Scottish Academic: Runes are Hate Symbols, also Anti-Celtic

A free download from the journal Temenos: “Pagans, Nazis, Gaels, and the Algiz Rune: Addressing Questions of Historical Inaccuracy, Cultural Appropriation, and the Arguable Use of Hate Symbols at the Festivals of Edinburgh’s Beltane Fire Society”

The abstract:

Although Beltaners – members of Edinburgh’s Beltane Fire Society (BFS) – can trace the immediate origins of their society’s festivals to the collaborative efforts of anarchist performance artists and folklorists reacting against the Thatcherite government policies of the late 1980s, the ritual celebrations they routinely re-enact in the present ultimately derive from much older traditions associated with Scotland’s highly minoritised Gaelic-speaking population, a cohort to which few modern Beltaners belong. Performers at today’s festivals often incorporate runes into their regalia – a practice which does not reflect Gaelic tradition, but which is not unknown among ideologues of the far right. This paper interrogates rune use at BFS festivals, asking whether the employment of Germanic cultural elements in Celtic festivals by non-Celtic-speakers represents a distortion of history and debasement of an embattled ethnic minority, and whether it is ethically acceptable for an explicitly anti-racist organisation to share a symbolic repertoire with representatives of known hate groups.

Based on data derived from fieldwork consisting chiefly of participant observation and on the consultation of relevant academic literature, this paper evaluates the potentially problematic nature of BFS ritual performers’ rune use and related behaviours by analysing the intentions that underlie their actions, the consequences that have resulted from them, and the historical interaction of runes, ethnonationalism, and the occult that has shaped perceptions of runic meaning among those who use runes in modern times.

The runes may be part of your spiritual practice, or maybe you enjoy their literary history, but watch out: Adam Dahmer thinks that they are “problematic.”

Teach the Kids to Build a Henge

Cartoon version of Neolithic farmers in Scotland

Meet the Neolithic Family.

The paleontological/archaeological team at Twilight Beasts reviews The First Foresters: Explore the Neolithic in Scotland’s native woodlands, by Kim Biddulph and Matt Ritchie.

This little book contains a potent emphasis on environmental awareness, incorporated with attention to structures and material culture, such as timber circles and cursus monuments of the Neolithic, as well as polished stone axe heads, before challenging the participant to enter into a Neolithic mind-set – and asks is that even possible in the modern world? That’s surprisingly deep question that most adult experimental archaeologists will sigh, shrug and smile wryly at. Not a bad idea to make kids realise that we cannot ever step in the same river twice! My personal favourite activity is the construction of a wooden circle in class. I remain slightly relieved that my own daughter is not an age where this would have caught the imagination too far, and I’d have woken up surrounded by a ritual mound of books and shoes… though you never do know! It’s an activity I could see being incredibly useful , with a few more analytical tweaks, to the average First Year undergraduate archaeology student.

Best of all, it is a free download (PDF 4.7 MB)

Add some experiential learning involving stone tools, and you are all set.

Not Everyone in Salem was a Puritan

Just a post-postscript to my earlier series of posts about witchcraft and Salem, Mass.

We tend to phrase the story of the 1690s as Puritans hunting “witches,” and it is true that members of the Puritan churches set the moral tone in most of New England.

Skull of a Scot killed in the battle of Dunbar. He was young, yet his teeth showed wear from smoking a clay pipe (the circled area). (Jeff Veitch, Archaeology magazine.)

But they were not the only colonists. Most came in the “great migration” of the 1620s–1640s, and most were middle-class people or skilled artisans.

And there were lots of indentured servants. Some of the “bewitched” girls fit that category.

Indentured servitude was sort of like slavery with a time limit — after a contracted period of time, say five or more years — the servants were to be given their freedom and a small bonus of money, a set of clothing, or something. In the meantime, they could be bought and sold.

Some came voluntarily. Others were prisoners of war, and some were vagrants, orphans, and street kids rounded up in English ports. One ancestor of mine shows on a ship’s passenger list as an unaccompanied 12-year-old boy, so he probably was already someone’s servant or else the ship’s captain planned to sell him on arrival.

