Peterborough Deities Peterborough was originally founded around 655AD when it was called Medeshamstede.

At this time it was thought to have been an Anglian settlement. Indeed the town itself doesn’t even seem to have been a borough until around the twelfth century. This means that there is not a lot of information out there about the native spiritual or religious beliefs. So I have had to do a little detective work. So here goes. Peterborough and its surrounding area seem to have been right in the middle of two ancient Celtic tribe’s territories. During the Iron Age, the area where Wisbech would develop lay in the west of the Celtic Iceni tribe's territory. The town lies at the centre of a group of villages which contain the word "walh" from the Saxon for "foreigner". This provides evidence that during this period, the local population was Romano British (Celtic). While in the fenlands, Saxon Etheldreda's 'Liber Eliensis', documents the Fenland tribe of the Girvii (Gywre), who are cited elsewhere as being an independent people with dark hair and their own (Brythonic) language. It is entirely possible that the Girvii were formed in part by migrating Britons, displaced by Saxon settlers after the legions left the Isles. This gives us three leads, the Iceni tribe, the Girvii tribe and the evidence of Romano British Celts in a smattering of local villages. The Girvii tribe proved a bust, with very little information about them. Some commentators say that during an invasion of Danes, the Iceni tribe went into the fens for refuge and formed the Girvii tribe themselves. They may be an offshoot, they may not but not enough information could be found either way. The Iceni though are much more famous thanks to its female leader Boudicca. According to Dio Cassius, the Iceni followed Andraste, a war goddess invoked [1] by Boudica while fighting against the Roman occupation of Britain in AD 61: I thank thee, Andraste, and call upon thee as woman speaking to woman [...] those over whom I rule are Britons, men that know not how to till the soil or ply a trade, but are thoroughly versed in the art of war and hold all things in common, even children and wives, so that the latter possess the same valor as the men. As the queen, then, of such men and of such women, I supplicate and pray thee for victory, preservation of life, and liberty against men insolent, unjust, insatiable, impious. Andraste is a warrior goddess, the goddess of victory, of ravens and of battles, similar in many ways to the Irish war goddess Morrigan. Her name is thought to

mean "the invincible one" or "she who has not fallen". It is told that her presence was evoked on the eve of battle to curry favour. As a Goddess of divination, she was probably called upon to divine the outcome of battles and war. She was venerated in woodland groves throughout Southern Britain and it is told of a sacred grove dedicated to Andraste somewhere in Epping Forest. Her symbol is the hare. As Andred, her Romanised name is Andraste, she was a lunar mother-goddess figure associated with fertility and love. In her dark aspect however, she was associated principally with warfare and specifically with victory. She is sometimes compared to the goddess Andarte, a deity worshipped by the Vocontii of Gaul. As for the Romano Celtic deities of these parts we have a couple of clues. From an inscription found in a couple of temples in Godmanchester, Cambridgeshire, we have the god Abandinus. A small inscription is found on an inscribed bronze feather. The inscription reads "DEO ABANDINO VATIAVCVS D S D" or “To the god Abandinus, Vatiacus dedicates this out of his own funds” Abindinus was thought to be a small roman deity associated with a local stream or spring. It has been suggested that Abandinus is related to Maponos, a much more well known Celtic God, as there are linguistic characteristics, with the alternative reading of the God's name ‘Maband.' Such river gods are common, so with that in mind we look at the river Nene since that runs through Peterborough. The river Nene’s name comes from a Celtic word meaning 'bright one'. Many rivers' names retained their pre-Roman names, such as the River Ouse and River Avon. So if the name of the river Nene means bright one and we are looking for local deities it would be a small leap to suggest that the Celtic god Bel could be involved here. The Celtic god bel’s name means “bright” and incidentally is where we get Beltaine from. Taine is the Celtic word for “feast” so Beltaine translates into “feast of light”. However bright is only part of the Nene’s name. Bright one is an appellation of another god, and that is Brigit. Brigit was known as the “bright one” and was a mother goddess. However she was also more known in Ireland so on a balance of probabilities we will go with Bel. There is another piece of evidence to suggest Bel is the more likely suspect. Cambridge at the time was the called caer grawnt and was the seat of a head druid. Bel is the Celtic god of the sun, which would go with the druid’s seat of power. So although Bel is more of a sun god it is not a stretch to see that the river could have been named for him. Especially since the Nene is a river that at certain times of the day in certain places the sun reflects off quite nicely!

