Sunday, 26 June 2011

Five point stars...

The Sumerians, and the Akkadians didn't use five point stars very often..

And Venus/Ishtar or Inanna is not represented by a five point star, ever..there, I've said it!

No really, this whole thing about the Babylonians designating Ishtar with a five point star looks like total rubbish to me. I can't remember a single occasion when I have seen a five point star in a Mesopotamian image.

If you know better, please let me know.

The basic star symbol represents the title Dingir -meaning god, especially in the first millennium BC

There is an archaic word that people say means corner (ub) and was drawn as a five point star, they say...

But actually it is more like a box with triangles added. It is hard to translate it, because I know so little. But it seems to mean something like the four quarters, meaning the area, or (in this case) the area of the world.

The next 'word' is translated as: (Old Babylonian) villages, settlements; the inhabited world; totality, world

So, no.
I don't see any connection between the 'Babylonians' and the five point Venus star.

Except the Babylonians would know that for every eight Venus orbits (cycles), our Earth completes five orbits (years).

The Egyptians, on the other hand, frequently used a five point star symbol as this image from the tomb of Tuthmosis III (1425 BC) shows. It is possible that the five point star (within a circle) means the Duat (the night-time Netherworld through which the sun rides the solar ship...).

Stars may also represent gods, and that's sort of an end to it.

Except perhaps there is a Venus alignment for some prehistoric monuments, but I don't think I'm going any further with this subject.

Saturday, 25 June 2011


Everyone knows that the planet Venus has the pentagram as its symbol right.
But why?

And how long has there been a connection between the star shape and the prettiest star?

Anything I write from this point on will reveal how bad I am at mathematics, nevertheless, I want to work this thing out.

So:  Venus goes 13 times around the sun for every 8 orbits of Earth. This must mean that Venus is in the same place in the sky (same date, same time) once every eight years I think...

Venus is linked to the Fibonacci series via the ratio of Earth's 13 to the 8 of Venus. The Fibonacci series describes the ratio that creates spiral sea-shells, or the pattern of seeds in a sunflower.

The Fibonacci numbers are:, 5, 8, 13, 21. So one could predict (but in my case can't see it!) that Venus would make some kind of pretty patten, or at least a regular pattern when observed. So it is that people say, Venus traces an almost perfect geometrical shape.

But not from where I'm standing.

Newton, on the other hand...could.
But he was very good at maths!

Four thousand years ago, the view from space (let alone the sure and certain knowledge that we were atop a ball of rock rotating around a star) wasn't available. The most logical way to solve this mystery of Venus as linked to a pentangle star-shape is to remain earth bound and look at sky maps showing the stars above me for the same day and time and location for eight years recording where Venus is, and then draw a line between them and see if it makes a star!

I have just done that, and convinced myself that I get a kind of warped five point star shape.

The Mesopotamian tablets that describes the movements of stars, sun and moon are known as The Enuma Anu Enlil.  Tablet 63 is the Venus tablet of Ammisaduqa, (1750 BC) mostly it describes Venus's position and provides something along the lines of 'red sky at night, shepherd's delight' information: 'Venus enters the sun, or Venus enters the furrow and the wind blows'. There is some discussion about the colour of clouds seen around Venus, but mostly we are in Old Moore's Almanac territory:
"The gods of the land will decide the case of the land for evil. Enlil will hang the plow of the land on a peg...."
The Enuma Elish which may have been written around the same time or after The Enuma Anu Enlil describes Marduk creating the heavens and the earth from the body of Tiamat with the stars as the domains of the gods, and setting out the order of their movements. Any disorder such as an eclipse (even though it was predictable) was considered to be unfortunate. The gods would purposely cause plagues and war, the signs in the sky meant that appeasement of the particular god whose star was signalling the warning, was possible and disaster could be averted.

We are no better off, from the Internet it appears to me that people are not too sure whether or not to believe that Venus has an effect on the economy, or a child born when Mercury and Venus are in the sky may be the Messiah, or if Saturn in conjunction with Mars causes earthquakes.

In Mesopotamia, 1100 BC, people had a theory that explained causation of dire events, and explained why the celestial event didn't always correlate with the predicted event.

We live in a time when the Popparian dictum of being able to falsify, but never to prove a theory, is supposed to reign. Each of us is supposed to enjoy science, enjoy uncertainty and to prefer boldly facing the unknown...But we are not very different from the people of Mesopotamia.

But, more often than not Ishtar/Inanna is shown holding rings in her hands, the loop symbol of a ring-headed doorpost. Sometimes she is shown with a star, but usually an eight point star (as in the eight years of it's rotation?) and not a pentagram.

So I don't see any strong connection with the deamonically satanic pentagram and Venus as Inanna.

Whilst there is certainly a connection between Inanna and the planet Venus; the Sumerian stories Inanna and Shu-kale-tuda: translation and The Descent can both be interpreted as linking her with the visible movement of the planet.

And prehistoric, Neolithic connections with the planet?
I've heard it said of Newgrange and Bryn Celli Dhu....

Friday, 24 June 2011


It bothers me, this name Hakpen, this idea of a serpent path from the trinity of Avebury to the Sanctuary. It bothers me that I haven't read Stukeley's book, but there isn't much I can do about that.

The reason why Stukeley put a serpent with the Holy Trinity of Avebury isn't so hard to understand, just I was being a bit thick!

Now I don't really know why Stukeley did anything, or thought anything that he did. But I am assuming that the Freemason's G we see today, has always stood for Gnosis meaning wisdom, knowledge: God, Geometry and The Great Work.

Gnosticism in short describes spirit confined by matter; and a god that is mad, bad and dangerous to know. But knowledge, gnosis, is redemption.

I keep forgetting that Shamhat stands in the place of the snake, because there isn't a serpent in the garden of Eden moment in the Sumerian story that becomes Adam and Eve and The Fall. In the Sumerian story, Shamhat the prostitute is the temptation that brings knowledge, in other words she is the 'serpent' . And the knowledge she gives to Enkidu is how to be human. She gives him a bath, and beer, cooked food and company. Before Shamhat, Enkidu was at one with nature, running free with the animals and eating grass.

It is likely that the bible sees the whole thing from Enkidu's point of view; before Shamhat  he was happy being an animal. After Shamhat, running around, having adventures with the renegade king Gilgamesh, got him killed.

So I suppose, 'eating the apple' was a mistake, sort of..

Well anyway, in the Gnostic version the serpent is Christ and the redemptive knowledge symbolised by that apple is the Morpheus moment of the blue (or was it the red?) pill. And Shamhat becomes Mary Magdalene and onwards, onwards, Gnostic stuff, erm... the Shekhina.

Was Trinity the Shekina?
Oh for goodness sake!

But I'm going too far and too fast again, missing out the Orphic stuff -I want it on record, I have never bonded with the Orphic stuff, it annoys me, I try not to think about it! It is Gnosticism, in other words, Plato. And Plato annoys me (sorry, that's just how it gets you sometimes!).

The point?
So yeah, Stukeley was a Freemason, he wanted to see in the landscape signs of ancient wisdom, he saw a sinuous path starting at Beckhampton, connecting Avebury to the Sanctuary.

From Stukeley's point of view, the wisdom hidden by the ancients in this case looked like a snake. Obviously it is the serpent that brings knowledge to man. And what is that knowledge? Well first we see our predicament (always living at the edge of death) secondly we wake up to our 'true' nature. And our True Nature is? As in the Orphic myth: half god and half monster; in Gnosticism we are Divine spirit shackled to this world by chains of ignorance; this world with its physical, institutional and psychological limitations -in modern parlance, Gnosticism is libertarian.

