Religion in Pre-Roman Europe

by Sara Blackwelder

Religions of Pre-Roman Europe is a vast topic that also includes a lot of guess work. Archaeology is key to understanding these complex people and their ways of life and religion. The inhabitants of Europe in the times before the Romans were strongly influenced by the Druids, an order of priests and judges who were against the written word and placed an extremely high value on their oral tradition. For more information on the Druids, see Laura's page on the Social Structure of the Celtic peoples. This emphasis on the spoken word led to the loss of all the rich oral traditions passed down through the ranks of the Bards and Druids when they were targeted by the Roman invaders. The only written words remaining about these cultures is the writings of others looking from the outside in, which presents the problem of bias and misunderstanding of the practices by those who inhabited this land. Roman literature and other art works, give us evidence of this prejudice against those outside of their borders and customs. An example of which is below in the depiction of The Dying Gaul. The mighty propaganda wheel of Rome turning the story to promote these fierce peoples from the north as savage barbarians that need the laws of Rome. From this particular sculpture there is a sense that the Gaul has been defeated and is no longer a threat, which was important for the Roman sense of security because around 390 BCE the Celts had sacked a young Rome.
The Dying Gaul
The Dying Gaul

habitatrome.wordpress.com/.../



The immense scope of this topic is a daunting task to undertake, and therefore, it is not feasible for me to discuss all aspects of these unique and varied cultures. There is the proof however, as Kristiansen and Larsson state in The Rise of Bronze Age Society, that "Permutation, acculturation, and transformation form some of the constituting methodological elements in the retrospective work of tracing archaic religious structures in the pre-Christian religions, from the Veda to Norse mythology" (2005:251). With this in mind, I will attempt to connect some of the common symbols and ideas behind the religions of these people and give a broad picture comparing the similarities of the cultures concerned in this period.


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external image triskelion%2Bpath2%2B300%2Bcopy.JPG





Symbolism


Skara Brae
Skara Brae

www.cruisescotland.com/ orkney


It is believed by researchers that many of the monuments and sacred spaces of the ancient peoples were similar in structures of the dwellings they lived in. Monuments were not for residential purposes, but their similar structure and lay out imply that everyday life was as sacred as times when the gatherings at these monuments occurred.

Cucuteni Vase
Cucuteni Vase
www.europeanvirtualmuseum.net/ virtual_museum/..

The four corners of the world symbolism was depicted by a cross of equal armed length. This symbol was to denote the sacredness of the four cardinal directions and helped to promote the continuing cosmic cycle of the world.


Goddess holding a horn
Goddess holding a horn
www.goddessalive.co.uk/ issue14/caves.html

This Goddess relief holding a horn would have been a potent fertility symbol as it depicts the pregnant goddess holding a horn in the position of a waxing crescent moon. The moon was integral to the life cycles of the people. They saw her grow and die on a continuous basis, which would have held meaning for their own lives as they observed these cycles and their similarities to life and death. The bull was sacred to many ancient peoples, as often his horns were a symbol of the continuous striving towards creation, reflecting the moons growing stages.


Horned Snake pottery
Horned Snake pottery

www.daimonas.com/ pages/snake-worship.html


Snake depictions in pottery
Snake depictions in pottery

www.daimonas.com/ pages/snake-worship.html

Snake Goddess
Snake Goddess
www.daimonas.com/.../ editing-greeks-history.html

Snakes in art symbolized a regenerative quality. The snake was a guarantor of the earth's cycles renewing. This was a sign of immortality. The spiral is also associated as a snake. Spirals are interesting in view in art, because they have no beginning and no end. The phallus is also a symbol connected to snakes and spirals.

external image 180px-Trypillian_house2.jpg
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Cucuteni-Trypillian_culture


Clay models of houses are some of the only evidence to show how these people lived on a day to day basis. They show us how the homes would have been set up and how they possibly could have functioned.

For more information on the art and symbolism of Pre-Roman European's see Gregg's page on Celtic Art.

Gods and Goddesses

The legacy of the Gods and Goddesses of the ancient Europeans is one shrouded in mystery. With the tantalizing art and pieces of stories written down by monks of the Roman Catholic Church, the full idea of what these figures were to the peoples of Europe is still a mystery in many ways. We do however have some information as to who these deities were by their connections with the Roman and Greek pantheons in later contact.

