One of the constants in my life is my love of music. And just like as a person I change through time crafted by experience, my musical tastes have changed also. So, in a purely self indulgent kind of a way, I will be posting music here that has had an effect on me. I start with a song off the latest CD I recently brought. I’m not one for profanities normally, but this is just fucking awesome…
The establishment and consequent work done here has been a journey that I had not forseen would involve the volume of materials that I have published. To date, this site has 35 posts at an average of 1100 words per post, a staggering amount of information previously tied up in my head. Therefore, I have decided to take stock, using the advice of a very good friend. I have difficulty accepting there would be any interest in my personal thoughts and as such, my posts have been of primarily a style more suited to academic research as I prefer to offer the facts as I see them and invite people to comment and thus engage in moving things forward. It would appear though, that my style of being able to condense such a large amount of information into these pieces is very problematic in general. Therefore I will endeavour to offer a more bullet point approach and break these down to more managable sizes, which will probably lead to an increase in posting frequency but a sizable reduction in content, more in keeping with personable blogs.
My work with my Religion of the Soil hypothesis has lead me to establish a separate site specifically for this subject, which I now realise is the sensible way forward. Therefore, most of the material relating to this will now be taken off this particular site with a view to effecting the changes I have highlighted above.
As we approach the dark period of the year, this year’s dark period seems to be taking on some unusual significance for me. In the next month, I have my talk to deliver at the TDN conference and the background work I’m engaged in at the moment is providing me with some deep spiritual realizations as to the nature of the interactions I have been engaging in. The effects of the loss of daylight upon human communittees, for example in the Scandinavian countries is well documented. And as a Heating engineer, this time of the year signals the “busy half” of my working year. Yet, the work for the talk has given me some grounding as to the nature of my interactivity with both the human world and the natural world.
I think the biggest problem in today’s global society is that now the world has become a “smaller” place and we realize the scale of the numbers of other humans alive at this time and one can’t help but find themselves questioning what possible influence or difference their own interactions or place may have on any useful outcomes. How could one individual possibly make any difference whatsoever? It easy to slip into a depression if the answer is conceived as “none”.
My work into the Religion of the Soil hypothesis suggests the theological position indicated by a communal burial system is that death somehow “strips” an aspect of individuality away from the deceased by the act and subsequent transformation of the remains of the dead. Clearly, it may have been considered to be the case that a return to a communal ancestry was the desired outcome. Yet, for an organism whose very existence emphasizes the individuality of it’s existence, this presents conflicting emotional responses. We value our individuality, especially if it empowers us to live as fully functioning self reliant entities, but when we don’t “see” the results of our endeavours, and unfortunately in a society increasingly demanding instant results this is often the perceived outcome, then we feel that our actions have failed. We haven’t made a difference.
Yet if it is the case that the result of the transformative process of death is the return to a collective, we are left to wonder why we are given a life form that emphasizes the individual? Why not just have a collective style of life form? Biologically of course, the answer is that we are a collective. A collective of bacteria and other biological processes that somehow conspire to be “greater than the sum of it’s parts”. And therein may lie the answer to our dilemma. The cell in the body is capable of acting as a fully autonomous entity within a collective, capable of all the functions we use to classify it as a living entity, respiration, reproduction and autonomous movement.
So how could one cell have any influence whatsoever on the actions and effects of all the other trillions of similar lifeforms present in our body? Primarily of course, the programming of the cell is the answer. The autonomy of the cell allows for it to react to different situations and the interactivities it engages in may have a consequence for all other cells, for example the creation of a pattern of behaviour that destroys cancerous growths. Therefore the individuality of the cell must give the collective an advantage by which the organism may evolve. If this is indeed the case, then the return of the individual dead to the collective makes more sense and also goes some way to explain why life appears to be programmed to enhance this collective with an individuality based life form.
Of course, not every cell may be as influential as the one that develops the new equipment by which to further enhance the collectives evolution, however, it is the results of this interaction, driving and modifying all the other cells behaviour and the subsequent advantage gained, that points to us that life, by creating individuality, is actually driving a collective. A collective we emerge from and a collective we will ultimately return to. Modern culture suggests that we are only judged on results, but these results are subjective whereas it may be that the fate of the majority of us is that we contribute in less pronounced ways, but contribute, we surely will by the very existence of our individuality.