So it could be said there were three pagan gods that held special attraction in and around the Peterborough area. Andraste, Bel and Abandinus. However there is more pagan lore to be found in and around this area.

Black Dogs Peterborough and its surrounding area are rich in sightings of the ghostly black hound called black shuck1. I know of at least three areas one is supposed to haunt myself and I am willing to bet that you all know of at least one area where the ghostly hound is supposed to frequent. In Peterborough itself the hound is supposedly due to a near nine hundred year old curse that was laid down upon the people of this town. The following is an excerpt. “In 1127 a rapacious Abbot called Henry of Poitou was appointed to Peterborough Abbey. The chronicler of the day records 'tat as soon as he came there . . . the soon afterwards many people saw and heard many hunters hunting. The hunters were black and big and loathsome, and their hounds all black and wide-eyed and loathsome and they rode on black horses and black goats.”2 It was said that the phantom dog was part of a divine curse upon the people of Peterborough for tolerating the sins of the Abbot of Peterborough Abbey. According to all the folklore, a lot of places have their own version of the ghostly black dog, but it is a common held belief that he was most commonly seen on the fen roads on the outskirts of Peterborough. Other areas haunted by a black shuck include Ailsworth, which is reported to be haunted by a large black dog with glowing red eyes. A similar looking dog, described as being about the size of a small horse, is reputed to roam the woods near Thorney. Although Barnack, near Stamford, also claims to be home to a Shuck, the creature spotted there was said to look more like a large, black, longhaired bear. This idea that the dog could change shapes is fairly common amongst spirit, fairy and paranormal lore. It is thought that anything made from spirit can change its shape quite easily. Some black dogs are known for having normal eyes until they are directly looked at. At that point their eyes turn red. Other dogs are known to have chains wrapped around them. Of course these sighting don’t continue today do they? Well you may well be surprised to know that a large amount of sightings are still happening today. Consider the following. "1980, a young woman claimed to have met the hell hound, whilst out walking with her young son. This sighting took place near Wisbech, though the woman
1 2

The word Shuck comes from the Anglo-Saxon for Demon or Devil. Jennifer Westwood, Albion - a guide to legendary Britain, Granada, 1985

said that this hound had yellow eyes, rather than red, but all of the other details were the same as that of Black Shuck."3 “A young woman who claims to have met it [Shuck] in the 1980s. She said the incident occurred when she and her young son were out alone at night. They were walking along the lonely Throckenholt Bank, at Parson Drove near Wisbech, just over the Norfolk border. The creature looked at them for a long time, staring with its one yellow eye, from behind a bush. When it finally raced off across the fields, she could see it was the size of a small calf. In her opinion there was no other explanation. It had to be black shuck!”4 “From Burwell you have to go by road to Snailwell, where you can take the path south-east past the new road building and by a belt of trees to the A11. These trees, according to an article by John Harris in the 1969 autumn issue of 'Drive', are haunted by one of the ghostly black dogs which are a particular psychic phenomenon of East Anglia..."5 So black dogs are around Peterborough and even recently have been seen by everyday people. So what are they exactly? Are they the ancient curse that we have been told they are? Well another explanation could be that dogs in olden times where seen as guardians and where sometimes ritually killed to serve as spirit guardians for their masters. A great example of this is the Flag Fen Bronze Age complex. According to the report, two dogs were found with “An impressive alignment of wooden posts at the Flag Fen Neolithic/bronze age complex near Peterborough. These animals seem to have been ritually killed to serve as spirit-guardians, at a site which was undoubtedly a major focus for funereal rituals over many centuries” Just remember that although there is little evidence that a Black Shuck causing anyone any direct psychical damage on contact but there is an intriguing account of an attack back in 1577 in the parish of Bungay, Suffolk, the parishioners were at church when it is said a violent storm broke out. The sky darkened and the church is said to have quaked when from out of nowhere appeared black shuck in the midst of the congregation. It ran through the church causing fear and panic among the parishioners. Two people kneeling in prayer at the time were killed instantly as the dog passed between them. A third man is said to have shrivelled up severely burned. Several miles away at around the same time in Blyth burgh another black dog reputedly appeared in the church and struck three people dead and left scorch marks on the church door.