The Europeans in this time were polytheistic with strong connections to tribal or local spirits. The earth that the people lived on was the Goddess. She was the force of life and death in the agricultural society that arose amongst the tribes. In Celtic society, she was the most powerful of deities, embodied on the earth by the Queen, who was protected and served by the King. This King was symbolic of the Year King discussed in the section on The Sacred Year below. For more information on the Celtic Women, see Christine's page.

Triple Goddess - the three aspects of the Goddess, Maiden, Mother, and Crone. Also seen as the phases of the moon.
external image mtgp.jpg

Venus Figurines - Goddess figures that are ubiquitous throughout Europe. Possibly a fertility symbol, but we have no definite answers.
Clay Goddess Figurines
Clay Goddess Figurines


We do know from the abundance of clay statuettes portraying people that these European peoples re-enacted rituals. Often figurines were found on altars denoting their importance in a worship setting or offering.

external image Gundestrup-cauldron.gif
external image Gundestrup-cauldron.gif


The Gundestrup Cauldron gives us quite a bit of information on the religion of the peoples.

Panel 1 depicts Taranis holding a wheel in his right hand, which is a Celtic symbol for thunder and lightning that is an attribute to his power. When the wheel falls to the earth, it will collide with the powers of the Underworld as symbolized by the ram headed snake.
Gundestrup Cauldron - Panel 1
Gundestrup Cauldron - Panel 1


Panel 2 is a picture of Cernunnos represented in the lotus position with antlers on his head wearing a torque and holding another torque in his right hand and the ram-headed serpent in his left. The torque he holds is symbolic of his wife, the Goddess, who has been temporarily separated from him. The serpent shows his connection with the Underworld. Surrounding him are sacred animals to the Celts, the bull, stag, and wolf. Stags and bulls were sacrificed at the festivals of the dead.
Gundestrup Cauldron - Panel 2
Gundestrup Cauldron - Panel 2


Panel 3 is of the Mother Goddess and her place between Taranis (of the sky and her first husband) and Cernunnos (of the earth and underworld, her second husband).
Gundestrup Cauldron - Panel 3
Gundestrup Cauldron - Panel 3


Panel 4 depicts the Mother Goddess as Queen of Heaven in the guise of Taranis's wife. The elephants that flank her symbolize her ability to protect warriors on the battlefield, and the rosettes the night sky. The beast prowling beneath flanked by two gryphons symbolizes help from Belanos.
Gundestrup Cauldron - Panel 4
Gundestrup Cauldron - Panel 4

Panel 5 is of the Mother Goddess descending to the Underworld to meet Cernunnos. She is protected by Smetrius who kills the beast sent by Taranis against her.
Gundestrup Cauldron - Panel 5
Gundestrup Cauldron - Panel 5


Panel 6 shows the feast for the dead.
Gundestrup Cauldron - Panel 6
Gundestrup Cauldron - Panel 6

For more information on where the Gundestrup Cauldron was found please see Hannah's page on Bog Bodies.


While there is a variety of deities throughout the cultures, the personalities they exhibit often have many similarities. To more completely illustrate this point I will present a selection of deities from Celtic, Norse, and Slavic cultures.

Celtic Pantheon:

The Morrigan
- The Great Queen, Triple goddess, and War goddess of the Irish. Is able to transform from beautiful to an old hag, and also has the ability to transform into a crow.
A modern interpretation of The Morrigan
A modern interpretation of The Morrigan



Danu - mother Goddess of wind, wisdom and fertility. She is the one who brought the Tuatha De Dananna to Ireland.
Danu
Danu



Brigit - Goddess of fire, poetry, healing, smith craft, and martial arts. She was among the most beloved deities and was later converted into St. Briget. Her name also means the shining, the splendid, the exhaulted one. As a protectress of mothers she was always welcome in the home.
Brigit
Brigit



Cerridwen - Welsh Goddess of the Cauldron and magic, brewed a batch of potion to give her very ugly son the greatest of wisdom, but the young lad tending the potion accidently spilt some on his finger which he licked off, granting him all the wisdom. This young boy later became Taliesin, the great Bard.
Cerridwen
Cerridwen



Dagda - a God with an enormous appetite for women and food, he had a cauldron with everlasting food in it. He was the God of life and death, war, banquets, and magic. Also the All-Father of the Irish gods. He carried a large club that could kill and bring people back to life.
Cerne Abbas Giant - possible Dagda representation
Cerne Abbas Giant - possible Dagda representation



