Walking the Glastonbury Zodiac – Part 5: Leo

Leo by Yuri Leitch

Leo by Yuri Leitch

Our fifth zodiacal pilgrimage of the year on The Alchemical Journey finds us in the sign of Leo, which is one of the largest effigies in The Glastonbury Zodiac, and perhaps the most distinctive, stand-out figure in the wheel. And it is, of course, entirely fitting that Britain’s first heraldic lion should appear so striking and charismatic.

Lancelot & Guinevere

Lancelot & Guinevere

The sign of Leo draws on the element of fire and carries the signature of the Sun, the rightful king, gold and the heart. Where the first fire sign Aries lit the spark that igniting the fire, so it is Leo’s task to tend the sacred flame and keep it burning eternally. The lion is emblazoned on the chest of the questing grail knight and Leo’s place in our Round Table Zodiac is occupied by Lancelot, whose fiery core burns with passion, courage and confidence, and whose heart is bound in love to Guinevere, who takes her place at his side in Virgo.

Hercules

Hercules

For all that Leo carries the authentic energy of the fully-expressed heart-centred Self, it can also reveal a superficially shining imposter – a brightly glittering ego that can temporarily dazzle our senses, impressing us with the polished surfaces of its own self-importance. The true alchemical gold of the heart, by contrast, need make no effort to impress us, for its natural presence radiates truth, such that each one of us may each recall our divine birthright, and, like Hercules, claim the right to wear the hero’s leonine pelt.

It’s probably a good idea to enlist the help of a guide before entering the sprawling effigy of Leo in The Glastonbury Zodiac, as this is probably the easiest figure to get lost in – particularly if you are planning to venture into the lion’s thick and knotted mane at Copley Wood. So we’re grateful to Anthony Thorley, as ever our erstwhile guide into this mystical landscape.

Leo's Head - Yuri Leitch

Leo's Head - Yuri Leitch

As we walk, tracing the outline of the animal’s head, we encounter a number of signs warning us of the dangers of entering too far into this particularly dense piece of woodland – cautioning us, in effect, not to venture too far into the lion’s den. On this occasion we choose to comply – not really wanting to disturb the king of the beasts during his afternoon nap. So we take the “safe” route, skirting the edge of the wood and find the curiously named “Maggoty Paggoty”, site of a Roman villa where two piles of stones now stand, and where a spring rises on the lion’s third eye. Two pools of water, known as Chalkham ponds mark his actual eyes, but these are more or less impossible to access in summer. We also find a sundial monument at Muncombe (valley of the mwng or mane), and the Twelve Apostles Spring, from which twelve troughs descend.

Once you’ve had the lion’s head and body pointed out to you on a map, you’ll always see it. Its head is clearly evident in the shape of the woodland; an old trackway and road define its back and rear, the underside of the body drawn by the River Cary. The Leo figure was Katharine Maltwood’s first discovery and the first landscape effigy ever to be distinguished in a zodiac. Numerous other zodiacs have been uncovered in the eighty years or so since the Glastonbury template was established and it is the lion that zodiac hunters meet first in almost all cases, as if Mrs Maltwood had set an energetic pattern for zodiac discovery in motion.

Welcome to Somerton

Welcome to Somerton

As in all these zodiacs, it is the place names that give it away, for here we are in the Catsash Hundred, with Catsgore and Catsham nearby. And our lion holds the key to the kingdom in its grasp with Somerton on its paw, the former county town of Somerset once acclaimed as the royal capital of Wessex. We find a sleeping lion in Somerton these days – a more sedate market square you could not imagine – but references to its former glory remain with lions adorning its market cross and nearby houses proudly display splendid lion doorknockers; a former inn is also remembered in Red Lion Court. With Kingsdon on the underside of the animal’s belly and Kingweston on its tail, it is clearly a landscape fit for royalty.

Our friend who lives on the land where Bradley Spring rises, just below the chin, showed us a lion carved from stone by her father during her childhood, while the family were living on the lion’s rump at Charlton Mackerell. Unaware of the Glastonbury Zodiac, and not having carved in stone before, he was quizzed by his family as “to why a lion?” to which he could offer no coherent response other than that something had moved him to do it.

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