Tuesday, 27 July 2010

General frustrations.

Plans of Woodhenge.

Top: - A reconstructed elevation showing the possible building's width as 140 ft.

Lower: - Showing the two posts outside the causeway entrance, whose positions seem to be marking the inner and outer edges of the high surrounding bank.

(Taken from 'Stonehenge and Avebury' [Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1959, 9th Impression, 1973]. Maps and plans by Reitz.)

I really don't like that hut drawing. The logic is that each ellipse of posts corresponds with the timber up-rights.

It puts me in mind of a church hall!

It is the school summer holidays (today is the very first day) and this means that my husband is at home for the next six weeks; so in theory I could just get up tomorrow, get in the car car and drive to Salisbury, to see if there is a copy of Maud Cunnington's Woodhenge excavation notes (M. E. Cunnington, Woodhenge. Devizes, 1929, G. Simpson Co.) in the library there. Or make an appointment to read the notes at Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre.

It is quite a long way, and I was going to go with my husband on the back of his bike. Unfortunately (because this is at the heart of my bad mood) we decided that it wasn't sensible.

Sensible, now there's a word.

So I'm stuck,  contemplating the idea of marriage as the opposite of an abduction because I'm in a black dog of a mood.

Instead of going there and experiencing, I've been circling through web-pages, reacquainting myself with the other theories: questions about alignments with sun, moon and stars, how Aubrey Burl favors the moon (specifically the midwinter moon as the land of the dead), theories about female moon+male solar conjunctions and the birth of a baby sun, and at least one person saying, hey...Woodhenge was a Cretan labyrinth.

I like that Cretan labyrinth idea, I mean it had occurred to me too. I had spent a merry half-hour with MS Paint proving to myself that it was possible to join the dots to make the seven coils in there, so for now, just as a mental exercise I'm going to take the idea seriously and explain how the labyrinth fits in with the most recent ideas about that particular ritual landscape.

Before I go any further with this, I categorically do not believe that Woodhenge was ever a Cretan labyrinth, but there is a link between the labyrinth and dancing, and the circular shape of henge monuments which puts me in mind of the 'Threshing floor' which was also a place of dancing and became a sacred space. It is possible people danced at Woodhenge...threading their way between the wooden poles.

But it highly unlikly that the circular henges and their latter woodhenge form were ever related to threshing floors. As far as I know Britain doesn't have any archelogical evidence for circular threshing floors?

Nor Bronze age labyrinths.

The circle is an enclosed space; the original sacred and circular spaces seem to be linked to the threshing floor. How well do metaphors and memes cross continents? If it is true that sheep for instance were brought to Britain around about 3000 BC it is true that other ideas arrived as well
when Neolithic settlers crossed the English Channel.

To illustrate the age of the threshing floor as sacred space idea, a quote from the Old Testament:
"Then the Angel of the Lord commanded Gad to say to David, that David should go up and build an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite" (I Chron. 21:18
The first mythology concerning life-death-life came from knowledge of hunting. Death -specifically killing- is a highly emotionally charged experience; mythology provided  images and metaphors to handle and to make sense of what was felt and seen. When humans began to farm, new myths evolved, agriculture provided a new way to explain how death and life were connected, specifically the seed 'dies' under the ground to be reborn and the threshing floor became a metaphor for the process of life and death.

Christianity took words and images from Greek culture; the word Halo derives from Greek meaning "threshing-floor"  and came to mean the divine bright disk that adorns the heads of saints ...and threshing floor references connecting life and death are found in the Iliad: the horses of Achilles trample down the dead like oxen treading the barley on the well-built threshing-floor; the arrow rebounds from the breastplate of Menelaus like beans flying off the blade of the winnowing shovel on the great threshing-floor; the dust of the conflict that lay white on the Achaeans is likened to the whitening heaps when the wind drives off the chaff on the holy threshing-floors when men are winnowing and Demeter separates the chaff from the grain...

None of this has any definite link with Late Neolithic, Early Bronze age Britain save that farming communities all over the world share a common experience of using a threshing floor, and the observation from myth and legend that the threshing floor tends to gain a symbolic meaning, it becomes the place of sanctification and resurrection.

There is no direct connection between the labyrinth and the threshing floor, but the labyrinth has plenty of associations with death and rebirth.