Cernunnos - Lord of the Animals, the green man, Herne the Hunter, he is known by many names. A primordial god whose place is among the wild creatures, and who is a god of death.
Cernunnos
Cernunnos



Lugh - The Shining One, also a God of arts, crafts and healing. He was a hero god always fighting against the darker gods. He is celebrated at Lughnassadh.
Lugh
Lugh



Manannan-MacLir
- God of the Sea and of the Realm of the Dead. He can take the form of a heron and even has an invisibility cloak. He is very fond of mortals and has many affairs with them. He rules the Isle of Man.
Manannan-MacLir
Manannan-MacLir
Manannan-MacLir associated with spirals and the triskele
Manannan-MacLir associated with spirals and the triskele



Norse Pantheon:


Odin
- The All-Father, the Lord of War, Death, and Knowledge. This God is very important in Norse mythology. He is a wanderer and an adept master of disguise and shape shifter. A familiar pop culture image would be his appearance as Gandalf the Grey in Tolkein's Lord of the Rings. He had two crows, Huginn and Muninn, who would share with him the news of the world. One of the important things he did was to hang upside down for nine days from Yggdrassil, the world tree, which allowed him to recover the magic runes. But to drink from Mimir's Well for the ability to see long into the future, he had to pay an extra cost, one of his eyes.
Odin
Odin



Loki
- a trickster God. Loki was never up to any good, but was always wandering around getting into mischief. A master shape-shifter, he would often transform to play his tricks. His antics at first were not as malicious as they ended up being, and was a favorite of Odin and Thor, until he caused the death of Baldur. This ensured his entrapment in eternal punishment until Ragnarok.
Loki
Loki



Thor -
God of Thunder. He is well known for his hammer, which he would throw in the clouds to create thunder and lightning. Was always involved in Loki's mischief, usually at his own expense. He is the son of Odin.

Thor
Thor
Thor's Hammer
Thor's Hammer



Frey - the God of Plenty, and Freya's twin brother. He was also a God of the Sun, Rain, Harvest, peace and prosperity. A potent fertility God to the Norse.
Frey
Frey



Freya -
One of the most beloved of the Norse Goddesses. She is a Goddess of love, fertility, sexual desire, and magic. She is also the Queen of the Valkyries, and gets the first pick of the dead from a battle. She has a cloak of falcon feathers that allows her to transform. And has a chariot pulled by cats.

Freya Traditional
Freya Traditional
Freya modern
Freya modern



Frigga - Goddess of Marriage and Motherhood. She is Odin's wife and is one of the few that can keep him under control. She knows everyone's destiny, but does not reveal it.
Frigga
Frigga
Frigga
Frigga



Valkyrie - Choosers of the slain, these Goddess warriors are fiercesome. They ride around on the battlefield choosing their favorite warriors to go to Valhalla. When they ride across the sky, their bright armor cause the Aurora Borealis. They are led by Freya.
Valkyrie
Valkyrie



The Norns - are the Goddesses of Destiny. Urd spins your fate, Verdandi the present, and Skuld the future. They also tend the tree Yggdrasil.
The Norns
The Norns




Slavic Pantheon:

Veles - God of sheep and the Underworld.
Veles
Veles



Dievas - Lithuanian Creator God. He is the source for peace, friendship, and all good things.
Dievas
Dievas



Chernobog - God of Darkness who is locked in eternal battle with Byelobog, the God of Goodness. Chernobog was made famous from his appearance in Disney's Fantasia.
Chernabog from Disney's Fantasia
Chernabog from Disney's Fantasia



Perkunas - God of Thunder, who wields an axe. He is very similar to Thor, even down to the chariot pulled by goats.
Perkunas
Perkunas



Baba-Yaga - Goddess of Death. Her house is made of human bones, her eyes will turn humans to stone, and her teeth are made of knives.
Baba-Yaga
Baba-Yaga



Vila - Goddess of the Forest and of wild animals.
Vila of the Forest
Vila of the Forest



Dziewona - Virgin Goddess whose is huntress of the Forest.
external image 3D_Huntress.jpg


Dolya - Goddess of luck. A sister aspect of unhappiness who brings bad luck appears as Nedolya.
Dolya
Dolya


These list are only a very small sampling of the gods and goddesses of these cultures. To get more information on the mythologies and personalities of these deities, I suggest reading The Eddas, which provide more information on the Norse pantheon and The Mabinogion, which provides information for the Welsh pantheon. There are several other sources for Celtic deities besides the Mabinogion as well. Slavic mythologies are harder to locate, but the Lithuanian polytheistic beliefs can be seen in the practices of the Romuva. The Lithuanian culture was the last to convert to Christianity sometime in the 1300 CE. As we see in later Rome, as these cultures interacted with each other, there was often adoption of the different deities worshiped. The mythology and pantheons of the European peoples before Rome invaded was lost in many way, we have found only a few tantalizing hints as to the complexity of these belief systems.


