Cup-and-Ring Stone: OS Grid Reference – SE 0956 4695
Also Known as:
- Carving no.53 (Hedges)
- Carving no.217 (Boughey & Vickerman)
- Fylfot Stone
From Ilkley, head up the road towards White Wells and keep going along the road. Shortly before the road becomes a dirt-track, just over a small stone bridge with gorse all around, there’s a noticeable footpath that runs west onto the moors, going roughly parallel to the wealthy houses by the moorside. Keep going along this footpath and you’ll hit the recently unneeded modern creation of a large sandy trackway (and excessive litter that it’s created) that takes you straight to the curious railings stuck upon some rocks a quarter-mile away. That’s where you’re going!
Archaeology & History
This famous carving was first described as a ‘swastika’ by a Mr J. Thornton Dale around 1880 – and the name seemed to catch on damn quick! The stone had become established with this title at the end of that decade, and seemed immortalised with the name when J. Horsfall Turner wrote about it in the very popular history book he co-authored with the reverend Collyer in Ilkley Ancient and Modern. (1885) By then, comparisons had already been drawn with the acknowledged swastika symbol in Tossene, Sweden, and by the time Harry Speight described it in his colossal Upper Wharfedale (1900), other near-identical European swastika carvings had been found in Valcamonica, northern Italy. (though these lacked the ‘tail’ found on Ilkley’s carving)
Earlier images of the swastika symbol can be found in most continents, but the earliest known example appears to be the paleolithic swastika carvings from the Ukraine, etched on pieces of ivory and dating from between 18,000-15,000 BC. Some swastikas have been found carved on mammoth tusks!
Invariably in modern history it is its mythic association of the swastika to certain political imbeciles which troubles many people, but this needs to be set into a much more ancient historical context. The symbol ostensibly relates to sacred notions of the cosmos in all the non-literate cultures where it appears. Numerous surveys by comparative religious scholars isolated the nature of the design many years ago. The Leeds Buddhist, Steve Hart, said that Ilkley’s Swastika Stone:
“to a Buddhist should be a sonorous gatha (a sutra or verse), a plenitude of transcendental boddhisattvic vision. The swirling wheel of the four arms suggests the four realms as experienced by Jains, upanishadic sages and ancient Buddists. They ARE samsara. The samsara is resolved into the nirvana at the hub. The four realms are the human realm, god realm, hell realm and the nature realm. There are no clear delineated demarcations between these realms. All interpenetrate.”
(Images of the popularised ‘modern’ swastika – a huge misnomer – can be found on several church bells in Yorkshire, where they were used as charms to protect against lightning, following in the mythic fashion of Thor. These swastikas date from the 15th century.)
I first saw this carving when I was 10-years old and it had one helluvan effect on me! I stood and stared at it (or rather gazed, without thought…) for some length of time, knowing that I’d seen this somewhere before* and that it had some considerable importance – though about what, I knew not! The cups in the design align north-south and east-west. The northern line points directly at Simon’s Seat on the northern skyline. The eastern axis points directly at Almscliffe Crag, above which the equinox sun seems to rise from here.
For the real alignment fanatics, check out the alignment from Twelve Apostles to here: on the date of the last major lunar standstill (occurrent every 18.6 years), the moon set over the cairn at Lanshaw Lad. It wasn’t until I got home and checked the extension of this moonset line, that I realised if you follow it further along the course, you hit the Swastika Stone bang on! Though this is probably just a coincidence (we do have hundreds of cup-and-rings on these moors, so it’s bound to hit one or more of them).
In this Swastika Stone, the curious single ‘outlying’ cup-and-ring at the edge of the four spiralling arms is very probably the point from which the four-arms originated and not the other way round. In traditional cultures and early cosmogenic patterns the world over, the cosmos itself emerged from the ’round’, the singular, the point, or uroboros — and this is what this Swastika Stone appears to represent here: the cosmos emerging from the singularity, giving birth to the world and the four cardinal points. Such an element is a simple one and is found in Creation myths the world over. (For those of you who aint into using psychedelics at sites, a good overview of this idea is in Erich Neumann’s Origins & History of Consciousness [although there's no reference to this symbol] and which should be read by anyone pretending an interest in the nature of the archaic mind. It’s a good work on the psychology of the Dreamtime.)
As some local Ilkley folk are probably aware, a copy of the Swastika Stone carving was executed in the latter-half of the 19th century, probably by a local chap called Ambrose Collins, not far from the original swastika at the edge of the woodland. Some images and a brief history of this copied swastika and associated cup-markings will be published in due course on the Rombalds Moor Project website.
Other important cup-and-ring petroglyphs that are worth visiting on the moor with unique carved symbols in them include the Hanging Stones, the Idol Stone, Haystack Rock, Badger Stone and many many more.
A fella who used the pseudonym of ‘Pad’ suggests that the carving is only a few centuries old, and compares it to other much more recent etchings on these moors, where the erosion has been of no greater or lesser force. The suggestion has been made about other carvings on these moors and whilst I have an open mind about this, if this is the case, we would have to relate the same reasoning to countless other carving on these hills. In which case, a great deal of cup-and-ring art would have to be redesignated as medieval in nature.
- Bennett, Paul, The Old Stones of Elmet, Capall Bann: Milverton 2001.
- Boughey, Keith & Vickerman, E.A., Prehistoric Rock Art of the West Riding, WYAS: Wakefield 2003.
- Collyer, Robert & Turner, J. Horsfall, Ilkley, Ancient and Modern, William Walker: Otley 1885.
- Cowling, Eric T., Rombald’s Way, William Walker: Otley 1946.
- Hadingham, Evan, Ancient Carvings in Britain, Garnstone: London 1974.
- Hedges, John, The Carved Rocks on Rombalds Moor, WYMCC: Wakefield 1986.
- Pennick, Nigel, The Swastika, Bar Hill: Cambridge 1980.
- Speight, Harry, Upper Wharfedale, Elliott Stock: London 1900.
- Wilson, Thomas, The Swastika – The Earliest Known Symbol and its Migrations, Smithsonian: Washington 1896.
* although I’d never seen the carving before, I had of course seen its archetypal manifestation in the shapes in Nature: spiral galazies, polar rotation (I was a budding astronomer as a kid!), hair growth from the crown, petals, swirling clouds, etc, etc. The Swastika, as we know, is representative of the creative spark itself: the life-essence, emerging from the centre and manifesting itself in the four worlds, which are its emergent arms.
- Reclaim the Swastika – A fine website which is into doing just what it says on the tin!
© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian