Thursday, 31 July 2014

The La Tène religion of the Celtic elite ― part 17: Syncretism as a peak experience

Fragonard, Inspiration (self portrait)

"...the healthily Apollonian (which means integrated with the healthily Dionysian) can become pathologized into an extreme, exaggerated, and dichotomized compulsive-obsessional sickness. But also the healthily Dionysian (which means integrated with the healthily Apollonian) can become pathologized at its extreme into hysteria with all its symptoms."
Abraham Maslow,  Religions, Values, and Peak Experiences, preface.

It has been many years since I read the Maslow work quoted above, and I no longer have it in my library. There have been a couple of times that I have had to downsize my library and I think it vanished as a result of the first. This morning, I was checking to see if it was now in ebook format, and I was surprised to find a free PDF version that does not even require any sort of membership.
I don't really like the Apollonian/Dionysian dichotomy ― as Maslow says in the above quote, each can be pathologized and I think that the entire concept can be better understood and built upon by using, instead, the spectrum I propose of Mythos to Logos. As both Apollo and Dionysos are mythological elements, we could run into all manner of difficulties when building upon the concept. Maslow, too, did not like the dichotomising of Apollo and Dionysos, so what he had to say about it was thus provisional to his viewpoint. Mythos to Logos could then easily incorporate the very materialist extravert who does not tolerate the mythic in any form. Such a person is also expressed in Chapter I:
"It is almost universally true for the positivistic psychologists, the behaviorists, the neo-behaviorists, and the ultra-experimentalists, all of whom feel values and the life of value to be none of their professional concern, and who casually renounce all consideration of poetry and art and of any of the religious or transcendent experiences. Indeed, the pure positivist rejects any inner experiences of any kind as being "unscientific," as not in the realm of human knowledge, as not susceptible of study by a scientific method, because such data are not objective, that is to say, public and shared. This is a kind of "reduction to the concrete," to the tangible, the visible, the audible, to that which can be recorded by a machine, to behavior"
Even within the religious spectrum, alone, such dichotomising also occurs as he reveals in Chapter III:
"If you look closely at the internal history of most of the world religions, you will find that each one very soon tends to divide into a left-wing and a right-wing, that is, into the peakers, the mystics, the transcenders, or the privately religious people, on the one hand, and, on the other, into those who concretize the religious symbols and metaphors, who worship little pieces of wood rather than what the objects stand for, those who take verbal formulas literally, forgetting the original meaning of these words, and, perhaps most important, those who take the organization, the church, as primary and as more important than the prophet and his original revelations. These men, like many organization men who tend to rise to the top in any complex bureaucracy, tend to be non-peakers rather than peakers."
What is true for religions, here, can also be extended to archaeology, and we might wonder if it might be said that archaeology is dead in the same sense that Nietzsche said "God is dead".  I found it interesting that Maslow's views were influenced by his visit to the Blackfoot Confederacy Reserve at Siksika here in Alberta. In response, mainly, to archaeologists who criticized the Indian's claim: "We have always been here", I thought that I should write something about the different worldview expressed by "We" in that statement, because it does not just refer to the identity of people whether genetically, culturally, or nationalistically expressed. It also included their environment: the mountains, hills, plains, forests, and all of the animals and plants therein. Thus, their claim was true by their own worldview. So I wrote Prehistoric Religions -- Interpretation and MetaphorWorthing Archaeological Society Journal, Vol. 3 No. 4, Autumn 2004. In it, I gave a personal experience about an encounter with a member (Blood) of the Blackfoot Confederacy:
"I remember one such incident when Willy Big Bull, a Blood Indian, came to town with his latest paintings. He had achieved a decent living as an artist and his paintings blended western styles with native iconography. He exhibited at a gallery owned by my friend Marion. He was always well dressed, in a western casual manner: His only obvious connection to his culture from his appearance was his long braids. We talked as we looked at his latest paintings and he mentioned that his daughter had come down with the flu.  Marion suggested that he bring her up to town and that her own doctor, she was sure, would be able to see the girl. He politely refused. We tried to talk him into it but he still kept politely refusing. After a while, seeing that neither Marion nor I were backing down and were alarmed about the welfare of his daughter, he said "my wife is taking her to the old woman". We both backed off at that point! Even though he was among friends, he did not want to admit the strength of his connection to his own culture.
"While we were not told about this visit "to the old woman" would entail, and perhaps even Willy was not entirely sure, we might imagine that a combination of ritual and native herbal medicines would have been used. In this effort to understand what would have happened, I have already filtered the event through my own cultural background: by separating the concepts of herbal medicine and ritual. I have assigned two methods. In the mind of that old woman this separation likely did not take place. She would simply "cure" the young girl."
The Celts who first noticed the strong connections between the beliefs of the indigenous people whom they encountered had experienced peak experiences, and these gave birth to a new artistic style that we now call La Tène. We can imagine that those same people who were either the Druids, themselves, or their forerunners were decidedly closer to the Mythos on the spectrum than the Logos. The New Archaeology of the seventies was more scientistic than scientific, at least in its popular expression. Whenever the word "ritual" appeared in the reports of such archaeologists, it was nothing more than a "black box". Many such archaeologist were atheists as it reflected  their own worldview that the New Archaeology seemed to support. It is reflected, today, within die-hard survivors of  that archaeological theory, in their criticisms of postmodernism. Thus any archaeologist holding such a viewpoint would be seen by the Indians they might study as not understanding their people at all. It is no wonder that the Gundestrup iconography is so poorly described and understood by many archaeologists who have little good to say about art-history, mythology and psychology. Perhaps archaeology is dead. In today's complex world, mere details about a culture's material life does not provide the answers that people need. People want to know about what ancient people thought, believed and felt. The very things most avoided by the materialist extravert who mostly sit in positions of power in archaeological societies.

But here's the rub: just as the Logos leanings of professional societies and organizations such as UNESCO attract such people, so too, the Logos leaning of Celtic statehood attracted similarly extraverted materialists from among the Druid class. Thus the La Tène religion also started to move further away from the Mythos of the early "peakers".

Tomorrow, "Hacking the Druid code".

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

The La Tène religion of the Celtic elite ― part 16: Wheel-turners and unicyclists

There is a single mysterious motif in this Gundestrup cauldron plate and that is the identity of the animals at the top: the motif might represent a canine or a feline. It might be intended to be a Celtic kerberos or it might be an Etruscan panther. Perhaps it is Dionysos in one of his animal forms. It might even be something of which we have no knowledge at all. The rest of the scene will give us less trouble.

The central half-figure is of a composition seen on the small plates of the cauldron. He is a supplicant who raises his hands in the orans gesture. Just as in the small plates where the half-figure makes the same gesture, he is the Celtic equivalent of the Roman genius loci. What makes him (and his like-minded companions on the small plates) different from other religious depictions of the orans gesture, is that he is not offering praise, but offering his experiences and his tribal identity. These experiences are the battles that his people have fought and through which, some of them died. They were neither conquerors nor defenders, they were auxiliary troops serving under a Greek general. For their effort, they were given rather a lot of gold. While their campaigns went well, death did visit some of their number. We cannot be sure of the tribe he represents, but it could well be the Armorican Redones, or perhaps another tribe with a name that sounded something like that, or who shared a similar, and very ancient, mythos.

At the bottom of the scene are three griffins. This mythical animal represents gold or  treasure. It might guard it or it might even find it. That it is tripled means that there was a beginning, a middle and an end. It also means that it was the perfect cycle. Three is the perfect Pythagorean number. However, not all who went along for the ride got to get the gold in the end. For those who died in the battle, it was the first step of another cycle: death, the underworld mysteries and then resurrection  ― or the Pythagorean transmigration of souls. A number of ancient authors spoke of how the Druids shared this Pythagorean belief, but today there are more people who prefer speaking, themselves, and who did not listen.

While the griffins are going about their business, who should insinuate himself on the scene but Dionysos Zagreus in his ram-headed serpent form. He's quite the shapeshifter! Well, he comes by it honestly. His dad, Zeus,  had taken on a serpent form so that he could get past the snakes that guarded her, and seduce Persephone. Mother, of course, was the sometimes wife of Hades.

He might take on the form of a boar and get himself killed by Meleager or by Diarmait, or as a bull, and get himself killed and eaten by the Titans. He sure seemed to get chopped up a lot back then ― there was that time as  Osiris, too. You've got to give him credit, though, he always seems to bounce back. Granted, his dad was known to help him out when things got really bad. but that's what family does.

I blame the stepmother, unable to free herself from her philandering husband, she took it out in the kid, like when Meleager was a log and his real mother who had a thing for what's his name, just tossed the boy on the fire. But that was Fate, or I should say, the Fates because there were three of them. More like three witches, if you ask me! Together, they make the Perfect Woman, and she'll run your life, mate.

But it just keeps going and going. Well, that's what cycles do. It's all like one big cosmic wheel and everybody's battling the Fates.

The wheel-turner above Dionysos Zagreus is no impartial looker-on like the pair of them on this early La Tène scabbard from Hallstatt (Jacobsthal 96), He is the professional soldier and he is there on his own volition. He's still wearing his helmet, and in the background, the battle rages on. On the same scabbard are the line of spearmen with their shields, and the knights on horseback with their lances, and on the chape,
there are griffins.

We meet our bearded genius again on this extremely rare coin of the Redones. His ivy wreath symbolising resurrection. His beard tells us he is very old, and before he took up the ivy scroll, he had only his wheel. Redones meant to travel about by horse, but the word was Latinized, later as raeda (Delamarre's dictionary) and was the name of a four-wheeler, (not a two-wheeled chariot). His age puts us back to the time of the wagon:

Hochdorf Burial reconstruction
photo: jnn95

As the legs of the king's funeral bier are human figures standing on wheels, the "unicyclists" You do not put wheels on a funeral bier to make it easier to get into the tomb, nor do you do it to make it easy to vacuum underneath it. You do it because it represents the cycle that the king is experiencing. The human figures, with their arms raised in the orans gesture seem to support the bier.

Of course, most people say it is about a wheel god called Taranis, but there is no evidence for that whatsoever, it's a modern Celtic myth. The wheel symbol appears commonly as talismans in the later  La Tène.

When the bard looked at such imagery on the Gundestrup cauldron, he or she could weave stories and poems about it, for it was only the concept and a historical event that was depicted and not the myriad stories that thus ensued.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

The La Tène religion of the Celtic elite ― part 15: The Gundestrup "Herakleia" plate

Previous studies on the Gundestrup cauldron have neglected proper contextual iconographic studies to favour just taking an isolated image and then describing it, or by comparing that image with something else that seems similar. Any iconographically complex ancient object tells a story and the devices are chosen to provide meaning when seen together.

To the right is what I call the "Herakleia" plate. In Anders Bergquist,  & Timothy Taylor, The origin of the Gundestrup cauldron Antiquity 61, 1987, p.10-24, the authors describe the device on the left thus:
"To the left of one of the female busts, a full-figure man wrestles a vicious animal and a flower blooms beneath them"
They then go on to describe a silver vase where a female face is flanked with figures of men. They do not mention the figure to the right at all.

In Flemming Kaul, The Gundestrup cauldron reconsidered, Acta Archaeologica vol 66, 1995, pp 1-38, this plate design  is not mentioned at all, but there are various comparisons of isolated details of the cauldron to other objects.

of Athena wearing a helmet decorated with Skylla
hurling a stone and Herakles wrestling the Nemean lion
Image courtesy  of Classical Numismatic Group Inc.
The figure in question is identified in the coin to the left. In Greek numismatics some coin images are believed to have been modelled from famous statues so we cannot be sure if the Thracian artist working in Italy had copied the coin or the sculpture from which it was derived. That he was working in Italy is certain because of the many other Italian models for devices seen on the cauldron. While an adaptation, and not a direct copy, note the position of the lion's leg against Herakles' leg.

Pyrrhus had Celtic troops with him in Italy, and it was his terrible losses at the Battle of Herakleia that gave us the term "Pyrrhic Victory". Although history does not record these Celtic troops, the earliest coin of the Belgae is one of the Ambiani,and is copied from a gold stater of Taras, which Pyrrhus also tried to defend against the Romans. The Ambiani thus were among Pyrrhus forces (the gold is highly refined Mediterranean gold, and the Celts derived their coinage designs, at first, from money paid to them in the Italian campaigns) On another Gundestrup plate is the figure of a man on a dolphin. This man is Taras, who is depicted thus on most of the staters of Taras and is not Arion (the latter has no context on the cauldron). Pyrrhus' elephants (not recognized as such) are also depicted on the cauldron in association with the same female bust.

The woman, who is a Celtic Persephone (identified from another Gundestrup plate), beats her chest in an attitude of grief, as she does on the elephant plate and the figure on the right bears a strong resemblance to the "mannikins" seen on the earliest coins of the Treveri and subsequently on the coins of the Aulerci Cenomani where it is winged, and on the coins of the Namnetes where it sometimes grasps a horse's leg with each outstretched hand. The general posture of this figure is also matched on another Gundestrup plate depicting a "wheel-turner". A pair of such wheel-turners (in a different stance) are depicted on a sword from Hallstatt (Jacobsthal, 96). This plate commemorates the loss of warriors of a specific tribe who fought with Pyrrhus at Herakleia.

Monday, 28 July 2014

The La Tène religion of the Celtic elite ― part 14: The classification problem

Holmes by Paget
When most people think about Sherlock Holmes' methods, they think "deduction". Actually, he did not use deduction at all in the stories, he used induction. Here is a very clear chart and description which shows the difference. I don't know if we can blame Karl Popper for the prevalence of "theory-ladenness" in British and American archaeology, or those archaeologists for imagining that archaeology is science. The problem is mostly moot in German archaeology. Anyway, much philosophical discussion about these matters is beyond the scope of this series.

Holmes was not trying to find general scientific principles, he was looking at clues to discover "who did it". Sometimes, he would demonstrate this method by telling someone whom he had just met, quite a lot about themselves and their recent history. His theories were not general, they were specific. This is the way that the best numismatists work ― by looking at the series of coins that interests them and not by trying to come up with some general numismatic theories that can be applied willy-nilly to all coins of all times and places.

When Major Rybot was looking for guidance in interpreting the La Marquanderie (Jersey, C.I.) hoard, he seems to have followed the idea that art degenerates over time, so he sorted the coins according to the realism of the head on the obverse, saying in Armorican Art: "I found this division so satisfactory during fifteen months of work that I continued to favour it, although I was given to understand that it might not receive the approval of trained numismatists." He really should have said "experienced  numismatists" as numismatics is not (honestly) taught beyond giving a few tips on how to go about it. What might be true for certain Roman coins is not true for certain Greek, Celtic, Chinese, or whatever coins. About all that you can be certain of in the subject of ancient numismatics is that the bottom, or anvil die of struck coins will usually last longer than the top, or hammer die. Thus you can determine the chronology of the striking of a series of coins by identifying the products of each die and noting the different pairs of die products as each die wore or broke and was replaced. There you go, now you are a "trained numismatist". Of course, this tells you nothing of the metal details; the weights of the coins and why they might vary; the use of any imagery in communicating certain ideas, the function of the coinage beyond communicating those ideas, the exact production methods used to make them, what happened to the coins after they were made and many other questions.