During the Salem witch trials, therefore, there were a significant number of Scots ex-indentured servants in Massachusetts, former POWs (mostly teenagers) from Oliver Cromwell’s campaign against his former Scottish allies during the English Civil War, who were treated terribly after their side lost the battle of Dunbar.

I learned of them when reading about the discovery of a mass grave in English city of Durham, dating to 1650. Now there’s a plaque.

Oliver Cromwell, the Lord Protector, was a real piece of work. He probably had more blood on his hands than did any actual English king.

Scottish POWs were sold (there is no other word for it) in New England, where a Puritan minister commented, “The Scots, whom God delivered into [Cromwell’s] hands at Dunbarre, and whereof sundry were sent hither, we have been desirous (as we could) to make their yoke easy. Such as were sick of scurvy or other diseases have not wanted physick and chyrurgery. They have not been sold for slaves to perpetual servitude, but for 6 or 7 or 8 yeares, as we do our owne [indentured servants] .”

Some lived and prospered, however, becoming respectable citizens, which was the difference between indentured servitude and what Cotton calls “perpetual servitude.”

Church history: the Puritans of the 17th century became the Congregational Church in America, which later helped to form the socially liberal (quite a switch) United Church of Christ—which, is however, declining in membership year by year, as are the other liberal “mainline” Protestant denominations.

“A Completely Alien Society”: The Making of “The Wicker Man”

The Wicker Man, made in 1973 and starring Christopher Lee as Lord Summerisle, Edward Woodward as Sergeant Howie of the West Highland Police, and Britt Ekland as Willow, the Aphrodite Pandemos of Summerisle, is remembered simultaneously as “the best British horror film ever” and one of the favorite movies of the Pagan revival during the 1970s, 1980s, and beyond.

Pagans for the most part emphatically do not view it as  horror film, although some avert their eyes or explain away the last few minutes. Instead, they see Summerisle, the fictional Scottish island setting, not as a “a completely alien society” but as a place where they would very much like to live — or at least go on holiday.

In 1998, to mark its twenty-fifth anniversary, BBC Scotland produced The Wicker Man Enigma,  this half-hour documentary about The Wicker Man’s making and, equally important, its mysterious post-editing existence. Some of the cast were re-interviewed: Lee reads dialogue that was cut from the final version, while Edward Woodward revisits the Scottish hotel where key scenes were filmed, socializing with some of the locals who were extras there in the “Green Man” pub.

Various trivia are examined, such as whether Britt Ekland actually had two nude body doubles rather than one, or whether a complete negative still exists, and how The Wicker Man inverts a common trope of horror films, in which sex leads to death — think of Dracula or any number of “dead teenager” movies.

Magic in Philadelphia, Worshiping Game Characters, and a Holy Mountain in Scotland

exhibitions_magic1

Photo: Penn Museum

• If you live in or near Philadelphia, visit the U. of Pennsylvania museum for “Magic in the Anciet World,” an exhibit that “explores some of the magical objects, words, and rituals used in ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece, and Rome.”

• When a Chinese grandmother left an offering at a statue of a video-game character, social media there lit up. But was she merely carrying on tradition?

• “Last temple of the Celts” might be overstating the matter just a little, but it’s an interesting article about a holy mountain in Scotland.

Odds and Ends: Runic Duct Tape, Ebola, Etsy

• Real Heathens fix stuff with runic duct tape. Or “sticky tape,” direct from Orkney to you.

To save you checking your Futhark, it says “Orkney Orkney Orkney.” I have the matching mug.

• Was the famous plague of 432 BCE in Athens an early outbreak of Ebola?

The Athenian disease began south of Egypt in a region Thucydides called “Aethiopia,” a term that ancient Greeks used to refer to regions in sub-Saharan Africa, where modern Ebola outbreaks have occurred.

Read the rest at Live Science.

• Etsy follows eBay in forbidding the sale of spell kits and the like. (What about rosaries?) I heard a brief slow-pitch interview with founder Etsy Rob Kalin this morning on NPR’s Morning Edition. (NPR loves Etsy — just do a site search.) Kalin walzed around the issue of Etsy allowing factory-made items — apparently OK if it is small factory — and the interviewer did not mention magic.

Burning Alex Salmond

The neighborhood celebration of Guy Fawkes/Bonfire Night happened last night, three nights past the canonical date, but we are southern Coloradans, not necessarily up to date.

scotland and colorado

Flags of Scotland and Colorado, united in a garage devoted to beer, auto restoration . . . and table tennis.

