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Monthly Archives: August 2010

A Question of Time

To move any original theory out of the realms of the speculative and into something more suitable for considered discussion, factual evidence (factual as being defined as factual according to current evidence) needs to be submitted to better define and backup the hypothesis. One of the reasons why I am part of the Brythonic community lies in it’s core values that bases it’s continuing developing spirituality primarily through documented and evidenced examples provided by some of the current scientific disciplines. It is this prerequisite that means that Brython, unlike a lot of other Pagan paths which are based primarily in personal gnosis, has it’s fledgling spirituality based in evidential material. To the best of my knowledge, this makes it somewhat unusual in the field of spirituality and more so the religious communities, which tend to place their core values through the interpretation of written works with, at best, questionable historical authenticity.

A major part of Brython’s core is the placing of it’s spirituality through the medium of the land. The land defines and creates the frames of reference and it is the understanding of this relationship and more specifically, how previous generations understood and defined this relationship, that drives us forward. These earlier generations had specific understandings about their place within the land and the life contained therein and it is our considered opinion that to understand this perspective accurately, it is necessary to base our understanding upon the artifacts and the context of their discoveries, as opposed to building our understanding upon a single source (even if that single source would appear to be somewhat “inspired” in both origin and understanding). Therefore it is my intention to develop further my Religion of the Soil hypothesis using this particular rigorous approach, submitting factual evidence to better define it.

The question of chronological progress therefore, is important if we are to better understand how the physical conditions and theological outlooks available to these earlier generations impacted upon their motivations. Correct sequencing is important as it provides us with a better tool with which to make informed choices about our understanding of this relationship and for those of us whose interactions are based upon a continuing relationship with these earlier generations, it gives us the means by which to structure interactions that hopefully, make themselves recognizable to these same ancestors in a form as near as we can make to their original rituals through our intentions and actions.

The first consideration therefore is to define the current thinking about the period of time that these actions originated in. As in my earlier post this article gives a general overview that is consistent with current understanding. It would appear from the archaeological records that inhabitation of what is now Britain before the last ice age was one that shows no stable population. Changing climatic conditions were probably responsible for this and some of the earliest artifacts found at such sites as Creswell Crags are strongly suggestive of a nomadic existence following the migratory paths of the available prey animals. The available evidence suggests that this hunter / gatherer existence was maintained to around 4000 BC in Britain when we enter the neolithic age.

It is interesting that technically the neolithic period started at around 9000 BC elsewhere in some other parts of the world and it took 5000 years to arrive here. This article, especially in the sections about the effects of the neolithic revolution and population growth makes some very valid points as to some of the possible reasons for this. The most convincing for me would be the assertion about the dramatic effect settlement would have had in fixed geographical areas and the proportional increase in food production that would have resulted in the reproductive periods of the female population being considerably extended. This settlement and the subsequent rise in population is not apparent in any official evidence and appears to be the subject for some disagreement especially noted here in the section about the Mesolithic / Neolithic period.

What I would therefore conclude would be that the rise of population may not have been as important as the establishment of fixed and relatively stable geographical populations and the concept of ownership, something not needed for a transitory existence evidenced previously, impacting upon social and cultural concepts. Expenditure of time interacting with and through the landscape would have created a different perspective, especially if the populations were experiencing all the seasons as opposed to just a season (or possibly 2) that the migratory animals would have been visiting for before withdrawing back to mainland Europe. Observation of the more pronounced seasonal changes evidenced here in Britain may have been the catalyst for the conceptual idea of a mechanism that placed ancestral influence into the physicality of the landscape and in particular, the soil substrata. As the progression of the neolithic period continued, the cultural and technological importance of the soil would have increased because of its impact upon food and domestic animal production. I would thus suggest that the inclusion of ancestral influence may have been viewed as a form of spiritual fertilization of the soil and that it’s effects may have been increasingly viewed as a central theme.