Picture References for this section
stone-circles.org.uk
www.thepumpkinandthecauldron.com/ deitystatues.htm

www.freewebs.com/.../ celticgods.htm
celticpagan.com
irelandsown.net
the-gee-spot.net/shop/ catalog/index.php?cPath=47
www.magicalomaha.com/ dryadhomedecor.htm
www.irminsul-hearth.com/ godsandgoddesses.htm
www.goddessgift.net/ page47.html
en.wikipedia.org/ wiki/Frigg
www.tunridacraft.com/ frigga.html
www.viking-shield.com/ statues2.html
flickr.com/photos/ andypics/769276359/
www.wulflund.com/old-slavs/ veles-slavic-god-w..
gatesofvienna.blogspot.com/ 2008/12/germanic-l..

www.handsoftimeltd.com/ collectibles/disney.html
www.travelblog.org/.../ Lithuania/blog-59270.html
www.goddessmyths.com/ Samovila-Yemaya.html
behindthestove.blogspot.com/ 2006_03_01_archiv..

www.fotopedia.com/albums/ 7bfc8361-e308-2b49-8..
oldgoths.blogspot.com/ 2009/05/pictorial-conne..
commons.wikimedia.org/ wiki/File:Gundestrupkar..
www.ivargault.com/ kelterne/celts.html
search.ppsimages.co.jp/ cgi-bin/search.cgi?rm=..
www.sheshen-eceni.co.uk/ icenian.html
ironage-history.com/ brigantia/celts.html



The Sacred Year

Samhain - November 1
This festival is the most important in the Celtic year, possibly due to its importance and origin as a pastoral instead of agriculture culture. This is the time of year when the grazing season ends and stock is selected for breeding or slaughter. This is also the time of year for The Feast of the Dead, and other rituals of renewal and death. The time of year when the veil to the otherworld is thinest. This festival marks the end of the year and the beginning of the dark months, or winter. This is the time of year when the goddess is in her crone death visage, and prepares to return to the underworld.

external image BatterseaShield350-50BCbritMus.JPG


Imbolc - February 1
This festival marks the beginning of the new year cycle, the goddess is able to leave the underworld again to return spring. This festival is a fire festival and is sacred to Brigid. Her return is greeted with lights and noise. This time of year is also the time of lambing and the first lactation of the ewes, in Ireland. Seeing a lamb drink milk is quite adorable as they wag their tails when they drink.
external image ssbcross.jpg external image ewe_with_kids.jpg

Beltane (Cetshamhaim) - May 1
The festival, The Feast of the Sun Fires, marked the beginning of the summer months. This was another fire festival. The bel fires or bonfires would be lit and the livestock driven through the smoke to give them purifying protection in the season to come. This is a fertility festival, the gates to the otherworld are opened again and the goddess chooses her consort, the Year King. The Year King is her earthly champion and lover, whose sacrifice comes at the end of the year. This is when the Maypole is danced around, and the nights is spent in revelry. And from personal experience, it is quite difficult to dance around the Maypole, as more often than not people bump into each other and get tangled up in the ribbons.
external image Lia%20Fail%203.jpgexternal image maypole.gif

Lughnasadh - August 1
This festival is different from the others in that it is agriculturally based. It celebrates the first corn harvest, when John Barleycorn is sacrificed for the crop. This is Lugh's festival, and it commemorates the time when he came to free Eiru's land from Balor the giant. Lugh is a Sun God of the Irish. This is another fire festival that was marked with bonfires.
external image 13__intro.jpg



