Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Garden megaliths

Pagan couple move their stone circle into suburban home
clipped from www.telegraph.co.uk
The stone circle megalith was originally erected in the grounds of Abbotts Court by Burberry fashion house founder Thomas Burberry in the early 1900s.

The couple - who teach magic and witchcraft - uncovered the stone circle shortly after they bought Abbotts Court in 1980 and planned to leave it as an historic landmark when they downsized.

But the property developer who bought the mansion threatened to dump the monoliths if they were left behind.

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Well, if the stones were prehistoric, they had already been removed from their original context by the former owner of the couple's house (Thomas Burberry), and the Pagan couple have saved them from destruction by the property developers that bought their house. It does suggest that this kind of garden feature should be protected by heritage legislation, as the fashion for (supposedly) "druidic" garden features was very popular at one point (especially in the Gothick phase of Romanticism), though 1900 seems quite late for this kind of thing. I wonder where the stones came from originally?

Update: I am reliably informed that by the Edwardian period the law would have stopped even a plutocrat from uprooting a genuine stone circle, and that this is a modern one, made of quarried Portland stones. Nevertheless it still seems wrong that the property developers could just do away with such an interesting garden feature.

Friday, 21 November 2008

witches in history

The main witch persecutions that resulted in actual deaths started in the 16th century, mainly due to economic and social pressures resulting from the Reformation. (See Religion and the Decline of Magic by Keith Thomas). People had previously relied on the charity provided by the monasteries; once these were dissolved in England, there were a lot more poor old people around asking for handouts. People felt guilty for not helping them, so when the old women went away mumbling, they assumed that they had been bewitched when they got psychosomatic symptoms resulting from their feelings of guilt. Also the Catholic Church had provided oodles of protection against sorcery, in the form of holy water, amulets etc., whereas the Protestants just told people to pray. Great.

The Inquisition was more interested in persecuting heretics, especially conversos (Jews and Muslims forcibly converted to Catholicism) in Spain. The majority of people judicially killed for witchcraft were in Protestant areas.

The witch persecutions in England differed in character from those in the rest of Europe. The things people were accused of were different. In Europe, witches were accused of flying to Sabbats and having intercourse with the devil; frequently, midwives were accused of performing abortions and stealing children (source: numerous broadsheets in German). In England, they were accused of having witches' teats to give suck to their familiars; bewitching cattle etc. In Europe and Scotland, witchcraft was a heresy, and therefore subject to ecclesiastical law, with the penalty of being burnt. In England, witchcraft was a felony, subject to criminal law, and the penalty was hanging.

There is no unbroken line of witch religion stretching back into the mists of time. The foundation date of modern Wicca appears to have been sometime in the 1920s, according to the latest research by Philip Heselton in Gerald Gardner and the Cauldron of Inspiration (an excellent book, as was its predecessor, Wiccan Roots). During the nineteenth century (and possibly the eighteenth century), there were various people who either self-identified as cunning folk or witches, or were labelled as such by their neighbours. However there was no organised movement of witchcraft, only isolated groups 'reinventing the wheel' - and they weren't necessarily pagan either - much of their magic was based on Christian symbolism (cf the story Marklake Witches by Rudyard Kipling). Note that the cunning folk were not witches - during the period of persecution they had often accused women of being witches and handed them over to the authorities.

In England, small snippets of Pagan belief and practice had survived and been incorporated into folk belief and practice - but again there was no large-scale survival of ancient Paganism. In some of the more remote corners of Europe (e.g. Scandinavia and Lithuania), ancient Paganisms survived much longer, and so when they were revived, the revivals were much closer to the original forms. There were also traditional practitioners of magic in Finland, particularly among the Sami people.

People really should be forced to read Triumph of the Moon: a history of modern pagan witchcraft by Ronald Hutton before they are allowed to make pronouncements about the history of witchcraft.

There's also an excellent article by Jenny Gibbons, Recent developments in the study of the Great European Witch Hunt, originally published in The Pomegranate, the journal of Pagan Studies.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

The Vikings' burning question

You see, they were sensitive types really...
The Vikings' burning question: some decent graveside theatre
The average Viking lived a life in which spirituality and thoughts of immortality played a far more important part than the rape and pillage more usually associated with his violent race, according to new research. A study of thousands of excavated Viking graves suggests that rituals were performed at the graveside in which stories about life and death were presented as theatre, with live performances designed to help the passage of the deceased from this world into the next.

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Tironian notes

I just discovered the fascinating topic of Tironian notes and other ancient alphabets and forms of shorthand.

Tironian notes were invented in Ancient Rome by a freed slave called Tiro, and remained in use into the medieval period. They were a form of shorthand. The Tironian & symbol is still in use in Ireland, according to the Wikipedia article.

I wonder if any archaeological items have been found with Tironian notation on them?

Monday, 17 November 2008

Göbekli Tepe

Possibly the world's oldest temple...
Six miles from Urfa, an ancient city in southeastern Turkey, Klaus Schmidt has made one of the most startling archaeological discoveries of our time: massive carved stones about 11,000 years old, crafted and arranged by prehistoric people who had not yet developed metal tools or even pottery. The megaliths predate Stonehenge by some 6,000 years. The place is called Gobekli Tepe, and Schmidt, a German archaeologist who has been working here more than a decade, is convinced it's the site of the world's oldest temple.
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Monday, 3 November 2008

Home of Robinson Crusoe

They actually found a pair of dividers which probably belonged to Alexander Selkirk.
clipped from news.bbc.co.uk

Archaeologists have unearthed evidence of the campsite of a marooned sailor who is said to have inspired the fictional castaway Robinson Crusoe.

The findings, carried in the journal Post-Medieval Archaeology, follow digs on a Pacific island west of Chile.

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