Albion, ancient sites, Art

Where the dragon flies…

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“Druid platform?” I nodded assent, knowing full well we were looking at something as old as the hills themselves and older by far than the Druids. And it wasn’t a platform either. But the concept was right. You could feel it. We had walked from the earth ramparts of Uffington Castle, following a pathway as obvious to the inner senses as to the eyes, that led straight to the high point above the White Horse. It would be a perfect place for the priesthood to stand, looking out over both the great, carved figure and the landscape beyond, down to Dragon Hill.

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Below, fragments of a carving too vast for its hillside, too high to see without the flight of the soul, gleam in the misty light. Earth ripples and flows like waves into the feathered wings of the Manger, holding a chalice up to the heavens. Were it filled with water, the ledges below the Horse, mirroring the lines of its ‘beak’, would become a landing place and Dragon Hill an image of the Otherworld… and a portal by which to reach it.

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The white, scoured outline is stark against a green that even to eyes accustomed to the colours of this land, always seems impossible. Is it a horse? I’m not so sure… but then, I am neither archaeologist nor historian. And they aren’t sure either. What is known is that the figure was cut around three to three and a half thousand years ago and has been known as White Horse Hill for at least a thousand years. The design is similar to that found on pre-Roman Celtic coinage and, of course, Epona, the goddess who led the souls of the dead, was portrayed sometimes as a mare… though not for at least a thousand years after the figure had been carved.

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Below, in the fields, horses played, echoing our own sense of wonder at the day. One was white. Rhiannon, too, was associated with the white mare… but the tales of the Mabinogion as we know them today date from much later still. Even so, the gods of the old ones still keep their places in folk memory and who knows how long ago the white horse may have captured the heart of man and left her hoofprints in our stories.

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On the other hand, there are those who call the great, chalk-cut figure a dragon… and I am one of these, though at the same time, I do not deny its equine nature. There is some arcane connection in my own mind between the earth energy represented by both creatures; something I cannot put into words, except that I ‘feel’ a kinship between the two. Perhaps the horse was the earthly form and the mythical dragon, a symbol of the same force operating on a more subtle level. I do not know. All I know is that if I feel it to be so, then perhaps others may have done so… back to those far distant ancestors…and perhaps that is why the stylised figure, seen clearly only from the air like the Nazca lines, remains equivocal.

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The energy of the site, however, is clearer. It has wings. Everywhere there are birds, from the glossy black of the corvids to the subtle browns of pipit and skylark. A buzzard sailed the currents, even joining the crows for a surprise appearance in a photograph, and as we stood above the sinuous lines in the chalk, the familiar outline of a kestrel graced an ancient thorn.

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But it wasn’t just the birds that felt the place. It is for such moments we hold these weekends, where the cares of the world may be left behind, where the clock no longer rules and where we can learn to feel the roots of our own being deeply entwined in the body of the land. “This is where the dragon takes off,” she said as she turned back towards the high point. Climbing the hill a small figure stood with the wings of being opened to embrace the morning of the world, radiating utter joy.

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