3 4 5

Polly Howat: 'Norfolk Ghosts & Legends' (Countryside Books, 1993), p. 40. Shirley Toulson: 'East Anglia: Walking the Ley Lines & Ancient Tracks' (Wildwood House, 1979), p. 125-6.

Witchcraft lore in Cambridgeshire Cambridgeshire has its fair share of lore related to witchcraft. Historically this area has always been a green belt with lots of farms which lends itself to the more pagan related beliefs. The most famous witches in Cambridgeshire though have to be the warboys witches. The true tale of The Witches of Warboys is an illuminating one, made all the more fascinating because of its connection with Oliver Cromwell. It is also patently a tragic miscarriage of justice that illustrates how those merely accused of witchcraft had little or no hope of avoiding a dreadful fate. In the Cambridgeshire village of Warboys (though then it was in Huntingdonshire) in 1589 the young daughter of a wealthy squire, Robert Throckmorton, began to suffer fits which failed to respond to treatment by two medics of consequence, and when an old woman came to visit the house the girl, Jane, accused her of being the cause, and of witchcraft. After a time Jane’s sisters developed the same outward signs of illness, and even the female servants suffered similarly. The old woman, Alice Samuel, was forced to remain in the Throckmorton household, though the logic of this is not clear. When Lady Cromwell came to stay the following year the affair took a turn for the worse for Alice, for as ever when the house had visitors the fits mysteriously became more pronounced. Lady Cromwell, a family friend and the wife of Sir Henry Cromwell, and posthumously to be the grandmother of Oliver Cromwell, cut a lock of Alice’s hair and burned it, showing this lady of high standing considered the woman a witch. Fatally Alice asked why she acted thus as she had as yet never harmed the rich visitor, who inevitably had nightmares that very night and – the time gap is almost laughable – died in 1592, her less-thansudden death naturally linked with Alice’s words. Poor Alice was persuaded to confess to witchcraft after prolonged ill-treatment, but recanted the next day. She, her husband and her daughter, all implicated in the witching, were tried in Huntingdon, inevitably found guilty and hanged in April 1593. King James I who came to the throne a decade later took an active interest in witchcraft, and even wrote on the subject. The Warboys case was one of great importance for the entire country in that it involved a great figure like Sir Henry Cromwell, and was said to have influenced the passing of the 1604 law on witchcraft once James was on the throne, a law that would lead to many unjust accusations and executions in the century and more to come. Then we have a story that shows the idea that witches could and did change shape. This one shows quite clearly how scared people where of finding strange animals in their house!

There is a story of an old woman in Cambridgeshire who entered the house of an old man in the form of a cat and sat herself in front of the fire. The man suspecting the truth stole a stroke at the back of the cat and it fled although he thought he had broken its back. That same night an old woman who was always believed to be a witch was found with a broken back. 6 Another piece of lore regarding shape changing is that in many parts of Cambridgeshire it is recorded that witches would turn themselves into hares. In 1956 a Thorney man reported that his grandmother, who died in 1897 at the age of 90, would never eat jugged hare because she believed she might be eating a witch. As you can see this belief seems to have been around until relatively recently. Of course it’s not just changing shape that witches were associated with. Fenland Folklore associates groundsel with witchcraft. It is said that a small patch found growing beside an ancient track way showed a witch had paused there to urinate. Large patches meant a group of witches had gathered there. Groundsel could sometimes be found on a thatched roof and taken as a sure sign that a witch had landed or taken off from there. The Elder continues to be associated with witchcraft. In Cambridgeshire it was believed that it should never be touched, cut or sawn. It was also believed that it should never be tampered with in any way after dark. There are also charms that were supposed to be good against witchcraft. The following are typical of what would be used. In Cambridgeshire, up until the beginning of the previous century, knives were placed under door mats in order to prevent witches from crossing the threshold. If the householder neglected to do this, and one managed to enter the house, then a knife was to be placed beneath the chair on which they sat so as to render them harmless The use of horses' skulls as house charms against witchcraft is found in several English counties. For instance, in Cambridgeshire, there are several instances of horses' bones being found concealed in houses And that’s even without getting into the various witch bottles that have been found!


