The Sacred Body of Bristol

a journey into Earth’s magical landscape



Did you know that if you climb to the summit of Brandon Hill in Bristol, you’ll be standing at the heart of a mysterious alignment of sacred sites?

1600 yards to the east lies the site of Temple Church, built by the legendary Knights Templar as their focus of operations in the city, while the same distance westward, Ghyston’s Cave high in the cliffs of Avon Gorge once contained a hermit’s chapel, where questing recluses would come to contemplate the nature of the Divine.

The symmetry and significance of the sites hold up to further investigation, as when looked at in more detail they cast light on a remarkable phenomenon.





High above the city of Bristol, mounted on one of the balustrades of the upper viewing platform of Cabot Tower, is a curious artefact. An engraving on the apron of one of the tower’s four brass direction plaques depicts an alignment of significant sites running through the heart of the city. Brandon Hill (called by its old name ‘Mutton Tump’) is marked in the middle.



The plaque and its intriguing subject matter are the work of the Temple Local History Group ( which started investigating such alignments back in the 1970s. The group’s founder, Julian Lea-Jones, thinks of such alignments as “corridors of curiosity” and remains open as to their greater significance. Are they merely the product of a human susceptibility to seeing patterns in random data or could they be something more substantial, perhaps remnants of an ancient and long forgotten Earth-based knowledge?



I first came across the Cabot Tower engraving toward the end of October 2012. At the time I was immersed in a writing project in which Brandon Hill was one of a number of locations for a fictional story set in Bristol. What I hadn’t realised before climbing the tower was that many of these plot locations lie on a straight line. Surprising in itself, the find was just one step in a remarkable discovery. Further investigation revealed that five sites on the alignment – including natural features such as Avon Gorge and Brandon Hill – conform to a specific and ancient mystical arrangement.

It could all just be an uncanny coincidence but if not, the layout points to a vast and ancient symbol underlying the city. This is the “Sacred Body of Bristol,” a mysterious energy system hidden beneath our feet, coursing through and acting upon the very landscape in which we live.





On a fresh afternoon at the end of October, a day before the Celtic festival of Samhain when the veil between worlds is said to be wearing thin, I was enjoying the view of Bristol from the top of Cabot Tower when my attention was drawn to the unusual engraving. Among the aligned sites, two in particular spoke to me, whispering of deeper significance. Windmill Hill told a story of Sky, Stone Hill of Earth.

Sky and Earth: two polarities at the extremities of the alignment. I wondered if there was anything to be gleaned from the sites in between.

A little research revealed an answer beyond anything I could have expected.

Of the aligned sites, five key locations form a specific arrangement, in which each corresponds to one of the five elements of medieval alchemy: Earth, Water, Fire, Air and fifth element Spirit.

Not only are the sites precisely positioned, they are also in precisely the right order. Taken together they create a mystical spine running through the centre of the city.


  SPIRIT                           AIR    FIRE   WATER                        EARTH

The key sites of the alignment are symmetrically arranged, as can be seen when plotted on a standard Ordnance Survey map. As mentioned, Brandon Hill is the central site, with Ghyston’s Cave and Temple Church situated 1600 yards away (to the west and east respectively). If the line is extended 6400 yards beyond Ghyston’s Cave (ie four times the distance between Brandon Hill and the cave), it reaches the summit of Windmill Hill near Portbury, while 6400 yards beyond Temple Church brings it to the site of Stone Hill in east Bristol.





The Tree of Life of the Kabbalah is the key to unlocking the Sacred Body of Bristol.

This mysterious symbol is essentially a tool for arranging symbolic data, in order to better understand the relationships of interconnected phenomena. All manner of objects and events can be hung on the Tree, from mythological motifs to parts of the body to the alignment of sacred sites. The results can be nothing short of revelatory.

The symbol consists of ten spheres (as well as a ‘hidden’ eleventh sphere) connected by a network of twenty-two interlacing lines. Relevant to the Cabot Tower alignment are the five spheres that make up the Tree's central axis or Middle Pillar. Each of the five spheres corresponds to one of the five elements. Spirit sits at the uppermost point, followed by Air, Fire, Water and finally Earth at the base.



















the Kabbalistic Tree of Life

Originating in Hebrew mysticism,  the Tree of Life has evolved to embrace a broad range of wisdom traditions including Egyptian mythology, Islamic alchemy, Celtic paganism and esoteric Christianity.


The Middle Pillar represents the axis mundi (world axis), which can be mapped onto the human body, conveying the idea of the human being as a bridge between Heaven and Earth.