After being a numismatist for more than twenty years, I finally felt that I might tackle the reclassification of a certain series of coins. Using Major Rybot's drawn die reconstructions of Coriosolite coins, I set out to determine the chronology of  their die production (this is, technically, not classification although I call it that for convenience. This had never been done before for any series of coins where the dies were not actually numbered. Although the project took me another ten years, it was only a matter of months before I knew that there was something very wrong with assigning them "classes". In fact, if you fall into that trap, you will learn very little at all, and what is worse, you will start saying things like "There is no clear distribution pattern", or "the silver content was reduced by about 2% for each class". These are actual statements that have been published about Coriosolite coins. The classification becomes the theory or ideology and reality is made to be subservient to it. The value of my work was understood by the publisher and distributor who say: "This study is based around a hoard of more than 11,000 coins found at La Marquanderie on Jersey, but it is also broader in its discussion of the Coriosolite and their coinage. More than a mere catalogue of coins, Hooker' study looks at the design, symbolism, imagery and aesthetics of the coins and the social, cultural and religious traditions that influenced designs." which I thought was much better than the blurb I had given them.

Although I discovered how to go about the task, and that conventional classification systems were seriously flawed, I did not know much about why they were so flawed until I later read Foucault's The Order of Things: An archaeology of the human sciences, C. G. Jung's On the Nature of the Psyche (especially Wolfgang Pauli's input on the physics and psychology of objectivity) and Linda E. Patrik's Is there an archaeological record?, all of which turned me into a postmodernist.

My method consisted of studying several hundred different design elements in the coinage and plotting their overlapping changes. Certain design design elements were a "one off" and did not help, although many of these could be seen  to be "evolutionary" in that the artist would attempt to resolve certain problems in the composition over a number of dies. Interestingly, when he did finally resolve these problems, he would then abandon that line of thought and replace that perfected design with something new. He would then evolve his new idea. Two die engravers also produced a total of three masterpieces at such points of change. I am not using this term in a subjective manner to indicate something that I, personally, found appealing. These were three unique and complex designs that only partially included previous evolutionary features. Having made these, the die engravers abandoned the designs and set out, again, to evolve a new design.

This was one of the main impetuses that led me into identifying the existence of a La Tène religion where, before, it was thought only to be a series of linked and evolutionary artistic styles. As a byproduct of this line of thought, I came up with a "classification of convenience" for the Celts themselves: Celtic A for the speakers of Celtic and Celtic B for the La Tène elite to replace the ridiculous devaluation of Celtic culture into "European pre-Roman Iron Age", which was not even correct as that would have to include the Greeks, too. This model resolves all of the problems. Sometimes, when people are unable to understand certain things, they claim that these things do not exist. A lot of people, apparently, did not understand the ancient Celts. They saw them only through the window of their theory or ideology. I suppose it helped them to preserve their egos. My ideas became quite important to the political scientist Bruce E. Wright who understood my points completely and responded to them. He also fully understood (from his last statement) the difficulties that might ensue by pursuing this line of thought.

This blog series, as long as it is, can only break the ground in its subject. It makes my work on the Coriosolite coinage look like child's play in comparison, and I am giving it here because I will be 65 years old at the end of September, and even if I think I could work as fast as I did on the Coriosolite coinage, there is no guarantee that I will even last another ten years to finish it (although I hope to, and more, of course!).

I noticed that one series of coins that were formerly thought to be Coriosolite, but which I now know are an issue of Viridovix of the Unelli, feigned the evolutionary features of the products of the two Coriosolite mints, by mixing two Coriosolite features in the wrong order so that, one late feature changed to an earlier one and vice versa. The die engraver also added two long-running arbitrary design elements, one after the other in the chronology. There is no real evolutionary change going on at all and its chronology could be read in either direction. It was a visual chronological palindrome. You can see my old web page about it (with diagrams)

Viridovix had hired what Caesar called "a host of desperadoes and bandits" (III,17) from all over Gaul, so any authentic artistic tenets and religious symbology at Druidic levels on the coins would probably have been lost on them. Yet the die engraver did not just haphazardly mix earlier and later devices, which would have been easiest, but arranged all of the changing devices in pairs along the timeline where no device changes at the same point as another. These were prefabricated designs that did not evolve and thus had no thoughts attached to them. More importantly, it reveals that there were enough people who could at least understand the basics of the art and religion who could be fooled by it. Their perception told them that there were differences in the coins' designs and their assumption was that one design evolved to another, and that was important. As money, they are genuine, but as works of art and religion, they are fake.

The importance of originality in design is reflected in the story of Cú Chulainn's new shield in the Ulster Cycle, and confirmed by most other examples of La Tène art which are unique, or at least quite varied. Greek art is very different in that the cultural content of their cheap kitsch like the Athenian owl skyphos or the somewhat more "department store" vases with fashionable ladies head on them, and so on, was not much different from the more complex works of the masters. They were all part of the same mythos. La Tène art was for the warrior elite and their ladies. And all of it was about warfare and ostentatious display. Everything else was just plain.

As the elite moved around splitting, at times, from parent tribes, They would have encountered many different local deities of great antiquity, all within their particular "mythogenic zone" (Campbell), the visitors would see patterns emerging and this sort of thing can lead to "peak experiences" which Maslow defined as spanning religion and aesthetics. At its simplest, it is an "eureka!" moment or even a "fancy that!". The more remarkable the event, the greater the peak, of course. It was thus a mystical interweaving of world views by people who were said to speak, darkly, and in riddles and who used one word when they meant another. Their view was expressed in their art, but was suppressed (like the Pythagoreans and later Mystery cults) in the written word. The peak experience cannot be bottled up very easily, like steam, it must break free and express itself.

The ivy scroll started to take on another aspect and you can see this fully syncretized in the Medieval period: ivy grows over everything and intertwines it. It also protects structures. Ideas of  resurrection have moved elsewhere. The functional ivy under Logos eventually prevents drunkenness,, instead of being the mythical opposite of the grape vine and representing the cycles of nature and the cosmos itself.

Friday, 25 July 2014

The La Tène religion of the Celtic elite ― part 13: Megalithic roots

Newgrange building display visitors centre
photo: the untraceable Aligatorek
One of the most mysterious monuments of prehistory is Newgrange temple/passage grave in Ireland. Today, that mystery is preserved by its management company who forbids photography inside the monument, and by the only book which records all of its petroglyphs (many not visible today) having its diagrams protected by copyright. If you follow the above link to the unsearchable entry in Google Books, you will see that the policies are working excellently as the only reviewer says: "I too, have not read the book. But I will surely cite it in my archaeology paper due tomorrow". They have even managed to keep such valuable information from Andy Burnham's magnificent site: The Megalithic Portal. Surely, they must all be congratulated for their glowing endorsement of Lawrence Ferlinghetti's poetic lines:
"It is above all that, oh yes. It sits upon the choicest of Church seats up where art directors meet to choose the things for immortality. And they have lain with beauty all their lives. And they have fed on honeydew and drunk the wines of Paradise so that they know exactly how a thing of beauty is a joy forever and forever and how it never never quite can fade into a money-losing nothingness." But I have read the book and I can verbally describe some of these petroglyphs, and so spill out another blog post upon the Bosch-like world. I don't think they can stop that, can they?

