Friday, January 29, 2010

For Any Roman Reconstructionists Reading This

Make sure that you get the night-time garments (or lack of) right.

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Monday, January 25, 2010

Around the Pagan Blogosphere

• "Hard versus Soft Polytheism is a False Dichotomy."

• A recently discovered statue described as the god Odin and welcomed by some reconstructionist Norse Pagans, is--by Viking Period artistic conventions--either a woman or the goddess Freya, says a Swedish archaeologist. 

• The Necronomicon: "It's like the Bible but different" (YouTube video). Via

• At The Soccer Moms' Guide to Wicca: Unintentionally outed by the school district.

• Something that I wish more people would think about about: When is a wild animal an omen, and when is it just a wild animal?

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Monday, December 07, 2009

Cannibalism in 'Old Europe'?

Archaeologists have found evidence of possible long-term cannibalism at a 7,000-year-old Neolithic settlement in what is now southern Germany.

Human sacrifice at Herxheim is a hypothesis that’s difficult to prove right now, but we have evidence that several hundred people were eaten over a brief period,” [Bruno] Boulestin says. Skeletal markings indicate that human bodies were butchered in the same way as animals.

Other researchers suggest that the people were merely cleaning up the bones of the dead for a ceremonial reburial. But vultures, etc., would do that job for free--and still do in some parts of the world.

But wait, this is Marija Gimbutas' Old European Culture, the peaceful ancient matriarchies. Were they eating each other?

I think that it is safe to assume that prehistory was much more complicated than we imagine when we look at it through lenses of theory.

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

2012 Apocalypse Porn

Even some Mayans are finally getting fed up with the whole 2012 end-of-civilization-as-we-know-it apocalypse porn.

(You know it's porn because there is no real goofiness, humor, or affection.)

A little while ago I received a copy of 2012: Science or Superstition, a video from Disinformation.

It's got it all: Hopis, Islamic astrology, reverse cowgirl, Stonehenge, and lots of self-appointed experts saying "X appeared to have Y."

Lots of vague references to "cultures around the world" sharing the same cosmology, which is, shall we say, unsupported.

Why the Mayas? Why not the ancient Roman calendar? The year 2012 will be 2765 AUC. That sounds significant too. Or wait until 2772?

Anthony Aveni, who is a genuine scholar of archaeoastronomy, is in there, along with a bunch of apocalyptic pornographers—and who can tell them apart without a scorecard?

You won't hear much from any Mayas, however.

"The December 21st, 2012 date is gaining ground in the popular media," says one of the talking heads. Yes, and we will see more of that, no doubt.

And Halloween is coming, so you could pick up 2012: Science or Superstition for your scary movie. Or you could watch The Exorcist.

UPDATE: The day that I wrote this post, the new issue of Archaeology magazine arrived, with an article by Professor Aveni examing the 2012 craze.

You will find the full text at the link but here are two brief quotations:

It is amusing that the Y12 prophets are certain the world will end for all of us based on a date that may or may not have had historical significance to the Maya a few thousand years ago, who were themselves looking to a date a few thousand years before that. The ancient Maya might tell us: "Hey, get your own zero point!"


We live in a techno-immersed, materially oriented society that seems somewhat bewildered by where rational, empirical science might be taking us. This may be why the mystical, escapist explanations of a galactic endpoint, replete with precise mathematical, historical, and cosmic underpinnings (masquerading as science), have such wide appeal. In an age of anxiety we reach for the wisdom of ancestors--even other peoples' ancestors--that might have been lost in the drifting sands of time. Perhaps the only way we can take back control of our disordered world is to rediscover their lost knowledge and make use of it. And so we romanticize the ancient Maya.

Some of the people pushing the 2012 stuff said much the same things about the "Harmonic Convergence" of 1987.

That summer, a campfire skit at a Pagan festival in New Mexico celebrated the "Harmonica Virgins."

Bring on the 2012 parodies.

