Friday, 20 May 2011


I live in a rational age in which churches fear the numinous. Post Reformation, Jesus was banished from Protestant churches (no statues or pictures) to the Platonic realm, high above the mundane earth. God has become a god of the Gap -exiled to the cold, empty space of the unseen universe.

The Christian philosophy belongs to the Platonic tradition, with its belief in a Pure realm of perfection, whilst the church's iconic symbolism and cycle of festivals belong to an older, more messy dimension -the mythologies of Dionysus, Attis, Damuzi.

Persephone has her place still, as the Virgin Mary.

Death and marriage are mediated by the church: because there is a human need to make life events sacred, or rather to make extraordinary by linking them with something not of this world.

The story of the abduction of Persephone describes an emotionally charged event, listening to or thinking about the story resonates with similar experiences in my own life. Nevertheless the 'new' narratives we have to add meaning to life events generally fail in my case.

Meanwhile, within the church, no believer would describes the life of Jesus as an allegory..

The Persephone myth in particular is used to defend the theory that myth is allegory; the autumn trees weeping leaves recall Persephone's mother weeping for her daughter; the cold hard winds of winter bringing hail and snow and the weakening days all echo the state of the mother's heart as she rages and despairs.

Others have seen Greek mythology as disguised philosophy and theology, concealing deep secrets from those who do not understand it. The people who believed this (predominantly 15th to 18th Century) went on to create sets of symbols and concepts which indeed can be read as a 'secret language'.

Unfortunately this does not prove that the Greek myths were originally used in the same way.

It is my contention that myth exists primarily to provide a Sacred narrative. We invent myth to make the ordinary extraordinary. Myth increases the meaning of an event by linking the here and now with a Golden Age and a Divine Event: the sacred narrative cushions painful experiences, it transforms the empty and meaninglessness of events and makes them more important; it provides the mind with a 'way in' to something that could be too painful to address otherwise.

In the Persephone myth the natural allegory is of the changing seasons, whilst the deeper, emotional allegory deals first with marriage, and secondly with death.

Though all the funerals I have been to were cremations, the coffin still sinks underground.

Belief alone is required for the alchemical transformation -to make an experience Sacred.

So by my definition, parents talk about Father Christmas (teach a myth as fact) to make the 25th of December an extraordinary day, ostensibly for the children. The myth acts to link the mundane and troublesome fact of wanting stuff with a divine entity (a virtual entity/not of this world), the myth provides a space in which to make temporarily sacred, the desire for stuff.

When people believe that there has been 'Satanic Abuse' taking place, it is a 'myth' acting to connect anxiety with the 'divine' or rather the daemonic (a virtual entity/not of this world). The symbols that anxiety pulls to itself are drawn from prevailing cultures, and inverted. Fear of satanic abuse and the inevitable 'witch hunt' provides meaning, creates a sense of the extraordinary and creates out of itself a way to deal with anxiety...

What I was going to write about, or rather to tentatively begin to explore was the subject of Heiros Gamos. But it seemed to me that I needed to explain -to myself as much as to anyone else- what I mean by myth and how myth functions.

I will just say that to our, modern ears, the story of Persephone and her abduction by her uncle falls far short of what we imagine by the Heiros Gamos; the story of Persephone is to modern ears one of abuse, it is a cover up, a way to make the 'abduction' of arranged marriage appear benign, the word marriage in this case is a shame...

But Sacred and sex and abduction are connected via myth, just because the church bowdlerise the myths as part of its recycling process doesn't mean the missing words cannot be put back...

Sunday, 8 May 2011

At sea...

I don't really feel as if I've finished with The Bronze Age, or rather with the edge between my time and then. Midsummer is this and the last century's time of celebration at those places (Woodhenge and The Sanctuary) but how important is it to record, to take the snap-shot?

I'm trying to tell myself that I've finished there....
But why was I there?

I was looking for Persephone's grave and found myself caught between the edges of conflicting beliefs. I started writing this from a Jungian point of view -in which the lost girl, abduction into the underworld, is an archetype and therefore found where ever there are people. Trusting in this principle I was happy to use it as an excuse to trace examples from different time periods and to visit far off places (!)

The Romans began the modern habit of portraying myths as universals and searching out Greek mythology as a 'pure' source.

Freud and Campbell  muddied the water somewhat with their belief in 'monomyths' (Freud couldn't see beyond Oedipus, and Campbell saw all and everything as the hero's journey) both placed myth somewhere between the id and ego, even as a bridge to enlightenment.

Campbell defined mythology as:
"A constellation of sign releasing and directing"
A functioning mythological symbol evokes energy and when it happens in a accord with that persons culture, the symbol acts correctly. In other words a mythological symbol from a different culture or 'passing through an over educated brain' is likely to be misinterpreted and so short-circuit the message. We have been educated within a specific local culture system, and so using an imported set of symbols should not work for us...Hillman had a similar opinion about 'imported' myths.

Jung wasn't so heavy; in his opinion mythology was a compendium of universal symbols which would act to bring consciousness back to the unconscious (like the solar barque as it floats each night through the Egyptian underworld, temporarily restoring life to the sleeping dead).

