Monday 10 June 2013

Peter Knight on the Cerne Abbas Giant - PF Conference

At The Pagan Federation London Conference 2013 last week, Peter Knight gave a talk about the Cerne Abbas Giant, which is also the subject of his latest book. Paula Dempsey has written about what he had to say:

Peter’s talk was a complex one, amply illustrated with photographs of the Giant and surrounding area. In his talk he situates the Cerne Giant in the ritual landscape and posits a connection between the mysterious chalk figure and Iron Age cosmology.

The Cerne Abbas Giant is an outline in white chalk on Giant Hill. Fifty-five metres tall, he makes an imposing figure but is probably best known for his 7 metre erect phallus. The Giant carries a 37 metre long club in one hand, while the other arm extends out across the hillside. The feet turn to the figure’s right, giving the impression that he’s about to stride off somewhere – to do battle, perhaps?

Although the first historical reference to the Giant is found in the seventeenth century, Peter believes that the figure was first etched onto the hill during the Iron Age. Unsurprisingly, he has evolved and changed over time. The Giants remarkable manhood was, at some point, lengthened; he used to be rather less well endowed. Some scholars believe that the head of an enemy once dangled from the hand not occupied with the club, or that a cloak was once slung casually across the outstretched arm.

Peter became interested in identifying who the figure might be. As the Giant is clearly a fertility symbol, he compared the image with depictions of fertility gods worldwide and ended up with three front-runners, whose myths most closely matched the Giant.: the Greek Orion, the Egyptian Osiris and the Celtic Gwyn ap Nud. Orion is a club-wielding, somewhat randy kind of god! Osiris is sometimes depicted as ithyphallic (erect) with one arm extended in the manner of the Giant. Gwyn ap Nud leads the Wild Hunt across the sky and in Celtic mythology is represented by the constellation of Orion.

Using a specialist computer programme, Peter plotted the night sky as it would have appeared to our Iron Age ancestors and found that at that time the shape of the club in the constellation of Orion’s club would have risen directly above the figure on the hillside. He suggests that during the Iron Age a “stargate”, a starless gap in the sky, would have also been aligned with Orion’s club. The ancient Egyptians and other ancient civilizations believed that this stargate was the path along which souls would process on their way to the Otherworld.

This was a fascinating talk which went into far more detail than can be fitted into this short review. His book The Cerne Giant – Landscape, Gods and the Stargate is published by Stone Seeker Publishing (

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