Friday, 13 November 2009

The Marian Cipher: an introduction

For some years now I have been touring parish churches in southern England and more recently North Wales, making notes on unusual carvings, figures and features I find there. Recently I noticed a strange circular, six petal ‘daisy wheel’ motif on a church font near Cranborne Chase. I had noticed a parallel pattern from a 7th century CE female burial near a hamlet 10 miles/16km northwest of Cranborne, on the edge of the downs and wondered if there could possibly be a link? Subsequently I encountered the ‘daisy wheel’ figure on a pillar in Salisbury Cathedral, along with ritual circles and cryptic lettering, which had also accompanied the inscribed circle near Cranborne. The Cranborne Chase extends across Dorset, Wiltshire and Hampshire and is steeped in pre-history, including the enigmatic Dorset Cursus, a 3000 year old, 1000 metre wide, processional corridor which extends northeast for some 6 miles, from Thickthorn Down to Bokerley Ditch near Pentridge, a Celtic place name.

The cryptic lettering – predominantly the letter ‘W’ has been interpreted by Timothy Easton [1] 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’ [2]. That the W’s and circles appear in proximity suggests a relation. The majority of dates accompanying the letters and circles begin after the onset of the Reformation in England from 1517, and extend into the eighteenth century.

The ‘daisy wheel’ is a predominantly solar symbol with a wide distribution throughout Europe. It was ultimately adopted by the early Church in a sometimes 6, sometimes 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 [3] . 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 the sun goddess. I further ponder whether the female solar attribution might not have passed onto the Virgin Mary during the period of conversion to Christianity, which was happening at this very time; and that 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 [4] was widely understood to refer to Mary. 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.

Could it be that the Reformation as it swept through Britain, removing thousands of images of Mary from religious buildings, sparked a folk-reaction resulting in Mary’s initials appearing secretly on walls and surfaces together with a cryptic circle, Marian sun cipher, known to folklorists today as the ‘daisy wheel’?


1. see [accessed 12.11.09]
2. [accessed 12.11.09]
3. MacKillop, Celtic Mythology, p393, 1998
4. Revelation 12:1

I am indebted to Brian Hoggard for identifying the folk name ‘daisy wheel’ for me.



Daisy Wheel, ritual circle and cryptic ‘W’ in Salisbury Cathedral, the ‘Cathedral Church of the Virgin Mary’, begun 1220 CE. The circles measure approximately 1”/2.5cm across.