Across northern Europe from the Ural Mountains to Ireland, the people erected wooden figures, of them quite large, as the ice age known as the Younger Dryas waned and the people could move into new, now-forested, lands. And they kept on during so until more recent times.
At Twilight Beasts, Rena Maguire writes,
There are stories from the deep past we won’t ever hear with our ears, but that’s not to say we cannot hear them. Archaeology tells those stories, the ones that I think matter. The past I’m talking of is the one wrapped in skins and furs against the spiteful cold of the Younger Dryas. It has wise eyes and a hopeful heart; it knows what sustenance may still grow in snow and biting cold, and knows where the animals go to drink deep in parched summers. That past is carried in each and all of us, we are here because our ancestors survived the ice and cold with wisdom, courage and plain stubbornness. There’s times, however, something is found in bog, field or lake which beckons us to gather round in a circle, sit down, put the phone on silent, and listen to the past intently.
The Shigir wooden idol is one such object. It is an enigmatic wooden figure which, I admit, I could spend days just looking at, and ‘listening’ to, for it must have such a story to tell of the people who made it. It was found in a peat bog (all the best things are, imo) 100km north of Yekaterinburg, Russia, at the end of the 19th century. It stands head and shoulders (literally) above other objects of the past as it would have measured around 5 m when complete, a tower of song, stories and memory set down some 11000 years ago. It is made of larch wood, and decorated with deep zig-zag lines on the torso, with 8 intriguing smaller faces carved as part of the design of the body. All the faces are unique and expressively stern.
Proctor’s Ledge from the Walgreens parking lot, filtered by Dreamscope.
Once there was a dirt road, the “Boston road,” that ran beside a pond on the way out of Salem. (Now it is called Boston Street.) Then there came a railroad, and a shoe factory, and today a Walgreens drugstore with the actual witch execution site in back, next to the drive-up prescription window.
Why did no one know that?
When the last person who remembered the executions of 1692 was gone — and with no one interested in building a memorial to a shameful episode — memory of the site was lost. People knew that they took place “over there” (gesturing to the southwest), and the most notable geographic feature over there became known as Gallows Hill. As Emerson Baker, a history professor at Salem State University puts it,
The executions on Gallows Hill were the climax of one of the most famous events in American history, but the hangings themselves are poorly documented. The precise location and events of the executions have been, until this point, generally lost to history. Tradition has simply placed it broadly on Gallows Hill, which covers many acres of land. In the 17th century Gallows Hill was common land located just outside the boundary of the city of Salem, then defined by a protective palisade (a fortified wall)
With the site identified, Baker said, descendants of the accused witches contacted him from all around the country, offering contributions toward a memorial. But Salem’s mayor, Kimberly Driscoll, stepped forward and said that building the memorial was the city’s responsibility. Here is the city’s news release. (They did accept donations but funded it mostly through a state Community Preservation Act grant.)
The Proctor’s Ledge rock outcropping is in the wedge-shaped parcel between Proctor, Pope, and Boston streets. There are houses on Proctor and Pope, and much of the site is in residents’ back yards. The pink line is the crest of the ledge, roughly, and the blue dot the memorial site. North is at the top.
The memorial on Pope Street. Very simple, with kind of a “Park & Rec” low-maintenance touch. “Hey, George, do we will have some of those granite blocks left over from the XYZ project?”
As for me, I liked the view from the Walgreens better, and I left a little tribute (an antique British shilling) there under a stone.1)If archaeologists ever find it, they might attribute it to a Victorian-era visitor. The contrast between the stark rock outcropping where “witches” died and the tidy Walgreens drive-up lane is just another Salem thing. You cannot easily make them mesh, any more than you can mesh those nineteen people and today’s Pagan Witches. (Well, I can think of one way, and I will try to deal with it later.)
The name “Gallows Hill” is wrong too. For one thing, as Marilynn Roach points out, the sheriff’s and constables’ expense records and requests for reimbursement survive, in minute details. And nowhere is there something like “X shillings for dressed timber and labour for building of ye gallows.”
There are no oaks on Proctor’s Ledge today (mostly locust), but in 1692 apparently there was a big oak tree with sturdy, spreading branches. No cost, just bring a ladder. Hence the sapling oak in the memorial??
Archaeologists crawled all over Proctor’s Ledge and used ground-penetrating radar, but they found nothing: no bones, no remnants of any structure. There had been a report of bodies dumped in crevices in the rocks, but if so, their families or somebody recovered them.
At least 25 individuals were interred within the structure , along with “an extraordinary set of sumptuous grave goods…the most notable of which is an unspecified number of shrouds or clothes made of tens of thousands of perforated beads and decorated with amber beads”. Additionally however, a large number of crystal arrowheads were found together, which be suggestive of a ritual offering at an altar. . . . In the second chamber archaeologists found the body of a young male aged between 17 and 25 lying in the foetal position along with a large set of grave goods. These included an undecorated elephant tusk laid above the young man’s head, a set of 23 flint blades, and numerous ivory objects. Additionally, red pigment made from cinnabar had been sprayed over the body and the objects surrounding it. The “remarkable crystal dagger blade”, however, was not found with these grave goods, but instead in the upper level of this chamber.
• “I realized that if I designed my metal band, it would definitely be a pagan feminist folkcore band, which is a Swedish/Norwegian style of metal music. It’s really ambient and loud even though it’s not using as much electricity-style [sic] instruments. I realized that I didn’t know anything about paganism. I was grabbing onto it because it seemed logical for this brand of metal. Slowly, over the years, I started researching goddesses and figuring out that in paganism there is a lot of mathematics and numerology. That instantly peaked [sic] my curiosity because I like working with numbers.”
