An idea was forming in my mind that there was a connection to be made between pirates and the Cult of the Sacred King. One of the many clues that struck me was the eye patch worn by pirates. I began to suspect that this patch was originally used to hide the ‘baleful’ or ‘evil’ eye of the Sacred King. The one eye of a Sacred King was perceived to be the ‘sun eye’, whilst the other was the ‘moon or evil eye’ and, as one of the many taboos that constrained a Sacred King, the two were not permitted to co-exist. Therefore, in many cases, the ‘baleful moon eye’ was removed and the eye socket covered by an eye patch.
We must return to the violent times when the Lion and the Unicorn ie the King and Queen, were fighting for the crown and the kingdom was split into two camps: those who supported the Queen, and those who were for the Sacred King. Each in turn made fierce raids on the other in their attempt to gain the ascendancy.
When the queen and her followers were finally defeated, not all aspects of the ‘Goddess‘ Cult were prohibited: it is hard to deprive the people of their familiar customs overnight. At first, for a brief and brutal period, the queen was sacrificed in the king’s stead: later, animals sacred to the Goddess were sacrificed such as pigs, crows, dogs and horses. Druids replaced the priestesses. The King justified his right to rule by claiming that, as the son of the Goddess, he was ruling on her behalf and that, moreover, he had inherited many gifts from her. In this way the Goddess was gradually and ingeniously stripped of her former power as the King grew increasingly confident of his position.
What was not tolerated, however, was other communities which still remained loyal to the Queen/Goddess and where the King was still subordinate to a ruling Queen. His ‘reign’ may have been prolonged at this late stage in the cult’s history. Robert Graves refers to the extended period of a king’s ‘reign’ as a Great Year of one hundred lunations – nearly eight years – because there is a near-coincidence of solar and lunar time
Over time, however, such communities were being overwhelmed by the new patriarchal peoples. But those who stubbornly remained loyal to the Queen/Goddess took to the seas when danger threatened so that they could continue the old customs and resist the new power.
For survival, they had to resort to the sort of tactics for which pirates are renowned. Gradually, over time they were demonised and became outcasts. The Formorians Pirates are an example of just such desperate behaviour. The big give-away is that they were called ‘one-eyed demons of the night’. In particular, the figure of the Sacred King became a bogey man as it was he, of all people, who would have been the principle object of terror for the new ruling king for whom the memories of the old ways were only too close.
In the film Waterworld with Kevin Costner you will find a recreation of the chaos that prevailed and cruel treatment of women, in the aftermath of the king’s defeat of the queen. The long struggle for power between the two – king and queen – is immortalised in the nursery rhyme The Lion and the Unicorn were fighting for the crown. The piratical warlord wears a patch over one eye and swaggers about as if he were a god because, as a former Sacred King, he was thought to be semi-divine. Everyone is clearly in fear and awe of him because of his perceived divine powers. Having no experience of governing, however, there is general mayhem.
The Formorian pirates were also called ‘one-legged and one-armed’ which brings us to a truly gruesome aspect of the cult. By now, it had become clear to me that myths and legends involving cruelty to the animals sacred to the Goddess were a form of revenge on the Queen and that such atrocities had originally been committed against the Sun King.
A particular ritual described by Robert Graves caught my attention. He describes a bizarre custom where the King bathes in a pot in the broth of a stewed white horse so as to imbibe the powers of the Goddess. The logic was clear. Originally, it would have been the most sacred parts of the King’s body which, according to Robert Graves, varied to a degree but included the Sacred Arm, Hand, Foot, Shoulder and Leg. The resultant broth was then drunk by those wishing to be infused with great strength.
The Celtic Druid Getafix’s magic potion in the Asterix stories also aroused my suspicions. The potion gives Asterix superhuman powers and, who was originally possessed of divine powers – The Sacred King? Piecing together this evidence, I realised that in times of need the King’s leg, or arm, the parts of his body that were considered to be particularly imbued with divine power, were amputated and stewed. On the eve of battle the broth was then ladled out to a line of elite warriors so as to give them extra strength. Memories of this hideous period survive in the fictional character of the pirate, Long John Silver with his peg leg from Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, as well as Peter Pan’s Captain Hook who had a hook in place of a hand, and an eye patch.