It's kind of OK, but kind of not.

So that's that, why (according to me), why Stukeley called the rings of standing stones, The Serpent's Head.

And it mattered so much to him that he made up a story about pseudo-Hebrew words being used by the locals to authenticate his vision.

Stukley's vision grew, like the Lambton Worm, into Lhung-Mai (dragon paths) and other wonderful theories that embellish this world with meaning and I wish that I hadn't got the sort of mind I have (like I really do wish I'd stick to the point!) but I can't help but think something like: serpent and knowledge and Lucifer the fallen angel of knowledge and Venus the pentangle star...isn't Venus pretty bright and a bit weird?  linked to Lucifer by a sex change? -Inanna/Ishtar via The Whore of Babylon to Lucifer? (I mean I know nothing about stars or planets but...) but doesn't Venus fall out of the sky at Michaelmas (equinox?) wouldn't Venus be something you would notice if you could see the sky without street lamps getting in the way, and you were into that kind of thing?

So, ah I get it  the Sanctuary is a Temple to Lucifer!!!!
I jest.

Seriously,  has anyone thought about Venus and stone circles? Ha, bet the Masons have, bet Dan Brown has too! but does it matter to my story?

A connection between Venus and the descent into the Underworld is 'The Descent of Inanna'.

The descent of Inanna is the cause for vegetation to die, but Inanna is not an Underworld deity, so I suppose that thinking of Inanna as 'The Shekina' or calling her Lucifer are too far off the point for now.

See, I sympathise with Stukeley, he is a bit like my shadow. Stukeley saw what he wanted to see (don't we all) he then went on shamelessly to lie about it...or did he really believe what he thought? Am I so good at seeing my own self-deceptions that I can criticise Stukeley?

I can't know.

So much of this story is going to end in I can't know...

02 July 2011.
Notes from William Stukeley: science, religion, and archaeology in eighteenth-century By David Boyd Haycock.

In the second century AD Tacitus wrote that "The Egyptians" in their animal pictures were the first to represent thought by symbols: these the earliest documents of human history, are visible today, impressed upon stone

Plotinus, a Romano-Greek philosopher (AD 205-269/70) who developed the Neoplotonic interpretation of Egyptian hieroglyphs in the eighth treatise of his fifth Ennead, 'On the Intelligible Beauty'. There he wrote that the 'wise men of Egypt...either by scientific or innate knowledge' drew images in their temples that 'every image is a kind of knowledge and wisdom and is a subject of statements, all together in one, and not a discourse of elaboration'.

Plotinus concluded that this type of beauty 'exists before research and before reasoning'.

In the late fifteenth century Marsilio Ficino translated Plotinus's Enneads, and from then on Egyptian Hieroglyphs were interpreted as a divinely-inspired form of symbolic writing.

William Warburton would attack this idea that Egyptian hieroglyphs were mystical symbols concealing dogmas in his book, Divine Legation of moses, seeing them instead as a purely practical method of recording historical events, laws and history.

Stukeley disagreed strongly with him, they had, "very many and warm disputes...In short we never could agree in our notions about them, about the hieroglyphs, the mysteries or of antiquities in general"

Stukeley did not believe that the Egyptians worshiped the statues of the gods placed within the temples, rather, the statues were symbolic devices which would draw down the influence, or blessings. His interpretation came from his reading of Kircher, who in Oedipus Aegyptiacus (1652-1654) examined the works of Plato and the Neoplatonists: Plotinus and Iamblichus. It was Kircher who identified the hieroglyph of the globe, serpent and wings as a form of the divine trinity.

Stukeley wrote: "All writers Jewish and Christian with one mouth assert'. The snake's practice of shedding its skin "and returning to youth again" was "A fit emblem of [Christ's] resurrection from the dead, and of returning to an immortal life". The circle "in hieroglyphs means, divine" and was a clear symbol for god who, as described by Hermes Trismagistos, was "without beginning and ending, whose center is everywhere and circumference no where". The wings, the final part of the trinity were not physically represented in Avebury because of the difficulty of illustrating them using stone. But they would have represented the Holy spirit "the moving and penetrative person of power of the deity"

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Why are so many long barrows and stone circles aligned north-east?

For the latitude of Stonehenge- 51.
Sun at summer solstice.

The midsummer June solstice sunrise and the midwinter December solstice full moon rise, both occur in the north east.

When the sun rises from there the weather is hot but will get cooler and when the moon rises from the north-east the weather is cold, but the sun will get stronger and day length will increase.

Moon (full) at winter solstice.

The north east is a gateway for the sun, from there it begins its travels towards the east. It is time to harvest food, before all that is blooming now, fades and dies with the sun.

The sun rises from the east at the September equinox and continues now towards the south -arriving there at the winter solstice- a journey that weakens it almost to death; the icy wind and short day length a sign of its loss of power.

When the winter solstice full moon rises in the north east, the sun begins to grow stronger moving towards the east at each sunrise arriving at east only for the September equinox, and continuing northward until June solstice.
The moon position varies by about 20 degrees over 9 years.

What about sun sets and sinking moons?
In Britain the sun and moon sets all take place in the south-west, west and north-west.

Both sun and moon rise in the east and set in the west at the equinox.

The solstices occur in December and June.
The equinoxes occur in March and September.
  • North East on a compass is 45 degrees.
  • Midsummer sun rise is at 49 degrees.
  • The most NE moon rises this year is 51 degrees.
  • The solstices and equinoxes happen during the period between the 18th and the 23rd of the months.
Most significantly, the avenue that leads to Stonehenge and Woodhenge face north-east from the center of the monuments...but you would be walking towards the monument!

But if you are walking towards Stonehenge, you are facing South West....
Perhaps the question we should ask is, what happens in the South West?

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

The Day before Midsummer..and Hebrew.

From the 18th (Friday) to the 21st (tomorrow) the sun stands still.

I am at a cross roads, tricking myself that life is sometimes simple, knowing that it never is; trying to apply logic and failing. I am convincing myself that there is just too much information (that I'd never collect enough and that I don't even have the brain to use it) and feeling bad for not even trying.

Basically it is easier to sit, and be a Robinsoner, than to try and resolve the pull to get up and go!

If I think about this logically I know that the Persephone myth has nothing to do with Midsummer. The deities dragged unwilling to The Great Below are vegetation; they go in autumn, they go in the spring, they go when they are harvested.

Except...the midsummer offering is made to ensure that the wheat will thrive. Midsummer is the tipping point, the time between ripening and being ripe enough to harvest.

Oh poo!

And my Bronze Age 'chapter' has a midsummer connection. In the public imagination (and the public of my time are most decidedly a part of the picture) at midsummer the megaliths and stone circles open. Maud Cunnington described the burial site of the child at Woodhenge as being aligned (Woodhenge itself is aligned...) on the midsummer sunrise. I don't recall any such concept being applied to The Sanctuary, but midsummer is the time when people visit and use the prehistoric sites, and I wont be there.

The only way I could tell if Woodhenge was a midsummer place would be to be there tomorrow morning, likewise the Sanctuary. Knowing that I can't be in both places at once, and that cloud will probably hide the sun, doesn't make any difference to how I feel.

Even though logic isn't my strength, I return to logic. My skill has always been an ability to find texts, to sift information; to make connections. There must be a lot of computer wrangling to get through, loads of Livy and Strabo and dear old Diodorus and of course the reason I started to write this -Stukeley. Besides which, Tesco is delivering the shopping tomorrow afternoon, petrol costs too much; if I went there wouldn't be anywhere to park my car.