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Friday, September 25, 2009

Did a 'Pagan' Bury the Staffordshire Hoard?

The "Staffordshire Hoard" is a cache of 7th-century Anglo-Saxon sword jewels and other items recently found in England (and a great boost for metal-detector sales, no doubt).

The caption on one slide of the golden hoard suggests that because a gold cross was folded in on itself before burial, the person who buried the treasure might well have been (wait for it) a "pagan."

England was becoming Christian by then, although the Norse were not. But I think he (?), whether Pagan or Christian, might as well have been looking at the cross as so much gold rather than superstitiously thinking he would be smitten if he deformed it.

Here is another slide show. Magnificent stuff. How long until we see Ren Faire reproductions?

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Friday, August 14, 2009

Mazes and Labyrinths

A web page of mazes and labyrinths, from the Paleolithic forward.


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Shamanic Images of the Altai

I found this video on PaganSpace -- evidently it is supposed to evoke the shamanic spirit of Kazahkstan (since the poster lives in Almaty). The Altai are a range of mountains in Central Asia.

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Greek Orthodox Cover-up of Parthenon Defacing

Via Richard Bartholomew: Orthodox clergy in Greece demanded -- and got -- removal of a film segment in the Parthenon visitor center that showed their predecessors smashing Pagan statuary, etc., centuries ago.

UPDATE: (Via Jason) The museum backed down and is restoring the original film.

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Monday, June 22, 2009

The Mists of Avalon and Its Antithesis

I recently re-read Marion Zimmer Bradley's The Mists of Avalon for the first time in years, in order to cite it in a paper.

Now I am reading its antithesis, Simon Young's A.D. 500: A Journey Through the Dark Isles of Britain and Ireland.

Based on the fiction of a geographer in Constantinople writing a guide to the "Dark Isles" based on contemporary reports and present-day archaeology, Young's sixth century agrees very little with Bradley's except, perhaps, on the importance of Tintagel.

If Tintagel is a work of Nature's art, then man has, however, botched its decorations. The British Celts who live there are not great builders....The king's court is a timber shack, something approximating in size and finish to one of our royal stables.

You want all-wise Druids at the close of Pagan Ireland?

But even in their reduced state, these old men--the young with spiritual gifts turn to the Church--have a certain notoriety. Instantly recognizable for their curious cloaks and their shaved heads--each has a short tuft over the forehead--they walk from place to place officiating over oaths and sacrifices (it is better not to ask of which sort).

Young admits that the story of the last Temple of Bacchus in Britain is "necessarily speculative," but does offer sources for it, as for all his information.

Young's book is a useful corrective to the "matter of Britain's" multiple re-tellings--the last time I checked, library databases listed more than 900 works under the category of "King Arthur-Fiction."

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Gallimaufry with Gray Matter

Ten myths about the brain.

• Paganistan gets a designated blogger in the Examiner network, Murph Pizza.

• A "prehistoric pin-up"? Archaeological video from the journal Nature.

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Friday, January 23, 2009

Gallimaufry with Old Bones

¶ Some British Pagans want to rebury a 4,000-year-old skeleton. It seems to me that they are just parroting NAGRPA language without realizing that (to borrow from another blogger) that the Archbishop of Canterbury has as much "blood" claim to the bones as they do.

¶ George Plimpton was an American writer of what was once called "new journalism" and is now called creative nonfiction. But this article about him in The Nation also points out to what extent famous literary journals were subsidized by the CIA as part of the culture war with the Soviet Union. Who says our government does not support the arts?

¶ Anne Hill defines "California Cosmology" and its evil twin.

Apparently "analog" now means "natural." I missed that.

So is the “planetary consciousness” of neotribal gatherings like Boom just window dressing for the same old hedonistic consumption and pursuit of distraction? Perhaps. But as a self-consciously visionary environment, Boom necessarily foreshadowed the apocalypse as much as the eco-dream.