Being avante-garde these days is such a lot of work. And you have to learn about runes and electricity and stuff. (Does anyone still say “avante-garde”?)
• “Your eyes appear to have a magical power all of their own”? “You operate at a lower body temperature than the people around you.” You might be descended from Fairies. Yeah, sure, tell it to Krampus.
You want to go full old-time Pagan at the next festival? Rock the full Ötzi, like the original Ice-Ice Man his own self.
It’s said that fashion is cyclical, and that the styles of past decades are inevitably revived for new generations. But for a truly original look, trendsters should dig deeper than the neon spandex tones of the 1980s or the flower child garb of the 1960s. Why not channel the tropes of an even simpler time, beyond the flapper-dressed Jazz Age and into the Copper Age, some 5,300 years ago?
One reconstruction gave him a thick beard (Int. Business Times).
Kennewick Man, the roughly 9,000-year-old skeleton found twenty years in Washington state was the subject of a long court battle between physical anthropologists and archaeologists who wanted to study him and contemporary tribes who wanted to claim him under NAGPRA rules.
Suspiciously, the Corps of Engineers dumped rock and gravel all over the area where his skeleton washed out along the Columbia River, making it impossible to say if he was buried with anyone else.
Some scientists described the skull as “Caucasoid” — which is not the same as “Caucasian” in a racial sense, but which could indicate common ancestry with today’s Polynesians or perhaps the ancient Ainu people of Japan. That did not stop other people from claiming a European origin for him.
The breakthrough in confirming the ancestry of the skeleton after years of research came with DNA testing, which enabled scientists to compare DNA in an ancient finger bone from Kennewick Man with saliva samples from Colville tribal members, where genetic similarities were confirmed.
Part of a spear had remained lodged in Kennewick’s right hip bone at a 77-degree angle, but, remarkably, the spear did not cause his death. The cause of his demise remains a mystery. What is known is that this athletic, rugged hunter suffered many physical traumas before finally expiring in his mid-to-late 30s. [Other estimates put him in his forties—CSC]
Now the skeleton goes to a coalition of local tribes who plan to rebury it near where it was found.
After studying the area and researching prior land surveys, the archaeologists have identified other characteristics that would have made Point Rosee an optimum site for Norse settlers: The southern coastline of the peninsula has relatively few submerged rocks, allowing for anchoring or even beaching ships; the climate and soil in the region is especially well-suited for growing crops; there’s ample fishing on the coast and game animals inland; and there are lots of useful natural resources, such as chert for making stone tools and turf for building housing.
But the clincher is evidence of iron-working, something no indigenous people did.
“We have 130 people, minimum, and five horses. And we’ve only opened 450 square meters. That’s 10% of the find layer, at most, maybe just 3% or 4%,” says Detlef Jantzen, chief archaeologist at MVDHP. “If we excavated the whole area, we might have 750 people. That’s incredible for the Bronze Age.” In what they admit are back-of-the-envelope estimates, he and Terberger argue that if one in five of the battle’s participants was killed and left on the battlefield, that could mean almost 4000 warriors took part in the fighting.
And this comparison to a war that spawned literature we still read today:
As University of Aarhus’s Vandkilde puts it: “It’s an army like the one described in Homeric epics, made up of smaller war bands that gathered to sack Troy”—an event thought to have happened fewer than 100 years later, in 1184 B.C.E. That suggests an unexpectedly widespread social organization, Jantzen says. “To organize a battle like this over tremendous distances and gather all these people in one place was a tremendous accomplishment,” he says.
It’s my literary imagination at work — someone must have sung those dead warriors, maybe in a long elegiac poem like Y Gododdin — but in what language? And to what ends?
The Sun Dagger at Chaco Canyon — an Ancestral Puebloan (Anasazi) residential/ritual/governmental (?) complex in northeastern New Mexco that flourished during what where the early Middle Ages in Europe — is well-known among archaeoastronomers, as is the possible solar alignment built into one of the grand kivas nearby at Casa Rinconada.
“The historical accuracy of the alignment may be less important than its symbolic value, especially for those who flock to the site on the summer solstice.
“Casa Rinconada has become a place where people come to see an alignment. In our culture, we haven’t been taught to relate to the natural rhythm of what the sun and the earth are doing throughout the year. So here’s a place where you can come and see that—not a representation of a solstice, but the actual solstice, as mediated by a building. It’s a wonderful experience.”
So perhaps we look at all astronomical alignments in whatever country as wonderful examples of nature religion. Casa Rinconada attracted a crowd during the Harmonic Convergence of 1987, when various New Age thinkers, led by José Argüelles, promoted prophecies connected to a planetary alignment: “The convergence is purported to have ‘corresponded with a great shift in the earth’s energy from warlike to peaceful.'”1)No doubt you have noticed how much more peaceful the world is.
The New Age event was spoofed at a Pagan festival in New Mexico that summer by a dance performance of the “Harmonica Vigins.”
My view on astronomical alignments was being warped in the 1980s by seminars with Davíd Carrasco, a scholar of Mesoamerican religion who has spent a lot of time working with temple alignments and associated mythology.
My take-away was that astronomical alignments are mostly about priestcraft and power. Farmers don’t need rows of giant stones to tell them when to plant. Every locale has its indicators: here in the southern Colorado foothills, when the emerging leaves of Gambel oak are thumbnail-size,2)“As big as a mouse’s ear,” some people like to say, because it sounds more folkloric. the chance of a frost is usually past. (Usually!) And I know that the sun sets in a notch on the ridge to the west at the equinoxes, for what that is worth.
Being able to proclaim the cycles from the temple steps is probably more about showing how “King Jaguar” enjoys of the favor of the gods than anything else.