Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Ancient Druids -- part two

Certosa situla, bronze, 5th cent. BC
Archaeological Museum, Bologna
You can read an awful lot of archaeological writing without encountering the word "syncretism", yet when you start to look at the subject from an archaeological viewpoint, all sorts of answers become available and you start wondering why no one has spotted them before. The subject is not without its traps and pitfalls, however. I can offer no no easy solution to avoid these problems, but there are a few common tendencies in the way that cultural and historical details can become conflated.

Most archaeologists are materialists, but they do not know it.  In common usage, a materialist is the person who is always buying stuff -- someone who seems to live for luxury and possessions. Tell an archaeology student that he or she is a materialist and just watch what happens. Philosophically, though, materialism is "the doctrine that nothing exists except matter and its movements and modifications". Those whose personalities lead them in such a direction are most often Jungian extraverts and will virtually never use the phrase "psychic agency". They will frequently talk of trade as an agency of movement, or, if they are observant enough to see that this reason just does not hold up at all from the evidence that they have examined, they will say how it is not due to trade. As popular (mis)understanding of the materialist viewpoint is a conscious phenomenon, we can expect that the unconscious is going to attempt to counteract it, and this is going to manifest itself with neuroses to a greater or lesser degree. Such neuroses, if they become extreme enough, will start to take over the personality and prevent the victim from realizing their original potential.

Long ago, I was recataloging an important, specialist, private collection of Greek coins. It was about three time larger than the British Museum's holdings of similar material but only one series of its coins had been published. It had been collected by a professor of Classics and after his death had been inherited by his son who had decided to sell it. The collection was purchased by a retired archaeology professor who either thought, or was convinced to think, that it should be published in full. He had an arrangement with a museum to work on the collection and that it should be a temporary exhibit before the work began. I was called in to study the material and write it all up for publication. I met the archaeology professor at the museum gallery where the coins were displayed and mentioned to him that I was a collector. "Tch, tch, tch!" he said, wagging his finger at me. "Oh no", I thought, "One of them". I soon realized why a lot of the collection had not been published: a couple of the cities represented presented quite a few problems, and while I was able to die link quite a lot of issues, the actual order of these issues were more difficult to establish. The intellectual problem was not the the only trouble -- the museum really did not want to pay for much photography and appeared not to understand that die-linking is not going to be accepted as correct without photographic proof. As everything was taking longer, and as I had to earn money elsewhere (there was no grant offered), I could only work in it on a part time basis. Finally, the project was dropped and the reason just about floored me:
the finger wagging archaeology professor wanted to quickly break up the collection and sell it piece-meal at auction, hoping for a large profit by doing so. It would seem that a neurosis can manifest itself as hypocrisy. Two parts of his mind were fighting it out for dominance. The collection was never published and was split up.

Yesterday, I gave a couple of examples of syncretism whereby Dionysian beliefs came into an active relationship with other beliefs. The example of the changes to the Passover Sacrifice was an example of "negative syncretism". The great middle-eastern religions of today are beliefs based more on Logos  than Mythos. Imagine the two terms as poles where the Logos end is also characterized as "law", materialism, and extraversion, and the Mythos end is "free will", psyche, and introversion. Both individuals, and collectively, societies will fall somewhere on this spectrum. It would seem healthiest of all to be somewhere in the middle and this is where we see progress. If one end is expressed far too strongly, the neuroses become psychoses. The Gundestrup cauldron is an expression of the middle ground whereby Celtic and Dionysian beliefs have started to become syncretized.

Coin of Ariminum, Umbria, Italy
ca. 268-225 BC, showing Celtic warrior.
The coin from Ariminum, Umbria, to the left, shows potential influence from the warriors depicted on the situla above, and even the shield shape is very similar. Adding weight to the connection is the fact that both are from the same part of the world and that the time difference is not too extreme. I sometimes hear claims that some aspect of Celtic mythology has its origins in ancient Indian religious texts -- the problem, there, is that both distance and time differences are far too extreme to presume any  physical connection. Instead, we probably should be thinking more about psychological factors and the similarities between certain types of stimuli. Jung faced criticism about his mandela imagery in the unconscious because of such physical factors whereby the similarities between the inward- looking eastern religious practices (Mythos) were interpreted through a psyche too heavily influenced by physical (Logos) considerations.

The "procession plate" of the Gundestrup cauldron
The "procession plate" of the Gundestrup cauldron also shares some similarities with the above situla design in its line of warriors with shields and spears and its arrangement in registers. Yet, it is also filtered through the eyes of a Thracian native style artisan and combines both Dionysian and Celtic imagery. It seems not to have been considered that Thracian artists were about as mobile as any human being, and that northern Italy (especially under Etruscan patronage) was a Mecca  for artisans from various parts of the Mediterranean -- even as far east as the border of the Persian Empire. I see much Italian influence in how things are depicted on the cauldron and one of these influences is to be seen on this very plate with the shape of the situla in which the figure is being immersed (or extracted from). The shape of the situla is late Classical and can be compared to the situla in Boston by the Varrese Painter The overall iconography and various historical factors are enough for me to give a confident date estimate for the cauldron of 272-195 BC, with a terminus post quem of 280 BC. (Hooker, forthcoming).

David Rankin, in Celts and the Classical World, 1987, says "There seems to be a pale shadow of evidence in Diogenes Laertius (1.1) that Aristotle [384-322 BC] or some Peripatetic follower of his" spoke of the Druids -- given as an example in the text about philosophy having its origins "among the barbarians". So it is possible that Druids were first mentioned by history in the fourth century BC. This brings into question Caesar's statement (VI, 13):
"It is thought that the druidic system was invented in Britain and then imported into Gaul. There it is that those wishing to make a more detailed study of it generally go to learn."
I think it possible that Caesar was suffering from the effects of cultural lag, and that while druidism had started to decline, somewhat, in Gaul in his time, it held a greater sway in Britain. Caesar's troops faced Celtic chariots in Britain, but not in Gaul where they had long been replaced by regular cavalry. Seeing anything 'behind the times" in one one location can easily give the impression that it is native to that area. It is reasonable to think that Gauls might have gone to Britain to study a "purer form" of druidism than existed in Gaul at the time.

More about syncretism tomorrow.

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