The holidays described above were an integral part to the world of the Celts. Looking over the European pagan culture these festivals are shared and there are also solstice and equinox festivals added into the sacred year. Generally, the festivals would be Samhain - Nov 1, Yule - Dec 21, Imbolc - Feb 1, Ostara - Mar 21, Beltane - May 1, Midsummer or Litha - June 21, Lughnasadh - Aug 1, Mabon - Sept 21. The solstice and equinox festivals were not celebrated in the Celtic lands, but were in Germanic regions. This is an interesting thing to ponder since the monuments in the Celtic lands often corresponded to the solstices. What did the later peoples think of these monuments that corresponded to times of the year with no particular meaning to them?
Wheel of the Year
Wheel of the Year



external image brooch1.jpg




www.theinnersanctuary.net/ druidry_as_a_spirit...
www.tribal-celtic-tattoo.com/ celtic-history.htm
www.flashpointmag.com/ tara.ht
www.sussexpast.co.uk/ property/index.php
naturalpatriot.org/ 2008/05/
www.dorpermex.com/Pages/ English/Sheep/DorperC..
www.ancientlight.info/ events/sabbats.html





Astronomical Symbols in the Material Culture



Stonehenge

external image stonehenge.banner.jpg
www.viewzone.com/ stoneobserv.html


This site on the Salisbury Plains in southern England is one of the best known monuments of the early peoples of Britain. Built around 5,000 years ago, this place has astronomical significance. The stones are aligned with sunrise on the summer solstice and sunset at the winter solstice. It is a placed linked with the ancestors, many remains have been found at this site. There is almost no evidence of pottery, so it was not associated with feasting as nearby Woodhenge was. Archaeologists have suggested that this means Stonehenge was a place of the dead.
" There are no texts to explain Stonehenge. Secure in its wordless prehistory, it can thus absorb a multitude of "meanings": temple to the sun—or the moon, for that matter; astronomical calendar; city of the ancestral dead; center of healing; stone representation of the gods; symbol of status and power. The heart of its mystique is, surely, that it excites in equal measure both zealous certitude and utter bafflement" (http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2008/06/stonehenge/alexander-text/8).
Newgrange
Newgrange at Summer Solstice
Newgrange at Summer Solstice

zuserver2.star.ucl.ac.uk/ ~idh/apod/ap081220.html


This monument is built in alignment with the sunrise of the winter solstice. A shaft of light penetrates an inner chamber at this moment. Please see the link below for a video discussing this occurrence.
http://video.nationalgeographic.com/video/player/places/culture-places/historical/ireland_newgrange.html

Nebra Star Disc


external image Nebra+disc+found+1999+in+Germany.jpg The star disc was acquired from treasure hunters by archaeologist, Herald Meller, who believed that the disc was of great importance to Europe. Wolfhard Schlosser, an astronomer, found that the small cluster of seven stars between the sun and the moon on the star disc resembled The Pleiades constellation as it was known in the Bronze Age. Archaeologists believe that the Nebra Star disc dates all the way back to 1600 BC, making it the oldest accurate picture of the night sky in all history. The existing images on the star disc have sacred meaning. The sun is distinguished as a bringer of life, while the moon symbolizes passage of time. The horizon band of the star disc marks the sun’s sacred solstices in Central Europe. All these symbols represent the complexity of European belief systems. (National Geographic)

Read more:http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/episode/secrets-of-the-star-disc-4209/Overview#tab-facts#ixzz0YBHF9Fav

goddesschess.blogspot.com/ 2009_04_01_archive.html

While there is still quite a bit of speculation as to what these different sites and artifacts were used for, we do have a good amount of information about them. For more information on monuments and what their possible meanings are see Teasha's page on Celtic Monument.


Limitations


There are many limitations to this research. One of the problems is the lack of writings on the cultures and the reliance we have on artifacts alone. This is wonderful from an archaeological perspective. However, all we will ever really know is what we hypothesize these peoples were doing. Another huge problem is the large amounts of erroneous information concerning the pagan religions of Europe. The renewal of paganism as a modern religion has led many people to make false claims and use their imaginations to fill in the gaps of information. As a researcher on this topic, it is sometimes extremely difficult to find good information to use in writings. I also have language limitations. I often have to rely upon translations and interpretations of ancient texts to fill in the blanks to the story. I plan to rectify this issue in the future by learning more languages.



