python is described by Ovid (Met. i. 459,) as covering several acres,--"tot jugera ventre prementem." Of the same kind, Dr. Stukeley thinks, was the TITYUS of Virgil, who covered nine acres of ground.

----------"Per tota novem cui jugera corpus
                       Æneid, vi. 596.

[paragraph continues] In corroboration of the first of these opinions

p. 396

we may observe that Homer describes Apollo as building a temple 1 on the spot where he had slain Python. The stones of which it was composed were "broad and very long." He was assisted by Trophonius, who laid "the threshold-stone;" and a multitude of labourers built the temple . Its figure was circular in this part; for such I take to be the meaning of the word Ἀμφὶ, in the line which describes the labour 2. For it can hardly mean that they built the temple "round" the "threshold." This, then, was the sanctum, and may have corresponded with the great circle of Abury.

The description of the building here ceases; and the confused legend makes a transition from the temple to the serpent who was slain there by Apollo, and at his command putrefied upon the spot by the sun. But in a few lines afterwards Apollo is described as meditating what sort of men he shall put as priests into his "STONY PYTHO 3." By the same epithet he describes Pytho in other parts of his works; and Pinder 4 makes use of the same designation. It is true

p. 397

that this epithet may allude only to the rocky nature of the soil; but it may allude also to the stones of the temple, and would be employed probably for that purpose, on the supposition that the temple was of the serpentine kind. There is something remarkable in the circumstance that Trophonius should be concerned in laying the chief stone; and though Agamedes is joined with him in the office, yet Trophonius is, assuredly, not a builder of the temple, but the temple itself. For we have already seen that TROPHONIUS is no other than TOR-OPH-ON, "the temple of the solar serpent." Here then we have the serpent again! and putting all these detached facts together, making also due allowance for poetical imagery and mythological exaggeration, we may, not unreasonably, conclude, that the whole history relates to the erection of a SERPENT-TEMPLE, like that of Abury.

If Ovid, in describing Python, alludes to the serpentine figure of the temple, he comes nearer to facts when he represents serpents changed into stone. (Met. xi. 56: xii. 23.)

In these instances of metamorphosis, the coincident features of the story indicate Ophiolatreia. Thus Apollo is the person who petrifies the Lesbian

p. 398

dragon (Met. xi.); and the scene of the second story is Bœotia, a country where serpent-worship was peculiarly prevalent.

But the poet comes still more closely to the mark, when he describes the flight of Medea from Attica to Colchis. Her chariot was drawn by dragons, and she was passing from one Ophite colony to another. In her passage,

"Æoliam Pitanem lævâ de parte reliquit,

When we consider that the word Pitane may be immediately derived from פתן, serpens, we have a presumptive evidence that the serpent was worshipped there: and the above lines from Ovid, corroborating the conjecture, describe the temple; which was, in truth, LONGI SIMULACHRA DRACONIS. Had the poet intended to describe Abury or Carnac, he could not have represented them more accurately.

Dr. Stukeley thinks that the fable of Cadmus, "sowing serpents' teeth," alluded to "his building a serpentine temple:" which is not unlikely: for under such an imagery might the

p. 399

stones of the temple be poetically described, the order of teeth being that in which such stones were erected, single and upright, at equal distances.

Cadmus and Harmonia were changed into serpents at Enchelia, in Illyria, where "stones and a temple" were erected to their memory. Scylax Caryandensis, cited by Bryant 1, says,

Κάδμου καὶ Ἁρμονίας οἱ λίθοι εἰσὶν ἐνταῦθα, καὶ ἱερόν

The situation of this temple is "half a day's sail from the river Arion 2." No such river occurs in the maps of the country; and Vossius corrects it into "Drylo:" but Scylax, who notices so few things, and only the most remarkable, in his brief memoranda, could hardly have been mistaken in so important a matter as the name of a river. The temple was Ophite; and it is very probable that the nearest river would be sacred to the solar deity. For "Arion" compounds the two titles of the sun, Ault and ON.

"The temple," observes Bryant, "was an Ophite Petra, which induced people to believe

p. 400

that there were in these temples serpents petrified 1. It is possible that in later times the deity may have been worshipped under this form; whence it might be truly said of Cadmus and Harmonia, that they would one day be exhibited in stone." Bryant here refers to Nonnus Dionusiac. l. xliv. p. 1144, who says of Cadmus and Harmonia,

Λαϊνέην ἤμελλον ἔχειν ὀφιώδεα μορφήν.