The Bronze Age burials within the concentric stone and wood circles of Woodhenge and the Sanctuary are sad places; stories I cannot finish. But the contemporary beliefs (including the seventeenth century) are within my reach, so let's begin.

The Sanctuary, Hakpen -the snake's head.

You see on the left of the image, a barrow (that may or may not be Roman). The road runs between the barrow on one side, and the entrance to the Sanctuary on the other. Avebury and West Kennet, and Silbury are behind me.

The first concrete rectangle (painted blue on top) directly in front of me, as I took this photo, has a buried stone in front of it. This marks the place of burial.

Why did Stukeley call this site, the serpent's head, and in particular believe there to be a Hebrew connection with a British, prehistoric site?

In short, if Stukeley took his bible seriously then the easiest answer is, all our ancestors spoke Hebrew because we are all descended from the only family to have survived the flood.

The bible cites the tower of Babel as the reason for different languages. If the Tower of Babel happened after the flood, then one may assume that the people god 'loved' kept their Hebrew?

The bible provides the foundation for the belief in Hebrew as 'God's' language.

In 1723 Henry Rowlands published: Mona Antiqua Restaurata: An Archaeological Discourse on the Antiquities, Natural and Historical, of the Isle of Anglesey, the Antient Seat of the British Druids. Rowlands used Greek and Roman classics, plus brand new material provided by archeology and philology. Rowlands liberally applied Hebrew translations to Welsh prehistoic monuments because a French scholar, Samuel Bochart (1599-1667) had stated that the word Britain "is a corruption of the Hebrew words Barat Anach," meaning islands of tin. He went further, and stated that there exists close phonetic associations between Hebrew and Welsh.

Therefore Stukeley had good reason to believe that British words had a Hebrew origin, and in his mind it was obvious that people who spoke languages closest to Hebrew, were closer to the original religion. It made sense to him to consider that the patriarchal religion of the Old Testament was the original religion of mankind, and that this 'pure' religion had degenerated into idol-worship as (Canaanite religion) emerged.

William Stukeley was born in 1687, though there was colonisation of America by British settlers at that time, and some information coming back about indigenous hunter-gatherer communitees, it never crossed William Stukeleys mind that the British were anything but people of the book. The Romans had left written reports describing Druids, and Stuckeley dismissed the negative, stressed the positive and decided that Avebury ( in Stukeley's account of Avebury- 1740) was proof that the Druids were proto-Christians.

The proof was in the lay-out -three circles, one large containing two small, 'God in three persons' .

And you are right, it isn't as simple as I'm making it out to be...What has the Serpent's head (Stukeley's name for the Sanctuary) got to do with the Holy Trinity?

Having decided that the Sanctuary was linked by a serpentine path to Avebury, Stukeley came up with a Hebrew (in the loosest sense) name for the place: Hakpen.

For the record, this name seems to me to be a totally spurious word. No one before Stukeley is recorded as calling the site anything much, only Mill field (from the ancient word mill, a 'machine' used to grind grain, and field.)

Hargrave Jennings (1817-1890): a British Freemason, Rosicrucian, author on occultism and esotericism, and amateur student of comparative religion, seems to be quoting from Stukeley. In his book: Ophiolatreia: An Account of the Rites and Mysteries Connected with the Origin, Rise, and Development of Serpent Worship(1889)wrote:
Perhaps the most remarkable of all British relics of this worship are to be found on the hills overlooking the village of Abury, in the county of Wiltshire. There, twenty-six miles from the celebrated ruins of Stonehenge, are to be found the remains of a great Serpentine Temple---one of the most imposing, as it certinaly is one of the most interesting, monuments of the British Islands. It was first accurately described by Dr. Stukeley in 1793 in his celebrated work entitled Abury, a Temple of the British Druids. It was afterwards carefully examined by Sir R. C. Hoare and an account published in his elaborate work Ancient Wiltshire. Dr. Stukeley was the first to detect the design of the structure and his conclusions have been sustained by the observations of every antiquary who has succeeded him.

The temple of Abury consisted originally of a grand circumvallation of earth 1,400 feet in diameter, enclosing an area of upwards of twenty-two acres. It has an inner ditch and the height of the embankment, measuring from the bottom of the ditch, is seventeen feet. It is quite regular, though not an exact circle in form, and has four entrances at equal distances apart, though nearly at right angles to each other. Within this grand circle were originally two double or concentric circles composed of massive upright stones: a row of large stones, one hundred in number, was placed upon the inner brow of the ditch. Extending upon either hand from this grand central structure were parallel lines of huge upright stones, constituting, upon each side, avenues upwards of a mile in length. These formed the body of the serpent. Each avenue consisted of two hundred stones. The head of the serpent was represented by an oval structure consisting of two concentric lines of upright stones; the outer line containing forty, the inner eighteen stones. This head rests upon an eminence known as Overton, or Hakpen Hill, from which is commanded a view of the entire structure, winding back for more than two miles to the point of the tail, towards Bekhampton.

"To our name of Hakpen, alludes ochim, called 'doleful creatures' in our translation." Isa (13 v. 21), speaking of the desolation of Babylon, says: Wild beasts of the desert shall lie there, and their houses shall be full of ochim, and owls shall dwell there, and satyrs shall dance there." St. Jerome translates it "serpents." The Arabians call a serpent Haie, and wood-serpents Hageshin; and thence our Hakpen; Pen is "head" in British.
Hargrave Jennings goes on (chapter 2) to relate prehistoric cup and ring carvings, with Hindu practices:
No one who compares the stone Yonis of Benares, sent herewith, with the engravings on the first page of the work on the Rock Markings of Northumberland and Argyleshire, published privately by the Duke of Northumberland, will deny that there is an extraordinary resemblance between the conventional symbol of Siva worship of to-day and the ancient markings on the rocks, menhirs, and cromlechs of Northumberland, of Scotland, of Brittany, of Scandinavia, and other parts of Europe.
It is fascinating that Hargrave Jennings is looking East for meanings in British prehistory, away from the Bible. It reminds me that in the 1970s, people were finding Sanskrit origins for words, everywhere. I'm sure I remember being told that Welsh was actually the closest language to Sanskrit in existence (!).

Well I have to stop, I'm running out of time today. This story continues with the connections between Stukeley and Sir Isaak Newton.

The fact that Stukeley became a Freemason (June 6, 1721).

How the Reformation described the word of god as now 'open-source', free for all men to read within the book of nature ( the natural world) and the book of God, (Scripture)

Finally how the Neoplatonic conception of reality describes a kind of *fall* which makes physics -for Newton- and in proto-archeology for Stukeley, a recovery of a better, a higher truth, rather than a new discovery....

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Ceres, Liber and Liberia.

The photograph is of Stewart Perowne. I bought his: Roman Mythology from an Oxfam bookshop.

I see that you can buy it from Amazon for just 1p.

Stewart Perowne found a city, the Greek colony of Aziris; unlike Heinrich Schliemann or Arthur Evans, Aziris does not have any myth (as far as I know) associated with it. So there are no major reconstructions, or fantastic re-imaginings, as with Troy or Knossos to remember him by.

Nor are there any photos of him in Google search, so here is the photo taken by Walter Bird, printed at the back of the book.

 I see that Walter Bird was:
... always a great fighter for adequate photographers’ fees and Copyright Law.
I'd never heard of Aziris. But Herodotus (4.150–151) wrote an account of how the inhabitants of Thera, suffering because of a terrible famine, were advised by the Delphic Oracle to send a colony to Libya under the leadership of Battus.