We will start with one of their freebie marketing images, the triple spiral, so I'll hand the mike over to Joseph Campbell:
"The fear of the dark, which is so strong in children, has been said to be a function of their fear of returning to the womb: the fear that their recently achieved daylight consciousness and not yet secure individuality should be reabsorbed. In archaic art, the labyrinth―home of the child-consuming Minotaur―was represented in the figure of a spiral. The spiral also appears spontaneously in certain stages of meditation, as well as to people going to sleep under ether. It is a prominent device, furthermore, at the silent entrances and within the dark passages of the ancient Irish kingly burial mound of New Grange. These facts suggest that a constellation of images denoting the plunge and dissolution of consciousness in the darkness of non-being must have been employed intentionally, from an early date, to represent the analogy of threshold rites to the mystery of the entry of the child into the womb for birth."  Primitive Mythology, p 65f
Now, a body (or those reenacting the events) can be taken along that birth-passage at Newgrange to be deposited in the womb or inner chamber, and its soul can then leave that place to be born again by the same route. But there is another, small, passage above the symbolic birth passage, where the first rays of the dawn sun at the winter solstice enter into the womb at its entrance, the "roof-box", and it illuminates the triple spiral in that womb. As above, so below. While the concept is widespread, the Wikipedia entry questions for citation with regard to the Vedas. The only corresponding citation that I can find on the web is badly misquoted. The language bothered me, and as I have the Rig Veda (in a 1992 Book of the Month Club edition of all things!), I looked at that verse in Book 1. Despite, the publisher, the exact wording also appears on the Sacred Texts site:
"Who, that the father of this Calf discerneth beneath the upper realm, above the lower, Showing himself a sage, may here declare it? Whence hath the Godlike spirit had its rising?"
Perhaps the former text was a published interpretation, but if so, it missed out on its "threeness" ― "beneath the upper realm, above the lower". For the sake of anyone finding this through Google and not reading the entire series, I am repeating what I gave earlier from Aristotle:
"For as the Pythagoreans say, the all and all things are defined by threes; for end and middle and beginning constitute the number of the all, and also the number of the triad."

That the Rig Veda is thought to date from 1500 -1200 BC gives us an intermediary position between Newgrange and the Celts whom the classical authors said held Pythagorean views about the transmigration of souls. Pythagoras was originally an Orphic, and this is strongly related to Dionysism, with its three-fold depiction of the slaying of Dionysos as a bull, and its three stages of the transmigration of the dead warriors, both on the Gundestrup cauldron. To this, we can add the legends of Dionysos' journey to India.

I am certainly not saying that there is any communication between the people at Newgrange and India, but Jung found much Indian symbology in the unconscious and he said that this was due to the inward-looking nature of eastern religion. What we can see of the Megalithic beliefs is not very "western". We have no heroes celebrated, nor do we have traces of deities. It was certainly not a collection of local cults with one or two similarities shared. It has the stamp of the later great religions which had great consistency over a large geographical area.

There could, however, have been a secondary connection tying Ireland to India during the La Tène period: Irish gold of the period has platinum inclusions, and British and gaulish gold does not. It might well have been brought there by the Menapii, as Rhine placer gold has such inclusions, but there is another possibility as well, and that is the penultimate origin could have been gold staters of Alexander the Great. He obtained such gold from Lydian sources, and he was in that general area because of his own journey to ancient India. Two pieces of evidence give this some weight (but also to the Menapii connection): a gold stater of the Boii had platinum inclusions, and a paper in an archaeometallurgical journal (which I have yet to obtain, but I got the information from an archaeometallurgist with knowledge of the Celts) said that the gold at Waldalgesheim, famous for its "Dionysian" vegetal scrolls was found to have been made from melted Persian gold darics. The gold source for these Persian coins was the rivers of Lydia. There is also ample evidence for Dionysos in both Lydia and in Phrygia, to the north.

Xenophon's Anabasis was his account of his escape from Persian lands. He also wrote a treatise on horsemanship in which he talks about spurs in two places. He also found employment among the Thracians. Thracian workmen, in Italy, depicted the Celtic knights wearing spurs in the Gundestrup procession plate. The Celts did not adopt the spur until later. Many of the pottery vessels that served as inspiration for the
La Tène styles in the Rhineland were made, in Italy, by eastern Mediterranean potters escaping the Persians who had overrun their former countries. The Boii also had a large base in Italy.While you are looking at the last link, pay attention to the Coriosolite coins with its version of the Newgrange triple spiral centered at the ear position on the head. This triple spiral is the junction of three hair masses or locks, and this is a common feature in Armorican coinage.

Baiocasses coin (Normandy)

We see these three locks on the coin of the Baiocasses to the left. Above the head is what is called the Lyre symbol which has four strings. Macrobius (Sat. i. 19) reported that the four string lyre was the invention of Hermes/Mercury and that each string represented one of the four seasons. Caesar said the the god most reverenced by the Celts was Mercury, but Lucian reveals (in Hercules) that the Celts depicted Hermes as Hercules, and called him Ogmios:

The Celts call Heracles Ogmios in their native tongue, and they portray the god in a very peculiar way. To their notion, he is extremely old, baldheaded, except for a few lingering hairs which are quite gray, his skin is wrinkled, and he is burned as black as can be, like an old sea-dog. You would think him a Charon or a sub-Tartarean Iapetus anything but Heracles! Yet, in spite of his looks, he has the equipment of Heracles: he is dressed in the lion's skin, has the club in his right hand, carries the quiver at his side, displays the bent bow in his left, and is Heracles from head to heel as far as that goes. I thought, therefore, that the Celts had committed this offence against the good-looks of Heracles to spite the Greek gods, and that they were punishing him by means of the picture for having once visited their country on a cattle-lifting foray, at the time when he raided most of the western nations in his quest of the herds of Geryon. But I have not yet mentioned the most surprising thing in the picture. That old Heracles of theirs drags after him a great crowd of men who are all tethered by the ears! His leashes are delicate chains fashioned of gold and amber, resembling the prettiest of necklaces. Yet, though led by bonds so weak, the men do not think of escaping, as they easily could, and they do not pull back at all or brace their feet and lean in the opposite direction to that in which he is leading them. In fact, they follow cheerfully and joyously, applauding their leader and all pressing him close and keeping the leashes slack in their desire to overtake him; apparently they would be offended if they were let loose! But let me tell you without delay what seemed to me the strangest thing of all. Since the painter had no place to which he could attach the ends of the chains, as the god's right hand already held the club and his left the bow, he pierced the tip of his tongue and represented him drawing the men by that means! Moreover, he has his face turned toward his captives, and is smiling I had stood for a long time, looking, wondering, puzzling and fuming, when a Celt at my elbow, not unversed in Greek lore, as he showed by his excellent use of our language, and who had, apparently, studied local traditions, said: "I will read you the riddle of the picture, stranger, as you seem to be very much disturbed about it. We Celts do not agree with you Greeks in thinking that Hermes is Eloquence: we identify Heracles with it, because he is far more powerful than Hermes. And don't be surprised that he is represented as an old man, for eloquence and eloquence alone is wont to show its full vigour in old age, if your poets are right in saying 'A young man hath a wandering wit' and 'Old age has wiser words to say than youth.' That is why your Nestor's tongue distils honey, and why the Trojan counsellors have a voice like flowers (the flowers mentioned are lilies, if my memory serves). This being so, if old Heracles here drags men after him who are tethered by the ears to his tongue, don't be surprised at that, either: you know the kinship between ears and tongue. Nor is it a slight upon him that his tongue is pierced. Indeed," said he, "I call to mind a line or two of comedy which I learned in your country: the talkative have, one and all, their tongues pierced at the tip. In general, we consider that the real Heracles was a wise man who achieved everything by eloquence and applied persuasion as his principal force. His arrows represent words, I suppose, keen, sure and swift, which make their wounds in souls. In fact, you yourselves admit that words are winged." 
I was discussing this and Armorican coin imagery, with Helen Benigni, one of the authors of The Myth of the Year. In the subsequent edition of their Celtic Calendar they needed a name for their intercalary month and decided on "Ogmios". She sent me a copy of the book, writing on the title page "Thanks for Ogmios, All my love, Helen".  They also added an Ogmios page to the site.

The lyre, and related symbols, can be found in a number of forms carved into some of the stones at Newgrange. There is evidence that these stones were decorated before being placed in their present locations. We might expect, however, that some consideration was made about where certain forms of decoration would be placed.