This line, however, I cannot find in Nonnus: but one not much unlike it occurs in lib. xliv. line 367, of that writer:

                        --------οἷς Χρόνος ἕρπων
Ὤπασε πετρήεσσαν ἔχειν ὀφιώδεα μορφήν

In which the allusion to the serpentine form of the temple appears evident. The conversion of temples into gods is of common occurrence in mythology; and I have no doubt but that the line from Nonnus, above cited, describes the figure of the λίθοι καὶ ἱερὸν, remarked by Scylax. Bryant seems to think that "the stones" sacred to Cadmus and Harmonia were merely stylæ--

p. 401

commemorative pillars; and consequently introduces the word "two" into his translation, which is not in the original. The words of Scylax are, "Here are the stones and temple of Cadmus and Harmonia." From which it does not necessarily appear that "the stones" and "the temple" were not identical. I believe they were; and that they constituted a serpent-temple like Abury: or, as Bryant elsewhere employs the word, A DRACONTIUM.

For the origin of this word, "dracontium," he adduces a derivation by no means indicative of his usual penetration. Thus he tells us, that "toward each extremity of the oval temples of the Phœnicians were erected mounds, on which were towers. These towers were generally royal edifices, and at the same time held sacred. They were termed Tarchon, like Tarchonium in Hetruria, which, by a corruption, was in latter times rendered Trachon . . . . . . . The term Trachon seems to have been still further sophisticated by the Greeks, and expressed Δράκων 1." . . . . . . . . "When the Greeks understood that in these temples the people worshipped a serpent deity, they concluded that

p. 402

[paragraph continues] Trachon was a serpent; and hence came the name of DRACO to be appropriated to such an animal 1."

How much more simple and probable is the inference of Dr. Stukeley, who reasons from a fact? Verbal coincidences can never be put in competition with historical facts; but in the case before us, these coincidences are strained, and the fact of the existence of a serpentine temple at Abury placed beyond all doubt 2. This error of Bryant leads him into another, when he talks about the "windows 3" of a dracontium. We should be startled at a theory founded upon the windows of Abury, or Stonehenge.

That the conjecture of Bryant, in deriving the legends of the mythological dragons from the word Tarchon, is inadmissible, appears again by an extract from Pausanias, which (curiously enough) he himself quotes to corroborate his position, whereas it tends directly to confirm that of Stukeley. In the road between

p. 403

[paragraph continues] Thebes and Glisas, you may see a place encircled by select stones, which the Thebans call THE SERPENT'S HEAD 1."

Dr. Stukeley also cites this remarkable passage, to illustrate his observations upon the. HEAD of the Abury serpent, which rested upon a promontory, called, in like manner, SNAKES-HEAD. (Hakpen.) This was also "a place encircled by select stones." And to complete the resemblance, there is near this Theban temple, a lofty hill corresponding to Silbury, upon which a temple was erected to Jupiter 2.

But, though the premises of Bryant were conjectural, his conclusions were for the most part correct, and his illustrations ingenious. I proceed to subjoin some of them as equally applicable to our theory.

"Iphicrates related that in Mauritania there were dragons of such extent that grass grew upon their backs. What can be meant under this representation but a dracontium, within whose precincts they encouraged verdure 3?"

Again: "It is said (by Maximus Tyrius, Dissert. 8, c. vi. p. 85,) that Taxiles, a mighty prince of India, carried Alexander the Great to

p. 404

see a dragon, which was sacred to Dionusus, and itself esteemed a god. It was of a stupendous size, being in extent equal to five acres, and resided in a low, deep place, walled round to a great height. The Indians offered sacrifices to it, and it was daily fed by them from their flocks and herds." . . . . "Two dragons of the like nature are mentioned by Strabo, (lib. xv. p. 1022) which are said to have resided in the mountains of Abisares, in India; the one was eighty cubits in length, the other one hundred and forty. Similar to the above, is the account given by Posidonius of a serpent which he saw in the plains of Macra in Syria . . . . He says that it was about an acre in length, and of a thickness so remarkable, that two persons on horseback, when they rode on opposite sides, could not see one another. Each scale was as big as a shield, and a man might ride in at its mouth. What can this description allude to," says Bryant, "but the ruins of an Ophite temple, which is represented in this enigmatical mariner to raise admiration? The plains of Macra were not far from Lebanon and Hermon, where the Hivites resided, and where serpent-worship particularly prevailed. The Indian

p. 405

dragon above mentioned seems to have been of the same nature. It was, probably, a temple and its environs, where a society of priests resided, who were maintained by the public, and who worshipped the deity under the semblance of a serpent 1."