In my own time we, like the Romans, harvest mythologies from favored and long gone cultures and rewrite at leisure.

But the fact remains that at the center of Woodhenge and on the NE side of of a stone (long gone) in The Sanctuary bodies were found. How spurious is it to link them to mythology?

In my time the Woodhenge child is believed to be female, the bones from The Sanctuary offer more evidence for the sex of the burial...

Of course there are many more circles and many more such burials.

But both burials have been considered to have been female.

I needed a physical location to begin.

Aubrey Burl recalls the sacrifice of Iphigenia (in his description of the burial at Woodhenge in his book -Rites Of The Gods) to help us understand that what ever is sacrificed should be precious. No good offering the gods something that you don't care about. Agamemnon, waiting with his ships to sail to Troy is told by the priest that Artemis (preventing the wind from blowing the right way) will only be appeased by the sacrifice of his daughter.

The sacrifice of a girl to legitimise war may be seen as a continuation of the hunting myth as described by Karen Armstrong. In the hunting myth Artemis is Mistress of animals, vengeful and demanding exacting bloodshed if the rituals of the hunt are violated -she demands celibacy.

Walter Burkert in Homo Necans describes an oath sworn by Attic Ephebes in the sanctuary of Aglauros (a king's daughter who met with a mysterious death) to Artemis Agrotera (Goddess of the outdoor world) and in another example, the army was said to have made sacrifices at the sanctuary of the Hyakinthides before setting out to war. The Hyakinthides were often portrayed as the daughters of the first king of of Athens -Erechtheus, who had been killed in the war between Athens and Eleusis. The Hyakinthides offered themselves as sacrifices and their deaths were repeated in sacrifices before war..

Karen Armstrong in A Short History of Myth explains how myths can be transformative and yet would recognise the myth (specifically the buffalo myth he quotes in Myths To Live By) described by Campbell in which the sacrificed girl becomes the bride of the quarry, demonstrating that to get one has to give.

I see something all together darker; the legend of the lost girls becomes a motivation for vengeance, an excuse for the subsequent killing. As Burkert says, 'hunting and killing are learnt' they become tests of manhood.

Man declines love in order to kill.

This returns us to Artemis the huntress and virgin.

Do I agree with his statement that:" maiden sacrifice is the strongest expression of the attempt to renounce sexuality"?

Sexuality will get at least one chapter in The Book of Persephone, eventually.

So where next?
Well I'm still in Britain, cash-strapped, time-strapped.
Then I come across this quote:
The following story which Artemidorus has told about the crows is unbelievable. There is a certain harbor on the coast which, according to him, is named "Two Crows". In this harbor are seen two crows, with their right wings somewhat white. Men who are in dispute about certain matters come here, put a plank on an elevated place, and then each man separately throws up cakes of barley. The birds fly up and eat some of the cakes, but scatter others. The man whose cakes are scattered wins the dispute.

Although this story is implausible, his report about the goddesses Demeter and Core is more credible. He says that there is an island near Britain on which sacrifices are performed like those in Samothrace for Demeter and Core.

Britain had something like the mysteries performed in Samothrace?

Who was Artemidorus?

Artemidorus in his book, Geography. Artemidorus wrote an eleven book geography in Greek in the 1st century BC, based on his travels around the Mediterranean. The geography was lost, except for a few quotations in Strabo...until now.

As I can't find Artemidorus's map, here is Strabo's map of the world. The word *Britain* seems fairly authentic -Pytheas as quoted by Strabo uses Bretannikē as a feminine noun to describe the country, rather as its name -so this is a Britannic country.

Pliny uses the name Britannia, with Britanniae meaning all the islands, "the Britons."

Diodorus calls this land Brettanikē nēsos, "the British Island", and Brettanoi, "the British."

Ptolemy calls here, Bretania and Bretanikai nēsoi:

But again, there are more questions than answers: this map is in English...but the name, or description of a place known as 'Britain' seems quite trustworthy: Pliny the Elder (c. 23–79 AD) wrote in his Natural History
"It was itself named Albion, while all the islands about which we shall soon briefly speak were called the Britanniae"
. Aristotle (c. 384–322 BC), in his text On the Universe, Vol. III. wrote:
"in the ocean however, are two islands, and those very large, called Bretannic, Albion and Ierna (Ierna is Ireland)".
This archipelago has been referred to by a single name for over 2,000 years. I personally don't see Britain as a chain or cluster of islands, but then, I live in the Midlands...

I am wondering what was meant by calling this country the britannike? Some say that it refers to the name of our language.
"The name Brittonic derives ultimately from the name Prettanike, recorded by Greek authors for the British Isles". Reference Wiki.

But if I take Strabo's quote from Artemidorus seriously, what does it mean to say:
* Sacrifices are performed like those in Samothrace for Demeter and Core?
*And which of the many islands near to Britain was Artemidorus refering to?

Apollonius Rhodius. 3rd Century B.C. wrote a play called The Argonautica. It is a source of information for the Mysteries of Samothrace. In one of the early episodes, the travelers stop off at Samothrace in order to undergo initiation into the cult of the Megaloi Theoi (the Great Gods)...

Ah well, to be continued!