Aziris is now Wadi el Chalig.

Concerning Persephone in Rome; according to tradition there was a famine in Rome in 496 B.C. The dictator L. Postumius, consulted the Sibylline books. As a result a temple was built on the slope of the Aventine hill, near the west end of the circus Maximusto, to honour Demeter, Dionysus, and Kore. It was dedicated in 493 B.C. by the consul Sp. Cassius (Dionys. VI.17, 94) to Ceres, Liber, and Libera, with whom the Greek deities were identified.

But of course, it can't be that simple. Arnobius dates the introduction of Ceres' Greek cult to 'just before' the arrival of Magna Mater in 204 BC...

But I must admit reading Arnobius is hard work, also he was hardly a sympathetic reporter or even a witness to the events he describes. The only reason I bother with him at all in this case, is that he mentions Brimo and Persephone (in his rant!).
Once upon a time, they say, Diespiter (Jupiter), burning after his mother Ceres with evil passions and forbidden desires, for she is said by the natives of that district to be Jupiter's mother, and yet not daring to seek by open force that for which he had conceived a shameless longing, hits upon a clever trick by which to rob of her chastity his mother, who feared nothing of the sort.

Instead of a god, he becomes a bull; and concealing his purpose and daring under the appearance of a beast lying in wait, he rushes madly with sudden violence upon her, thoughtless and unwitting, obtains his incestuous desires; and the fraud being disclosed by his lust, flies off known and discovered.

His mother burns, foams, gasps, boils with fury and indignation; and being unable to repress the storm and tempest of her wrath, received the name Brimo thereafter from her ever-raging passion: nor has she any other wish than to punish as she may her son's audacity.

Jupiter is troubled enough, being overwhelmed with fear, and cannot find means to soothe the rage of his violated mother . He pours forth prayers, and makes supplication; her ears are closed by grief. The whole order of the gods is sent to seek his pardon ; no one has weight enough to win a hearing. At last, the son seeking how to make satisfaction, devises this means: Arietem nobilem bene grandibus cum testiculis deligit, exsecat hos ipse et lanato exuit ex folliculi tegmine . Approaching his mother sadly and with downcast looks, and as if by his own decision he had condemned himself, he casts and throws these into her bosom. When she saw what his pledge was, she is somewhat softened, and allows herself to be recalled to the care of the offspring which she had conceived.

After the tenth month she bears a daughter, of beautiful form, whom later ages have called now Libera, now Proserpine; whom when Jupiter Verveceus saw to be strong, plump, and blooming, forgetting what evils and what wickedness, and how great recklessness, he had a little before fallen into, he returns to his former practices; and because it seemed too wicked that a father openly be joined as in marriage with his daughter, he passes into the terrible form of a dragon: he winds his huge coils round the terrified maiden, and under a fierce appearance sports and caresses her in softest embraces. She, too, is in consequence filled with the seed of the most powerful Jupiter, but not as her mother was , for she bore a daughter like herself; but from the maiden was born something like a bull, to testify to her seduction by Jupiter. If any one asks who narrates this, then we shall quote the well-known senarian verse of a Tarentine poet which antiquity sings, saying: "The bull begot a dragon, and the dragon a bull." Lastly, the sacred rites themselves, and the ceremony of initiation even, named Sebadia, might attest the truth; for in them a golden snake is let down into the bosom of the initiated, and taken away again from the lower parts.

It is with some relief that I return to Mr Perowne, but not yet...that word Sebadia needs more attention. I ask Wiki and get:
Greek writers, like Strabo in the first century CE, linked Sabazios with Zagreus, among Phrygian ministers and attendants of the sacred rites of Rhea and Dionysos.

Strabo's Sicilian contemporary, Diodorus Siculus, conflated Sabazios with the secret 'second' Dionysus, born of Zeus and Persephone, a connection that is not borne out by surviving inscriptions, which are entirely to Zeus Sabazios.

The Christian Clement of Alexandria had been informed that the secret mysteries of Sabazius, as practiced among the Romans, involved a serpent, a chthonic creature unconnected with the mounted skygod of Phrygia:"‘God in the bosom’ is a countersign of the mysteries of Sabazius to the adepts. Clement reports:
"This is a snake, passed through the bosom of the initiates".
Much later, the Byzantine Greek encyclopedia, Sudas (10th century?), flatly states
"Sabazios... is the same as Dionysos. He acquired this form of address from the rite pertaining to him; for the barbarians call the bacchic cry 'sabazein'. Hence some of the Greeks too follow suit and call the cry 'sabasmos'; thereby Dionysos [becomes] Sabazios. They also used to call 'saboi' those places that had been dedicated to him and his Bacchantes... Demosthenes [in the speech] 'On Behalf of Ktesiphon' [mentions them]. Some say that Saboi is the term for those who are dedicated to Sabazios, that is to Dionysos, just as those [dedicated] to Bakkhos [are] Bakkhoi. They say that Sabazios and Dionysos are the same. Thus some also say that the Greeks call the Bakkhoi Saboi."
In Roman sites, though an inscription built into the wall of the abbey church of San Venanzio at Ceperana suggested to a Renaissance humanist it had been built upon the foundations of a temple to Jupiter Sabazius, according to modern scholars not a single temple consecrated to Sabazius, the rider god of the open air, has been located, small votive hands, typically made of copper or bronze, are often associated with the cult of Sabazios. Many of these hands have a small perforation at the base which suggests they may have been attached to wooden poles and carried in processions. The symbolism of these objects is not well known.

Finally, (blessed simplicity at last) Stewart Perowne has this to say:
"The introduction of this triad is of prime importance, because it introduces Rome to Eleusis, the setting of the most famous of all Greek mysteries, into which emperors would be proud to be initiated."
Yet again I am reminded that the past is often portrayed as a glittering dream palace of fascinating cults. I have no doubt at all that most of the time life was pretty dull and rather stressful!

In two thousand years time, if any contemporary media survives along side the plastic bags and car tyres and the odd, solitary, road-side shoe, people will use fragments of script from East-Enders, snippets of speech from The Archers and a crumbling page from The Daily Mail to reconstruct our lives...

The roles assigned to deities of the Underworld.

The two main roles given to underworld deities are:
  • Guardian/ judge of the dead.
    • Persephone,
    • Hades,
    • Ereshkigal,
    • Hel.
  • Personification of life force.
    • Kore,
    • Dumuzi,
    • Adonis,
    • Geshtinanna.
    • Inanna.
    • Ninhursag/ Nintur.
    • Demeter.

    The duality of the roles taken by Underworld deities is represented in the doubling of the name, Persephone (which no one seems able to translate- but is usually taken to mean something terrible that it can't be said) and Kore meaning young girl; Persephone representing the Queen of the dead, a figure rather like the Viking Hel, and Kore representing the force of nature, the green shoots springing from the earth.

    In other stories the sexes are reversed: Hades or Nergal replace Persephone as ruler of the Underworld, whilst Dumuzi or Adonis take Kore's place, hunted and chased down into the dark earth.

    In Sumerian stories, Ereshkigal is queen of the dead, whilst Geshtinanna (Lady of the grape-vine) and Dumuzi (almost John Barleycorn; Damu -the power in the sap in trees and plants) both take the role of Kore. When Dumuzi of the grain disappears underground in the spring, or early summer, his sister, the wine goddess, searches for him. Finally, in autumn she descends into the earth and takes his place allowing him to return.