Besides these Ophite temples, Bryant discovered a legend of two others in the neighbourhood of Damascus 2. These dragons, according to Nonnus, were overcome by the hero Damascenus, an earthborn giant. "One of the monsters with which he fought is described of an enormous size--a serpent, in extent of fifty acres: which certainly must have a reference to the grove and garden, wherein such Ophite temple stood, at Damascus. For the general measurement of these wonderful beings by acres, proves that such an estimate could not relate to any thing of solid contents, but to an inclosure of that superficies."

The dragon of Colchos, which guarded the golden fleece, is also considered by Bryant to have been a dracontic temple. There was a settlement of Ophites in Colchis, which is indicated by the name of the river Ophis. This

p. 406

river was so named from a body of people, who settled upon its banks, and were said to be con-ducted by a serpent 1.

An attentive perusal of Diodorus Siculus, lib. iv. s. 47, will perhaps incline the reader to acquiesce in the conclusion of Bryant respecting the Colchian dragon. Diodorus himself resolves the legend into a story about a temple, where the treasure, the golden fleece, was kept under the guardianship of Tauric soldiers. These, he contends, were the bulls, who were associated with the dragon in guarding the treasure. The dragon was their commander, an officer named Draco. The legend is, that the golden fleece deposited there by Phryxus, was guarded by a sleepless dragon; and bulls, breathing fire from their nostrils, lay by the altar of the temple. Jason, having first subdued the bulls, compelled them to the yoke, and ploughed up the ground; in which, like Cadmus, he sowed serpents' teeth. These teeth, becoming animated in the form of armed men, fought together and destroyed one another. He then lulled the dragon, and bore away the fleece 2.

The explanation of Diodorus is simple, and

p. 407

in default of a better, not unreasonable. But the word "Tor," which he supposes to have been misunderstood for "bulls," when in reality it alluded to men who came from Taurica, is much more likely to have been the Chaldee טור, a tower, mistaken by Greeks, who were ignorant of the language of the country, for תור, a bull. Hence the whole error. The "bulls" were towers--perhaps fortified lighthouses; and the light which burned in them gave occasion to the fable of "fire breathing bulls 1."

Having resolved the "bulls" into "towers," we may reasonably conjecture that the "dragon" was stone. The temple will thus become a dracontium. This dracontium was stormed by Jason, who, having first taken the towers which protected the temple, moved against the latter, compelling the garrisons of the former into his service: and having by some stratagem--perhaps a nocturnal assault--set the defenders of the dracontium against each other, succeeded in his enterprise of plundering it of the treasure. The sowing of the serpents' teeth, I conceive to be an expression which has crept into the fable, from a confused recollection of the figure 

p. 408

of the temple, and the manner of its formation, by upright, equidistant stones. This incident, so violently and uselessly introduced, seems an index to the whole fable, and identifies it as relating to the plundering of a dracontium.

In turning over the pages of Pausanias and Strabo, we frequently meet with passages which may naturally be interpreted into descriptions of Ophite temples. Thus near the river Chimarrus in Argolis was a circular inclosure "marking the spot where Pluto descended into Tartarus with Proserpine." This legend indicates the temple to be a dracontium of which the central circle only remained. Other temples occur which might admit the same inference; but they are for the most part too obscurely described to adduce as illustrations. I cannot, however, pass by, without a remark, "the stones of Amphion," mentioned by Pausanias, (568,) because the legend attached to them corresponds with a tradition very common in England, respecting the circular, druidical temples:--"The stones which lie near the tomb of Amphion (in Bœotia) are rude and not laboured by art. They say that they were the stones which followed the music of Amphion."

p. 409

A similar fable is related of Orpheus, who, it will be remembered, was the high priest of Ophiolatreia in Thrace.

Respecting the druidical circles, it was a common tradition that the stones which composed them were once animated beings, and petrified in the mazes of a dance. Thus Stonehenge was called "the dance of the giants;" and Rowldrich, a Druids' temple, near Chipping Norton in Oxfordshire, is supposed to have been a king and his nobles similarly metamorphosed. The same is reported of Stanton Drew, in Somersetshire, which is vulgarly called "the weddings;" being supposed to have been a company of friends at a nuptial festival, who were petrified in the midst of a dance.

Another Druids' temple, in Cumberland, is called "Long Meg and her daughters" from a similar tradition 1.

if these coincidences prove nothing else, they prove that "the stones of Amphion," and "Orpheus," were circular temples of the druidical structure. The stones of Amphion were probably a temple of the sun; "AMPHION" being

p. 410

nothing more than AM-PHI-ON 1, "the oracle of Ham the sun:" and ORPHEUS itself may be resolved into a similar meaning--OR-PHI, "solis oraculum."

