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Dr. William Stukeley (1687-1765)

Like John Aubrey, Dr. William Stukeley (1687-1765) was an antiquarian and a scholar of sacred history and cabalistic science. He visited many ancient sites which, since John Aubrey's discoveries in the previous century, had provoked increasing interest in England. Stukeley was particularly curious about the arrangment of stone circles and earthworks in the landscape and his own scholarly predilections led him to claim such sites as Stonehenge and Avebury as monuments to an ancient faith manifest in Britain in the cult of the Druids. These claims he laid out in two books, "Stonehenge, a Temple Restored to the British Druids", published in 1740, "Abury, a Temple of the British Druids", published three years later in 1743.

(right) Plate from William Stuekeley's, "Stonehenge, a Temple Restored to the British Druids", 1740


Stukeley perceived the entire prehistoric landscape as laid out in a sacred pattern with centres at Stonehenge and Avebury. The stone circles and earthworks at Avebury he recognised as part of a larger figure inscribed in the landscape in the form of a serpent. An illustration drawn by Stukeley for his book on Avebury shows a great stone serpent whose head rested at the now-destroyed Sanctuary on Overton Hill and whose body was formed by West Kennet Avenue and Beckhampton Avenue. The "bulge" of Avebury in the body of the serpent Stukeley explained as a circle through which the serpent is passing (as in the symbol of alchemical fusion). Little of the great stone serpent survives today. Stukeley pondered deeply this "hieroglyphic figure" of the "snake proceeding from the circle, and came to the belief that it, and all the other stone circles with avenues known to him (such as Callernish in the Outer Hebrides) belonged to a class of temples for which he invented the name "Dracontia": serpent or dragon temples.

(left) William Stukeley's 'great stone serpent'


Stukeley saw serpents, and dragons (a variant form of the same creature, as are also "worms"), all over countryside and linked the image with the many local legends of dragons and dragon-killers found throughout the Britain. The places associated with the dragon legend appear always to coincide with sites of ancient sanctity. Flat-topped hills, such as Dragon Hill near Uffington, are pointed out as the place where a dragon was slain. The dragon-slayers may be local heroes, but may also identified as the Christianised knights St. George and St. Michael.

In geomantic terms, these serpent-dragons in the landscape have come to be identified with the Chinese "lung-mei" or dragon currents (see Geomancy)



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