¶ A wall painting at the Neolithic town of Catal Huyuk was often called the world's oldest map. But what if it is not a map at all? Would that mean that map-making was not practiced by "peaceful ancient matriarchies" but was invented by them evil Kurgans?

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Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Needed: Druids with Scuba Gear

Yes, the news of a possible stone circle under Lake Michigan has been "surprisingly under-reported."

If verified, the carvings could be as much as 10,000 years old – coincident with the post-Ice Age presence of both humans and mastodons in the upper midwest.

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Thursday, October 09, 2008

A Ritual with Swan's Eggs

The November/December 2008 issue of Archaeology magazine contains an article titled "Witches of Cornwall," about odd, ritualistic or votive burials of skins, eggs, and other items at a place called Saveock Water.

These burials took place from the 1640s at least through the 1950s.

There is as yet no link to the article (so ask a librarian), but this site gives some of the same information.

The writer, Kate Ravilious, creates a purely hypothetical spell that might have accompanied one of the offerings:

Take a swan and wring its neck. Skin the bird and, under a full moon, lay its skin in a shallow hole with the feathers face-up. Add eggs--five for every child you want to bear. Atop each egg, place the talon of a blackbird and a black stone. Circle the hole three times, clockwise, then close it with a clod of earth. As soon as you are with child, empty the hole, or terrible things will come to pass.

(Wringing the neck of an angry adult swan might be harder than Ms. Ravilious realizes, however. Apparently her magic is not for the faint-hearted.)

Archaeology put a link up.

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Sunday, May 25, 2008

Nazi Archaeology and the Holy Grail

There really was a Nazi archaeologist who sought the Holy Grail and wrote a book about it, Otto Rahn:

There was more in a similar vein -- a lot more. To the untrained ear, this has a note of desperate flannel about it. However, Himmler loved the book and ordered 5,000 copies to be bound in the finest leather and distributed to the Nazi elite. By now it must have dawned on Rahn that he was swimming with some extremely nasty sharks. It must also have dawned on him that he was trapped -- especially when he read the proofs of Lucifer's Court and found that one blatantly anti-Semitic passage had been inserted by someone else.

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Sunday, March 23, 2008

DNA, the Celts, and Roman Britain

I have started reading Stephen Oppenheimer's The Origins of the British, which I referenced earlier in my series of "Who's a Celt Now?" posts.

From a genetic analysis -- his main tool -- buttressed by linguistic studies and ancient written sources, he appears to be making these points:

  • The people of Ireland, Wales, western Scotland, western England, and the Atlantic coast of France came north from Iberia and southwestern France after the ice melted. These people spoke Celtic languages.
  • Conversely, they did not come from central Europe and are not connected to the so-called Hallstatt and La Tene cultures.
  • After the ice melted, eastern England did receive settlers from the Continent--but remember that back then, people could walk from what is now France to England, until the sea levels rose.
  • During the 400 years of Roman colonization, many (or most) inhabitants of the province of Britannia were probably speaking a Germanic language (related to Dutch or Frisian), not a Celtic language. If true, that is the biggest revelation for me.
  • The subsequent Anglo-Saxon invasion was not a genocidal "wipe-out," but was more like the Norman Conquest of 1066. One ruling class replaced another, but life for Jane and Joe Commoner went on as before.

I will post again after finishing the book.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Gallimaufry with Big Rocks

¶ My copy of Fire Child: The Life & Magic of Maxine Sanders, 'Witch Queen' arrived, and I will post a full review soon. Short version: Better than I expected.

When the Goddess Ruled the Earth is a new quasi-documentary film on hypothesized Neolithic religion. The trailers are all shots of ancient megaliths with a "voice of God" (sorry) commentary. Looks like orthodox Gimbutas-ism.