Conclusion


With the continued interest in the Pre-Roman European religions it is important for anthropologists to persist in their scrutiny of artifacts and other ancient records. It is imperative for the correct understanding of how these people lived and worshiped in daily life. As evidenced from the above information, this topic is vast. But with the limitations that we are faced with, it is even more important to present good information for those who wish to know of these cultures. It is also important for us to understand what the people were faced with and how they resolved problems. We can also note the similarities showcased between the various groups that roamed Europe in this time period. The many shared characteristics of the gods and goddesses, the comparable symbols found in artifacts throughout the land, all these things give evidence that there was interaction between the peoples then as there is interaction today. Of course probably not in the same global sense, but their capabilities were more than I imagined. The significance of studying other culture's religions is also illustrated in the fact that even though groups were separate, they still shared many of their beliefs. This religious syncretism is something that we can still see evident in our different religions today. That we even have glimpses of the pagan beliefs in some of our main stream faiths is an exciting tidbit as well. With our society becoming more diverse on a daily basis, it is critical that anthropologists study the religions of these people, as religion is one of the largest areas of conflict our world is currently facing. If we are able to help expand the knowledge on where religion began, hopefully we will be able to help increase the understanding of various religious people of their roots and possible future.







external image brooch1.jpg

Bibliography

Champion, Timothy, with Clive Gamble, Stephen Shennan, and Alasdair Whittle
1984 Prehistoric Europe. Orlando: Academic Press Inc.

Cummings,Vicki
2008 The Architecture of Monuments” in Prehistoric Britain. Joshua Pollard
ed. Oxford: Blackwell Pub.

Feachem, Richard

1963[1977] Guide to Prehistoric Scotland. Toronto: The Macmillan Company of Canada
Limited.
French, Claire
2001 Celtic Goddess: Great Queen or Demon Witch? Edinburgh: Floris Books.

Gimbutas, Marija
1974[1982]. The Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe: 6500-3500 BC Myths and Cult
Images. Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Hodder, Ian
1990 The Domestication of Europe: Structure and Contingency in Neolithic Societies.
Oxford
: Basil Blackwell.

Kristiansen, Kristian, and Thomas B. Larsson

2005 The Rise of Bronze Age Society: Travels, Transmissions and Transformations.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Midgley, Magdalena S.
2008 The Megaliths of Northern Europe. New York: Routledge.

Pollard, Tony, and Alex Morrison, eds.
1996 The Early Prehistory of Scotland. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Renfrew, Colin
1973 Before Civilization: The Radiocarbon Revolution and Prehistoric Europe.
London: Jonathan Cape.











Videos of Pre-Roman Europe Religions































Modules

Key Terms
Stonehenge
Newgrange
barrow mounds
Langwell Farm-Whicker Man
Skara Brae
Beaker People
Picts
Druids
Celts

I'm interested in examining the religious practices of the peoples of the British Isles, more specifically in Scotland. I might possibly look into the evidence of rites of passage, burials seem to have the most evidence at this time. I might also examine how the stone circles played a part in the religious aspect of their lives. I'm also interested in seeing the religious connections between the Scandinavian lands and the British Isles.


Kerma: The Rise of an African Civilization
Trigger, Bruce G.
1976 Kerma: The Rise of an African Civilization. The International Journal of African Historical Studies 9(1):1-21.

1st sentence: "The floodplains along the Nile constitute an important but as yet little utilized series of laboratories for the comparative study of the origins and interaction of ancient civilizations".


Module 9

Visions of Power: Imagery and Symbols in Late Iron Age Britain
Author(s): John Creighton
Source: Britannia, Vol. 26 (1995), pp. 285-301
Published by: Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/526880



Module 10
Hutton, Ronald
1996. The Druid Renaissance: Who Possesses the Past? Harper Collins.

In Hutton's article, he reviews the progression of different types of Celtic/Druid practices from 5000 BCE to present. In Neolithic Britain, the monuments built were of stone and timber chambers and circles, often called long barrows, dolmens, or cromlechs. Some of these places were even constructed in 9900 BCE, which makes them older than the pyramids. An interesting fact about these sites is that they all have unique features, which also means that there was not common usage or symbolism. What is important to note is that these "Houses of the Dead" were made to last. From 3300-3000 BCE the social climate of Britain began to change, and the peoples of the islands became fascinated with circles. This became one of the universal symbols of the ancient Celts. Between 2100 and 1600 BCE we see the construction of such sites such as Stonehenge until about 1000 BCE. At this point there is a rapid shift in practices. We see the use of bogs to dispose of bodies, instead of building elaborate burial tombs. Hutton states that the two reasons for this is the climate change from warmer to cooler weather, and bad ecology of the land in which vast amounts of land in the British Isles were ruined. These changes and occurrences are what led up to the Roman invasion of the British Isles and played an important role in the religious landscape of these people.

external image woodhenge.jpg
Durrington 68
Durrington 68


http://www.shef.ac.uk/archaeology/research/stonehenge/intro.html Durrington 68
Above are pictures of Woodhenge and a wood monument/burial around Stonehenge.