It is hard to know how old the labyrinth symbol actually is; there is the Etruscan Troia link (leading on to why in England labyrinths were often called *Troy towns*)  an Etruscan pitcher of 700 BC show the image of a labyrinth containing the letters TRUTA, several armed riders are shown issuing from the labyrinth's mouth near two copulating couples.  Virgil in the Aeneid  describes the Troia as Trojan horsemanship, a complex battle formation, consisting of weaving and circling...perhaps it is from Virgil that British labyrinths became Troy towns?

The Cretan labyrinth appeared on Cretan coins in 500BC, some say there are older rock carvings at Val Camonica dating from 1000 to 1800 BC.

But primarily what we know about the labyrinth, the paradoxical uni-cursal - impossible to be lost in 'maze' - comes from mythology.

Plutarch (75 ACE)  list sources and versions of the Theseus myth , amongst other things he says:
Now Theseus, in his return from Crete, put in at Delos, and having sacrificed to the god of the island, dedicated to the temple the image of Venus which Ariadne had given him, and danced with the young Athenians a dance that, in memory of him, they say is still preserved among the inhabitants of Delos, consisting in certain measured turnings and returning, imitative of the windings and twistings of the labyrinth. And this dance, as Dicaearchus writes, is called among the Delians the Crane 'The Geranos'. This he danced around the Ceratonian Altar, so called from its consisting of horns taken from the left side of the head.
which is curious don't you think, that it is called *The crane dance* and that it is linked with the labyrinth as 'imitative of the windings and twisting of the labyrinth' I can't even begin to wonder at why the alter had only left sided horns.

Yet the labyrinth has always been associated with an entrance into death and then a return to life, the left hand path is counter-sun, the Ceratonian alter would perhaps have led the dancers counter-sunwise, in the direction of death.

The labyrinth with its seven walls reminds me of 'The Descent of Inanna'; how Irkalla the land of the dead is in effect  a prison with seven gates in each of the seven walls. As Inanna reaches each gate she is forced to give up a precious item of jewellery, of status, of protection or power before she may continue into the Land of The Dead.

But my favorite labyrinth theory is experiential; the labyrinth patten itself is a mixture of pattens of the kind found in near death experiences, or when using hallucinogenic drugs. I have not used hallucinogenic drugs or ever been that close to death, but I do know those pattens and I know how running a labyrinth feels. The four pattens which are derived from a universal brain structure common to all people are called *form constant* . These pattens are: lattices (including honeycombs, checkerboards, and triangles), cobwebs, tunnels, and spirals (from work by Heinrich Klüver).

The labyrinth recalls and resonates with an uncommon state of mind..

But back to history, another labyrinth link is the Meander river. The meander is a specific patten, and it can be expanded into a labyrinth, the meander is at the heart of the labyrinth. In ancient Greek art, the meander pattern, whatever it was called, was associated explicitly with the Cretan labyrinth. For instance, The temple to Apollo at Didyma, built in the third century B.C.E., is ornamented with the meander pattern, which an inscription refers to as a "labyrinthos."

But the labrys itself is the axe..

And at the center of Troy is the abducted woman, Helen...
Or within the Sumerian Irkalla is the abducted girl, Ereshkigal...
May day games in England not so long ago, in which a girl stands at the center of the Saffron Walden labyrinth and two young men race each other to reach her first..

So it is little wonder that the child at the center of Woodhenge was identified as female, all the stories are about abducted girls given over to the dark lord of the underworld, or sacrificed to appease the forces of wealth. Are there any myths or legends about abducted little boys, or stories of boys being sacrificed? Abraham and Isaak is the only one I can think of.

Or, when the bones from that central burial were examined were there good physiological reasons to identify the child as female? I wish it possible to know for sure.

The labyrinth is rich in meaning, with its themes of wondering underground from death to life, of dance, of celebration, but it also contains experiences of loss and fear. When Theseus sailed to Crete, he went as a sacrifice (Ah, boys and girls both sacrificed!) when he left he took Ariadne with him (who was in effect sacrificed to Dionysus) and Ariadne's sister Phaedra (who also died...suicide, by hanging).

Woodhenge is not unique, there are other, similar structures found and they don't have enough post holes for seven coils, but nor does that mean Woodhenge and other woodhenges were not labyrinthine experiences.

For more about labyrinths -no one better than my teacher Jeff Saward!