My point is that you cannot necessarily tell by looking at a structure the religious views of its builders. You might be able to make an educated guess by analogy with known cultures, but without extensive, obvious archaeological evidence -- and better still, written evidence -- you cannot say. Is the "Venus of Willendorf" a religious artifact or a Paleolithic Barbie doll? Will we ever know?

¶ Fiacharrey, "the Bayou Druid," is making YouTube videos on Celtic Reconstructionism. Here is one.

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Review: Apocalypto

Not one to rush into things, I finally watched Mel Gibson's slightly a-historical movie of Mayan imperial collapse, Apocalypto, a gory but amazing adventure story.

My father was a big fan of historian Will Durant, so I got the impact of the Durant epigram about the fall of empires at the beginning.

I know that a few blowhard Chicano Studies types complained about the movie, but face it, all those things such as slave raids and the sacrifice of prisoners to the gods were happening, there and of course in Tenochtitlan.

Ever since I took a graduate seminar in Mesoamerican religion with Davíd Carrasco, I have been suspicious of cultures with large, astronomically aligned buildings. They always seem to reflect a society where the king is the Son of Heaven and the Few rule the Many with a heavy hand.

I suspect that Stonehenge might have been produced by a Neolithic version of that cultural template too, for all that Pagans revere the place.

Or you might say that polytheism + imperialism = imperialism.

Along with prisoners of war, the Maya apparently favored sacrificing boys.

Gibson being Gibson, the movie's final message apparently is, "The world is a corrupt and violent place, so you are better off dying as a Catholic." Extra ecclesiam nulla salus and all that.

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Monday, November 12, 2007

Gallimaufry is not a Irish Word.

¶ Dude, it's like this secret Irish slang, you dig? So don't be a twerp--glom onto this.

On the other hand, be careful of enthusiastic folk etymologists with a pocket dictionary and an agenda. It could just be a gimmick.

Time and Mind is a new journal of postprocessual archaeology: "The journal features scholarly work addressing cognitive aspects of cross-related disciplines such as archaeology, anthropology and psychology that can shape our understanding of archaeological sites, landscapes and pre-modern worldviews."

¶ Blogging will be light for the next few days. I have to ride the big silver snake to Southern California and the American Academy of Religion annual meeting. Berg should have a booth there--maybe I can find the journal.

So many bloggers go to events and post pictures of exhibitor booths and shots of happy people in hotel bars. I will try to avoid that -- unless I get something really good.

I will be checking out the possibility of freelance work too, which adds an extra urgency to the trip.

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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Most Advanced--But Vanished--Pagans.

Everyone has their favorite vanished Pagan civilization, I suppose. The Minoan civilization is one of mine.

Tropaion links to a Discovery Channel video about the destruction of Atlantis. The basic idea -- that "Atlantis" was Santorini (Thera) and Crete -- is not new, but the computer recreations of their cities is excellent. (Bonus: Greek subtitles.)

The Egyptian material at the end is most interesting as well.

A volcanic eruption bigger than Krakatoa, tsunamis, and earthquakes. How well could we handle that combination?

Bonus: This Flash animation shows all the empires and nations of the Middle East. The Minoans don't appear, but they would be contemporary with the Egyptian empire. (Via Hecate.)

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• Get your fringe archaeological theories here, including a study how Pagan uses of megalithic sites compares to the "postprocessual" trend in archaeology. Maybe academic jargon does get the better of her at the end, when she refers to Paganism as a "discipline."

• The Boston Globe describes "The Age of Steampunk,", following up on Wired's piece. You can go straight to the workshop.

• The Red Witch blog is posting old photos, book jackets, etc., of interest to those following Craft history. (Some photos NSFW.)

&bull Jason Pitzl-Waters discusses new releases in "dark" and Pagan-esque folk music. I am playing some sample cuts right now.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Bog Bodies

I was shelving library books for my college work-study job when I saw it: "The Bog People Glob," the spine announced. After rolling that around in my mouth, "bog people glob bog people glob," I had to check it out.