The frequent mention of the serpent-deity Ops, in connexion with STONES, is a remarkable feature in remote mythology. It was OPS who deceived Saturn with the stone Abadir; and "the heathen philosophers explained OPS as the divine power pervading mountains and stony places 2." Might not this connexion have arisen from the peculiar construction of the Ophite temples?

These circumstances may appear trivial; but trifles not unfrequently lead to important results. In every walk of science, a trifle, disregarded by incurious thousands, has repaid the inquisitiveness of a single observer with unhoped-for knowledge. And what has been in science, may be in history. Little events, and accidental allusions, in themselves insignificant, may form a link in the chain of obscure mythology, which shall act as a conductor to scriptural truth.


359:1 Ἀπόλλων may be decomposed into AP, or AB, serpent; EL, deus; and ON, sol: so that serpens-deus-sol is the name of the deity, whose other title, PHŒBUS, (Phi-oub) denotes the oracular serpent.

361:1 See Bochart. Geog. Sacr. 1. i. p. 38; also Maurice, Ind. Antiq. ii. 347. Sanchoniathon in his Cosmogony has the following passage: "Moreover they say that the god Ouranus invented the Baitulia, having made stones which were animated." It is possible that the rocking stones of the Druids may have been erected to perpetuate the same superstition.

361:2 Bryant, Anal. i. 60, and ii. 201.

362:1 Sale's Prelim. Disc. to the Koran, p. 156.

362:2 See Ch. iii. s. 2, "Ophiolatreia in Samothrace."

362:3 Pyramids were however, frequently used as sepulchres. The Mexican temples which were pyramidal, united both the templar and sepulchral character.

363:1 Jablonski Panth. Ægyp. Prolegom. 82.

366:1 See plate 1.

369:1 For a more detailed description, see Archæol. vol. xxv.

376:1 The following extract from Pepys's Diary, proves that the p. 377 sanctuary was perfect in 1688. "In the afternoon came to Abury, where seeing great stones like those of Stonehenge standing up, I stopped, and took a countryman of that town, and he carried me and showed me a place trenched in like Old Sarum almost, with great stones pitched in it, some bigger than those at Stonehenge in figure, to my great admiration: and he told me that most people of learning coming by do come and view them, and that the king (Charles II.) did so: . . . . . I gave this man one shilling. So took coach again, seeing one place with great high stones pitched round, which I believe was once a particular building in some measure like that of Stonehenge. But about a mile off, it was prodigious to see how full the downes are of great stones; and all along the valley stones of considerable bigness, most of them growing certainly out of the ground: which makes me think the less of the wonder of Stonehenge, for hence they might undoubtedly supply themselves with stones as well as those of Abury." Vol. iv. p. 131.

To a person acquainted with the localities of Abury, Kennet, and the Grey Wethers, it is needless to remark, that the "place with great high stones pitched round--like that of Stonehenge," which the traveller saw very soon after getting into his carriage, and about a mile before he reached "the stones in the valley," was the sanctuary upon Overton hill.

378:1 Stukeley, Abury, 32.

381:1 Sir. R. C. Hoare, Ancient North Wilts, p. 78.

383:1 See Mr. Aubrey's interesting account in Sir R. C. Hoare's "Ancient Wiltshire."

394:1 This theory was first suggested to me by my friend P. C. Delagarde, Esq. of Exeter: to whose kindness and ingenuity I am indebted for many improvements in this edition.

396:1 Hymn to Apollo, 294.

396:2 Ἀμφὶ δὲ νηὸν ἔνασσαν.

396:3 Πυθοῖ ἐνὶ πετρηέσσῃ. l. 390.

396:4 Olymp. Ode 6.

398:1 Ovid. Met. vii. 357.

399:1 Anal. ii. 471.

399:2 Scylax, Periplus. p. 9. cum notis Vossii.

400:1 This notion was derived from the serpentine figures of the temples themselves.

401:1 Anal. ii. 132.

402:1 Anal. ii. 141.

402:2 The real meaning of the word dracontium is, probably, "an avenue of the sun," as I have before stated.

402:3 Anal. ii. 148.

403:1 Paus. 570.

403:2 570.

403:3 Anal. ii. 135.

405:1 Bryant. Anal. ii. 105, &c.

405:2 Ibid. 142.

406:1 Bryant, Anal. ii, 208.

406:2 Ovid Met. 7.

407:1 Bryant, Anal. ii. 106.

409:1 Stukeley, Abury, 83.

410:1 See Bryant on the word "Amphi." Anal. i. 316.

410:2 Euseb. Præp. Evang. 109.

Next: Chapter VII. The Decline of Serpent Worship