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The mystery of the Marian Cipher
By Ric Kemp
Artist/experimental film-maker

Daisy wheel
Daisy Wheel, Salisbury Cathedral, 1"/2.5cm approx diameter

In 1983, as an art student, I visited Stonehenge and Avebury - a trip which left a deep impression on me.

With a profound interest in history and folklore, I began touring parish churches in southern England making notes on the unusual carvings and figures that I came across.

Recently I saw a strange circular, six petal 'daisy wheel' motif in Salisbury Cathedral.

I'd noticed a parallel pattern from an archaeological 7th century CE female burial near a hamlet south of Tisbury, on the edge of the downs.

Could there be a link I wondered?

I had also seen the 'daisy wheel' in a parish church, together with strange lettering which paralleled that at Salisbury, near to the Dorset Cursus: a prehistoric linear enclosure, similar to one near Stonehenge.

The cryptic lettering - predominantly the letter 'W' has been interpreted by Timothy Easton as a cipher or monogram composed of the letter 'V' and 'M' for Virgin Mary.

There is additionally a documented 'W' monogram composed of 'M' and 'A' meaning Auspice Maria or 'under the protection of Mary'.

Cryptic 'W's
Cryptic 'W's

That the W's and circles appear in proximity suggests a relation.

The majority of dates accompanying the letters and circles begin after the Reformation in England, from 1517, and extend into the 18th century.

The 'daisy wheel' is a predominantly solar symbol with a wide distribution throughout Europe. It was ultimately adopted by the early Church in an alternately 6 and 8 spoke form.

It is a pre-Christian symbol in Russia; in the Baltic it is associated with the sun goddess Saule and appears with a goddess on the 1st century BCE Gundestrup Cauldron from Denmark.

At Romano-Celtic Bath [Aquae Sulis] is documented a goddess called Sulis, whose name appears to be cognate or related to that of Saule and was almost certainly a sun goddess in her own right, on the evidence of the closeness of the words 'sol' [Latin, sun] and 'suil' [Gaelic, eye] to the name Sulis.

Daisy Wheels on a medieval pillar, Salisbury
Daisy Wheels on a medieval pillar, Salisbury

That the etymology for 'daisy' is 'day's eye' illustrates the ongoing association with sun, eye, circle and flower.

Consequently I have formed the theory that the female from the 7th century downs burial, associated with the 'daisy wheel' symbol was a late pagan priestess of a Brythonic sun goddess.

I further believe the solar attribution passed to the Virgin Mary during the period of conversion to Christianity which was happening at this very time.

The identification of Mary with the sun was not a local or regional phenomenon, since the 'woman clothed with the sun' reference from the Bible was widely understood to refer to Mary.

Ritual circles, Salisbury Cathedral pillar
Ritual circles, Salisbury Cathedral pillar

In fact, the spontaneous association of the sun with the Virgin Mary has been recorded in Portugal 'Our Lady of Fatima' in 1917 and as late as 1981 in the Balkan town of Medjugorje.

It's well documented that the Reformation as it swept through Britain, removed thousands of images of Mary from religious buildings.

So did this spark a folk-reaction resulting in Mary's initials appearing secretly on walls and surfaces together with solar roundels and a cryptic circle, Marian sun cipher, known to folklorists today as the 'daisy wheel'?

The mystery endures.

See more photos of ritual circles at Ric's Flickr site -

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