And so the Danish archaeologist P.V. Glob introduced me to some dead people who were sort of time capsules from the late Neolithic to the Middle Ages.

Northern Path links to a National Geographic article that updates some of those stories. It turns out, for instance, that "Windeby Girl," supposed to have been executed for adultery or some crime, was actually a boy. Oops.

Wikipedia explains the preservation process.

I am waiting for someone who proudly follows a reconstructionist Pagan path to commit their body to a few centuries of tannic acid bath.

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Wednesday, May 30, 2007


¶ Now this is a poorly written headline.

¶ As John Leo would explain in "Thoughts on Good Writing", the headline writer needs to "work to avoid the dead idioms that we all seem to carry in our heads."

¶ Weirdest search string to bring someone here in the past month: "Is the vagina of the pagan priestess a holy place?" (punctuation supplied). Discuss among yourselves. This site was the top search result.

¶ They are using laser analysis on the Book of Kells, and, coincidentally, the Vikings are headed for Ireland.

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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Baca County Beltane

In the photo, the Beltane Sun (astronomical Beltane--May 5) has recently risen. When it appeared on the horizon, it fit right into the little notch in the rock just below its current position--an alignment that happens only on Beltane and Lammas.

The site, on private land, is known to the students of archaeological sites as "the Sun Temple." I went there last weekend with filmmaker Scott Monahan, researcher Phil Leonard, and Martin Brennan, author of several books on Irish megalithic alignments, including The Boyne Valley Vision and The Stones of Time.

Some people prepare for ritual with baths and meditation, but maybe a 150-mile drive into the gradually darkening prairie works as well. A little synchronicity: on the way to La Junta, I heard the NPR report on the Neolithic temple unearthed in Ireland.

We camped at the site. A wall of lightning flickered silently to the north. Some 200 miles to the east, Greensburg, Kan., was being obliterated, but we did not know it. Our part of Colorado, which had been smashed by blizzards last winter, was warm and quiet. A great horned owl and a screech owl called from the cliffs.

Left: Martin Brennan viewing the sunrise.

On of the cliffs, someone centuries ago scraped the rock smooth and pecked a circle a little bigger than a human head. If you sit precariously so that your head is in the circle, then you see the alignment. A couple of alleged ogham inscriptions are nearby.

I am not qualified to judge the ogham, but I know that more and more (although still few) people visit such sites at the appropriate days. They watch as the old drama of sky, Sun, and rock plays out for a few seconds on a quarter or cross-quarter days. Afterwards, I suspect, they feel a little different about their place on this planet and on the southern High Plains.

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Monday, April 30, 2007

What I Will Be Doing for Beltane

Yes, "will be doing." Some people look at the calendar and say that Beltane is this evening and tomorrow. Others celebrated last weekend, according to the "weekend nearest the cross-quarter day" rule. Only by that rule, it comes next weekend.

By the Sun, it falls on Saturday the 5th, as this archaeastronomical Web site will show you.

I plan to visit one of the archaeastronomical sites in southeastern Colorado of which I have written before. This one, the Sun Temple, as the contemporary researchers call it, will be new to me. Something is supposed to happen there on the cross-quarter days. I hope to post photos and/or video links next week.

Meanwhile, you may decide if Beltane and the other cross-quarter and quarter days is

a. Calculated by the solar/astronomical calendar.
b. Calculated by the secular calendar and celebrants' work schedules.
c. A week-long season, so the day does not matter.

If (a) or (b), is it better to celebrate early to get "rising energy" or as close to the actual moment as possible?

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Saturday, March 31, 2007

Martin Brennan at Anubis Caves

Boulder, Colorado, resident Martin Brennan is known for writing visionary books about ancient megalithic monuments, such as The Boyne Valley Vision.

A new video clip shows him discussing the mysterious carvings that appear to be synched to the equinoctial sunset shadows at "Anubis Caves," a site in the Oklahoma Panhandle. You can view them at filmmaker Scott Monahan's site or at the Mythical Ireland site.