There are eight examples (K2, K88, Co.1/K7, Roofbox) of this symbol that have been observed so far, one having the four lines of the "lyre" variation, two having double sets of four lines. Three others appear to have the rays emerging from a dish-shaped or broken baseline: two of these have four rays, one has a double set of four. Of the eight examples, then, six have a single or double set of four rays. These "radiate suns" may have a central circle, a central pellet, or a combined central pellet-in-circle, with or without an additional pellet outside the circle, central to the radiate lines.

One of these representations of the radiate sun symbol, on K88, consists of two sets of lines radiating from a central pellet close to the pellet-in-circle; the rays, themselves ending in attached pellets, are surmounted by an arc of seven pellets. The sun symbol on the back corbel stone of the roof-box has six radiate lines, or four plus a broken baseline, and omits the circle, leaving only the central pellet. Nineteen pellets are arranged in two semi-circular rows around this symbol. The sets of nineteen and seven pellets on various of these radiate suns represent the nineteen year cycle for reconciling solar and lunar time, which involves an intercalation of seven months.

Another Baiocasses coin with the boar

in the same position as the lyre
On all Coriosolite coins there is either a lyre or a boar beneath the pony on the reverse. This is not a mint distinction as my Series X has both (Series Y has only the boar). On coins of the Xn Series (formerly Abrincatui), two closely related heads have either a lyre or three circles on their cheeks. The chariot driver on the Coriosolite series X coins carries a sun sceptre with the head drawn as a pellet within a circle, but there are two exceptions (13 and 27), and the head of those sceptres has a fleur-de-lis or trefoil shape (three leaves). In the Mabinogion, Olwen, a Welsh Venus whose name meant "Her of the White Track" was so called because wherever she trod, four white trefoils would spring up.

A counterpart of Olwen was Blodeuwedd, "Flower aspect," the wife of Llew, the sun god. She had a lover, and together they plotted the death of Llew, but Llew was brought back to life, and Blodeuwedd was changed into an owl. Blodeuwedd represented the dawn and dusk; her lover, the night - but the sun vanquished them both. The story is convoluted, but it is reminiscent of how Persephone came to spend half of the year with Hades and the other half with her mother Demeter. When she was in the Underworld nothing could grow, and thus winter was explained.

Osismii coin
The most "literary" Armorican coin, a stater of the Osismii illustrated on the left tells the whole story of the year. It starts with the birth of the year represented by the boar in the same position as on the previous Baiocasses stater. The boar, typical to many Armorican coins, including all Coriosolite coins which have the boar beneath the pony (Series Z is actually Unelli) has a baseline from which the sun (symbol) rises. At the time of Newgrange this was the winter solstice dawn. The story is carried by following the beaded lines. The lower beaded line runs from the front of the boar to a small head in front of Hermes Ogmios' mouth. Nothing extends from the forehead of that small head. From that head, it issues upward to meet another small head where an unfolding shoot is depicted. Running behind the boar, it continues to the third small head where the fruit starts to emerge. The boar has to always be in the centre by their iconographical tenets, but the artist has managed to incorporate the progression of the year with the use of the guiding beaded lines, while following that tenet and also following the tenets of composition: the three small heads must be equidistant. Without the beaded lines to follow, the positions head with the fruit and the boar would have to be switched and that would destroy the composition. At the back of the head, a triangle of beads plays the role of the triple spiral of Newgrange and the Coriosolite head In the dead of winter, nothing can be planted and nothing grows; before the spring, life has started again, but the seed's sprout has yet to break the surface; in late spring to early summer the leaves are growing and in the autumn, the plant bears fruit.. The design combines a three, and a fourfold division of the year thus. We have the boar in Mid december when nothing is planted, the seed has not broken the ground by mid March but is growing mature in June and bears fruit in September. Such a division would be in accord with the climactic conditions of the seasons at that time, or would be a continued tradition from another place and time. It is fairly typical for a colder climate, although one not as cold as where I live with its short growing season.

Coin of the Aulerci Eburovices
The lunar aspect of the calendar is represented in the coin to the right which is of the Aulerci Cenomani. In the Belgic style, a highly abstracted head which derives from the stater of Philip II of Macedon, copies of which were paid to Celtic troops for the Italian campaigns at the recruiting centres of eastern Armorica and nearby. Apollo's wreath is turned into an ear of grain and a line through it forms a cross. At one end of this line is a bead which represents the midsummer solstice, at the other end is the boar, who in Irish myth is the boar of Benn Gulbain, and in classical mythology, the Calydonian boar who was killed by the hero Meleager, who also had to die like Diarmait. The Roman version is conflated with the northern tradition of the Yule log. Meleager's life is measured by the time it takes the log to burn, as was decreed by the Fates themselves, and symbolic of the birth to death of the year. Meleager's angry mother kills her son by throwing the log into the fire after he has slayed the boar. The Celtic mistletoe with its semen-like berries refers to the castration of Uranus by his son Cronus which ends the year (think about that next time you kiss under the mistletoe at Christmas). On the coin above, the boar stands upon the lunar crescent. The boar is Celtic, the Lunula is both Celtic and Irish (an Irish gold lunula was found in Brittany).

In John Koch (ed), Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia, in the entry for Celtic coinage, I explain how the Celts adopted the Philip II coin design because it was military currency. While they rarely depicted the human form outside of areas with strong classical connections, the coins were thus not just currency, but expressions of the heroic.

The as above, so below, concept at Newgrange was also expressed in a specially marked series of Coriosolite coins (within Series Y, Group H) with the use of banners in front of the pony. The commonest "Union Jack" variety which shows up on many Celtic coins is also exactly portrayed on a stone in a subsidiary chamber at Dowth, Ireland. Related to this are crosses on Armorican omphali and "Druid ritual spoons" in Britain, and the cross at Calvary reflects the Dionysian aspect with the subsequent resurrection of Christ.

The many strands of this cable weave in and out and over a vast time period in many places, and even that is expressed in early Celtic art, as I will explain on Monday. Have a great weekend!