The archetypal pirate has other characteristics from the Cult of the Sacred King. Not only did he wear the eye patch but pirates continued to wear their hair long when most men, now worshipping a male god, kept theirs short. I have already described the significance of the colours of the Goddess – white, red and black. Two of the most famous pirates were Blackbeard and Barbarossa – which means red beard. The warlike red of the Goddess, and the black of her merciless death mode would have been believed to lend a Celtic warrior/pirate great power and assistance from the Goddess.
Blackbeard was a truly terrifying pirate to meet in a fight – ‘he was a large brutal-looking man, with a huge beard which grew high on his cheeks and reached half-way down his chest. When going into action he plaited his beard into a number of tails, each tied with a coloured ribbon. Just as Samson believed he derived his strength from his locks, it is likely that Blackbeard believed his power was greatly increased by his magnificent beard.
‘With two pairs of pistols, and lighted matches stuck in his hat, he was a sight never forgotten by those unfortunate enough to meet him. He was an extremely successful pirate with a fine ship which he captured in 1717. He armed it with 40 guns, and proceeded to terrorise the coast of America. He was eventually hunted down by a ship of the British Navy and died in the action, wounded in twenty-five places.’
The famous warriors of Sparta are reported to have always combed their long hair with great care prior to a battle.
The Celts wore coloured clothes and striped trousers not dissimilar to pirates. With their ponytails, earrings, red scarves tied round their heads or necks, their quickness to quarrel and fight, we can see just how closely pirates resemble the Celtic warrior from whom, of course, they had their origins. Latter-day pirates also continued to love feasting and drinking, as had the earlier Celts.
Perhaps the strongest indication of all that pirates were refugees of the Cult of the Goddess is their flag, the Skull and Crossbones. To fly these gruesome emblems of the cult – the sacred oracular head, and the bones from the sacred arm and leg – was a supreme act of defiance, as it has continued to be down the centuries. The earlier, Celtic outcasts were declaring their allegiance to the Goddess and their determination to carry on with the old customs. Lastly, the walking of the gangplank to your death, blindfolded, was a cruel adaptation of one of the ritual ways in which a Sacred King might meet their deaths at midsummer. His remaining ‘sun’ eye was removed to symbolise the light of the sun being extinguished and, now blinded, he was made to walk off a cliff to symbolise the downward trajectory of the sun after midsummer.
It is more than likely that the pirate’s original leader was the powerful ruling Queen herself, used to wielding power and highly skilled as a warrior herself, not in fact, unlike a Greek Amazon. There are historical records of women who became pirates who were brave, tough, and as good fighters as the men. Two such women eventually ended up aboard the same ship: Anne Bonny and Mary Read. When in 1720 their ship was attacked by a vessel sent from Jamaica to capture them, the pirates proved to be cowards and fled below deck. But not Anne Bonny and Mary Read who, determined to show they could fight as well as the men, fought on. Although Anne Bonny was the daughter of a rich lawyer and would have been brought up in civilised circumstances, she had such a violent nature that in one passionate outburst, she stabbed and killed her English maid. It could be conjectured that, in a past life, she was a ruling queen of the pagan cult who took to the seas to escape the wrath of the new patriarchal societies.
On the one hand we have the glorious image of the Sacred Sun King as Apollo, the Sun God, who was the radiant example of perfect manhood. He was cherished in people’s memories through folk tales of heroes with superhuman prowess and great beauty. On the other, we have the Sacred Sun King’s memory of himself as a mutilated figure of horror, with his lurching walk after being ritually lamed, his peg leg and one hand or whole arm amputated, as well as the eye patch to cover the empty socket, leaving just the one ‘sun’ eye which people found terrifying. They feared a single glance might kill them with its power. Here may be found the origin of the monocle. A circular piece of glass was placed in front of the eye of power to enlarge it and make it appear even more terrifying. In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Hamlet talks of coming into the presence of The Eye, meaning the presence of the King.
We have forgotten that these two very different figures are, in fact, one and the same person. Over time, as the historical Sacred King was forgotten, the demon figure became the Sacred Sun King’s shadow self, full of rage and hatred. If acknowledged, the power of this demon figure can be broken and these men can finally be free of the subconscious memories.
As I write on these subjects, I find they are continually reflected back at me through radio, television and newspapers. Whilst watching the Proms, the camera showed us briefly, before moving hastily away, the flag of the Skull and Crossbones. Only the day before, watching the gardening programme, Groundforce, Alan Titchmarsh, looking at the stump of a Silver Birch said: ‘That’s Long John Silver’s stump’.