My time at the moment is taken up with preparations for my upcoming talk at The Druid Network’s Conference in November. The subject will be my Religion of the Soil hypothesis, which is not official Brythonic agreed cosmological worldview, but my own developing understanding and as such, is meeting some resistance, as historically does most changes of agreed perspectives. I have been applying the hypothesis to various scenario’s and have found it to be providing a differing perspective and as such, is hugely useful as , IMO, perspectives inevitably change with the submission and interpretation of new information.
One major change of perspective is the realization that the idea of a communal ancestral ideaology means that the physical substance of soil, if viewed as the physical interacting remains of the ancestors, may in modern terms be viewed as an interactive component in transmutation. To put this crudely, the soil may have been thought of as acting as a lens for the process of interactions. This strengthens the assertion that the earthern banks evidenced in henges were more than just a structure with which to enclose an area, but were actually integral in the process of transmuting the information that may have been provided by the ancestors in rituals and everyday interactions. As such, I find my animistic understanding to resonate with this perspective as it suggests both a means and method of process that is in keeping with my own experiences.
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.
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.
In my last two posts, I speculated about the establishment and possible later subsequent theological interpretation by the British populations of a Religion of the Soil. My initial curiosity was roused by the now, somewhat historically dubious, quote accredited to the Georgians. This period was a period of time in Britain known as the Neolithic age. This age was notable for several things, as can be seen on the provided link. One was the establishment of comunittees that settled into an agricultural lifestyle, providing food grown by and on the land as opposed to the earlier hunter / gatherer peoples. Adoption of this lifestyle points to how a religion of the soil would have been both a logical and natural position from which to develop a spiritual framework that would be directly influenced by both environment and the earlier interactions of previous generations.
These people worked with stone but the tools produced were mainly produced by chipping or knapping and it wasn’t until the end of this period that a more sophisticated working of the stone appeared. These later techniques were responsible for the dressed stones seen in henges in varyingly degrees of quality. It would, therefore, lead one to speculate whether these techniques led to the stones being accredited with ancestral power, possibly by the accumulations of stone dust being assimilated back into the soil, thus revealing the origin of the stone or whether the theological position of the ancestors residing in the stone drove the stone working techniques. Either way, it would appear that for the next several hundred years, stone was accredited with the quality of ancestor influence and how the stone appeared was deemed important enough for these people to spend many hours dressing the stone. Britain’s ultimate example of the effort involved would be represented by Stonehenge (without wishing to reduce the influence and quality of other examples out there).
However, referring back to the link presented in my first post that relates to a proposed historical development of Stonehenge, we see the adoption of further influences and the subsequent redevelopment as a consequence of a continuing developing spiritual framework. The most obvious of these would be the positioning of the stones in relation to the entrances into and out of the monument, and the alignment with the midwinter and midsummer sun.
This hints at a theological movement that now places spiritual influence out of the strictly physical and into the nonphysical side of life. This would appear to be a position that didn’t create conflict, as it would appear to me that the inclusion of stone was still central, judging by the positioning of the stones, so I would suggest that these were seen as complimentary forces. I would also suggest that any influx of peoples from mainland Europe may have brought with them ideas about the nonphysical and that may have also have been judged initially as complementary to this position.
However, I refer back to the climatic information provided here and especially the period of time from 2300 BC. There is no doubt in my mind that such climatic conditions and the results of such weather patterns, with crop failures and the subsequent consequences, would have led the populations, quite understandably, to reassess their belief systems. It may have been concluded that the main power lay not in the physical realms of the ancestors, but in the nonphysical realms, that being represented by the air that brought the extreme weather patterns that were laying ruin to their endeavours. Something would have been seen as being even more powerful than the ancestors and the indiscriminate nature of the activities may have hinted at a force that didn’t originate from a genealogical line so therefore this force would not be tied to the populations by blood. The influence of these powers therefore, could not be relied based upon through family ties.
Therefore, we may have our earliest candidate for the circumstances that may have led to a British spiritual hierarchical structure being developed with different entities being accredited with different powers. The severing of blood ties (genealogically) would have reinforced the notion of a power beyond the human, the God. Population increases and increasing trading with mainland Europe may also have influenced the perceptions of the nature of these Gods, as these Gods would have been understood to be more of a transient nature, not being tied to a physical place but instead to a group or groups of people, which if climatic conditions were impacting upon the populations, may have proved to be a more pragmatic way in which to invoke the favours of the otherworld. The Gods were forcing the populations away from the ancestral grounds through climatic change, therefore their influence may have been viewed as being now in the ascendancy compared to the previous ancestors. This, logically, would have seen the establishment of a hierarchical structure, evidenced by later religious frameworks and thus moving the greater power away from the earlier religion of the soil.