The case for a Celtic connection was made by Barry Fell, Gloria Farley, and the late Bill McGlone, particulary in his book Ancient American Inscriptions: Plow Marks or History?

I have discussed this issue before. It truly baffles me. McGlone makes a plausible argument for the transatlantic origin of these symbols and writings, except . . . .

Why here? Why in far western Oklahoma and southeastern Colorado? There were no great trading cities here 2,000 years ago and no gold nuggets lying on the ground. According to conventional archaeology, there were only a few people here, living the simplest hunter-gatherer lives. They were probably similar to the people encountered by the Coronado expedition in the 1540s living along the rivers (little rivers, mostly) of the High Plains and hunting buffalo when they could.

It's a hell of a long way to go for a Druidic vision quest.

Nevertheless, the other more contemporary puzzle is why these alleged Celtic inscriptions are so ignored by contemporary Colorado Pagans, most of whom have never heard of them. If you had Stonehenge only four hours' drive from metro Denver, wouldn't you go there now and then?

UPDATE: While I concentrated on the alleged Celtic presence in the Southern Plains, I should point out that other students of the inscriptions claim a Punic (Phoenician or Libyan) presence also. It is hard to discuss all this without getting into the politics of diffusionism and the turf battles between Old World and New World archaeologists, all beyond the scope of this blog.

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Saturday, March 24, 2007

The National British Pagan Burial Mound

I blogged earlier about how some British Pagans have borrowed the rhetoric of North American tribes, wanting their own version of NAGPRA and control over the remains of prehistoric British people.

Blogger and academic Yvonne Aburrow suggests that such remains, after study, might go into a national burial mound.

It would be wonderful if a keeping place for the ancient British dead could be specially constructed, perhaps in the form of a very large Iron Age roundhouse, or a burial mound, where the dead could be kept in special shrines, with all the details known about them and their lives displayed near them, but still allowing archaeologists access for research.

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Sunday, February 25, 2007

Little boxes, little boxes, little boxes full of Bible people

During the 2002 American Academy of Religion-Society of Biblical Literature annual meeting in Toronto, the Royal Ontario Museum had a well-timed display of the so-called "James ossuary."

It was a 1st-century CE stone box of a type used in the Middle East back then for storage of cleaned and dismembered skeletons of the dead. This one was inscribed, "James the brother of Jesus," and much excitement was felt over that.

Until it turned out to be a fake. The box was real enough, but the inscription was not.

So you have to wonder about these inscriptions that claim to read "Judah son of Jesus," "Mary," and so on.

Now the Discovery Channel is about to unleash a show about a whole stack of ossuaries. Yes, it's the Jesus Family Tomb.

Ah, biblical archaeology. It's rarely dull. The "Lost Tomb of Jesus" indeed. How the Christian bloggers will blog, the preachers will preach, and the dull thumping sound you hear is an archaeologist beating his head against the wall.

(The title is an homage to Malvina Reynolds, whose songs helped me to survive high school.)

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Thursday, February 22, 2007

The eye of power, bwahahaha

I saw this ancient artificial eye discussed sanely in Archaeology magazine, but then there is the "soothsayer or priestess" angle.

Trust The Daily Mail for that.

Archaeologists said the woman was a female soothsayer or priestess and would have transfixed those around her with her eyeball, making them believe she had occult powers and could see into the future.

Take a clue from the ancient priestess and wow 'em at the next psychic fair.


Thursday, February 08, 2007

Pagans Want Some Bones Back

Borrowing the rhetorical tools developed in North America, British Pagans are becoming increasingly vocal on the issue of "ancestral remains."

British pagan groups are increasingly asking for human remains and grave goods from pre-Christian burials to be returned to them as well. The presence of what they see as their ancestors in dusty drawers or under harsh display lights is an affront to their religion. To them, the bones are living beings, whose existence is bound up with their religious descendants and the sacred land.

