Every Arthurian story demands a force of darkness to stand in opposition to the strength and purity of Merlin and eventually to Arthur’s courage and might. In my next novel: The Curse of the Dragon Kings this darkness emanates from a cruel and tempestuous force named Cronos.
This god is difficult to pin down because Cronos morphs from one appalling feature to another, changing his name two or three times as he moves around the ancient world until finally he will be rescued by the Romans. There in Rome, he will be renamed Saturn and his name given both to a planet and the last happy day of the week, Saturday.
His fantastic journey began around 3000BC when Cronos was the leader of the Titans, those god-like figures who ruled the ancient cosmos of the Greeks. He overthrew his father Uranus only to be overthrown himself by his son, Zeus. In Greek imagery, Cronos stands with two different kinds of scythes. The first, which not exactly pocket-sized, is much smaller than the other and used for castrating animals, for example for turning bulls into heifers. And the second scythe has a long handle and an extended curved blade, and it used for scything wheat. It became a symbol of the passing of the seasons or the progress of time. Cronos used the first one to castrate his father, Uranus, either because he was envious of his powers or to stop him producing more brothers and sisters who could rival his power. Then satisfied with his handiwork, Cronos began copiously procreating himself. But, once he discovered he was destined to be overthrown by his children, he started swallowing each of his offspring, one by one.
About 500 BC the Greek philosopher, Plato reinforced the idea that Cronos was the father of time because he saw him as a being who, in swallowing his children, was acting as time does when the past consumes the future.
Most Mediterranean cultures including those of Crete, Phoenicia, and Syria developed their own harsh and forbidding versions of this Cronos’ horror story calling him Baal or Bel. The text from Carthage where Cronos is renamed Moloch is the cruelest and most shocking of all. Imagine a Titanic statue of the god cast out of bronze with his arms outstretched in front of his gaping mouth. Babies, from a few days old to two years of age, were tossed into his mouth by their parents, and burnt or, like Cronos, they were swallowed alive and incinerated. Archaeologists have found their charred bones in burial urns mixed with the bones of other sacrificial animals leaving little doubt about what happened to them.
But how could this be connected with the Arthurian story? The Carthaginians were a trading people; they purchased Cornwall’s tin, Glastonbury’s blue woad, and its fierce wolfhounds. Part of my first novel A Darker Magic This Way Comes takes place on the edge of Dartmoor at Belstone Tor, a place name derived from Baal’s Stones. Their footprints are in the landscape and their language, with its preponderance of zeds is co-mingled with Cornish. Think of Penzance and Polzeath. The character of Cronos, the father of time, is also in some fables called the father of Moloch. Moloch is trapped by Merlin beneath an island off the coast from Cornwell a mere stone’s throw from where King Arthur was born. And, in 2015, one of the oldest coins ever found in Britain was discovered at Saltford fifteen miles from the British Channel and seven miles from Bath where legends link to King Arthur’s final battle at Mount Badon.