    Inanna is both Persephone when she answers the call to visit the Great Below and then plays a role not too dissimilar to that of Demeter, as she laments the loss of her husband, Dumuzi.

    In Greek mythology; in the older Homeric works of The Iliad and The Odyssey, Persephone is a dread Queen of the dead, very similar to Ereshkigal. Yet in the latter Homeric hymn to Demeter, Persephone is portrayed as less powerful, personified now as the abducted child.

    The power to make things grow in Hesiod's version, is given to her upper-world mother, Demeter.

    In Hesiod's theogeny, Persephone is simply the stolen girl, given by her father to her uncle..and now powerless, robbed of her role as life-force, and subject to Zeus's whim. Zeus is the real power in this story, likewise Demeter must plead with him for her daughter's return.

    Rather confusingly the Romans combined the two names and two roles into one: Proserpina from "proserpere", "to shoot forth" and simplified the Greek story.

    But if I go back to the oldest stories I know of, Ninhursag 'The Lady of Birth' [Nin -Lady. Hur-sag -hill-country; mountainous region ('holes, valleys' + 'points, peaks') is Kore as Wild Woman, a mistress of animals and responsible for the gift of life. Thorkild Jacobsen in The Treasures Of Darkness describes her as mother of summer and winter (when Enlil in the form of a great bull copulates with the 'foothills' [the hursag]).

    In another story her husband is Shulpae, king of the wild beasts of the desert. She loses her children to the hunters and farmers when they are killed, captured or tamed; yet domestic animals may die if they wonder into her territory.

    When the storytellers told of Inanna's descent to 'The Great Below' and her sister Ereshkigal, queen of the dead, something of Ninhursag's connection with hills and mountains was given to Ereshkigal. The story describes Ereshkigal crying out as if giving birth, as if restoring life to the dead?

    Ereshkigal [e-ri-iš -Queen, Lady. ki-gal -Great Earth (as opposed to an-gal great heaven] described as taken by the Kur [Kur -mountain] to become Queen of the Underworld, taking care of the dead and administering justice. Ereshkigal seems to be the major, permanent power of the under ground, representing its capacity to hold and re-home the dead. In the latter story "Nergal and Ereshkigal" (approximately 1500 BC) the focus of the tale is power, who actually rules the Underworld: Ereshkigal or the god of war, Nergal.

    The Lady of the Foothills is also The Lady of the Birth Hut; the term 'birth hut' seems to have been used in Sumerian to mean, amongst other things, the womb. Her emblem is an elongated Omega symbol.

    The interesting part of all this for me is to note how power shifts in the myths to represent what feels right (reflects society) and addresses anxieties within that society.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

The Seven Hills.

Last time I was in Avebury I couldn't leave the shop without buying Avebury -the biography of a landscape by Joshua Pollard and Andrew Reynolds. I knew that Joshua Pollard and Mike Pitts had excavated The Sanctuary in 1999 and so I was looking forwards to reading something about the place from someone who had actually dug into it.

So, date:
The site of The Sanctuary has been in use since the Neolithic, but the 'integrety of the plan of the monument strongly suggests the posts belong to a single-phase construction, though perhaps with the stone setting coming a little latter' (Pollard 1992). Finds within the post holes: chiseled arrow heads, sherds of Grooved ware give a date of approximately 2500 BC.

Trying to work out what actually happened there is a challenge. The objects found in the post holes were recorded by the Cunningtons: the large stones were erected with offerings of Grooved ware bowls and unused arrowheads. Niedermendig lava (elsewhere described as being from a grinding stone, a quern) was placed in one hole.
Lava from the Niedermendig–Andernach–Eifel region of the Rhineland widely used in making querns and grinding stones from the later Neolithic onwards. The quality of the stone is such that it was traded widely in northern Europe.
Querns made of this stone were traded in Saxon times, used in the Roman period for the same purpose; a rough stone - millstone grit.

The lava was placed in C7. and a horse metacarpal, in E2.

As to finds not buried with the posts or stones:
The Eastern side of The Sanctuary is the area with most deposits. The entrance area, 'kept clean'.

A large quantity of debris from the work of shaping the stones accumulated around the posts and stones of ring C in the SE quarter, and a human mandible was found here.

The stone C12 that marks the position of the girl buried east of center in the circle.

If you were standing, looking towards the center of the circles, back to the single, out lying stone, you would be facing NE.

What did surprise me was this statement (page 176):
"Rather more spectacular are the unusual Roman barrow burials on Overton Hill excavated in 1962 opposite the Sanctuary...The Overton Hill cemetery had long been thought to be typical of the Early Bronze Age...characterised by barrows arranged in lines. The 1962 excavations, however, showed that three of the mounds were in fact of the Roman period, they are known by archaeologists as West Overton G6, G6a and G7 from south to north; the 'G' prefix refers to the near exhaustive listing of Wiltshire barrows by the Rev. Goddard and, later, Leslie Grinsell."

The reason why this surprises me (other than obviously I thought that the barrows were all Bronze Age) is that in the 20th and 21st century people have their ashes cast into the sea and rivers (fired into space), scattered onto football grounds, or heated and compressed in to diamonds, or pressed into vinyl. We don't generally use other people's sacred sites, we find places that are sacred to us.

There is an area around the crematorium which is I guess, general 'sacred ground' (no rules about kind of religion, or denomination) but 'we' don't generally use 'native' sites, or copy 'native' practices.

'We' don't expect other people to want to copy 'us' either. The crematorium likewise is primarily utilitarian, it fulfills the law, rather than dictates of a religion.

If it wasn't too confusing to let people scatter their loved one's ashes in Stonehenge, and illegal to build a 'Tower of Silance' in parkland or garden, if one could employ Chodpas (and import the vultures) would 'we'?

Perhaps it was a rare occurrence in Roman times. But some of the Romans at least, who found themselves in sunny Albion, in their construction of barrows  made a positive choice. It wasn't 'make-do' or the 'only' possible solution.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Where there are temples to Apollo there you will also find the Queen of the Underworld.

In Ovid's metamorphoses the Cumaean Sibyl tells Aeneas that Phoebus Apollo had offered her anything she wished, if she just agreed to sleep with him.

Sibyl, being a clever girl, takes a handful of dust and asks for as many years life as there are particles of dust in her hands. Apollo, being even brighter tries to warn her of her mistake...

Sibyl, clever but not clever enough gets the years, but grows older with each one...

The 'Grotta della Sibilla' found in central Italy (marked on this map as Cimmerian) , is described in a chivalric romance written in 1391 (a book called- Guerino il Meschino).

In 1420 Antoine de La Sale inspired by the legend of the Sibyl and her cave, decided to find the grotto for himself. He travelled from Norcia, and climbed up to the site of the cave at a place known as Montemonarco.

As he travels, Antoine describes the scenery and the plants, the herbs people use in cooking, and the chatter of local folk, he writes a travel journal. He asks people about other travellers and is told that necromancers make pilgrimage to the Sibyl's lake in the crater on one peak, and to the Sibyl's cave on the other to dedicate their grimoires, and to talk with the Sibyl.

The villagers warn him that all travellers to the cave or the crater must first seek permission from the villagers before attempting the visit, because pagan necromancers have done much damage by summoning storms and damaging harvests when practicing their dark arts.

Any one not seeking permission may be regarded as a pagan necromancer.

Quite recently (La Sale reports) a bad priest and his companion had been torn to pieces and thrown into the lake, so it pays to be careful.