I am friends with some of the British Pagan academics who have been pushing this issue hard. On the other hand, ask any geneticist: lots of people, most of them not capital-P Pagans, are descended from those ancient ancestors.

So let us admit that these demands are to a large extent a stunt. We are dealing with self-appointed spokespeople here. David at the Cronaca archaeology blog has other comments.

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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Ancient British religion--stranger than we imagined

Were the heads of dead children really a memorial?

In the depths of the cave, there's the first glimpse of the trapped pool of water-- this was the bridge to another world, the high altar of a Bronze Age basilica.

Any BBC Scotland viewers, let me know what you think of the program.

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Friday, December 29, 2006

The explication of Sheela-na-gig

Sheela-na-gig T-shirt from the Twisted Mythology God ShopSheela-na-Gigs by Barbara Freitag, (Routledge, 2004) caught my eye at the AAR-SBL bookshow because it promised a thorough, cross-disciplinary methology, if not the answer to the origin of the puzzling carvings on old Irish and English churches.

You can buy a Sheela-na-Gig T-shirt too.

Author Barbara Freitag, who teaches at Dublin City University, crisscrosses through archaeology, literature, medieval history, and even a little military history while seeking the origin of these crude carving that usually show either a woman spreading her vagina or else squatting to give birth.

Even the etymology is tricky. Though “Sheela” or “Sheila” is an Irish form of “Cecilia,” (a name brought by the Normans), “gig” is a puzzle. It has variously been defined in dictionaries of slang as meaning the female genitals, a “wanton” girl or prostitute, or anything that whirls around. (The third gives us “whirlygig” as well as “jig,” the dance, plus “gigolo,” a paid dancing partner.)

The British West Indies fleet during the time of the American Revolution included a small ship called Shelanagig. Not exclusively Irish, the statues have also been recorded in Scotland, England, and Wales.

And in 18th and early 19th-century Irish folklore, Sheila was the wife of St. Patrick, not to mention one of the names used as personifying the nation of Ireland itself.

Freitag is reluctant to endorse the sweeping Margaret Murray-style “ancient Pagan goddess” interpretation of the statues, but she does conclude that it is possible “to place the Sheela-na-gig in the realm of folk deities in charge of birth.”

In Ireland particularly, she notes that they cease being carved and are even removed from churches during the reformation of manners (led by the now-legitimate Catholic clergy) that begins at the close of the 18th century and continues through the 19th. “Customary folk practices, wake amusements in particular, were curbed, marriage and sexual behavior were restrained and public order was controlled.”

Sheela-na-gigs is readable and interesting for the fun of following someone working out an intellectual puzzle. Freitag also includes photos of a large selection of Sheelas--they do not all look like the T-shirt image, not at all--plus a catalog of all the known such sculptures whether still extant or merely recorded in the past.

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Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Megaliths, archaeology, and the 'stoned age'

In graduate school, I took a couple of classes on Mesoamerican religion taught by Davíd Carrasco, an scholar of such edifices as El templo major in Mexico City.

One thing I came away with was that such structures served often to demonstrate how King Somebody's reign was in sync with the gods, the will of Heaven, or however you want to phrase it.

It made me look at places such as Stonehenge with new ideas. Could it really be not so much an observatory as an expression of Royal Will? (Or several Royal Wills, since it was built over centuries?) Ditto such American sites as Casa Rinconada, the huge kiva at Chaco Canyon. Was it as imperialistic as Hitler's Olympic stadium? Was Stonehenge laid out by a Neolithic Albert Speer?

And let's bury once and for all the idea that megalithic structures told farmers when to plant. Farmers and gardeners do not need giant rock arrangements for that. Every locale has its signs in the natural world. "When the oak leaves are the size of a mouse's ear, it is time to plant warm-weather crops" -- or whatever works for you.

All of this is a prelude to an interesting article about a megalithic site in Brittany that offers unusual opportunities for archaeological work.

