Sunday, 23 November 2014

The house of ash...

Tim Daw has done an extraordinary thing.

He realised that we, the living, need somewhere beautiful, safe and monumental to home our dead.

Normally the cremated remains, the ashes are taken to a garden of remembrance close to crematoria.

 "...dispersed in the Garden of Remembrance at the crematorium under the careful supervision of crematorium staff..."

The final goodbye is supposed to take place just before the body descends to the furnace.

At my dad's funeral, we drew up close to the entrance of the crematorium just as the previous funeral party was leaving. Guys in grey boiler suits were throwing flowers and wreathes from that funeral into wheel barrows and hastily laying out the new wreathes for my dad.

It was ugly.
A default, English funeral.

20 minuets latter...
I expect the people arriving after us had a similar experience.

In my family the message was clear, the dead are gone.
Death means it is all over.
Get used to it!

The funeral over
Me, absolutely not over it...

Despite the concept of of death as the end, that I'd been brought up to believe in. It felt wrong that there was no grave. I didn't know what happened to his ashes, scattered in the garden of remembrance I guess...but if I went there all I'd remember is the men in boiler suits. There is no connection in my mind between who he was whilst alive, and the crematorium.

What makes it worse for me is that I never said goodbye to him...leaving a sadness that feels impossible to mend. I have no place to leave flowers, or to go to, to mourn. In the end it hurt so much I held a symbolic funeral for him at Stonehenge. I needed to place his memory safe within its walls..

Many people, feel as I do that there must be something better than scattering ashes 'under the careful supervision of crematorium staff'.

Tim Daw's answer was to commission a long barrow to be built on his land. Instead of containing long bones and skulls, Tim's barrow is a columbarium; a place to house the ashes of the dead.

Yesterday afternoon I parked my car on the unnamed road close to Cannings Cross, and set off up the lane to take a look at Tim's barrow.

The day was very wet.

Thick clouds rolled off the hills.

Over to my right is Walker's Hill, location of another long barrow, Adam's Grave, a Neolithic chambered tomb excavated in  1860 by John Thurnam who found inside three or four incomplete skeletons and a leaf-shaped arrowhead, and some way over to my left and up on the hills, is Kitchen Barrow about which I know nothing!

As I got closer, I realised that the long barrow is indeed long

I don't know why this surprised me, it isn't as if I have never seen one before.

All this whale-like, weight of earth and stone was a presence of gravity and stability that changed the way things sounded.

I could hear its weight.

I walked around it, thinking of John North and his theories about stars, thinking about rain clouds and mud until I arrived at the entrance.

The entrance is guarded by a double serpent...
Lord Ningishzida

Well not exactly, the symbol is derived from the double helix of DNA and represents the continuity of life, the transmission of life through us.

Tim arrived and opened the gate.

The whole barrow is made of stone covered in earth. Inside are columns and niches all constructed using the same technique as a dry stone wall, every stone fits and balances and squashes to create an amazingly beautiful, golden copper coloured passage, and chambers.

It was longer inside than I'd imagined, also each chamber had a domed roof.

It reminded me of La Hougue Bie in Jersey.

And of a 'secret' church I'd visited in Hella, in Iceland. Used over one thousand years ago by Irish missionaries who found the indigenous Icelanders unenthusiastic about hearing the good news.

The space reserved for me and my family is in the east chamber. Curiously when the barrow was completed, the first to make use of it were the butterflies who also chose the eastern chamber.

Whilst inside the barrow I realised that I had never given a seconds thought to modern cremation urns. One vessel in a niche attracted my attention, I though it was a model of a planet. A sphere of primarily blue and green.

Someone else had left a statuette of Anubis which contained the ashes of a beloved dog.

The atmosphere inside the barrow was far from sad, or heavy or gloomy in any way. It is said that the form of the long barrow came to Britain via LBK culture- linear band keramic. People who originated in the north of Europe between about 6000 and 5000 BC. LBK culture is defined by a pottery style; pottery decorated with linear bands. It was also the first culture associated with farming in northern Europe.

The people who decorated their pots with long wavy lines built long houses; for ceremonial feasts, for the living...and they built long houses for the dead. They held feasts for the living and possibly for the dead, there too.

In keeping with their tradition that the dead should have their own homelike space, the inclusion of pets and ornamental urns is perfect.

Reformation ideas of the dead being nowhere until the return of Christ only help people who have a strong desire to believe this. Most of us need to reintegrate the memories of the person who has died with the present. Pre-reformation belief included the dead in the lives of the living. The living could sponsor prayers, and make donations on their behalf, to the poor.

When all that was outlawed, traditional ways of reintegrating the dead with the living were lost...

I returned to where I'd left the car.
Beside the concrete trilithons that had once been used in an experiment to see how difficult it would have been to make Stonehenge.

An experiment Tim plans to repeat.

The long barrow is beginning to turn green, plants are growing all over it and Tim wants it to be a place where people can come to sit on top of the barrow, to picnic and to be alive with the dead. It is facing the winter solstice sun rise for those of us who like to think of Shamash, the summer sun, his golden hair now cut off, grown weak and old, dragged down by the rain seeking regeneration under the ground in his secret chamber. But ultimately the barrow at All Cannings is a continuity of a much wider, perhaps universal tradition, that the living need a place for their dead.