La Sale continued his journey, he describes a perilous, narrow path that induced vertigo, leading on to a summit so high that one could see the sea on both sides of Italy from its heights. There La Sale says, he finds the entrance to the Sibyl's cave shaped like 'a pointed sheild'.

La Sale said that he crawled through on all fours into a small square chamber lit by a hole above, with seats carved into the rock on all sides.

But now his courage fails him, and he cannot go any further.

He had been told that the corridor ran deep into the mountain, and that it ended at a set of doors made of polished metal which opened to the inner labyrinth.

The next set of doors were made of crystal, they opened into a region made terrifying by a great wind 'very horrid and marvellous' which howled up from the infernal regions.

The brave traveler would then find a narrow bridge to cross over the torrential cascade of water falling through the hole in the world, and at the end of the bridge he would find two dragons and the names of all those brave souls who had ventured thus far and never returned, carved into the rock.

Here is La Sale's map:

In 1550 the poet Leandro Alberti mentioned that he had heard the story of the Sibyl's grotto from women when he was a child, around the same time the Inquisition obtained a confession of witchcraft from Zuan della Piantte, who described a journey to the Sibyl's cave where he renounced his faith and met 'Donna Venus'...

According to Marina Warner, Pope Pius II (1405 – 1464) had identified the Sibyl as the goddess of love, Venus. The Sibyl's cave had becomes in legend the entrance to a underworld realm of sensual delights: beautiful young men and woman in exquisite clothes, eating and drinking and dancing; speaking every language known to man with ease. The only problem with this perfect place is that every Friday at midnight, all the beautiful people turn into snakes -a realm of the devil! a Gnostic allegory, all that seems so sweet is poison.

Wagner, when writing Tannhauser, called the place Venusburg.

So what happened to the grotto?

In 1497 Rome was threatening excommunication to anyone who dared visit the area, and in the early seventeenth century, due to the growing number of pilgrims arriving, the authorities posted sentries to prevent entry to the grotto.

Sad to tell, but a 1898 mountaineering journal reported that the grotto had been dynamited 'to prevent wizards from escaping'.

But that's not quite where it ends. All the pages on this subject seem to be in Italian, but anyway the story of the grotto continues: In 1946 - The poet and writer Tullio Colsalvatico begins his exploration -with explosives!

He is stopped.

At the same time, the geologist Lippi Boncampi prepares the first official report on the underground cave of the Sibyl including topographies, sections and plans.

In 2000 there was an attempt at exploration, but not much happened [LINK].

Lady Death.

The religion of Santa Muerte is understood by many to be 'a strange mixture of religion and crime'.

Santa Muerte herself, a Virgin Mary who smokes, who loves prostitutes and murderers.

Her worship takes place at a shrine.They can be found throughout Mexico and also in parts of the United States and Central America.

As a penitent you may crawl to her.

As a visitor you must cross yourself to show respect.

The gestures feel right..

The woman who created the first shrine Enriqueta Romero Romero, had been worshiping Santa Muerte for many years before finally creating the shrine. People come to make offerings to a goddess who, just as a Sumerian Goddess, will not promise you anything, but will, if she feels inclined, watch over you, take care of you, create miracles for you.

The religion of Santa Muerte is older, and in many ways more grown up than anything offered by the church.

The people worshiping Santa Muerte have faith in her because she represents a truth -we all die.

The Priests say: the people are confused, Jesus alone promises life eternal but the church closes its eyes to the inconvenient record of its own history; to so many it feels as if heaven has already closed its gates to those of the wrong religion, wrong sexuality, to the criminals and the insane; to anyone already outside the beauty and order of heaven.

Santa Muerte, like Ereshkigal before her, offers cognition. It feels better to know her, to be friends with her, rather than to turn away and agree with society that one is already damned.

In Britain, sometimes you may find a shrine, but they are not so vibrant and 'living' as the one to Santa Muerte.

I particularly like the image of Santa Muerte dressed in black, a wide brimmed hat and a cigarette hanging loosely at the corner of her mouth. (a shrine in Iglesia de la Piedad, Tepito)

In Britain we have shrines dedicated to The Virgin Mary.

The Chalice well at Glastonbury (Glastonbury itself) is a shrine too.

There are remains of Romano-British shrines.

People visit Stonehenge as if it is a shrine, and likewise the various circles and standing stones.

But there is nothing there except what you bring to it and the reconstruction and the bronze plaque.

The processions that once took place at Avebury and Stonehenge and remain as part of the Catholic religion, became after the Reformation the Lord Mayer's show.

Street theater may at times capture something, transport people to the space between the mundane and the sacred.

Death is almost a sin now, people die of cancer because they didn't take care of themselves and didn't have the will to fight.

In our, very Plato-esque culture we we are forced to be rational. Death cannot have his or her shrine, instead Terry Pratchett has become death's scribe and to speak as Death's friend, for Death has no priest.

Terry Pratchett has become the keeper of a sort of shrine to DEATH by personifying death in his Disc World books, as a figure not so different to Santa Muerte -an entity that isn't loving or malicious, just is...

Sunday, 12 June 2011

The Narcissus and the Pomegranate. An Archaeology of the Homeric Hymn to Demeter -by Ann Suter.

When I first came across references to this book, my first reaction was to go to Amazon and buy!

The book is a comprehensive exploration of the earliest Persephone story: The Hymn to Demeter by Homer. In theory the Homeric hymn is the oldest and closest record of the original myths celebrated at Eleusis.

But the book costs: £71.73 (reduced from £75.50). All I can say is, thank you Francis Trigge, Rector of Welbourne in Lincolnshire for setting up the first public library in England, so that the poor may read the precious texts previously restricted to members of prestigious institutions and the rich.

My first impression of the book (and I haven't read it all the way through yet, so I don't have any strong conclusions) is that Ann Suter's careful sifting and winnowing of the facts, helps me to clarify my own thought about some of the things that have irritated me, thus far. Namely the habit of using Freudian and Jungian psychoanalytical reading of myth to gain an understanding of the underlying forces that created the myth, and secondly, the habit of lazily creating synthesis from similar but different versions of the same myth, in effect creating new myth. I'm not against it...really (only a little bit) but the concept of the Hymn to Demeter being all about:
"a middle-aged woman's reactions to her adolescent daughter's increasing sexuality and independence"
is just the kind of statement I often come across in relation to the Persephone myth. And it kind of bugs me because though it may well be a universal truth (I am middle aged, I have two daughters) it is too simple to be satisfying.

Whilst Ann Suter's conclusion that:
"The Hymn incorporates the kourotrophos myth ('the rearing of boys' the story of the child Demophoon, whom Demeter places in the fire each night)  into the hieros gamos myth and turns the later into an abduction myth, using the Hesiodic story of Hades' "snatching" of Persephone. ... Eventually, the story of the Hymn -- the abduction, the search and mourning, and the reunion of mother and daughter -- became the canonical version of the myth"
Is far more interesting, and is something I have never thought of before, though it seems an odd theory somehow...doesn't add up.

Ann points out that the Persephone spoken of in The Iliad and The Odyssey differs from the one in The Hymn to Demeter: Neither in the Iliad, or The Odyssey is there any mention of Demeter and Persephone, nor is Persephone's abduction by Hades mentioned.

Persephone is referred to as 'dread', 'pure' and 'noble'.

