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Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Skull cups...

The bones became the mountains.
The teeth made into rocks. 
The hair became the grass and trees.
The eyelashes became Midgard. 
They threw the brain up in the air and it became the clouds. 
The skull became the sky.



Disembodied skulls and thigh bones reoccur in my life.

From the School of Radiography, where we kept bones in cupboards and boxes for educational purposes, to Karma Ling, where skulls and bones were in almost every image, and a part of daily ritual.

I suppose I had more reason than most to find the idea of a long barrow as a house for skull and femur, normal, and to feel that the separation of the living from the dead is an artificial divide.

This normality is for me, symbolised by the skull cup. For the use of the skull cup is old, much older than Herodotus (500 BC) describing the Scythians as people who drank from the skulls of their enemies. The use of a skull as a bowl goes back to the Upper Palaeolithic of western Europe, that is 15000 years ago, and continues to this day.

The three most common themes associated with it are; conquering an enemy, drinking his power, and the breaking of a taboo. It is an act of cannibalism that may be repeated without the need to actually eat another person. In Tibetan Buddhism the imagined skull cup boils upon a hearth made of three skulls, brewing an offering for the gods and ghosts. Quite a lot of the practices for 'Wrathful' deities use images and ideas actually practised by the Aghoris of India.

But, back to Britain and the Palaeolithic, the three skulls in Gough's Cave (Chedder cave system) were found with human bones that had been cracked open...kind of makes me think of Rec. But also of funeral parties where the dead are eaten, such as were recently practised in Papua New Guinea as a way of respecting the dead and keeping them with the living. Likewise skulls of Aborigines in Australia as used by the relatives of the deceased. The skulls had been cut and smoothed out, to make bowls, the oldest skull cups yet found, I think.

Mummification is similar, the dead are not disposed of into the modern 'Void of Nowhere' awaiting Revelation because this idea doesn't exist for the people involved, or it just isn't used. Mummification occurred to preserve an individual, but also mummification creates a new object, possessing immense psychological / spiritual power. Cremated remains are placed in stupas. Mummified lamas still sit in meditation in some shrine rooms ~For instance Kalu Rinpoche is at Samdrub Darjay Choling, Sonadar near Darjeeling.

A Bronze Age settlement at South Uist, Cladh Hallan dated to 1300 BC, seemed to have begun as a cremation ground. Then a hearth was created over the buried cremated remains, and finally three circular houses, were built around the fire pits. In the north-east region of each house there was a composite burial, skeletons that looked as if each belonged to an individual, but in fact each skeleton was made from other bodies.


The meme of skull cup as trophy display, a way to 'own' one's enemy, is possibly less common in human history than skull cup as communion with the dead.

And with the gods of the dead.

Skulls covered in turquoise, or jade or other precious jewels sometimes became masks.

This mask is Smoking Mirror,Tezcatlipoca. A skull has been overlaid with turquoise and lignite mosaic work. Iron pyrite eyes sit on a conch shell background, and his nose is lined with red spondylus shell.

To wear the mask is to become the god.
And it was made to be worn..

To draw it all together, the bowl of the skull once pulled from the earth or fire belongs to the ancestors, is an ancestor. The circles that pre-date the long barrows: the causewayed enclosures were often spaces between contested lands, a no-man's land that belonged to everyone.

So the circle, the henge, the rings of stones linked by avenues to other rings, linked to tombs, both in reality and in the mind of those who used these spaces became the houses of ancestors....eventually.

Meanings are changed by use.