Link: The barrow at All Cannings.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

The Akitu: blood part 2.

Though it is perfectly sensible to describe sacrifice as a means of purification as used in the Mesopotamian festival of Akitu, I could write a similar post about the ritual use of chlorine- linking its bleaching effect to the symbolic purity of white. Linking its use in the first world war as a means of purifying Europe of one's enemies.

Well, those symbolic links are there.

I want to go back to the Akitu because I think that animal sacrifice understood as a descent into primal chaos and a return to celebration, as the establishment of order, began I think, with a misunderstanding of the Akitu.

A misunderstanding of how ritual works.

The name (Sumerian) Akitu, means barley, and the oldest Akitu was probably once linked to Dumuzi and Geshtinanna therefore originally to the power within the soil. Like the November poppy celebration, a lament for lost youth perhaps.

The Akitu, or rather the Great equinox festivals began in the great city of Ur. And were celebrated with a parade of the God's statue representing the return of Nanna from his period of seclusion within the Akitu house  ~ link~

The position of the stars, the Pleiades, 'The Seven' threatened disorder to the year, a threat that ended with the appearance of Nanna- and an extra month on the calendar every so often.

It is said that the Seleucid era Akitu became an enactment of the creation of the ordered world by Marduk, from the remains of Tiamat via a recitation of the Enuma Elish and that the Akitu was a celebration of divine kingship.

It contains some puzzling elements, if that was the case.

Rather than honouring the king as the embodiment of Marduk the divine king who cut the primordial mother Tiamat into two halves and created the world, the king must kneel before the priest who will take away his symbols of authority and slap him around the face a few times, demanding that he makes a confession of any ill will towards Babylon.

The translation of the Akitu that caused this festival to be seen as a great cosmic enactment, is a Seleucid era tablet (312 – 63 BC). At that time, post Alexander The Great, Hellenistic kingdoms were established throughout the Middle East and a Syrian king ruled in Iraq.

If this was a time of increased anxiety for the priesthood it is hard to know.

What ever else has been said about the Akitu, clearly the festival contains a warning about the nature of kingship, whilst making the symbolic destruction of the temple a locus of anxiety.

For the temple represented the continuity of civilisation.
Without it, Babylon would fall.

Seen in this light, the rites of ''purification' of the temple are not purification.
They are its symbolic destruction.

The water taken from a well in which the waters of the Tigris and Euphrates mixed, is the unpredictable flood.

And the sheep slaughtered inside the temple is the memory and the experience of war handed down and replayed, over and over from generation to generation. The sheep bleeds as the dead, killed ultimately by the actions of avaricious, power seeking kings.

The priests and exorcists who take part in the purification are banished from the temple. The blood does not make them clean.

There is no primordial establishment of order out of chaos in the Akitu.
The country's blood now filled its holes, like metal in a mold;
bodies dissolved -- like butter left in the sun.
There is just fear and memory and the need to deal with it, preferably in a symbolic way, a magic spell for continuity despite all that can and will occur in Iraq.

Monday, 10 November 2014


It is an undeniable fact that religious behaviour includes killing. It is also undeniable that killing a living creature is a serious thing, rarely a frivolous or mindless activity. When killing is done so that people may eat, it becomes a Holy act when the food is offered to the Gods first. Killing for reasons other than food production is sacrifice. This is true for religious and non religious people alike..

One of the oldest and most common uses of sacrifice is purification.

On the fifth day of the Akitu festival at the spring equinox, the preists of Marduk would go down to the river four hours before sunrise and bathe in the waters of the Tigris. Two hours after sunrise the purification of the temple began. The temple was sprinkled with water from a well containing mixed waters of Tigris and Euphrates. The door of the temple was smeared with resin from a cedar tree and a sheep was beheaded, its body dragged through the temple, presumably so that its blood ran with the water on the floor and walls.

Incense was burnt, and the body and head were left for a while before removal, to be thrown into the river. It was understood that all who had been involved in this were now themselves ritually unclean for hours or days.

In the Akitu, an Akkadian example, blood and the body of the sheep attract the elements or elementals that the temple should be rid of.

The power of blood to draw spirits towards it is described by Homer...Link.

There we beached our ship, and landed the sheep, and made our way along the Ocean stream, till we came to the place Circe described.
Perimedes and Eurylochus restrained the sacrificial victims while I drew my sharp sword from its sheath, and with it dug a pit two foot square, then poured a libation all around to the dead, first of milk and honey, then of sweet wine, thirdly of water, sprinkled with white barley meal. Then I prayed devoutly to the powerless ghosts of the departed, swearing that when I reached Ithaca I would sacrifice a barren heifer in my palace, the best of the herd, and would heap the altar with rich spoils, and offer a ram, apart, to Teiresias, the finest jet-black ram in the flock. When, with prayers and vows, I had invoked the hosts of the dead, I led the sheep to the pit and cut their throats, so the dark blood flowed.
Then the ghosts of the dead swarmed out of Erebus – brides, and young men yet unwed, old men worn out with toil, girls once vibrant and still new to grief, and ranks of warriors slain in battle, showing their wounds from bronze-tipped spears, their armour stained with blood. Round the pit from every side the crowd thronged, with strange cries, and I turned pale with fear. Then I called to my comrades, and told them to flay and burn the sheep killed by the pitiless bronze, with prayers to the divinities, to mighty Hades and dread Persephone. I myself, drawing my sharp sword from its sheath, sat there preventing the powerless ghosts from drawing near to the blood, till I might question Teiresias.’