If this was the case, then the creation of earthen banks would fit my hypothesis that this was a primarily spiritual act, raising the ancestors from their base in the soil and creating a honoured and elevated position both to include them in any and all rituals and also placing upon them roles such as guardians to both peoples and locations. The earliest dated henge in Britain, Llandegai North is estimated to have been constructed around 3200BC some 800 years after our original date for the commencement of the neolithic period, a considerable amount of time with which to interact with and through the landscape and the majority of henge building was between 2800 to 2000 BC representing a total period of some 1200 years.

Burl in 1976 cited in The Stone Circles of the British Isles asserts that “Most henges never originally contained stone circles” which to the best of my knowledge, continues to be the case. The later inclusion of stone into these structures may have initially represented nothing more than an early pragmatic representation of the living populations using what was locally available, however I would suggest that this medium would be key in a transition that would see the establishment of a spiritual understanding that turned from collective ancestors and moved into the realms of the otherworld and a wider cosmological context.  I would contend therefore that using the current chronological sequence, the original building of earthen henges represents a physical representation of the original spiritual position of Britain’s first long term residential populations and that this spirituality was one based upon an understanding of the nature and inclusion of the ancestors through the medium of the soil.

 
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Posted by on August 4, 2010 in Brythonic

 

The Bones of Britain

The oldest recorded name associated with Britain is Albion. As can be seen, this is thought to refer to the chalk substrata particularly, though not exclusively, of the coast of Britain. The south of what is now England is made up of large areas of this substance with the world heritage site around Stonehenge being built upon this. So what role may the chalk have played in the understanding of the early Brythonic generations?

Well, using the framework of the Religion of the Soil, if we consider the reality of living in those times, I would suggest that the evidence of death would be common place in the environment. Carcases from wild and domesticated animals would have been present, no doubt in varying degrees of decomposition, along with human remains. Mike Pitts in his book Hengeworld proposes that there may have been a perceived two stage transformation involved with human death and the use of the  henges was one that facilitated this transformation from first the living to dead and  second from dead to ancestor.

The henges in Wessex use the chalk strata in their actual construction. Silbury hill was thought to have the chalk on the outside of it’s constructed banks and Mike Pitts again suggests that the banking in Durrington was similar although he also suggests it may have been present in the inside as well. The “new” henge at Marden is showing a chalk floor at one of it’s entrances. Therefore, apart from an entirely pragmatic approach that uses what is readily available in the environment for construction, could there be another understanding as to the properties of chalk?

Referring to the earlier assumption of the presence of decaying material in the environment and using the ideas associated with my proposed Brythonic religion of the soil, it occurs to me that bleached bones may have been thought of as examples of chalk. Or, more accurately, the chalk may have been thought of as being deposits of either a) processed ancestral bones or b) the bones of the land (Britain) containing the ancestors. This understanding, I would suggest, represents both a natural and easy position to hold and of course, we know now that chalk is actually the calcified remains of the skeletons of marine animals, so this idealogical viewpoint would actually have some basis in fact.

So the first stage of this transformation would have been the removal, either through natural or artificial means, of the flesh from the deceased. The timing of the rituals, predominately around solar or lunar events suggest that the individuals who were to be transported into the realms of the ancestors, would have had to have been dead for some time before hand so that the bones may have been viewed to be in a suitable physical state. This was not always the case though and there are examples of what appear to have been ritualistic killings in these sites though I suspect these actions would have been for specific causes, appeasement for example, as opposed to the honoured dead.

So, the first part of the journey of the dead may have been started in the henges with their chalk banking and their timber posts, possibly representing the land of the living being interacted with by the ancestors, using this medium of chalk present in the banks. Leaving these henges, the procession would have traveled up the ritualistic avenues, also constructed from chalk and thus representing transportation of the bones through the medium of the ancestors or the land, until entry into the henges of stone and into the realms of the dead and the final transformation of the bones. The subsequent discovery of bones under various examples of standing stones tends to suggest this to be the case, no doubt the positioning of the bones may have been understood to represent the individual leaving their earthly place and migrating into the medium of the ancestors.

Therefore, I would suggest that chalk may have been considered to be the facilitating substance that enabled the migration of the individual from human to ancestor.

 
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Posted by on August 1, 2010 in Brythonic