Katharine Maltwood: Seeking the Tree of Life

Plaster model representing Katharine Maltwood's Glastonbury Zodiac as seen from the air if the trees were removed.
Plaster model representing Katharine Maltwood's Glastonbury Zodiac as seen from the air if the trees were removed.

GLASTONBURY ZODIAC

Katharine Maltwood devoted the later part of her life to research concerning the “Glastonbury Zodiac” (also known as the “Somerset Zodiac”), a ten-mile wide circular earthwork which she claimed to discover in 1925 after a period of intense study of medieval Arthurian Romances. Maltwood was especially fascinated by the myth of the Holy Grail and its association with Joseph of Arimethea’s visit to Glastonbury. Joseph was said to have collected the blood of Christ in the Holy Grail – the chalice used at the Last Supper before Jesus’s crucifixion – and transported and buried it at an unknown location in Glastonbury. For many years Maltwood and her husband lived at Chilton Priory, a 19th Century castle located approximately eight miles from Glastonbury. The home was close by to King Arthur’s legendary court where they supposedly set out for their quest for the Holy Grail, and the close proximity fueled Maltwood's research.

As Katharine Maltwood studied Arthur’s grail quest she began to trace his court’s adventures in the Glastonbury landscape, resulting in the mapping of the zodiac. Maltwood believed that the Knights of the Round Table, along with the various creatures they combatted, existed as ancient earthworks. The earthworks formed a zodiac of the constellations, with Arthur’s knights representing nature deities. In the article “The Discovery of a prehistoric zodiac in England" in the Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Maltwood stated the knights, "were the Christian reincarnations of the gods they quested ...Sir Lancelot showing all the characteristics of the Lion, King Arthur of the sun-god Hercules, Sir Gawain of the Ram etc.”

Aerial photograph of the area of the head of the Giant Orion          Chapter I: The Fire Sign, Leo; Chapter XII: Orion the Giant           Glastonbury Tor from Collard Hill         The Star Explorer

THE COLLECTION

The majority of the contents in the Katharine Maltwood fonds are related to the Glastonbury Zodiac. These items range from press clippings collected, hand-drawn sketches, aerial photographs outlining the zodiacal figures at Glastonbury, manuscripts about her discovery and theories about the zodiac, as well as reviews of her work. Maltwood avidly collected information about ancient earthwork monuments in various locations across the globe (including Peru, Mesopotamia, Greece, and Egypt) all of which, like the Glastonbury Zodiac, she believed to be evidence of prehistoric nature worship.

While Katharine’s theories faced much skepticism in England and Europe, her work was more openly received in Canada and the United States. Much of this reception is contained within the fonds as correspondence and reviews (and is often accompanied by hand-written responses and rebuttals). While Maltwood's claims for the prehistoric creation of the zodiac have largely been discredited, her work remains vivid in the imagination of a wide range of individuals, from academic researchers to amateur archaeoastronomers, and all those in-between.