Persephone has the power to accomplish curse:
"His mother, grieving for the death of her brother, prayed the gods, and beat the earth with her hands, calling upon Hades and on awful Proserpine; she went down upon her knees and her bosom was wet with tears as she prayed that they would kill her son- and Erinys that walks in darkness and knows no ruth heard her from Erebus."(Iliad book 9)
Persephone is described as having power to raise the souls of the dead and restore or withhold their wits:
"You must go to the house of Hades and of dread Proserpine to consult the ghost of the blind Theban prophet Teiresias whose reason is still unshaken. To him alone has Proserpine left his understanding even in death, but the other ghosts flit about aimlessly."(The Odyssey book 10)
Once in The Odyssey she is referred to as Zeus's daughter, but there is never any mention of her mother, or of her spring time return. Never is she called Kore.

Hesiod writing the Theogeny some two hundred years after Homer, hardly mentions Persephone at all. He calls her 'dread' Persephone and 'The white-armed daughter of Zeus and Demeter abducted by Hades with the consent of Zeus'.

So the Hymn to Demeter actually has more in common with the Hesiodic tradition, than the Homeric.

I'm not sure if anyone believes in dear old Homer (as a wise old man with exceptionally bad eyes) any more? I can't believe in him any more than I can believe in Greek myths as the creation of The Greeks alone.

But the Homeric hymns are regarded as the canonical version updating old myths to reflect a new hierarchy, dressed up as a struggle for power between the Earth goddesses and the sky god Zeus.

Previous to Demeter and Kore being seen as mother and daughter, Persephone was a goddess in her own right, the linguistic and archaeological data suggest they were worshipped as a pair for the first time no earlier than the Dark Age 1200 BC–800 BC.

To be continued.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Lake Pergusa.

Near Enna's walls a spacious lake is spread,

Fam'd for the sweetly-singing swans it bred;

Pergusa is its name: and never more

Were heard, or sweeter on Cayster's shore.

Woods crown the lake; and Phoebus ne'er invades

The tufted fences, or offends the shades:

Fresh fragrant breezes fan the verdant bow'rs,

And the moist ground smiles with enamel'd flow'rs

The chearful birds their airy carols sing,

And the whole year is one eternal spring.
From Ovid's The Rape of Proserpine.

"Not far from Henna's walls, there is a deep lake called Pergus" writes Ovid. Unfortunately the deep lake and the perfect field of flowers have changed considerably since Ovid wrote those words. During the Greco-Roman period the area around Lake Pergusa was farming land and probably a primary grain provider for the Roman Empire, it is reasonable to believe that the lake and its waterbirds held particular sacred importance for the local people.

Ovid, begins the story in Sicily, I guess, because he had read Diodorus of Sicily who gives this account:

Again, the fact that the Rape of Kore took place in Sicily is, men say, proof most evident that the goddesses made this island their favorite retreat because it was cherished by them before all others. And the Rape of Kore, the myth relates, took place in the meadows in the territory of Enna. The spot is near the city, a place of striking beauty for its violets and every other kind of flower and worthy of the goddess. And the story is told that, because of the sweet odor of the flowers growing there, trained hunting dogs are unable to hold the trail, because their natural sense of smell is balked. And the meadow we have mentioned is level in the center and well watered throughout, but on its periphery it rises high and falls off with precipitous cliffs on every side. And it is conceived of as lying in the very center of the island, which is the reason why certain writers call it the navel in Sicily. Near to it also are sacred groves, surrounded by marshy flats, to the north, and through it, the myth relates, Pluton, coming out with his chariot, effected the rape of Kore. And the violets, we are told, and the rest of the flowers which supply the sweet odor continue to bloom, to one's amazement, throughout the entire year, and so the whole aspect of the place is one of flowers and delight.
(Diodorus Siculus V, 3)
The Pergus lake itself is filled by rainwater and underground streams. Symbolically it is the meeting place of water from the underworld and from the sky. The lake is the meeting place of two realms: the heavens and the underworld. And the area around lake Pergusa became a place of the dead; described by the archaeologists Paolo Orsi and Bernabo Brea as 'one large necropolis, from the eighth through sixth centuries BCE'.

There are signs of the living though, there is Cozzo Matrice: the remains of a fortified village consisting of walls dating to the 9th millennium BC, some chambered tombs and the remains of an temple dedicated to Demeter, dating more than 2,000 years ago.

But there is another strange thing about Lake Pergusa...periodically the water turns red.

The lake periodically undergoes a remarkable reddening phenomenon because of the presence of a red, sulfur-oxidizing bacterium (Thiocapsa roseopersicina) in its waters. During summer months of years in which the sulfur content reaches a critical level, the bacteria proliferate to such an extent that the lake's waters turn either partially or entirely a deep red color, and the environs smell of sulfur for miles around. Over a period of several weeks, the bacteria reduce the sulfur level; they, in turn, are eaten by a tiny, transparent crustacean; and the lake returns to its normal color. The phenomenon, which has been documented only since the twentieth century, was studied in 1932 by Italian scientist Achille Forti, who dubbed Pergusa "the lake of blood." [LINK] 

The Unique Red Water Lake close to the Ancient city of Enna Sicily,
originally uploaded by Sicily Tourist Guide.

Diodorus also tells us that Hercules was initiated into the Eleusinian mystery at the time when Musaeus, son of Orpheus, was said to have been in charge of the temple (at Eleusis) and Herakles brought the myth of Demeter and Kore to Sicily:
[Diodorus - 4.23.4] While Heracles was making the circuit of Sicily at this time he came to the city which is now Syracuse, and on learning what the myth relates about the Rape of Kore he offered sacrifices to the goddesses on a magnificent scale, and after dedicating to her the fairest bull of his heard and casting it in the spring Cyane he commanded the natives to sacrifice each year to Core and to conduct at Cyane a festive gathering and a sacrifice in splendid fashion

Hercules is a difficult name to deal with. On Sicily, Greek, Phonician and indigenous communities intermarried. Gods and Goddesses, trade and political alliances likewise crossed from one culture to another. From the seventh centuary BC Heracles had come to be associated with Melqart (who in turn had previously been associated with the Akkadian god of plagues and the underworld, Nergal -though that link is tenuous: William F. Albright in Archaeology and the Religion of Israel (Baltimore, 1953; pp. 81, 196) suggested Melqart was a god of the underworld partly because a god Malku who may be Melqart is sometimes equated with the Mesopotamian god Nergal, a god of the underworld, whose name also means 'King of the City').

Hercules has a lot in common with Gilgamesh, but the subject is too long for me to consider here and now.

It is Herodotus who makes the connection between Hercules and Melqart:
In the wish to get the best information that I could on these matters, I made a voyage to Tyre in Phoenicia, hearing there was a temple of Heracles at that place, very highly venerated. I visited the temple, and found it richly adorned with a number of offerings, among which were two pillars, one of pure gold, the other of smaragdos (emerald green -possibly glass illuminated inside by a lantern), shining with great brilliancy at night. In a conversation which I held with the priests, I inquired how long their temple had been built, and found by their answer that they, too, differed from the Hellenes. They said that the temple was built at the same time that the city was founded, and that the foundation of the city took place 2,300 years ago. In Tyre I remarked another temple where the same god was worshipped as the Thasian Heracles. So I went on to Thasos, where I found a temple of Heracles which had been built by the Phoenicians who colonised that island when they sailed in search of Europa. Even this was five generations earlier than the time when Heracles, son of Amphitryon, was born in Hellas. These researches show plainly that there is an ancient god Heracles; and my own opinion is that those Hellenes act most wisely who build and maintain two temples of Heracles, in the one of which the Heracles worshipped is known by the name of Olympian, and has sacrifice offered to him as an immortal, while in the other the honours paid are such as are due to a hero.

