Stonehenge may be the most famous example, but tens of thousands of other ancient sites featuring massive, curiously arranged rocks dot Europe. A new study suggests these megaliths weren’t created independently but instead can be traced back to a single hunter-gatherer culture that started nearly 7000 years ago in what is today the Brittany region of northwestern France. The findings also indicate societies at the time were better boaters than typically believed, spreading their culture by sea.
The seafaring part is interesting. Since those people evidently did not do boat burials (on land), we have no idea what kind of vessels they had, but they had something.
This post started because I had the medieval Catalan song to the Blessed Virgin Mary, “Los Set Gotx” [The seven joys] stuck in my head. The tune requires someone who can sing in that high Mediterranean wail,1)A sound that seems to connect all the way from Portuguese fado to Greek rebitiko — why is that? but we less-good singers can join on the refrain: “Ave Maria gracia plena Dominus tecum Virgo serena” [Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee, serene Virgin].
It is on my very short list of tunes “that I could die while going forward with that song on my lips.”
Ever since I consciously turned Pagan at the age of 21, I have accepted her as a goddess—not the one that I give the most attention to, but a goddess nevertheless. If we follow an interpretatioromana, which was pretty common in the ancient world generally, not just with the Romans, then perhaps we could say that Mary is another name for Isis.3)The name may in fact have an Egyptian origin. The polytheism of those days not was adamantine “hard.”
Another way might be to say a person “carried,” incarnated, or for some time embodied a deity, while after death becoming sort of fused with that deity. Consider how people see the rock star Jim Morrison (1943–1971) as having incarnated or carried the god Dionysus.
Yet another, related to the idea of apotheosis and favored by some magic workers, is the “savings bank” notion of divinity; in other words, if you put enough energy into a “container” over time, you can make a deity.
While she always received some honor from Christians, in the West a switch was thrown, so to speak, in the early Middle Ages. A body of theology grew up around her, she was more celebrated in the liturgical year, and cathedrals were dedicated to her. I think that to many Catholics she became more important than God the Father, Son, or Holy Ghost. She certainly received many “deposits” of devotional energy over the past two thousand years.
I had this blog post cooking on a back burner in my mind, and then came the fire at Notre Dame cathedral. I see that the Wild Hunt posted its predictable “Pagans respond to . . . ” article yesterday.7)I do not disagree with Jason Mankey, Byron Ballard, John Beckett, and anyone else quoted. I would like go a little farther though. (Like anyone else cares what we think.)
ROCK ON Huge stone structures found throughout Europe spread out in three waves starting as early as 6,800 years ago, a new study finds. This stone grave on Sardinia in Italy dates to around 5,000 years ago.(Credit: Sciencenews.org).
I read this article, and all I could think about was the potential for historical-fantasy novels on the line of Jean Auel or Michael and Kathleen Gear: The Megalith Mission. Or something like that!
The earliest megaliths were built in what’s now northwestern France as early as around 6,800 years ago, says archaeologist Bettina Schulz Paulsson of the University of Gothenburg in Sweden. Knowledge of these stone constructions then spread by sea to societies along Europe’s Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts, she contends in a study posted online the week of February 11 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“European megaliths were products of mobile, long-distance sea travelers,” Schulz Paulsson says.
Around 35,000 megalithic graves, standing stones, stone circles and stone buildings or temples still exist, many located near coastlines. Radiocarbon dating has suggested that these structures were built between roughly 6,500 and 4,500 years ago.
Scholars a century ago thought that megaliths originated in the Near East or the Mediterranean area and spread elsewhere via sea trading or land migrations by believers in a megalithic religion. But as absolute dates for archaeological sites began to emerge in the 1970s, several researchers argued that megaliths emerged independently among a handful of European farming communities.
In the novel, a transport aircraft carrying some of the pathfinders goes astray (as some did) causing one Private Michael Horsett to land far off-target. Horsett is taken in by a group of French Thelemite magicians — all female.
Complications ensue. The Thelemites have their own agenda. Local Resistance fighters have another agenda. Private Horsett, new to war, wants to prove himself as a soldier. And there is a Tarot puzzle built into the text. It is not easy to combine occultism with a thriller plot, but Richardson pulls it off.1)Military historians may note some oddities. For example, Wehrmacht helmets (as with other armies) came in only one size, with the adjustment in the harness.
• “Animism at the Dinner Table.” From Sarah Lawless’ blog — really, this is the basic basic level of a Pagan life. It is more important than pantheons, Lore, texts, dressing up like the ancestors and all the stuff that people get worked up about.
