west kennet long barrow wiltshire sunset

The West Kennet Longbarrow Mother Goddess’s Womb Initiation Site

Situated on a gently inclined hillside on the edges of the town of Avesbury, in the English county of Wiltshire, the 5400-year-old West Kennet Long Barrow is perhaps the most mysterious ancient megalithic site in a sacred landscape overcrowded with strange constructions.

Around a millennium before members of the ancient Egyptian pharaonic dynasties would raise the Great Pyramid at Giza, a mysterious and now long-lost culture created strange megalithic structures across southwest England. These stone construction projects were deliberately buried with a covering of soil and debris, today they are known as barrows.

The barrow at West Kennet is just a few miles from the enormous Avebury stone circle, which encompasses an entire village, and literally just across the road from Europe’s largest ancient mound, Silbury Hill. The ridge upon which it stands offers a lovely view across the stunning local countryside. The barrow itself is long and narrow, around 100 metres in total length, termed a long barrow as opposed to the more numerous circular-shaped round barrows which also dot the local landscape.

silbury hill from west kennet long barrow

silbury hill from west kennet long barrow

There has been a tendency for archaeologists to view barrows as merely ritual burial sites, but it is recognised that 99.9 per cent of people who died during the period in which these structures were being constructed were not interred in such mounds. Apparently, it was no normal thing to end up buried in such a mound, and they were not built merely as impressive graves. Even the remains uncovered within mounds often showed clear evidence of having been already skeletal before being placed inside. In some cases, pieces of the skeleton are missing entirely, or there are signs of deliberate de-fleshing of the bodies post-mortem.

There is no doubt that long barrows and round barrows played an essential role in the spiritual beliefs of the local population and had a relationship to understandings of the death process itself. However, what is less well understood is that there is also compelling evidence for sites such as the West Kennet Long Barrow being initiation places associated with the earth mother goddess – places not only of death but also rebirth.

We do not know very much for sure about the people who left us sites like West Kennet Long Barrow, Silbury Hill and Stonehenge, but we do know they were almost entirely replaced by migrants from Central Europe around 4500 years ago, a wave of newcomers known as the Beaker People. Fortunately, some elements of their culture and beliefs can be inferred from the sites they created and the places where they located them. We know that they considered waterways sacred and held springs in great reverence as places where the waters of life flowed from the underworld or the body of the mother goddess.

Silbury Hill and the West Kennet Longbarrow are both just a short walk from the spring which gives birth to the River Kennet. The word ‘ken’ traces back to ancient English kennen or cennan and means knowing or knowledge, the older variants more specifically refer to making something known. The River Kennet was formerly known as the Cunnitt, a word suspected to be very old and have a direct relationship to the goddess and her reproductive system – the cave from which the river springs is sometimes suggested to be the entrance to the womb.

West Kennet interior chambers.
Photograph taken 1956 © Historic England Archive ref: 771_20

Returning to the West Kennet Long Barrow, we can now better understand what it is the ancient people were trying to model in their chambered construction. We can see that the rooms are laid out to represent a woman laying on her back with legs splayed open, arms out to her sides, and her head to the west – the doorway is a (somewhat exaggerated) representation of a vagina and labia. The mound of earth piled above the chambers can be seen to be the swollen belly of the pregnant mother goddess.

Apart from the telling layout of the chambers within the mound, there is another crucially important detail we need to know before attempting to reconstruct the exact mode of use for this impressive site. The sarsen stone chambers are all built to have specific acoustic properties, specifically the central and upper rooms are all attuned to 110hz. The first two lower chambers are attuned to 84hz. There is little doubt that sound was intended to play an essential part in the usage of the structure.

Chambers with resonant frequencies marked. Image credit Steve Marshall

So, let me take you for a moment into the possible world of Britain’s lost race, these dark-skinned, dark-haired people who had dominated the land for thousands of years. They were the inhabitants of the British Isles from at least 11,500 years ago until the arrival of the light-skinned and light-haired Beaker People of the Eurasian Steppe.

We can imagine a young man accompanied by a learned elder, his shamanic guide for the process at hand. Having fasted for days and abstained from human contact, he is ritually cleansed in the icy waters of the Swallowhead Spring, the source of the River Kennet. This process allowing the mother goddess to remove all contamination from his physical body before purification of the spirit can begin. Wrapped in furs once again the youngster walks alongside his instructor as they slowly head towards the top of the rise, he is informed of the correct way to carry himself in the evening ahead and told stories of his people relevant to this chapter in a youngster’s life.

As the pair reach see the great sarsen stones marking the entrance to the long barrow the sun is falling fast, and dusk turns the landscape to shadows, this is the time of the powerful spirits which reside in rocks, trees and sometimes the animals around them. Ahead of them, the sun sinks into the ground directly below the end of the barrow, it has died, darkness consumes everything.

The old man ushers the youngster forwards reminding him that where he goes now, he must go alone. If the spirits and the goddess are satisfied with how he fares then the two of them will meet again in this life, if not he may see him in the world of spirits after his own time has ended. This is a life or death journey, not all survive.

Map showing Silbury Hill, West Kennt Long Barrow and the Swallowhead Spring

The young man stoops down and then crawls on hands and knees to enter the low tunnel, passing into pitch blackness. As he enters a strange throbbing sound begins, echoing through the darkness around him, unseen behind him the elder begins to twirl his bullroarer through the air allowing the throbbing sound to cascade into the tunnel producing a hypnotic and perturbing effect within the chambers ahead (including infrasound, known to affect human perception). He moves slowly forwards aware he is moving over strange objects on the ground – he reaches down and feels a skeletal human hand and then a skull. He is indeed in the realm of the dead now.

The combination of pitch blackness and rising and falling resonant frequencies takes its toll on the mind of the initiate, he starts to sense a presence in the darkness around him and now and then hears whispered voices hidden in the strange pulsating rhythm. He knows that the spirits of the ancestors are there with him now and inevitably they are but forerunners for a meeting with the lady herself, the great mother. Psychedelic multi-coloured, and three-dimensional, visions break through his inner darkness, he falls into a full-blown altered state of consciousness.

Time passes.

The sound begins to fade, and a haunting women’s voice calls him from down the tunnel, “come, join us on earth, my child, it is your time to be born.”

Weary, transformed, the initiate crawls back down the short tunnel, the birth canal of the mother and passes out through the two stones marking his exit back into the world of the living. Two lines of elders holding burning torches welcome him back to the world of men, and as he walks between them the sun breaches the horizon directly ahead of him. He has survived, gained his adult name and earned his place as a warrior in the tribe, he has become a man, the boy who entered the womb of the mother has died.

Sources

Plan of Chambers in West Kennet Long Barrow, Avebury, Wiltshire – historicengland.co.uk

Talking About My Generation: the Date of the West Kennet Long Barrow – UCLAN

Acoustics of the West Kennet Long Barrow, Avebury, Wiltshire – Time and Mind

Prehistoric Britain – Barrows, stone circles, henges, and such – Britain Express

Arrival of Beaker folk changed Britain for ever, ancient DNA study shows – The Guardian

Footsteps of the Goddess in Britain and Ireland – Societies of Peace

Origins of the word ‘C*nt’ – cherishthecunt.wordpress.com

Blue-eyed steppe people are Britons’ ancestors, not the builders of Stonehenge – inews.co.uk

First modern Britons had ‘dark to black’ skin, Cheddar Man DNA analysis reveals – The Guardian

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