Encyclopedia of superstitions, p63.

Pagan Megaliths in Cambridgeshire7 Barrow Cemetery A barrow cemetery is a collection of round barrows, long barrows etc. Usually a sacred area used over thousands of years for burials. Bartlow Hills Latitude: 52.079743N Longitude: 0.313037E Nearest Town: Saffron Walden Nearest Village: Bartlow Henge’s A henge is a roughly circular prehistoric earthwork consisting of a non-defensive ditch and bank with a level plateau in the centre. A henge does not have to contain a stone circle but many do. Maxey Henge Latitude: 52.655525N Nearest village: Maxey

Longitude: 0.336808W

Thornhaugh Henge Latitude: 52.594551N Longitude: 0.427702W Nearest Town: Stamford Nearest Village: Thornhaugh Hill Figures A Hill figure is a chalk-cut figure, unique to the British Isles. Not necessarily prehistoric, but of interest nonetheless. Gog and Magog Giants Hill Figures Latitude: 52.158718N Longitude: 0.179697E Nearest Town: Cambridge Holy Wells A Holy Well is a spring or other body of water, revered either in a Pagan or Christian context, often both. Horse Common Spring Latitude: 52.332084N Longitude: 0.181654W Nearest Town: Huntingdon Nill Well Alternate Name: St. Agnes Well Latitude: 52.245907N Longitude: 0.144457W Nearest Village: Papworth St Agnes

Courtesy of

Nine wells Latitude: 52.166681N Longitude: 0.137679E Nearest Town: Cambridge The Burwells Latitude: 52.269458N Nearest Village: Burwell

Longitude: 0.314108E

St Michael's Well (Cambridge) Alternate Name: Holy Well Latitude: 52.272813N Longitude: 0.055129E Nearest Town: Cambridge Nearest Village: Longstanton Knapwell Alternate Name: The Old Red Well Latitude: 52.248917N Longitude: 0.041346W Nearest Town: Cambridge Nearest Village: Knapwell Holywell (Cambridgeshire) Latitude: 52.318152N Longitude: 0.041371W Nearest Town: St Ives Long Barrow Elongated roughly rectangular structures that may contain many burial chambers. Long barrows appear to have been in constant use with burials being added over a period of centuries, the old bones being moved around to accommodate the new interment. It is thought that bones may even have been removed for ritual use, particularly the skulls and leg bones. See also the separate listing for chambered tomb. Brampton Latitude: 52.328392N Longitude: 0.234637W Nearest Town: Huntingdon Nearest Village: Brampton Babraham Latitude: 52.151042N Longitude: 0.205634E Nearest Town: Cambridge Nearest Village: Babraham Eynesbury Hodwick Latitude: 52.212092N Nearest Town: St Neots

Longitude: 0.274381W

Haddenham Latitude: 52.369951N Longitude: 0.084314E Nearest Town: Ely Nearest Village: Haddenham Round Barrow

A round barrow is the same as a long barrow except for the obvious difference. Sutton in the Isle Round Barrow Latitude: 52.390014N Longitude: 0.119062E Nearest Town: Ely Nearest Village: Sutton in the Isle Copley Hill Latitude: 52.154663N Longitude: 0.204351E Nearest Town: Cambridge Nearest Village: Babraham Wormwood Hill Alternate Name: Magog Farm Latitude: 52.153193N Longitude: 0.186736E Nearest Town: Cambridge Nearest Village: Babraham Mutlow Hill Latitude: 52.166189N Longitude: 0.260488E Nearest Town: Cambridge Nearest Village: Fulbourn Single Standing Menhir’s A menhir is a single standing stone of old age. Peterborough Stone Latitude: 52.571314N Longitude: 0.245556W Nearest Town: Peterborough Standing Stones A pair or other arrangement of stones. Robin Hood and Little John Latitude: 52.570607N Longitude: 0.32084W Nearest Town: Peterborough Nearest Village: Alwalton Timber Circles A circle made out of wooden structures. Barnack (Timber Circle) Latitude: 52.646376N Nearest village: Barnack Maxey Pit Circle A Latitude: 52.655366N Nearest Village: Maxey

Longitude: 0.403672W

Longitude: 0.338293W

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