The elemental centres have clear functional correspondences with their positions in the body. Thus the sphere of Earth is situated at the feet, the sphere of Water at the pelvis, Fire at the heart/solar plexus and Air at the throat. The sphere of Spirit is situated above the head.


The sites of the Cabot Tower alignment are linked to the various spheres of the Middle Pillar by their symbolic associations. While the first site, Windmill Hill, may initially suggest Air, its symbolism is far better suited to Spirit.

The site also relates to the alignment as a whole, as a windmill consists of a higher focus of energy (the horizontal windshaft driven by the sails) transmitting power through a vertical shaft to a lower centre (the millstone). This is analogous to the ‘higher centre’ of Spirit transmitting energy through the Middle Pillar to empower the ‘lower centres’ of Air, Fire, Water and Earth.

On the Kabbalistic Tree of Life, the centre of Spirit is symbolised by a Swastika. Long before its twentieth century misappropriation, the Swastika was a universal symbol of life. Its imagery depicts the universe expanding from a single point, rotating as the energy flows outwards. (On another level, the four arms can be seen to be the four elements of Air, Fire, Water and Earth emerging from the primal unity, Spirit.)

The Swastika corresponds visually to the four sails of the Windmill, and when placed at the relevant point upon the Middle Pillar, the analogy comes to life: the higher force of Spirit ‘driving’ the lower four elements of Air, Fire, Water and Earth.





Using the Middle Pillar as a template, the Cabot Tower alignment can be explored in more detail.



‘Stone’ has obvious connections to the element of Earth. When excavations of Stonehill were carried out prior to the building of the Bristol ring road, evidence was found on the site of a Romano British farm. A name such as Stone Hill invites speculation as to what existed here before the farm. Perhaps the place was originally marked by one or a group of standing stones, designating the hill as an ancient meeting place.

As for the location, Stone Hill is situated in the vicinity of the old Forest of Kingswood, a great swathe of woodland that once surrounded the city of Bristol.

Forests have strong links to the concept of Earth. What is more, the area of Kingswood has been described as a “royal domain” (see  This terminology is pertinent: on the Tree of Life, the Hebrew name for the sphere of Earth means 'Kingdom': the king’s domain.

On the human body the sphere of Earth is centred on the soles of the feet; it is interesting to note that historically, the district of Kingswood became the prime centre for Bristol’s boot and shoe trade.



The Knights Templar built their circular church on marshy land near the banks of the Avon.

The centre of Water is the creative focus of the body, and it was in the area of Temple Fee that the Knights Templar were involved in Bristol’s own creative output, namely its thriving weaving industry. When the original Temple church was replaced in the Middle Ages, the new church incorporated a chapel dedicated to St. Catherine, Patron Saint of Weavers.

Mythologically speaking, weaving is one of the fundamental acts of creation. (Check out any diagram of the spindle apparatus of cell division for a visual correspondence between weaving and the creation of life.) The Weaver Goddess is an ancient archetype with strong connections to ‘the Underworld,’ one of the associations of this centre.

Strengthening the links, the Knights Templar have a legendary association with the Holy Grail, the sacred vessel often said to represent the womb of the Goddess, the archetypal cauldron of creation.

Temple Church is thus exceptionally well-suited – in its location, design and association with the Guild of Weavers – to serving as a water temple.

We have moved from the base of the feet to the pelvis, which continuing the water theme is Latin for basin.



While water temples are often located in low-lying areas near rivers or springs, fire temples are often found on hilltops. The old name for Brandon Hill is Mutton Tump. The name is derived in part from the Welsh ‘twmp,’ meaning ‘hill,’ the obvious assumption being that this was a hill where sheep once grazed. However, one idea has been put forward that ‘mutton’ may have derived from ‘nemeton,’ an old Celtic word for a sacred grove (see

Whatever the etymological truth, it would be reasonable to assume that before becoming the site of St Brendan’s chapel, there existed on the summit of Mutton Tump a pre-Christian site of celebration and worship. It is likely the hill was a twmpath chwarae where at Beltane (May Day) festivities, fires were lit upon the summits of hills to mark the return of Bel, the Sun God.

Bel was welcomed returning from his Underworld Journey, corresponding to the passing of winter in the Celtic Wheel of the Year. This brings us to another possible origin of the name Brandon: Bran Don or Bran’s Hill. In Welsh mythology, the giant Bran the Blessed was high king of Britain, who took part in his own Underworld Journey: in Branwen, Daughter of Llลทr, Bran sails to Ireland (often seen to symbolise the Otherworld) to retrieve a magical cauldron, a story interpreted by many as a prototype Grail Quest.