Thursday, 24 July 2014

The La Tène religion of the Celtic elite ― part 12: Elusive images

One of the sources of Coriosolite coin
motifs is Weisskirchen, Saarland,
Germany (click to enlarge)
Interpreting and tracking artistic and iconographic motifs is often a demanding task. It is not enough to look at a motif and say "It looks like... so that must be it". The collage illustrated to the right incorporates three figures from my book and shows the origin of some of the designs found on Coriosolite coins from Brittany. These source images are about three hundred years earlier than the coins, yet there are no other motifs in early Celtic art that can be offered which are closer in design to the later adaptations on the coins and to find three at a single Celtic site is virtually a luxury. Another feature of Coriosolite coins from one mint, and of Armorican coins in general, is the human headed horse. It first appears on coins in what has been called The early coins of the Treveri (Allen, D. F. in: Germania Jahrgang 49, 1971), and is then transported, through migration, to the coins of the Aulerci Cenomani (Aulerci meaning "far from their tracks"). It is also known from a sculpture found at Trier, Rhineland-Palatinate ― the city derives its name from "Treveri" and borders on to Saarland. This gives extra weight to the identification. Even more evidence is the fact that Weisskirchen has also yielded Etruscan imports and Jacobsthal identifies the original source of the human-headed horse as Val Camonica in northern Italy. Of the commonest prototypical classical motifs, the palmette-derived elements are mostly found in Celtic art of the Rhineland, while France makes greater use of the ivy scroll. That Armorican coins also incorporate far more palmette-derived elements than other Celtic coins suggests, too, that many of those people had originated in the Rhineland. As I said earlier, cultures in "back woods" areas progress far slower than in more cosmopolitan areas, so such a time lag is not really surprising at all. By the time that these designs first appeared on Armorican coins, their homeland had long abandoned them in their primal forms. So this is how we do what we do. In "Random Coincidences Or: the return of the Celtic to Iron Age Britain" in Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 74, 2008, pp. 69-78, Raimund Karl explains:
"A single similarity between any two separate things is normally a random coincidence, and need not concern us a lot. If, however, similarities mount up, and we find several, perhaps even many, similarities between two separate things, matters start to change.We will start to wonder whether the two things might not actually somehow be related. Such a relationship might be functional, as in the case of axes or hammers, which are similar all over the world because they need to be in order to work properly. Or it might be structural, as in the case of crystals, which will always grow to very similar shapes because of the properties of the substance they are made of. Or, it might be genetic, like in the case of art styles, each of which produces similar things because the artists use
certain techniques or motives that are inspired by similar earlier examples of that same style. In fact, this seems to be a general property of the universe we live in: if two separate things share many similarities, there usually is some kind of reason for why they do. And thus, tending to generalise this empirical observation as we do, if we find two separate things sharing many, or regular, or particularly striking similarities, we suspect that these are not the result of mere random coincidence, but due to some reason."
Yet, there are still scholars less skillful than Ray who publish things based on a single similarity, or who refuse to utilize this Peirce/Bernstein/Wylie (the latter name bringing the philosophical concept to archaeology) "cable" method of building a strong case for their theories and cling to the pedestrian and highly impractical "chain" type of reasoning where each link must be proven before going on the next. Such people are often stopped in their research, or find that everything they look at has already been discovered by someone else. The chain reasoning persists because the cable reasoning is not to everyone's tastes or abilities. It has been a part of Celtic studies, however, since before Peirce first defined it, and I was using it in archaeology and numismatics about four years before Alison Wylie's first publication of Archaeological Cables and Tacking: The Implications of Practice for Bernstein's ‘Options Beyond Objectivism and Relativism’ At that time, I had never even heard of Peirce and Bernstein, it was just the only way open to me.

When I fist noticed Megalithic symbology in Coriosolite coin designs, I knew that I had a much harder task ahead of me than with the Weisskirchen imagery. The latter had only involved looking at a few hundred photographs and diagrams. Explaining a lag of  about three hundred years is one thing, but explaining one of three thousand years is something else! Fortunately I found a few intermediary clues: In Brittany, by Pierre-Roland Giot, Jean L'Helgouach, Jacques Briard and F.A. Praeger, 1960, the authors had reasoned, through skeletal evidence, that the inhabitants of Brittany just before the Roman conquest consisted of about a 50/50 mix of recent Celtic arrivals and descendents of the Megalithic indigenous populations. This made sense to me because I knew that the coinage that Allen was writing about had experienced a dramatic debasement after the emigration of a section of that tribe (I also believe that they were not the Treveri per se, but members of other tribes who were vanquished, or came under the control of the Treveri later. It is tempting to associate the Aulerci Eburovices with the Eburones who lived on the Rhine. The different ending of the former meaning "villages". There is a potential confusion with the first part of the name because of the Germanic Ebor = yew and the Celtic Ebur = boar. However, these tribes were also Belgae who claimed to have crossed the Rhine much earlier. Either could be true: Celtic chariots used yew wood, and the boar is an important Celtic icon. In fact, a coin of the Aulerci Eburovices which carries their tribal name (rare on Celtic coins), actually has a boar as a main, and not subsidiary, device. Celtic linguists, to whom I have spoken, agree that the matter of some linguistic crossover is possible, but far from certain.

As one of the Megalithic monuments where I have seen two potential prototypes of Coriosolite motifs is Newgrange in Ireland, and that includes the very specific and highly important triple spiral, I was pleased to find that Diodorus, quoting the sixth century BC historian, Hecataeus, had said:
"Opposite to the coast of Celtic Gaul there is an island in the ocean, not smaller than Sicily, lying to the north, which is inhabited by Hyperboreans… Apollo visits the island once in the course of nineteen years in which period the stars complete their revolutions"
The nineteen years, of course, refers to what is now known as the Metonic cycle, but which is earlier than Meton of Athens. I do have some evidence, from Newgrange petroglyphs, that it is far earlier than its Babylonian usage. I will be discussing this in the next episode.

One of the most convincing connections to me comes from Strabo, and others reporting on the travels of Posidonius in the first century B.C., who tell of an island off the Armorican coast peopled by priestesses that worshipped a god at a temple that was roofed. It was their custom to unroof it once a year, insisting that it be roofed again before sunset. The most prevalent of all complex Armorican coin motifs is paralleled in Newgrange petroglyphs focused on the roof-box there that allows the sun's first rays at the dawn of the winter solstice to penetrate the inner chamber and light up the triple spiral there. Again, this will be discussed tomorrow, together with other strong mythological links.

Then, there were the messages between Euan MacKie and myself about the alignments at Maes Howe. I was not only able to confirm his connections, but to say that his observation was the only possible solution, based on mythological grounds, to the problem of vast numbers of Celtic deity names in a period way too short to encompass them all.

There will be detractors who are too lazy to do the research, or who have some personal grudge about my other activities ― aficionados of the yellow journalism which has crawled out of the woodwork and onto the Internet in recent years, and who use such unethical methods to influence even dimmer politicians, for reasons best known to themselves or perhaps their therapists ― but we will leave them to chew their cud, and I will be back tomorrow to give examples of  Megalithic petroglyphs and how they tie into later mythologies.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

The La Tène religion of the Celtic elite ― part 11: Three and resurrection

Coriosolite billon stater, 57/6 BC from a mint west of the R. Rance.
Hooker, Series Y, h,45
Last night I was sorting through various academic papers in order to make some of the more important ones easier for me to find (I often just remember some detail and not the author or title) when I came across one about the Celts sharing the idea of the transmigration of souls with the Pythagoreans. It is something that is mentioned by many classical authors and some of them are undoubtedly getting the idea from others, yet there are occasional unique mentions of some particular aspect of the idea so it seems likely that the sources are multiple. Some of them might even be due to having spoken to actual Celts about the matter. The author said that all scholars of the Iron Age are now in agreement that this was not true. So it got shuffled into the "who cares?" pile.

Why would I do such a thing? Over the decades I have learned that whenever members of a single cultural frame all agree on something where other cultural frames can have varied opinions about it, that "fact" is most often a meme. In other words, it is "group think" or "mob mentality". Sometimes, though, the cultural frame can consist of just one person. in such cases, all responses are filtered through this thought and never vary. These are "factoid fossils".

The paper, of course, did not mention what sort of  scholars of the Iron Age had come to this consensus. Were they archaeologists? historians? mythologists? art historians? ― sweeping generalities are another symptom of the meme. Presumably, they were some sort of classicists as all that was mentioned were the texts. I addressed the same topic through iconography and concluded that some ancient Celts did  believe in the transmigration of souls. It is clearly revealed in one of the Gundestrup plates. I have previously posted a draft chapter about this plate from years ago, but have since modified or changed a few of my points.