What if we didn’t strive to be like the ancients, whose true ways are long lost and whose skills are beyond many of us at this time, but instead decided to bring the philosophy of animism to the dinner table? What would it look like? To be honest, it would look foolish to an outsider as it would involve talking to plants and animals, talking to our food sources, as if they were sentient and could understand us. Most of the old prayers collected as folklore weren’t really prayers at all, they were people talking to plants and to wild spirits.
A rapidly increasing stream of New Age believers – or esoterics, as locals call them – have descended in their camper van-loads on the usually picturesque and tranquil Pyrenean village of Bugarach. They believe that when apocalypse strikes on 21 December this year, the aliens waiting in their spacecraft inside Pic de Bugarach will save all the humans near by and beam them off to the next age.
Of course, no one actually interviews any of them. That would require work, and this is just one Oliver Pickup of The Independent free-associating at his keyboard.
For decades, there has been a belief that Pic de Bugarach, which, at 1,230 metres, is the highest in the Corbières mountain range, possesses an eery power. Often called the “upside-down mountain” – geologists think that it exploded after its formation and the top landed the wrong way up – it is thought to have inspired Jules Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth and Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Since the 1960s, it has attracted New Agers, who insist that it emits special magnetic waves.
As the British archaeologist Stuart Piggott pointed out back in the 1960s, there are no texts written about Druids by Druids. The sum of what ancient writers of the Greco-Roman world wrote would fill a few typed sheets—and many of those writers never saw a Druid.
Miranda Aldhouse-Green’s approach, however, is to look at the archaeological evidence, chiefly from Britain and France, and then reason like this: If the archaeology shows elaborate grave construction, or evidence of repeated sacrifices (including human) at a special site, or temple construction, or burials of certain high-status individuals who were not necessarily kings or queens, then that level of religious complexity implies that there were religious specialists to administer it.
And if we try to describe those religious specialists—using primarily Caesar’s writings and those of Tacitus, but also other writers who actually met Druids or their descendants in Gallo-Roman society—then we can probably assume that they were the Druids. She writes,
In order to make any sense of the Druids as a powerful class of religious leads we can examine contemporary material culture for, if they did exist in Caesar’s day, the Druids would have operated within a context of regalia, ritual equipment, sacrifice, and sacred places (xvi).
Much of the book, therefore, discusses ancient sacred sites, excavated burials, artifacts, etc., leading to open-ended questions on the line of “Do these artifacts mark this as the grave of a Druid?”
Generally these seem to be reasonable inferences, although even if one could be sure that it was the grave of a Druid, for example, that still says nothing about what that Druid thought, believed, or did. So often the texts that claim to answer those questions come from a writer who lived at the other end of the Mediterranean Sea from the nearest Druid.
Nevertheless, it is a thought-provoking book. I had not realized the extent of the archaeological evidence that could be brought out and associated at least hypothetically with the Druids.
Her evidence of religious practice in the space between Roman and Gallic or British ways is most fascinating, for it would suggest perhaps that “Druidism” changed and evolved when in contact with the Roman world and Roman religion. (Despite what happened on Anglesey [Mona] in 60 CE, not all Druids were ever killed.)
I wanted to look for some material on agriculture—the adoption of the three-field system, wheeled plows, etc.—but I was sucked into a chapter entitled, “Strong Rulers—Weak Economy? Rome, the Carolingians and the Archaeology of Slavery in the First Millennium AD” by a German scholar, Joachim Henning.
Here are two figures that I have lifted from his work:
As I used to tell my students when we talked about American religion and slavery, the Roman empire back in Jesus’ time ran on slavery the way that our civilization runs on petroleum. (And Jesus had nothing to say about it.)
Slavery requires chains and shackles, lest the slaves wander away. Figure 2.1 is a map of archaeological sites (farms, villas, plantations) containing shackles.
The second figure graphs shackle finds over time in Gaul (France, roughly). They rise during the Roman times, then plunge during the Merovingian dynasty, during the so-called Dark Ages.
But then shackle finds—and hence presumably slavery—rise during the Carologian dynasty. Its founder, Charles Martel (ca. 688-741), stopped the Islamic expansion into Europe. His grandson Charlemagne (Charles the Great) is a huge figure in medieval western European history, but his actions included the slaughter of more than 4,000 Saxons who resisted conversion to Christianity.
There was a European slave trade in Pagan, polytheistic Roman times—and it continued into Christian times, up through the 1400s, at least—and then it was time for Columbus!