Here Be Dragons And Ghosts…The Coiled Serpent And Otherworld Hoodies
Drakelow in Worcestershire derives its name from a mythological creature – the dragon. The word for dragon in Germanic mythology and its descendants is worm (Old English: wyrm, Old High German: wurm, Old Norse: ormr), meaning snake or serpent. In Old English wyrm means “serpent”, draca means “dragon” (Skeat). Today, the location of this dragon mound has been lost in the mists of time, but the nearby hill fort of Aylesbury Solcum must surely be a good contender.
A few years ago, a family contacted the ASSAP regional group that I run, Parasearch, to report an unusual experience. Late one night in 1989/90 they were driving home through Drakelow. As they drove through the dark tunnel of trees, they caught sight of something strange ahead of them.
In front of them, walking a few feet off the ground, were three hooded figures. As quickly as they had appeared, they vanished, but there was no doubt that the dumfounded occupants of the car had seen something strange.
With reports like this, it is tempting to speculate that the three hooded figures where spectres from some long-vanished monastic settlement. Extensive research with local historians revealed a possibility that a monastic Chantry had existed at nearby Horsley in the fifteenth century, but certainly nothing in close proximity. Perhaps these figures were ‘modern ghosts’, perhaps apparitions in hooded anoraks! Certainly a possibility, although why there should be three, is curious.
Perhaps we should look to the mists of antiquity for the answer. Perhaps the three startled witnesses had caught a rare glimpse of the Genii Cucullati?
The Hooded Spirits, or Genii Cucullati are figures found in religious sculpture across the Romano-Celtic region from Britain to Pannonia, depicted as wearing hoods. In Britain they tend to be found in a triple deity form, which seems to be specific to the British representations (Ross).
The hooded cape was especially associated with Gauls or Celts during the Roman period. The hooded health god was known as Telesphorus specifically and may have originated as a Greco-Gallic syncretism with the Galatians in Anatolia in the 3rd century BC.
The religious significance of these figures is still somewhat unclear, since no inscriptions have been found with them in this British context. There are, however, indications that they may be fertility spirits of some kind. Prof. Ronald Hutton argues that in some cases they are carrying shapes that can be seen as eggs, symbolizing life and rebirth (Hutton).
What is certainly interesting is that this particular sighting occurred outside Drakelow Tunnel, the World War II secret underground bunker. What is even more interesting is that this massive underground complex is under the Aylesbury Solcum Iron Age hill fort! So could we have here a sighting of three Celtic deities in close proximity to an Iron Age (Celtic) hill fort?
In 2008, Parasearch were invited by The Friends of Drakelow Tunnels to carry out a series of investigations in the tunnels, following reports of anomalous experiences.
I am grateful to Wolverley & Cookley Historical Society for supplying historical and archeological details.
Skeat, W.W, A Concise Etymological Dictionary of the English Language
Bates, B, The Real Middle Earth
Ross, A, Pagan Celtic Britain
Hutton, R, The Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles
David Taylor is founder and Chairman of Parasearch, a Midlands based ASSAP regional group – http://www.parasearch.org.uk