The hostess is emphatically Scottish. Although she has lived here more than twenty years, raised two kids, and stayed employed, she retains her British citizenship—and when the 18th of September rolled around—the Scottish referendum on independence — you could count her in the “No” camp.

alex salmond for burning

On his pocked, “45%,” the vote percentage gained by the pro-independence side.

I wasn’t too surprised then that this year’s “guy” was an effigy of Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond. It’s not always a political thing, although one night a local landowner almost got his turn on the fire.

As usual, the daughter of the house carved a Guy Fawkes-themed jack o’ l2014 guy fawkes pumpkinantern.

I may live in a community (not a statutory town) of about six hundred, but even we have our moments of globalization.

On the other hand — and my hosts were well aware of this — had we burnt Salmond in the UK, it would have been a matter for “police concern.” In  the Sussex town of Lewes, an interesting substitution was made.

BBC: Our Ancestors Were Stupid

Here is the Beeb with a story about an ancient monument in Scotland:

“Excavations of a field at Crathes Castle found a series of 12 pits which appear to mimic the phases of the moon and track lunar months.”

Then they trot out that stale old idea that ancient people needed to build giant monuments to tell themselves what time of year it was:

The pit alignment also aligns on the Midwinter sunrise to provided the hunter-gatherers with an annual “astronomic correction” in order to better follow the passage of time and changing seasons.

And these, mind you, were hunter-gathers, not agriculturalists — not that any farmers need a calendar to tell them when to plant. Every traditional farming culture has its signs: “When the leaves of such-and-such tree are big as a mouse’s ear, plant such-and-such a crop.”

And hunters? They watch the animals and factors affecting animals. “It’s snowing hard. The elk will be moving down off the mountain.”

And gatherers? They watch the plants. “It’s rained for the last week. Let’s go check our mushroom-gathering area — they might be coming up.” I plan to do that tomorrow, in fact.

You don’t need twelve posts in a circle to tell you when it is time.  Even today, would you need a calendar to tell you when it was spring? Changes in vegetation, bird migrations, and other natural signs are quite enough.

Astronomically aligned structures are meaningful, but sometimes we do not know why. But many instances, ancient Tenochtilan, for example, aligned grand buildings  showed that the rulers enjoyed the favor of heaven/the gods. Likewise in imperial China and in the Middle East.

Possibly these twelve posts in a meadow were erected on the orders of some Paleolithic “Big Man” whose ideas about the “formal construction of time” were connected to his sense of self-importance. That makes as much sense as allegedly telling people when it was time to hunt and gather.

Puppy Mills for the Gods

When I read an article like “Millions of Mummy Puppies Revealed at Egyptian Catacombs,” I realize how little we know about what was really going on with popular religion there centuries ago.

It’s one thing to study the tombs of high-ranking individuals. We still put high-ranking individuals in fancy tombs, and we make pilgrimages to them. I have stood teary-eyed just contemplating the tomb of Thomas Jefferson, for example.

But puppy mills for the gods?

They estimate the catacombs contain the remains of 8 million animals. Given the sheer numbers of animals, it is likely they were bred by the thousands in puppy farms around the ancient Egyptian capital of Memphis, according to the researchers. The Dog Catacombs are located at Saqqara, the burial ground for the ancient capital Memphis.

“Our findings indicate a rather different view of the relationship between people and the animals they worshipped than that normally associated with the ancient Egyptians, since many animals were killed and mummified when only a matter of hours or days old,” Nicholson said. “These animals were not strictly ‘sacrificial.’ Rather, the dedication of an animal mummy was regarded as a pious act, with the animal acting as intermediary between the donor and the gods.”

If that is not sacrifice — what is? Giving something to get something is part of what sacrifice is about, isn’t it?

Ancient Egyptian religion has this bureaucratic feeling to it—all of those catacombs and holes like post office boxes full of dead things. They even mummified cuts of meat for tomb offerings (go through the photo sequence). I wonder if about 80 percent of the country’s linen production went into wrapping up bodies to be put away.

(Meanwhile, in ancient Scotland, they were doing funny things with skeletons.)