A similar use of blood as described in the Akitu is found in Ezekiel. 45:18-20
18 Thus saith the Lord God; In the first month, in the first day of the month, thou shalt take a young bullock without blemish, and cleanse the sanctuary:
19 And the priest shall take of the blood of the sin offering, and put it upon the posts of the house, and upon the four corners of the settle of the altar, and upon the posts of the gate of the inner court.
20 And so thou shalt do the seventh day of the month for every one that erreth, and for him that is simple: so shall ye reconcile the house.

Errors in codes of behaviour lead to impurity. 
The purification is from error.

Impurity is no longer caused by something in the air.
God, in this belief system, accepts the sacrifice of blood to purify sin.

So it is that Jesus pays for the sins of all humanity by his blood.

The passage from Ezekiel does not specify what is to happen to the flesh of the animal. As in the description of the Akitu, blood is the focus of the sacrifice. More importantly though, the blood of an animal must be drained before the flesh may be eaten (Lev. 3:17; 7:26; 17:10–14; Deut. 12:15–16, 20–24). Seeming to mean that blood cannot be accepted as food, it can only be used to cleanse...Link.

And Orestes...

Orestes is sitting in front of the omphalos stone at Delphi holding the sword he used to kill his mother, Clytemnestra. Behind him Apollo is about to purify him of blood-guilt by showering him in the blood of a piglet.

The blood of an animal is used to attract the badness out of a location or from someone because blood is magnetic to the unseen.

Clearly this sacrifice of a piglet by Apollo is not a sacrifice for Apollo. Only the Chthonic Gods in the earth...are believed to accept blood.

Something I dispute...
As Pu'abi's servants swallowed poison to be with their mistress, so Ereshkigal asked...
What's the hurry?
Everyone comes to me in the end...

Meanwhile the Indo-European examples of sacrifice don't follow the Mesopotamian rules. In fragments of stories and translations the sacrificial animal is totemic of the Gods, and/or of the king. It is as if the living animal is an avatar of a God and the divine aspect of kingship. The sacrifice of the animal creates a conduit between this world and the world of the Gods.

Though the practice of reading a liver, a favourite Babylonian activity...was meant to be more accurate if the liver was part of an animal mid way between life and death. This may not have conformed to the conduit idea. The land of the dead could have been the land of the future and an animal brought close to death was in effect just closer to what was going to arrive here.

The chamber of the tomb contained a lacquered wooden coffin which had burial goods placed around it. A total of 11,500 artifacts were recovered from the tomb. The name of the tomb derives from a famous painting of a white horse which is depicted on a birch bark saddle flap, also referred to as a mud-guard. The horse, a Cheonma (Korean pegasus), has eight legs and is depicted with wings on its feet.

At Potapovka, near Samara on the Sok River, excavations conducted from 1985-1988 exposed four burial mounds, or kurgans, dated about 2200-2000 B.C. Beneath kurgan 3, the central grave pit contained the remains of a man buried with at least two horse heads and the head of a sheep, in addition to pottery vessels and weapons. After the grave pit was filled, a human male was decapitated, his head was replaced with the head of a horse, and he was laid down over the filled grave shaft. This unique ritual deposit provides a convincing antecedent for the Vedic myth...Link my time...

The slaughter houses that provide food for us, the rendering plants and factories producing pet food are invisible to protect us from transgressing new sacred zones. The purpose of making somewhere sacred is to protect the psyche, in this case by preventing the truth of the horror within, being seen by someone unprepared.

The religion of this land is born of the machine age, and our mass religion is scientism. In keeping with this religion, it is accepted that killing an animal must be preformed in a non-religious, and preferably, mechanised way.

Killing an animal for any reason other than food, is a modern sin, and recognition that killing has taken place creates miasma. Meat must be made unrecognisable, folded in weird and traditional ways. Fish fingers or cod loins are linguistic re-packagings. There are no fish fingers and cod fish do not have loins...

The recognition leads to impurity unless the encounter is ritualized and placed within a sacred zone..

The taboos and rituals born out of scientism, are supported by liturgies of statistics founded on endless rituals of tests.

The purpose of which is to maintain the health and happiness of the majority through science.

In my time the scientific priesthood regulate the activity of the people on the killing floor - who are there in the main, because they need the money. Unhappiness and bad working conditions can be cured by SSRIs, there is never any need for suffering.

Remember this is the best system and everything works better here than elsewhere, where animals may be killed anywhereSarcasm!