This plate is so easy to read (in its general concept, not so much  the details): The Celtic footsoldiers on the bottom register march into battle and to their death. At the back of the column are three playing the Celtic war trumpet or carnyx. Its mouth is in the form of a ferocious boar like that on the Deskford carnyx. What was this boar? He was the Calydonian boar who was killed by Meleager in Ovid's Metamorphosis, and he was the Boar of Benn Gulbain who was killed by Diarmait in the Irish story. You can read about them both in one of my early essays.  He and the hero divide the year into two halves and the day that the boar is killed, the hero dies too, but they will reenact the whole story for the next year, and for all of eternity. In front of the carnyx players,  their psychopomp commander marches them to the underworld. He wears the boar as a crest on his helmet to indicate what will come next. The spearmen seem to be carrying a tree with them balanced on their spear points that is decorated with ivy like the one at Manching in Monday's episode. More than two hundred years later, Christ carries his own "tree" to Calvary. Upon their arrival in the underworld they are first met by a Celtic Kerberos, then the king of the underworld resurrects them in the situla, the vessel which once held water but now carries wine as the symbol of Dionysos' resurrection into the god of the vine. They spend only some time in the underworld as Dionysos before they enter their new life, this time  not as spearmen, but as cavalry and they are off to the next battle. Perhaps some of them will soon be back again, to play out the procession yet again. As the horsemen ride off, they are led by Dionysos Zagreus in his form as the serpent, a spitting image of his dad, Zeus Meilichios, who has probably just impregnated another goddess held captive by the king of the underworld, fooling the serpents who guard her. He can only enter the underworld in that form. These serpents, by sloughing their own skins, personify resurrection.

But the cauldron is a trophy too, and it also tells of the battles fought by the Celts in Italy. When they first arrived, they were spearmen with long shields, but around 300 BC they were fighting with swords, and the best of them, those who were given resurrection for their heroism, were now knights on horseback.

We have a threefold history here: they fought and died; they spent time in the underworld where they were the resurrected; and they fought again. You can't keep a good Celt down. Christ was not a warrior like these, his Heaven was a different place, not back here again. His threefold aspect was the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. The latter was depicted as a dove, the bird that found salvation for Noah from the waters of the Deep, and the bird who Demeter had sent to find her daughter Persephone, who was with Hades. Persephone came back each year and everything grew again. But the boar of Benn Gulbain and Meleager's boar also came back to destroy the fields by killing all the plants as they rooted around in the ground. And once again, the hero had to slay the boar and once again, he too, had to die for that salvation.

The stories are almost as old as time itself, but with different players each time.
All these people that you mention
Yes, I know them, they’re quite lame
I had to rearrange their faces
And give them all another name
Right now I can’t read too good
Don’t send me no more letters, no
Not unless you mail them
From Desolation Row 
Bob Dylan, Desolation Row
From one of my favorite poets let's turn, now, to Aristotle (De coel. i. ; 268 a 10.):
"For as the Pythagoreans say, the all and all things are defined by threes; for end and middle and beginning constitute the number of the all, and also the number of the triad."
The coin I illustrate at the top of this post shows a triple spiral centred at the ear position of the deity on the obverse. You can also see this triple spiral at Newgrange in Ireland, where it was carved about three thousand years earlier.

 How can this be? You will find out, tomorrow.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

The La Tène religion of the Celtic elite ― part 10: The ivy scroll becomes Celtic

Apulian red-figure krater with ivy scroll frieze,
mid 4th century BC, Metropolitan Museum of Art,
Rogers Fund, 1950, OASC photo
When we encounter the ivy scroll in the vase-painting of Magna Graecia, its abstraction retains far more of the details of the actual plant than it does when it becomes syncretized by the Celts. In the ivy scroll illustrated on the right, the vine and the leaves are abstracted only slightly, but of the flower, the anthers and either the stigmas or the ovaries are more abstracted. The filaments are not shown at all. Commentaries on Greek vase painting frequently omit any references to these ornamental friezes at all, concentrating on the figural elements.

Etruscan pottery can become abstracted even more, although the leaves can still be shown. Sometimes, even when highly abstracted, Etruscan pottery can show us even more details of the original plant. Whenever we do not see the leaves we have, of course, the problem of not being able to identify the vine as an ivy at all. Perhaps we are seeing a grape vine, instead, where not even the bunches of grapes are shown. Yet, it is in this, earlier work, where we see much of the inspiration for the "Waldalgesheim" or vegetal style of La Tène art. Look, for example, at the amphora illustrated below:

Etruscan amphora, mid 6th cent. BC, showing vine scroll work prototypical to the Celtic
vegetal style. Perhaps we are seeing ivy leaves among the scrolls between the legs of
the two figures, but these are not clearly defined and might even be "generic" leaves
or bunches of grapes. photo: Mattes

Part of a chariot fitting from Waldalgesheim before the
restoration seen in Jacobsthal Pl. 156d. I adapted this
drawing from my scan of a plate in Die Alterthümer
unserer heidnischen Vorzeit. Only one set of this title
exists in libraries in North America (at Berkeley). The
line drawing actually shows clearer detail than the
photograph in Jacobsthal. (later 4th cent BC)

When similar scroll work to that depicted on the Etruscan amphora reached the Rhineland, the design became even more eccentric at Waldalgesheim and it gave its name to a general style (although the designs from the Waldalgesheim workshop are very specific to that workshop). Other early Celtic adaptations of Etruscans designs can be quite formal. It seems to me that what might have been just a sloppy rendering on an Etruscan vessel had inspired the artist to create an entirely new style. Such inspiration belongs to what the psychologist Abraham Maslow called "peak experiences". Such experiences can be experienced through intense religious or aesthetic events, and even love. For such expressions to become a "movement" where they are experienced by many people, however, usually requires an accompanying philosophy, religion, or a change in their world view. Note how some parts of the design are mirrored, while other parts are asymmetric.  Britain, especially, developed a passion for the asymmetric and you can see that in the decoration on the Waterloo helmet  in the British Museum.
Amfreville helmet, Eure, France. Also later 4th cent. BC
photo: Siren-Com

The workshops in France adapted the ivy scroll as a purely abstract design which omitted leaves and flowers. This came to be known as the "Marnian scroll". The famous Amfreville helmet in which the scroll is quite formal, also took on an aspect of triplism in the form of a connected series of triskeles, and this seems to have had widespread influence. You can see the triskele motif appearing on armings of the Plastic Style which are focused between Bavaria and Bohemia, but had travelled as far as France, and in my own, unique example of a British Plastic style finial that I believe to be sword pommel. I discuss these objects in a previous post. We see this tripling in the Gundestrup cauldron plate in part seven of this series, in many British mirror plate designs such as the Desborough mirror, and in plenty of other places, too. It is also reflected in Celtic iconography and inscription such as Tarvos Trigaranus or "the bull of three cranes". This tripling is one of the unifying elements in Celtic culture, but where did it come from? Why was it so widely used? The solution to these problems, tomorrow.

Monday, 21 July 2014

The La Tène religion of the Celtic elite ― part 9: The ivy scroll

Reconstructed gold foil covered staff discovered in
1984 at the oppidum of Manching in Bavaria which
shows ivy leaves. 2nd century BC (public domain)
In starting to build this Peircean cable, It seems most fitting to start with its strongest strand for the sake of the skeptic who might not have read the previous episode. Second only to the grape-vine, the ivy vine figures greatly in Dionysian imagery. In the photograph to the right, the ivy leaf is virtually identical to those often found the reverse of tetradrachms of the kings of Pergamon ― the Attalid Dynasty whose founder was the eunuch Philetairos (the kingship passing to his nephew). Although the patron deity of Pergamon was Athena, the Attalids claimed descent from Dionysos. Given the, sometimes, androgynous depictions of Dionysos, we might wonder about the origin of that claim. Philetairos, (see the coin illustrated below) according to the the most likely account, became a eunuch as boy as the result of an accident where his testicles were crushed.

One aspect of the Dionysian myths is that the grape vine represented the male and the ivy vine, the female. Although Kerényi tracks influences to Dionysian themes back as far as Minoan Crete, there are also syncretistic threads to Asia, and we might even wonder about the Chinese yin and yang concept and also how this might also tie in to female Mythos and male Logos. Dionysos was supposed to have traveled there; one of the forms he took in his battle against the the Titans was a tiger.

