Those who are acquainted with ancient myth will know that it was common for people to regard the original inhabitants of their lands as giants. In these Isles stories of giants in Celtic and Druidic accounts abound in Ireland, Scotland, Wales and, yes, in England, too.
The memory of early struggles for land or survival is preserved in mythology and the heroes of old, those who were wise and possessed long-lost knowledge became giants in the popular mind, so some have said. They probably were large and powerful men and women, and their physical strength and stature became exaggerated as their deeds passed into legend, at least that is the theory from our modern perspective. But, suppose there were really giants?
‘There were giants on the earth in those days…’, Genesis 6:4a, The Book
If giants existed what does it tell us about our place in the universe, our status, or the creative act of the Source of All? Did they exist in the physical realm or in the imaginal And, does that matter? Both are real, aren’t they?
At the very least, it must make us pause, think and wonder.
My grandmother was a great person for story-telling and that, it seems, has passed to me. On one occasion, after careful research I uncovered a local story, a myth, that related to an inner city borough in London. Yes, even in the heart of a bustling city like modern-day London the stories and myth of old echo, still. Hardly heard under the cacophony of sound of cars and lorries, tv and radio, there is a still small voice of the Ancient Story-teller still telling stories to those willing to listen.
The story or myth, uncovered, and which I told to my children some years ago, went like this:
There was a time when two giant sisters lived nearby this house in London. On this side of the River Thames there lived a huge, tall and powerful woman, and her giant sister lived on the other side of the river.
As time went by they decided that they would do something that many people, in future years would remember them by.
Penhill giant is a giant found in English folklore and legends. The giant lived in a fortress on Penhill in Wensleydale, Yorkshire. There are general legends and tales about the giant which claim the giant ate flocks of sheep and terrorized maidens in the local area.
The two giants decided to build two churches, and by this people would remember them: one church would be built on this side of the River Thames, and one on the other side of the river. The challenge that they had, was that, to cut the bricks for the building, they only had one hammer between them. A giant hammer, ofcourse.
The work was laborious and slow, as they had to throw the hammer across the wide river whenever one of them wanted to fashion a brick. This was relatively easy for them, even though the river at that point is wide, because they were giants!
And so, over the years they would call out to each other, when they wanted the use of that one hammer.
The giant sister on this side of the river would shout out, ‘Full home’ when she needed the hammer, and the giant sister on the other side of the river would shout, ‘Put nigh’ when she needed the hammer.
At last the two sisters completed the two church buildings on either side of the River Thames, nearby. They were proud of their achievements, and rightly so.
‘Look at Behemoth, which I made along with you and which feeds on grass like an ox. What strength it has in its loins, what power in the muscles of its belly! Its tail sways like a cedar; the sinews of its thighs are close-knit. Its bones are tubes of bronze, its limbs like rods of iron.’ Job 40:15-18, The Book
Sadly, the names of the giant sisters is lost to us, and even the story of the two giant sisters is known only to a few (and perhaps, a few more people if you’ve read as far as this).
What is remembered, is the call that they made to each other when they wanted that one hammer. Yes, on this side of the river the shout was ‘Full home’, from which the borough (it is said in myth) got its name, Fulham. Whilst the borough on the other side of the river (and now connected by a wonder bridge) is called Putney, from that giant’s ancient cry of ‘put nigh’. And so, the story ends.
Ofcourse, it is an old story, a myth, and many would dispute it, but doesn’t it make you wonder? Stories of giants abound in these Isles (and, indeed, around the world), and now here’s a story of giants of old, right here in London.
Yes, if giants existed in former days, what does it tell us about our place in the universe, what about our status, and what about the creative act of the Source of All? At the very least, it must make us pause, think and wonder. Surely?
The two giants, guardians of London were called Gog and Magog. Myth has it that they were the last two survivors of the sons of the thirty-three infamous daughters of Diocletian, who were captured and kept chained to the gates of a palace on the site of Guildhall.
However they got there, we do know that by the reign of Henry V they were carved effigies, huge giants guarding the gates of Guildhall. In 1554 these effigies appeared in the Lord Mayor’s Show and were pulled along on carts. And, modern effigies of Gog and Magog, guardian giants of London still feature in the annual Lord Mayor’s Show each November. See here.
It makes you think, doesn’t it?