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.`

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