The thirteenth figure of the Glastonbury Zodiac is the guardian Girt Dog. ‘Girt’ comes from the same root as ‘girdle’ meaning to contain or encompass. The giant beast, based round the town of Langport, is now only remembered from the old carol…
‘The Girt Dog of Langport he burnt his long tail, and this is the night we go singing Wassail.’
Wassail is a ceremony dating from Anglo-Saxon times where locals visited orchards to celebrate the apple trees by singing carols (originally dancing songs) and treated the roots to a drink of cider… while liberally treating themselves.
Somerset’s association with apples prompted its identification with the Apple Isle, Avalon. As the Romans introduced the edible apple to Britain, critics claim this dates from when the Romans left, the time we remember as the Age of Arthur. But long before farming, ancient man used the wild or crab apple.
Ancient Britains brewed crab apple cider and also used it as a sour flavouring, similar to lemons, on food. Crab apple wood has a pleasing fragrance used to drive off bad luck. As members of the rose family, the crab has much in common with its cousin, the quince of the Mediterranean World. They both bestowed immortality and divine knowledge, and were given to newlyweds as aphrodisiacs.
Quince and crab are inedible unless cooked or left to go rotten, when they become incredibly sweet. Rotten fruit often contains naturally fermented alcohol or even hallucinogenic moulds. Wild animals love to gorge on rotten fruit to get drunk. This might be why both fruits were originally considered sacred. Intoxication was seen as the gateway to the otherworld.
Quince was sacred to Aphrodite. It was probably the original fruit of the Garden of Eden. The Norse goddess Idunn fed the other gods golden apples of youth, also associated with fertility. The Apple Isle found in Greek and Celtic myth lay in the west where the sun slept and where the dead went to be reincarnated.
The association of apples with the otherworld might be why the Girt Dog guards the Glastonbury Zodiac. Dogs traditionally guard the entrance to the otherworld. Even today we believe dogs sense ghostly presences.
According to medieval legend, Glastonbury Tor was the Celtic Otherworld. It’s ruler Gwyn Ap Nudd (pronounced: Nuth) had a hunting dog is called Dormarch, or ‘Death’s Door’. In some manuscripts the scribe scratched out the second ‘r’ making the name Dormach. Mach means bond or surety, making the name ‘Death’s Guardian’.
As ‘Death’s Guardian’ Dormach is the Greek Cerebus, the three-headed dog guarding the mouth of Hades, who ensured the dead did not escape the underworld.
The philosopher Porphyry stated Hercules’ twelve labours represented the sun’s annual passage through the houses of the Zodiac – the Nemean lion being Leo; the Cretan Bull: Taurus; Hippolyta, the Amazon queen: Virgo. For one of his twelve labours, Heracles stole Cerebus. In another he stole the Apples of Immortality from the Garden of Hesperides.
Herodotus, the ancient Greek writer from 500 BC linked Heracles with the Phoenician hero Melqart – who was always accompanied by a dog representing the underworld. In the very first story ever written down, the Sumerian Gilgamesh travelled to the gods in search of immortality. Gilgamesh is the archetype hero Heracles and all others are based on.
In the night sky, Orion the Hunter’s companion is the Dog Star Sirius. Orion is Egyptian god Osiris, whose wife Isis turned herself into a dog to sniff out his mouldering corpse after Osiris was murdered by his brother Set. She brought him back to life with the help of Anubis – the dog headed god of the afterlife. Osiris is always depicted with a green skin – making him the first representation of the Green Man: the Spirit of Spring reborn.
Orion’s Dog Star was sacred to the Ancient Egyptians. It is claimed the 3 pyramids at Giza are laid out in the same pattern as the 3 stars in Orion’s belt. The greatest of them, the Pyramid of Cheops, contains a narrow shaft, from the central chamber in the heart of the pyramid, pointing directly to the Dog Star as it appears above the horizon – a shortcut to heaven for Pharaoh’s soul.
In the first card of the Tarot’s major arcana, a dog snaps at the heels of the Fool – about to step off a cliff into the unknown – representing the novice’s first step in the occult or ‘concealed’ world of higher knowledge.
Catherine Maltwood, who discovered the Glastonbury Zodiac, was certainly versed in such twisted stands of myth when tracing out the Girt Dog’s giant shape across the landscape. She would have known it was more than just coincidence the Girt Dog’s head was at Head Drove with an ear at Earlake Moor and his tail at Wagg. There is even a Walkies Farm within his outline.
As she was working on The High History of the Holy Grail she believed the Girt Dog was Arthur’s giant hunting hound, Cavall (Welsh for horse). In the High History Cavall litters 12 puppies that tear her flesh, but cannot consume her. In legend twelve is a magical number: 12 gods of Olympus; 12 Knights of the Round Table; 12 tribes of Israel; 12 Apostles. There are 12 days of Christmas, 12 months in the year, 12 signs of the zodiac and of course the 12 hides of land given to Joseph of Arimathea around Glastonbury.
Burrow Mump forms the Girt Dog’s nose. Burrow Mump is a sort of mini Glastonbury Tor with a ruined church dedicated to St Michael on its summit. Ley line enthusiasts investigating Burrow Mump say it sits on a powerful ley line runing from St Michael’s Mount in Cornwall (a place where Arthur once defeated a giant) through Wearyall Hill (where Joseph of Arimathea planted his staff that took root to become the Glastonbury thorn) to St Michael’s Church on Glastonbury Tor and beyond.
In The Thirteenth Treasure, the third book of the Thomas the Rhymer trilogy, Catherine is with the Moon, an ancient powerful fairy queen ruling the House of Cancer. Cancer not the crab, but the Glastonbury Zodiac ship, sailing the night sky crewed by Valkyries.
To find Catherine, Jack and Ken have to get onto the Glastonbury Zodiac at Burrow Mump. To do this they need the Girt Dog Dormach to open the way to the apples orchards of the stars.