Coin of the eunuch Philetairos showing
the ivy leaf below Athena's wrist
Image courtesy of Classical Numismatic Group Inc
In mythology, syncretistic threads combine in stories so a later deity in one area might become the son or daughter of an earlier deity. Joseph Campbell points to a change in culture with the story of Cain and Abel, too: Cain the (old) agriculturist, Abel the (new) herder. The serpent tempts Eve with the apple, but the serpent is the archetypal metaphor of the Neolithic and resurrection as it sloughs its skin, which was known to be a metaphor when it was created. From the old snake comes the new; From the old plant, through its seed hiding in the "underworld" comes the new plant. The female water of "the Deep" is changed into the male wine of the sunny surface through the evolution of the situla. Zeus (the herder) gives homage to the earlier indigenous Neolithic people of Greece in his serpent form as Meilichios. In this form  (in the Cretan version) he impregnates Persephone after she is captured as a wife to Hades  and she gives birth to Dionysos. These are just a few of many such transformations and personifications.

In the light of all of the above, it should not come as too much of a shock to anyone that I am claiming that the La Tène religion of the Celtic elite had as one of its most important syncretistic elements, the cult of Dionysos. Mankind, advancing in so many ways, is also devolving in its its growing inability to understand the roots of metaphor. The system of nature, in its essence, is very simple: whenever a species moves to rapidly and too far along, in either direction, the abstracted scale of Mythos to Logos, a new state comes about. We call this extinction. Currently we are hurtling toward Logos at an alarming rate. Driving this extinction, are fools who believe in the primal nature of good and evil. This is state is generated through fear, but fear, itself is really just another expression of evil. I remember, as a young boy, trying to balance a broom pole on one finger. It would swing one way or another and I would counteract that motion to achieve balance again. I would also watch Bugs Bunny cartoons and notice how the unruffled rabbit would, as if by chance, avoid all of the disasters while his frantic opponents would fall into them so easily. The broom pole balancing was just physics: when the earth dam is breached just a little by some water over-spilling its sill, the resulting failure happens very quickly; when the pre-Columbian civilization goes too far in its agricultural methods, the civilization vanishes. I did not understand, at that time, that these were all expressions of the Tao(50):
I've heard of those who are good at cultivating life
Traveling on the road, they do not encounter rhinos or tigers
Entering into an army, they are not harmed by weapons
Rhinos have nowhere to thrust their horns
Tigers have nowhere to clasp their claws
Soldiers have nowhere to lodge their blades
Why? Because they have no place for death
When I go about with my coyote hybrid (coydog), we frequently encounter people who are afraid of him. Tristan will give two short warning barks. If the person then stops manifesting fear, nothing happens but he will then act aloof and it takes a bit of effort for them (with my instruction) to get him to act friendly to them. If, on the other hand, they become even more frightened and especially if they jump backwards, then his hackles will raise, he will bare his teeth, snarl, and lunge to attack. I don't know if he just wants to drive them away (I would like to think so), and I never give him a chance to follow through, but when wild dogs see fear in one of their numbers, they will kill that dog. They know that anything that exhibits fear cannot be trusted and is evil to them. I explain this to those who take my instruction and avoid the attack phase, adding that everyone in my life who has given me any problems are all manifesting some sort of fear.

On a rare occasion you can see those lines from the Tao playing out, on a Bugs Bunny cartoon on TV or, in real life, in a little girl in Africa. As the familiar warning goes, don't try this at home! If you have not evolved into this state, it won't work, and if you are trying to show off it won't work, either. It has to already be a part of you. Once, two loose, large angry dogs threatened me and were about to attack. I fixed them with a look, and then sternly, said "Come here" and pointed to the ground at my feet. They paused. I repeated it and they ran away. I had to undergo an interview, by a visiting expert, before Tristan was entrusted to my care by the City of Calgary because of his "issues". I will soon be going, with  friend, into grizzly bear territory, far away from any people. We plan to take a shotgun with the cartridges loaded with 8mm steel balls and we will take a few flares as well. I did not grow up with bears.

So, let's look into the real metaphor of the ivy. Kerényi (p. 61-64) says:
"Of the two characteristic plants of the Dionysian religion―ivy and the vine―it was the former "colder" plant that suggested a kinship with the snake; thus a snake was twined into the ivy wreaths of the maenads,... The ivy motif is in general far more frequent than the vine motif in Greek art and in the Etruscan art that derives from it. ..."
He goes on to quote Otto:
 "Its cycle of growth gives evidence of a duality which is quite capable of suggesting the two-fold nature of Dionysos. First it puts out the so-called shade-seeking shoots, the scandent tendrils with the well-known lobed leaves. Later, however, a second kind of shoot appears which grows upright and turns toward the light. The leaves are formed completely differently, and now the plant produces flowers and berries. Like Dionysos, it could well be called the 'twice-born.' But in the way in which it produces its flowers and fruit is both strikingly similar to and yet strikingly different from that found on the vine. It blooms, namely, in the autumn, when the grapes of the vine are harvested. And it produces it fruit in the spring. Between its blooming and its fruiting lies the time of dionysos' epiphany in the winter months...."
(Hedera helix murgröna)
Carl Axel Magnus Lindman

Many types of ivy exist and some of the ancient
types are now extinct. The excavators at
Manching mistook the fruit for acorns of the oak,
and perhaps the association of oak with druids
has become conflated, at least in part, with the
oak groves of the oracle of Zeus Dodona. The
staff of the Dionysian Thyrsus was made of
The ivy metaphor becomes lost, perhaps, in Roman times, but certainly later. In its opposition to the grape vine, there are stories that consuming ivy can counteract drunkenness. In other stories, it is supposed to enhance the effect of alcohol, and there is some truth to that because of certain substances it contains, but it is generally somewhat harmful to humans and to animals and should not be consumed. One has to be careful with such "folk remedies". Investigating magic in the seventies, I wondered about a specific plant material that had a history in part of the general subject and could be purchased at health food stores. I bought some and grew a mold on it. Then I had it all analysed (a friend was a medical student). Besides, nearly getting my friend into serious trouble, I discovered that the mold had increased its levels of hyoscyamine about ninety times. This was an effect never noted before. The tiny sample vial carried enough of the drug to kill about fifteen people! Forgive me for not telling you the name of the plant material. It was not what you might expect. I have not seen that plant material offered for sale in recent years.

Caesar had said that Druidism originated in Britain and those who wanted to study it in depth went there. I think, in reality, that Druidism had already changed considerably by Caesar's time and Britain, being off the beaten track, had just retained more of its original form. The mythology of ivy did not continue much on the continent, but after being part of the Saturnalia, it was transferred to Christianity and also, when entering Britain became strengthened by ivy's characteristic of covering everything, as well as having its poor associations with alcohol. In Britain, its meaning had changed even before the conquest, but previous syncretizations at least guaranteed its role in folk lore there. Although it carries a germ of its genesis, its real meaning has become occluded.

Robert Graves writes about it in the White Goddess, but all of that is a bit of a red herring and there is no point in looking in that subject for this plant. Some have said that he wrote the book under the influence of psilocybin.  I really cannot imagine anyone doing much writing under the influence of "magic mushrooms" which has more of an "illusionogen"  effect than does LSD. One of the most dreadful of these compounds is something that people take in much smaller doses a lot and is available without prescription in all drug stores. Again, forgive me if I don't mention... . Far too much attention is given to hallucinogenics in mythology, along with entoptic imagery and this is often just a symptom of the Logos leanings of our current society's difficulties with the use of metaphor. A lot of warfare, today, is also due to us getting far too close to the Logos end of the scale. Joseph Campbell said that people are killing each other over their choices of religious metaphors. "Fundamentalism" in all forms is really its opposite  ― something far newer, harmful to the nth degree, and symptomatic of enantiodromia. Happily, nature will continue and humans can be easily selected out for extinction through evolution.

Tomorrow, why the ivy scroll takes on triplism in its composition in La Tène art.`