Psychologically speaking, the Underworld Journey depicts the conscious mind descending into the deeper centres of the body (the realm of the unconscious mind) in order to release trapped or hidden energy and/or wisdom.

Many myths speak of hidden energy held within the Earth, energy that must be faced to be released. Examples abound of solar gods or heroes making an Underworld Journey to retrieve or release either hidden treasure or a noble prisoner. Theseus making his way through the Labyrinth, Perseus descending into Medusa’s lair, Christ’s Harrowing of Hell: all these are variations on a theme.

At the foot of Brandon Hill, the oldest artefact in Bristol Cathedral is a Saxon stone carving depicting the Harrowing of Hell. Christ is shown standing on the head of the Devil as he pulls a naked figure out of the jaws of Hell. Look a little closer and it appears the figure is that of a woman, possibly pregnant. A plaque by the side of the carving suggests that this could be Eve. Perhaps it represents Mother Earth herself. A modern interpretation might be that Christ is not saving this figure from her sins, but from the false perspective that everything associated with the deeper centres – the serpent, women, sexual urges, indeed the creative force itself – is inherently evil.

A common error in patriarchal religions has been to focus on ‘the heavenly’ at the expense of ‘the earthly’, to preach transcendence rather than union. In reality, the physical world is a vital expression of the spiritual, and the wiser teachers recognise that in order to ‘ascend’ one must journey into the depths. This is what is meant symbolically by the Harrowing of Hell – not an altruistic act on the part of Christ but a necessary one (for without the release of the trapped energy, ‘ascension’ cannot take place). This is also what is represented by the search for the Holy Grail: it is the search for the presence of Spirit within the land.

It is this very ‘Spirit within the land’ that is seen in the Sacred Body of Bristol and its corresponding alignment of sacred sites.



Avon Gorge is the throat of Bristol, a channel of expression into the wider world.

On the Tree of Life, the centre of Water is connected to the centre of Air via an energetic circuit of polarity. This is reflected historically in the layout of the city: after wool was woven into cloth in the creative cauldron of Temple Fee, it was loaded onto ships and transported via the Avon around the base of Brandon Hill into Avon Gorge, and from there into the outside world. From the centre of Water to the centre of Air via a channel of fluid energy.

The centre of Air is called Daath, which means ‘Knowledge.’ To experience Daath is to bridge the physical and the spiritual and know the unity of all things.

On the Tree of Life, Daath spans the division between the realm of Spirit and the realm of Manifestation. This division is known as The Abyss. If the city’s layout does indeed correspond to the Tree of Life, we would expect at this point to find something representing an abyss. With the dramatic Avon Gorge cutting across the alignment at this very point, this is exactly what we do find.

We would also expect an air temple to be lofty in nature and this quality is also a predominant feature. The Cabot Tower alignment crosses Avon Gorge at a specific location: Ghyston’s Cave, two hundred and fifty feet up the eastern wall of the gorge.

Historically, the first mention of a chapel located in the cave dates to AD305. The presence of a hermit’s dwelling high up a cliff face is hugely relevant. In Dion Fortune’s seminal The Mystical Qabalah, Daath is described as

“the sphere of the Upper Room”


“The Monastic Cell where the Personality is whittled down to the bare essentials…”

Ghyston’s Cave offers spectacular views over Avon Gorge. Fitting in perfectly with the cave’s current use as a popular vantage point, the ‘spiritual experience’ of this sphere is “The Vision Across the Abyss.”






the ‘torso’ of the body is made up of the three central sites: Avon Gorge (Ghyston’s Cave), Brandon Hill (Mutton Tump) and Temple Church. The three sites are evenly spaced: the summit of Brandon Hill is equidistant between Avon Gorge and Temple Church in the same way that the solar plexus of the human body is equidistant between throat and pelvis.





A symbolic appreciation of the Sacred Body of Bristol depends upon a balance between objectivity and subjectivity. A completely objective assessment will – by its nature – only give half of the picture as, to be truly objective, we must remain detached. By comparison, an appreciation of the Earth’s magical landscape requires a connection with the universe around us. In other words, it calls for subjectivity.

Subjectivity is readily explored through the creative imagination. It is via the creative imagination that an individual can develop an awareness of the Earth’s deeper mysteries, as well as strengthening a connection to the greater web of creation. In doing so, he or she plays a part in a global reawakening, a growing realisation that it is by reforging links both with the Earth and our deeper centres (for the two are ultimately conjoined) that we find wholeness.

In so doing, we ‘bridge the Abyss’ and help bring the physical and spiritual into union.