Grael Britannia

Schools of Navigation

Modern-day navigators routinely use tide tables and an almanac with both a solar and a lunar calendar (for moon phase dates) and sun rise and set times.

Ancient navigators didn't have any of that, did they?

Ah well, actually they might have. The Druids had a very well developed Calendar. Memorising its workings would surely have been a basic part of their 20 year training.

Saltair Na Rann

For each day five items of knowledge are required of everyone, with no appearance of boasting, who would be leader. The day of the solar month, the age of the moon, the state of the sea tide, without error, the day of the week, the calendar of the feasts of the deities.

It bears repeating and reflecting on:

For each day, five items of knowledge are required of everyone, with no appearance of boasting, who would be leader. The day of the solar month, the age of the moon, the state of the sea tide, without error, the day of the week, the calendar of the feasts of the deities.

To learn all this is a phenomenal feat of memory, worthy of huge respect. (I have enough trouble remembering my own friends' names). But - just consider - if this is just learning about past events, it is a respectable ability, but it is not a powerful ability. To be a worthy leader, you have to be able to anticipate the coming events. How can you do that for so many days and years into the future? There has to be an underlying model, and that has to be a mathematical model.

I can glibly say that Easter is on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Vernal Equinox. What a clever boy. I've learnt the baseline rule. Trouble is, I've no idea how to apply it or predict it. For that, you need a model of the astronomical cycles. To have that from observation, and then internalise it into memory as an oral tradition is a phenomenally powerful achievement.

It also seems to me that the Druid leadership was therefore a meritocracy, where the leader was the one who retained and recalled the most & best knowledge. If you can demonstrate that, no boasting is required. Even so, I still wondered why special emphasis was placed on the tides?

The state of the sea tide, without error

Surely "without error" applied to all of the "five items"? Or was there something extra-special about learning the tides? All the other requisite knowledge would be consistent over the whole country, but the tides are not consistent. High tide on Anglesey is on a different cycle to high tide on St.Michael's Mount. For this part of the "five items", local knowledge is essential. Local observation posts, or Druid's Circles, or chapels, would have to be established. Most likely these would also been places for Beaconage.

On reflection, the state of the sea tide, without error, implies (in my feeble mind) that many of the "hermitages" that became Chapels/Abbeys/monastery (or proto-universities) in sparsely populated areas must have originally been Schools of Navigation (at the least). The ones on the Atlantic Coast, with the biggest tide cycles, may have had the most demanding or advanced courses. Like the Lost village of Skara Brae (which even suggests an Egyptian connection).

Next, we should recall the apparently strange choices of location for Celtic Saints, very often on isolated islands where "hermits" had been before. Most of us are accustomed to living on the “mainland”, well away from what seem to be small, isolated and unimportant dots on the map.

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But that point of view is misleading. These were not isolated places, but key waypoints on cross-channel and coastal navigation routes. There were several advantages to these choices of locations.

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The transfer and preservation of knowledge

College of Theodosius / Cor Tewdws : The author of the Wiki page on College of Theodosius / Cor Tewdws starts by saying it “was a Celtic monastery and college in what is now Llantwit Major. It is believed to have been founded c. 395, making it the oldest established school in Great Britain.” Which sadly instantly air-brushes out of history all the pre-Christian schools and colleges. But gives us a clue that there wasn't an ecumenical void before Romanised Christians arrived. Perhaps it was founded by the Coptic missionaries from the Church of Alexandria?

Lighthouses maintained by “hermits”

Jenny B. Wahl in “Law and Economics” points out that

“Legends abound about lonely hermits or religious orders maintaining beaconage and lighthouse services. “

As we have a mythology of hermits in rags, or washed ashore all bedraggled, it’s useful that Wahl reminds us:

“Hermits were generally religious persons of substantial means who desired to end their days in solitude in some retreat, often an island along the British coast”.

Or, perhaps, well-educated Druids/Celtic Saints wishing to practice what they had learnt. As mentioned, amiable Celtic Christians assimilated Druidic knowledge and ways of working, and continued that for some centuries.

Saint Malo

Saint Malo (also known as Maclou or Mac’h Low, in Latin, as Maclovius or Machutus, and in Italian as Macuto) was the mid-6th century founder of Saint-Malo in Brittany, France. He is one of the seven founder saints of Brittany. His name may derive from the Old Breton mac’h (warrant) and luh (light)
Ref ????

Warrant Light by itself sounds strange or obscure. But let’s remember what his roles were. (1) head of the Monastery (Navigation School), (2) in charge of the traditional hermit role of maintaining the beaconage. As Druids and Breton Saints often changed their name as they got promoted/ordained, Michael (Mach-luh) might be the official job title. For someone in charge of the beaconage, being paid a tithe or tribute by local fisherman, Warrant Light sounds quite appropriate. It probably had both a literal and metaphoric meaning as he would have been an official holder of the Navigation School knowledge, to be taught to students and illuminate their mental darkness.

Malo, as one of the Celtic Saints, is one of the usual suspects. i.e. those that took over the Megalithic/Druid traditions. Brendan and Malo studied on Cézembre at the Monastery / Navigation School founded by Saint Aaron. As a location, it was well-chosen, as the tidal range there is famously huge.


1) Old Breton is effectively the same as Cornish.

Breton was brought from Great Britain to Armorica by migrating Britons during the Early Middle Ages; it is thus an Insular Celtic language, and as such not closely related to the Continental Celtic Gaulish language which had been spoken in pre-Roman Gaul. Breton is most closely related to Cornish, both being Southwestern Brittonic languages. Welsh and the extinct Cumbric are the more distantly related Brittonic languages.
Ref : Breton language

2) Durrow - 'plain of the oaks' :,_County_Offaly
located near one of Ireland's five ancient routes, Slighe Mór.

Next : Megalithic trade routes (on land)