In my previous post, I speculated as to the origins of a potential “Religion of the Soil” mentioned in a text from 1911. Subsequent work amongst the Brython community has established this quote to be somewhat dubious if the author was accrediting the quote, as is suggested, to one Marcus Valerius Probus who lived in the 1st Century AD. The problem is that the subject matter, the Saint Martin of Tours, was a 4th century AD saint. However, the work this quote was taken from, the Georgics, appears to be a patchwork of commentaries ranging from the 1st century to the end of antiquity and further, the referencing is vague. So it would appear that the specifics of that quote don’t historically match the facts. However, if this quote has the potential to have been mistranslated and historically distorted, I remain of the opinion that this Religion of the Soil may be based in fact.
With this in mind, I’ll continue to speculate as to the progression of this early religious understanding and how it may have developed using the current archaeological understanding of the progression of monuments such as Stone Henge, which appears to be representative through both construction methods and historical time frame references with a lot of these types of monuments here in the British Isles.
The period of long barrow construction appears to be one that spanned several millenia, which suggests to me two things. First, that the spiritual belief system, the religion of the soil, was stable and widely used. Second, the human population was stable and probably not in large scale conflict. I make the second assumption because the history of conflict shows us that changes of perspectives, both spiritual and practical are often prompted by conflict with the victors imposing their beliefs and practices over the vanquished (unless, of course, this belief system was common to both parties).
Using SH as our primary reference, there appears to be a re-alligning of beliefs over several hundred years from around 3000 BC. Stone artifacts in the form of standing stones appear in these henges, whose original constructions appear to be of just earthen banks, suggesting as I previously raised, that these areas were for the ancestors using the medium they may have believed them to currently inhabit, the soil. I have also read elsewhere, and this has been raised in the link to the proposed historical progression of SH in the comments section, that one possible purpose of the ditch was to “keep in” the henge, that which the population wished to interact with. I would suggest, using the ideas I have raised so far, that this would be in keeping with my speculation here, that is to say, they wished to “keep in” the ancestors and the formation of the ditch may have been their way of creating a restraining influence on these ancestors.
So, what may have been the circumstances that led to this apparent re-allignment? Well, if we think about the time periods these henges would have been in existence for at around 3000 BC, then some of them would be aged at over 1500 years, which is quite a long period of time. No doubt, their physical appearance would be different, at least in some of the less well used ones, with the more well used ones being subject to frequent maintenance. The natural elements, driven no doubt by climatic conditions, would have had a resultant effect on the physical condition of these henges. There is some data that suggests that from 3500 BC to 3000 BC, the climate did, indeed, take a turn for the worse. It doesn’t take a large leap of imagination as to the results of such climatic upheaval upon the spiritual resolve of these peoples.
Constant maintenance as a result of an intense storm driven climate would, no doubt, have led to the questioning of the supposed power and influence of these ancestors in their henges. Maybe not so much of the ancestors spiritual influence, but one of their physical influence. If the ancestors were a presence that influenced the people at all times, then shouldn’t their physical appearance be one of a more permanent nature also?
Physical interactions and processes viewed as interacting with the soil, such as intense periods of heat for example, may have led some to conclude that the soil may be subject to an ongoing change from pliable to fixed. Sandstone springs to mind readily, a “soft” rock that may have been viewed as being in a state of transformation, one that was still soft enough to be damaged by humans with their bare hands, but would ultimately, be hard enough to not be damaged by human hands without some form of additional tools. Therefore, is it possible that a continuing developing understanding may have concluded that the presence of stone may represent the ancestors at a different stage of development?
Stone would have been seen to be not affected as much as the soil strata when subject to climatic conditions. Stone would have been observed to contain the small particles present in soil, but “fixed” in a solid state. Therefore, logically those same particles viewed in the stone must contain those same ancestors as seen in the ground soil. The ancestors would have been present in stone! This must have represented quite a leap for a people for whom the ground soil may have represented the physical animating force of the ancestors with the realization that the ancestors may also be present in a more fixed substance!
In the last part, I’ll speculate upon the reasoning that may have led to the establishment of a belief in forces being present in the unseen realms of existence.