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At the Edge / Bob Trubshaw /

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Issue 3

September 1996


  • Jeremy Harte Herne the Hunter - a case of mistaken identity?

    Our Anglo-Saxon ancestors (I have it on the impeccable authority of two retired schoolmasters) used to worship strange gods called Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. See 1066 And All That if inclined to disbelief. Messrs. Seller & Yeatman didn't have much to say about the ancient Celts, but that gap in their original publication has since been supplied by many other works of almost equal merit. Take Herne the Hunter, for instance, who is a version of the pagan Celtic god Cernunnos. No doubt about it. I saw a picture of him - rather a good one - in that standard work, the I-Spy Book of Ghosts and Hauntings.

    Yielding to a certain low-minded scepticism, we may feel the need for some original texts rather than Big Chief I-Spy's version of them. In the case of Herne, this leads us into the plot of one of Shakespeare's minor comedies, the scene in Act IV of The Merry Wives of Windsor where Mistress Page tells her friends:

    `There is an old tale goes, that Herne the Hunter
    Sometime a keeper here in Windsor forest,
    Doth all the winter-time, at still midnight
    Walk round about an oak, with great ragg'd horns'.
    This sounds scary and, yes, he is a malevolent spectre who -
    `blasts the tree, and takes the cattle,
    And makes the milch-kine yield blood, and shakes a chain
    In a most hideous and dreadful manner'

  • Valtars Grivins Traditional Latvian beliefs and cosmologies

    In the first part of my article I should like to introduce readers briefly to the Balts, especially Latvians, and their origins, culture and place in old Europe. Balts, Latvians, Lithuanians - these are words which mean nothing for most people today. If they know that they all live near the Baltic Sea then that is already very much! The reasons for this ignorance are various - 700 years of subordination under Germans, Poles, Swedes and Russians who all have tried to inculcate the opinion that the Baltic folk are rough barbarians without any culture worth considering. Of course, the 50 year occupation of the Baltic states by Soviets has separated them from the other Europe and its cultural life. It is important for all of us to become acquainted with each other again, as we were thousands of years ago. Celts, Germans, Balts and others are members of one family that is termed 'Indo-European'.

  • Valtars Grivins Recent discoveries at Krivkalns

    I would like to describe one of the many Latvian holy places. I have selected the most remarkable of the sites - the Krivkalns - a stone arrangement located at the end of a small hill which is bordered by a stream called Liekupite.

    The site is in the northern part of Latvia, about 10km from Valmiera. Krivkalns translates as 'The Hill of Priests' (Krivkalns = Krivs the Latvian and Lithuanian word for 'pagan priest' + kalns, 'hill'). This place-name was that used by the last owner of the farm on which it stands when he met the researcher Ojars Ozolins. Today the hill is overgrown with bushes and trees and merges with the surrounding forest. However, until the late 1960s it was encircled with the fields and meadows of an abandoned farm (the last owners being among the many Latvians deported to Siberia.)

    Ojars Ozolins suggested that the stone arrangements at Krivkalns are an ancient holy place connected with the stars and other celestial bodies.

  • Gavin Smith Recovering the lost religious place-names of England

    Why, apparently, are religious beliefs so little reflected in early English place-names? Openly religious Old English place-names - St Albans, St Neots, Whitchurch, Warminster - are rare. Yet Wales at this period is full of llan names commemorating the activities of peripatetic ecclesiastics. Was England by comparison really so secular? Or is it that the religious content of early place-names has simply been disguised and forgotten?

    Full text of Recovering the lost religious place-names of England

  • Alby Stone The three destinies of Lleu Llaw Gyffes

    In the different branches of Indo-European tradition, social structure is ritually legitimized in myth and religious observance, which reflect the Proto-Indo-European social organisation into three distinct strata, or as Georges Dumézil terms them, functions. The first function is usually termed 'sovereignty'; it relates to rule and the ritual maintenance of order. It can be sub-divided into the magico-religious and the temporal-juridical, represented socially by priests and kings respectively. The second function is concerned with defence and the imposition of order through physical force and is concerned with warlike activities, represented by fighters and military institutions. The third is concerned with fertility and prosperity, represented by cultivators and other producers of food and material goods, but also relating to sexuality, peace and beauty. The first function has an essential duality, and is thus often allocated in myth to two gods, usually brothers, and often twins; although sometimes one brother is displaced and supplanted by an older male relative. These three functions are inherent in Indo-European tradition, and appear to have been inherited from the Proto-Indo-European culture that spawned the rest.

  • Bob Trubshaw Paganism in British folk customs

    Given the extent to which modern-day pagans take as a truism that many of our folk customs have, unconsciously, retained relics of their heathen origins is traceable to the success of one man's major opus - Sir James George Frazer's The Golden Bough, a multi-volume work published in the 1890s.

    'It is difficult to overrate the influence of The Golden Bough. It offered a pattern which was immediately and attractively available; and it proceeded to dominate attitudes and thinking to a remarkable extent. The vegetation drama, ritual death and resurrection, the sacred tree, became accepted elements . . .' So observed Roy Judge in his study of the Jack-in-the-Green, also noting that the Frazerian influence was complex.

    While modern day researchers find little of Frazer's work holds up to scrutiny, his opinions were accepted almost without question for about 60 years. In the introduction to the abridged one volume edition of The Golden Bough, prepared some thirty years after the original research, Frazer wrote: 'I have neither added new material nor altered the views expressed in the last edition; for the evidence which has come to my knowledge in the meantime has on the whole served either to confirm my former conclusions or to furnish fresh illustrations of old principles.'

    Full text of Paganism in British folk customs


  • ABSTRACTS - summaries of articles in academic journals, newspapers, etc.
    • David Clarke with Andy Roberts: TWILIGHT OF THE CELTIC GODS: An Exploration of Britain's Hidden Pagan Traditions
    • Michael Dames: THE AVEBURY CYCLE (2nd edn)
    • Courtney Davis and David James: THE CELTIC IMAGE
    • Courtney Davis: CELTIC ORNAMENT
    • Mike Dixon-Kennedy: CELTIC MYTHS AND LEGENDS: An A to Z of People and Places
    • Nevill Drury: SHAMANISM
    • Ronald Hutton: THE STATIONS OF THE SUN: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain
    • John Michell: WHO WROTE SHAKESPEARE?

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At the Edge / Bob Trubshaw /
Created February 1998; updated November 2008