Stonehenge is Britain’s biggest cemetery of the 3rd millennium BC (© Adam Stanford of www.aerial-cam.co.uk)
Stonehenge is Britain’s biggest cemetery of the 3rd millennium BC (© Adam Stanford of www.aerial-cam.co.uk)
external image Celtic-circles.jpg
http://www.sampleireland.com/celtic-symbols.html

West Kennet Long Barrow
West Kennet Long Barrow

http://www.wessexarch.co.uk/images/avebury-teachers-kit/west-kennet-long-barrow

The following link is a clip from the movie The Mists of Avalon, which while Hollywood, had some interesting aspects of what it might of been like to train as a priestess.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SFpdJ0q1hj4


The archaeological dig in the centre of Oxford
The archaeological dig in the centre of Oxford
This picture is of a recent dig in Oxford of a Bronze Age burial site. They found three ring ditches and evidence that it was a burial place of chiefs.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/oxfordshire/8336475.stm



This is more than off topic, but I found it an entertaining story about google earth and Scotland....take a look!!
http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/AheadoftheCurve/loch-ness-monster-google-earth/story?id=8428400


lol!! I found it!!! It does look weird, but who knows! check out these coordinates - 57"12'52.14"N 4"34'15.70W
nessie.jpg
It's the elusive Nessie!!





A tour through the wood circle as it might have been.




Places of Transformation: Building Monuments from Water and Stone in the Neolithic of the Irish Sea
Chris Fowler, Vicki Cummings
The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Vol. 9, No. 1 (Mar., 2003), pp. 1-20
Published by: Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3134751

This article is on the "metaphysical association between water and stone in the Neolithic of the Irish Sea area which centered around practices of transformation" (2003:1). The authors take data from the Megalith chambered tombs in the area and analyze the sites to see if there are elements of water and stone evident. Some of the interesting data the presented was that 65% of the sites had a view of the sea and 75% of the mountains, which they use to put forth the idea that these monuments were positioned carefully between the sea and the mountains. The decorations of quartz crystals at the sites also brought an element of water in the crystals unique characteristics. Shells and beach pebbles are found in abundance in and around the tombs, and using stable isotope analysis the remains did not eat marine life. The authors then look into the possible meanings of these findings in a religious and cultural setting. Water is known to be symbolic of transformation. The burials and rituals performed at these sites could possibly been transformation rites for the dead, or other such rites of passage. The authors take the position that it is also possible that the connections between water and stone had a symbolic connection to the human body, and the human connection with others. This article would be useful to others pursuing the topic of religious life in pre-Roman Britain in that it helps to explain how the sites were intrinsic to their ritual practices and beliefs. The prevalence of tombs seems to indicate and ancestor worship focus and their accessibility leads to the thought that these sites were important for rituals of many sorts, specifically transformations. The authors present a good argument backed up with physical evidence and research on the topic.


Module 14

Wilson, Bob
2002 DISPLAYED OR CONCEALED? CROSS CULTURAL EVIDENCE FOR SYMBOLIC AND RITUAL ACTIVITY DEPOSITING IRON AGE ANIMAL BONES. Oxford Journal of Archaeology 18(3)297-305.

This article has some interesting ideas as to the cross cultural evidence of animal deposits in ritual means. The author specifically notes the crania and articulated limbs to have the most significant symbolism to Iron Age people. He argues this case by giving examples of many different cultures around the world that practice ritual with animal bones. Often these cultures use the bones as a fertility symbol, as the Nagas of north-east India, who use human heads as a symbolic embracing of sex, death and agriculture. The author does point out that the evidence he presents is rather circumstantial, but that is also displays parallels in the world-wide use of remains in symbolic ritual display. I did however take issue with a statement he made concerning the peoples of the Iron Age and their use of ritual as being overly simplistic and ethnocentric. "Alternatively, perhaps the priesthood and their people were completely mind bound into a culture imbued with ritual action, myth, and belief which allowed little awareness of common sense realities" (Wilson 2002). He seems to be dismissing ritual behavior as having a lack of common sense, which seems completely out of place with the discussion at hand.