In most cases, virtually no artifacts or other evidence of the builders has survived, leaving the field wide open for speculation:

As man emerged from the caves and forests to cultivate open ground, he replicated the old, sacred caves by building cave-like tombs. These were made of groups of stones, covered with soil. At some point, in around 4000 to 3500 BC, mankind emerged further into the light. The pattern of stones within the tombs was expanded and uncovered to form ceremonial stone circles.

What happened inside such enclosures has excited fevered speculation for centuries. Human sacrifice? Elaborate astronomical observations? Sexual and drunken orgies? Ceremonies at the winter and summer solstices to encourage the healthy growth of crops? Professor Burl suggests that, far from being elaborate astronomical observatories, most stone-circles are shaped by local topography. They do often, however, have alignments with summer and winter solstices and the movements of the Moon. Professor Burl's best guess on their purpose is a mixture of propitiation of the crop gods and sexual and alcoholic-psychedelic orgies. There is much archaeological evidence that the late Stone Age was also a stoned aged.

Read the whole thing, quick, before the link expires.(Hat tip: Cronaca.)

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Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Trudging Along with Baskets of Corn

This Denver Post article on carrying corn to Chaco Canyon helps to illuminate the world of Bone Walker and the Gears' other Anasazi novels. (See entry for 28 September 2003.)

NOTE: I do not know how long this link will be good, since the Denver Post does not make its archives available forever. If the link does not work, visit the Post and search the archive for "Chaco."

The more I think about Chaco, the more I wonder if the great kiva of Casa Rinconada was not perhaps the Southwestern equivalent of the Nuremberg stadium, site of the Nazi Party rallies filmed so memorably by Leni Riefenstahl in Triumph of the Will.


Sunday, October 05, 2003

Bone Walker

I have just finished Bone Walker, by the prolific Kathleen O'Neal Gear and W. Michael Gear, last in a series of novels set among the Anasazi people of the Southwest in about the 13th century. It is the third of a series, actually, and in the words of the authors' Web site, "Bone Walker ties all the threads woven in The Visitant and The Summoning God together."

The Gears used to be archaeologists. No doubt they got out of the profession due to its apparent high homicide rate, if we are to believe them, Tony Hillerman, Jake Page, and other writers. I always knew that archaeology was a high contentious and even vicious field; now we see that it is probably the most murderous corner of Academia.

If you read Bone Walker, personal knowledge or a map of Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, is essential.

The interesting thing about the Gears' novels is that they incorporate current archaeological thinking, e.g., how might the cannibalism documented by Arizona State University's Christy Turner have occurred? Was there really religious warfare between followers of the "kachina cult" and other people?

Frankly, I wonder if the religious-warfare angle is not overdrawn. It sounds too much like 16th-century Europe: "Die, Protestant dogs!" I like to think that people who did not have "holy scripture" telling them what to do would be more likely to go to war for the usual reasons--resource control, prestige--and less over dogma or the nature of the gods.

For people who must spend a lot of time outdoors, the Gears do include some oddities. For instance, these Anasazi warriors skulking in Chaco Canyon are always trying to sneak from one town to the next in the "period of darkness between sunset and the rising of the New Moon." Now think about that. One thing about us Pagans--we at least know when the Moon comes up.

And one woman, the beautiful but deceitful Obsidian, she of the perfect full breasts, goes jogging down the Great North Road with the warriors. Did the Anasazi invent the sports bra?

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Monday, July 21, 2003

The Parrot Trainer

I feel as though I've written my guts out today, and then I check and it's only a little more than 2,000 words. My breakfast and lunchtime break reading is Swain Wolfe's The Parrot Trainer, a novel set among Southwestern archaeologists, but definitely not in the Tony Hillerman mode. Wolfe is much more given to "tweaking academic and knee-jerk political correctness," but he knows where the genuine controversies are. And he's read Christy Turner, clearly.

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