Celtic Stone Head Cult?

Over the years I have come across references to a pre-Christian cult still active in isolated parts of the Pennines. Although the evidence is circumstancial it does point to the fact that there may indeed be some truth in the rumours. The starting point to this story concerns Mouselow Hill overlooking the town of Glossop in Derbyshire. It is said that this hill was the place where the Ancient Britons retreated to after their defeat at the hands of the Romans at Ludworth Moor. This hill was a strategic point which would have enabled the Britons to guard the approaches to the longdendale Valley.

Back in the eighteenth century Bernard Howard, the twelfth Duke of Norfolk commissioned the building of a small Catholic chapel on top of Mouselow Hill. However the building work came to a stop when the workmen broke through into some sort of chamber and it is said that mysterious stone heads and carvings were found which were said to be Celtic in origin, the building work was then abandoned and trees planted on the hilltop. The stones were to become known as the Mouselow Stones and were removed from the site in 1840 when a Methodist chapel was built here by the Rev George Marsden who built the stones into the gable end of his house in Hadfield. I have tracked the Mouselow Stones down and they now reside in Buxton Museum and form part of an archway in one of their displays, they are said to be Anglo Saxon and depict weird symbols which are said to represent the “River of Life”, the “Wind blowing from the four corners of the Earth”, Thor one of their Gods and other objects which the Anglo Saxons were said to worship.

According to archaeologists who have studied them they believe them to be the remains of a Romano-British pagan shrine, however the buxton display describes them as being of Celtic Iron Age in origin and that they may have belonged to a larger group of carvings of cult significance.

In the Glossop area many stone heads have been found which are said to date back to Celtic times, they have been found built into walls, houses and discovered under the topsoil in people’s gardens. Locally they are believed to have some sort of magical properties and this may have been one of the reasons why Glynis Reeves who was involved with excavating the Mouselow site discovered that there was strong local opposition to the work that she was undertaking.

After she had done some digging (excuse the pun) she discovered that certain stones were regarded as sacred in this area, she also went on to discover that there has been a stone head cult associated with the town of Glossop for centuries. The archaeologists involved with the dig on Mouselow Hill received harassment from locals who turned up at the dig site. Also threatening phone calls were received in the middle of the night from unknown persons relating to horned figures and “The Old Ways”.

A Dr Anne Ross who is an expert in Celtic religion wrote in 1977 how her research had brought her into contact with a community in the Longdendale region who still believe and practice their Celtic beliefs. These traditions are handed down from one generation to another by the “Gaurdian of the Old Ways”

The BBC’s producer of the Timewatch programme Roy Davies was involved in research regarding this community, it was his belief that it numbered somewhere between 200-500 people living in scattered farms and small holdings around the Longdendale region. He went on to say……They believe in the old Celtic Gods and Goddesses, and their religion is tied to the fertility of the earth. They have fertility rites in the sense that they practised in the past, rites which ensure the fertility of their crops. There is no question today of rituals with sexual overtones, which may have been included in the past. I could not get as close to them as I would have wanted, as there was very much a clamp down on questions about their leaders, on where they met and what they actually did when they met.

Anne Ross was told by a member of this cult that stone heads had been buried by them in the valley, also flowers were placed at wells at Beltain which is the first of May. Also the Beltain fires were lit on farms at this time, farm animals would have been driven between the fires in a purification ritual, also these fires were lit to mark the changing of the seasons.

The Timewatch programme that was screened in 1986 allowed the “Guardian of the Old Ways” to describe how locally it was believed that the head was the most important part of the body and was used as an ancient form of protection against witchcraft. These traditions which are found in the longdendale valley are similar to traditions in the Yorkshire Pennines where stone heads are also placed in the gables of houses and are believed to be a talisman which protects the home from evil.


12 Responses to “Celtic Stone Head Cult?”

  1. Very efficiently written story. It will be valuable to anybody who utilizes it, including yours truly :). Keep doing what you are doing – can’r wait to read more posts.

  2. Found this interesting blog by chance (if there is such a thing – being a fortean). Currently researching head cult and writing a book on what are known as the Hexham Heads and their wider contexts, with much personal interviewing having already taken place. Particularly focussing on Dr Anne Ross currently and would welcome any personal anecdotes regarding her (and photograps) or any relevant aspects pertaining to archaic heads. Very interesting article. One quibble: Thoth is ancient Egyptian, do you mean Thor?

    • Hi Paul, Glad you found the blog interesting. Not sure how the Egyptian Deity got in here but thanks for pointing it out and I will change it. Good luck with the book.

      Regards Gary

      • The 1986 Timewatch prgramme. Do you have a copy? Does Dr Anne Ross appear in it. Myself and a possee of helpers (inc. film-makers) are trying to track down any broadcast footage with Anne Ross. Any input through your blog would be appreciated, either through you ot contacting me at screetonpaul@yahoo.co.uk

      • Hi Paul, Sorry to disappoint you but I don’t have any information that would be relevant for what you need, however if I do find any I will contact you now that I have your e-mail address.Regards Gary

      • Dear,

        Just take a look what I’ve just read, it’s something extremely interesting, check it out http://kristal.avidhome.com

        Faithfully, GARY TACAGNI

  3. Do stone heads described above have anything to do with Sheila-na-gigs? Also saw stone heads in outer wall of Hathersage Church which look older and very different from rest of architecture.

  4. Hi, also researching Celtic head cult and looking to talk to Dr. Anne Ross.
    I have found 2 engraved stone objects I think are Neolithic.
    A jasper owl headed idol with female regenerative parts has a small horned head as a pendant and the other has amongst other things a yellow haired slim priestess(?) between 2 flaming altars and she is holding up a human head. Documents are notes and in progress. Apologies. Google:
    ‘The Great Goddess of Clodgy Moor’ (pages 25-6) and:
    ‘Clodgy Moor Boat Slate, part 3 Through the wall’ (pages 63-5 and 127-8)

    On message. Check out (with binoculars) Sheila-na-gig on Paul church tower, West Penwith, Cornwall. Marija Gimbutas explains these as part of Neolithic pagan religion.
    Graham.

  5. Oh, she passed. In learning more about her work as that of Gimbutas and continuing our interest and research into our ancient selves we will honour her.
    Graham.

  6. The so called Old Religion, is not a cult religion, it was there before time.
    The cult religions are the ones we have now,
    Modern cult religions such as Christianity, Islam etc.are just a pinprick in time (2,000 years). and are tolerated by the old religion because members know it will never die.
    The Celtic so called pagan religion was a modern variation of the Old Religion, which the Jesus freaks tried to destroy by incorporating their rites into it.
    More info about stone heads may be found at
    http://www.old-glossop.com/pages/church_steeple_gallery/parish_church_steeple.html

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