I am still trying to get away from the death aspect of Persephone's cult (and failing). It is a fact that the mysterious lake turns a menstrual red signifying perhaps the return of the dead to the bloody realms of the womb...I don't know if the lake has been doing this for thousands of years though?

Saturday, 4 June 2011

188 BC a pretty random date selected from many in my various notes and text files, but it reflects very well the repeating pattens and themes I encounter when trying to follow any other thread into the past.

These are:
  • The dangers of foreign religion (sex and human sacrifice).
  • Connections between volcanic regions and foreign cults.
  • The continuation of the worship of Inanna, now called Asarte in this context, by the people who populated Carthage and at the very least, Southern Sicily.
  • Attempts to integrate foreign religions often leading to a banning of that religion. And in limited cases, successful synthesis.
188 BC was the year changes were made to the worship of Dionysus, the Bacchanalia.

Livy blames a Greek...
"hedge-priest and wizard, not one of those who imbue men's minds with error by professing to teach their superstitions openly for money, but a hierophant of secret nocturnal mysteries".
For starting the lamentable affair.

Latter in the tale, a woman called Hispala Fecenia an initiate, lays the blame for the changes at the door of Peculla Annia, a Greek woman from southern Italy, the Campania region (lake Avernus is within Campania) and the place she changes the Bacchanalia is Etruria -not the one in Stafford. A region steeped in Etruscian, rather than Roman culture.

The link to Livy's text is here, and proof of outlawing of 'The Bacchanalian Conspiricy' is given in the form of a bronze plaque found in Calabria in the 17th century.

Until Paculla changed things, the Bacchanalia had been fairly well managed; a woman's festival and limited to daylight hours. After Paculla, men were involved and it happened at night. The new Bacchanalia spread through Italy, and two years latter, it had to be banned. Livy tells us:
Paculla Annia, a Campanian, when she was priestess, made a complete change, as though by divine monition, for she was the first to admit men, and she initiated her own sons, Minius Cerinnius and Herennius Cerinnius.

At the same time she made the rite a nocturnal one, and instead of three days in the year celebrated it five times a month. When once the mysteries had assumed this promiscuous character, and men were mingled with women with all the licence of nocturnal orgies, there was no crime, no deed of shame, wanting.

More uncleanness was wrought by men with men than with women. Whoever would not submit to defilement, or shrank from violating others, was sacrificed as a victim. To regard nothing as impious or criminal was the very sum of their religion. The men, as though seized with madness and with frenzied distortions of their bodies, shrieked out prophecies; the matrons, dressed as Bacchae, their hair dishevelled, rushed down to the Tiber with burning torches, plunged them into the water, and drew them out again, the flame undiminished, as they were made of sulphur mixed with lime.

Men were fastened to a machine and hurried off to hidden caves, and they were said to have been rapt away by the gods; these were the men who refused to join their conspiracy or take a part in their crimes or submit to pollution. They formed an immense multitude, almost equal to the population of Rome; amongst them were members of noble families both men and women. It had been made a rule for the last two years that no one more than twenty years old should be initiated; they captured those to be deceived and polluted.
What followed the ban was to all intent and purposes a witch hunt:
Those who had simply been initiated, who, that is, had repeated after the priest the prescribed form of imprecation which pledged them to every form of wickedness and impurity, but had not been either active or passive participants in any of the proceedings to which their oath bound them, were detained in prison.

Those who had polluted themselves by outrage and murder, those who had stained themselves by giving false evidence, forging seals and wills and by other fraudulent practices, were sentenced to death.

The number of those executed exceeded the number of those sentenced to imprisonment; there was an enormous number of men as well as women in both classes.

The women who had been found guilty were handed over to their relatives or guardians to be dealt with privately; if there was no one capable of inflicting punishment, they were executed publicly.

The next task awaiting the consuls was the destruction of all the Bacchanalian shrines, beginning with Rome, and then throughout the length and breadth of Italy; those only excepted where there was an ancient altar or a sacred image.

The senate decreed that for the future there should be no Bacchanalian rites in Rome or in Italy. If any one considered that this form of worship was a necessary obligation and that he could not dispense with it without incurring the guilt of irreligion, he was to make a declaration before the City praetor and the praetor was to consult the senate. If the senate gave permission, not less than one hundred senators being present, he might observe those rites on condition that not more than five persons took part in the service, that they had no common fund, and that there was no priest or conductor of the ceremonies.
Three years earlier, before the Greek 'hedge wizard' had turned the heads of the good Roman folk and made them go bad through the agency of a woman no less, the Roman ceremony 'The Megalasia' had been instituted. The Sibylline books had instructed the Romans to bring 'the foreign Magna Mater' to Rome. Rome was at war with Carthage, and by bringing the Goddess to Rome, She would turn her favour from the foreigners to the Romans. 'War with Cathage' was a long, drawn out affair -nothing like the contemporary images we have of cities devastated by air raids. War with Carthage was anxiety: siege and sudden attack. Mostly it happened elsewhere in Italy, but Rome was always under threat.

As a way to deal with the anxiety, the Sibylline books were consulted; in 205 BC the Romans went to Pessinus (at that time under Greek rule, and so the version of Cybele the Romans brought back would most likely to have been hybrid Greco-Asian culture) and removed the goddess' most important image, a large black stone that was said to have fallen from the sky. The stone was first placed in the Temple of Victory on the Palatine Hill, but in 191 BC a new sanctuary was built for the goddess on the summit of the Palatine Hill.

191 BC marks the beginning of the 'official' cult of the Great Mother, but up to and after that date the unofficial cult, the more authentic cult had involved self-flagellation and self-castration of the priests.

Disdainfully, the cult was restricted to non-Romans.

Five years latter Rome faces ''The Bacchanalian Conspiricy'. It is as if foreign influences have become too much, 'Roman stability' is threatened both from within and without.

Twelve years before something similar had happened; After Rome's defeat at the Battle of Lake Trasimene (June 21, 217 BC) in the opening episodes of the Second Punic War (Hannibal's crossing of the Alps), the Sibylline oracle recommended the importation of the Sicilian Venus of Eryx -'The Lady of Eryx' mentioned by Ovid in his version of Persephone's story. A temple to her was dedicated on the Capitoline Hill in 217 BC: a second temple to her was dedicated in 181 BC.

Publius Ovidius Naso, Ovid to you and me was born in March 43 BC and died AD 17/18. Some one hundred years after the temple had first been dedicated to Venus Eryx Ovid wrote:
(Ovid, Fasti, iv. 863) "April 23rd. I have told of Pales, I will now tell of the festival of the Vinalia; but there is one day interposed between the two. Ye wenches of the people, celebrate the divinity of Venus: Venus favours the earnings of ladies of a liberal profession. Offer incense and pray for beauty and popular favour; pray to be charming and witty; give to the Queen her own myrtle and the mint she loves, and bands of rushes hid in clustered roses. Now is the time to throng her temple next the Colline gate; the temple takes its name from the Sicilian hill Venus was transferred (i.e. from Eryx) to Rome in obedience to an oracle of the long-lived Sibyl, and chose to be worshipped in the city of her own offspring. You ask, why then do they call the Vinalia a festival of Venus? And why does that day belong to Jupiter? " Ovid then recalls how a vow of wine made to Jupiter led to the marriage of Aeneas to Lavinia, Queen Amata's daughter.
And that mention of 'ladies of a liberal profession' brings me to the connection between temples dedicated to Demeter/Kore and the Heiros Gamos.